Harold Ford: The Constitution Is Not Worth A Good Bed-Wetting
Here's Harold Ford, the keynote speaker at the 2000 Democratic National Convention, saying that if terrorists scare us enough, we can throw out the Constitution and the rule of law and do whatever the hell we please, and nobody can object.
MATTHEWS: How well does this affect, or does it affect, (Pelosi's) status, in this big debate with the Republicans over torture? The party base of the Democratic Party, and you know, the people who go to the whip meetings, the rah-rah guys and women, they don't like this torture thing. Do they feel that she's been touched by it, do you think?
FORD: Two things. One, she's often been picked on as Speaker. She's been accustomed throughout her political career of having to overcome odds. This is another challenge she will face. Two, it's no surprise, Nancy Pelosi opposed the Iraq War, from the outset. I happen to have disagreed with the Speaker in that vote. She has been outspoken in her concern and outcry about the techniques used by the previous Administration to quell Al Qaeda's growth. These questions here are as much semantics as anything. I think the larger question from our party, however, is, is this really a debate we want to have? I think if you ask the majority of Americans if they were opposed to the waterboarding of some of these high-level terrorists, or those who orchestrated terrorist attacks, I think you'd be hard pressed to find many Americans, many Democrats even, who would be that outraged by it. So I hope we are able to move on from the conversation, and get on to the business that Leon Panetta's on, which is trying to fix our intelligence system to ensure that we're getting the best data, and that we don't get into the problem that we ran into in Iraq from the outset, which was going into Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, when they had no weapons of mass destruction.
CILLIZZA: There was a poll a week or two ago, an independent poll, a media poll that asked people whether what has gone on at Gitmo was torture and by a large majority people said yes. The next question was did they think that those techniques would be necessary in certain circumstances and a slimmer, but still more people said yes than no, so you have this weird disconnect. People do think it is torture, but they feel like if it yields results that it's the right thing to do, so this is tough especially as it relates to the Democratic Party base, which clearly believes this is something that is wrong, wrong, wrong.
MATTHEWS: You know it's interesting, Congressman, it seems like Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats are caught trying to do two things at the same time. You see her standing there in front of a million flags, she's clearly trying to look as nationalistic as the Republicans. I mean patriotic, we're all patriotic. Nationalistic, in other words, tough, anything that goes to defend the country, we're going to be as tough as nails, opposing any enemy of any kind, we are as tough as the Republicans are. At the same time, she's seeming to express sympathy for prisoners, bad guys. Is that a problem? You seem to be suggesting it is. You can't be both tough as nails, and at the same time look like you worry about human rights violations. Is that a problem or not?
FORD: No. I think that Eric Holder said this best when referring to the Ted Stevens case, and the aftermath, when he stepped foward and said the Justice Department of the United States would not move forward. He said the most important thing at the Justice Department is not winning, it's justice. So in this sense I think having the conversation about what happened and about whether or not, at Guantanamo Bay, and I'm not as outraged as some are about it, because as much as I think some of those techniques were enhanced and might have risen to a level of torture, you have to remember when this was occurring. This was 2002, 2003. The country was in a different place and a different space. And if you were to say to me as an American, put aside my partisanship, that we have an opportunity to gain information that would prevent the destruction of an American city, to prevent killings in American cities, and we have to use certain techniques, I'm one of those Americans who would have voted a certain way, Chris, in that poll, and said it might have been torture, but I'm not as outraged.
MATTHEWS: Wait a minute. You are veering into Cheney country.
FORD: No, Chris, no no no-
MATTHEWS: The destruction of an American city? What evidence did you ever have, that the enemy had a nuclear weapon that could blow up an American city? Where'd that, that's Cheney talk. That's what he uses to justify torture. We've no evidence that any enemy of ours had a nuclear weapon!
FORD: No, no, I said, if thousands of people in America- don't get me wrong, we can play the names associating me with one person or another. I'm just saying in 2002-
MATTHEWS: No, but you're saying, blow up an American city. What are you talking about?
FORD: In 2002, 2003, remember where America was. You remember our mindset. If the American people were told that there were those held at Guantanamo Bay that might have had information, after our country was attacked on 9/11, I'm certain people would have wanted those to take certain steps. I'm not arguing at all that there was evidence that that would have happened. Yet, Cheney has said that he hopes all the data is released and maybe at some point we'll have an opportunity to see that. The larger issue here I think is, where do we go from here. Ang the new director, Mr. Panetta has made it clear that finding, seeking out and finding the best intelligence has to be the goal of the CIA, and when we make a make a mistake, to admit we made a mistake. George Bush and Dick Cheney never could admit that there were no weapons of mass destruction, and as a result we pursued a path in Iraq that has weakened us in many ways in the Middle East and made it harder for this new President.
MATTHEWS: OK. Those guys used a nuclear threat. They said they had a weapon, they had a vehicle to deliver it here to America, to get us to go to war with Iraq, they used that again this weekend, the Vice President, to say it was an excuse, a reason for torture. I don't like references made to a strategic threat to the United States, a nuclear threat. We know what happened on 9/11, everybody knows. But the way they sold that war, the way they're still selling that war, the way they're selling torture, is that to say we faced a Holocaust in America, a city blown up. That's why I don't like any reference to Cheney talk, because that's what it is.
A new IG report is going to show that no, torture was not effective, not safe, and not advisable. But that doesn't matter now. Here we have a Democratic representative on national television telling the world that, if it might save lives, go with it. The law be damned.
That's how a country dies, or at least any pretensions that country has to being civilized. I've said consistently that the moment we started having a debate about torture, the side opposed to it lost that debate. Bringing torture into polite conversation, outside the taboo form it previously took, offering a "he said/she said" take on it, with the likes of admitted war criminal Dick Cheney allowed to air his side of the story, decimated any firewall between our ideals and our actions. It made excuses for lawbreaking - if America gets sufficiently nervous, international conventions and federal statutes lose meaning. That corrodes our system of justice and debilitates our moral authority.
And Harold Ford, a "Democrat," just said it out LOUD. Using the exact same tactics to justify torture as his right-wing friends. Keep in mind that when you justify torture, you also justify homicide.
If I thought this was just about Harold Ford, who was always suspect, I would organize a massive campaign around getting him to disassociate with the Democratic Party or apologize for his remarks. But it's sadly not. I think Ford happened to say out loud what the rest of the party thinks about this. They've shown no leadership on the issue because in their hearts, they project these beliefs that "the people" would want to torture citizens to protect the country. It's the same defensive posture on national security we've seen for decades. And until weasels like this are run out of the party, it's never going to stop. But worse than that, we have officially put torture on the table, so to speak, as a viable option. And we will rue the day we did that.