Up With Chuck
Earlier this week, Chuck Todd made a tiresome argument about how investigations into lawbreaking in the Bush Administration would be politicized and therefore shouldn't be done because it would distract the nation from the important business of whittling health care down to nothing. Todd decided to respond to Glenn Greenwald's criticism of his opinions on this matter, and the result was a fairly remarkable conversation that offers a window into the mind of the typical Villager, unable to divorce anything from political day-to-day combat, unable to view anything through something other than a partisan lens, unable to determine right from wrong. The one question that Todd fails to answer throughout the interview is why believers in the rule of law are supposed to care about how investigations and/or prosecutions of members of the Bush Administration make certain people inside the Beltway feel. Here's just a sample, but the whole thing goes like this, so give it a read:
GG: Let me ask you this question: The United States is a party to a treaty - I don't know if you ever read it or not, it's called the Convention Against Torture - and one of the things it does is it obligates all signatories to the treaty to prosecute any acts of torture. And it was signed by Ronald Reagan in 1988, and when he transmitted that treaty to the Senate, explaining what that treaty does, he wrote, quote, "Each state party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory, or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution."
Do you think the U.S. should be bound, is bound by that treaty? And, I want to ask you: with regard to the question of whether or not we follow that treaty, why do you describe that as nothing more than, quote "cable catnip".
CT: Alright. The "cable catnip" comment was this. This issue, whenever you see the words Cheney and intelligence pop up, and when I use the phrase 'cable catnip', it is when something becomes, whether the two polarized parts of our political society, are very entrenched in their views on this, and believe the other side is completely irrational on it. And so, that's, whenever you have an issue like that, that's what I describe as 'cable catnip'. Because it becomes something that is easy to put on television, because you can find a left versus right, which is something that cable embraces to a fault, and I'm in this business but I'm, I work my butt off trying to stay out of the left versus right fights and try to stay analytical and stay on the reporting end of things.
And so, that's when I describe an issue as cable catnip. I am not sitting here and saying - and I respect the passion on this, and I don't want to somehow sit here saying that on the right I've been accused of somehow just assuming that our national security is nothing more than cable catnip, or that torture of detainees is somehow relegated to cable catnip. That is not what I'm describing when I say cable catnip, but I want to put that aside.
To go back to your question, of course, any treaty we sign, the United States government is obligated to stand by it. Now, the controversy has been, and what we're trying to figure out - and what I think where the Justice Department is trying to figure out, and where this whole debate has been about - is whether they found a legal way to somehow abide by this treaty or not.
GG: And isn't that--
CT: ...abiding by the treaty--
GG: And isn't the best thing to do to immunize that question from political considerations is to say to a prosecutor, the way that we do with every other accusation of crime: take a look at the pure legal issues here, ask: "were crimes committed; is this the kind of case that indictments are appropriate for, where people should be put on trial," and then just have this be treated like every other accusation of crime, which is the prosecutor taking a look?
CT: I agree, in a perfect world - Glenn, in a perfect world, yes. And if you could also guarantee me, that this wouldn't become a show trial, and wouldn't be put, and created so that we had nightly debates about it, that is the ideal way to handle this.
GG: Why not? What's wrong with nightly debate about whether our government committed crimes?
CT: Because then it becomes, then you do politicize the issue, to the point of where you won't - the fact is, public opinion was on the opposite side of the argument as you. That doesn't mean public opinion should...
Mr. Todd "respects the passion" but cannot divorce the plain fact of law, in the Convention Against Torture, from the media back and forth. Then there's the idea that the Bush Administration "found a legal way" to somehow abide by the treaty. In other words, as long as they find a functionary - every Administration has their own John Yoo - to bless their actions, they can break the law in virtually any way they want. A permission slip from the Office of Legal Counsel, no matter how flawed the reasoning, can enable violations of the spirit, color and the plain fact of the law.
Todd talks about a perfect world as if those who demand accountability and justice are just wild-eyed idealists who don't understand the hard-bitten truth of how the world works. On the contrary, we know how it works, and we find it to be a problem. We understand that the Administration would be reluctant to wade into the actions of their predecessor. We get that the media will try to block holding top officials accountable by bemoaning the partisanship that they put on display every night. We get that the right would have a screaming hissy fit against whoever dared to investigate or prosecute one of their own. We understand that the entire dynamic in Washington is wired to prevent holding any member of any Administration to the same standard as someone in Poughkeepsie who committed a crime.
We just have a problem with it.
If Todd has his way, we will hear more stories - like the tale of a CIA Supervisor bragging about using fire ants on a detainee - of perfidy, that scar us around the world, and we will just move along.
Digby has more thoughts