Countdown: Truth nor Consequences

Liberty Transcript Service
Countdown with Keith Olberman excerpt from February 10 show:

KEITH OLBERMAN: Lying about Iraq, spying on war protesters, hiring and firing Justice Department personnel in the pursuit of politics, wiretapping American citizens, torture—crimes committed by the Bush administration, all are still questions in the dark, still questions unanswered.

Our fourth story tonight: The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is suggesting a bipartisan panel to ferret out the truth on these matters and more — empowered to grant immunity to serve subpoenas. Senator Pat Leahy is saying he wants to gage support for the idea which he first discussed in a speech yesterday, now already talking about it with the White House, the Obama White House.

Last night, the president declined to weigh in on the plan but said he wants to leave no doubt that the US now obeys the law.

OBAMA: My view is also that nobody‘s above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen. So, I will take a look at Senator Leahy‘s proposal. But my general orientation is to say — let‘s get it right moving forward.

OLBERMANN: In an interview today for tonight‘s “Rachel Maddow Show,” Senator Leahy discussed one model for his inquiry, the Church Commission of the ‘70s and just possibly acknowledged its shortcomings.

SEN. PAT LEAHY, (D-VT): When I first came to the Senate, Frank Church had just had a commission like that — looked into the spying on anti-war protesters, some of the abuses of both the FBI and the CIA, and just bringing the matters to light brought about some much-needed reforms — changes that lasted for a couple decades. I think we have to do the same thing here.

OLBERMANN: The Church reforms not only failed to prevent future executive branch abuses — the very ones of which Mr. Leahy now prescribes a new commission — they also failed to stop the very people in the executive branch then from leading the way in doing it now, namely, Nixon White House veterans Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

Mr. Leahy‘s other model for his commission, South Africa‘s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, from which 7,112 sought amnesty for their crimes, 5,392 were denied amnesty. And, yes, the nation’s former president, P.W. Botha, was found by the commission to be accountable for gross violations of human rights, but he was only convicted of refusing to cooperate with the commission and that conviction was overturned by a white court.

Let’s turn now to Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University. As ever, Jon, great thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: Why model a commission for preventing future executive branch abuses on a commission that failed to prevent the very executive branch abuses you‘re looking to prevent again?

TURLEY: Well, you know, it‘s incredible, because truth commissions generally have been used by emerging democracies — often, third world countries, countries that have nascent legal systems, countries that are trying to create new governments. They’re not associated with a government that‘s supposedly the leader of the rule of law.

We don‘t have any question about the obligation to follow these treaties. There‘s no question that torture occurred here. There‘s no question it was a war crime. And so, the only reason to have a commission of this kind is to avoid doing what we’re obligated to do under a treaty. And the fact is that these members of Congress view this as a very inconvenient time to fight on principle. But they would do us all a favor if they just saved the money on another useless commission and just take the old 9/11 Commission report, rip off the cover and put a new cover on, and call it a day. Because it is shameful that we would be calling for this type of commission.

Everyone knows what we‘re doing. We’re in violation of our obligations now. We were supposed to investigate. It‘s not up to President Obama. It’s not up to Senator Leahy. We’re obligated to investigate. This whole discussion in front of the whole world is basically saying that we are not going to comply with the promise we made — not to ourselves — but to the world.

OLBERMANN: Also, whether you‘re basing it on the Church model or the South African model, they elevated these crimes that they are selected to address above regular law and order, or certainly distinguished them from regular law and order. Regardless of what they might find and however valuable they might be for a historical record, does not using a special forum inherently validate the Bush claim that the regular rules did not apply to his presidency because of the exigent circumstances?

TURLEY: It absolutely does. I mean, we need to be honest. There’s great love for President Obama and I have great respect for him. But you cannot say that you believe that no one is above the law and block the investigation of the war crimes by your predecessor. It is a position without principle. It is because you believe it’s politically inconvenient and by simply saying that you will do a special commission is like saying you have special justice, but at the end of the day, no one believes that people will be prosecuted for a known war crime. And when we do that — when we do that, then we will become accessories. Those crimes of President Bush will become our crimes. His shame will become our collective shame. That’s what happens when you protect someone accused of war crimes from even an investigation.

OLBERMANN: Is fear of Republican blowback in the future a valid reason to refrain from prosecuting or do Democrats, to some degree, risk incentivizing Republicans to threaten that blowback or other kinds of it even more and more?

TURLEY: Well, the Democrats are going to have to decide whether they want to detach themselves from principle, start their control of this government with an act of the most unprincipled sort. One of the treaties that we signed and help write says there are no excuses and no defenses for ordering torture. We helped write those rules, and we are about to break them. So, yes, there may be backlash.

The Republican Party may want to be the party that embraces torture and fights from being held accountable under treaties that we signed and promised the world. The question for members of both parties: Whether this is the matter that they want to lose that degree of principle. And, you know, this is the time — and it comes in every career — when you have to decide whether you are a statesman or just one more politician looking for the next election.

OLBERMANN: Jonathan Turley of George Washington University and speaking, I think, from the pages of our history books. Thank you, Jon.

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