Filling in for Bob Schieffer on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, host Harry Smith helped finish the sentences of ACLU executive director Anthony Romero, while grilling New York Republican Congressman Peter King during a discussion on recent national security decisions by the Obama administration.
Smith began by asking Romero about the Obama administration’s decision to reinstate military tribunals for terror suspects: "The headlines from this -- no evidence admitted gained from harsh interrogation techniques. Hearsay, some hearsay will be admissible in court. To you, Anthony Romero, is there any good news in this?" Romero replied: "First, by continuing with the Bush military commissions, we are going to delay justice. It will take years before we see justice in these commissions." Smith helped to bolster the point: "Because, one, there’s -- already they said at least hundred and twenty days before this can go on."
Romero went on:
"Second of all, I think what's important to underscore is that the tribunals themselves are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense. That’s a mistake. That’s the same Department of Defense that authorized, enabled, and allowed torture to occur. It lacks the -- the credibility to undertake that effort." Smith again helped out by adding: "And, ironically enough, at least three very high-ranking flag officers from the Department of Defense have said in -- in very specific language, they don’t think these work."
It was left entirely to Congressman King to tear apart Romero’s accusations: "The fact is that these military tribunals, even under President Bush, as far as I can tell, gave more rights to defendants than were given at Nuremberg...As far as accusing the military of sanctioning torture, that’s just the same libel that’s been perpetrated by the ACLU continually here... don’t know what purpose the ACLU serves in constantly tearing down the United States, constantly attacking our government, and now it's not just President Bush, it’s President Obama."
Romero then argued: "...there is no way to resurrect these military commissions. It’s like a toxic waste dump. You can’t just build a new house on a toxic waste dump. You have to move the house...Our courts are well equipped to handle this. Look, we had the blind sheikh, prosecuted, convicted, serving time. Padilla, prosecuted, convicted, serving time. The dirty bomber. Mr. Reid, the shoe bomber, prosecuted, convicted, serving time." Smith did not challenge Romero, but rather turned the ACLU argument against King: "Congressman, what about that idea? Because there is a long -- a significant history of terrorists that have been convicted -- tried and convicted in U.S. courts and are currently in prison."
Smith later asked King if the military tribunals were designed to stack the deck against detainees: "Some people suggest, though, with these tribunals, it’s just a way to make the fix in. Some of those folks who have been brought into detention, many have been released. Hundreds have actually -- have -- have been released. Some there are -- are on what could be best described as fragile circumstances. In order to convict -- get a conviction, is the tribunal the only way to get it?" By "some people," Smith clearly meant Romero, because only moments earlier the ACLU director declared: "...the fact is, that it's an ineffective system of justice...We have the best system of justice in the world, and rather than gerry-rig or fix an already broken system, we ought to use the one that works."
Smith went on to ask about President Obama’s decision to block the release of photos of prisoner abuse under U.S. custody due to concerns over the safety of military personnel. Romero took the opportunity to declare: "What’s also true is that it’s not the photos that will put them at risk. It’s the policies that authorize torture and abuse that was authorized at the highest levels and that went down the chain of command across the theaters of war...We’re talking about decisions made at the highest levels of our government. And the only way to deal with that would be to have an investigations and prosecutions to ensure accountability."
Smith offered not a word of protest to Romero, but simply asked for King’s response, who countered: "They serve absolutely no purpose and it is absolutely wrong to say this was approved at the highest levels of government...But to somehow think that by floating all these pictures out here somehow we’re going to find that somebody at a high level was involved, this is absolutely wrong. It does put our troops in danger and it serves no purpose other than, again, to denigrate and downgrade the military of the United States. And this canard is always out there, people at the highest levels approved it."
While Smith had no problem with any of Romero's inflammatory statements, he felt the need to challenge King: "But the idea -- but the idea of these harsher interrogation methods have been part and parcel of the Bush administration, going back to -- all the way back to 2002. That's been documented. And people who were convicted in the Abu Ghraib travesty feel, especially the lower-level folks, feel like they were scapegoated by this. Might these pictures not in fact show that this was endemic and part of the process?"
King called Smith out: "No, because there was no connection at all between the CIA memos, the interrogations that were carried out, the extra interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the others, have nothing to do with what MP reservists might have been doing at Abu Ghraib...That is a phony argument that’s thrown out there to try and meld it all together. The fact is the CIA memos were very precise, very direct. What those others were doing was off on their own. And the ACLU is trying to meld it all together so they can just attack the United States."
Replying to Smith asking if Obama should classify the photos to overcome court decisions, King argued: "I think the President should declare an executive order...rather than spread this out over the next several years and have it in media all over the world to satisfy the ACLU, I say let’s get behind our President. I’m a Republican but I stand behind the President." Smith again laid out the ACLU argument: "Congressman, what about the idea, though, that the damage has already been done and it won’t matter what further pictures are shown? That -- that whatever damage, the die has already been cast?" King responded: "No, the more pictures, the more damage. And I'm saying no good comes out of it. No good comes out of it whatsoever, except some voyeuristic thrill that maybe some people get from looking at this. The reality is the damage has been done but more damage can be done as well."
Smith’s final question regarded the closing of Guantanamo Bay. Romero continued to argue for terrorists to be tried on American soil, while King explained: "Even Senator Webb, a leading Democrat, today said that Guantanamo should be kept open beyond next January. The Democrats in the Senate adopted a resolution, an amendment, saying that there should be no Guantanamo detainees brought into this country. So, more and more, we’re finding the American people on one side, the ACLU and the troglodytes from the New York Times on the other, where they belong. And I think President Obama is making the right decisions. And he made a mistake about Guantanamo. I expect to see that reversed by next January."
Smith concluded the segment by thanking King and Romero. Romero acknowledged his soft treatment as he replied: "It was my pleasure, Harry. Thank you." Indeed.
Read the full Face the Nation transcript here.