Obama on Terrorist Rights: Joe Calls Out Mika on 'Moral Choices'

It would be hard to overstate the significance of Barack Obama's blunder. As a certain junior senator from New York said during the primary season, while John McCain has obviously passed the Commander-in-Chief threshold, it's not clear Obama has. If there is one fundamental challenge facing the Dem candidate in this campaign, it is to prove that he has the values and the toughness necessary to protect our country against the terrorists who seek to destroy us.

Yet now—in an interview with ABC's Jake Tapper—Obama has proposed a read-them-their-Miranda-rights approach to dealing with the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.  It's the policy equivalent of Dukakis-in-a-tank, and is likely, in this NewsBuster's opinion, to have an even more harmful impact on his campaign. The McCain camp has wasted no time in weighing in.  In a conference call yesterday, former CIA director James Woolsey said Obama's advocacy of giving terrorists access to U.S. courts was an "extremely dangerous and an extremely naive approach to terrorism." 

Discussion on Morning Joe today among, on the one hand, Barack fans Mika Brzezinski and WaPo's Jonathan Capehart, and on the other a Joe Scarborough preaching realpolitik, revealed just how vulnerable Obama is on the issue. I'd encourage readers to view the extended video clip here, but for present purposes will focus on one exchange:

JOE SCARBOROUGH: You [Capehart] said "what do we have to be afraid of?" If we had captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2003, and if instead of waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed we had instead booked him, fingerprinted him, and said "you have a right to retain an attorney, you have a right not to," I mean, and given him all the rights that Americans are afforded, this is a reality, it doesn't make it pretty, but we would not have learned all the things we learned about al Qaeda, we would not have learned all the things we learned about September 11th, we would not have learned he planned September 11th, we would not have learned about the al Qaeda terror network.  And a lot of Americans out there, Jonathan, may say, OK, Jonathan Capehart and Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough may be offended by that fact, but I'm safer today because he didn't have the same constitutional rights that I have.
Mika had to concede the point.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: And that is the message that will sell politically.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Right.

BRZEZINSKI: It is. I mean --

SCARBOROUGH: But Mika, you keep talking about "message," and Americans being deluded and Americans being fearful --

BRZEZINSKI: You're the one saying Americans don't care about how these people are treated at Guantanamo, and you maybe make a very good point.  

SCARBOROUGH: That's not a message, though.  That's not a political message, that is a reality to millions of Americans who say, who are saying "I don't care what they do to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—I want to be safe,  I want my children to be safe, I want my community to be safe."

BRZEZINSKI: There is an argument out there, though, that Jonathan makes, that the nation has lost its way in terms of its reputation --

SCARBOROUGH: Well, let's have Jonathan make that argument.

BRZEZINSKI: I'm just saying, it doesn't mean we are soft on terrorism, it means that we may want to go back to the times -- [Ed.–September 10th?]

SCARBOROUGH [jocularly]: But you know what Jonathan is really saying is?  Go ahead, Jonathan.

CAPEHART: No matter what, whether it's President McCain or President Obama, I am 100% confident that either man will protect this nation from terrorism and those that want to do us harm.

BRZEZINSKI: Exactly! And there's a choice here. And there are moral choices as well. Maybe some people don't care about them. That's fair, but --

SCARBOROUGH: Mika, you can't say people are immoral because --

BRZEZINSKI: I didn't say that.  I didn't say that!

SCARBOROUGH: You said there is a moral choice --

BRZEZINSKI: There are moral choices to make, and some might not care about them, that doesn't make them immoral, because of the sentiment that you bring up.

SCARBOROUGH: Okay, hold on a second, though.  You just say some people may not care about moral choices: parents make moral choices when they say I care more about my children's safety than I do about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's constitutional rights. So that doesn't make them immoral.

BRZEZINSKI: I didn't say they were.

Strictly speaking, Mika's right. In saying "there are moral choices as well. Maybe some people don't care about them," Brzezinski didn't accuse people of being immoral.  She cast them as amoral.  I'd urge Obama to adopt that line of argument: "you great, unwashed, amoral masses don't exist on my higher plane."  Go for it, Barack!

As for Capehart being "100% confident" that either McCain or Obama would keep us safe: had Jonathan been around in 1938, perhaps he would have said the same of Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill.

H/t reader Deb V.

Note: Joe has his finger on the national pulse.  The WaPo/ABC News poll released yesterday revealed that by a margin of 61/34%, Americans are opposed to granting GTMO detainees access to the U.S. civilian court system [see question #13].

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.