Regular viewers of "The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC know they won't wait long to see frequent guest Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor.
The affection between Maddow and Turley appears obvious, along the lines of what you'd expect between an academic and the graduate student who just happens to share his political views.
But Turley, a scholar of constitutional law, apparently doesn't believe the presumption of innocence applies to people whose opinions he doesn't share. Here was Turley on Maddow's show this past Monday, expressing his absolute belief that former Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush officials are guilty of "war crimes" for sanctioning torture (the first two segments on the embedded video clip are of Turley's conversation with Maddow; the third segment is from her March 17 show, described later in the post) --
MADDOW: Should (Obama) be appointing a special prosecutor? What should he be doing?
TURLEY: He should be appointing a special prosecutor, there's no question about that. This is the most well-defined and publicly known crime I've seen in my lifetime. There's no debate about it, there's no ambiguity, it's well known. You've got people involved who have basically admitted the elements of a war crime that we're committed to prosecuting.
All of a minute later, Turley undercounts his learn'd man certitude --
And the reason that the Obama administration is now pulling back on the truth commission is because they have finally realized that if the truth commission actually investigates, it will be the shortest investigation in history. There's no question there's a war crime. And at the end people are going to wonder, how and why did you block this?! It's like a live torpedo in the water and it's going to come back and hit him. And that's why President Obama's beginning to pull back. The easiest thing to do is to get out of the way, say you know what, this isn't about values, it's about the law. I took an oath to God to enforce the law, and you know what fella, you're going to be a target of an investigation and maybe you're not guilty, maybe you are, but it's not for me to decide, it's for a special prosecutor.
Dr. Turley, I could have sworn you just said, "there's no question there's a war crime" and "there's no debate about it, no ambiguity, it's well known." Moments later, you said of Cheney, "maybe you're not guilty, maybe you are." Do you mean "maybe" Cheney is a war criminal, but there's no doubt about his cohorts?
And wouldn't it be up to a prosecutor to bring charges and a jury to decide on guilt? Please clarify, professor.
While you consider harsh interrogation of terrorists "the most well-defined and publicly known crime I've seen in my lifetime," I'll risk a gentleman's C by citing a greater monstrosity -- 9/11.
Maddow often invites other guests who share her belief in the alleged need for show trials of Bush-era hooligans. What makes Maddow's fervor in this all the more bizarre is her frequent claim the economy is on the verge of collapse.
On March 17, for example, one of Maddow's guests was University of California journalism professor Mark Danner, author of a story in the April 9 issue of The New York Review of Books, "US Torture: Voice From the Black Sites," alleging abuse of high-level al Qaeda operatives.
The basis for Danner's story was a report from the International Committee of the Red Cross based on interviews with 14 detainees. In speaking with Maddow, Danner mentions a former CIA agent involved in the interrogations --
MADDOW: One of the remarkable things about the similarities between these different prisoners' descriptions is not just that it implies that they couldn't have all come up with the same story. It also implies that this was a very organized situation. This was not rogue CIA officers taking the gloves off and deciding what to do in the moment. What do you know, what do you believe, what do we know about the level of coordination between officials at these black sites and officials in Washington who might have pursued this as a matter of policy?
DANNER: Well, we know, first of all, that the interrogators were in constant touch with their superiors at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. In fact, there is one of the interrogators of Abu Zubaydah, Mr. John Kiriakou, gave an interview to ABC News, that is, you can find on the Internet, in which he detailed this rather extensively. I quote from this report in which Mr. Kiriakou essentially says, you know, every time we had to use a new procedure, if we had to hit him, slap him, whatever, you would have to cable headquarters and get approval from the deputy director of operations, which is a very high position in the CIA.
That's not all Kiriakou "essentially" told ABC News, though Danner doesn't elaborate here. Richard Esposito and Brian Ross of ABC News did so in this story from Dec. 10, 2007 --
A leader of the CIA team that captured the first major al Qaeda figure, Abu Zubaydah, says subjecting him to waterboarding was torture but necessary.
In the first public comment by any CIA officer involved in handling high-value al Qaeda targets, John Kiriakou, now retired, said the technique broke Zubaydah in less than 35 seconds.
"The next day, he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate," said Kiriakou in an interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC News' "World News Tonight" and "Nightline."
"From that day on, he answered every question," Kiriakou said. "The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."
Kiriakou's stunning disclosure is rarely mentioned by liberals (though they buzzed about waterboarding after ABC aired the report). Left wingers are also determined to ignore the wider -- and ominous -- context in which the interrogations of high-level al Qaeda operatives took place.
Zubaydah was captured in March 2002, only six months after 9/11. Within weeks of the terrorist onslaught, President Bush and those around him learned of chilling intelligence analysis. It was described in a Sept. 19, 2004 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard and author of "Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe" --
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- In October 2001, a top-secret team was dispatched to New York City to search for a nuclear bomb. According to a CIA agent code-named Dragonfire, Al Qaeda had gotten hold of a nuclear weapon produced by the former Soviet Union and had successfully smuggled into the city. Under a cloak of secrecy that excluded even Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the Nuclear Emergency Search Team, or NEST, began a hunt for the 10-kiloton bomb whose Hiroshima-sized blast could have obliterated a significant portion of Manhattan.
... As NEST teams scoured New York City, Vice President Cheney left Washington for a secret underground site, later disclosed to be on the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. President Bush was concerned that Al Qaeda might have smuggled a nuclear weapon into the capital as well. Several hundred federal employees joined the vice president for many weeks, preparing an alternative government should a nuclear explosion wipe out Washington.
The suspected nuclear device in New York City was never found. But the threat was credible for good reasons. Did former Soviet stockpiles include a large number of 10-kiloton weapons? Yes. Could the Russian government account for all its nuclear bombs? No. Could Al Qaeda have acquired one? Yes. Could it have smuggled a nuclear weapon through border controls and into a U.S. city? Yes.
Allison wasn't the only prominent observer who sounded the alarm about nuclear terrorism in the wake of 9/11. So did Christopher Hitchens, in an article titled "It's a Good Time for War" in The Boston Globe on Sept. 8, 2002 --
Turning to the domestic side, I am still reeling from two telephone calls that I received at home last December. They were from people "in the loop," and they urged me to get myself and my family out of town, right now. Intelligence had been received: A loose nuke was on the move, and Washington was the known target. "We're going. We're just telling some friends." I didn't go. Nor, after some hesitation, did I pass on the warning.
This was the sword of Damocles hanging over Bush and Cheney -- over all of us -- and the urgent need for actionable intelligence that went with it.
When I hear liberals like Maddow vilify the Bush "torture regime," I wonder if they are remotely familiar with moral dilemmas, of being forced to choose between untenable choices, none good, one only maginally better than the rest.
Our leaders in the years after 9/11 became all too acquainted with these agonizing quandaries, as were Lincoln, Roosevelt and JFK in fighting the demons of their eras. I pray those now in power do not continue deluding themselves that such dilemmas are resolved by acting as if they don't exist.