MSNBC's Shuster: Waterboarding Equivalent to Shooting Legs Off

MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and David Shuster squared off in a heated battle on Tuesday over whether waterboarding constitutes torture. Scarborough appeared exasperated with his left-leaning guest and, at one point, derided, "Are you an expert? When did you decide and when did the liberal media decide and when did all of us in Manhattan, Georgetown and West Hollywood decide that waterboarding was torture?"

Later in the segment, Shuster began wildly comparing waterboarding to violent acts: "If you believe that America should torture, fine! Waterboard them! Drill them in the kneecaps. Shoot, shoot their legs off! Whatever you want to do." Scarborough responded by laughing and, in a nod to "24," announced, "I'm not Jack Bauer."

Video (2:15): Windows Media (4.18 MB) or MP3 audio (1.02 MB).

Shuster, a regular correspondent for "Hardball" and other MSNBC programs, repeatedly sparred with Scarborough over whether waterboarding, which amounts to simulated drowning, is torture. Showing frustration with both Shuster and his "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski, Scarborough wondered, "David, what would you have us do? My God....I am at this point getting very frustrated because you two are in the distinct minority in America. What would you have our CIA agents, what would you have our interrogators do?"

Scarborough's guest also saw nefarious motives to the revelation that videotapes showing CIA interrogations of detainees have been destroyed. He heatedly asked, "Why did somebody feel it was necessary to destroy the tapes?...If it's in such a controlled environment, if it's so successful and if it's something we can all be proud of, let's show the tapes, let's show the American people, here's what we're doing."

A transcript of the segment, which aired at 6:40am on December 11, follows:

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Let's go to Des Moines, Iowa right now and David Shuster. He's an NBC political correspondent. How are you doing, David Shuster?

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Hi, David.

DAVID SHUSTER: Hi, good morning. You know, Joe, I didn't realize you were there when Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was being waterboarded. You said, when we were waterboarding him. You were there? That's news to me. You know, Joe, how do you know -- How do you know --

SCARBOROUGH: Hold on, David. David, I wasn't there but you know what? Thank God I was able to read Newsweek magazine in 2002 who described it, who talked about how the United States did waterboard him, and talked how about Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the mastermind of September 11 that killed over 3,000 Americans, started talking like a little pansy and started telling--

SHUSTER: And how did they know, Joe, that the information he was providing was accurate? How did they know, first of all, that it was the waterboarding that caused him to talk?

SCARBOROUGH: Because it-- Because-- Okay.

SHUSTER: Secondly, how do they know the information he was providing was accurate until they checked it out? It is just as likely that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad could have made up some information.

SCARBOROUGH: Well, you know, we--Five years later, we know and the intelligence agencies tell us that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad provided us a treasure-trove of intelligence and gave us a lot of information that actually helped us make more arrests, helped to save more lives, and helped us -- again, it led to other trails. So, and--

SHUSTER: Right and they're not talking about all the people who provided false information and false leads and all the time we wasted chasing down ridiculous information because we were waterboarding people

SCARBOROUGH: David, what would you have us do? My God. I seriously -- I am at this point getting very frustrated because you two are in the distinct minority in America. What would you have our CIA agents, what would you have our interrogators do?

SHUSTER: I think there are plenty of techniques that are out there that are short of torture that are just as effective.

SCARBOROUGH: Are you an expert? When did you decide and when did the liberal media decide and when did all of us in Manhattan, Georgetown and West Hollywood decide that waterboarding was torture? Because, I have got to tell you, I wasn't at that meeting.

SHUSTER: Well, you know, Joe, I have actually seen a tape of waterboarding. I have actually read about the guy from the Justice Department who went over and had himself waterboarded to examine whether it is torture and said without a doubt waterboarding is torture.

SCARBOROUGH: Oh, he didn't say that. No. David --

SHUSTER: He did. And, of course, he was forced out of the Justice Department.

SCARBOROUGH: If you are going to be on my show, David, you have got to provide accurate information. He did not say that waterboarding was torture. When he did say was that he was afraid without the proper guidelines and without the proper techniques applied, the way the Bush administration was administering it, that it could possibly be torture.

BRZEZINSKI: But that's, that's the closest we have gotten to answer as to whether the administration has a stand on whether or not this is torture.

SHUSTER: So, in other words, if they're pouring one gallon of water down a guy's throat as opposed to three gallons of water, that's a distinction and therefore it's possible the Bush administration could misuse it. Come on, Joe! You know better than that.

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, I do know a lot better than that because I've talked to interrogators that have interrogated some very bad people and what they tell me is that the biggest danger when we start talking about interrogation and harsh interrogation techniques, is that we have happened what happened at Abu Ghraib, where you have a bunch of people that don't have proper training and that haven't been in this business for 15, 20 years and that don't know how far you can push somebody before serious bodily harm or serious mental harm occurs with them. And, yes, you -- you -- the way you apply waterboarding, the way that you apply sleep deprivation and the way that you, you apply sensory overload, all of it has to be in a very measured way or even the top interrogators will say then it does become torture.

SHUSTER: Well, then if it's so measured, why are we so afraid to release the tapes then? Why did somebody feel it was necessary to destroy the tapes? Obviously, they felt something was problematic with it. If it's in such a controlled environment, if it's so successful and if it's something we can all be proud of, let's show the tapes, let's show the American people, here's what we're doing.

SCARBOROUGH: But, David, you are making the suggestion that whatever the United States government does, whatever our army does, whatever interrogators do, that we have a responsibility to release it to the world. Listen, at the end of World War II, after the Germans were already ready to surrender, we firebombed Dresden. We killed tens of thousands of little children and mothers. We didn't have to do that. But we were sending a message to Germany. You brought us into war. We are going to incinerate your town. We are going to burn your little children up. We are going to burn babies up. We are going to burn mothers up. We are going to burn grandmothers up. We are going to burn grandfathers up. Whether it is immoral? Probably so. Did we do it because we were in the middle of an ugly war against Adolf Hitler? Yes. Were we trying to send a signal? Yes. Do I want to see videos-- Do I wish I had seen videos of these people being burned in the streets of Dresden at the end of World War II when we really didn't have to firebomb Dresden? No, I do not.

6:47

SCHUSTER: The point of this is that Americans are better than this, that Americans stand for something better than torturing their enemies. First of all, torture doesn't work. And secondly, American military --

SCARBOROUGH: You define waterboarding as torture. I do not.

SHUSTER: All right. Well, then that's the difference. That's the difference. I think waterboarding is torture. I think anybody who has taken a serious look at this, even Michael Mukasey probably had some doubts which is why he had such a difficult time answering this. But anybody who seriously looked at this understands waterboarding is torture. If you believe that America should torture, fine! Waterboard them! Drill them in the kneecaps. Shoot, shoot their legs off! Whatever you want to do.

SCARBOROUGH [Laughing] You just-- You just-- You just redefined waterboarding as torture and then just said and suggested that I wanted to shoot people in the kneecaps! I'm not Jack Bauer!

SHUSTER: Yeah, why not? Why stop at waterboarding?

SCARBOROUGH: I'm not Jack Bauer. I'm not going to say, "Hey, you know what? I'm going to shoot your wife if you don't tell us where the nuclear weapon is." What I'm saying--

SHUSTER: But Joe, what you're saying is if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had that information and somebody shot him in the kneecaps and that would have caused him to provide that information, that would be just fine.

SCARBOROUGH: I didn't say that, David, what I said was that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was interrogated by the very best people of the United States government had and the CIA had and intelligence agencies had to interrogate Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. And they did it in a very measured way. And, you know, we keep talking about waterboarding. If you talk to David Ignatius, if you talk to most people that really know how these interrogations go and everybody likes the Jack Bauer scenes and everybody likes to talk about waterboarding, the way they get the most information is from sleep deprivation.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org