April 21, 2009 CNN
Dave N: Paul Begala and Ari Fleischer debated the release of the Bush torture memos -- and President Obama's indication that prosecutions of the architects of the torture regime may yet face prosecution -- on Anderson Cooper's 360 yesterday.
The fireworks erupted when Fleischer decided that the best defense was to claim that waterboarding really isn't torture:
FLEISCHER: No, again, Anderson, your premise is that it is torture. And I think the only people who can determine that are people from the Department of Justice.
COOPER: But it's interesting, though...
FLEISCHER: If it is torture, if it is torture...
COOPER: ... when the Khmer Rouge did it, when the Khmer Rouge did it at Tuol Sleng prison, and you can go there, and you can see the instruments they used to water-board people, I mean, we labeled it as torture.
FLEISCHER: And, Anderson, that's why I said the only people who are in a position to make an authoritative judgment on it should be career, independent-minded people at the Department of Justice, without anybody at the White House interfering or anybody else interfering.
And then, if they decide it was, then they have got a very careful decision to make about how far and extensive do you prosecute people. Is it the people who did it? Is it the Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill who were briefed on it and didn't object to it? And who in the administration would you have to apply that standard to?
This is where this whole thing can go.
But, going back to the memo, and going back to bipartisanship, you know, it's not just the Bush people who said it was wrong to release that memo. Bill Clinton's head of the CIA said it was wrong to release those memos, because you're teaching al Qaeda operatives exactly what our techniques are.
And why do we want anybody in al Qaeda to know what the limits of our techniques are, Paul?
BEGALA: The techniques that -- the techniques that we no longer use, the techniques that were in "The New York Review of Books" and half of the newspapers and magazines in North America, Ari. I mean, it is...
FLEISCHER: Paul, it was your administration's head of the CIA who objected to the release of those memos.
BEGALA: It doesn't -- it doesn't make...
FLEISCHER: It's a Clinton official who said that.
BEGALA: It doesn't make him right. Torture is always wrong, Ari. We executed...
FLEISCHER: I agree with you that torture is always wrong.
BEGALA: Excuse me for talking while you're interrupting.
COOPER: Let Paul finish.
BEGALA: We -- our country executed Japanese soldiers who water- boarded American POWs. We executed them for the same crime that we are now committing ourselves. How do you defend that?
The most awkward silence imaginable follows. Finally, Fleischer is able to eke out:
FLEISCHER: Well, again, Paul, I guess you already are the jury, the prosecutor, the judge, and a citizen all rolled into one. You have already pronounced judgment that it is a crime.
Actually, Fleischer could have countered Begala by pointing out that we didn't actually execute the Japanese soldiers convicted of the war crime of waterboarding American prisoners -- we just sentenced them to 15 years' hard labor.
But then, as the New York Times reports this morning, this White House's legal team didn't even bother to research the legal history of waterboarding before issuing their Excuse From Mom.
Waterboarding always was a crime -- until these characters came along. Maybe that's why Ari didn't really try to argue the point any further ...