Newsday columnist Ellis Henican took on Bill O'Reilly last night to talk about President Obama's decision to leave the door open for prosecutions of Bush administration officials for creating its now-defunct torture regime.
And frankly, he did as well I've ever seen anyone do in the canned, no-win setup that is The O'Reilly Factor. He went toe-to-toe with O'Reilly on the factual points -- and in fact started scoring so well that O'Reilly was reduced to blurting out increasingly outrageous pronouncements.
First, it's clear that O'Reilly was only familiar with the GOP Talking Points[tm] version of the letter written by National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair in which he talks about "high value information" obtained through these techniques. But here's the actual letter.
As you can see from reading it, unlike the edited-down version O'Reilly and the GOPTP offer, Blair makes clear that he probably would have opposed the use of torture and clearly disapproves of it now:
Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing. As the President has made clear, and as both CIA Director Panetta and I have stated, we will not use those techniques in the future. I like to think I would not have approved those methods in the past, but I do not fault those who made the decisions at that time, and I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given.
Moreover, Blair further clarified himself the next day in the New York Times, explaining exactly why he would not have approved it:
"The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means," Admiral Blair said in a written statement issued last night. "The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."
O'Reilly clearly was unaware of this, so when Henican tosses it in his lap, he's at first confused, continuing to think that Blair and Henican have opposing views when they don't. It's kind of an amusing instance of O'Reilly so enrapt with his own narrative he doesn't recognize when it's been knocked out from under him.
Indeed, Henican essentially repeats Blair's words, and O'Reilly resorts to claiming that's "not exactly" what he said.
From then on, O'Reilly is reduced to barking increasingly strident charges at Henican:
O'Reilly: This was done to protect your life, you live in New York City. You -- this was done to protect your life, and it worked! That's No. 1.
Henican: We don't know whether it worked.
O'Reilly: Yeah, we know it worked, you're still alive! And the attack on Los Angeles was aborted.
O'Reilly: Wait, wait, wait. We can establish facts. And the facts are, this worked.
Henican: Well, you say that.
O'Reilly: They did it to protect us.
Henican: You assert that. Well, let me assert a couple of things.
O'Reilly: That's the overwhelming evidence.
Henican: Well, that's what you're focused on. Let me focus on some other facts. One is that these kinds of things cause huge problems for us afterward.
O'Reilly: Oh, now we're in Theory World. Here we go!
Henican: You cannot face torture -- I know you like avoid that word, you prefer the euphemisms, but let's call it what it is --
O'Reilly: No, it isn't! That's your opinion!*
Henican: And you think waterboarding is lovely.
O'Reilly: I think it's harsh interrogation.
Henican: When they do it do our guys it's not so lovely, is it?
O'Reilly: Oh, stop it. They behead our guys! That's ridiculous! All right, wait a minute. Now let me get into another -- I want to stay in facts. Today, today, the two organizations that came out to encourage Obama to put the show trial on, are George Soros and MoveOn!
Henican: I don't need to respond to MoveOn.
O'Reilly: No, you're on the side of Soros and MoveOn!
Henican: I'm on the side of doing something very simple here. Let's have an investigation -- let it be --
O'Reilly: Headed by who?!
Henican: Let the Justice Department decide if a crime has been committed here --
O'Reilly: Oh, Holder? You want Holder in charge of that?
Henican: Let the facts be gathered here. And let the facts be -- Why are you scared of the facts? Why won't you let the facts be gathered here, and take us where they lead?
O'Reilly: You know who Eric Holder is?
Henican: He's the Attorney General of the United States. And the professionals in that office are going to make this decision, and not Eric Holder.
O'Reilly: OK, you listen to me. You listen to me. Eric Holder was second in command to Janet Reno. Eric Holder and Janet Reno put the wall up between the FBI and the CIA, which led to the 9/11 attack!* If anybody should be prosecuted, it's him!
... Holder is not qualified to do this. And, and, here's the deal: If Obama does this, it is the end of the Obama Presidency. No, it's the end! It's the end! And if he gets hit, if we get hit after he does this, it's over!
O'Reilly and the conservatives are trying their damnedest to sell everyone the notion that the end justifies the means.
It's not working very well.
*Note: O'Reilly keeps yammering about facts, but he can't get any of them straight here. For instance: The "wall" O'Reilly references as having the blame for the 9/11 attacks -- at least on Planet Wingnuttia -- had nothing to do with a barrier between the CIA and the FBI (Janet Reno erected no such wall). The wall frequently blamed by the Right (including O'Reilly) for causing 9/11 was known as "Gorelick Wall," which was based on a memo written by then-Deputy AG Jamie Gorelick (who is not Eric Holder). Moreover, "as the 1995 guidelines clearly state, the Gorelick memo and the guidelines applied only to intelligence sharing 'between the FBI and the Criminal Division' within the Justice Department" -- and thus blaming it for the internal-intelligence failures that helped lead to 9/11 is a transcontinental leap at best.
Anyway, the answer to Henican's question should be obvious: Bill O'Reilly is scared of the facts because he has been estranged from them for so long.