Special Comment: On waterboarding and torture
Nov. 5: Keith Olbermann comments on Pres. Bush and Michael Mukasey’s
response to allegations of waterboarding in the Bush administration. Why
was an Acting Assistant Attorney General forced out – just because he had
the guts to do what Pres. Bush couldn't?
The presidency is now a criminal conspiracy
Olbermann: Bush may not observe the rules, but the country abides by them
It is a fact startling in its cynical simplicity and it requires cynical
and simple words to be properly expressed: The presidency of George W.
Bush has now devolved into a criminal conspiracy to cover the ass of
George W. Bush.
All the petulancy, all the childish threats, all the blank-stare
stupidity; all the invocations of World War III, all the sophistic
questions about which terrorist attacks we wanted him not to stop, all the
phony secrets; all the claims of executive privilege, all the stumbling
tap-dancing of his nominees, all the verbal flatulence of his
All of it is now, after one revelation last week, transparently clear for
what it is: the pathetic and desperate manipulation of the government, the
refocusing of our entire nation, toward keeping this mock president and
this unstable vice president and this departed wildly self-overrating
attorney general, and the others, from potential prosecution for having
approved or ordered the illegal torture of prisoners being held in the
name of this country.
"Waterboarding is torture," Daniel Levin was to write. Daniel Levin was no
theorist and no protester. He was no troublemaking politician. He was no
table-pounding commentator. Daniel Levin was an astonishingly patriotic
American and a brave man.
Brave not just with words or with stances, even in a dark time when that
kind of bravery can usually be scared or bought off.
Charged, as you heard in the story from ABC News last Friday, with
assessing the relative legality of the various nightmares in the Pandora's
box that is the Orwell-worthy euphemism "Enhanced Interrogation," Mr.
Levin decided that the simplest, and the most honest, way to evaluate them
... was to have them enacted upon himself.
Daniel Levin took himself to a military base and let himself be waterboarded.
Mr. Bush, ever done anything that personally courageous?
Perhaps when you've gone to Walter Reed and teared up over the maimed
servicemen? And then gone back to the White House and determined that
there would be more maimed servicemen?
Has it been that kind of personal courage, Mr. Bush, when you've spoken of
American victims and the triumph of freedom and the sacrifice of your own
popularity for the sake of our safety? And then permitted others to fire
or discredit or destroy anybody who disagreed with you, whether they were
your own generals, or Max Cleland, or Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, or
Daniel Levin should have a statue in his honor in Washington right now.
Instead, he was forced out as acting assistant attorney general nearly
three years ago because he had the guts to do what George Bush couldn't do
in a million years: actually put himself at risk for the sake of his
country, for the sake of what is right.
And they waterboarded him. And he wrote that even though he knew those
doing it meant him no harm, and he knew they would rescue him at the
instant of the slightest distress, and he knew he would not die — still,
with all that reassurance, he could not stop the terror screaming from
inside of him, could not quell the horror, could not convince that which
is at the core of each of us, the entity who exists behind all the
embellishments we strap to ourselves, like purpose and name and family and
love, he could not convince his being that he wasn't drowning.
Waterboarding, he said, is torture. Legally, it is torture! Practically,
it is torture! Ethically, it is torture! And he wrote it down.
Wrote it down somewhere, where it could be contrasted with the words of
this country's 43rd president: "The United States of America ... does not
Made you into a liar, Mr. Bush.
Made you into, if anybody had the guts to pursue it, a criminal, Mr. Bush.
Waterboarding had already been used on Khalid Sheik Mohammed and a couple
of other men none of us really care about except for the one detail you'd
forgotten — that there are rules. And even if we just make up these rules,
this country observes them anyway, because we're Americans and we're
better than that.
We're better than you.
And the man your Justice Department selected to decide whether or not
waterboarding was torture had decided, and not in some phony academic
fashion, nor while wearing the Walter Mitty poseur attire of flight suit
He had put his money, Mr. Bush, where your mouth was.
So, Levin was fired.
Because if it ever got out what he'd concluded, and the lengths to which
he went to validate that conclusion, anybody who had sanctioned
waterboarding and who-knows-what-else on anybody, you yourself, you would
have been screwed.
And screwed you are.
It can't be coincidence that the story of Daniel Levin should emerge from
the black hole of this secret society of a presidency just at the
conclusion of the unhappy saga of the newest attorney general nominee.
Another patriot somewhere listened as Judge Mukasey mumbled like he'd
never heard of waterboarding and refused to answer in words … that which
Daniel Levin answered on a waterboard somewhere in Maryland or Virginia
three years ago.
And this someone also heard George Bush say, "The United States of America
does not torture," and realized either he was lying or this wasn't the
United States of America anymore, and either way, he needed to do
something about it.
Not in the way Levin needed to do something about it, but in a brave way
We have U.S. senators who need to do something about it, too.
Chairman Leahy of the Judiciary Committee has seen this for what it is and
Sen. Schumer has seen it, reportedly, as some kind of puzzle piece in the
New York political patronage system, and he has failed.
What Sen. Feinstein has seen, to justify joining Schumer in
rubber-stamping Mukasey, I cannot guess.
It is obvious that both those senators should look to the meaning of the
story of Daniel Levin and recant their support for Mukasey's confirmation.
And they should look into their own committee's history and recall that in
1973, their predecessors were able to wring even from Richard Nixon a
guarantee of a special prosecutor (ultimately a special prosecutor of
Richard Nixon!), in exchange for their approval of his new attorney
general, Elliott Richardson.
If they could get that out of Nixon, before you confirm the president's
latest human echo on Tuesday, you had better be able to get a "yes" or a
"no" out of Michael Mukasey.
Ideally you should lock this government down financially until a special
prosecutor is appointed, or 50 of them, but I'm not holding my breath. The
"yes" or the "no" on waterboarding will have to suffice.
Because, remember, if you can't get it, or you won't with the time between
tonight and the next presidential election likely to be the longest year
of our lives, you are leaving this country, and all of us, to the
waterboards, symbolic and otherwise, of George W. Bush.
Ultimately, Mr. Bush, the real question isn't who approved the
waterboarding of this fiend Khalid Sheik Mohammed and two others.
It is: Why were they waterboarded?
Study after study for generation after generation has confirmed that
torture gets people to talk, torture gets people to plead, torture gets
people to break, but torture does not get them to tell the truth.
Of course, Mr. Bush, this isn't a problem if you don't care if the
terrorist plots they tell you about are the truth or just something to
stop the tormentors from drowning them.
If, say, a president simply needed a constant supply of terrorist threats
to keep a country scared.