Former ABC News anchor Ted Koppel took to BBC's World News America newscast on Monday night to denounce former Vice President Dick Cheney as Koppel declared U.S. policy should be that “torture is always illegal, and those who use it will always be prosecuted.” Koppel shared how his “greatest disagreement” with Cheney is over describing water-boarding as an “enhanced interrogation technique,” which Koppel contended is a “euphemism” for torture that is “almost the moral equivalent of saying that rape is an enhanced seduction technique.” Furthermore, Koppel contended in mocking the carefully construed legal reasoning that allowed water-boarding, if you do that “you might as well go all the way to the red-hot pokers.”
In his first commentary for the hour-long, Washington, DC-based newscast run on the BBC America channel and the BBC World News channel, “contributing analyst” Koppel recalled how water-boarding “has a long and notorious history dating back to at least the Spanish Inquisition,” before proposing: “If we object to a technique being used on a captured American, we shouldn't use it, either.” So, he declared: “Let those who violate our stated national principles on torture be put on notice, it is against American law no matter where or under what circumstances it's employed, and violations of that law will lead to prison.”
Not considering the difference between interrogation techniques being used against uniformed combatants or intelligence officers for nations and state-less terrorists dedicated to murdering civilians, Koppel sermonized:
To call something an “enhanced interrogation technique” doesn't alter the fact that we thought it was torture when the Japanese used it on American prisoners, we thought it was torture when the North Koreans used it, we thought it was torture when the Soviets used it. It was torture when we use it.
The fairly new BBC newscast is executive-produced by Rome Hartman, who came from CBS where he had been the top producer of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric after many years as a producer for 60 Minutes.
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of Koppel's commentary on the Monday, May 11 World News America aired on two BBC channels carried in the United States:
MATT FREI: Welcome back to BBC World News America. It is a tradition for recently departed American leaders to fade quickly into the background and to avoid publicly criticizing their successors. Former Vice President Dick Cheney is definitely not sticking to that script. He's attacked Barack Obama's decision to end the harsh interrogation policies used by the Bush administration. Yesterday he used a Sunday talk show to reiterate his strong belief in the approach adopted after the 9/11 attacks, and to deny that they constituted torture. Listen.
DICK CHENEY: If we had been about torture, we wouldn't have wasted our time going to the Justice Department.
BOB SCHIEFFER: In retrospect, years have passed, you're now out of office, do you think we should have done some things differently back then? Or do you have any regrets about any of it?
CHENEY: No regrets. I think it was absolutely the right thing to do. I'm convinced, absolutely convinced that we saved thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives.
FREI: No regrets. So did the interrogation policy save lives? Or did they cause America to abandon its coveted spot on the moral high ground? Our contributing analyst Ted Koppel has been thinking about that question and the entire question of torture. He's here with his perspective today. Ted?
TED KOPPEL: Thank you, Matt. We need a policy on torture, and it should be established soon before the next terrorist attack makes reasonable discussion impossible. The policy needs to be blindingly simple. Torture is always illegal, and those who use it will always be prosecuted. There's a back door, a weasel clause if you will -- there always is -- but I'll get to that in a moment. We thought we had a policy. President George W. Bush stated it with commendable clarity during a visit to Panama in 2005.
GEORGE W. BUSH: We do not torture.
KOPPEL: That turned out to be untrue. Water-boarding, for example, is a euphemism that's been with us for only a few years. The technique of simulated drowning, however, has a long and notorious history dating back to at least the Spanish Inquisition. When American soldiers used the technique in the Philippines more than 100 years ago, the euphemism was the "water cure." At any time and by any name, it was torture. Some prisoners of the Khmer Rouge, shackled hand in foot, broke bones in their wrists and ankles, so great were their struggles to escape the agonies of simulated drowning. Interviewer Scott Hennen of radio station WDAY was probably unaware of that historical trivia when, in 2006, he had this exchange with then-Vice President Dick Cheney.
HENNEN: Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?
CHENEY: Well, it's a no-brainer for me, but I, for a while there I was criticized as being the Vice President for torture. We don't torture, that's not what we're involved in.
KOPPEL: Well, we were involved in it, almost certainly will be again, and, rather than debating how many angels can writhe on the head of a pin, we should establish procedures that will at least minimize its use. Defining torture should be relatively simple. If we object to a technique being used on a captured American, we shouldn't use it, either. We also know that there are times when extraordinary circumstances -- what are sometimes called the "ticking time bomb scenario" -- will lead to the use of torture no matter what our public claims. Having said that, torture should be clearly and unambiguously against the law, as it is for those who safeguard our homes and streets domestically. Cases are thrown out of court because essential evidence was extracted under duress. Occasionally, brutal cops and corrections officers are even prosecuted and imprisoned. That has not led to the elimination of torture in our precincts and prisons, but it has been a deterrent. Let those who violate our stated national principles on torture be put on notice, it is against American law no matter where or under what circumstances it's employed, and violations of that law will lead to prison.
Is it possible that a threat to national security and the lives of many Americans may at a subsequent trial be determined to have justified the wisdom of that law? May a presidential pardon be warranted? Perhaps. But moral clarity and America's standing in the world demand that the burden of proof be on those who can find no alternative to torture. Matt?
FREI: Ted, how much allowance should there be made for the fact that a lot of these techniques and their legal justification were put in place just a few months or years after 9/11, when this country was in a significantly different mood to what it is today?
KOPPEL: Matt, I think a euphemism is a euphemism. To call something an "enhanced interrogation technique" doesn't alter the fact that we thought it was torture when the Japanese used it on American prisoners, we thought it was torture when the North Koreans used it, we thought it was torture when the Soviets used it. It was torture when we use it.
FREI: But there's still this culture of euphemism, what some people might say is, had they been more honest about what they should do in extreme circumstances, it might have been more acceptable to some people in this country?
KOPPEL: I think fundamentally that's where my greatest disagreement with Vice President Cheney comes. You know, it's almost the moral equivalent of saying that rape is an enhanced seduction technique. It doesn't change the fact that it is a brutal and violent act, and it shouldn't change the fact when we're talking about torture either. Simply to call it something that sounds less brutal doesn't make any difference. And I would make one other point. If indeed the argument is that we have to employ such techniques because of the danger of what could be threatening thousands, or as the Vice President put it, hundreds of thousands of Americans, then why hesitate at the threshold of the dungeon? You might as well go all the way to the red-hot pokers then.
FREI: But Vice President Cheney, former Vice President Cheney does channel or express a significant portion of opinion, public opinion, in this country, does he not?
KOPPEL: I think he does, and I think that's all the more reason why this debate has to be carried out now, while there is at least less heat about it than there will be as soon as there is another terrorist attack in this country.
FREI: Do you think there should be legal consequences?
KOPPEL: Of course, there should be legal consequences -- not necessarily for those who acted in the past because they did have Justice Department justification, as misguided as I think that was. But some line needs to be drawn. We need to draw that line now and say, from here on in, understand torture may be used, but if it is, there will be, there must be legal consequences.
FREI: Ted Koppel, thanks for your views.