Dude, Where's My Torture Prosecutions?

May 23rd, 2009 9:57 AM

There has been very little attention paid in the MSM to a meeting on Wednesday between President Obama and various leftwing "human rights" groups except for a brief mention at the CBS News Political Hotsheet. However, according to a detailed report provided by Newsweek's Michael Isikoff on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show, Obama has revealed that there won't be any prosecutions of Bush administration for so-called torture. Perhaps this was the reason for so little MSM coverage on this meeting. They don't want to disappoint their audience, many of whom are still holding out hope for such prosecutions. However, the leftwing sites on the web are very vocal in their disappointment with Obama's decision including Talking Points Memo:

Yesterday morning President Obama met with representatives of several human rights and civil liberties groups in the White House's cabinet room. Joining him were his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, senior adviser David Axelrod, as well as Attorney General Eric Holder. They sat down with representatives of the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Human Rights Watch, among others.

Last night on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow reported that one of the attendees warned the President he was letting George Bush's policies become his own--and that Obama was not pleased by that characterization.

...On at least one issue, though, Obama seems to have made up his mind. Isikoff reports that Obama announced his opposition to torture prosecutions--an unsurprising admission, perhaps, but one that must have disappointed many in attendance. Previously he had said that the question of investigation and prosecuting Bush administration officials was one for Holder to answer. But with Holder sitting right beside him, there's no doubt he's feeling pressure to, as they say, look forward, not backward.

Isikoff described this in greater detail on Maddow's show:

RACHEL MADDOW: Let's take a specific example. One of the specific issues. The subject of  torture prosecutions, the possibility of maybe a truth commission, or a commission of inquiry of some kind, onto the issue of torture. Your sources are telling you that the President remained firmly against pursuing any of those things at this meeting today. But is there any sense of what his arguments are to defend that stance or is it still a generic assertion that we need to move forward and not look back?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF:  Well actually it was interesting. When the truth commission came up towards the end of the meeting, the President had a somewhat different explanation for his resistance to that. He talked about all the Congressional investigations that were going on, the litigation that was going on, and he said it was too distracting to his staff. Too much time was being taken up. He actually looked directly at Attorney General Holder who was present at the meeting, indicating that Holder was having to spend too much time on this issue. Now some of those present have made the point that is the reason to have a 9/11 style commission. Instead of having many congressional investigations, have one presidentially backed commission with subpoena power that can do all this. And the President didn't necessarily reject that but he raised this issue of distraction, too much time. Then after that one of those present raised the idea of a criminal prosecution, even one criminal prosecution, as a symbol sort of, a trophy I think the word was used, to show that such conduct would not be tolerated again and the President sort of curtly dismissed the idea, made it clear that he had no interest in that. What was interesting about that is his Attorney General, again Eric Holder, sat there silently, didn't say a word. The President could have said "that's Eric Holder's decision to make," but he didn't. He seemed to cut it off.

MADDOW:  I'm sorry to have interrupted you, Mike. That's exactly what I was going to interject to say. That seems like the biggest news here. The President has publicly said, "Listen, this is up to the Attorney General to decide whether or not it's appropriate to pursue criminal investigations and prosecutions." This is not a political matter, this is a law enforcement matter and the Justice Department does not work for the President, it works to enforce the laws of the United States and then he is meeting with people who are advocating investigations and prosecutions and answering on behalf of his attorney general. That's news. Because that would imply that what he's saying publicly and what he's saying in private meetings behind the scenes are not at all the same thing.

BINGO! And Rachel Maddow has provided us with another reason why there has been almost no coverage of this meeting in the MSM. Because it would show Obama's deceptiveness. Saying the matter of prosecutions were up to the Attorney General in public while in private making the decision to cut them off. 

Confirmation of the details of this meeting was also provided David Waldman who was present and posted his observations the following day at the Daily Kos:

I sat in on the meeting, and though the understanding was that the substance was off the record, the basics of what was discussed -- and some specifics about the discussion -- have obviously already been reported. The exchange was not unguarded, but I don't think there was any doubt left about where people stood, nor was there much shifting of the ground.

...On the whole, though, Isikoff appears to have gotten a entirely reasonable picture of the meeting, if not exactly the one I'd have given. On the substance, I'd say he gives you as good a run-down as we're likely to see on the air or in print.

Walman seems to think that Holder's silence was due to politeness on his part, rather than acquiescence, although he wasn't sure:

...The absence of any comment from the Attorney General appeared to me to be more of an acknowledgment that it was the President who wanted to direct the discussion, and the White House staff and administration officials present weren't getting in the way of that.

However, this caveat from Waldman did not soothe the feeling of his fellow Kossacks who were outraged that Obama appeared to cut off any "torture" prosecutions:

I just wish you have better news to report.  The whole idea of him answering ahead of a silent Holder on the prosecutions issue is very disturbing.  If that's the official position of the administration, and it's unconstitutionality aside, it's not only yet another 180° reversal of his previous comments regarding who would be making that decision, it again belies a determination to place politics over law.  

Frankly, Isikoff's report on Rachel last night scared the s--t out of me. The idea that Holder might be prevented from pursuing criminal charges when warranted was very upsetting. I'm glad to hear there is another reasonable take on the meeting.

So it is fascinating to once again see a story being widely discussed in the Blogosphere while being almost completely ignored in the MSM. Obama saying one thing in public and quite another in private. And that is why the mainstream media is reluctant to report on it.