Thursday, May 21, 2009

Maddow, Isikoff trump up evidence of Obama 'politicizing' justice

Looks to me like Michael Isikoff and Rachel Maddow distorted the import of a testy exchange between Team Obama and human rights officials at the White House reported last night. Isikoff, appearing on Maddow, had the scoop on the substance of this off-the-record meeting.

To paraphrase closely -- there's no transcript yet -- Isikoff reported that one of the visitors
raised the idea of a criminal prosecution, even one criminal prosecution as a symbol, a trophy, I think the word was used, to show that such conduct - for torture - such conduct would not be tolerated again, and the president sort of curtly dismissed the idea made it clear he had no interest in that. What's interesting about that again was that his attorney general Eric Holder sat there silently and didn't say a word. The President could have said that's Eric Holder's decision. But he didn't -- he seemed to cut it off.
Maddow then jumped in:
That seems like the biggest news here. The President has publicly said it's up to the attorney general...
Both then elaborated at length the idea that the Justice Department does not work for the President, that criminal prosecutions ought to be left up to the Justice Department and thus depoliticized -- a point stated eloquently a few weeks ago by Philip Zelikow.

True enough. And Holder may have been notoriously silent in other parts of the meeting. But here, it seems plain to me that Obama "curtly dismissed" the idea of a show trial because it's patently ridiculous. One scapegoat for a course of conduct in which virtually every senior national security official from the President on down was complicit? Who would that be, exactly? Should we string up John Yoo? Dick Cheney? W.? Obama didn't need to look left or right to assess that proposal.

Update: Isikoff's writeup on the Newsweek site likewise highlights the fact that "sources, all of whom asked not to be identified" said that "Attorney General Eric Holder sat by silently while the president curtly dismissed the idea that his Justice Department should criminally prosecute at least one Bush administration official for torture, if only as a symbolic move to demonstrate that actions such as waterboarding will never be tolerated again." Someone, or group of someones, plainly regards the "trophy trial" as an option that requires serious legal study.

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