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Christopher Hitchens on the Obama torture picture reversal and Maureen Dowd’s weird obsession with Dick Cheney

Thursday, May 14, 2009

HH: I begin this Wednesday as I do when we are lucky with Christopher Hitchens, columnist for Vanity Fair. Mr. Hitchens, welcome back.

CH: Very nice of you to have me.

HH: Today, it’s announced that President Obama is asking his lawyers to oppose the release of the photos of detainees suffering abuse at the hands of the American military. What do you make of Obama’s reversal of field here?

CH: Well, I mean, it’s not as alarming as the discovery that the videos of this procedure were destroyed by the Central Intelligence Agency without anyone asking them or telling them to do so, as if they were a department of State that had no supervision and no accountability at all. I suspect we probably lost already our best chance at finding out what this looks like. But I can only think of one motive for wanting people not to see it.

HH: Which is?

CH: Which is that it would be revolting to the conscience.

HH: Right, it is reported that General Petraues flew and urged the President not to release it because it would engender such anger as to endanger American troops in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

CH: Well, I can’t but think that that’s probably true.

HH: And sufficient argument in your eyes, to keep that closed?

CH: No, I mean, it’s not a reason for not doing it. I mean, it’s not a reason for not releasing it. It is a reason for not doing it in the first place, however.

HH: But so, do you think that the President has made the wrong…

CH: …because I mean, I think that what’s…look, here’s what’s involved. It’s involved in the Pelosi hypocrisy, too, and indeed, the hypocrisy of a lot of voters and citizens who wanted this to be done without having to ask for it or take responsibility for it. That’s really what we’re looking at, is it not?

HH: Yes, and do you believe Pelosi knew?

CH: And there’s a whole, I mean, that’s what this kind of thing does, is it spreads a poisonous hypocrisy throughout the whole society. So what people are saying is do it, by all means get the results, make us safe, as people love to say for some reason, and but we do not want to see what it looks like, or hear what it sounds like.

HH: Oh, it’s Jack Nicholson.

CH: Well, okay, that gap is bound to close. I wish Obama all the luck in the world in trying to have it both ways, but I don’t think all his charm and smoothness is going to get him through this one.

HH: It’s Jack Nicholson’s you can’t handle the truth moment, and it’s especially applicable to Nancy Pelosi. Do you believe her denials of knowledge that waterboarding was being used, Christopher Hitchens?

CH: Of course not. I mean, no. I mean, it’s an insult that she expects anyone to believe that. And it’s one of those very foolish things, mistakes that’ll have to be unpicked and undone with agonizing slowness until gradually she, you know, it’s as if it were tortured out of her that she lied the first time round. Why doesn’t she just come right out with it and say of course we were all in on it?

HH: Well because lots of Democrats like Patrick Leahy want to prosecute the lawyers involved. But if you prosecute lawyers for saying that it’s legal, you’ll have to force the Speaker of the House out of the speaker’s chair, won’t you, if she abetted it?

CH: I could live with that.

HH: Well, I could live with that, too, but except that there are better reasons to force her out of the speaker’s chair, generally, intelligence.

CH: (laughing)

HH: But I wonder whether or not that will stop the cries for persecution or prosecution of the Bush people.

CH: I mean, what it makes me ask, can I just broaden our discussion for a second, Hugh?

HH: Yes.

CH: I mean, I’ve often wondered what would have happened if Gore and Lieberman had won the election in 2000, as they, as some people still believe that they did, and that we had had the Democrats on watch in September, 2001. I mean, I don’t believe that there would have been no rough stuff inflicted on al Qaeda prisoners, do you?

HH: Of course not, and I believe that waterboarding will be back the moment we’re hit again.

CH: Well, what I’m really hoping, and I should confess, and I think I may have said this to you once before, and if I do, I don’t apologize for saying it again, because it’s on my mind. What I really hope is that the next atrocity is not committed by people who were freed from Guantanamo and given a pass to go back into the ranks.

HH: Let me ask you about…

CH: …because I think then people would get quite cross…

HH: Yes.

CH: …and the argument about human rights versus safety versus principles versus international laws would get even more muddy than it is now. And it’s just as much, I’m very much opposed to these torture methods, but it’s just as much an offense to justice that mass murderers are freed as it is that innocent people, or even guilty people are tortured.

HH: Now I continue to believe that waterboarding is not a crime under the torture statute of the United States, and I know you’ve been waterboarded, and I had a weekend with an F-18 pilot who’s gone through the survival and evasion school, continues to say you know, we routinely do this to our people to train them. I just don’t think it meets the criminal test in the law.

CH: No, but a lot of torture is inflicted on people under the excuse that you’re being trained to resist it. That’s a very sinister thing that we…originally, it began because we were teaching people to resist tactics that were used by North Koreans.

HH: Yes.

CH: …that would, you’re not going to tell me that you think North Korean tactics are acceptable for use by Americans.

HH: No, of course not, but that there’s a Venn diagram there that will have some overlapping which will be acceptable, but most not.

CH: Okay.

HH: But I don’t to get off on that with you. I wanted to ask you about Maureen Dowd, who I know is a colleague of yours, and I think a friend, but she wrote this paragraph today, and I’m curious, about Dick Cheney, your reaction to it. “Cheney,” she wrote, “has no coherent foreign policy viewpoint. He still doesn’t fathom that his brutish invasion of Iraq unbalanced that part of the world, empowered Iran, was a force multiplier for Muslims who hate America. He left our ports unsecured, our food supply unsafe, the Taliban rising, and Osama on the loose. No matter if or when terrorists attack here, and they’re on their own timetable, not a partisan red/blue state timetable, Cheney will be deemed the primary one who made America more vulnerable.” Your assessment of that?

CH: Oh, I think it’s drivel. I mean, the fact of the matter is, that in our, in Iraq, which is what she’s really on about, I mean, the rest is all froth, we have inflicted a very major battlefield defeat on the forces of al Qaeda, which we haven’t yet been able to put off in the Democrats’ favorite war, the liberals’ favorite war, Afghanistan. If you read any of the profiles of General Stanley McChrystal today, a man whose name I have known of for some time, one day the story will be told of how he took Baghdad back from these psychos and torturers and mass murderers by ruthlessly inflicting pain on them. And he’s a national hero.

HH: It’s interesting, yes, not by gentle means did the Special Forces do this.

CH: No, no, by no means, but I don’t know of any occasion, incidentally, where it’s claimed that intelligence of any use was produced by torture. In fact, the person who led the team that identified, isolated and targeted and then killed, or had killed by McChrystal’s people, the worst of the lot, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, says that they did it all by conventional methods of interrogation…

HH: Yeah, I read that piece. I read that piece.

CH: All right, I think that’s a very impressive testimony, don’t you?

HH: Yes, I do, but back to Maureen Dowd. What is she…I think she’s setting up a preemptive defense of Obama in the event that this country is attacked again, and I’m not finding it persuasive at all. I don’t think anyone will.

CH: Oh, yes. Look, I mean, I can tell you myself without reference to Maureen, I mean, suppose that my nightmare comes true, and that people who were once released from Guantanamo turn up in the death squad of another attack on the United States, or its citizens overseas. A lot of people will be there to say ah, they wouldn’t have been terrorists if they hadn’t been in Guantanamo to begin with. There will be people who are capable of not just saying that but actually believing it. They’re already rehearsing, they’re getting ready to say that.

HH: Yeah, well, this idea that the invasion of Iraq was a force multiplier for Muslims who hate America, again, I know Maureen Dowd is just one of many people who delude themselves. But I have been reading in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about young Somalis, one of whom has become the first Minneapolis suicide bomber, who have disappeared from Minneapolis, gone off to fight the jihad. This has nothing to do with Iraq, Christopher Hitchens. When is the left going to wake up to this reality?

CH: Well, of course it doesn’t. I mean, you only have to look at what the Islamists have been doing in Somalia since the Clinton presidency.

HH: Right.

CH: In fact, since the first George Bush presidency to see that, indeed, to see what they were doing in Afghanistan while we were not paying attention at the same time. No, those who think that the holy warriors are incited by the existence, sorry, by the policy of the United States, or by any particular line it takes, are hopelessly wrong on the main point, which is that their objection is not to any of our policies. Their objection is to our existence.

HH: But back to Maureen, you call it drivel, I agree. But is it because she does not know the truth, or because she fears for her political allies so much that she’ll obviously write what is obviously drivel?

CH: No, I think, I would say for Maureen, having rudely, but I mean I have to be honest, said that I thought that the column was drivel, I think she does very sincerely believe, and is very angry in the belief that the intervention in Iraq was provoked by false intelligence, by manipulation of public opinion, all of that. And I think she genuinely believes it, and I think she feels it was an offense to our democracy, and that it’s made the conditions of Iraqis worse, and that yes, it’s also inflamed the Muslim world against us. The awful thing about all that, in my opinion, is that it’s not half true, but maybe it’s about 10% true. Some of it is. And that makes it irritating.

HH: But Cheney being deemed the primary one who made America more vulnerable?

CH: Well, if you want to roll all of that into one ball of wax, then the figure of Mr. Richard Cheney, Vice President Cheney, is your ideal, because he somehow seems to conform to all of these liberal nightmares.

HH: Well, it’s like Gollum. I just, I cannot…

CH: (laughing)

HH: I cannot get over it, but he is like Grendel out of his den. I said that yesterday, and he does drive the left to distraction. Not you, Christopher Hitchens, I appreciate the time from Vanity Fair.

End of interview.

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