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  • Fox News uses Nuremberg defense to cover for Gina Haspel’s torture record

    Network figures say Haspel was “simply following orders” 

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Gina Haspel’s March 13 nomination as CIA director is reviving the debate about torture, and Fox News is defending her role in the agency’s George W. Bush-era program by insisting that she was “simply following orders” and should not be held responsible for her contributions to the torturing of detainees.

    Haspel, who became the agency’s acting director on April 26 after a long tenure there, oversaw a secret CIA prison in Thailand where suspected terrorists were detained and tortured, including one man who was waterboarded three times. Haspel was also “a strong advocate” for destroying tapes of CIA torture sessions, The New York Times reported, a stance Haspel herself reiterated in her confirmation hearing. 

    As debate swirled about Haspel’s involvement in torture leading up to her confirmation hearing, Fox News took the lead in providing media cover for her. Several Fox personalities have zeroed in on some variation of the argument that “she was just following orders” -- a defense made infamous by multiple high-ranking Nazi officials who attempted to defend themselves during the Nuremberg trials.

    In addition to insisting that Haspel was merely following orders, Fox personalities have defended her nomination by suggesting that being tortured is similar to having a difficult job, and that Haspel would make a good TV “hero” for running a secret CIA prison as a woman. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade even suggested Haspel refuse to “apologize for the Americans who are alive today and were not burned alive or had their heads cut off” thanks to torture.

    Haspel’s apparent predilection to follow orders is especially worrisome given that Trump has repeatedly threatened to bring back torture. In Trump’s first days in office, a White House draft order called for a review and possible reopening of CIA “black site” prisons. In his first presidential TV interview, Trump said of waterboarding, "Absolutely I feel it works," adding that America has to "fight fire with fire." During the campaign, Trump infamously called for America to kill the families of terrorists, which would violate the Geneva Conventions. Trump said he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding," and also called for America to “broaden” the laws prohibiting torture in order to “beat the savages.” And while some, like former CIA Director Michael Hayden, are saying that Haspel will stand up to Trump, her record shows otherwise

    Video by Miles Le

  • Bret Stephens and the #NeverTrump farce

    Trump’s Iran belligerence conveniently mutes Stephens’ concerns about his mental fitness

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    New York Times columnist Bret Stephens believes President Donald Trump is likely mentally ill. As a self-identified member of the bafflingly influential clique of #NeverTrump conservative columnists, Stephens has at various times expounded on Trump’s manifest unfitness for high office. In March 2017, he asked in a (since deleted) tweet: “When will Republicans acknowledge that the President of the United States is mentally ill?” When he deleted the tweet, he backed off ever so slightly from that position, writing that he’s “not a diagnostician,” but adding: “That something is deeply amiss, I have no doubt.”

    Last December, in a conversation with fellow Times columnist Gail Collins, Stephens said that he goes “back and forth” on the question of whether Trump is mentally ill, explaining that he’s “not expert enough to say at what point mental decline slides into senility or dementia, but there’s clearly been a decline.” He ventured that perhaps Trump has “narcissistic personality disorder” and that the president’s “frequently unhinged and spasmodic tweets suggests a guy who isn’t in control of himself.”

    That damning assessment of Trump’s faculties, however, doesn’t stop Stephens from trusting that the out-of-control and potentially mentally unwell president can nonetheless competently pursue policy goals Stephens happens to favor.

    Under the headline “A Courageous Trump Call on a Lousy Iran Deal,” Stephens writes today that Trump was “absolutely right” to withdraw the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, “assuming, that is, serious thought has been given to what comes next.” After slogging through the rote right-wing criticisms of the deal and contradicting himself on the threat of Iranian nuclear enrichment, Stephens concludes that Trump’s withdrawal “will clarify the stakes for Tehran. Now we’ll see whether the administration is capable of following through.”

    Every indication thus far is that the administration has given precisely zero thought to what comes next. Trump pulled the rip cord and the White House is offering nothing but mealy-mouthed promises that everything will work out because a “better deal” can be made. The Washington Post reported that Trump’s decision was driven by his desire to fulfill a campaign promise and his “instincts to be a disrupter on the world stage.” Trump’s actions here more closely align with Stephens’ assessment of a president who acts without thinking and is driven primarily by the demands of his overriding egotism.

    But Stephens won’t say that. Instead, he calls Trump “courageous.” His analysis doesn’t grapple with what the administration is saying, what our European allies are saying, or the difficulties in negotiating a new diplomatic framework to replace the one Trump precipitously blew up. Stephens’ concerns about Trump’s mental fitness have conveniently evaporated because Stephens agrees that the Iran deal is bad. He just idly hopes that “serious thought has been given” to whatever policy will replace it.

    This is a feature of Stephens’ commentary and #NeverTrump posturing in general -- all the venting and sharp-tongue rebukes of the blundering and feeble-minded president disappear the moment #NeverTrump pundits spy an opportunity to advance their own interests. Just a month after Stephens called the president “mentally ill,” Trump fired his first salvo of Tomahawk missiles into Syria, prompting Stephens to urge the president he believed was mentally incompetent to launch a full-scale war against the Assad regime.

    Thus we have a curious situation in which a New York Times columnist feels that the president is too unstable to be trusted with a Twitter account, but is capable of renegotiating complex diplomatic frameworks and pursuing regime change in the Middle East

  • After years of opposition, Fox & Friends admits the Iran nuclear deal is working

    Steve Doocy: “If the deal went away, not only would the United States have to worry about the aggression from Iran in the region over there, but then they’d have to worry about the nuke problem as well”

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Fox & Friends hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy admitted that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, has been effective in curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons program. For years, Fox & Friends has railed against the nuclear deal, provided a platform for hardliners to attack the accord, and misinformed viewers about the deal’s terms.

    But, in the lead up to President Trump’s possible withdrawal from the deal, Doocy, co-host of the president’s favorite television program Fox & Friends, said, “If the deal went away, not only would the United States have to worry about the aggression from Iran in the region over there, but then they’d have to worry about the nuke problem as well.” And Kilmeade noted that “at least they’re not spinning centrifuges. There is no proof that they’re building up a nuclear arsenal.” The admissions effectively acknowledge that the inspections regime that is a core part of the deal is in fact working, a position that has been held by proponents of the deal since its inception.

    From the May 8 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): You have the European allies saying just exactly what Mollie Hemingway is saying, we don’t love the deal either, but my goodness, at least they’re not spinning centrifuges. There is no proof that they’re building up a nuclear arsenal. You want to leave it and try to make it better.

    There is another way forward, and I don't think that it would really anger any of the president's base, and that is, look, the European allies came here, the president wants to show he’s listening. “You guys want 60 days. You know my problems with it, I made it clear to you, go improve this deal in 60 days. If it's not done, if you can't get the Iranians to buy, then, in turn” -- by the way the Iranian's complaint about us is we have not opened up our markets and pushed our banks to invest there and we have also told others not to do that, fine. So, let's say we pull back and allow the investment if, of course, they get rid of the ballistic missiles and they do some type of reduction in terror activities. Give them 60 days. Let’s call their bluff.

    [...]

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): If the deal went away, not only would the United States have to worry about the aggression from Iran in the region over there, but then they’d have to worry about the nuke problem as well. Don't be surprised if the president pulls out at two o’clock this afternoon. But, then again, don't be surprised if he does exactly what he did with DACA.

    [...]

    KILMEADE: So you like that idea? Give them 60 days?

    DOOCY: Listen, I think that Donald Trump doesn't want to appear as just a guy who goes out and blows things up.

    KILMEADE: Like the Paris deal.

    DOOCY: He wants to go ahead and he wants to appear to be a negotiator. He will negotiate with Europe. He will negotiate with our Congress, and then he says, “look, I gave them six months, three months, whatever. They didn't do it. We're gone.” That way he could still appeal to his base. I tried to fix it, I gave them a chance. It didn't work out.

  • Expert debunks conservative attacks on John Kerry and the Logan Act regarding the Iran deal

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Conservative media were quick to claim former Secretary of State John Kerry is violating the Logan Act following a Boston Globe report that he is working to save the Iran nuclear deal by meeting with top officials from Iran, Germany, and France. But according to a legal expert, the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from engaging in unauthorized intervention in U.S./foreign disputes to "defeat the measures of the United States," wouldn't apply in part because the deal is still current U.S. policy.

    The May 4 Globe story reported that Kerry has met twice with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and French President Emmanuel Macron, has met German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and has talked on the phone with a top European Union official as he seeks to preserve the nuclear deal. America’s European allies are also urging Trump not to end the pact, as he has threatened to do. Brookings Institution foreign policy expert Michael O’Hanlon told the Globe that “former secretaries of state often remain quite engaged with foreign leaders, as they should,” but that “it’s rarely so issue-specific.” According to the Globe’s report, Kerry is working with both former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, who along with Kerry helped negotiate the nuclear deal, and a group called Diplomacy Works. They are also lobbying Congress to support the deal and arguing the case in media outlets.

    President Donald Trump’s allies in conservative media were quick to attack Kerry over this report. Alan Dershowitz, a retired Harvard Law School professor who has tirelessly defended Trump on the Russia investigation, said on the May 5 edition of Fox & Friends that if the Logan Act were enforced, “my friend John Kerry would be violating” it. On May 7, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said, “Some have suggested, isn’t he breaking the Logan Act.” Right-wing website The Federalist claimed that Kerry’s actions are “treasonous and likely in violation of the Logan Act.” Many Trump supporters on Twitter accused Kerry of being in violation of the Logan Act. And Trump himself recently wrote on Twitter that Kerry’s actions were “possibly illegal.”

    But according to University of Texas School of Law professor Steve Vladeck, who explained the history of the Logan Act to The Atlantic in early 2017, the Logan Act wouldn’t apply to anything Kerry is doing, in part because the Iran nuclear deal is still official government policy. From the Globe’s report:

    “The act only applies to conduct that is designed to ‘defeat the measures of the United States’ or influence the conduct of foreign governments,” Vladeck said. “If all Kerry is doing is working to keep in place something that’s still technically a ‘measure of the United States,’ I don’t see how the statute would apply even if someone was crazy enough to try it.”