Conservative media figures are comparing possible prosecutions of Bush administration officials for their roles in authorizing the use of harsh interrogation techniques to circumstances in a “banana republic,” in “Third World ... dictatorships,” or “some little Latin American country that's run by ... the latest junta.”
In the aftermath of the release of Bush Department of Justice memos authorizing the CIA to use enhanced interrogation techniques with detainees, conservatives are comparing possible prosecutions of Bush administration officials with, in the words of radio host Mark Steyn, “the sort of thing that happens in banana republics.”
- On the April 21 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, radio host Bill Cunningham said of possible prosecutions of Bush administration officials, “Well, we shouldn't criminalize legal advice,” later adding, “It makes us look ... like a banana republic, where each succeeding administration looks backwards.”
- On the April 21 edition of Fox News' Hannity, Fox News contributor Karl Rove stated: "[W]hat the Obama administration has done in the last several days is very dangerous. What they've essentially said is, if we have policy disagreements with our predecessors, what we're going to do is we're going to turn ourselves into the moral equivalent of a Latin American country run by colonels in mirrored sunglasses, and what we're gonna do is prosecute systematically the previous administration or threaten prosecutions against the previous administration based on policy differences." Moments later, Rove added, “Now, that might be fine in some little Latin American country that's run by, you know, the latest junta -- it may be the way that they do things in Chicago -- but that's not the way we do things here in America.”
- On the April 22 broadcast of his radio show, Sean Hannity stated of Republican responses to the potential prosecutions, "[A]ll I hear is a bunch of mealy-mouthed complaining about how this prosecution threat is unprecedented and we don't need to investigate past administrations like they do in, you know, these Third World, you know, dictatorships, which by the way, is a great point."
- On the April 23 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, guest host Steyn said of prosecuting former Bush officials, “That is the sort of thing that happens in banana republics.” He continued: "[I]n banana republics, this week's president for life takes over, and he decides that all the fellows that supported last week's president for life are now criminals, and he prosecutes them. And that's what -- that's what the Obama administration has done."
- On the April 23 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Glenn Beck stated: "[Y]our principles as the president of the United States needs to be, we don't make ourselves into a banana republic." He later added, “We also don't want to set the precedent that the next president can come in and turn a political issue into a legal issue and put those people in jail. This is what's happening with [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez now. The guy who's running against him just left the country because they -- this is what banana republics do, OK?”
Additionally, in his April 23 New York Post column, Ralph Peters wrote, “Show trials have long been popular with leftists. Those who don't conform to each jot of doctrine become 'enemies of the people.' From Stalin down to Putin, and from Mao to Castro, vengeance disguised as law has been a mega-hit.”
From the April 23 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
CALLER: I absolutely love your comment earlier on the Constitution and how wonderful that everybody else gets constitutional rights outside of the United States.
STEYN: That's right. But it doesn't apply -- the U.S. Constitution now only applies outside the U.S. That's the way it seems to go.
STEYN: And you had, actually, a constitutional point on some of this investigations into torture.
CALLER: Well, the ridiculous person of our Homeland Security -- what's her name, Janet?
STEYN: Janet Napolitano, yeah.
CALLER: Yeah. She needs to pick up the Constitution and read her amendments. It's really disgusting, especially the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments are legal rights against prosecution and the retroactivity of taking the Bush's administration and going -- it's like this, the Democrats, “OK, we don't like this, so we're gonna change all the laws to conform to us.”
CALLER: “And everything that you've done before that law was there, now we're gonna go back.” Isn't that against the Constitution, even a little?
STEYN: Yeah, you're right, it is unconstitutional. You're saying, in effect, it's like making a law that sets the speed limit at 30 miles an hour, and if you'd been driving at 40 miles an hour two years before the new law was brought in, they would be prosecuting you for speeding.
CALLER: Well, yeah.
STEYN: Essentially, this is retrospective punishment for what is the Democrat administration's view of the war, rather than the administration that was in power at the time. And as you say, that retrospective criminalization is unconstitutional and actually predates the United States, 'cause if my memory's right, they got that from the King George III in the British Parliament, where it was a basic acceptance that you couldn't retrospectively criminalize activity. In other words, you couldn't pass an act of Parliament in 1622 and suddenly what some guy had done in 1588 was against the law.
Yeah, that's what they're proposing -- that's what they're proposing to do here. And there's a more basic point at work here, Lori, which is I think the ugliest thing about this, is that it is the criminalization of politics. And essentially it turns politics into a criminal battle. That's very dangerous.
That -- that is the sort of thing that happens in banana republics. You know, in banana republics, this week's president for life takes over, and he decides that all the fellows who supported last week's president for life are now criminals, and he prosecutes them. And that's what -- that's what the Obama administration has done.
In a healthy society -- this is where the MoveOn.org has just infected the Democratic Party in deeply ugly ways. Because they don't like Dick Cheney. That's fair enough. They don't like George W. Bush. That's fair enough. What they don't realize is that they have a difference of opinion with Bush and Cheney. That's not enough for them. They have to actually make what Bush and Cheney did illegal. And that is where we are heading into banana republic territory.
Because it's not. Dick Cheney -- and shame on Patrick Leahy, by the way, who is one of the most deeply unattractive senators, and I don't just mean in the sense that a couple of recent summers in Montpelier, Vermont, I mean, walking down whatever it is -- State Street there, and I've seen him in his shorts. I don't [laughs] -- I'm not thinking of Pat -- I mean, he's deeply -- I've got -- no, he looks cute in his shorts, but he's very unattractive in what he's doing here, which is the criminalization of dissent and the criminalization of politics. And that is straight out of banana republic territory. You have a difference with -- of opinion with Dick Cheney, you don't then say we're gonna get Dick Cheney's opinion ruled illegal. And that is what's going on here.
From April 23 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Show:
BECK: OK, so why did he do this? He either did it for principles, which I don't -- I just don't see that, because your principles as the president of the United States needs to be, we don't make ourselves into a banana republic. And I don't mean the store -- which isn't doing well either, but that's a different story. We also don't want to set the precedent that the next president can come in and turn a political issue into a legal issue and put those people in jail. This is what's happening with Chavez now. The guy who's running against him just left the country because they -- this is what banana republics do, OK? I don't believe that he's either this incompetent, this stupid, or just doesn't care. Maybe you do, I don't -- just doesn't care what it means for the following administrations.
Unless there's another reason for it. Remember, he is not -- he's not re-establishing or restoring the promise of America. He is rebuilding it. Well, you don't rebuild something unless you take it apart; then you rebuild it. He is rebuilding. He is a progressive. He is a guy who doesn't see America as -- you may think he sees America the same way, but until you really understand who progressives are, you don't see America the same way he does. Unless you know who progressives are. Not the little -- “isn't that the car insurance company? That's great.” You really know who these people are, and I don't mean today, I mean the whole history of them. You know who they are? OK. Then you know him. And then you can say, he sees America the same way I do.
I think there's a possibility he did it because he's got to -- to be able to continue to rebuild, he must keep George Bush on life support. He must keep wheeling George W. Bush out. He's -- if -- once he closes the door and says we're not going to look back, then everybody must be focused on him. So does he need George Bush for fuel to be able to keep a bogeyman alive, to keep us talking? But why are we debating torture? Why are we debating something that happened right after 9-11? We didn't go through this stuff when we put people in internment camps, for the love of Pete. They didn't put FDR in jail. Well, he was dead, but they didn't put his advisers in jail.
From the April 22 edition of ABC Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
HANNITY: Some Republicans have disappointed me, though, in this threat that now exists to prosecute Bush officials for keeping America safe. Do you realize that if those interrogations were that effective, that that is what kept America safe from another terrorist attack? That is what protected American citizens. That is what protected American towns. That is what has protected American cities. You know, all I hear is a bunch of mealy-mouthed complaining about how this prosecution threat is unprecedented and we don't need to investigate past administrations like they do in, you know, these Third World, you know, dictatorships, which by the way, is a great point. But how about Democrats? They were all briefed on the waterboarding, and they all approved. Nobody in the media's bringing that up. None of that seems to matter. You know comments like -- you know, that -- unless you bring it home to them, I don't think they get it.
From the April 21 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:
LOU DOBBS (host): All right. Let's start out with this reversal on prosecution -- Bill, let me turn to you first -- on prosecuting Bush administration officials. What's your reaction?
CUNNINGHAM: Well, we shouldn't criminalize legal advice. The policy was set by Georgie Bush. It was not set by the cufflinks in the Justice Department. I think what this is going to set is a precedent where maybe Georgie Bush should have indicted Bill Clinton and his advisers for the Denise Rich thing. Or maybe the next president, Mitt Romney, is going to indict Obama's Justice Department for what Eric Holder's doing. It makes us look, Lou, like a banana republic, where each succeeding administration looks backwards.
And I think here, Obama is flip-flopping from Sunday with Rahm Emanuel to today with his presidential press secretary. And what message does it send to the world when we start indicting lawyers for giving advice?
DOBBS: I don't know. But it's one I -- the way you just styled that, it's one I may want to think about a little bit.
Laura Deck is an intern at Media Matters for America.