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The GOP's Seinfeld Defense of Torture

April 21, 2009

During one of the more memorable episodes of Seinfeld, George Costanza helps Jerry prepare for a lie detector test by advising, "it's not a lie if you believe it." And so it is with Republican defenders of the Bush administration's regime of detainee torture. As it turns out, Marc Thiessen, David Rivkin, Peggy Noonan, Michael Hayden, Michael Mukasey and Dick Cheney are just some of the cavalcade of conservatives whose tortured defenses of the indefensible sound like catch-phrases from the late, great NBC comedy. Call it the Seinfeld Defense of torture.
Put it in the Vault. For former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, the dirty doings by the Bush torture team should remain a secret between friends. The revelations contained in the OLC memos released by the Obama administration are untoward and should remain, as the cast of Seinfeld would say, "in the vault."

"It's hard for me to look at a great nation issuing these documents and sending them out to the world and thinking, oh, much good will come of that.
Some things in life need to be mysterious. Sometimes you need to just keep walking."

Bizarro World. Then there's the example of David Rivkin, the long-time Gitmo ethusiast who inhabits a backwards, "bizarro world" in which down is up and up is down. As ThinkProgress noted, on Monday Rivkin defended waterboarding, a procedure that as recently as December he had proclaimed "is torture." In his bizarro Wall Street Journal op-ed titled, "The Memos Prove We Didn't Torture," Rivkin instead tortures logic itself:

"Far from "green lighting" torture -- or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees -- the memos detail the actual techniques used and the many measures taken to ensure that interrogations did not cause severe pain or degradation."

Yada Yada Yada. Despite revelations as recently as four weeks ago that "not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions," former Attorney General Michael Mukasey continued to insist that Abu Zubaida was "coerced into disclosing information that led to the capture of Ramzi bin al Shibh" and by extension, 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Deploying the equivalent of Seinfeld's legendary conversation shortening device, Mukasey, Dick Cheney and others are essentially claiming, "we waterboarded Abu Zubaida 83 times...yada yada yada...we uncovered the entire Al Qaeda network and prevented future attacks on the United States." As Cheney told Fox News host Sean Hannity:

"One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn't put out the memos that showed the success of the effort. And there are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity. They have not been declassified.
I formally asked that they be declassified now. I haven't announced this up until now, I haven't talked about it, but I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country."

Shrinkage. With his op-ed co-author Michael Mukasey, former CIA director Michael Hayden warned that President Obama's release of the torture memos would have a chilling effect on the manhood of the CIA. Like George Costanza just out of a Hamptons swimming pool, Hayden suggested, his former agency could experience "shrinkage":

"The release of these opinions was unnecessary as a legal matter, and is unsound as a matter of policy. Its effect will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on Sept. 11, 2001."

Master of His Domain. Appearing on Fox News Sunday, General Hayden also cautioned that in the contest of wills between American interrogators and Al Qaeda terror suspects, the revelations contained in the torture memos would give detainees the upper hand. By disclosing the "outer limits that any American would ever go to," Hayden insisted, President Obama had "tied his own hands." As a result, a future American interrogator would not be what Seinfeld deemed "master of his domain."
The Face Painter. In the character of David Puddy, Seinfeld viewers met a sports fan who would go to any length to support his team. In his Washington Post op-ed today, former Bush administration staffer and full-time torture apologist Marc Thiessen like Hayden, Mukasey and Cheney claimed the brutal interrogation techniques worked against the Devils. Illegal or not, Thiessen insisted, ya "gotta support the team."

"What will the administration do now that it has shared the limits of our interrogation techniques with the enemy? President Obama's decision to release these documents is one of the most dangerous and irresponsible acts ever by an American president during a time of war -- and Americans may die as a result."

Serenity Now. In response to the horrific war crimes made possible by the OLC memos, the Obama administration nevertheless announced that "those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution." And while Attorney General Holder may yet opt for an outside counsel to investigate the architects of the Bush torture regime, President Obama in his statement Thursday suggested Americans follow Frank Costanza's calming mantra of "serenity now" to find inner peace over the prospect of war criminals going unpunished:

"This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."

As it turns out, during the 1992 episode mentioned above called "The Contest," Jerry and Elaine had a laugh over the treatment of terror detainees in a hilarious riff which eerily anticipated the Republicans' "Club Gitmo" talking point:

JERRY: You're a hostage, captured by terrorists-
ELAINE: (Smiling, chewing) Who, me?
JERRY: You, anybody - whatever. You're in the little room, you're chained to the floor, you're there for a long you think they would ever consider doing the laundry?
ELAINE: (Matter-of-factly) They have to, it's in the Geneva Convention.

Of course, in the hands of the Republican Party and its allies in the conservative movement, the Seinfeld defense of torture and the blight on America's name are no laughing matter. It would be funny, if it weren't so tragic.

4 comments on “The GOP's Seinfeld Defense of Torture”

  1. "It's not a lie if you believe it."
    That sums up the whole Bushian idea of creating its own reality.

  2. Hayden's "leadership" helped drag NSA down into the depths of betrayal of the agency's charter and the rights of the American people. He was George's boy.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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