I asked John Dean a few questions about his new book, The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It, during a Book Salon at Firedoglake.
1) After listening to hundreds hours of all conversations did President “Sock it to me” Nixon tell any good jokes? Were they dirty? Racist or sexist? His answer was, “Bottom line: Richard Nixon had almost no sense of humor.” My suspicion, confirmed!
2) What did he think Cheney and Rumsfeld learned from the Watergate Scandal? His reply:
Rumsfeld and Cheney volunteered to help Nixon when he was sinking, but Nixon did not trust Rumsfeld (he didn’t know Cheney). Needless to say, it is pure speculation as to what Rummy and Dick “learned” from Watergate. I gave my views on the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld presidency in “Worse Than Watergate,” explaining how they imposed secrecy way beyond Nixon. This was how they got away with blatant violations of law that make Watergate look like little league. I am not sure that Richard Nixon in one of his darkest moods would have authorized torture!
That last sentence surprised me. So I asked for more insight.
What would Nixon’s reasons have been for not torturing people? Was he close enough to WWII and the Nuremberg trials to remember war crimes? Was it about American ideals? Religious ideals? Did he not have a John Yoo writing legal memos for him?
John Dean August 30th, 2014 at 4:58 pm
In response to spocko @ 114 (show text)
Nixon served in the South Pacific during WWII, and was familiar with the horrors of Japanese torture, so I cannot believe he would have lowered the USA to tolerate such horrific behavior. With foreign policy, Nixon seemed to understand what today we call “blow-back” and that by our engaging in torture he would expose Americans soldiers (if not all Americans) to torture, just as we are seeing with Americans being captured by ISIL. Bush/Cheney have subjected any and every American kidnapped or captured to torture by the likes of ISIL. It is a decision that is going to haunt us and the world for untold decades.
My next question to Dean would have been, “How did we got from Nixon’s view torture and why he understood it would be wrong, to Cheney being proud of ‘enhanced interrogation‘ techniques. Also, why won’t Obama’s ‘We tortured some folks.’ admission lead to prosecution?” Maybe another interviewer will ask Dean this or Digby’s friend Rick Perlstein can take a crack at answering the question.
The answer to this question could probably fill several books and I just happened to read one that helps explain part of it. Rebecca Gordon has a new book out called Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post – 9/11 United States. Gordon walks the reader through the problem, how we think and talk about torture and how institutionalized state torture is carried out by the United States.
I tend to get very worked up when talking about torture, so much so that it gets in the way of my conversation at parties. “Look out, Spocko wants to talk about torture accountability and the Taguba report again, hide!” Fortunately for me, Mrs. Spocko knows I have this interest, and she bought me Gordon’s book for my birthday. She also knows that understanding isn’t enough for me, I want to do something about the problem.
Fortunately, unlike a number of books that are great at describing the problem, this book has some suggestions on what to do about it in the short, medium and long term. She also emphasizes the importance of individuals actually doing something about torture. In my case it was pushing back at the torture supporters on right wing radio.
If we look at why Nixon, one of our nastier Presidents, didn’t authorize overt torture, but other Presidents did, we might see how it was made acceptable and then develop and reestablish the ethical, intellectual, legal and practical reasons to stop it.
“I have often thought that the entire content of this book could be expressed in five words:Torture is wrong. Stop it.“ –Rebecca Gordon, Mainstreaming Torture
But can we really stop it? Isn’t the water out of the bucket forever?
See no Torture, Say no Torture
This weekend was the 10th anniversary of the release of the Abu Ghraib photos. The New York Times thinks we should release the other photos now. I remember when they first came out and how the RW media got on the air to defend the torture. Their opinions had a huge impact on their base. They also influenced the mainstream media, who react to their extremist views. When the RW media did not categorically denounce torture, it opened up the discussion for the answer the MSM loves to give about “the truth” it always is, “somewhere in the middle.”
What Gordon calls “rhetorical denial” I call BS. When RW media stars, who hate all the same people you do, say it’s not torture but “enhanced interrogation” people will believe them. When a journalistic entity like The New York Times won’t call it torture either, that’s a huge linguistic win for Bush/Cheney.
Declassifying the other Abu Ghraib photos and correcting the deceitful linguistic phrase “enhanced interrogation” are important steps to accountability. But the intellectual authors of torture have still avoided accountability. They have convinced people that preventing terrorist attacks sometimes requires torture.
How pathetic is it that our best legal minds can’t deconstruct and invalidate Bybee’s and Yoo’s arguments? (Or at least figure out a way to cut into their speaking fees?)
How sad is it that our fiction writers continue to lazily use torture as a tension-creating plot device?
How disgusting is it that the RW media infected not only their base, but mainstream thinking that torture is necessary and to not torture is “recklessness clothed in righteousness.”
Many people see Nixon’s resignation as a branching point in history. However, perhaps it’s Ford’s pardon, rather than Nixon’s resignation, that is the branching point. The decision to not prosecute affects sense of justice being served. How often in the Obama administration has prosecution been taken off the table? What would it take to put it back on?
John Dean’s refusal to go along with the cover up was very courageous. In the book Gordon talks about how it can be courageous to stand up to torturers, not in the same way as someone in El Salvador or Chile stood up to them, but in the way that warrants criticism or evokes cynicism.
I wrote the other day about a CEO who kicked a dog and created an international outrage. There was a lot to learn from that event. Such as how to confront a powerful person to get appropriate accountability and perhaps justice. People identified with the dog, even though they are not dogs. When we read about torture in the US we rarely identify with the person being tortured.
The next time a reason is given why we “can’t close Gitmo” or we can’t prosecute the intellectual authors of torture I’d like people to think, “Is there some creative route to justice I can make happen?” Can that cop TV drama you are writing have a scene that doesn’t involve torture?
I know it’s not a lot of fun to read about torture. I’d much rather know what the funniest jokes came out of the Nixon White House. But if we are to stop living in fear, there are steps can we take so we are no longer, “worse than Nixon”