Steele Trap
05-18-2009
If you watched Meet the Press this weekend, you probably caught the remarkable exchange between moderator David Gregory and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele on the issue of torture and enhanced interrogation.  Gregory asked Steele directly whether interrogators under the Bush Administration engaged in torture. Given how this question has dominated political discourse in Washington recently, you would think Steele would be prepared with a response.  But he was all over the map on this one. Here is the transcript of the exchange:
 
MR. GREGORY: Do you believe interrogators under the Bush administration's watch engaged in torture?
MR. STEELE: I think what, what was engaged in at that time was what the, the intelligence community, what the administration, the Department of Defense, the secretary of state all agreed were forms of getting information that were at that time...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. STEELE: ...you know, deemed appropriate. Now, if since that time if there's, if there's another opinion that's been formed by this administration or others, then that's the direction of the course.
MR. GREGORY: Do you, do you think it was torture?
MR. STEELE: Well, my, my opinion on it doesn't matter. My personal opinion is look, I want the information.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. STEELE: We'll get it however we can get it.
MR. GREGORY: But you do, you have an opinion?
MR. STEELE: I have a personal opinion, yes.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think it was torture?
MR. STEELE: That's my--I'm not, that's not appropriate here.
MR. GREGORY: You're not going to say.
MR. STEELE: Yeah.
 
Steele goes from suggesting an evolving legal definition of torture, to saying it's all about getting the information any way possible, to refusing to share his personal opinion on the subject. I understand why national party chairs don’t endorse specific candidates in primaries, but I didn’t know they can’t share their opinion on matters of policy, something Steele seems to be suggesting here. Perhaps he just didn’t want to create any more internal party strife for himself. Watching the video gives you an even better sense of just how uncomfortable Steele was in answering the question.
 
I will say that Steele was much stronger on the issue of the Supreme Court vacancy. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Democratic National Committee Chairman and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (of eyebrow fame). On the same show, just one chair over, Kaine continued at length with the Obama Administration's theme of judicial empathy, which I’m still not sure I completely grasp, but which at a minimum sounds (as Kaine lays it out) like a recipe for an even more politicized judiciary. You can read the transcript and decide for yourself whether the concept has any clarity as a judicial criterion.


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