Joe Scarborough misrepresented a 2002 statement by Eric Holder to claim that while some Democrats currently favor criminal investigations for Bush administration officials who authorized harsh interrogation methods, in 2002 "[e]verybody supported" using those methods.
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On the April 27 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough asserted that while some Democrats currently favor criminal investigations for Bush administration officials who authorized harsh interrogation methods, in 2002 "[e]verybody supported" using those methods. As an example, he quoted Attorney General Eric Holder saying in a 2002 CNN interview: "One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what [their] future plans might be, where other cells are located; under the Geneva Convention that you are really limited in the amount of information you can elicit from people. It seems to me that given the way in which they have conducted themselves, however, they are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. ... They're not prisoners of war." On-screen text added that Holder also said, "If, for instance, Mohammed Atta had survived the attack on the World Trade Center, would we now be calling him a prisoner of war? I think not." However, in a portion of the interview that Scarborough did not quote, Holder went on to say that U.S. policy should be that Al Qaeda detainees are "entitled to be treated in a very humane way and almost consistent with all of the dictates of the Geneva Convention."
In 2006, the Supreme Court held that whether or not Al Qaeda detainees held by the United States are prisoners of war, they must be afforded the protections of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, which provides, in part, that people to whom the article applies "shall in all circumstances be treated humanely."
From the January 28, 2002, edition of CNN's American Morning:
PAULA ZAHN (host): The president will be meeting with his National Security team this morning to talk about, well, the apparent discord here. Give us a preview of what this discussion might entail. When you have Secretary of State Powell saying, "Let's abide by the Geneva Convention," and then folks on the other side, we are told, saying "Wait a minute. If we hold them to that kind of status, then all they'll be required to give us is their name, rank and file number."
HOLDER: Yes, it seems to me this is an argument that is really consequential. One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what their future plans might be, where other cells are located; under the Geneva Convention that you are really limited in the amount of information that you can elicit from people.
It seems to me that given the way in which they have conducted themselves, however, that they are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. They are not prisoners of war. If, for instance, Mohammed Atta had survived the attack on the World Trade Center, would we now be calling him a prisoner of war? I think not. Should Zacarias Moussaoui be called a prisoner of war? Again, I think not.
And yet, I understand what Secretary Powell is concerned about, and that is we're going to be fighting this war with people who are special forces, not people who are generally in uniform. And if unfortunately they somehow become detained, we would want them to be treated in an appropriate way consistent with the Geneva Convention.
ZAHN: So is the secretary of state walking a fine line here legally? He is not asking that the United States declare these men as prisoners of war right now. He's just saying let's abide by the Geneva Convention in the meantime.
HOLDER: Yes, and I think in a lot of ways that makes sense. I think they clearly do not fit within the prescriptions of the Geneva Convention. You have to remember that after World War II, as these protocols were being developed, there seemed to be widespread agreement that members of the French Resistance would not be considered prisoners of war if they had been captured. That being the case, it's hard for me to see how members of al Qaeda could be considered prisoners of war.
And yet, I understand Secretary Powell's concerns. We want to make sure that our forces, if captured in this or some other conflict, are treated in a humane way. And I think ultimately that's really the decisive factor here. How are people, who are in our custody, going to be treated? And those in Europe and other places who are concerned about the treatment of al Qaeda members should come to Camp X-ray and see how the people are, in fact, being treated.
ZAHN: The administration this morning playing down any discord among its team, but if you could, help us understand how you reconcile this.
HOLDER: Well, I think you've got people on the one hand saying that these are folks who should not be treated pursuant to the Geneva Convention, and at the same time, you're going to have people saying, "Well, you know, what does that mean for our forces down the road? What does that mean for people who are going to be doing what we tell them to do throughout the course of this conflict, which is worldwide and which is going to be taking years to ultimately resolve?"
I can understand the tensions that exist, but I think the way to resolve it is, in fact, the way Secretary Powell has proposed, which is to say these are not people who are prisoners of war as that has been defined, but who are entitled to, in our own interests, entitled to be treated in a very humane way and almost consistent with all of the dictates of the Geneva Convention.
From the April 27 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
MIKA BRZEZINSKI (co-host): Well, Harold [Ford Jr.] talks about how there's military goals and other strategic goals that this issue doesn't serve by dredging it up. Politically, I think is the biggest loss for the Democrats, if they go there with this.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, and that's a problem --
BRZEZINSKI: I don't see a good option coming out.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Mika, what we've been saying for the past week here is, regardless of whether you think it's moral or not --
BRZEZINSKI: That is correct.
SCARBOROUGH: -- everybody was in on this in official Washington. Everybody supported it. We're hearing arguments in 2009 we didn't hear in 2002. Like, for instance, Eric Holder, the man that Robert Gibbs said would be making the decision on whether this is torture or not -- let me read you what Eric Holder said in 2002, our attorney general. In 2002, he said: "One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what future plans might be, where other cells are located; under the Geneva Convention that you are really limited in the amount of information you can elicit from people. It seems to me that given the way in which they have conducted themselves, however, they are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention." He goes --
BRZEZINSKI: "They're not prisoners of war" -- this is to CNN.
SCARBOROUGH: Right. "They're not prisoners of war."
BRZEZINSKI: "If for instance, Mohamed Atta" --
SCARBOROUGH: Then he goes on and says, "If we'd caught Mohamed Atta, we'd be now in the position" -- this, of course, before we track down --
SCARBOROUGH: -- Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, everybody else.
This is when, Pat, we were operating in, of course, what's called the fog of war. And again, on a clear, bright, sunny day in the spring of 2009, we suddenly have clarity and we've refound our moral footing, and we now want to go back and punish everybody in 2002 that was doing exactly what America told them to do.
PAT BUCHANAN (MSNBC political analyst): Well --
SCARBOROUGH: And what they expected our leaders to do.
BUCHANAN: Exactly. Well, they -- look, Holder's dead right. These aren't prisoners of war. They don't fight in --
SCARBOROUGH: Well, liberals don't say that today.
BUCHANAN: Well, they attack civilian targets. If you do that --
SCARBOROUGH: We -- no, no, no, no, no. In 2009, Pat, liberals will tell you they want Bush and Cheney prosecuted. They will tell you that we violated the Geneva Conventions.
BUCHANAN: Well, let me tell you, Joe --
SCARBOROUGH: You got an attorney general, though, in 2002, saying that this wasn't.
BUCHANAN: Exactly. But let me tell you, Obama is trying to walk this cat back. You've got Gibbs out there saying it's all up to Holder now. And Obama, of course, said don't prosecute the lower -- people lower down. He can't say that.
[Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-NV] said no more commissions, no boards, no tribunals, leave this with [Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick] Leahy [D-VT] or the intelligence committee. But, the intelligence committee can draw out a lot of this stuff and then send it over to Justice, and then Holder has got to make the call. But, as you say, Joe, Holder has already made the call from his own words.
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah. You know, Harold, I give a lot of speeches throughout the year. I gave a speech yesterday to a group and I stayed away from torture, because you always try to speak to the middle. You try to give political advice, and you don't get all these really, really hot-button issues.
The last question asked was about torture. I said, "Gosh, I really don't want to get into this." They kept pressing me. I got into it; spoke for about five minutes very quietly. That was it. I walked out into the audience -- again, a very moderate group of people. I got more of a visceral response from that, positive, from people that came up saying, they're a different -- I'm hearing from Democrats wherever I go -- whether it's in D.C. or Norfolk or Florida, wherever -- Democrats coming up to me saying, "What's going on? Why are we -- why are we compromising our national security?"
I'm afraid that the angry left is not only going to compromise national security but hurt moderates in the Democratic Party who we need to balance this administration.