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Opining While Intoxicated (A Field Sobriety Test For Broder's Torture Column)

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In the first newsroom where I worked, the bosses posted a sign that read "Good writing is clear thinking made visible."

By this measure, David Broder's Sunday column in the Washington Post is not good writing. The column does make something visible, but it's not clear thinking. Broder's thoughts lurch and weave like a pulled-over drunk trying to walk a straight line for the cops.

Broder stumbles left: "Obama, to his credit, has ended one of the darkest chapters of American history, when certain terrorist suspects were whisked off to secret prisons and subjected to waterboarding and other forms of painful coercion in hopes of extracting information about threats to the United States."

Broder staggers right: "... there should be no prosecution of those who carried out what had been the policy of the United States government (and) ... the same amnesty should apply to the lawyers and bureaucrats who devised and justified the Bush administration practices."

Broder wobbles: Obama was right to release the legal memos that authorized torture "because these policies were carried out in the name of the American people, and it is only just that we the people confront what we did. Squeamishness is not justified in this case."

Broder sways: Random people like me who've pushed past our squeamishness to confront what our government did in our name offer a "plausible-sounding rationale, but it cloaks an unworthy desire for vengeance." People like me want "scapegoats."

Broder teeters: It wasn't scapegoating to investigate 9/11 because America "had to investigate the flawed performances and gaps in the system and make the necessary repairs to reduce the chances of a deadly repetition."

Broder totters: Investigating the people behind our post-9/11 slide into state-sanctioned torture would "set the precedent for turning all future policy disagreements into political or criminal vendettas. That way lies untold bitterness -- and injustice."

Finally, Broder just gets tangled in his own feet:

"Suppose the investigators decide that the country does not want to see the former president and vice president in the dock. Then underlings pay the price while big shots go free. But at some point, if he is at all a man of honor, George W. Bush would feel bound to say: That was my policy. I was the president. If you want to indict anyone for it, indict me.

"Is that where we want to go? I don't think so."

So, just to sum up, waterboarding and all that stuff was "one of the darkest chapters in American history" but nobody should be prosecuted for it but justice compels us to "confront what we did" but people like me who've confronted what we did and simply want law-breakers to face the law have an "unworthy desire for vengeance" that might transform our nation's tranquil capital into a place of "endless political warfare" and besides we can't prosecute because we might decide that we don't want to prosecute an ex-president and vice president and that would mean only low-level people would be prosecuted and then Bush's "honor" might compel him to ask to be indicted and, of course, we wouldn't even want to indict Bush if he asked to be indicted.

What? What?!!!!

Inebriated logic like this from someone of Broder's seniority and supposed stature makes it easier for serious, curious, civic-minded people to tell themselves that newspapers are expendable.

As Salon's Glenn Greenwald wrote using the 140 characters allotted by Twitter, "David Broder has a tour de force today of Beltway sickness - even for him. The Washington press corps has exactly the 'dean' it deserves."

Or, as Broder himself wrote in 2006, "I find I often disagree with what I wrote yesterday, let alone five years ago."

Boy, do I hope Broder will pick up his Sunday Post and realize that he disagrees with what he wrote yesterday.

But what will he disagree with? The belief that waterboarding was part of "one of the darkest chapters of American history" or the idea that it would be bad to indict the authors of those dark chapters even if they literally ask to be indicted?

Or will he somehow find a way to disagree with both and leave us just as baffled as we are now?

Huffington Post blogger David Quigg's previous posts about torture, civil liberties, and the "War on Terror" are archived here. His Twitter feed is here.