05/31/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Chris Matthews Reacts To Obama's Answers On Torture

One of our Media Monitors, Andy L. flags this section of last night's Obama presser post-game, where MSNBC's Chris Matthews takes up the discussion of President Barack Obama's responses to questions on torture from Jake Tapper and Mark Knoller. What concerned Andy is that Matthews seems to be arguing in favor of the 1984 playbook, with regard to the potential value of torture.

MATTHEWS: I am torn by this, because I do believe that certain people are susceptible to torture, not everyone is, but everyone, as we read in 1984 by George Orwell, everyone has the one thing they're afraid of, find out what it is, you can get people to do certain things.

I'm not sure how Matthews gets from "some" people being "susceptible to torture" to Orwell's Room 101 at the Ministry of Love, which existed to prove that everyone is susceptible to torture, but I'd allow that it's a bit appalling to see this logic being applied as an affirmative defense of torture. As you can see in the clip, Matthews goes on to draw a bunch of other false equivalencies, that the choice to torture another human being is one of those "tough choices" that has to be made sometimes, like dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima or shooting down the hijacked 9-11 plane.

Naturally, I'd point out that an element of that tough choice is in the result: The atom bomb got Japan to surrender, for example, while torture generates a lot of useless intelligence that has an opportunity cost to intelligence gathering. Additionally, there's the issue of accountability and responsibility. President Truman took responsibility for dropping the A-Bomb. Theoretically, had Dick Cheney ordered the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, it would have been publicly disclosed (or perhaps not, with Cheney it's hard to say). Regardless, the big contrast with the "tough decision" to torture is that everyone responsible for doing it ran and hid from responsibility. When you can cover it up, it's not really a tough choice, it's an easy choice. And when it doesn't yield any tangible benefit, it's a bad one.

As for Matthews, I hate to get weaselly, but it strikes me as odd that he's according this rationale consideration here. In the past, he's been rather outspoken in his views of torture. For example, here's a clip of Matthews, along with Christopher Hitchens, laying the wood to Michael Smerconish's pro-torture views back on December 17, 2008:

As far as last night's segment goes, perhaps Matthews is being Socratic, in an attempt to draw out and set up the answers from his fellow panelists. And that's worth mentioning, too. If Matthews seems to have feet of clay on the issue of torture here, panelists Ed Schultz and Roger Simon do not, and both give excellent, well-reasoned responses, that take a metaphoric machete to the thicket of false equivalencies they are presented.


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