In my post about the “Isikoffed” NEWSWEEK story this morning, I cited Harry Shearer as one of the many folks who linked the story as evidence that Alberto Gonzales had called the Geneva Conventions “quaint.” Harry has updated his post to reflect my criticisms, and to make an observation of his own:
FACT-CHECKING UPDATE: A commenter directed me to a website (better known in LA for its LA Times-bashing, which I admire) which fact-checks the Gonzale[s] quote referenced above. I used that version because, having half-remembered the quote, I Googled it, and this version popped up high in the results. But, in his zeal to absolve Gonzale[s] of calling the Geneva Conventions “quaint”–which he achieves–blogger Patterico ignores, as most of us have, the more damning part of the quoted text:
In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions requiring that captured enemy be afforded such things as commissary privileges, scrip (i.e., advances of monthly pay), athletic uniforms, and scientific instruments.”
Forget “quaint”; “strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners” being rendered “obsolete” is what this debate is all about.
I agree: that is indeed what the debate is all about. It’s true that I did not focus on Gonzales’s use of the word “obsolete” to refer to Geneva limitations on questioning. But that’s because my post was primarily a piece of media criticism, rather than a substantive defense of Gonzales and his memo.
I think Harry has a valid point in noting Gonzales’s description of the limits on questioning as “obsolete.” However, in my view, this does not render harmless Isikoff’s distortion of the Gonzales quote. Calling these limits “obsolete” is not quite as dismissive as calling them “quaint” would have been — which is, presumably, why lefties have harped on the word “quaint.” Isikoff & Co. should have made it clear that the provisions deemed “quaint” by Gonzales were, in fact, quaint — and entirely unrelated to interrogation of detainees.
On the substance of the matter, I may still be persuaded that Geneva should be applied to nonsignatory terrorists, though I don’t find particularly compelling the arguments I’ve seen to date. But it’s a debate worth having, and one that I’ve explored recently on this blog.
It’s nice to show up in Harry’s post — if for no other reason than the fact that Harry, while a lefty, is (like me) a rabid critic of the L.A. Times. He is, after all, the guy who invented the term “Dog Trainer.” All I did was steal it.