On Point Debate With Professor Robert Turner

logo2I just completed the discussion below on NPR’s On Point with Professor Robert Turner of the University of Virginia. It shows the flood of different rationales being put forward from every quarter to excuse not investigating war crimes.

My favorite point is when Professor Turner argues that investigating people who tortured detainee would be like investigating a soldier who shot a man on his way to the Rod and Gun club. Hmmm.

For the debate, click here.

27 thoughts on “On Point Debate With Professor Robert Turner

  1. Dear Professor Turley,
    Thank you for appearing on NPR. I support your position, and am deeply troubled by the position that President Obama has taken. There should be an investigation into these illegal acts. Please keep speaking out. Mrs. Lois Capps is my representative. I will be writing to her as well.

    Is there a chance that the Attorney General will pursue justice against the people who gave credibility to these acts?

    Also, what prevents the law associations from some form of sanctions.

    Thanks for standing up.

    Dianne Delaney
    long time Democrat and ardent Obama supporter.

  2. Dear Prof. Turley,

    As a 1954 graduate of GWU, I am exceedingly proud of you and of George Washington University because of the way you are speaking truth to power on MSNBC and now on NPR. The wider the audience the better.

    Thank you so much for your work on behalf of the Constitution, of the Geneva conventions, and the rule of law. We need many more as courageous and articulate as you.

    All the best,

    R. Thomas Douglass
    BA Geo. Wash. Univ., 1954
    Ph.D. Pennsylvania, 1964

  3. I didn’t listen as closely as I could have, but it seems that the conservative rationale shifts faster than George Bush selling his tax cuts.

    I thought I heard Turner excuse Rumsfeld for the torture because he was not aware of the law – ignorance as a defense.

    There also seems to be a misuse of the imminent danger “Jack Bauer” defense – is there no difference between doing whatever is necessary when you believe there is bomb waiting to explode and repeatedly torturing someone you’ve imprisoned for six years?

    I’m not entirely happy with allowing CIA agents or contractors who are the equivalent of enlisted men to go free for following orders and doing what the memos allowed, so long as it was not done so that the number of repetitions makes what Bush did not think was torture into torture. But those who repeated the torture (Ari Shapiro said that one person was waterboarded 150 times), as well as the supposed adult supervision that gave the orders should be pursued. Lynndie English was not the criminal. Rather it was Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld or George Bush who must be brought to justice.

  4. JT (if I may call you that),

    I was pleasantly surprised to hear you on my favorite NPR program today! It really disturbs me when people like Mr. Turner can sit there and say national security trumps everything, ignoring the rule of law. I’ve recently become interested in the skeptical movement and have been reading many books on arguments and fallacies within them. The opponents of investigating these barbaric acts of torture use every sort of faulty reasoning mentioned in skeptical texts. It is refreshing to hear a voice of reason dismantle their arguments.

  5. Those who use national security as a panacea and justification have historically been covering up illegal, immoral acts, or
    proponents of naked power. JT wins debate by a KO!

  6. Matthew,

    I must agree about all the fallacies. What a frustrating interview.


    You did a very good job in a difficult situation. The program was moving all over the place. I about spit out my water when I heard Donald Rumsfield probably didn’t even know what Common Article 3 was. That despite large portions of the Bush administration finding every possible way to avoid following a law they supposedly knew nothing about. There was some really reprehensible arguments that were laid on completely false foundations. Mr. Turner should be ashamed. I’m glad you were there to be a strong moral voice.

  7. Regretfully, I have not been able to hear the show. I get a dead link when I go to the web page. However, I am sure it was another tour de force from our host. I will keep trying to catch the interview.

  8. Patty,

    That was indeed my earlier methodology. It works fine now, but earlier I may not have given the website sufficient java privileges to pull up the player so it routed me to essentially a 404 page. Being a semi-paranoid Linux geek has its drawbacks sometimes.😀 Now, off to the show . . .

  9. Wow.

    I’m about half way through and all I have to say so far is that Robert Turner is totally full of crap.

  10. Buddha,

    Very true, Now comes Cheney again! Why does he hate America? Why does he want to give our enemies information on how we treat detainees? What would Mr. Turner say?

    “Now that the memos showing the rulings of interrogation techniques have been released, the Obama administration should release additional documents that show what the interrogations yielded, former Vice President Dick Cheney told FOX News on Monday.”

  11. For anyone interested in hearing the interview, you can listen to On Point via podcast and it is available on iTunes. I am not sure what time each day’s program is put on iTunes, but I know they do it nightly because I usually listen to the previous day’s On Point on my way to work each morning. I wish Tom Ashbrook would have been there today. I don’t think he would have gave Mr. Turner such a free pass and would have definitely challenged a lot of his claims.

  12. Prof. Turley,

    Ok. I’ve finished. Once again, you are my hero JT.

    Excellent job on holding Turner’s distortions on FISA rulings to a minimum as well as calling out his and Hayden’s ridiculous assertion about “these are not evil people”. Moral relativism is such a pant load. And Turner is full of it enough for three or four people. I certainly hope the UVLS charges discounted rates for his courses. I know I’d have wanted my money back.

    On a personal note, I’m sorry you have to live so close to a war criminal like Hayden! Tension on the block indeed.

    P.S. I am not sure if the Turley clan is dog enabled, but if so, I think you know where this is going or, more appropriately, where I hope the dog is going. If you don’t have a dog, might I suggest a Great Dane (good with kids, naturally protective and prodigious producers of poop).

  13. ‘For what it’s ‘worth’ – remember this?


    U.S. Criminal Liability for Fraud, Crimes, and Abuses Committed Oversees

    “…The immunity loophole for contractors working for agencies other than the Department of Defense became evident with the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the question of criminal culpability for contractors of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a non-DOJ agency. In 2005, Congress passed the 2005 DOD Authorization Act to amend the MEJA to include other federal agencies and their contractors that are “supporting the mission of the Department of Defense.” Congress did not define the terms “supporting” or “mission.”…

  14. Thank you for being so HONEST about this all. I need to hear your firm comments to keep on believing.

  15. Thank you so for calling a war crime a war crime and for clearly expressing your outrage at what was done by the CIA and the clearly wrongheaded desire of our president to turn the other way.
    As a 30 year member of Amnesty International, I depend on international law to make case to foreign governments. I haven’t been able to compose a convincing letter since the start of the Bush administration but had high hopes that the US would once again honor international law and its treaty and moral obligations. As someone who campaigned for President Obama, I am deeply, deeply disappointed.

  16. Excellent debate! (At least your side of it, professor Turley.) I especially liked your deft avoidance of the trap that torture advocates often try to set by simultaneously raising the issues of “is torture always immoral” and “is torture effective” and then tacitly assuming that you agree with them on the question you don’t immediately answer. While I believe that (as I’m sure you do) that torture is an ineffective means of interrogation I think that the correct response to this gambit is to point out, as you did, that the morality/legality issue is far more important and once you’ve established that torture is wrong, the issue of its effectiveness is irrelevant. I do have to disagree with your argument for the prosecution (or at least the threat of prosecution) of the CIA interrogators for torture. Since both the memos supporting the legalization of torture and the fact that people were indeed tortured pursuant to those memos are part of the record, it seems unnecessary to use anything more than a subpoena and the threat of perjury to compel their testimony. Furthermore, I think there should be a very tight focus on going after the people who so grossly failed in their duty by writing these memos (and who could possibly be leveraged into testifying against President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, and Secretary Rumsfeld). It is the prosecution of these people which can wash this stain from our national honor while the prosecution of the interrogators seems likely to lead to the diluting of the public’s will to go after the big fish.

  17. Simply astounding. How could have Mr. Hayden become a military 4-star general and how could have Mr. Turner become a professor of law. They were both using grade school “logic.”

    Additionally, Mr. Turner’s statement regarding the rod and gun club shooting was outrageous.

    No wonder the U.S.A. is declining.

  18. Budda Is Laughing

    “Being a semi-paranoid Linux geek has its drawbacks sometimes.”

    Using linux (PClinuxOS) for many years and am glad to see the Whitehouse is using some open source. Seems they might be a bit paranoid, too.

    As John Dean says, “The cover up is always worse than the crime.”

  19. After hearing the sagacious debating style of Professor Turner from UVA, I am overjoyed at my decision to head east on I-64 rather than west to complete my legal education. At the University of Richmond we learned that bullsh*t will not equal rational argument on matters of substance. Thank you Con. Law Professor Gary Leedes from a grateful student.

  20. JIll:

    You are right about that absolute fraud spread like manure by Prof. Turner that Cheney, Rumsfield et als were so woefully ignorant of international law that they mistakenly stumbled into torture.(I am planning to kill my wife without cause–I must consult my lawyer to determine the legality of this situation!)What a crock of Turner! Legions of experts at every building in the District and the highest officials in the land are led like mice by a law professor, a future federal judge, and a pied piper I suppose on matters of law and conscience. Spare me the foolishness–do I look that dumb, Professor Turner? I know lawyer shopping clients and boot licking lawyers when I see them. Maybe I should teach too.

  21. Again, I repeat a WaPo article by Dana Priest highlighting the present policy/position vs position/policy ‘conundrum’ which the Bybee memo resolves, in my view. And which includes reference and evidence to Rumsfeld’s desirous hand in providing the administration cover as far as it would go, along the way and
    ‘up to the line’ of legal, by his own admission statement.

    p.s. In the future, mespo, before generously assigning credit, not due Jill, check to see from where the ‘post/imposter swiped her inspirations from, originally…😉

    I also request your support in discouraging anal infantile pica potty mouths. Thanks!


    Patty C 1, July 25, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    ‘04 WP article from my ‘greatest hits’…

  22. mespo,

    That was egregious! What did he think Gitmo was for in the first place? Cheney and his BFF addington were in the basement of the WH the afternoon of 9/11 devising ways to subvert Common Article 3. Mr. Turner kept saying he didn’t know that much about one topic after another. Those were the only times he made sense!

  23. This is interesting, perhaps I will send this story to Dr., they never heard of Common Article 3, Turner:

    “But despite President Obama’s declaration that releasing the four Justice Department memos disclosed Friday would end “a dark and painful chapter in our history,” at least one other memorandum on CIA interrogations remains undisclosed: a 2007 opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel on what a new interpretation of the Geneva Conventions’ Common Article 3 meant for the agency’s “enhanced interrogation program.”

    A former senior intelligence official, who would not speak for the record, said that in 2007, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Steven Bradbury, issued a still-secret memorandum authorizing an updated CIA interrogation regimen. The Justice Department issued the document after months of internal Bush administration debate, a Supreme Court decision in 2006 that extended protections from Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions to enemy combatants in U.S. custody, a piece of new legislation responding to the Court’s decision and a presidential executive order on interrogations.” (from TPM)

  24. at least one other memorandum on CIA interrogations remains undisclosed: a 2007 opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel on what a new interpretation of the Geneva Conventions’ Common Article 3 meant for the agency’s “enhanced interrogation program.”


    Rumsfeld was finally fired by Bush in 2006 – right after Democrats reclaimed the majority. He was a liability with few allies who most would like to have seen replaced months, even years, sooner.

    In fact, Bob Gates, asked to stay on, still holds the position today…


    As with so many issues in Washington, the best way to understand how policy is made is to follow the money –? and there is a lot of post-Sept. 11 money to follow, much of it set in motion by the urgency of the 2001 attacks.

    “Decisionmakers had a lot of unexpected needs,” Lincoln P. Bloomfield Jr., former assistant secretary of state for political- military affairs, told ICIJ in an interview. “None of what they needed was in the budget, because the budget system is so nailed down. We spent our days trying to figure out how to do something legally and trying to hot-wire (the budget) to address things that needed to get done. So you twist the wires, and you reconnect them in so many ways. At the end of the day, who had the money? It was the Pentagon.”

    The wire-twisting resulted in three new, important programs with billions to distribute — Coalition Support Funds, the Regional Defense Counterterrorism Fellowship Program and a military training program called Section 1206 (named for a section in a defense authorization bill).

    In August, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee that some changes could create new problems for these agencies, charging “we would not want to place new barriers or filters between military combatant commanders and those agencies when they perform as combat-support agencies.”

  25. From today’s LAT…


    “…The report shows that military and intelligence officials started planning harsh techniques as early as February 2002, seven months before the tactics were approved by the Justice Department.

    The 200-page Senate report was completed in November. Defense Department officials only recently signed off on its release.

    In summer 2002, the document said, the military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, which oversees the SERE schools, was asked to help overcome resistance by suspected Al Qaeda operatives to interrogations…”

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