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Shields, Brooks Mull Torture Memos, Obama’s Leadership

Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the Obama administration's decision to release Bush-era memos on interrogation tactics and the shape of the president's first 100 days in office.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    The torture memos, Mark, where do you come down on the question, first, of how the president himself has handled the release of the memos?

  • MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:

    I'd say the president has been ambivalent on the release, Jim.

    I mean, he obviously is responding both to, I think, his own impulse. As far as torture is concerned, he's gone on record, unequivocally, adamantly that such practices will not continue in the future. And he made it clear that he didn't want to look back; he wanted to look forward.

    But having expressed earlier an interest or some support for a commission not unlike the 9/11 Commission to at least report on how these decisions were made, he's backed off that and is now tacitly supporting the Senate, Harry Reid and Dianne Feinstein, who are going to send it over to the Intelligence Committee.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yes. How do you read? Is ambivalence the right word?

  • DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times:

    Yes, I don't think so. I think he just made a mistake for one day.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Made a mistake?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I mean, they had this very impressive debate. A lot of senior officials were against the release; a lot of senior…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You mean within the administration?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    On the release.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Within the administration were for it.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Right, on the release, right.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    They actually sat down. They had — people were appointed to debate each side. Obama watched the debate. At the end of the debate, he made a decision and dictated the policy.

    And the policy essentially was, we're going to release, but we're not going to go back and re-prosecute the people. And that was the policy. It made everybody happy. And they announced essentially that.

    He went over and, in the middle of the week, he had a sort of rambling press conference where he flipped up, and he said things that he shouldn't have said, which opened the door to people thinking he did want to go re-prosecute.

    And then they quickly realized he'd made a mistake. They had a little discussion. And they slammed the door, and they slammed it, I think, quite hard. They slammed it using Harry Reid. And there's going to be no commission.

    And so I think, on the whole, the debate was very impressive. I personally think the policy is the right policy. And there was just that one day…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You mean the release was the right thing to do?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I think both the release and the desire not to go re-litigate.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Not to go and prosecute, yes.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I think both those things were right, and then there was that one day where he seemed open to it.

    But the problem essentially is that he's trying to create this centrist policy that a lot of people on the left, who think it's terrible, we should prosecute. There are people on the right who think it's not terrible, it saved thousands of lives, or whatever, and we should be proud — or not be proud, but we should acknowledge its necessariness. And he's sort of stuck in a very complicated middle position, but I think it came out of a very good process of discussion.