By William Fisher
“Sir, have you no sense of decency?” asked the bow-tied pixyish lawyer, Joseph N. Welch, of Senator Joe McCarthy fifty years ago as he tried to defend an army officer accused by Joltin’ Joe of being a Communist.
I was reminded of Welch’s show-stopping words as I (reluctantly) watched Bill O’Reilly’s “O’Reilly Factor” on President Bush’s TV house organ, Fox News, a couple of weeks ago.
But I found myself wondering whether O’Reilly’s attack on former vice president Al Gore was a matter of ignorance -- or just Megamouth’s way of getting my adrenalin flowing.
Whatever his state of mind, his outrageous commentary sure succeeded in the adrenalin department. But my conclusion is that the Designated Dissembler must be living in some parallel universe.
The target of the Verminator’s wrath in this particular broadcast was Al Gore, and a speech he made in Saudi Arabia back in December.
O’Reilly quoted Gore as having said, "Arabs in the United States have been indiscriminately rounded up, often on minor charges of overstaying a visa or not having a green card in proper order, and held in conditions that were just unforgivable."
“Wow. Quite a statement,” O’Reilly exclaimed.
But he went on. Ever-true to the investigative traditions of Ida Tarbell, Woodstein and Jeff Gannon (a.k.a.Guckert), Billyboy had his staff call Gore’s office for further information. They wanted to know “exactly where the unforgivable conditions are located and also to provide some names of Arabs who have been abused inside the USA”, adding, “If innocent Arabs are being abused on U.S. soil, we want to know about it.”
Fair and balanced to the end, O’Reilly conceded, “There were a few cases after 9/11 where Arabs were taken into custody by mistake, but just a few, as far as we can tell.”
Well, since Gore’s office wasn’t going to provide “backup”, I thought I’d help out.
In the days and months following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, then Attorney General John (“Let the Eagle Soar”) Ashcroft, with the help of then Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff (you’ll remember him from Hurricane Katrina) conducted two sweeps, rounding up some 5,000 – that’s 5,000, Bill -- Arabs and other Muslims, as well as many Sikhs. They were U.S. citizens, residents, visitors, students, and so forth. Osama Bin Laden wasn’t among them.
And here’s a summary of what the Department of Justice Inspector General’s report had to say about these detentions:
None of these detainees were charged with terrorist-related offenses…the decision to detain them was “extremely attenuated” from the 9/11 investigation...the Justice Department’s designation of detainees of interest to the 9/11 investigation was “indiscriminate and haphazard.” and did not adequately distinguish between terrorism suspects and other immigration detainees.
Detainees were subjected to harsh conditions of confinement, including cells that were illuminated 24 hours per day, and confinement to their cells for all but one hour per day. (There was) “a pattern of physical and verbal abuse by some correctional officers at the MDC (Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn) against some September 11 detainees….” Detainees were treated like prisoners, denied access to lawyers and contact with families.
And the terrorist convictions resulting from these manhunts? Zero. That’s zero, Bill. Zippo. Zilch.
A few hundred were deported, some accepting deportation just to escape from U.S. custody.
I hope this is the “backup” Al Gore’s people wouldn’t provide, Mr. O’Reilly. But, of course, a really simple Google search would have produced the same intelligence. It’s public record, presented to Congress, and was probably published in whatever newspaper you read. If you read, that is.
Undeterred by any of these pesky little facts, the Great Rating then uncorked his punchline issue.
Why is Al Gore “saying this stuff in the Middle East? Surely, Gore knows that his words will be used to fuel more Arab anger towards America… you would think he'd be more responsible. I mean, come on. The USA is fighting terrorists all over the world, and Gore is implying that we use terrorist methods against innocent Arabs on the home front?…In a time of war. That would be like an American politician traveling to Japan during World War II and saying FDR was interning Japanese-Americans, which he was.”
Pardon me, oh great drive-by character assassin, but where better to speak out than in the Middle East? After all, that’s where most of these detainees come from. And at what better time than when most of the world hates us?
Hell, even Karen Hughes – surely no hired gun for some vast left-wing conspiracy -- does exactly that when she goes on her “listening tours” of the Middle East and elsewhere.
She admits we’re not perfect. We’re human, which means we make mistakes. And she is fond of telling her audiences that the freedom of expression we enjoy as Americans includes the freedom to admit our mistakes, and try to correct them.
It’s one of the bigger things that separates us from them.
So I’m not concerned about what Al Gore chooses to say in the Middle East or anywhere else.
I’m a lot more concerned about what separates us from us. In that department, you’re doing a heck of a job, Billy!