Frum & Greenwald: Will Europe Prosecute Bush?

February 23rd, 2011 at 12:06 am David Frum | 37 Comments |

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I recorded a new Bloggingheads with’s Glenn Greenwald.  We discussed whether a European court should put George W. Bush on trial and what Egypt’s revolution may mean for Israel.

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37 Comments so far ↓

  • HispanicPundit

    I am really glad you are doing more of this Frum. As a long time admirer of you, we need more exchanges like this. It helps those of us on the front lines make better arguments for the conservative case.


    • Nanotek

      “It helps those of us on the front lines make better arguments for the conservative case. ”

      ditto for the liberal case

  • Moderate

    Excellent! Thanks, I always enjoy these.

  • Smargalicious

    Prosecute Bush??

    This sounds like Olbermann’s schtick. Puh-leeze. It’s absurd.

    • ottovbvs

      “Puh-leeze. It’s absurd.”

      That’s what Pinochet thought. If I was Bush, or indeed any of the Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld crowd , I’d be thinking twice about foreign travel plans because it’s a real risk in many countries. When Bush cancels a trip to Switzerland, Switzerland?, because he could be prosecuted it indicates a) the threat is real and b) it’s being taken seriously Bush… if not Smargalicious.

  • ottovbvs

    Btw DF this is a great discussion and you’re to be applauded for both putting it up and doing an excellent job of presenting what I’ll call the Bush admin argument. Greenwald however had the better of the argument I think although I’m sure others would disagree. This may be because he’s a lawyer (I think) and he’s discussing what are matters of law with a layman so he has advantage But the requirements of the treaty which we’ve ratified seem to be fairly clear. Bush and co are in some legal jeopardy because the US govt (the Obama administration) has avoided its obligations under the treaty for what are basically political reasons. I think they were right to do so btw but that doesn’t void the treaty or eliminate legal exposure overseas . Either way an excellent discussion, it would be great to see similar between say Krugman and Mankiw on economic issues.

  • Elvis Elvisberg

    Thank you for engaging at length with folks with very different views from your own. A big part of our polarization problem is people’s differences on issues, but I think an even bigger problem might be that we only hear our own side’s distortions of what others are saying.

  • takvar

    This sounds interesting. Will there be a transcript? Watching video is nsfw

  • rubbernecker

    This was excellent, thank you.

  • Mannie Davis

    Yes David, thanks very much for the excellent discussion and site. I really appreciate your willingness to examine opposing viewpoints and explore outside the “lane” movement conservatives typically tread.

    As for the present issue, it is precisely because the US government has refused to prosecute the Bush administration figures that other governments are empowered to do so.

    No government that makes the political decision to torture is likely to prosecute its own leadership – not Libya, not Britain, and not the US.

    That’s why universal jurisdiction was provided to begin with. But that was back before the US adopted some forms of torture as its official policy.

  • Smargalicious

    Guess who will be investigated in Congressional hearings and prosecuted after his one term for being an illegal alien and subsequent fraudulent election?

  • sparse

    the debate, at the outset, seemed to hinge on the distinction between international and US law. frum seems to object to the swiss enforcing what should be the province of our domestic justice system.

    but from the little i saw, i gleaned this much:
    1) we signed a treaty saying we would pass a law, and follow it, that banned torture and promised prosecution of it if it happened.
    2)we passed such a law
    3) some things happened, for some amount of time that included waterboarding of detainees
    4)both bloggers agree that waterboarding is torture
    5)everyone agrees that nobody was prosecuted for it

    with this chain of events, there is a second chain of events.

    there was, effectively, an internationalization of a domestic issue. torture, in it’s component parts, is entirely domestic. it’s assault, battery, kidnapping, what have you, all within the jurisdiction of where it occurs. but we agreed with other nations to not torture and to police ourselves. by signing that agreement, we agreed that it was an international concern we wrote our own law, taking the international issue and turning it, again, into a domestic issue. we would refrain from torture and not tolerate it, and prosecute it if it happened. we failed to live up to our domestic obligation, and it seems to me, that at that point it becomes again an international concern, because we signed a treaty saying we thought it was an international concern.

    or so it seems to me, i am not a lawyer.

    sorry, i only had a little time during lunch to listen to this, so i hope my comments don’t cover material covered by the last of the video.

    • ottovbvs

      You got it. We agreed by treaty that torture was an absolute wrong and that any signatories to the treaty who practised it for whatever reason were liable to legal action by the other signatories when they had defaulted on their international obligation to prosecute it themselves.

      • Smargalicious

        By your logic then Clinton should be prosecuted over Bosnia.

        • ottovbvs

          Er…who did Clinton order tortured in Bosnia? And btw we’re not talking about logic were talking about a matter of law.

        • Smargalicious

          Clinton ordered the bombing of innocent civilians during the Bosnia crisis.

          See where I’m going with this? Every President could be prosecuted depending on interpretation.

      • sparse

        oh, okay. so it’s like the agreement smargalicious has with his mom, that since he’s 42, and a big boy now, she should respect his privacy so he can do his, um, personal stuff. and he’ll be in charge of cleaning his own room, and as long as he does that, she won’t have to come in.

        got it, and thanks for the reasonable discourse, ottovbvs.

        • ottovbvs

          “Clinton ordered the bombing of innocent civilians during the Bosnia crisis.”

          The treaty does not bar military action (particularly when the aim is to prevent genocide) so Clinton unlike Bush is not in any legal jeopardy. What don’t you understand about the difference between military action and torture? There is NO interpretation, the treaty is all about torture.

  • ktward

    This is Frum’s second Bh discussion with Greenwald and, imo, the collegial tone was very much set by the constructive level of the first.

    I deeply appreciate where this high quality of dialogue takes us.
    Many thanks to both David and Glenn.

    • ottovbvs

      Have to agree. The tone was perfect, both knew their facts, and at the end of it I had a very clear idea of the issues, and the merits of both arguments. Maybe it’s because they both have several dogs.

  • TAZ

    We entered into a treaty of our own free will to prosecute ANY / ALL torturers ourselves or have other signatories prosecute them for us if we lacked the political stomach.

    Frum argues American exceptionalism to this.

    Frum is wrong.

    • ottovbvs

      Frum presents a sophisticated argument… Smarg presents an argument demonstrating he doesn’t even understand what he’s arguing about.

  • drdredel

    Otto, you know the old adage about who the greater fool is, the fool, or the wise man that argues with him…

    I think it’s interesting that David dances around and around but at the end concedes that the primary reason why Bush shouldn’t be subjected to international prosecution is because as America we simply have to do things sometimes that are exempt from normal examination under law.

    This is not a very convincing argument, and one that our founders would contradict pretty unequivocally. I mean, it’s not without reason that the language of the treaty is so specific about how there are no exemptions. Why would we sign such a thing if we didn’t expect it to apply to us?!

    • ottovbvs

      True.. but I didn’t spend too much time on him. Sometimes even flies require the swatter. And you’re right at the end David’s argument came down to “But we are special.” I spent a lot of years in the corporate world and always found the French the most difficult to deal with which is all encapsulated in an occasion when a very attractive French girl said to me one evening “But we are French, we are different.” I won’t try to mimic the accent, but it was very cute. David, alas, thinks we are above the law. The rules don’t apply to us which is why so much of the world, including age old supporters in places like Europe, has fallen out of love with us. The evil that men do etc was never more true than with Bush and hsi acolytes and it will take years for the taste to go away if it ever does.

    • ktward


      I’ve no illusions that Frum’s Foreign Policy arguments aren’t born from his ideology of Israel’s primacy.

      That said, while I rarely agree with Frum on FP, I respect that he appreciates that there exists an onus upon him to back up his arguments beyond “because my imaginary god tells me so.” As demonstrated by his willingness to engage with Greenwald.

  • Bilejones

    Greenwald slapped him around fairly well, and well deserved too.

  • WaStateUrbanGOPer

    Otto: excellent point about the difficulty former Bush administration officials are going to have travelling abroad. It’s really only a matter of time until they’re in the same situation as that sociopathic creep Henry Kissinger, and can only travel to Israel!

    Sometimes it really does seem as if Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan and Juan Cole are the only major bloggers who give a shit about the United States conducting a foreign policy that is consistent with the ethos of Human Rights and the letter of international law.

  • sparse

    maybe i got lost a little in the middle of this, and it took me a couple of days to get around to the research. but at one point, greenwald and frum were talking about the applicability of the geneva conventions to the matter- greenwald’s point was that it requires us to hunt down and bring to justice anyone suspected of violating the geneva conventions. anybody remember this? am i right in recalling that frum’s response was that geneva does not apply to the current conflict (the global war on terror)?

    i remember it not making sense at the time, and i resolved to look into the geneva conventions. but if our people tortured, and we are a signatory nation, does it matter if the people we tortured were regular military, rebels, civilians or terrorists? shouldn’t the only criterion be the status of our people? were they acting at the behest of our government? i could put up with a tiny bit of fudging over whether they were regular military or contractors, but to bring the status of the victim into it seems quite irrelevant.

    anybody still reading this thread who can point me to the answer?

  • msmilack

    I found this conversation totally fascinating. I wish two people like you would be on TV: both of you so smart, articulate and ultimately reasonable in your q/a and best of all, you are both respectful of each other. I want you on tv.