In Time magazine this week, Joe Klein describes how John Kerry responded to the revelations of torture at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in May 2004 by holding a focus group in Arkansas. Afterwards, Klein writes, "The consultants were unanimous in their recommendations to the candidate: Don’t talk about it. So Kerry didn’t, "never once mentioning Abu Ghraib–or the Justice Department memo that ‘broadened’ accepted interrogations techniques–in his acceptance speech or, remarkably, in his three debates with Bush."
For the man who earned a following protesting atrocities in Vietnam, torture was off the table. I mention this anecdote because at a breakfast today with Howard Dean sponsored by The American Prospect, a cast member from the play Guantanamo asked Dean about the Democratic Party’s position on another detention facility widely viewed as illegal under international law.
"We don’t have a Democratic Party position," Dean admitted. "I’ve never had a discussion about it with [Harry] Reid and [Nancy] Pelosi."
That frank response surprised a number of reporters in the room. Jane Mayer, who’s reported extensively on the topic for The New Yorker, followed up by asking Dean why the stunning news of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and the notorious CIA black sites overseas received only a "fleeting reference" in the new Democratic national security plan.
"There are an enormous number of issues," Dean said, and he worried Democrats were already talking about too many. Dean labeled the situation in Sudan’s Darfur region as "clearly genocide," for instance, "but when it comes to Democrats ability to communicate with the American people, it gets dropped."
That’s too bad. Democrats often speak too much about specific issues and not enough about broad values. Nothing is more immoral than genocide and torture. Democrats should say so loudly.
(PS: I’ll have more of what Dean said at the breakfast later today.)