Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Torture Apologist Invaded My Body...?

So last Friday I got a call from to come and do a quick segment on Pelosi and the CIA, with a short pivot to Obama’s announcement about military tribunals. Kind of random (since I don’t work on any of the above issues), but couldn’t be too difficult, right?


Despite my quick prepping on CAP’s stance on the two issues, and all of my learned experience doing 30 second sound-bite punditry, I still somehow managed to bring down my entire organization, excuse George Bush for war crimes, and overall destroy liberal politics as we know them. Well, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but it was still pretty bad.

When the conversation veered slightly off topic and turned into a  yelling match about torture between two other bloggers, making it difficult for me to jump in, my talking point about “moving forward and taking the American people’s attention off Obama’s ambitious legislative agenda” (which I intended to say only in reference to the Pelosi/CIA who-dunnit) somehow came out as the following –

The American people right now are actually not interested in this sideshow and this discussion.  The American people are interested in looking forward -- nobody is concerned anymore with what the Bush administration was doing and did.  We decided it was torture.  Conservatives may or may not disagree. None of that matters at this point and time.

What the heck did I just say? Dear God – A TORTURE APOLOGIST TOOK OVER MY BODY. 

Looking back at the quote, I’m honestly not sure how I could have said something so wholly inaccurate and misrepresenting of my own personal opinion and the work of my organization and “the American people”.  Me? A black woman who proudly wears her “Where are my reparations T-shirt” every Black History Month? Would I really suggest that America look away from and excuse its very recent and inhumane past? I think not. And yet, it appears as if I did. 

In fact, the argument that she used  (and yes, I’m now referring to the person using my mouth to speak as “she”) was straight out of the conservative playbook.  Misspeaking has never hurt so much and 10 minute segments split between 4 people and 2 anchors don't leave much opportunity for on-air self-correction. All I could do was log off and hope that nobody was watching.....

Ummm...nope. Not that lucky. 

Since then, progressive bloggers and several viewers have pointedly taken me to task on the quote – and rightly so….if it had been me. But it wasn’t. It was the renegade spirit of a wingnut. 

As I spend the next 3 days restraining from all political commentary and confessing my liberal sin I ask for forgiveness from my fellow progressive bloggers and the millions (well, 8 to be exact) of Americans that have emailed me upset about my mischaracterization of American public opinion and my own. I am sincerely sorry. 

And rest assured that if the torture apologist ever rears her ugly head around these parts again, aiming to trip up my words, I'll make sure to get rid of her swiftly and surely - especially before appearing on national tv. 


  1. From Greenwald:

    Kudos to Erica Williams for her acknowledgment of error. Our political discourse would be vastly improved if more people were willing to offer such straightforward and authentic apologies for their mistakes. As I've said any times, what determines one's credibility isn't whether they make mistakes, since everyone makes those. What is credibility-determinative is how one responds to one's errors, and Williams responded about as well as possible

  2. Don't worry, Erica. I think most of us on your side of the aisle realized you just misspoke. But it was big of you to post this to clear things up.

    This torture issue is actually very simple. It requires no complicated arguments: "A full independent investigation should begin to determine if crimes have been committed, as it appears that they have. Why? Because no one is above the law."

    That's basically the answer to every single point the other side tries to throw at you. You can use it over and over and over again.

    And it's also short and simple enough to fit into the small amount of time you're given on any of these shitty cable shows.

  3. I wonder if a text quote of the comment that you made on CNN recently (re: torture and americans don't care) will appear somewhere in the guise of "even Erica Williams of the liberal (far left) CAP/AF agrees with conservatives that it's time to move" or something of the like. I googled "Erica williams on CNN torture" and only got 4,500 hits (as of 5.17.09 17:15 here in the Seattle). I wonder how much it will metastasize?. Makes for an interesting study actually. Only... If only. On the positive side I found your blog and will recognize your name next time I read it. So thanks for your apology. I could have been much shorter and concise tho. Contrition doesn't really take much more than "geez that was stupid. It won't happen again."

    Best Regards,

    Michael Canfield

  4. Let me just also state that, in my opinion, the guy who did most of the talking decreased the value of his argument by spending so much time arguing over whether torture actually works.

    Whether it works is completely irrelevant. It is ILLEGAL regardless!

    Expanding the debate to other areas just lessens the impact of that fundamental point: torture is a crime. There must be a full investigation. Anyone who has committed crimes with respect to torture should be prosecuted in accordance with the LAW.

  5. You kick ass, Erica. Thanks for owning up to your error.

  6. A public apology is always difficult; on behalf of "millions," let me say: apology accepted.

    My forgiveness, for making a mistake that somehow toes CAP's war-mongering fauxy leftist line, is yours to earn.

    What is war, but torture writ large? If one is for war, then what is torture, but hand-to-hand combat?

    No war, no torture, never.

  7. Thanks, Ms. Williams. It's appreciated.

  8. I also appreciate the apology and realize the difficulties of the circumstances you were placed under, but unfortunately the damage has been done. Will CAP be altering its strategies to compensate for the mileage that torture proponents will get from your words?

  9. Yah, you should probably be more worried that no one was surprised that someone from CAP said that.

  10. Kudos for acknowledging and repudiating your misstatement. It displays a maturity sorely lacking in our political discourse.

  11. Got the word from Glen that you made a classy apology and clicked over to see.

    Well done, Erica.

  12. Can't say i like this. Why did you agree to comment on something you admit you didn't know much about. I would very much like to hear your views on credit cards, but torture? Is it that when cable news people call you up you just can't say no because you don't want to offend them and fear they will never call you back once they are on your topic? at any rate I'm glad to see you've taken the time to explain your views more accurately then a 10 sec sound bite. If i am ever in your nieborhood i'd like to buy you a beer and play a game of 8 ball.

  13. I appreciate and respect your apology, but frankly, it's CAP that needs to apologize.

    I didn't hear much said about Pelosi and the CIA. What I heard was David Waldman making an excellent point about torture being used to get false confessions to make a fraudulent case for war, and two people falsely accusing him of slandering American soldiers.

    Thousands of American soldiers have died and many thousands more have been injured in the Iraq war. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died. The economic and environmental effects of the war are huge. Sending soldiers to risk their lives on false pretenses is the real disrespect, and I wish you had said something like that.

    And lest we forget, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the man tortured in Egypt for the false confession used by Colin Powell at the UN in February 2003, was sent to Egypt by the CIA, and was later sent by the CIA to Libya, where he has just come up dead. Do you and CAP really understand how serious this matter is? Public opinion really should not matter - it's a rule of law issue as CAP's Mark David Agrast has written about.

    Glenn Greenwald said "What is credibility-determinative is how one responds to one's errors, and Williams responded about as well as possible." I can agree with that as to you personally, but I wait to see how Center for American Progress responds to its organizational error, and more broadly, how it and its experts on these issues deal with the torture and death of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi.

    Ben Davis explains well how serious this is.

    Would that CAP's experts had half his passion, courage, rigor, and fealty to the law.

  14. The ability to make a proper apology, that's a life skill everyone needs but few people have. Well done Erica Williams! You'll get 'em next time.

  15. That is how a real apology is done, not the "I regret that some were offended by my remards..."


  16. You're my hero, for the reasons Glenn sets out. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and soldier on.

  17. I don't understand how the excuse that the person who made those comments on CNN was a different person from the one writing the above blog post can even stand up. I get that things weren't on the intellectual up and up, but I still don't get how.

  18. That is the most hilariously heartfelt apology I have ever seen. It makes perfect sense to have spit out the wrong soundbite, a soundbite that would have been perfect for the Pelosi business. I wonder if you could sometime give us a backstage look at how people are prepped for these appearances. It'd make watching theme more interesting.

  19. Thanks for the apology. Since you bring up reparations, I'd suggest the obvious rejoinder to whether torture "worked": Did slavery work? Yes, that is why the south fought to the death to keep it. Using slave labor can be extremely profitable.

    But how well it works has nothing to do with whether we should use it. And before someone tries to set up some false dichotomy, the lives and futures of millions (slaves, soldiers and citizens) were clearly at stake in the slavery question as well.

  20. Very Classy. Hope to see more of you on CNN.

  21. Yes yes, well done, you apologized and it takes a big man (or woman) and all that...but...

    The damage is done. How many people saw you spew those words and how many of them will see this post? Which person, the person on TV or the person on this blog, will the most people remember?

    To tell the truth I am rather insulted at the glib way you apologized. It seems awfully light hearted for such a serious subject, and the amount of damaged you did to those of us that are TRYING to reclaim the soul of this country. So while I admire you ability to admit an error...

    Thanks for nothing.

  22. Thanks for the apology, but if you are indeed as professional as you indicate, you wouldn't have said what you did.

    People don't remember the mea culpa as much as they do the initial faux pas - what you said is out in the ether now and has been digested by millions of viewers. Frankly, would be amazed if you were given an opportunity to say what you apparently meant to say instead. But the damage is done.

  23. I too thank you for your apology, and urge you to revisit the conversation now that you have put your mistake behind you: because Kagro X was entirely right.

    We need, as you rightly say, to move on from the irrelevant sideshow of "what did Pelosi know, and when did she know it", but the way to do this effectively is the way Kagro X did it, and point out that while TV news is ill-equipped these days to deal with the issues, it's still possible to bring the conversation back to the actual crimes, their magnitude, the people who commissioned and committed them, and their motives for doing so.

    Jane Hamsher has set up the "I oppose torture and Kagro X is my hero" group on Facebook, with a link to the video at CongressMatters and a conveniently short summary of the facts in Kagro's argument.

  24. gee i wish we all could be perfect like you Dominion, terraformer.

    people make mistakes. good god what the hell is she supposed to do?

  25. Okay, you apologized, but you said it. What is in you that let you spout such nonsense in the first place? Personally, I don't actually believe people "misspeak". They say things accidentally, but the subliminal thought, perhaps, is there to start with. Again, my question is, What made you say such a thing in the first place? I am frustrated and angry that so many know-nothings are so damned sure about what the "American People" want or think.

  26. No offense whatsoever, but this episode truly shows one of the biggest problem with cable news - the use and misuse of "pundits." Your first line highlights that:

    So last Friday I got a call from to come and do a quick segment on Pelosi and the CIA, with a short pivot to Obama’s announcement about military tribunals. Kind of random (since I don’t work on any of the above issues), but couldn’t be too difficult, right? The economic crisis is another glaring example. When news channels should have been getting a varied array of economists to discuss it, they instead gave us an endless loop of politicians and partisan pundits. And to this day, I'd bet 90% of the U.S. knows what's going on.

    Pundits can add quite a bit, but expertise should matter.

  27. Look at it this way, Ms. Wiliams. Some of us might never have discovered your engaging writing on you blog without this graceful apology. Thank you. Thank you

  28. Very glad to read this.
    I was in the process of witting a very harsh letter to your bosses there at the CAP after listening to your CNN piece.
    "Looking Forward" has been frequently used by Obama and his admin as a coded phrase for ignoring the rule of law. Unless he has access to a crystal ball, we'd have no way or inclination to prosecute criminals, let alone war criminals.
    I'd appreciate it if you took your above 're-statement' and ran with it.

  29. Erica,

    That shows the effect of shock jocks and the media generally. Their ideas seep into you subconsciously through repetition.

    I had the same experience. I found myself repeating the rantings of a rightwinginger who worked with me in a warehouse. And he got his rantings from a rightwing newspaper and a radio shock jock.

    Beware, it's insidious.

  30. I'll be in the neighborhood later on, and I was wondering if maybe you wanted to get some frozen yogurt, or perhaps a whole meal of food, if that would be agreeable.

  31. Ms Williams,

    Thank you for your apology. The last several years have been a very difficult time when friends, family members, and previously respected pundits bought into and defended so many positions and actions that are so profoundly indefensible. It has been (and continues to be) disheartening to say the least.
    Watching Democrats defend Obama’s current War Crime of failing to investigate and prosecute obvious War Crimes (with mountains of damning evidence proving them beyond any shadow of a doubt) is depressing.
    I never trusted Obama when it came to economics (he always appeared to me as a pro-corporate over Americans politician), or to stopping these profoundly immoral wars, or to putting a stop to the Palestinian genocide (made obvious by his campaign statements).

    But I did believe he would make good faith efforts to:
    1. Get us back our destroyed Constitution,
    2. Stop torture and kidnapping (renditions),
    3. Repair our now thoroughly corrupt election process,
    4. Free political prisoners in prison on politically trumped up charges (think Siegelman, Minor, and Mumia),
    5. Establish transparency and stop the secrecy being used to hide ongoing crimes against our country, our Constitution, and the American people.
    6. Stop the massive illegal surveillance of the American people.
    Unfortunately, he has done none of these things and far too few Democratic pundits or progressive organizations (such as CAP) have pointed out to him how unacceptable and derelict of his duties this sad situation is.
    He has done some good things but his use of the DOJ to usurp more totalitarian power and further attack the Constitution is unconscionable and should be considered so even by those who support Obama and continue to have hope that he will keep some of his campaign promises.

    Anyone who sees some light and corrects their blind support for Obama’s path should be applauded.
    Thank you for your integrity on this question and for thus helping to keep hope alive.
    Peace, JK

  32. Way better than Maureen Dowd, but why weren't you (or your inner wingnut) agreeing with Waldeman, or at least -

    (a) telling the fat bow tie at bottom right (how fitting) to engage with the issue rather than Waldeman's silly but only slightly hyperbolic comparison the the Spanish inquisition?

    (b) telling the sloganeering parrot at top right that "supporting the troops" either has nothing to do with it, or is best achieved by an implacable stance against torture - whoever does it?

    Try to internalise what I passed on to CAP, prompted by your appearance. America's heart and mind (CAP's and your prime concern) can't be saved into it's soul (an underlying concern) is saved.

  33. E- massive kudos for the ovaries it took to post this. We are all confused. I wish we had not tortured people, and I to wish we did not have to investigate and prosecute same.

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  35. Gee I wish we could all be perfect like you Dominion...Perfection is hard to come by, who can claim it? Certainly not I...

    what was she supposed to do?How about think before opening her mouth? Engage her brain? What does it matter?

    As I said, the damage is done. I can't help but note you did not bother to answer my question, perhaps you missed it. Let's try again. How many people do you think saw her on TV spewing that nonsense, and how many people read her "apology"?

    As admirable as an apology is, in this case, it's like taking a glass of water to a forest fire. Too little. Too late.

  36. As you say, "it was still pretty bad," and I was dismayed to see a liberal undercut David Waldman when he was doing such a good job, especially since the torture "debate" has been so awful, deceptive and lacking in fact-checking in the MSM.

    That said, I appreciate the courage and honesty of your apology and the explanation of what happened and why. I really don't want to hear pod-person Erica Williams again, but I'm happy to give this one another chance or two. Good luck and best wishes for your future postings and any other media appearances.

  37. Thanks for such a refreshing admission of an error. What a different town this would be if a few more people could be so candid, instead of the frequent embarrassing defenses of indefensible remarks. It's not fun to go public like this; CAP should be glad to have you.