So I was watching online yesterday's hearing at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Committee met to hear witnesses and discuss (and sometimes debate) current U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba, which currently prohibits American tourism. I haven't yet finished watching the entire three hour meeting, but had to comment on something I saw that bothered me.
When I have more time I will try to summarize and comment on the other speeches given yesterday. But, if you haven't heard or read by now, yesterday's hearing had one moment that became "highly-charged" as they say [video excerpt above]. This happened when Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [FL-18] directed some controversial comments towards one of the invited witnesses, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey. It should be noted that Gen. McCaffrey is a highly decorated 32-year U.S. Army veteran (three times wounded in action) who also served as "Drug Czar" during the Clinton administration. But, this didn't stop Rep. Ros-Lehtinen from mocking his title, repeatedly interrupting him, and completely misquoting him.
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen began by indicating that she would be quoting from Gen. McCaffrey's statements from an April hearing at the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs. After first deriding with a sarcastic "woo" cheer Gen. McCaffrey's mention that he met Mr. Castro, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen posed several questions aimed to cast doubt on Gen. McCaffrey's professional assessment that Cuba does not pose a serious threat to U.S. national security. At the April hearing, Gen. McCaffery argued strongly that Cuba and the U.S. should be cooperating in matters to combat drug and human trafficking, and terrorist threats. He even mentioned peacebuilding efforts that would consider the training of Cuban officers in order to carry out these cooperative efforts.
But, of course, cooperation with the Cuban government in any fashion (even to protect U.S. interests) is considered heresy to militants like Rep. Ros-Lehtinen. Therefore, yesterday Rep. Ros-Lehtinen had all intentions to ridicule Gen. McCaffrey and his comments from April. But, in the end, just makes a total fool of herself. Lets review.
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen misquotes Gen. McCaffrey from the April hearing where he asserts that the Cuban government is not directly involved in drug-trafficking and drugs that wash up on the shores of the island. She reads a quote that goes:
"... but it was clear to me that they [drugs] were not on a government basis, but part of an international conspiracy to threaten the regime and to threaten their sense of communist morality."
This is what Gen. McCaffrey REALLY said:
"... but it was clear to me that they were not on a governmental basis and part of an international conspiracy. It would threaten the regime, and it'd threaten their sense of communist morality."
[Extended audio excerpt from April, MP3]
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen's inaccurate quote makes Gen. McCaffrey appear to make a defensive argument. But instead he is making an assessment based on his professional review of the intelligence (mentioned in the April hearing), followed by a description based on his several meetings with Cuban officials.
Aside from the several attempts to disparage Gen. McCaffrey's professional expertise, and the reported disrespect by addressing him as "sir" instead of "general," Rep. Ros-Lehtinen displayed a complete lack of respect towards an invited committee witness with repeated interruptions, and making mockery of his title. Below is the heated exchange (Gen. McCaffrey in italics):
- I'm offended by your deliberate marginalization of my viewpoints. And let me go on to say that it is clear in my mind...
- Just quoting you sir.
- It is clear ...
- Are those not quotes sir? Are those quotes, yes or no?
- I'm offended by your language.
- You're offended by your quotes?
- Let me go on to continue to respond by telling you...
- What part of the quotes offend you? Your quotes offend me.
- Are you going to let me answer or you gonna...
- I have my five minutes. I can do with my five minutes what I wish "general."
The lack of respect is shocking. There is no question that Gen. McCaffrey as an invited witness still deserves an apology from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Her show of contempt yesterday was a poor example of how an elected U.S. Representative should act, and she should take immediate steps to apologize for her behavior, if she hasn't already.
(Speaking of apologies, has she ever apologized to Dollan Cannell, the filmmaker who caught her saying something on camera that she later denied and accused Cannell of manipulating?)