Friday, April 24, 2009

TORTURE is friggin' hilarious to media CONServatives

The Nuts keep rollin'

For most rational human beings, even the notion of torture is bone-chilling. Media conservatives, on the other hand, apparently find it hilarious. Following President Obama's release of four previously classified Justice Department memos that had authorized the use of harsh interrogation techniques on detainees -- including "stress positions," "cramped confinement," "sleep deprivation," and "the waterboard" -- numerous conservatives in the media have downplayed, mocked, and jeered the notion that those practices constitute torture. Hard to believe? Here are just a few of the many examples:

Conservative leader and radio host Rush Limbaugh asserted, "If you look at what we are calling torture, you have to laugh," said that "if somebody can be water-tortured six times a day, then it isn't torture," and claimed that "appeasers" have "water[ed] down" definition of torture like "NOW gang" did with definition of domestic violence.
Radio host G. Gordon Liddy compared the proposed technique of placing a detainee who "appears to have a fear of insects" in "a cramped confinement box with an insect" to his appearance on a game show, stating, "I went through worse on Fear Factor."
Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee mocked the same technique: "Look, I've been in some hotels where there were more bugs than these guys faced." Huckabee went on to state that under the Obama administration, "We're going to talk to them, we're going to have a nice conversation, we're going to invite them down for some tea and crumpets." Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson replied, "That usually works with your kids, too, right? When they're in trouble for something, they just tell you everything." To which her co-host Steve Doocy joked, "Mr. Moussaoui, it's time for you over in the time-out chair."
To buttress his support of torture, Fox News' resident conspiracy-theorist-in-chief Glenn Beck aired a clip from Fox's 24.
When they weren't bowled over with laughter, many media conservatives were serving up the dubious claim that harsh interrogation techniques used on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed "stopped an attack on the Library Tower in Los Angeles." The claim conflicts with the chronology of events put forth on multiple occasions by the Bush administration. Indeed, the Bush administration said that the Library Tower attack was thwarted in February 2002 -- more than a year before Mohammed was captured in March 2003. Facts be damned, Fox News and others pressed forward with the story repeatedly. Typifying the use of this story, Sean Hannity claimed this week that enhanced interrogation techniques "saved an American city, Los Angeles."

The hysterical nature of coverage surrounding the torture issue by conservatives didn't reach everyone in the media. This week, Fox News' Shepard Smith stood out among his colleagues at the conservative news network when he said of torture, "We are staring into an abyss and it's staring back at us, and we don't do it. We are America.

In Obama's Inner Circle, Debate Over Memos' Release Was Intense

Some Feared That a Partisan Outcry Could Obstruct Larger Agenda

As President Obama met with top advisers on the evening of April 15, he faced one of the sharpest policy divides of his young administration.

Five CIA directors -- including Leon E. Panetta and his four immediate predecessors -- and Obama's top counterterrorism adviser had expressed firm opposition to the release of interrogation details in four "top secret" memos in which Bush administration lawyers sanctioned harsh tactics.

On the other side of the issue were Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair and White House counsel Gregory B. Craig, whose colleagues during the campaign recall him expressing enthusiasm for fixing U.S. detainee policy.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had said he supported the disclosures because he saw the information's release as inevitable and because the White House was willing to promise that CIA officers would not be prosecuted for any abuse. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen sided with Gates.

Seated in Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's West Wing office with about a dozen of his political, legal and security appointees, Obama requested a mini-debate in which one official was chosen to argue for releasing the memos and another was assigned to argue against doing so. When it ended, Obama dictated on the spot a draft of his announcement that the documents would be released, while most of the officials watched, according to an official who was present. The disclosure happened the next day.

Obama's aides have told political allies that the last-minute conversation, which ended around 9:30 p.m., demonstrated the president's commitment to airing both sides of a debate that was particularly contentious. But it also reflected widespread angst inside the White House that a public airing and repudiation of the harsh interrogation techniques that the last administration sought to keep secret would spark a national security debate with conservatives that could undermine Obama's broader agenda.

Several top aides had argued, for example, that the question of whether to release the memos should be put before a "truth commission," effectively postponing resolution of the issue for months. But Obama vetoed the idea on the grounds that it would create the divisive debate his closest advisers feared -- a viewpoint he reiterated at a meeting with lawmakers yesterday. Craig also argued persuasively, other officials said, that the federal judge in New York overseeing a lawsuit seeking the memos' release was unlikely to approve any significant delay.

Now Obama is being lashed by former Bush appointees and is facing growing pressure to accept such a commission. Some liberal activist groups presented petitions with 250,000 signatures to Holder at a House hearing yesterday, asking him to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate the originators of the interrogation tactics. Meanwhile, debate is swirling in Washington not only about the merits of the techniques but also about the wisdom of Obama's decision to exercise his unique authority to instantly transform the "top secret" documents into public ones.

This account is based on interviews with more than a dozen officials, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk about the internal deliberations.

Several Obama aides said the president's decision was in line with his frequent criticism during the campaign of President George W. Bush's policies on interrogations at secret prisons. On his second day in office, Obama banned the prisons and the tactics in an executive order.

The aides also said they hope the memos' release will focus public attention on the coldness and sterility of the legal justifications for abusive techniques, with Obama telling reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday that the documents demonstrate that the nation lost its "moral bearings" in the Bush years.

A source familiar with White House views said Obama's advisers are further convinced that letting the public know exactly what the past administration sanctioned will undermine what they see as former vice president Richard B. Cheney's effort to "box Obama in" by claiming that the executive order heightened the risk of a terrorist attack.

Officials say the process of rolling back the controversial policy began shortly before Obama took office, when the president-elect dispatched half a dozen experts to the CIA for two days of secret briefings in the director's conference room.

At the time, Obama was leaning toward adopting the Army Field Manual rules for intelligence interrogations but wanted to receive a broader perspective. He sent Craig; retired Gen. James L. Jones, now the national security adviser; foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough; former senators David L. Boren (D-Okla.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.); and former CIA general counsel Jeffrey H. Smith to Langley.

During the meetings, then-CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, his deputy Steve Kappes and about 20 other senior CIA officers sought to explain the agency's counterterrorism and rendition programs and to present the best case for retaining the option of reestablishing secret prisons and using aggressive interrogation methods, according to four of those present. Hayden emphasized that the agency had discarded most of the old programs, including the secret prisons, in 2006.

The use of waterboarding ended in 2003, but Hayden said he wanted to keep the flexibility to utilize some of the other, less controversial techniques. Boren and Smith said the group was not convinced that whatever useful intelligence had been gleaned from the programs warranted keeping them as an option.

"They said that they had produced valuable intelligence," Smith said. "We took them at their word." But the group's consensus was that "whatever utility it had at the outset . . . the secret prisons and enhanced techniques were no longer playing a useful role -- the costs outweighed the gains." He said those costs included obvious damage to the nation's values and identity, and problems with U.S. allies that strongly opposed the use of such methods.

Boren, who chaired the Senate intelligence committee from 1987 to 1993 and is now president of the University of Oklahoma, said that attending the briefings was "one of the most deeply disturbing experiences I have had" and that "I wanted to take a bath when I heard it. I was ashamed of it." He said he concluded that "fear was used to justify the use of techniques that violate our values and weaken our intelligence" and that the agency did not prove those methods "are particularly effective at getting the truth."

One of those present said that when asked, the CIA officers acknowledged that some foreign intelligence agencies had refused, for example, to share information about the location of terrorism suspects for fear of becoming implicated in any eventual torture of those suspects. Sources said that Jones shared these concerns and that, as a former military officer, he worried that any use of harsh interrogations by the United States could make it more likely that American soldiers in captivity would be subjected to similar tactics.

The issue of releasing the Justice Department memos, which Craig first reviewed in December, became the focus of attention in mid-March, when the department's lawyers warned the White House of an April 2 federal court deadline that could force their hand. They told Craig they were prepared to offer a legal defense for keeping all or part of the memos secret but warned it would not be a strong case, in part because much of the information was included in a leaked report by the International Committee of the Red Cross summarizing detainee mistreatment.

Craig and others in the White House were aware of the legal and political implications of both partial and full disclosure of the memos, and with the president they began consultations on how to proceed. Meanwhile, the Justice Department received an extension from the court.

In a series of small gatherings over the next two weeks, before Obama went to Europe, he and his staff met with officials from the CIA, the Pentagon, the intelligence director's office, the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A full National Security Council meeting and another gathering of principals followed, in which Cabinet members met in the White House situation room and were later joined by the president. Obama continued to huddle with aides on the topic during breaks in his European trip.

A key last-minute debate emerged over whether to redact details of the interrogation methods while releasing the legal explanations underpinning the approvals. Panetta had no objection to disclosing the analysis but "strongly opposed declassification of their operational content," according to an intelligence official. His fear was that it would plant doubts in foreign governments about the U.S. ability to shroud collaborative activities, and he predicted -- accurately -- that it would lead to calls for more investigations.

Gates told reporters yesterday that he "was quite concerned, as you might expect, with the potential backlash in the Middle East and in the theaters where we're involved in conflict, and that it might have a negative impact on our troops. All that said, you know, we just had a significant investigation release by the Senate Armed Services Committee. . . . And so there is a certain inevitability, I believe, that much of this will eventually come out; much has already come out. . . . I think all of us wrestled with it for quite some time, in terms of where we were on it."

By R. Jeffrey Smith, Michael D. Shear and Walter Pincus
Washington Post4-29/09


Obama quickly, confidently adapts to presidency

It didn't take long for Barack Obama — for all his youth and inexperience — to get acclimated to his new role as the calming leader of a country in crisis.

"I feel surprisingly comfortable in the job," the nation's 44th president said a mere two weeks after taking the helm.

"The challenges are big," a sober Obama added, underscoring the foreign and domestic problems he inherited Jan. 20. "But one thing that I'm absolutely convinced about is that you want to be president when you've got big problems. If things are going too smoothly, then this is just another nice home office."

Over nearly 100 days as president, Obama has applied the same "no drama" leadership and calculated approach to governing that he did to campaigning.

As an audacious candidate, Obama meticulously built a powerhouse organization and fundraising juggernaut to engineer his victory. As a fledgling president, he similarly has mapped out a big-risk agenda that he's methodically begun to execute, keeping to the discipline that has been a hallmark of his life.

Rookie jitters? Far from it.

Confident almost to a fault, he could seem aloof, even arrogant at times in the campaign. He's kept that focused attitude in the White House, while exhibiting few flashes of any off-putting, self-important tone.

Perhaps that's because he's reached the pinnacle of his political ambition. Perhaps it's because anxious times of war and economic crisis demand a calm demeanor. Perhaps it's the sheer weight of the office and the urgent tasks.

Whatever the reason, Obama has seemed extraordinarily at ease as president from the day he took office — after a campaign in which he made a once skeptical electorate comfortable with the notion that a black, 47-year-old, first-term senator with limited experience could take over as the leader of the free world.

"He became presidential almost immediately. Physically as well as rhetorically he transformed himself," said American University professor James Thurber, an expert on the presidency. He said Obama had little choice but to dive in and start governing, given the full plate of issues. But, Thurber added, "He also did it with real skill and confidence that you wouldn't necessarily expect from someone who just walked in the door."

For the past three months, Obama has spoken in firm, yet soothing tones.

Sometimes he has used a just-folks approach to identify with economically struggling citizens. He has displayed wonkish tendencies, too, appearing much like the college instructor he once was while discussing the intricacies of the economic collapse. He has engaged in witty banter, teasing lawmakers, staffers, journalists and citizens alike. He has struck a statesmanlike stance, calling for a renewed partnership between the United States and its allies.

He also has steamed with anger, berating American International Group Inc. executives who granted enormous bonuses even while accepting federal bailout money. He has gone after lawmakers who refused to support the $787 billion economic stimulus package.

He has shown contriteness, saying "I screwed up" in the failed nomination of former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., as health secretary. He has shown irritation at criticism, snapping to a reporter, "I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak."

He also has let it be known he hasn't forgotten how politics works. "If I don't have this done in three years, then there's going to be a one-term proposition," Obama said a few weeks into his presidency, linking the economic recovery with his political fate.

Stylistically, this is a careful president who uses a teleprompter even during news conferences and presides over a White House that scripts his public appearances. For all his caution, Obama has made a few errors, including saying he thinks he bowls like a competitor in the Special Olympics.

So far, the public has liked what it's seen.

An Associated Press-GfK poll shows that most people in the U.S. consider their new president to be a strong, ethical leader who is working for change as he promised in his campaign. Obama's job approval rating stands at a healthy 64 percent. For the first time in years, more people than not say the country is headed in the right direction, the poll says.

Mindful of Obama's high popularity and, thus, the media's hunger for any details about him and his family, the White House has gone to great lengths to make sure he's visible. He's granted numerous television interviews and was the first president to jaw with Jay Leno on NBC's "Tonight" show. He tends to hold at least one public event a day to ensure news coverage.

He plans to mark his 100th day on Wednesday by traveling to St. Louis for a speech, then returning to Washington for his third prime-time news conference since taking office.

People don't seem to mind all that exposure. The AP-GfK poll found most people say he's on TV just the right amount, while just over one-quarter say he's on too much.

Overall, Obama seems unflappable.

"Humbled but not daunted," is how adviser David Axelrod puts it.

The senior White House adviser downplays any notion of cockiness. "I just don't think when you have two wars and an economy in turmoil you want a conflicted president. I think you want a thoughtful president, you want a president who is willing to consider all the options," Axelrod said. "You also want a confident president, someone who is willing to make decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions, and that is the kind of president he is."

During the campaign, advisers privately acknowledged that overconfidence might leave Obama vulnerable. He made a string of comments that were, to some extent, joking and self deprecating, almost as if he didn't take the hubbub around his candidacy too seriously. Still, others saw arrogance.

At one point, Obama the candidate said, "To know me is to love me." At another, he joked that when he finished speaking "a light will shine down from somewhere. ... You will experience an epiphany. And you will say to yourself, 'I have to vote for Barack.'"

These days, remarks like those are rare for Obama the president, though not entirely gone.

Asked during a February interview with US Weekly whether he wore boxers or briefs, the new president said: "I don't answer those humiliating questions. But whichever one it is, I look good in 'em!"

Where 'Those Methods' Lead

By Eugene Robinson

The many roads of inquiry into the Bush administration's abusive "interrogation techniques" all lead to one stubborn, inconvenient fact: Torture is not just immoral but also illegal. This means that once we learn the whole truth, the law will oblige us to act on it.

Understandably, the Obama administration wants to avoid getting bogged down in a long, wrenching legal drama that almost certainly would be partisan and divisive. But I'm not sure it's possible to skirt the criminal implications of what we already know, let alone what we might find out in a full-scale "truth commission" investigation with access to all relevant witnesses and documents.

On the moral question, the administration has been straightforward and righteous. One of President Obama's first acts was to declare that the United States will no longer practice waterboarding or other abusive interrogation methods, saying that such depredations are inimical to our nation's values and traditions. Attorney General Eric Holder stated at his confirmation hearings that "waterboarding is torture." This refreshing and admirable clarity stands in stark contrast to the fog of legalistic sophistry in which the Bush administration cloaked its secret prisons.

On the legal question, though, the Obama team has been far less definitive. This is what Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, told his staff about the interrogation abuses in a memo last week: "I like to think I would not have approved those methods in the past, but I do not fault those who made the decisions at that time, and I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given."

To state the obvious, this makes no sense at all. If Blair would not have sanctioned "those methods" -- some of which clearly meet the legal definition of torture, in my view -- then why would he give a pass to those who ordered the abuses and those who carried them out?

At least Blair, charged with leading the agents who performed the abuses, has a reason for going all fuzzy on the matter of accountability. And we can thank him for definitively refuting the most commonly cited pro-torture argument: that waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions and other abuses were necessary to obtain vital information that kept Americans safe from another al-Qaeda attack.

"High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used," Blair wrote in the memo. But in a separate statement, he added that "there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means."

Yes, people break under torture and tell what they know, along with what they don't know and what they think their torturers want to hear. But there is no way to be certain that the valuable information wouldn't have been extracted through traditional -- and legal -- methods of interrogation.

Even if experts have differing views about torture's effectiveness, there is one point on which they cannot disagree: It violates U.S. and international law.

What abuses legally qualify as torture? That probably depends on which of several possibly applicable legal standards is applied. At a bare minimum, though, it seems clear to me that waterboarding will almost certainly be deemed illegal if put under judicial scrutiny. The practice has been considered torture at least since the Spanish Inquisition -- except, apparently, in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel under George W. Bush.

I don't know what more we'll find out if a blue-ribbon investigative panel of some kind is formed. But what we already know is enough to ensure that sooner or later, the abusive interrogation methods authorized by Bush, Dick Cheney and other officials are going to be measured against the law. Our system, left to its own devices, is not designed to let illegal acts be revealed and then ignored.

From the viewpoint of the Obama administration, the alternatives may be unattractive or even unacceptable. No one wants to see low-ranking CIA interrogators go down for doing what their superiors told them was legal, especially if the superiors are not held to account. But pursuing criminal charges against the highest-ranking officials of the previous administration would be unprecedented, and it is unclear where such a process might lead.

It will be hard to stop this train, though. The rule of law is one of this nation's founding principles. It's not optional. Our laws against torture demand to be obeyed -- and demand to be enforced.