Saturday, April 25, 2009

FRANK RICH The Banality of Bush White House Evil

WE don’t like our evil to be banal. Ten years after Columbine, it only now may be sinking in that the psychopathic killers were not jock-hating dorks from a “Trench Coat Mafia,” or, as ABC News maintained at the time, “part of a dark, underground national phenomenon known as the Gothic movement.” In the new best seller “Columbine,” the journalist Dave Cullen reaffirms that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were instead ordinary American teenagers who worked at the local pizza joint, loved their parents and were popular among their classmates.

On Tuesday, it will be five years since Americans first confronted the photographs from Abu Ghraib on “60 Minutes II.” Here, too, we want to cling to myths that quarantine the evil. If our country committed torture, surely it did so to prevent Armageddon, in a patriotic ticking-time-bomb scenario out of “24.” If anyone deserves blame, it was only those identified by President Bush as “a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values”: promiscuous, sinister-looking lowlifes like Lynddie England, Charles Graner and the other grunts who were held accountable while the top command got a pass.

We’ve learned much, much more about America and torture in the past five years. But as Mark Danner recently wrote in The New York Review of Books, for all the revelations, one essential fact remains unchanged: “By no later than the summer of 2004, the American people had before them the basic narrative of how the elected and appointed officials of their government decided to torture prisoners and how they went about it.” When the Obama administration said it declassified four new torture memos 10 days ago in part because their contents were already largely public, it was right.

Yet we still shrink from the hardest truths and the bigger picture: that torture was a premeditated policy approved at our government’s highest levels; that it was carried out in scenarios that had no resemblance to “24”; that psychologists and physicians were enlisted as collaborators in inflicting pain; and that, in the assessment of reliable sources like the F.B.I. director Robert Mueller, it did not help disrupt any terrorist attacks.

The newly released Justice Department memos, like those before them, were not written by barely schooled misfits like England and Graner. John Yoo, Steven Bradbury and Jay Bybee graduated from the likes of Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Michigan and Brigham Young. They have passed through white-shoe law firms like Covington & Burling, and Sidley Austin.

Judge Bybee’s résumé tells us that he has four children and is both a Cubmaster for the Boy Scouts and a youth baseball and basketball coach. He currently occupies a tenured seat on the United States Court of Appeals. As an assistant attorney general, he was the author of the Aug. 1, 2002, memo endorsing in lengthy, prurient detail interrogation “techniques” like “facial slap (insult slap)” and “insects placed in a confinement box.”

He proposed using 10 such techniques “in some sort of escalating fashion, culminating with the waterboard, though not necessarily ending with this technique.” Waterboarding, the near-drowning favored by Pol Pot and the Spanish Inquisition, was prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II. But Bybee concluded that it “does not, in our view, inflict ‘severe pain or suffering.’ ”

Still, it’s not Bybee’s perverted lawyering and pornographic amorality that make his memo worthy of special attention. It merits a closer look because it actually does add something new — and, even after all we’ve heard, something shocking — to the five-year-old torture narrative. When placed in full context, it’s the kind of smoking gun that might free us from the myths and denial that prevent us from reckoning with this ugly chapter in our history.

Bybee’s memo was aimed at one particular detainee, Abu Zubaydah, who had been captured some four months earlier, in late March 2002. Zubaydah is portrayed in the memo (as he was publicly by Bush after his capture) as one of the top men in Al Qaeda. But by August this had been proven false. As Ron Suskind reported in his book “The One Percent Doctrine,” Zubaydah was identified soon after his capture as a logistics guy, who, in the words of the F.B.I.’s top-ranking Qaeda analyst at the time, Dan Coleman, served as the terrorist group’s flight booker and “greeter,” like “Joe Louis in the lobby of Caesar’s Palace.” Zubaydah “knew very little about real operations, or strategy.” He showed clinical symptoms of schizophrenia.

By the time Bybee wrote his memo, Zubaydah had been questioned by the F.B.I. and C.I.A. for months and had given what limited information he had. His most valuable contribution was to finger Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as the 9/11 mastermind. But, as Jane Mayer wrote in her book “The Dark Side,” even that contribution may have been old news: according to the 9/11 commission, the C.I.A. had already learned about Mohammed during the summer of 2001. In any event, as one of Zubaydah’s own F.B.I. questioners, Ali Soufan, wrote in a Times Op-Ed article last Thursday, traditional interrogation methods had worked. Yet Bybee’s memo purported that an “increased pressure phase” was required to force Zubaydah to talk.

As soon as Bybee gave the green light, torture followed: Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, according to another of the newly released memos. Unsurprisingly, it appears that no significant intelligence was gained by torturing this mentally ill Qaeda functionary. So why the overkill? Bybee’s memo invoked a ticking time bomb: “There is currently a level of ‘chatter’ equal to that which preceded the September 11 attacks.”

We don’t know if there was such unusual “chatter” then, but it’s unlikely Zubaydah could have added information if there were. Perhaps some new facts may yet emerge if Dick Cheney succeeds in his unexpected and welcome crusade to declassify documents that he says will exonerate administration interrogation policies. Meanwhile, we do have evidence for an alternative explanation of what motivated Bybee to write his memo that August, thanks to the comprehensive Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainees released last week.

The report found that Maj. Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantánamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful.” As higher-ups got more “frustrated” at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, “there was more and more pressure to resort to measures” that might produce that intelligence.

In other words, the ticking time bomb was not another potential Qaeda attack on America but the Bush administration’s ticking timetable for selling a war in Iraq; it wanted to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections. Bybee’s memo was written the week after the then-secret (and subsequently leaked) “Downing Street memo,” in which the head of British intelligence informed Tony Blair that the Bush White House was so determined to go to war in Iraq that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” A month after Bybee’s memo, on Sept. 8, 2002, Cheney would make his infamous appearance on “Meet the Press,” hyping both Saddam’s W.M.D.s and the “number of contacts over the years” between Al Qaeda and Iraq. If only 9/11 could somehow be pinned on Iraq, the case for war would be a slamdunk.

But there were no links between 9/11 and Iraq, and the White House knew it. Torture may have been the last hope for coercing such bogus “intelligence” from detainees who would be tempted to say anything to stop the waterboarding.

Last week Bush-Cheney defenders, true to form, dismissed the Senate Armed Services Committee report as “partisan.” But as the committee chairman, Carl Levin, told me, the report received unanimous support from its members — John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman included.

Levin also emphasized the report’s accounts of military lawyers who dissented from White House doctrine — only to be disregarded. The Bush administration was “driven,” Levin said. By what? “They’d say it was to get more information. But they were desperate to find a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq.”

Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to “protect” us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from “another 9/11,” torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House’s illegality.

Levin suggests — and I agree — that as additional fact-finding plays out, it’s time for the Justice Department to enlist a panel of two or three apolitical outsiders, perhaps retired federal judges, “to review the mass of material” we already have. The fundamental truth is there, as it long has been. The panel can recommend a legal path that will insure accountability for this wholesale betrayal of American values.

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

BOB HERBERT A Culture Soaked in Blood


Philip Markoff, a medical student, supposedly carried his semiautomatic in a hollowed-out volume of “Gray’s Anatomy.” Police believe he used it in a hotel room in Boston last week to murder Julissa Brisman, a 26-year-old woman who had advertised her services as a masseuse on Craigslist.
In Palm Harbor, Fla., a 12-year-old boy named Jacob Larson came across a gun in the family home that, according to police, his parents had forgotten they had. Jacob shot himself in the head and is in a coma, police said. Authorities believe the shooting was accidental.
There is no way to overstate the horror of gun violence in America. Roughly 16,000 to 17,000 Americans are murdered every year, and more than 12,000 of them, on average, are shot to death. This is an insanely violent society, and the worst of that violence is made insanely easy by the widespread availability of guns.
When the music producer Phil Spector decided, for whatever reason, to kill the actress, Lana Clarkson, all he had to do was reach for his gun — one of the 283 million privately owned firearms that are out there. When John Muhammad and his teenage accomplice, Lee Malvo, went on a killing spree that took 10 lives in the Washington area, the absolute least of their worries was how to get a semiautomatic rifle that fit their deadly mission.
We’re confiscating shampoo from carry-on luggage at airports while at the same time handing out high-powered weaponry to criminals and psychotics at gun shows.
There were ceremonies marking the recent 10th anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School, but very few people remember a mass murder just five months after Columbine, when a man with a semiautomatic handgun opened fire on congregants praying in a Baptist church in Fort Worth. Eight people died, including the gunman, who shot himself.
A little more than a year before the Columbine killings, two boys with high-powered rifles killed a teacher and four little girls at a school in Jonesboro, Ark. That’s not widely remembered either. When something is as pervasive as gun violence in the U.S., which is as common as baseball in the summertime, it’s very hard for individual cases to remain in the public mind.
Homicides are only a part of the story.
While more than 12,000 people are murdered with guns annually, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (using the latest available data) tells us that more than 30,000 people are killed over the course of one typical year by guns. That includes 17,000 who commit suicide, nearly 800 who are killed in accidental shootings and more than 300 killed by the police. (In many of the law enforcement shootings, the police officers are reacting to people armed with guns).
And then there are the people who are shot but don’t die. Nearly 70,000 fall into that category in a typical year, including 48,000 who are criminally attacked, 4,200 who survive a suicide attempt, more than 15,000 who are shot accidentally, and more than 1,000 — many with a gun in possession — who are shot by the police.
The medical cost of treating gunshot wounds in the U.S. is estimated to be well more than $2 billion annually. And the Violence Policy Center, a gun control advocacy group, has noted that nonfatal gunshot wounds are the leading cause of uninsured hospital stays.
The toll on children and teenagers is particularly heartbreaking. According to the Brady Campaign, more than 3,000 kids are shot to death in a typical year. More than 1,900 are murdered, more than 800 commit suicide, about 170 are killed accidentally and 20 or so are killed by the police.
Another 17,000 are shot but survive.
I remember writing from Chicago two years ago about the nearly three dozen public school youngsters who were shot to death in a variety of circumstances around the city over the course of just one school year. Arne Duncan, who was then the chief of the Chicago schools and is now the U.S. secretary of education, said to me at the time: “That’s more than a kid every two weeks. Think about that.”
Actually, that’s our problem. We don’t really think about it. If the crime is horrible enough, we’ll go through the motions of public anguish but we never really do anything about it. Americans are as blasé as can be about this relentless slaughter that keeps the culture soaked in blood.
This blasé attitude, this willful refusal to acknowledge the scope of the horror, leaves the gun nuts free to press their crazy case for more and more guns in ever more hands. They’re committed to keeping the killing easy, and we should be committed for not stopping them.

100 Days of Obama

Turning Peril Into Possibility

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Barack Obama opened his presidency by drawing an unflinching portrait of the challenges. Then he set about turning those perils into possibilities.

In a dizzying dash to the 100-day mark, Obama made a down payment on the changes he'd promised and delivered a trillion-dollar wallop to wake up the moribund economy. He put the country on track to end one war, reorient another and redefine what it means to be a superpower.

All this with a cool confidence that has made increasing numbers of Americans hopeful that the country may at last be heading in the right direction.

The public couldn't get enough of it, fixating on Team Obama's every move: the arrival of family dog Bo; the president showing up for work in his shirt-sleeves; the first lady's moxie in baring her arms; Sasha and Malia's swing set; even a visit to the White House by the surviving Grateful Dead. Obama says it is a ''weird fishbowl'' that he has jumped into.

Not everyone's impressed. For all that went right with the president's liftoff (after that small matter of the flubbed oath of office), Obama's opening moves have fallen short in the eyes of many, and have left others wondering where it all will lead.

Republicans largely stiffed the president on his call for bipartisanship and cast him as a weak leader on the world stage. Liberals groused that he could have done more and wondered whether he's too prone to compromise. Deficit hawks worried that he's blown a gaping a hole in the budget.

Obama himself seems energized.

''The decision-making part of it,'' he says, ''actually comes pretty naturally.''

As for the critics, Obama says, Washington is ''a little bit like 'American Idol' -- but everybody is Simon Cowell.''

Almost overlooked in all the hoopla is the historic nature of Obama's tenure as the first black president. There's been little time to even think about that issue, which commanded so much attention during the campaign, as Obama has grappled with a seizing economy and has rushed pell-mell to reverse the legacy of eight years of Republican rule.

''You'd be hard put to find another president facing those kinds of challenges who has acted as intelligently and aggressively to meet the challenges head on,'' said presidential historian Andrew Polsky, a professor at Hunter College in New York. ''He hasn't pushed things to the back burner. Of course, whether any of this works is another question, and it's too soon to know that.''

Others are less hesitant to draw conclusions.

Ted Sorensen, a former speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, says Obama ''seems likely to be one of the great presidents in our history.''

Former House Republican leader Newt Gingrich says Obama's foreign policy moves have been looking ''a lot like Jimmy Carter,'' a one-term president regarded as a weak leader.

Whatever the record so far, it's clear Obama's biggest challenges are still to come. The pledge to overhaul health care will make his successful expansion of children's health coverage look like child's play.

While there have been hints the recession may be easing, Obama still needs to stabilize the shaky banking system and get credit flowing again. The clock is ticking on his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center within a year, and each detainee poses his own set of problems. Obama's ability to wind down U.S. operations in Iraq and reshape efforts in Afghanistan hinges in large part on factors beyond his control.

Obama had hoped that his early actions to ban torture and release top-secret details of past interrogation practices would end a ''dark and painful chapter in our history.'' Instead, they have only inflamed passions and sparked new calls for more investigation and prosecution that are likely to be more than a passing distraction.


Change has arrived at a head-snapping rate, a product both of the troubled times and the president's ambitious agenda.

There's been the monstrous economic stimulus package that funneled billions into Obama priorities such as health care and renewable energy; a new law to provide 4 million more children with health insurance; another making it easier for workers to sue over discrimination on the job; the easing of Bush-era restraints on stem-cell research; jaw-dropping revelations about past interrogations; plans to put 21,000 more troops in Afghanistan; the White House-orchestrated ouster of General Motors Corp.'s top executive.

In smaller ways, too, evidence of change is everywhere.

Obama was the first president to host a White House seder to mark Passover. His administration set aside tickets to the annual Easter Egg Roll for gay and lesbian parents. He was the first sitting president to do NBC's ''Tonight'' show. His weekly radio address airs on YouTube.

There have been blunders along the way. It took three nominations for Obama to get his commerce secretary right, two to find a health secretary. Obama apologized after making an off-key joke suggesting that his lame bowling skills made him Special Olympics material.

Through it all, the economy has been Job One.

For a while, the news was only grim and grimmer.

The Dow Jones Industrials average closed at 7,949 on Inauguration Day. By early March, it was closer to 6,500.

Job losses piled up in staggering increments: 598,000 in January, 651,000 in February, 663,000 in March.

Obama went pedal-to-the-metal to throw money at the problem, first with billions of bailout dollars, next with billions of stimulus dollars, then with a proposed budget expected to produce $9.3 trillion in deficits over the next decade.

House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio calls it ''a spending spree the likes of which our nation has never seen,'' and polls pick up growing concern on that front.

About half of all Americans say they're ''very worried'' that the rising national debt will hurt their children and grandchildren, according to an AP-GfK poll.

Taxpayers seethed when word surfaced that insurer American International Group Inc., the recipient of billions in bailout money, had paid millions of dollars in bonuses, and it was all Obama could do to keep out in front of the anger and not get flattened by it.

By mid-April, tensions had eased, and the president was pointing to economic ''glimmers of hope.'' The Dow was back in same range as around Inauguration Day.

For all his focus on the economy, Obama also devoted considerable effort to repairing the nation's tarnished image abroad.

His sat down for his first formal TV interview with an Arabic-language station, telling Muslims that ''Americans are not your enemy.'' In Europe, he said America in the past had ''shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.'' He carried the same message to Latin America, entertaining overtures from isolated Cuban President Raul Castro and Venezuela's anti-American president, Hugo Chavez.

Breaking with the unyielding tone of the Bush years, Obama said he was rejecting the notion ''that if we showed courtesy or opened up dialogue with governments that had previously been hostile to us, that that somehow would be a sign of weakness.''

Republicans said that was naive, calling the president ''a timid advocate of freedom at best,'' in the words of former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.


The 44th president starts his day with a workout in the White House gym (usually with his wife, Michelle). Then it's breakfast and the morning papers -- he likes the feel of newsprint in his hands. When Obama gets to the Oval Office, he finds a stack of 10 letters on his desk, culled from the 40,000 to 50,000 that arrive daily.

The letters are ''one of the really important rituals of his day,'' says senior adviser David Axelrod.

Also each morning, Obama gets a briefing on national security, and a second on the economy.

''Between 7 and 10, I sort of know what I'm doing,'' the president says. ''After that, who knows?''

For all of the problems that Obama knew awaited him, new ones arrived out of left field.

''I'm pretty sure that he hadn't boned up on piracy any time recently before he came here,'' says Axelrod, who credits his boss with moving smoothly from one challenge to the next -- ''usually a few furlongs ahead of the others in the room.''

The trappings of the office, though, still take some getting used to. Like that button next to him that can be used to summon people.

''It took him awhile to recognize what that was,'' says Axelrod.

Obama says one of the hardest adjustments has been dealing with the isolation that comes with the presidency.

He chafes a little ''being inside this bubble,'' Obama said in one early interview. To fight that, the president negotiated with his security people to keep using his BlackBerry, although his contacts list got chopped down to about 30 close friends and advisers.

Known for his even temper, Obama keeps things loose even in meetings on tense subjects, aides say.

What annoys him?

Axelrod mentions ''the scorecard politics of Washington'' and takes note of a proliferation of ''bloviators'' on television.

''He doesn't have one of these in his office,'' Axelrod says, gesturing toward a TV.


Axelrod says Obama has settled into the presidency more easily than he did his candidacy.

The president seem unafraid to admit he's wrong. Or right.

''I screwed up,'' Obama said after his nomination of former Sen. Tom Daschle for health secretary failed.

''On this one I think I'm right,'' he said to critics of his friendly exchange with Chavez.

The president, whose aides dismiss the whole notion of the 100-day yardstick as the equivalent of a ''Hallmark holiday,'' came to office imbued with sky-high expectations from the public and emerged three months later with his approval ratings intact, at a solid 64 percent in the AP-GfK poll. But it's all been too much for many Republicans: Seven out of 10 now disapprove of his job performance, compared with 58 percent in February.

And there are still a lot of pages to be written.

Though Obama is on TV almost every day, Stanley Renshon, a political psychologist at the City University of New York who is writing a book about the president, says he's still hard to read.

Sometimes, he says, ''it's hard to get a handle on whether Obama's being prudent or radical.''

Or, in the view of some liberals, too cautious.

Justin Ruben, executive director of, a liberal advocacy group, said members are thrilled to have a president who's making health care and clean energy priorities. ''But on the financial front, the jury's still out and folks are looking to see whether the president is really prioritizing Main Street over Wall Street.''

Axelrod shrugs off the critics from both ends, saying: ''He doesn't work off anybody's checklist.''

Sorensen, the former Kennedy speechwriter, said some of the Americans who invested such high hopes in ''an unknown black man elected president in an overwhelmingly white country'' now expect too much, too soon.

''He's a very good leader with all the instinctive skills of leadership, including superb judgment,'' says Sorensen, ''but that doesn't make him a miracle worker.''

''There are no miracle workers.''


Having inherited two wars and an economy in crisis, Obama talks often about the high stakes for the nation in getting things right.

Only rarely does he allude to the stakes for him personally.

''I will be held accountable,'' he said a few weeks into his presidency. ''You know, I've got four years. ... If I don't have this done in three years, then there's going to be a one-term proposition.''

OBAMA's First 100 Days Key Events

A look at key events during the first 100 days of Barack Obama's presidency:

Jan. 22: Obama orders the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison within a year and declares that the United States will not engage in torture.

Jan 23: Obama lifts ban on federal funding for international organizations that perform or provide information on abortions.

Jan. 27: Obama gives first formal television interview as president to Arab television station, telling Muslims, ''Americans are not your enemy.''

Jan. 29: Obama signs first bill into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, making it easier for workers to sue for pay discrimination.

Feb. 3: Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., withdraws as Obama's nominee for secretary of health and human services.

Feb. 9: Obama holds first prime-time news conference, calling on Congress to enact his economic stimulus plan.

Feb. 12: Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., withdraws as Obama's nominee for secretary of commerce.

Feb. 13: Congress completes action on a $787 billion economic stimulus package of tax cuts and new spending, intended to jolt the country out of the worst recession in 50 years.

Feb. 17: Obama signs the stimulus measure into law.

Feb. 19: Obama makes his first visit to a foreign country as president, meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a seven-hour visit to Ottawa.

Feb. 22: Obama hosts governors in his first formal dinner at the White House.

Feb. 23: Obama holds a fiscal responsibility summit at the White House, signaling his intention to tackle health care, the budget and Social Security.

Feb. 24: Obama addresses a joint session of Congress for the first time, focusing on economic issues.

Feb. 26: Obama unveils a $3.6 trillion federal budget for 2010 and estimates that the federal deficit for 2009 will balloon to $1.75 trillion.

Feb. 27: Obama announces withdrawal of all American combat forces from Iraq by August 2010, but says the U.S. will leave tens of thousand support troops behind.

March 5: Obama hosts daylong White House summit on health care.

March 9: Obama reverses President George W. Bush's ban on federally funded embryonic stem cell research, and declares that all federal scientific research will be walled off from political influences.

March 11: Obama signs a $410 billion spending bill to keep the government running for the rest of the 2009 budget year. He calls the measure ''imperfect'' because it includes money for special projects set aside by members of Congress, a practice he pledged to end during the 2008 campaign.

March 16: Obama declares he will stop insurer American International Group Inc. from paying out millions in executive bonuses after receiving billions in federal bailout funds.

March 19: Obama becomes the first sitting president to appear on the ''Tonight'' show.

March 20: Obama releases video message to people of Iran in celebration of Nowruz, the Persian new year and the first day of spring.

March 26: Obama holds ''Open for Questions'', the first virtual town hall meeting at the White House.

March 27: Obama announces comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the deployment of 4,000 additional military trainers to Afghanistan.

March 30: Obama asserted unprecedented government control over the auto industry, rejecting turnaround plans by General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC, and engineering the ouster of GM's chief executive, Rick Wagoner.

March 31: Obama travels to London, the first stop on an eight-day, six country tour of Europe and the Middle East.

April 1: Obama meets with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and announces start of negotiations on new strategic arms-control treaty.

April 1: Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have a private audience with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.

April 2: Obama attends the Group of 20 economic summit in London, where leaders agree to bail out developing countries, stimulate world trade and regulate financial firms more stringently.

April 3: Obama speaks and takes questions from crowd of mostly French and German citizens at a Town Hall meeting in Strasbourg, France.

April 4: Obama attends NATO summit in Strasbourg but gets commitment from allies to send up to 5,000 more military trainers and police to Afghanistan.

April 5: Obama launches an effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons, calling them during a speech in Prague ''the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War.''

April 6: Obama speaks to Turkey's parliament, declaring that ''the United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam.''

April 7: Obama pays a surprise visit to Iraq, meeting with U.S. troops and Iraqi leaders.

April 9: Obama sends a request to Congress for $83.4 billion for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

April 10: Obama says the economy is showing ''glimmers of hope'' after meeting with top economic officials.

April 12: Obama authorizes a military rescue of an American sea captain taken hostage by pirates in the waters off Somalia. The rescue results in the deaths of three pirates and the capture of the fourth, and frees Capt. Richard Phillips.

April 13: The administration announces that Cuban-Americans will be permitted to make unlimited transfers of money and visits to relatives in Cuba. The decision also clears away most regulations that had stopped American companies from bringing high-tech services and information to Cuba.

April 14: The Obamas introduce their new puppy, Bo, in a photo session on the White House lawn.

April 16: Obama meets with Mexican President Felipe Calderon on his first trip to Mexico and Latin America. The leaders agree to cooperate on combating drug violence along the U.S.-Mexican border.

April 17: Obama releases memos from Bush administration authorizing harsh interrogation techniques but says no CIA employees who followed the memos will be prosecuted.

April 17: Obama travels to Trinidad and Tobago for the 34-nation Summit of the Americas and declares that he ''seeks a new beginning with Cuba.''

April 18: At the summit, Obama shakes hands with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, the leftist, anti-American leader who had called Bush a devil.

April 19: Obama calls on Cuba to release political prisoners as a way to improve relations with the U.S.

April 20: Obama holds the first formal Cabinet meeting of his administration, ordering department heads to slice spending by $100 million, a tiny fraction of the $3.6 trillion federal budget he proposed a month earlier.

April 21: Obama leaves the door open for prosecution of federal lawyers who wrote harsh interrogation memos during Bush administration and says if there's an investigation, it should be done by an independent commission.

April 22: Obama makes his first visit as president to Iowa, the state where his 2008 Democratic caucus victory launched him toward the presidency.

April 23: Obama tells congressional leaders he will not support creation of an independent commission to investigate the Bush administration's harsh interrogation techniques.

April 24: Obama promotes his idea for the government to stop backing private loans to college students and replace them with direct government loans to young people. He also declines to brand the early 20th century massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey a ''genocide,'' breaking a campaign promise.

April 25: Obama uses his radio address to announce a plan for federal workers to propose ways to improve their agencies' and departments' budgets.

Compiled by AP

Questions and Answers About Swine Flu

Mexico is contending with an outbreak of swine flu, suspected in the deaths of dozens of people and sickening perhaps 1,000. In the United States, at least eight cases have been confirmed with the infection, all of them in California and Texas; only one person was hospitalized. Here are some questions and answers about the illness:

Q. What is swine flu?

A. Swine flu is a respiratory illness in pigs caused by a virus. The swine flu virus routinely causes outbreaks in pigs but doesn't usually kill many of them.

Q. Can people get swine flu?

A. Swine flu viruses don't usually infect humans. There have been occasional cases, usually among people who've had direct contact with infected pigs, such as farm workers. ''We've seen swine influenza in humans over the past several years, and in most cases, it's come from direct pig contact. This seems to be different,'' said Dr. Arnold Monto, a flu expert with the University of Michigan.

Q. Can it spread among humans?

A. There have been cases of the virus spreading from human to human, probably in the same way as seasonal flu, through coughing and sneezing by infected people.

Q. What are the symptoms of swine flu?

A. The symptoms are similar to those of regular flu -- fever, cough, fatigue, lack of appetite.

Q. Is the same swine flu virus making people sick in Mexico and the U.S.?

A. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the Mexican virus samples match the U.S. virus. The virus is a mix of human virus, bird virus from North America and pig viruses from North America, Europe and Asia.

Q. Are there drugs to treat swine flu in humans?

A. There are four different drugs approved in the U.S. to treat the flu, but the new virus has shown resistance to the two oldest. The CDC recommends the use of the flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza.

Q. Does a regular flu shot protect against swine flu?

A. The seasonal flu vaccine used in the U.S. this year won't likely provide protection against the latest swine flu virus. There is a swine flu vaccine for pigs but not for humans.

Q. Should residents of California or Texas do anything special?

A. The CDC recommends routine precautions to prevent the spread of infectious diseases: wash your hands often, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, avoid close contact with sick people. If you are sick, stay at home and limit contact with others.

Q. What about traveling to Mexico?

A. The CDC has not warned Americans against traveling to Mexico but advises that they be aware of the illnesses there and take precautions to protect against infections, like washing their hands.


Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention