No End to Torture Furor

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, June 24, 2004; 11:50 AM

Sometimes a big White House document dump shuts everyone up.

Remember the release of 400 pages of President Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard records one Friday night in February? (See my Feb. 17 column for a refresher.)

After a day or so of coverage, in which it was agreed that not much had really been cleared up, the major media stopped writing about the issue. There'd been barely a word printed on the topic until just yesterday, when the Associated Press announced it was suing for full access to the entire file.

Sometimes, however, document dumps just fan the flames. (Think Clinton sex scandals.)

So what about the White House's Tuesday release of some 250 pages of memos illustrating the administration's internal debates about interrogation and torture?

One big factor in whether a dump stifles or fuels a furor is whether the opposition party takes up the fight or not.

Democrats had no appetite for the National Guard story.

But they seem unwilling to let the torture story die, at least not quite yet.

Torture Memos, Day 2

Helen Dewar and Dan Morgan write in The Washington Post: "The Republican-controlled Senate last night derailed a Democratic demand for the release of more documents dealing with abuse of foreign prisoners as sharp debate erupted on Capitol Hill over the Bush administration's policies and practices on the use of torture. . . .

"Democrats said documents released so far -- including hundreds of pages disclosed Tuesday -- raised more questions than they answered."

Dewar and Morgan got a copy of "talking points," prepared by the Senate Republican Policy Committee. One suggested argument: "Because of an out-of-control media and widespread hysteria, the White House and Pentagon have been forced to reveal secret interrogation techniques just to prove our men and women in uniform aren't torturers and murders."

NPR's Jackie Northam reports that "key documents are missing from the batch of newly declassified documents the White House released this week on its policies on torture and the treatment of prisoners, critics say."

Dana Priest and Bradley Graham write in The Washington Post that there was plenty of back-and-forth on interrogation policy even after Bush's memo insisting that all detainees be treated humanely.

How can that be?

"The president's directive in February 2002 that ordered U.S. forces to treat al Qaeda and Taliban detainees humanely and consistent with the Geneva Conventions does contain a loophole phrase: 'to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity.'"

Take another look at that directive.

Editorial Roundup

Outrage from the folks who own the presses can extend the life of a furor as well.

Washington Post: "How did this spread of improper and illegal practices occur? The Bush administration has yet to offer a convincing answer -- or hold anyone accountable for it."

New York Times: "[T]here's not much comfort in these documents, which only confirm that the Bush administration fostered a culture of permissiveness regarding the treatment of prisoners that ultimately led to the Abu Ghraib disaster."

Independent of London: "There are times -- and, alas, they seem to be growing more frequent -- when decent human beings can only recoil aghast at the conversation that is being conducted in all seriousness before them."

Deutsche Welle provides a roundup of some non-English language editorials as well.

Temperature's Rising

Hanna Rosin and Mike Allen write in The Washington Post that "when 'Fahrenheit 9/11' opens tomorrow in nearly 900 theaters nationwide -- a record for a documentary film release -- it will be received like a two-hour campaign commercial aimed at President Bush and his war on terrorism. . . . "

Rosin and Allen write that, privately, "some White House officials say they are in a bind about how to respond. Americans have always formed impressions of public figures from the movies; think Oliver Stone's 'JFK,' Spike Lee's 'Malcolm X,' Charlton Heston's portrayal of Moses. This time is different because the subject is living, unfolding history, four months before an election.

"The documentary includes endless shots of Bush golfing, taking vacations and shaking hands with Saudi oil tycoons at fancy hotels. Moore revives the old pre-Iraq war stereotype of Bush as a hapless, inarticulate bungler but with a twist; Bush is portrayed as lazy, a failure of will and not genes. . . .

"If a reporter asks President Bush about the movie, he plans to respond jokingly, one of his strategists said. 'To take it on would give it too much credibility,' the strategist said. 'He's not going to get into a debate himself with this little filmmaker guy.'"

Here are some new clips from the movie, and its trailer.

From Reuters: "Online ticket service on Wednesday reported that 'Fahrenheit 9/11' was making up 48 percent of advance ticket sales for the weekend ahead, compared to 11 percent for 'Dodgeball' and 9 percent for next week's 'Spider-Man 2'."

Cheney Rumor Central

Cynthia Bowers was on the CBS Evening News last night stoking some rumors. She reports that Vice President Cheney is often on the attack. But, she says, "the vice president now increasingly finds himself under attack. . . .

"Some in the party are privately wondering if he is a strength or a liability this time around. . . . And that's why, when John McCain showed up for the first time campaigning with the president, speculation ran wild about a possible Bush/McCain ticket, speculation the senator quickly spiked on 'Face the Nation.' . . .

"But with the race this tight and everything under the microscope, nothing, and no one, is a sure thing until election day."

Bill Straub of Scripps Howard wrote yesterday that "Democrats are hopping on the vice president's potential difficulties with both feet."

All of this was published before Cheney got some good news this morning from the Supreme Court, which refused to order the Bush administration to release details of the vice president's energy task force, sending the case back to a lower court.


Amy Goldstein writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush proposed Wednesday that the executive branch assume significant control over the program that has been the backbone of federal assistance for Americans infected with AIDS. . . .

"Bush made his proposals at a black church here [in Philadelphia] during a speech that interwove themes of AIDS and religion. The president speaks often about a law the administration pushed through Congress last year to combat the epidemic in Africa and the Caribbean, but Wednesday's remarks focused in unusual detail on his philosophy for coping with it domestically. 'We will continue to confront the disease abroad, and we will confront it here at home as well,' he said. 'These efforts are not mutually exclusive.'"

David E. Sanger and Donald G. McNeil Jr. write in the New York Times: "President Bush said on Wednesday for the first time that the United States should 'learn from the experience' of countries like Uganda in fighting AIDS and embraced the use of condoms to prevent its spread, a sensitive issue among conservative groups that have fought the adoption of any strategy that does not focus on abstinence."

Vicki Kemper and Peter Wallsten write in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush sought Wednesday to portray himself as a compassionate global leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS, but critics said his strategy suffered from the go-it-alone approach that marked his war against terrorism."

After his visit to the church, Bush attended a private fundraiser in nearby Villanova that raised $1.4 million for the Republican National Committee.

From Sanger's pool report: "The president headed into a home we could not see on the edge of a golf course; your pool ate at the adjoining country club where life seemed quite comfortable, and the President's base appeared to be golfing and swimming."

Here is the text of Bush's public remarks.

Laura Bush, Not-So-Secret Weapon

Jackie Calmes writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Laura Bush is campaigning solo this summer, standing by her man.

"With a raft of polls showing President Bush's credibility has slipped, his popular wife has hit the road as his chief character witness."

Calmes cites as an example (how bloggy!) this Bob Von Sternberg story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune after the first lady's 19-minute solo performance in St. Paul last week: "Talking to about 1,700 admirers in St. Paul, First Lady Laura Bush had this to say Friday about her husband: 'I've known George Bush for nearly 30 years and I know that every second he has been in the White House, he has had the character and courage to meet the demands of this time.'"

Calmes writes: "She got similar coverage in Philadelphia [Amy Worden and Carrie Budoff in the Philadelphia Inquirer] and suburban Cleveland [Fulvia Cativo in the Plain Dealer] late last week...."

Calmes notes that the first lady's face beams from the home page of the Bush/Cheney Web site this week, where she is the "host" of the "Second National Party for the President on July 15" and did a live chat on Tuesday. ("Campaigning is so much fun," says the first lady.)

"A presidential candidate's real mate is generally viewed as second only to the running mate as an effective proxy on the campaign," Calmes writes.

"But Vice President Dick Cheney has become a polarizing figure for his own role in the push to war in Iraq, sparking speculation -- unsupported and unlikely -- that Mr. Bush might replace him on the ticket."

And there's more to come. Tonight, for instance, there will be a segment on CBS Evening News called "Laura Bush: Secret Weapon."

North Korea Turnaround

Philip P. Pan and Glenn Kessler write in The Washington Post: "The Bush administration presented a more specific proposal for resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis Wednesday, offering the North the possibility of energy aid from South Korea, security assurances and other benefits during a three-month test period if it promises to disclose and end its nuclear weapons programs."

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "President Bush's concrete offer to cajole North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program is a turning point for an administration previously caught between two conflicting approaches to one of the world's most isolated, impoverished and dangerous nations."

And Sanger writes that "perhaps as notable as Mr. Bush's turnabout is what it is missing: the kind of threats that surrounded his confrontation with Saddam Hussein last year. Though American intelligence agencies have warned Mr. Bush that North Korea is probably putting the finishing touches on six or more nuclear weapons, the president has sounded almost no public warnings about the threat the country poses, or given voice to the fear that it could sell its excess nuclear technology to terrorists or other states."

John Roberts of CBS News calls it a "partial retreat" for Bush.

Today's Calendar

President Bush meets with members of Congress in the Cabinet Room this morning, then participates in a demonstration of broadband and wireless technologies at the Department of Commerce before making a speech about innovation.

Tomorrow: Off to Ireland

AFP reports: "US President George W. Bush will continue his charm offensive in Europe when he arrives in Ireland Friday for meetings with leaders of the European Union ahead of a NATO summit in Turkey scheduled for next week. . . .

"Dublin is seen as one of Washington's historic allies, and [Prime Minister Bertie] Ahern is believed to have a good relationship with Bush.

"However, anti-American demonstrations were still expected in Irish capital, a rare sight there."

Then Turkey

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "With a help-wanted letter from Iraq's new prime minister in hand, President Bush is appealing to NATO to help quell violence that has escalated as the June 30 transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis nears.

"Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, wrote a one-page letter to allied governments asking for training and technical and other assistance, but not troops. Bush, who spoke with Allawi on Wednesday, will discuss the request with allied leaders at the NATO summit next week in Istanbul, Turkey."

Karl Vick of the Washington Post Foreign Service is filing reports this morning: about bombs going off in Turkey today, including one at Bush' s hotel.

Reagan Legacy Watch

The Associated Press reports: "Ron Reagan, the younger son of the late President Reagan, criticized the Bush administration's foreign policy, saying he believed the president misled Americans to gain support for the Iraq war."

"We lied our way into the war," he said on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Wednesday.

The Clinton Factor

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times that "Bill Clinton's emphatic return to the spotlight has created short-term opportunities for both parties but is unlikely to affect the long-term dynamics of the presidential race, Republican and Democratic strategists agree."

The White House and the Press

NYU journalism professor and blogger Jay Rosen writes that "disengaging from the press has been a striking innovation of this White House. . . .

"It's one thing to mistrust the press because you believe it's biased. It's another thing to detach yourself from it -- pychologically, intellectually, as a governing philosophy, a matter of pride, and as daily practice in the White House. . . .

"Over the years various observers in journalism, in the academy and in politics have argued that White House news is a co-production of the executive, which is supposed to 'make' the news, and the press, which is supposed to report it. Yes, there are tensions and struggles, 'good' periods and bad (and there are scandals, when the dynamic changes) but the relationship is a relationship. Recognizing they need each other, the two parties cooperate in the production of news. They are adversaries, but also intimates. . . .

"That all seems quite innocent now."

Poll Watch

The National Annenberg Election Survey's latest poll results, from June 8 to 21, finds Bush's approval rating up sharply, four points to 52 percent, compared to the previous month.

According to the press release: "In a period marked by his eulogy for Ronald Reagan, UN approval of sovereignty transfer in Iraq while terrorist strikes continued amid reports of good economic news, George W. Bush improved his image with the American people significantly on attributes such as experience, steadiness, caring, knowledgeability, and trustworthiness, the University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey shows."

Presidential Indicators

Susan Page of USA Today looks at six reliable presidential-election indicators and finds they are in conflict.

Economic formula says Bush wins.

Low approval-rating precedent says Kerry wins.

War-president precedent says Bush wins.

Ohio is a bellwether. Tossup.

Northern Democrats don't stand a chance. Bush wins.

Kerry is taller. Kerry wins.

Medals of Freedom

Rebecca Dana of The Washington Post watched as President Bush presented Medals of Freedom yesterday.

Here's the text of his remarks.

Revolt of the Backdrops

It's very exciting when the president or the vice president swoop down on your town to make a campaign appearance, but what's left once they're gone are a lot of unpaid bills. Out in the heartland, some local officials aren't taking too kindly to that.

For instance, Cheney visited Lincoln, Neb., last week.

Nate Jenkins of the Lincoln Journal Star writes that now, no one wants to foot the $31,900 bill for his visit.

When Bush visited La Crosse, Wis., in May, he left behind $60,277 in unpaid security-related expenses incurred by the city.

Joan Kent of the La Crosse Tribune writes that the city plans to bill the Bush/Cheney campaign for some of it, and make up a bit more through a Homeland Security grant, but swallow the rest.

"'It's not whether it's a dollar or $60,000; I just do not think the city taxpayers should subsidize campaigns,' [Mayor John] Medinger said.

"He also said he thinks it is questionable whether Homeland Security money should be spent for security at events such as campaign rallies. . . .

"Elsewhere in the region," Kent writes, "Viroqua is billing Bush/Cheney $4,026, Dubuque, Iowa, $10,217, and Prairie du Chien, $9,598."

© 2004