Today's Papers

Tortured Decisions

The New York Timesleads with word that when Alberto Gonzales was attorney general, the Justice Department issued secret opinions that authorized the CIA to use extremely harsh and brutal interrogation tactics when questioning terror suspects. The first opinion, which came soon after Gonzales took on the job, was issued two months after the Justice Department had publicly issued a statement saying that “torture is abhorrent.” Then, while Congress was considering legislation to outlaw torture, the department issued another secret opinion saying that the standard imposed by lawmakers would not force the CIA to change any of its tactics.

The Washington Postand Los Angeles Timeslead with President Bush making good on his promise to veto the bill that would expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with North Korea agreeing to dismantle its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon by the end of the year and to publicly account for its entire nuclear-weapons program. In exchange, the United States would provide economic aid and begin the process of dropping North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. USA Todayleads with word that 171 people have been indicted in New Orleans on public corruption charges since 2003, which is an increase of 452 percent. Many of the indictments have to do with officials who tried to get a piece of the billions of dollars in public money the region received after Hurricane Katrina. The current federal crackdown is “unprecedented in a region long plagued by corruption in public office,” the paper says.

The NYT, understandably, doesn’t explicitly state that the Justice Department approved torture, but it leaves little room for doubt. The opinion that was secretly issued soon after Gonzales took over marked the first time the government had authorized “a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head slapping, simulated drowning, and frigid temperatures,” the paper notes. Beyond the question of torture, the 4,000-word story also serves as yet another illustration of how the Justice Department under Gonzales gave the administration, and particularly the vice president’s office, pretty much anything it wanted.

Meanwhile, agents operating out of the secret CIA prisons constantly worried that they could be breaking the law and frequently posed questions to Washington lawyers about what was allowed. It wasn’t just because the U.S. government had never before authorized these types of harsh tactics, but the CIA also had almost no experience with interrogations.

The NYT also reveals that when the CIA caught Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, “a variety of tough interrogation tactics were used about 100 times over two weeks.” Some now say Mohammed provided many “exaggerated or false” statements, which many contend frequently happens when a detainee is tortured. Regardless of these doubts of its effectiveness, in July 2006, the president once again authorized “enhanced” interrogation techniques, and officials say that the CIA has gone back to holding suspects in secret prisons overseas.

Bush’s veto, the fourth of his presidency, “left him as politically isolated as he has ever been,” notes the Post. Although some Republicans publicly disagreed with Bush’s stance on the issue, the LAT says that it’s unlikely Democrats will get enough votes to override the veto. But Democrats hope that two weeks of pressure from several interest groups will be enough to change some minds. Bush said he’s willing to compromise, but the Post reminds readers that the disagreement has as much to do with the administration’s “desire to use the bill … to advance Bush’s proposals to expand health insurance coverage through tax breaks as it does from his budgetary concerns.”

In an analysis piece inside, the WP notes that to reach the agreement with North Korea, Bush had to pursue the strategy he once condemned of holding “bilateral negotiations with Pyongyang in parallel with the six-nation talks.” Many now believe that in his eagerness for a diplomatic victory, the administration might be giving in too quickly. The NYT notes some conservatives were particularly unhappy that a deal was reached despite the recent talk that North Korea supplied nuclear material to Syria.

The NYT fronts, and everyone notes inside, news that the leaders of North and South Korea signed a pact at the end of their three-day summit to increase economic ties between the two countries and move forward on the goal of reaching a formal peace agreement. The pact “did not break new ground but built on the path taken during the first summit meeting, in 2000,” says the NYT.

The NYT reefers word that it identified the former Blackwater employee who by all accounts seems to be the one responsible for killing the bodyguard of an Iraqi vice president. His name is Andrew Moonen and he’s a 27-year-old former Army paratrooper who lives in Seattle. Moonen told the paper he’s been following the recent controversy surrounding his former employer. “There’s a lot of dust being kicked up, and I’ll be glad when it settles,” he said.

The WP gets word that Iraq has placed an order for $100 million of military supplies from China to provide the police force with much-needed equipment that the United States has been unable to supply. Military analysts said the deal is cause for concern, particularly because the Iraqi security forces have lost track of almost 200,000 U.S.-supplied weapons. Also, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno told the paper he expects approximately 25,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops will be required in Iraq for “at least three to five more years.”

Over on the Post’s op-ed page, David Ignatius becomes one of the few to write against the “soft partition” of Iraq. Although sometimes it may seem like the division is inevitable, “this act of national dismemberment is not something that Americans should recommend.”

The sound of one hand clapping … The NYT fronts a piece looking into how things don’t seem to be going so well for Fred Thompson, the man who was supposed to be the Republican savior. After he finished a speech in Iowa recently, the audience stayed silent. “Can I have a round of applause?” Thompson asked.