The Los Angeles Timesleads with news that the administration will be releasing photographs of alleged abuses of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan next month. Late yesterday, administration lawyers informed a judge in New York that the government will release 44 photographs that the American Civil Liberties Union had demanded as part of a lawsuit, plus a “substantial number” of other images, by May 28. The Washington Postleads with a long look at the internal debate between White House officials that preceded the release of the four memos detailing CIA interrogation tactics. In deciding whether the memos should be released, President Obama faced “one of the sharpest policy divides of his young administration,” reports the paper.
The New York Timesleads, and the Wall Street Journalgoes high, with word that the government has ordered Chrysler to prepare for a bankruptcy filing as early as next week. Under the current negotiations, Chrysler would file for bankruptcy even if it manages to reach a deal with creditors, the United Workers Union, and Fiat. The WSJ leads its world-wide newsbox with, while the LAT and NYT front, U.S. officials and Pakistani politicians calling on Pakistan’s military to unleash its full force against the Taliban militants who have taken over the Buner district, which is a mere 70 miles from the capital. The Taliban forces in Buner easily beat back a government militia that was deployed to the area to take back the government buildings. USA Todayleads with a new poll that shows Obama has managed to maintain good approval ratings while also improving his image with the American people. The percentage of Americans who see Obama as a “strong and decisive leader” has increased 12 points since October, while the view that he is an effective manager has gone up by 11 points. Overall, 56 percent say he has done an “excellent” or “good” job since moving into the White House, while 20 percent give him a “poor” or “terrible” rating. As good as his numbers may be, his wife beat him hands down with 79 percent saying they approve of the way Michelle Obama is handling her job as first lady.
According to Pentagon investigators who have seen the photographs that the administration will release next month, the images won’t be as shocking as the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs, but officials at the Defense Department are still “concerned that the release could incite another backlash in the Middle East,” reports the LAT. Apparently some of the images, which were all taken between 2001 and 2006, show American service members threatening detainees by pointing weapons at them, an action that has previously resulted in military officers being court-martialed. The release of the photos will undoubtedly ramp up calls to investigate abuses during the Bush administration and is only the first of several potentially controversial disclosures that could be coming up in the near future. Over the next few weeks, the administration will have to decide whether to release a 2004 CIA inspector general’s report about the interrogation program, transcripts of interrogations, and materials relating to a Justice Department investigation into detainee abuse. The ACLU also wants the administration to release any documents that describe what was in the destroyed CIA videotapes.
The LAT notes that while Obama “has tried to walk a fine rhetorical line” in releasing some information but urging against a full-fledged investigation, he actually may have “managed to anger both constituencies.” As confusion reigns about whether Obama really wanted an investigation or not, the NYT fronts a look at how he met with Democratic leaders Wednesday night to urge against a special inquiry because it would distract from his agenda. Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he doesn’t even want to discuss an independent commission until the Senate Intelligence Committee completes its own investigation. That sentiment, echoed by other Democratic leaders, though not House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, makes it extremely unlikely that an independent commission will be formed anytime soon. The hearings of the Senate committee investigation will be closed, and it could take six to eight months to complete. It’s still far from clear how much of that investigation would be made public.
The intense debate that preceded the release of the memos displays the “widespread angst inside the White House,” as the WP puts it, that the release would launch a debate over national security that could quickly get out of control. But several White House advisers appear eager to release information about what the previous administration allowed, partly to undermine Dick Cheney’s efforts to claim that the banning of secret prisons and harsh interrogation tactics puts the country at risk. That process to repudiate the previous administration’s policy began before Obama took office, when he sent six experts to the CIA for secret briefings that lasted two days. David Boren, a former Democratic senator from Oklahoma who was no stranger to classified briefings (having chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee for six years), said those two days amounted to “one of the most deeply disturbing experiences I have had. I wanted to take a bath when I heard it. I was ashamed of it.” At those briefings, CIA officials apparently acknowledged that some foreign intelligence services had refused to give information about terror suspects to the United States out of fear that they could be implicated in their eventual torture.
Assuming Chrysler can reach a deal with its lenders, the automaker’s bankruptcy would make it easier to “rid itself of some liabilities,” notes the WSJ. Such a move would also allow Fiat to “pick and choose” what parts of Chrysler it wants. If such an orderly bankruptcy actually becomes a reality, it “would represent a measure of success for the Obama administration,” declares the Journal. But if no deal is reached, then the company would have to begin liquidating. The NYT gets word that the Treasury Department has reached “an agreement in principle” with the union to protect pensions and retiree health care benefits if Chrysler goes into bankruptcy. The WSJ says UAW agrees with the bankruptcy plan and would probably end up owning “a sizable stake” in the restructured Chrysler.
In a surprise move, the WSJ reports that Fiat is now in talks with General Motors “about joining forces in Europe and Latin America.” The NYT also hears word that Fiat has raised the possibility of buying GM’s Opel division during talks with U.S. officials. Fiat’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne, denied he had direct talks with Opel and emphasized that Chrysler is his first priority. But it’s clear that Fiat “is seeing new opportunities in Detroit’s troubles.” Many doubt Marchionne will be able to make so many deals so quickly, but he could very well be on track to become “one of the most prominent auto executives in the world,” declares the NYT. Indeed, the WSJ points out that even the possibility that Fiat and GM may join forces, “opens the door to a restructuring of much more global scope than the car makers and Obama administration had envisioned.” The Journal sees this as a potentially positive step “toward the kind of large-scale consolidation that long has been overdue” in the car industry.
Even as Taliban forces set up checkpoints in Buner to consolidate their control over the area, and were spotted in areas that are even closer to the capital, the government only sent over “poorly paid and equipped constabulary forces,” notes the NYT. This despite the fact that Pakistan has a 500,000-strong military that receives huge financial backing from the United States. But the military remains focused on fighting a conventional war with neighboring India, and Pakistani generals are reluctant to pull troops from the border. Even if they were deployed to fight the Taliban, however, it’s far from clear whether they could be successful, since they aren’t trained in counterinsurgency operations. The LAT points out that no one knows whether such a diverse country can even agree to wage a full-out war against Taliban militants.
The WSJ reports that the recent developments in Pakistan have led U.S. officials to reconsider a closer alliance with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a man that the United States has never been too fond of because of his ties to Islamist political parties. But now, U.S. and European officials believe that these ties could be an asset because it might be easier for him to convince the Pakistani people of the need to confront the Taliban. U.S. officials have appreciated President Asif Ali Zardari’s willingness to not raise too much of a ruckus about the drone attacks in the border areas, but they’re growing convinced that he doesn’t have what it takes to wage a successful war against the Taliban.
The LAT off-leads word that the Obama administration is getting ready to release as many as seven Chinese Mulims, known as Uighurs, from Guantanamo into the United States. The decision is far from final and would face huge opposition, not only from Americans but from the Chinese government, which considers the Uighurs to be domestic terrorists and wants the 17 that are still being held in Guantanamo to face investigations in China. The Homeland Security Department has raised concerns about the plan, but the Obama administration considers it a crucial step in its move to close down Guantanamo and to persuade other countries to take in detainees. It’s not clear what kind of supervision they could be under in the United States, but officials said they would be allowed to live freely.
The NYT’s Paul Krugman writes that investigating and prosecuting the abuses of the Bush administration shouldn’t be seen as a “luxury we can’t afford,” because the United States is a “nation of moral ideals.” Even though the government had previously done things that go against these ideals, “never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for.” It’s true there are a lot of other problems in the world, but “laws aren’t supposed to be enforced only when convenient.” And, besides, any investigation wouldn’t consume the entire administration. “We need to do this for the sake of our future,” writes Krugman. “For this isn’t about looking backward, it’s about looking forward—because it’s about reclaiming America’s soul.”
In USAT’s poll, 2 percent of people say that getting first dog Bo was the best thing Obama has done as president, while 1 percent say it was the worst. “Those people are cats,” White House adviser David Axelrod said.