Tuesday's must-reads

Geraldine Sealey
June 8, 2004 5:32PM (UTC)

Memo justified torture
The Washington Post obtained a an August 2002 Justice Department memo that advised the White House that torturing al Qaeda suspects in U.S. custody "may be justified," and that international laws against torture "may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations" conducted in President Bush's war on terrorism, the paper reported. The memo's logic served as a basis for a 2003 Pentagon report on torture described in Monday's Wall Street Journal.

"Bush administration officials say flatly that, despite the discussion of legal issues in the two memos, it has abided by international conventions barring torture, and that detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere have been treated humanely, except in the cases of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq for which seven military police soldiers have been charged. Still, the 2002 and 2003 memos reflect the Bush administration's desire to explore the limits on how far it could legally go in aggressively interrogating foreigners suspected of terrorism or of having information that could thwart future attacks."


"In the Justice Department's view -- contained in a 50-page document signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee and obtained by The Washington Post -- inflicting moderate or fleeting pain does not necessarily constitute torture. Torture, the memo says, 'must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.'"

"By contrast, the Army's Field Manual 34-52, titled 'Intelligence Interrogations,' sets more restrictive rules. For example, the Army prohibits pain induced by chemicals or bondage; forcing an individual to stand, sit or kneel in abnormal positions for prolonged periods of time; and food deprivation. Under mental torture, the Army prohibits mock executions, sleep deprivation and chemically induced psychosis."

"Human rights groups expressed dismay at the Justice Department's legal reasoning yesterday. 'It is by leaps and bounds the worst thing I've seen since this whole Abu Ghraib scandal broke,' said Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch. 'It appears that what they were contemplating was the commission of war crimes and looking for ways to avoid legal accountability. The effect is to throw out years of military doctrine and standards on interrogations.'"


GOP hopes Reagan death boosts Bush
Officially, Republicans say it's unseemly to discuss the political impact of Ronald Reagan's death. Unofficially, GOP strategists tell the Los Angeles Times the Gipper sure did hand Bush a golden opportunity.

"Several Republican strategists said the nation's outpouring of nostalgia and respect for Reagan may have offered Bush an opportunity to improve his flagging popularity -- if he can find a way to don the mantle of his well-loved predecessor. Even before Reagan's death, Bush and his campaign deliberately borrowed some favorite themes from the Republican revolution of 1980: optimism, national confidence, military strength, tax cuts, economic recovery."

"This week, trying not to sound overtly political, Republican spokesmen again looked for polite ways to remind voters that Bush is, in many ways, Reagan's ideological heir. 'The life and example of Ronald Reagan reinforces how important conviction and determination are in a president," Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt said in an apparent dig at Bush's presumed Democratic challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), whom Republicans have accused of flip-flops. 'Reagan's legacy of optimism and of patriotism should inspire everybody, regardless of political party.'"


"On Friday, in a eulogy he is to deliver for Reagan at the Washington National Cathedral, Bush will have a chance to make that point himself -- if only by implication. The eulogy is being prepared by Bush's chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, who also wrote the president's moving speech for a memorial service in the same cathedral after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The cycle of mourning for Reagan could bring Bush one other bonus, Republican pollster Bill McInturff said: It will take Americans' minds off the recent spate of bad news from Iraq."

Reagan's timing impeccable as ever
Howard Fineman of Newsweek says Reagan's exit from the stage was timed exquisitely from Bush's perspective. John Kerry was raring to go this week with a newly-honed economic message and momentum in the polls, and now has agreed to stand down from campaigning for an entire week. But Fineman also argues that the nation's Reagan obsession will also neutralize another Democratic leader's impact this month: Bill Clinton, as he starts his book tour.


"The Gipper's passing won't be enough to re-elect George W. Bush, but it may well help the president in terms of timing, tactics and message. After a series of closed-door strategy meetings in Boston last weekend, Kerry was set this week to pop forth with a newly revised economic message, designed to stress the quality and salary level of jobs rather than their mere existence. But the rollout is now delayed, or smothered, as Kerry sensibly goes dark for most of the week, which will be dominated by Reagan's funeral."

" ... There is little risk, and a bit to gain, for Bush in associating with the Reagan aura. Voters on the left who think the comparison is damning to Bush weren't going to support him anyway; voters on the right who think the comparison makes Bush looks small are going to vote for Bush anyway. Voters in the middle who still aren't sure what to make of Bush may see a wee bit more vision in his thinking and vision is a thing every president (and every president running for re-election) needs."

"This season of remembering Reagan helps the Republicans in another way. It diminishes the accomplishments of the Democrats' two-termer Clinton who is launching a nostalgia tour of his own this month. The Clinton years were among the most prosperous in modern American history. But even Democrats would have to admit that Reagan's signal achievement joining Maggie Thatcher, Lech Walesa and Pope John Paul II in toppling the Soviet Union is a tad more significant than outlasting the Vast Right Wing Con-spiracy."


GOP bill "reeks to high heaven"
The New York Times reports that House Republicans "have quietly introduced a measure to make it easier for churches to support political candidates, just days after the Bush campaign came under fire from liberal groups for inviting church members to distribute campaign information at their houses of worship."

"Representative Bill Thomas of California, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, added the measure to a much larger bill, introduced in the committee on Friday, that centers on revising certain corporate taxes. The provision, called Safe Harbor for Churches, would allow religious organizations a limited number of violations of the existing rules against political endorsements without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status."

"Although its chances of enactment are uncertain, Democrats and other critics of the proposal argue that its timing suggests that Republicans are trying to bend the tax rules in time to help the president's re-election campaign."


Bush urged to lift stem cell ban
The Guardian newspaper reports that a day before Ronald Reagan died, 58 U.S. senators asked President Bush to reverse restrictions on stem cell research. Now, "some are calling on him to use the moment of Ronald Reagan's death from Alzheimer's to revitalize a science that may offer a cure."

"'This issue is especially poignant given President Reagan's passing,' Senator Dianne Feinstein said. 'Embryonic stem cell research might hold the key to a cure for Alzheimer's and other terrible diseases.'" Mr Bush has placed restrictions on public money being used to support embryonic stem cell research and opposes using stem cells from most embryos for religious reasons."

"A White House spokesman, Ken Lisaius, said Mr Bush stood by his stem cell policy. 'The president remains committed to exploring the promise of stem cell research but at the same time continues to believe strongly that we should not cross a fundamental moral line by funding or encouraging the destruction of human embryos,' Mr Lisaius said. 'The president does not believe that life should be created for the sole purpose of destroying it. He does believe we can explore the promise and potential of stem cell research using the existing lines of stem cells.'"

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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