Wednesday's must-reads

Published June 9, 2004 1:32PM (EDT)

Torture probe focus turns to Bush
"First of all," Attorney General John Ashcroft told senators on Tuesday, "this administration opposes torture." His proof? The administration is prosecuting cases of torture and mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. So far, six Army prison guards await court-martial and a seventh has pleaded guilty. Meanwhile, the evidence continues to mount showing the administration built a case that torture is within the legal bounds of its power in the war on terror. Ashcroft refused to release an August 2002 memo -- which is not classified -- when asked for it on Tuesday by senators. But a Pentagon report based in part on the logic presented in the DOJ memo, that President Bush is above domestic and international laws of torture when it comes to interrogating terror suspects, is online here.

The Washington Post today reports that the DOJ memo Ashcroft won't release turns the focus on the role President Bush has played in setting the rules for interrogations of terrorism suspects.

"A former senior administration official involved in discussions about CIA interrogation techniques said Bush's aides knew he wanted them to take an aggressive approach."

"'He felt very keenly that his primary responsibility was to do everything within his power to keep the country safe, and he was not concerned with appearances or politics or hiding behind lower-level officials,' he said. 'That is not to say he was ready to authorize stuff that would be contrary to law. The whole reason for having the careful legal reviews that went on was to ensure he was not doing that.'"

"The August memorandum was written in response to a CIA request for legal guidance in the months after Sept. 11, 2001, as agency operatives began to detain and interrogate key al Qaeda leaders. The fact that the memo was signed by Jay S. Bybee, head of the Office Legal Counsel, who has since become a federal judge, and is 50 pages long indicates that the issue was treated as a significant matter."

"'Given the topic and length of opinion, it had to get pretty high-level attention,' said Beth Nolan, commenting on the process that was in place when she was President Bill Clinton's White House counsel, from 1999 to 2001, and, previously, when she was a lawyer in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel."

Rummy's office said: 'Take the gloves off'
The Los Angeles Times reports that as early as 2001, when Johnny Walker Lindh was captured in Afghanistan, military intelligence officers said they were instructed by Donald Rumsfeld's office to "take the gloves off" in questioning him.

"What happened to Lindh, who was stripped and humiliated by his captors, foreshadowed the type of abuse documented in photographs of American soldiers tormenting Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib."

"At the time, just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. was desperate to find terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. After Lindh asked for a lawyer rather than talk to interrogators, he was not granted one nor was he advised of his Miranda rights against self-incrimination. Instead, the Pentagon ordered intelligence officers to get tough with him."

"The documents, read to The Times by two sources critical of how the government handled the Lindh case, show that after an Army intelligence officer began to question Lindh, a Navy admiral told the intelligence officer that 'the secretary of Defense's counsel has authorized him to 'take the gloves off' and ask whatever he wanted.' Lindh was being questioned while he was propped up naked and tied to a stretcher in interrogation sessions that went on for days, according to court papers. In the early stages, his responses were cabled to Washington hourly, the new documents show."

No love for Bush at U.N.
A reporter roamed the halls at the United Nations and found skepticism and displeasure with President Bush's attempts to make friends again with Old Europe and other allies.

"The ardently independent President Bush, possibly the most unilateral of modern presidents, has estranged much of the world. And while polling has shown world opinion of the United States at new lows, it only takes a day at the United Nations to understand why the discontent runs so deep. Although they will not say it for attribution, those randomly interviewed want Americans to deny Mr. Bush four more years in office. They expect a rekindling of diplomacy, of statesmanship, if Sen. John Kerry becomes president. They have lost all trust in the Bush administration."

"'This administration has totally disregarded many longstanding rules and approaches to international affairs and therefore the administration has given its back to its own allies, particularly in Europe,' said one senior European U.N. envoy."

Two presidential cowboys
Is George W. Bush the heir to Reagan's legacy? The Chicago Tribune says there are similarities between the men, on the surface, anyway -- both avoid details and enjoy chopping wood. And Bush is stressing these similarities. But there are also stylistic differences between the two, the Trib says.

"Reagan was known for keeping congenial relationships with many political opponents. 'Reagan had an uncanny ability to sell his ideas to the public with that shrug of the shoulder, toss of a head and a joke,' said Allan Meltzer, a professor of political economy at Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business who was an economic adviser to both. 'Bush doesn't really have that light touch.'"

"While the ballot box and the history books may offer the final comparisons on the two presidents, Bush has the opportunity to cast the Reagan legacy in his own light in a eulogy Friday at the National Cathedral. Aides say they doubt that Bush will follow the lead of many in his party in calling themselves 'Ronald Reagan Republicans.'"

Bush's Fla. advantage gone
The AP reports from Florida that the state is a toss-up "as Florida voters of all political stripes expressed dismay over the war in Iraq. The race is as close as it was four years ago, when a mere 537 votes tipped the state and the presidency to Bush."

"Since then, the capital of close elections has grown by more than 1 million, mostly Democratic-leaning Hispanics and blacks as well as conservative whites drawn by Florida's warm temperatures and booming suburbs. 'This may be the most dynamic state in all the 50,' said Jeb Bush, who hopes to deliver 17-million-strong Florida to his brother this November."

"The state's 9.3 million registered voters are a microcosm of America - black, white and brown; immigrants and Southern aristocracy; Panhandle conservatives, Miami-Dade County liberals and a growing number of independents; scores of voters driven by single issues such as Fidel Castro's rule in Cuba, Israel's security and, yes, the disputed outcome of the 2000 presidential election. They will determine whether Bush or Democrat John Kerry gets Florida's 27 electoral votes, a 10th of the total needed to win the White House. It's the largest prize of the battleground states, with each campaign spending more than $10 million in television commercials since March."

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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