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Obama Press Conference: Nailing Torture, Trashing the Pakistani Government

Related Post: Pakistan - Who's in Charge?
Video and Transcript: President Obama “Day 100″ Press Conference (29 April)

obama22President Obama offered an excellent presentation in Wednesday night's press conference. He was in command, fluently moving from his opening agenda on swine flu and the economy to questions on foreign policy, the US auto industry, and the financial sector. He even dealt effectively with the puffball question, courtesy of a New York Times correspondent, "What has surprised you the most about this office? Enchanted you the most from serving in this office? Humbled you the most? And troubled you the most?"

Obama said little about foreign policy and security in his initial statement, dealing with the immediate health crisis and the Federal Government's budget, but the third question put him on the spot over torture:

You’ve said in the past that waterboarding, in your opinion, is torture....Do you believe that the previous administration sanctioned torture?

I half-expected the President, given the Administration's back-and-forth over the last 10 days on whether to press charges against any Bush officials, to flinch. He didn't. To use baseball language, he knocked the question out of the park.
What I’ve said — and I will repeat — is that waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture.... And that’s why I put an end to these practices.

I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do, not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are.

Yes, it was torture. And whether it had any effect is tangential, given the damage done to America's counter-terrorist efforts and its standing in the world.

Obama invoked Winston Churchill --- and who in the US could hate Churchill? --- who "said, 'We don’t torture,' when the entire British — all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat". The President avoided the trap of commenting on which Bushman "sanctioned torture", but he turned the main talking point of Bush defenders, "Torture helped win the War on Terror", against them:
[Banning torture] takes away a critical recruitment tool that Al Qaida and other terrorist organizations have used to try to demonize the United States and justify the killing of civilians. And it makes us — it puts us in a much stronger position to work with our allies in the kind of international, coordinated intelligence activity that can shut down these networks.

I am sceptical that Obama will be closing Guantanamo Bay this year. And I still have concerns --- serious concerns --- about other US detention facilities, such as Camp Bagram in Afghanistan. But, at least on the narrow issue of whether there is any rationale for "torture", the President signed, sealed, and delivered the appropriate response.

In foreign policy, two specific cases arose: Iraq and Pakistan. On the former, Obama easily held the line, despite the continuing bombings and political instability in and beyond Baghdad:
Athough you’ve seen some spectacular bombings in Iraq that are a — a legitimate cause of concern, civilian deaths, incidents of bombings, et cetera, remain very low relative to what was going on last year, for example. And so you haven’t seen the kinds of huge spikes that you were seeing for a time. The political system is holding and functioning in Iraq.

(The questioner, Jeff Mason, let Obama off the hook. The emerging issue is whether the US military will have troops in and just outside Iraqi cities well past the summer deadline for withdrawal.)

Pakistan, however, offered a far more serious exchange, the significance of which has been missed so far by the media. It started with a sensationalist, and thus potentially useless question:
Can you reassure the American people that if necessary America could secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and keep it from getting into the Taliban’s hands or, worst case scenario, even al Qaeda’s hands?

The President batted that scenario straight back, "I’m confident that we can make sure that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure." Then, however, he offered two very clear signals.

First, his Administration is standing behind the Pakistani military and encouraging it to take the lead in the fight against insurgency. Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is safe "primarily, initially, because the Pakistani army, I think, recognizes the hazards of those weapons falling into the wrong hands. We’ve got strong military-to-military consultation and cooperation." What's more....
On the military side, you’re starting to see some recognition just in the last few days that the obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided, and that their biggest threat right now comes internally. And you’re starting to see the Pakistani military take much more seriously the armed threat from militant extremists.

Second, while Obama and his advisors are placing their strategic chips on the military, they have little faith in the current Pakistani Government:
I am gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan....The civilian government there right now is very fragile and don’t seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services: schools, health care, rule of law, a judicial system that works for the majority of the people.

Obama's statement was not off-the-cuff. It was the next step, after statements by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, that Islamabad better get its act together to take on "the Taliban" and "Al Qa'eda" or its politicians can be put to the side.

If Pakistani President Zardari is not convinced, he will do well to consider Obama's concluding challenge:
We will provide them all of the cooperation that we can. We want to respect their sovereignty, but we also recognize that we have huge strategic interests, huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable and that you don’t end up having a nuclear-armed militant state.

Of course, Obama never said "coup", but as Washington ramps up the fight against insurgents in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, he sent out the message.

Zardari is disposable. The Pakistani military is not.

Video and Transcript: President Obama "Day 100" Press Conference (29 April)

Related Post: Obama Press Conference - Nailing Torture, Trashing the Pakistani Government

OBAMA: Please, be seated. Before we begin tonight, I just want to provide everyone with a few brief updates on some of the challenges we're dealing with right now.

First, we are continuing to closely monitor the emergency cases of the H1N1 flu virus throughout the United States. As I said this morning, this is obviously a very serious situation, and every American should know that their entire government is taking the utmost precautions and preparations.

Our public health officials have recommended that schools with confirmed or suspected cases of this flu strongly consider temporarily closing. And if more schools are forced to close, we've recommended that both parents and businesses think about contingency plans if their children do have to stay home.

I've requested an immediate $1.5 billion in emergency funding from Congress to support our ability to monitor and track this virus and to build our supply of antiviral drugs and other equipment. And we will also ensure that those materials get to where they need to be as quickly as possible.

And, finally, I've asked every American to take the same steps you would take to prevent any other flu: keep your hands washed; cover your mouth when you cough; stay home from work if you're sick; and keep your children home from school if they're sick.

We'll continue to provide regular updates to the American people as we receive more information. And everyone should rest assured that this government is prepared to do whatever it takes to control the impact of this virus.

The second thing I'd like to mention is how gratified I am that the House and the Senate passed a budget resolution today that will serve as an economic blueprint for this nation's future.

I especially want to thank Leader Reid, Speaker Pelosi, all of the members of Congress who worked so quickly and effectively to make this blueprint a reality.

This budget builds on the steps we've taken over the last 100 days to move this economy from recession to recovery and ultimately to prosperity.

We began by passing a recovery act that has already saved or created over 150,000 jobs and provided a tax cut to 95 percent of all working families. We passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for 11 million American children whose parents work full time. And we launched a housing plan that has already contributed to a spike in the number of homeowners who are refinancing their mortgages, which is the equivalent of another tax cut.

But, even as we clear away the wreckage of this recession, I've also said that we can't go back to an economy that's built on a pile of sand, on inflated home prices and maxed-out credit cards, on overleveraged banks and outdated regulations that allow recklessness of a few to threaten the prosperity of all.

We have to lay a new foundation for growth, a foundation that will strengthen our economy and help us compete in the 21st century. And that's exactly what this budget begins to do.

It contains new investments in education that will equip our workers with the right skills and training, new investments in renewable energy that will create millions of jobs and new industries, new investments in health care that will cut costs for families and businesses, and new savings that will bring down our deficit.

I also campaigned on the promise that I would change the direction of our nation's foreign policy. And we've begun to do that, as well. We've begun to end the war in Iraq, and we forged with our NATO allies a new strategy to target Al Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

OBAMA: We have rejected the false choice between our security and our ideals by closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and banning torture without exception.

And we've renewed our diplomatic efforts to deal with challenges ranging from the global economic crisis to the spread of nuclear weapons.

So I think we're off to a good start, but it's just a start. I'm proud of what we've achieved, but I'm not content. I'm pleased with our progress, but I'm not satisfied.

Millions of Americans are still without jobs and homes, and more will be lost before this recession is over. Credit is still not flowing nearly as freely as it should. Countless families and communities touched by our auto industry still face tough times ahead. Our projected long-term deficits are still too high, and government is still not as efficient as it needs to be.

We still confront threats ranging from terrorism to nuclear proliferation, as well as pandemic flu. And all this means you can expect an unrelenting, unyielding effort from this administration to strengthen our prosperity and our security in the second hundred days, in the third hundred days, and all of the days after that.

You can expect us to work on health care reform that will bring down costs while maintaining quality, as well as energy legislation that will spark a clean-energy revolution. I expect to sign legislation by the end of this year that sets new rules of the road for Wall Street, rules that reward drive and innovation, as opposed to short-cuts and abuse.

And we will also work to pass legislation that protects credit card users from unfair rate hikes and abusive fees and penalties. We'll continue scouring the federal budget for savings and target more programs for elimination. And we will continue to pursue procurement reform that will greatly reduce the no-bid contracts that have wasted so many taxpayer dollars.

So we have a lot of work left to do. It's work that will take time, and it will take effort. But the United States of America, I believe, will see a better day.

We will rebuild a stronger nation, and we will endure as a beacon for all of those weary travelers beyond our shores who still dream that there's a place where all of this is possible. I want to thank the American people for their support and their patience during these trying times, and I look forward to working with you in the next hundred days, in the hundred days after that, all of the hundreds of days to follow to make sure that this country is what it can be.

And with that, I will start taking some questions.

And I'll start with you, Jennifer.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. With the flu outbreak spreading and worsening, can you talk about whether you think it's time to close the border with Mexico and whether -- under what conditions you might consider quarantining, when that might be appropriate?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, as I said, this is a cause for deep concern, but not panic. And I think that we have to make sure that we recognize that how we respond intelligently, systematically, based on science and what public health officials have to say, will determine in large part what happens.

I've consulted with our public health officials extensively on a day-to-day basis, in some cases an hour-to-hour basis. At this point, they have not recommended a border closing. From their perspective, it would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out, because we already have cases here in the United States.

We have ramped up screening efforts, as well as made sure that additional supplies are there on the border so that we can prepare in the eventuality that we have to do more than we're doing currently.

But the most important thing right now that public health officials have indicated is that we treat this the same way that we would treat other flu outbreaks, just understanding that, because this is a new strain, we don't yet know how it will respond.

So we have to take additional precautions, essentially, take out some additional insurance. Now, that's why I asked for an additional $1.5 billion, so that we can make sure that everything is in place should a worst-case scenario play out.

I do want to compliment Democrats and Republicans who worked diligently back in 2005 when the bird flu came up. I was part of a group of legislators who worked with the Bush administration to make sure that we had beefed up our infrastructure and our stockpiles of antiviral drugs, like Tamiflu.

OBAMA: And I think the Bush administration did a good job of creating the infrastructure so that we can respond. For example, we've got 50 million courses of anti-viral drugs in the event that they're needed.

So, the government is going to be doing everything that we can. We're coordinating closely with state and local officials. Secretary Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security, newly installed Secretary Sebelius of Health and Human Services, our acting CDC director, they are all on the phone on a daily basis with all public health officials across the states to coordinate and make sure that there's timely reporting, that if -- as new cases come up, that we're able to track them effectively, that we're allocating resources so that they're in place.

The key now I think is to make sure that we're maintaining great vigilance, that everybody responds appropriately when cases do come up, and individual families start taking very sensible precautions that -- can make a huge difference.

So wash your hands when you shake hands. Cover your mouth when you cough. I know it sounds trivial, but it makes a huge difference. If you are sick, stay home. If your child is sick, keep them out of school.

To -- if you are feeling certain flu symptoms, don't get on an airplane, don't get on a -- any system of public transportation where you're confined and you could potentially spread the virus.

So those are the steps that I think we need to take right now. But understand that because this is a new strain, we have to be cautious. If this was a strain that we were familiar with, then we might have to -- then I think we wouldn't see the kind of alert levels that we're seeing, for example, with the World Health Organization. OK?

Deb Price of Detroit News. Where's Deb?

Good to see you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

On the domestic auto industry, have you determined that bankruptcy is the only option to restructure Chrysler? And do you believe that the deep cuts in plant closings that were outlined this week by General Motors are sufficient?

OBAMA: Let me speak to Chrysler first because the clock is ticking on Chrysler coming up with a plan. I am actually very hopeful, more hopeful than I was 30 days ago, that we can see a resolution that maintains a viable Chrysler auto company out there.

What we've seen is the unions have made enormous sacrifices on top of sacrifices that they had previously made. You've now seen the major debt holders come up with a set of potential concessions that they can live with.

All of that promises the possibility that you can get a Fiat- Chrysler merger and that you have an ongoing concern. The details have not yet been finalized, so I don't know to jump the gun. But I am feeling more optimistic than I was about the possibilities of that getting done.

With respect to GM, we're going to have another 30 days. They're still in the process of presenting us with their plans. But I've always said that GM has a lot of good product there and if they can get through these difficult times, and engage in some of the very difficult choices that they've already made, that they can emerge a strong, competitive, viable company.

And that's my goal in this whole process. I would love to get the U.S. government out of the auto business as quickly as possible. We have a circumstance in which a bad recession compounded some great weaknesses already in the auto industry.

And it was my obligation and continues to be my obligation to make sure that any taxpayer dollars that are in place to support the auto industry are aimed not at short-term fixes that continue these companies as wards of the state, but rather institutes the kind of restructuring that allows them to be strongly competitive in the future. I think we're moving in that direction.

Last point, you asked about Chrysler bankruptcy. It was the prudent and appropriate thing for Chrysler to do to engage in the filings that they -- that received some notice a while back because they had to prepare for possible contingencies.

It's not clear that they're going to have to use it. The fact that the major debt-holders appear ready to make concessions means that, even if they ended up having to go through some sort of bankruptcy, it would be a very quick type of bankruptcy and they could continue operating and emerge on the other side in a much stronger position.

So my goal is to make sure that we've got a strong, viable, competitive auto industry. I think some tough choices are being made. There's no denying that there's significant hardship involved, particularly for the workers and the families in these communities.

And we're going to be coming behind whatever plan is in place to make sure that the federal government is providing as much assistance as we have to ensure that people are landing back on their feet, even as we strengthen these core businesses. Jake? Where's Jake? There he is.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You've said in the past that waterboarding, in your opinion, is torture. Torture is a violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions. Do you believe that the previous administration sanctioned torture?

OBAMA: What I've said -- and I will repeat -- is that waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture. I don't think that's just my opinion; that's the opinion of many who've examined the topic. And that's why I put an end to these practices.

I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do, not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are.

I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, "We don't torture," when the entire British -- all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat.

And then the reason was that Churchill understood, you start taking short-cuts, over time, that corrodes what's -- what's best in a people. It corrodes the character of a country.

And -- and so I strongly believed that the steps that we've taken to prevent these kinds of enhanced interrogation techniques will make us stronger over the long term and make us safer over the long term because it will put us in a -- in a position where we can still get information.

In some cases, it may be harder, but part of what makes us, I think, still a beacon to the world is that we are willing to hold true to our ideals even when it's hard, not just when it's easy.

At the same time, it takes away a critical recruitment tool that Al Qaida and other terrorist organizations have used to try to demonize the United States and justify the killing of civilians.

And it makes us -- it puts us in a much stronger position to work with our allies in the kind of international, coordinated intelligence activity that can shut down these networks.

So this is a decision that I'm very comfortable with. And I think the American people over time will recognize that it is better for us to stick to who we are, even when we're taking on an unscrupulous enemy.



OBAMA: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) sanctioned torture?

OBAMA: I believe that waterboarding was torture. And I think that the -- whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake.

OBAMA: Mark Knoller?

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Let me follow up, if I may, on Jake's question. Did you read the documents recently referred to by former Vice President Cheney and others saying that the use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" not only protected the nation but saved lives?

And if part of the United States were under imminent threat, could you envision yourself ever authorizing the use of those enhanced interrogation techniques?

OBAMA: I have read the documents. Now they have not been officially declassified and released. And so I don't want to go to the details of them. But here's what I can tell you, that the public reports and the public justifications for these techniques, which is that we got information from these individuals that were subjected to these techniques, doesn't answer the core question.

Which is, could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn't answer the broader question, are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?

So when I made the decision to release these memos and when I made the decision to bar these practices, this was based on consultation with my entire national security team, and based on my understanding that ultimately I will be judged as commander-in-chief on how safe I'm keeping the American people.

That's the responsibility I wake up with and it's the responsibility I go to sleep with. And so I will do whatever is required to keep the American people safe. But I am absolutely convinced that the best way I can do that is to make sure that we are not taking short cuts that undermine who we are.

And there have been no circumstances during the course of this first 100 days in which I have seen information that would make me second guess the decision that I have made. OK?

Chuck Todd.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. I want to move to Pakistan. Pakistan appears to be at war with the Taliban inside their own country. Can you reassure the American people that if necessary America could secure Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and keep it from getting into the Taliban's hands or, worst case scenario, even al Qaeda's hands?

OBAMA: I'm confident that we can make sure that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is secure. Primarily, initially, because the Pakistani army, I think, recognizes the hazards of those weapons falling into the wrong hands. We've got strong military-to-military consultation and cooperation.

I am gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan, not because I think that they're immediately going to be overrun and the Taliban would take over in Pakistan. I'm more concerned that the civilian government there right now is very fragile and don't seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services: schools, health care, rule of law, a judicial system that works for the majority of the people.

And so as a consequence, it is very difficult for them to gain the support and the loyalty of their people. So we need to help Pakistan help Pakistanis. And I think that there's a recognition increasingly on the part of both the civilian government there and the army that that is their biggest weakness.

On the military side, you're starting to see some recognition just in the last few days that the obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided, and that their biggest threat right now comes internally. And you're starting to see the Pakistani military take much more seriously the armed threat from militant extremists.

We want to continue to encourage Pakistan to move in that direction. And we will provide them all of the cooperation that we can. We want to respect their sovereignty, but we also recognize that we have huge strategic interests, huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable and that you don't end up having a nuclear-armed militant state.

QUESTION: But in a worst-case scenario...

OBAMA: I'm not going to engage in...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) military could secure this nuclear...

OBAMA: I'm not going to engage in -- in hypotheticals of that sort. I feel confident that that nuclear arsenal will remain out of militant hands.

OK, Jeff Mason?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. One of the biggest changes you've made in the first 100 days regarding foreign policy has had to do with Iraq. But do the large-scale -- there's large-scale violence there right now. Does that affect the U.S.'s strategy at all for withdrawal? And could it affect the timetable that you've set out for troops?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think it's important to note that, although you've seen some spectacular bombings in Iraq that are a -- a legitimate cause of concern, civilian deaths, incidents of bombings, et cetera, remain very low relative to what was going on last year, for example.

And so you haven't seen the kinds of huge spikes that you were seeing for a time. The political system is holding and functioning in Iraq.

Part of the reason why I called for a gradual withdrawal as opposed to a precipitous one was precisely because more work needs to be done on the political side to further isolate whatever remnants of Al Qaida in Iraq still exists.

And I'm very confident that, with our commander on the ground, General Odierno, with Chris Hill, our new ambassador, having been approved and already getting his team in place, that they are going to be able to work effectively with the Maliki government to create the conditions for an ultimate transfer after the national elections.

But there's some -- some serious work to do on making sure that how they divvy up oil revenues is ultimately settled, what the provincial powers are and boundaries, the relationship between the Kurds and the central government, the relationship between the Shia and the Kurds. Are they incorporating effectively Sunnis, Sons of Iraq, into the structure of the armed forces in a way that's equitable and just?

Those are all issues that have not been settled the way they need to be settled. And what we've done is, we've provided sufficient time for them to get that work done, but we've got to keep the pressure up, not just on the military side, but on the diplomatic and development sides, as well.

Chip Reid?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. On Senator Specter's switch to the Democratic Party, you said you were thrilled; I guess nobody should be surprised about that.

But how big a deal is this, really? Some Republicans say it is huge. They believe it's a game-changer. They say that, if you get the 60 votes in the Senate, that you will be able to ride roughshod over any opposition and that we're on the verge of, as one Republican put it, "one-party rule."

Do you see it that way? And, also, what do you think his switch says about the state of the Republican Party?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think very highly of Arlen Specter . I think he's got a record of legislative accomplishment that is as good as any member of the Senate.

And I think he's always had a strong independent streak. I think that was true when he was a Republican; I think that will be true when he's a Democrat.

He was very blunt in saying I couldn't count on him to march lockstep on every single issue. And so he's going to still have strong opinions, as many Democrats in the Senate do.

I've been there. It turns out, all the senators have very strong opinions. And I don't think that's going to change.

I do think that having Arlen Specter in the Democratic caucus will liberate him to cooperate on critical issues, like health care, like infrastructure and job creation, areas where his inclinations were to work with us, but he was feeling pressure not to.

And I think the vote on the recovery act was a classic example. Ultimately, he thought that was the right thing to do. And he was fiercely berated within his own party at the time for having taken what I consider to be a very sensible step. So -- so I think it's, overall, positive.

OBAMA: Now, I am under no illusions that suddenly I'm going to have a rubber-stamp Senate. I've got Democrats who don't agree with me on everything, and that's how it should be.

Congress is a co-equal branch of government. Every senator who's there, whether I agree with them or disagree with them, I think truly believes that they are doing their absolute best to represent their constituencies.

And we've got regional differences, and we've got some parts of the country that are affected differently by certain policies. And those have to be respected, and there's going to have to be compromise and give-and-take on all of these issues.

I do think that, to my Republican friends, I want them to realize that me reaching out to them has been genuine. I can't sort of define bipartisanship as simply being willing to accept certain theories of theirs that we tried for eight years and didn't work and the American people voted to change.

But there are a whole host of areas where we can work together. And I've said this to people like Mitch McConnell . I said, look, on health care reform, you may not agree with me that I -- we should have a public plan. That may be philosophically just too much for you to swallow.

On the other hand, there are some areas like reducing the costs of medical malpractice insurance where you do agree with me. If I'm taking some of your ideas and giving you credit for good ideas, the fact that you didn't get 100 percent can't be a reason every single time to oppose my position.

And if that is how bipartisanship is defined, a situation in which basically, wherever there are philosophical differences, I have to simply go along with ideas that have been rejected by the American people in a historic election, you know, we're probably not going to make progress.

If, on the other hand, the definition is that we're open to each other's ideas, there are going to be differences, the majority will probably be determinative when it comes to resolving just hard, core differences that we can't resolve, but there is a whole host of other areas where we can work together, then I think we can make progress.

QUESTION: Is the Republican Party in the desperate straits that Arlen Specter seems to think it is?

OBAMA: You know, politics in America changes very quick. And I'm a big believer that things are never as good as they seem and never as bad as they seem.

You're talking to a guy who was 30 points down in the polls during a -- a primary in Iowa. So -- so I never -- I don't believe in crystal balls.

I do think that our administration has taken some steps that have restored confidence in the American people that we're moving in the right direction and that simply opposing our approach on every front is probably not a good political strategy.

Ed Henry?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. In a couple of weeks, you're going to be giving the commencement at Notre Dame. And, as you know, this has caused a lot of controversy among Catholics who are opposed to your position on abortion.

As a candidate, you vowed that one of the very things you wanted to do was sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which, as you know, would eliminate federal, state and local restrictions on abortion. And at one point in the campaign when asked about abortion and life, you said that it was above -- quote, "above my pay grade."

Now that you've been president for 100 days, obviously, your pay grade is a little higher than when you were a senator.


Do you still hope that Congress quickly sends you the Freedom of Choice Act so you can sign it?

OBAMA: You know, the -- my view on -- on abortion, I think, has been very consistent. I think abortion is a moral issue and an ethical issue.

I think that those who are pro-choice make a mistake when they -- if they suggest -- and I don't want to create straw men here, but I think there are some who suggest that this is simply an issue about women's freedom and that there's no other considerations. I think, look, this is an issue that people have to wrestle with and families and individual women have to wrestle with.

OBAMA: The reason I'm pro-choice is because I don't think women take that -- that position casually. I think that they struggle with these decisions each and every day. And I think they are in a better position to make these decisions ultimately than members of Congress or a president of the United States, in consultation with their families, with their doctors, with their doctors, with their clergy.

So -- so that has been my consistent position. The other thing that I said consistently during the campaign is I would like to reduce the number of unwanted presidencies that result in women feeling compelled to get an abortion, or at least considering getting an abortion, particularly if we can reduce the number of teen pregnancies, which has started to spike up again.

And so I've got a task force within the Domestic Policy Council in the West Wing of the White House that is working with groups both in the pro-choice camp and in the pro-life camp, to see if we can arrive at some consensus on that.

Now, the Freedom of Choice Act is not highest legislative priority. I believe that women should have the right to choose. But I think that the most important thing we can do to tamp down some of the anger surrounding this issue is to focus on those areas that we can agree on. And that's -- that's where I'm going to focus.

Jeff Zeleny.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

During these first 100 days, what has surprised you the most about this office? Enchanted you the most from serving in this office? Humbled you the most? And troubled you the most?

OBAMA: Now let me write this down.


OBAMA: I've got...

QUESTION: Surprised, troubled...

OBAMA: I've got -- what was the first one?

QUESTION: Surprised.

OBAMA: Surprised.

QUESTION: Troubled.

OBAMA: Troubled.

QUESTION: Enchanted.

OBAMA: Enchanted, nice.


QUESTION: And humbled.

OBAMA: And what was the last one, humbled?

QUESTION: Humbled. Thank you, sir.

OBAMA: All right. OK. Surprised. I am surprised compared to where I started, when we first announced for this race, by the number of critical issues that appear to be coming to a head all at the same time.

You know, when I first started this race, Iraq was a central issue, but the economy appeared on the surface to still be relatively strong. There were underlying problems that I was seeing with health care for families and our education system and college affordability and so forth, but obviously, I didn't anticipate the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

And so, you know, the typical president, I think, has two or three big problems. We've got seven or eight big problems. And so we've had to move very quickly and I'm very proud of my team for the fact that we've been able to keep our commitments to the American people, to bring about change, while at the same time managing a whole host of issues that had come up that weren't necessarily envisioned a year-and-a-half ago.

Troubled? I'd say less troubled, but, you know, sobered by the fact that change in Washington comes slow. That there is still a certain quotient of political posturing and bickering that takes place even when we're in the middle of really big crises.

I would like to think that everybody would say, you know what, let's take a time-out on some of the political games, focus our attention for at least this year, and then we can start running for something next year. And that hasn't happened as much as I would have liked.

Enchanted? Enchanted. I will tell you that when I -- when I meet our servicemen and -women, enchanted is probably not the word I would use.


OBAMA: But I am so profoundly impressed and grateful to them for what they do. They're really good at their job. They are willing to make extraordinary sacrifices on our behalf. They do so without complaint. They are fiercely loyal to this country.

And, you know, the more I interact with our servicemen and women, from the top brass down to the lowliest private, I'm just -- I'm grateful to them.

Humbled by the -- humbled by the fact that the presidency is extraordinarily powerful, but we are just part of a much broader tapestry of American life, and there are a lot of different power centers. And so I can't just press a button and suddenly have the bankers do exactly what I want or, you know, turn on a switch and suddenly, you know, Congress falls in line.

And so, you know, what you do is to -- is to make your best arguments, listen hard to what other people have to say, and coax folks in the right direction.

This metaphor has been used before, but the ship of state is an ocean liner. It's not a speedboat. And so the way we are constantly thinking about this issue, of how to bring about the changes that the American people need, is to -- is to say, if we can move this big battleship a few degrees in a different direction, you may not see all the consequences of that change a week from now or three months from now, but 10 years from now or 20 years from now, our kids will be able to look back and say, "That was when we started getting serious about clean energy. That's when health care started to become more efficient and affordable. That's when we became serious about raising our standards in education."

And -- and so I -- I have a much longer time horizon than I think you do when you're a candidate or if you're listening, I think, to the media reportage on a day-to-day basis.

And I'm humbled, last, by the American people who have shown extraordinary patience and I think a recognition that we're not going to solve all of these problems overnight.

OK. Lori Montenegro?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, when you met with the Hispanic Caucus a few weeks ago, reports came out that the White House was planning to have a forum to talk about immigration and bring it to the forefront.

Going forward, my question is, what is your strategy to try to have immigration reform? And are you still on the same timetable to have it accomplished in the first year of your presidency?

And, also, I'd like to know if you're going to reach out to Senator John McCain , who is Republican and in the past has favored immigration reform?

OBAMA: Well, we reach out to -- to Senator McCain on a whole host of issues. He has been a leader on immigration reform. I think he has had the right position on immigration reform. And I would love to partner with him and others on what is going to be a critical issue. We've also worked with Senator McCain on what I think is a terrific piece of legislation that he and Carl Levin have put together around procurement reform. We want that moved, and we're going to be working hard with them to get that accomplished.

What I told the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is exactly what I said the very next day in a town hall meeting and what I will continue to say publicly, and that is we want to move this process.

We can't continue with a broken immigration system. It's not good for anybody. It's not good for American workers. It's dangerous for Mexican would-be workers who are trying to cross a dangerous border.

OBAMA: It is -- it is putting a strain on border communities, who oftentimes have to deal with a host of undocumented workers. And it keeps those undocumented workers in the shadows, which means they can be exploited at the same time as they're depressing U.S. wages.

So, what I hope to happen is that we're able to convene a working group, working with key legislators like Luis Gutierrez and Nydia Velazquez and others to start looking at a framework of how this legislation might be shaped.

In the meantime, what we're trying to do is take some core -- some key administrative steps to move the process along to lay the groundwork for legislation. Because the American people need some confidence that if we actually put a package together, we can execute.

So Janet Napolitano , who has great knowledge of this because of having been a border governor, she's already in the process of reviewing and figuring out how can we strengthen our border security in a much more significant way than we're doing.

If the American people don't feel like you can secure the borders, then it's hard to strike a deal that would get people out of the shadows and on a pathway to citizenship who are already here, because the attitude of the average American is going to be, well, you're just going to have hundreds of thousands of more coming in each year.

On the other hand, showing that there is a more thoughtful approach than just raids of a handful of workers as opposed to, for example, taking seriously the violation of companies that sometimes are actively recruiting these workers to come in. That's again something we can start doing administratively.

So what we want to do is to show that we are competent and getting results around immigration, even on the structures that we already have in place, the laws that we already have in place, so that we're building confidence among the American people that we can actually follow through on whatever legislative approach emerges. OK?


OBAMA: I see the process moving this first year. And I'm going to be moving it as quickly as I can. I've been accused of doing too much. We are moving full steam ahead on all fronts.

Ultimately, I don't have control of the legislative calendar, and so we're going to work with legislative leaders to see what we can do.

Andre Showell? There you go.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

As the entire nation tries to climb out of this deep recession, in communities of color, the circumstances are far worse. The black unemployment rate, as you know, is in the double digits. And in New York City, for example, the black unemployment rate for men is near 50 percent.

My question to you tonight is given this unique and desperate circumstance, what specific policies can you point to that will target these communities and what's the timetable for us to see tangible results?

OBAMA: Well, keep in mind that every step we're taking is designed to help all people. But, folks who are most vulnerable are most likely to be helped because they need the most help.

So when we passed the Recovery Act, for example, and we put in place provisions that would extend unemployment insurance or allow you to keep your health insurance even if you've lost your job, that probably disproportionately impacted those communities that had lost their jobs. And unfortunately, the African-American community and the Latino community are probably overrepresented in those ranks.

When we put in place additional dollars for community health centers to ensure that people are still getting the help that they need, or we expand health insurance to millions more children through the Children's Health Insurance Program, again, those probably disproportionately impact African-American and Latino families simply because they're the ones who are most vulnerable. They have got higher rates of uninsured in their communities.

So my general approach is that if the economy is strong, that will lift all boats as long as it is also supported by, for example, strategies around college affordability and job training, tax cuts for working families as opposed to the wealthiest that level the playing field and ensure bottom-up economic growth.

And I'm confident that that will help the African-American community live out the American dream at the same time that it's helping communities all across the country.

Michael Scherer of TIME?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. During the campaign, you criticized President Bush's use of the state secrets privilege, but U.S. attorneys have continued to argue the Bush position in three cases in court. How exactly does your view of state secrets differ from President Bush's? And do you believe presidents should be able to derail entire lawsuits about warrantless wiretapping or rendition if classified information is involved?

OBAMA: I actually think that the state secret doctrine should be modified. I think right now it's overbroad.

But keep in mind what happens, is we come in to office. We're in for a week, and suddenly we've got a court filing that's coming up. And so we don't have the time to effectively think through, what exactly should an overarching reform of that doctrine take? We've got to respond to the immediate case in front of us.

There -- I think it is appropriate to say that there are going to be cases in which national security interests are genuinely at stake and that you can't litigate without revealing covert activities or classified information that would genuinely compromise our safety.

But searching for ways to redact, to carve out certain cases, to see what can be done so that a judge in chambers can review information without it being in open court, you know, there should be some additional tools so that it's not such a blunt instrument.

And we're interested in pursuing that. I know that Eric Holder and Greg Craig, my White House counsel, and others are working on that as we speak.

STAFF: Last question.

OBAMA: Jonathan Weisman, you get -- you get the last word. Where are you? There you are.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. You are currently the chief shareholder of a couple of very large mortgage giants. You're about to become the chief shareholder of a car company, probably two.

And I'm wondering, what kind of shareholder are you going to be? What is the government's role as the keeper of public -- public trust and bonds in -- in soon-to-be public companies again? Thank you.

OBAMA: Well, I think our -- our first role should be shareholders that are looking to get out. You know, I don't want to run auto companies. I don't want to run banks. I've got two wars I've got to run already. I've got more than enough to do. So the sooner we can get out of that business, the better off we're going to be.

We are in unique circumstances. You had the potential collapse of the financial system, which would have decimated our economy, and so we had to step in.

As I've said before, I don't agree with every decision that was made by the previous administration when it came to TARP, but the need for significant intervention was there, and it was appropriate that we moved in.

With respect to the auto companies, I believe that America should have a functioning, competitive auto industry. I don't think that taxpayers should simply put -- attach an umbilical cord between the U.S. Treasury and the auto companies so that they are constantly getting subsidies, but I do think that helping them restructure at this unique period when sales -- you know, the market has essentially gone from 14 million down to 9 million, I don't think that there's anything inappropriate about that.

My goal on all this is to help these companies make some tough decisions based on realistic assumptions about economic growth, about their market share, about what that market is going to look like, to prevent systemic risk that would affect everybody, and, as soon as their situations are stabilized and the economy is less fragile so that those systemic risks are diminished, to get out, find some private buyers, and...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) products or services (OFF-MIKE)

OBAMA: I don't think that we should micromanage, but I think that, like any investor, the American taxpayer has the right to scrutinize what's being proposed and make sure that their money is not just being thrown down the drain.

And so, you know, we've got to strike a balance. I don't want to be -- I'm not an auto engineer. I don't know how to create an affordable, well-designed plug-in hybrid. But I know that, if the Japanese can design an affordable, well-designed hybrid, then, doggone it, the American people should be able to do the same.

So my job is to ask the auto industry: Why is it you guys can't do this? And, in some cases, they're starting to do it, but they've got these legacy costs. You know, there are some terrific U.S. cars being made, both by Chrysler and G.M.

The question is, you know, give me a plan so that you're building off your strengths and you're projecting out to where that market is going to be. I actually think, if you look at the trends, that those auto companies that emerge from this crisis, when you start seeing the pent-up demand for autos coming back, they're going to be in a position to really do well, globally, not just here in the United States.

So I just want to help them get there. But I want to disabuse people of this notion that somehow we enjoy, you know, meddling in the private sector, if -- if you could tell me right now that, when I walked into this office that the banks were humming, that autos were selling, and that all you had to worry about was Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, getting health care passed, figuring out how to deal with energy independence, deal with Iran, and a pandemic flu, I would take that deal.


And -- and that's why I'm always amused when I hear these, you know, criticisms of, "Oh, you know, Obama wants to grow government." No. I would love a nice, lean portfolio to deal with, but that's not the hand that's been dealt us.

And, you know, every generation has to rise up to the specific challenges that confront them. We happen to have gotten a big set of challenges, but we're not the first generation that that's happened to. And I'm confident that we are going to meet these challenges just like our grandparents and forbearers met them before. All right? Thank you, everybody.

Why Torture Matters: The Banality of Bush White House Evil

Featured Post: Andy Worthington - Who Ordered the Torture of Abu Zubaydah?
Featured Post: Mark Danner - If Everyone Knew, Who’s to Blame?

bush-vanity-fair3Frank Rich in The New York Times

We don’t like our evil to be banal. Ten years after Columbine, it only now may be sinking in that the psychopathic killers were not jock-hating dorks from a “Trench Coat Mafia,” or, as ABC News maintained at the time, “part of a dark, underground national phenomenon known as the Gothic movement.” In the new best seller “Columbine,” the journalist Dave Cullen reaffirms that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were instead ordinary American teenagers who worked at the local pizza joint, loved their parents and were popular among their classmates.

On Tuesday, it will be five years since Americans first confronted the photographs from Abu Ghraib on “60 Minutes II.” Here, too, we want to cling to myths that quarantine the evil. If our country committed torture, surely it did so to prevent Armageddon, in a patriotic ticking-time-bomb scenario out of “24.” If anyone deserves blame, it was only those identified by President Bush as “a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values”: promiscuous, sinister-looking lowlifes like Lynddie England, Charles Graner and the other grunts who were held accountable while the top command got a pass.

We’ve learned much, much more about America and torture in the past five years. But as Mark Danner recently wrote in The New York Review of Books, for all the revelations, one essential fact remains unchanged: “By no later than the summer of 2004, the American people had before them the basic narrative of how the elected and appointed officials of their government decided to torture prisoners and how they went about it.” When the Obama administration said it declassified four new torture memos 10 days ago in part because their contents were already largely public, it was right.

Yet we still shrink from the hardest truths and the bigger picture: that torture was a premeditated policy approved at our government’s highest levels; that it was carried out in scenarios that had no resemblance to “24”; that psychologists and physicians were enlisted as collaborators in inflicting pain; and that, in the assessment of reliable sources like the F.B.I. director Robert Mueller, it did not help disrupt any terrorist attacks.

The newly released Justice Department memos, like those before them, were not written by barely schooled misfits like England and Graner. John Yoo, Steven Bradbury and Jay Bybee graduated from the likes of Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Michigan and Brigham Young. They have passed through white-shoe law firms like Covington & Burling, and Sidley Austin.

Judge Bybee’s résumé tells us that he has four children and is both a Cubmaster for the Boy Scouts and a youth baseball and basketball coach. He currently occupies a tenured seat on the United States Court of Appeals. As an assistant attorney general, he was the author of the Aug. 1, 2002, memo endorsing in lengthy, prurient detail interrogation “techniques” like “facial slap (insult slap)” and “insects placed in a confinement box.”

He proposed using 10 such techniques “in some sort of escalating fashion, culminating with the waterboard, though not necessarily ending with this technique.” Waterboarding, the near-drowning favored by Pol Pot and the Spanish Inquisition, was prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II. But Bybee concluded that it “does not, in our view, inflict ‘severe pain or suffering.’ ”

Still, it’s not Bybee’s perverted lawyering and pornographic amorality that make his memo worthy of special attention. It merits a closer look because it actually does add something new — and, even after all we’ve heard, something shocking — to the five-year-old torture narrative. When placed in full context, it’s the kind of smoking gun that might free us from the myths and denial that prevent us from reckoning with this ugly chapter in our history.

Bybee’s memo was aimed at one particular detainee, Abu Zubaydah, who had been captured some four months earlier, in late March 2002. Zubaydah is portrayed in the memo (as he was publicly by Bush after his capture) as one of the top men in Al Qaeda. But by August this had been proven false. As Ron Suskind reported in his book “The One Percent Doctrine,” Zubaydah was identified soon after his capture as a logistics guy, who, in the words of the F.B.I.’s top-ranking Qaeda analyst at the time, Dan Coleman, served as the terrorist group’s flight booker and “greeter,” like “Joe Louis in the lobby of Caesar’s Palace.” Zubaydah “knew very little about real operations, or strategy.” He showed clinical symptoms of schizophrenia.

By the time Bybee wrote his memo, Zubaydah had been questioned by the F.B.I. and C.I.A. for months and had given what limited information he had. His most valuable contribution was to finger Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as the 9/11 mastermind. But, as Jane Mayer wrote in her book “The Dark Side,” even that contribution may have been old news: according to the 9/11 commission, the C.I.A. had already learned about Mohammed during the summer of 2001. In any event, as one of Zubaydah’s own F.B.I. questioners, Ali Soufan, wrote in a Times Op-Ed article last Thursday, traditional interrogation methods had worked. Yet Bybee’s memo purported that an “increased pressure phase” was required to force Zubaydah to talk.

As soon as Bybee gave the green light, torture followed: Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, according to another of the newly released memos. Unsurprisingly, it appears that no significant intelligence was gained by torturing this mentally ill Qaeda functionary. So why the overkill? Bybee’s memo invoked a ticking time bomb: “There is currently a level of ‘chatter’ equal to that which preceded the September 11 attacks.”

We don’t know if there was such unusual “chatter” then, but it’s unlikely Zubaydah could have added information if there were. Perhaps some new facts may yet emerge if Dick Cheney succeeds in his unexpected and welcome crusade to declassify documents that he says will exonerate administration interrogation policies. Meanwhile, we do have evidence for an alternative explanation of what motivated Bybee to write his memo that August, thanks to the comprehensive Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainees released last week.

The report found that Maj. Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantánamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful.” As higher-ups got more “frustrated” at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, “there was more and more pressure to resort to measures” that might produce that intelligence.

In other words, the ticking time bomb was not another potential Qaeda attack on America but the Bush administration’s ticking timetable for selling a war in Iraq; it wanted to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections. Bybee’s memo was written the week after the then-secret (and subsequently leaked) “Downing Street memo,” in which the head of British intelligence informed Tony Blair that the Bush White House was so determined to go to war in Iraq that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” A month after Bybee’s memo, on Sept. 8, 2002, Cheney would make his infamous appearance on “Meet the Press,” hyping both Saddam’s W.M.D.s and the “number of contacts over the years” between Al Qaeda and Iraq. If only 9/11 could somehow be pinned on Iraq, the case for war would be a slamdunk.

But there were no links between 9/11 and Iraq, and the White House knew it. Torture may have been the last hope for coercing such bogus “intelligence” from detainees who would be tempted to say anything to stop the waterboarding.

Last week Bush-Cheney defenders, true to form, dismissed the Senate Armed Services Committee report as “partisan.” But as the committee chairman, Carl Levin, told me, the report received unanimous support from its members — John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman included.

Levin also emphasized the report’s accounts of military lawyers who dissented from White House doctrine — only to be disregarded. The Bush administration was “driven,” Levin said. By what? “They’d say it was to get more information. But they were desperate to find a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq.”

Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to “protect” us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from “another 9/11,” torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House’s illegality.

Levin suggests — and I agree — that as additional fact-finding plays out, it’s time for the Justice Department to enlist a panel of two or three apolitical outsiders, perhaps retired federal judges, “to review the mass of material” we already have. The fundamental truth is there, as it long has been. The panel can recommend a legal path that will insure accountability for this wholesale betrayal of American values.

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

War on Terror Watch: Putting Away the "Torture is Effective" Argument

waterboardingOver the weekend, former Bush Administration officials continued blowing smoke that the release of Government memoranda confirming the authorisation of torture was a "threat to national security" (rather than admitting that they are trying to cover up their roles in an illegal and ineffective programme). There was also some media silliness, notably a lengthy piece by Scott Shane in The New York Times that offered the choice, "Would you rather be tortured or hit by a Hellfire missile?" (Scott, I believe the answer is, "Neither.")

Two articles, however, got to the heart of the matter: the Bush-era torture didn't work.
Ironically, the first is by the same Scott Shane of the insipid "waterboarding or death by missile" dilemma:
The first use of waterboarding and other rough treatment against a prisoner from Al Qaeda was ordered by senior Central Intelligence Agency officials despite the belief of interrogators that the prisoner had already told them all he knew, according to former intelligence officials and a footnote in a newly released legal memorandum. The escalation to especially brutal interrogation tactics against the prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, including confining him in boxes and slamming him against the wall, was ordered by officials at C.I.A. headquarters based on a highly inflated assessment of his importance, interviews and a review of newly released documents show. Abu Zubaydah had provided much valuable information under less severe treatment, and the harsher handling produced no breakthroughs, according to one former intelligence official with direct knowledge of the case.

Shane's piece, which follows an even better investigation by Peter Finn and Joby Warrick of The Washington Post, confirms:

1. The first priority for key members of the Bush Administration, based in the Vice President's office and the Department of Defense and supported by the Office of Legal Counsel, was to get acceptance that "enhanced interrogation" could and would be used. 2. Those officials wanted a "demonstration case" for the techniques. To justify that, they needed a "high-value" detainee. They didn't have one at this point (this was before the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, one of the 9-11 planners), so they exaggerated intelligence to create one. 3. Senior CIA officials, probably including Director George Tenet, supported this and overruled CIA personnel "on the ground" who had better knowledge of Abu Zubaydah and the information he was giving. 3. The torture of Abu Zubaydah set aside an interrogation which was providing some useful information and instead led to inaccurate and false statements. At the website Firedoglake, "Emptywheel" pulls out an important detail from the torture memoranda:
The CIA used the waterboard "at least 83 times during August 2002" in the interrogation of Zubaydah and 183 times during March 2003 in the interrogation of KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammad].

To put that number in perspective, Emptywheel notes this paragraph:
...where authorized, it may be used for two "sessions" per day of up to two hours. During a session, water may be applied up to six times for ten seconds or longer (but never more than 40 seconds). In a 24-hour period, a detainee may be subjected to up to twelve minutes of water appliaction. Additionally, the waterboard may be used on as many as five days during a 30-day approval period.

That adds up to a maximum --- for 12 minutes in a 24-hour period --- of 90 waterboarding in a month, only 1/2 of the actual treatment of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. Yet, six years later, despite this extraordinary application of "enhanced interrogation" techniques, Bush Administration defenders of torture still cannot point to one significant piece of intelligence produced by the waterboardings.

Obama v. The Military (Part 441): Odierno Launches an Offensive from Iraq

Related Post: UPDATED - General Odierno Backs Down?
Related Post: Video and Transcript - General Odierno on CNN’s State of the Union

odierno-timesEven as I was writing about the challenge of General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, to the Obama strategy on Afghanistan, another military commander was re-launching an offensive against the President.

General Raymond Odierno's battlefield is Iraq, where he supervises US troops. For months, he has been unhappy over the Obama plan to reduce American forces. So, only weeks after the compromise of a 19-month withdrawal was announced, Odierno has returned to the attack.

His initial campaign was in The Times of London, which gave him a couple of pages on Thursday. As we predicted, the recent "uptick in violence" in Iraq will be used by Odierno to resist the July deadline to take US troops out of Iraqi cities:

[The violence] is not going to be solved quickly and it’s about having constant security across Baghdad and you have to be that way a while longer....The agreement says that combat forces out of the cities by June 30 so all of our support forces will remain. But we will be prepared to assist them if they need it.

Of course, the general has to maintain the Looking Glass View that, while violence is getting worse, the situation is getting better: "What is different now from 2004 is that we do have Iraqi security forces that people still have faith in, we do have a government in place that will come out and make comments."

What is most striking in Odierno's public-relations campaign is that his definition of the fight in Washington is much clearer than the fight in Iraq. He rattles off a check-list of challenges --- integrating the "Sons of Iraq", the Sunni militias that the US built up from 2007, into the Iraqi military; Arab-Kurd tensions; "Iranian influence"; Al Qa'eda; "a common vision by all political leaders for Iraq" --- without any apparent distinction between those issues or a strategy on how to approach them.

For all the puffery on how the Odierno of 2009 is different from the Odierno of 2003/4, who led his division in the breaking down of Iraqi doors and alienating of local sympathies, the general still holds up "Iraq" as this abstract political space in which bad guys lurk: "In a region such as the Middle East you are going to continue to have people who want to use violence, whether it be al-Qaeda, whether it be Iranian surrogates."

That, however, is an advantage if your primary concern is not Iraqi political stability but the defense of your military operations, which never really come to an end.

Odierno's next campaign appearance? Today on CNN's flagship political programme with John King.