Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Strong Tsunami coverage continues, White House floats a new 'explanation' about Gonzales and those torture memos; Frist threatens to go nuclear

Today's New York Times features strong topics on the front page.

Amy Waldman and David Rohde's Fearing a Sea That Once Sustained, Then Killed continues the strong efforts to explain the human costs of the tsunami:

He pointed to where the tsunami had rewritten the coastline, tracing curves in place of a straight edge. It seemed to reflect the way the murderous surge also rewrote, perhaps permanently, the covenant between the people of this island nation and the sea that surrounds it.
. . .
For fishermen, hotel keepers and all the others who live and work along the coasts, there is a toll beyond lost lives, homes and livelihoods. There is the new psychological strain of being surrounded by, and still dependent on, a force that proved so merciless. It took Sri Lanka's civil war 18 years to kill 64,000 people. In under an hour, the tsumani killed almost half that many.

Scott Shane covers the donations in Pledges Grow, Hurdles Loom in Relief Effort:

With television broadcasts showing American servicemen delivering aid to victims of the last week's tsunami, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell candidly acknowledged the hope that the United States' military help and its $350 million contribution might improve America's image in the Islamic world. Indonesia, home of two-thirds of the estimated 150,000 people who have died, is the world's most populous Muslim country.
"We'd be doing it regardless of religion," Mr. Powell said here on the second day of his tour through the region with Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida. "But I think it does give the Muslim world and the rest of the world an opportunity to see American generosity, American values in action."

Powell's UN speech in 2003 is a mark against him that won't go away. But he has been one of the more sane voices in this administration. (That's meant as more of a compliment than it sounds.) He does grasp the importance of this situtation. That's not at all surprising. But take a moment and ask yourself who we don't hear from? Where is that elusive Condi Rice?

Does she not want to be the next secretary of state? One of the biggest global tragedies and she's yet to weigh in? Maybe she's busy on other things? Or maybe someone's still explaining where the Soviet Union went to her? (Rice's area of "expertise" is the Soviet Union. Which is no more. Maybe she's brushing up on Russia and the republics? Breakaway and otherwise? If so, it's past time someone in the administration do that since the bond between Bush and Putin was always questionable and only grows more questionable as Putin's actions become more widely known.)

Bush's Counsel Sought Ruling About Torture by David Johnston and Neil A. Lewis either charts the administration's latest attempts at revisionism or else reveals it to be (at best) even more "laid back" than we feared when it comes to oversight.

Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, intervened directly with Justice Department lawyers in 2002 to obtain a legal ruling on the extent of the president's authority to permit extreme interrogation practices in the name of national security, current and former administration officials said Tuesday.
. . .
The request by Mr. Gonzales produced the much-debated Justice Department memorandum of Aug. 1, 2002, which defined torture narrowly and said that Mr. Bush could circumvent domestic and international prohibitions against torture in the name of national security.

Until now, administration officials have been unwilling to provide details about the role Mr. Gonzales had in the production of the memorandum by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Mr. Gonzales has spoken of the memorandum as a response to questions, without saying that most of the questions were his.
Current and former officials who talked about the memorandum have been provided with firsthand accounts about how it was prepared.

Catch that? We're getting "what happened" from people who've, at best, been told what happened. That's not firsthand information for readers. But it's a nice scrub job of Gonzales' role in this embarrassment to our nation and our democracy.

Officials dispute how much senior Justice Department officials knew of the memorandum as it was being prepared. A former official and a current one said that neither Attorney General John Ashcroft nor his deputy, Larry D. Thompson, were aware of the memorandum until it was about to be submitted to the White House.

That is what I hope is bunk. The idea that the Justice Dept. leadership is unaware of a White House request is really hard to believe. It's not in keeping with previous administrations or historical records of those administrations. Perhaps things are so laid back in the current administration that it's true? Perhaps every day is 'causual Friday' in the Justice Dept.?

If so, it's all the more embarrassing. This was supposedly part of the "war on terror" and it was a White House request but we're supposed to believe that key figures had no idea that people under them were working on a White House request on this matter? Is this another 'communication breakdown' Congress needs to address?

But a senior administration official disagreed, saying that the memorandum's conclusions appeared to closely align with the prevailing White House view of interrogation practices. The official said the memorandum raised questions about whether the Office of Legal Counsel had maintained its longstanding tradition of dispensing objective legal advice to its clients in executive-branch agencies.

That sounds a great deal more logical and in keeping with comments at the time from the administration.

So how's the effort to win hearts & minds going in Iraq? Check out Richard A. Oppel, Jr.'s Iraqi Governor Slain by Gunmen; Bombing Kills 10.

Carl Hulse weighs in with After Retreat, G.O.P. Changes House Ethics Rule:

As he laid out the Republican agenda, Dr. Frist said he would no longer allow Democrats to filibuster any of President Bush's judicial nominees. He said he chose not to follow recommendations to immediately move to change the rules to bar filibusters, saying he wanted to give Democrats the opportunity to show "self-restraint" on judicial nominations.

Lock up the cats & kittens, America, Frist is on the war path. Years and years of tradition out the window as Frist has a snit fit. The long threatened "nuclear option" appears to be on the horizon and Frist's finger is on the button. Now would be a good time to contact your senators (Republicans or Democrats) and let them know you do not support a move to junk years of tradition and you do not support the latest Frist tantrum.

Finally Douglas Jehl's View From Washington: U.S. Said to Weigh Sanctions on Syria Over Iraqi Network explains that we're very interested in Syria. That must be because of recent allegations against them regarding a plot to take out rulers in Saudi Arabia, right? Oh wait, that wasn't them. Well no reason to question this administration's success at multi-tasking, right?
Oh wait, wrong again.

In addition to Waldman, Rohde and Shane, others addressing the tsunami in this morning's Times includes Tyler Hicks, Saurabh Das (Associated Press), Nicholas Confessore, Hari Kumar, Jean Chung, Wayne Arnold, Chang W. Lee, Eric Lipton, and Eugene Hoshiko (Assoicated Press).

Inside don't miss the news that Porter Goss "has abolished a daily 5 p.m. meeting that had been used since the Sept. 11 attacks to coordinate counterterrorism operations around the world, intelligence officials said on Tuesday."

That information can be found in Douglas Jehl's C.I.A. Chief Names Deputy and Ends Meetings.