Barely Legal, White House Style

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 8 2004 4:08 AM

Barely Legal, White House Style

The  Washington Postleads with, and  New York Timesoff-leads, follow-up to yesterday's Wall Street Journal bombshell that administration lawyers penned a brief last spring asserting that the president is allowed to order torture and detailing how torture statutes and treaties purportedly don't apply. The Post says that memo appears to be largely based on an August 2002 Justice Department briefing, which stated that torture "may be justified ... in order to prevent further attacks on the United States." That memo said that for torture to cross the line, it "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." The NYT's top national story details the United States' plans to pull a third of its troops from South Korea, the biggest reduction since the Korean War. The move, which comes as the U.S. is repositioning troops around the world, has caused some worry in South Korea, mostly among conservatives, that relations with the U.S. are deteriorating and that Uncle Sam is turning tail. The  Los Angeles Timesleads with the Supreme Court's 9-0 vote clearing the way for Mexican trucks to cross the border. A lower court had mandated environmental studies before the dirtier-burning trucks could haul around the U.S. The Supremes ruled that NAFTA takes precedence.  USA Today  leads with farewell services for former President Ronald Reagan; his body arrived yesterday at his presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif.

The NYT adds a few excerpts detailing the March 2003 report's clear-as-can-be definitions for torture. For instance, the report stipulated that even though an interrogator might know "that severe pain will result from his actions, if causing such harm is not his objective he lacks the requisite specific intent even though the defendant did not act in good faith." The report concluded, "A defendant is guilty of torture only if he acts with the express purpose of inflicting severe pain or suffering on a person within his control."

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As the Journal noted yesterday, some military lawyers objected to the administration's stance. "It's really unprecedented. For almost 30 years we've taught the Geneva Convention one way," one military attorney told the Post. "Once you start telling people it's okay to break the law, there's no telling where they might stop."

The military insisted that the memos were just lawyer talk. "What is legal and what is put into practice is a different story," said a Pentagon spokesman. The Post notes thatafter the memo was passed around, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld approved 24 interrogation techniques for Gitmo. The military hasn't released a list of them.

The NYT says inside that it was common to keep suspected guerrillas naked at Abu Ghraib, and it appears that the practice started well before the supposedly rogue unit arrived and took the now infamous photos. As the Times mentions, there have been other accounts of forced nudity at U.S. prisons in Afghanistan and Gitmo.

According to early morning reports, three attacks in northern Iraq killed at least 15 civilians and wounded about 125.

The papers all note inside that U.S. and other Security Council countries now appear to have reached a deal on a resolution for Iraq. The latest draft promises "close coordination" on security between foreign forces and the Iraqi government. As the Post notices, the resolution also allows the multinational force to take "all necessary measures" for security in the country.

Everybody goes inside with Iraq's interim prime minister announcing that most of the country's militias have agreed to dissolve themselves, with members mostly joining new Iraqi security forces. But the purported agreement didn't include Muqtada Sadr's militia—the only one that's fighting the U.S.—and leaders of country's largest native force, the Kurdish peshmerga, said it didn't apply to them either. "No change. Nothing," said one top Kurd. "We are like any army in the area." Under the interim government rules, forces in Kurdish areas will remain under Kurdish command. Meanwhile, the largest Shiite militia, SCIRI, also put off talk of disarming; as the Post notes, one of SCIRI's leaders was assassinated yesterday.

The Journal reports that 14 months after occupying Iraq, the U.S. has hit on a new idea to quell the insurgency: a public works program. In Baghdad alone, the military plans to spend $240 million. Proconsul Paul Bremer had been holding the money back to save it for larger-scale projects. "The harder we work to get dollars for these projects, the fewer of my soldiers will get shot at," said one commander. The Journal says the revised focus came after the military stopped buying its own spin that the guerrillas "consisted of a mix of former Baathists, intent on seeing Saddam Hussein return to power, and foreign jihadis."

The papersmention inside that one U.S. soldier was killed and two wounded in an attack in Afghanistan.

The NYT notes inside that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has decided to team up with his country's warlords rather than try to stand up to them in the upcoming elections.

As the Post did yesterday, the LAT's editorial page reminds that despite plenty of rhetoric, nobody has done much about the ethnic cleansing and killing in Darfur, where Sudan is blocking aid to refugees. With the U.S. too stretched to offer troops, the LAT says there's only one solution: Europe needs to pony up.

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.

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