A controversial 2003 Justice Department memo released.

A controversial 2003 Justice Department memo released.

A controversial 2003 Justice Department memo released.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 2 2008 5:46 AM

Yoo Said It

The Washington Post leads with the release of a notorious 2003 Justice Department memo that argued that military interrogators didn't have to follow the law because they were defending the country. The New York Times leads with Senate leaders vowing to bring bipartisan legislation to help homeowners at risk of foreclosure, a story that also tops the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox. The Los Angeles Times leads with the federal government saying it will waive a variety of environmental regulations to ease construction of a fence between the United States and Mexico. USA Today leads with Federal Aviation Administration whistleblowers saying that top FAA officials are too cozy with airlines and block enforcement of safety rules.  

The interrogation memo, written by John Yoo, then the second-ranking official at the Office of Legal Counsel, put forward a "national and international version of the right to self-defense." The existence of the memo has been known for a long time, but it was released only yesterday.

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According to the memo: "If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network. … In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch's constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions."

Legal scholars competed with each other to come up with the strongest possible denunciation of the memo. "This is a monument to executive supremacy and the imperial presidency," one told the NYT, which also fronted the story. But the Post got an e-mail from Yoo himself, now a law professor, who said: "Far from inventing some novel interpretation of the Constitution … our legal advice to the President, in fact, was near boilerplate." The Post also helpfully posts PDFs of the memo, in two parts, so you can be appalled yourself.

Senators have just gotten back from a two-week recess, and apparently they heard from constituents who aren't happy the government bailed out investment bank Bear Sterns without doing anything to help ordinary homeowners hit by the country's economic crisis. "Everyone was home for a couple of weeks, and if they heard what I heard in Florida, I think that they realize this is a serious, serious problem," said Florida's Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, as quoted in the LAT, which off-leads the story.

Lawmakers still haven't finalized the details of the bipartisan housing bill, but the papers say its provisions are likely to include money to issue bonds to refinance subprime loans, funding for counseling programs for at-risk homeowners, and requirements for lenders to give more information to homebuyers. It would leave out a controversial provision of a Democratic-backed bill, the ability of bankruptcy judges to modify home loan terms. The bill could be ready as early as this afternoon, the NYT says.

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The Department of Homeland Security and its head, Michael Chertoff, apparently got tired of dealing with all the regulations that the border fence was up against. It had already prepared draft environmental impact assessments as required by law, and "environmental groups said they were awaiting the final reports when Chertoff made the announcement."

"It's surprising how cursory their reviews have been," said Kim Delfino, director of the California branch of Defenders of Wildlife. "There's a lot of boilerplate and analysis shifted from one document to another. It's kind of like they were going through the motions." With the new waivers, DHS hopes to finish the 670-mile project by the end of the year.

Zimbabwe's longtime dictator Robert Mugabe appeared to be losing control of his country, as initial results from Saturday's presidential election show an opposition candidate winning, and there are apparently talks underway for a peaceful handover of power. Both the NYT and the Post put the story on the front page.

Both the WSJ and Post find bad news for John McCain as he runs for president in a struggling economy. One of his top advisers, Phil Gramm, led the deregulation of the banking and financial services industry as a senator in the 1990s and is now a vice chairman of a bank wrapped up in the subprime mortgage crisis. Another adviser is Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, who was publicly ousted by the company's board. The Post asks  if these people are good for McCain to be tied to publicly. "I, for one, have thought about it a lot," one McCain adviser answered. "And that's all I will say."

The Journal, meanwhile, finds that business groups that are traditionally Republican-friendly are donating more to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama than to McCain. One reason is that McCain has annoyed many business leaders with his vaunted "maverick" approach; another is that people don't expect him to win. Corporations have been "moving in a direction where the electorate is likely to be," a Democratic analyst said.

Also in the papers … Intelligence centers operated by states have more personal data on you than you probably were aware of, the Post finds. Also in the Post, South Dakota is going to try another abortion ban referendum. The United Kingdom is showing a stiff upper lip and putting its troop drawdown in Basra on hold in light of increased violence there, the NYT says. A House committee dabbled in the online world of Second Life, with predictably cringe-worthy results, the Post reports. The LAT says the Olympic torch is set to make its only appearance in the United States next week, in San Francisco, and the Chinese are probably thinking twice about choosing a city with such a high per-capita number of angry activists. Mormons and Muslims are finding that they have a lot in common, the LAT reports. "A Mormon living in an Islamic society would be very comfortable," one Mormon tells the paper.

Joshua Kucera is a journalist based in Istanbul and the Turkey/Caucasus editor of EurasiaNet.