The New York Timesleads with word that CIA interrogators used water-boarding 266 times on two al-Qaida detainees. The CIA used the simulated drowning technique, which senior Obama officials have described as torture, 83 times on Abu Zubaydah in 2002 and 183 times on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2003. USA Todayleads with a look at how the federal government has so far committed only $60 billion for projects from the $787 billion stimulus package. Of the $499 billion allotted to new spending, the bulk of the money has so far gone out as financial aid to states and to help carry out highway repairs, among other public works. Some are raising concerns that the money isn't being spent quickly enough to help the ailing economy.
The Washington Postleads with a look at how the Taliban takeover of Pakistan's Swat Valley has emboldened Islamist militant leaders to publicly urge the implementation of sharia, or Islamic law, in the whole country. While government officials hoped that they could slow the spread of extremism in Pakistan by appeasing the Taliban, it seems militants are more motivated than ever to take their fight to the rest of the country. "The government made a big mistake to give these guys legal cover for their agenda. Now they are going to be battle-ready to struggle for the soul of Pakistan," one expert tells the paper. The Wall Street Journalleads with the positive responses that President Obama elicited from Latin American leaders during the fifth Summit of the Americas. Cuba's Raúl Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez both made it clear they were willing to work with the new president to improve relations, but it's unclear whether the "overtures … would augur improved relations with the U.S. or just a smooth patch in a long and often unfriendly road," notes the paper. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally with a look at how California lawmakers will be asking voters to take away $2 billion from popular state programs designed to help young children and the mentally ill. The programs were approved by voters, but now lawmakers want to use that money to help balance the budget.
The number of times water-boarding was used on two key al-Qaida prisoners wasn't mentioned in the initial coverage of the CIA memos released last week because it seems the information had been redacted in some copies. But the numbers were visible in others and started trickling out this weekend after several bloggers pointed them out. It's unclear whether the information was supposed to be redacted. When asked whether it was true that Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, had been water-boarded 183 times, Michael Hayden, who led the CIA for the last two years of the Bush administration, told Fox News he believed that information was still classified. Regardless, the numbers indicate that the controversial interrogation technique was used far more often than previously believed and raise questions about its effectiveness in eliciting information from detainees. In 2007, a former CIA officer told news organizations that Zubaydah had been water-boarded for a mere 35 seconds before he broke down and spilled everything he knew.
The WP hears news that Obama will gather his Cabinet for the first time today and order officials to come up with $100 million in combined budget cuts over the next 90 days. Although the cuts would amount to a tiny proportion of federal spending, they are meant to show that Obama is serious about reducing costs and reforming government.
The NYT off-leads with word that the Obama administration is considering converting the government's preferred shares in the nation's largest banks into common stock. This would allow the White House to stretch the $700 billion bailout funds without having to go to Congress to ask for more money. Changing the loans to common stock could provide banks with more than $100 billion in additional capital. While it wouldn't involve more taxpayer money, the move is likely to be controversial because some are likely to consider it "a back door to nationalization," as the NYT puts it, since the government could end up being the largest shareholder at several institutions. It would also involve a higher risk for taxpayers as the government's investment would be more vulnerable to the ups and downs of the stock market. This tactic was already used with Citigroup, and now the White House "seems convinced that this maneuver can be used to make up for any shortfall in capital that the big banks confront in the near term," notes the paper.
The WSJ takes a look at Treasury Department data and points out that the biggest recipients of federal money under the Troubled Asset Relief Program made or refinanced 23 percent less in new loans in February than in October, when the program got started. All but three of the 19 largest recipients of TARP funds made fewer loans in February than October. The WSJ's way of slicing the data "paints a starker picture of the lending environment" than the government's monthly reports. Many say the Treasury analyzes the data in such a way that ultimately understates the drop in lending.
In the LAT's second piece in its series on Obama's first 100 days, the paper takes a look at the president's carefully thought-out media strategy to portray the first family as "regular folks." The White House periodically releases images of the family to decrease the value of paparazzi shots. At the same time, the administration has invited unconventional outlets, such as Access Hollywood and Extra, to get a glimpse of the first family's life. This access means that a celebrity news outlet thinks twice before publishing unauthorized pictures since angering the White House could translate into being cut off from any further "exclusives." Although dealing with celebrity news outlets is hardly a new trend for presidents, experts say "the Obamas are taking this engagement to a new level."
Today is April 20, a date that "has long been an unofficial day of celebration for marijuana fans," notes the NYT in an article that points out legalization advocates feel like they'll have more to celebrate in this year's "high holiday" because there's a feeling that more are beginning to accept the drug. "There's a sense that the notion of legalizing marijuana is starting to cross the fringes into mainstream debate," one advocate said. The movement has won some high-profile backers recently, including Reps. Barney Frank and Ron Paul. In the face of economic woes, some state lawmakers have suggested the drug should be legalized and taxed to help close budget shortfalls. Even conservative firebrand Glenn Beck has sounded amenable to the idea. "[A]ny time you've got Glenn Beck and Barney Frank agreeing on something," said the director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, "it's either a sign that change is impending or that the end times are here."