The Torture Never Stops
The New York Times leads with word that senior CIA officials ordered the use of water-boarding and other rough treatment against an al-Qaida detainee, despite interrogators' conviction that the prisoner had already revealed everything he knew. In a similar off-lead story, the Washington Post investigates the role of psychologists and other health officials in condoning and facilitating the abuse of detainees; medical ethicists say the supervising psychologists and physicians violated their profession's basic standards by participating in the interrogations.
The Post and the Wall Street Journal lead on news of a major shift in U.S. environmental policy: The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday declared greenhouse gases to be pollutants, clearing the way for their regulation. Meanwhile, President Obama arrived in Trinidad yesterday for a gathering of Western Hemisphere leaders; the Los Angeles Times leads on his efforts to broker warmer relations between Washington and Havana. "The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba," Obama declared, before heading off for a chummy photo opportunity with Hugo Chávez.
An already-cooperative al-Qaida prisoner, initially believed to be a senior leader but later determined to be merely a personnel clerk, was water-boarded, slammed against walls, confined in boxes, and deprived of food, despite his captors' belief that he knew nothing of further value, reports the NYT. An official involved in the interrogation said the treatment, carried out on direct orders from CIA headquarters, plunged the prisoner into the "depths of human misery and degradation" but produced no new breakthroughs. "He pleaded for his life," the official said. "But he gave up no new information. He had no more information to give."
Inside, the NYT reports that further revelations are likely, with members of Congress and human rights lawyers pushing for more details about CIA interrogations in the light of the torture memos released this week. "These are the first dominoes," said one ACLU lawyer. "It will be difficult for the new administration to now argue that other documents can be lawfully withheld." On the other hand, the LAT reports that the White House and the Senate intelligence committee are in the early stages of conducting studies to determine whether water-boarding produced useful evidence—a process that "may determine whether the methods banned by President Obama will ever be used again by the U.S." (Looks like Slate's Dahlia Lithwick may have been onto something.)
The Obama administration took the first step yesterday toward directly regulating greenhouse emissions, declaring carbon dioxide and five other warming gases to be pollutants. As the LAT notes, that's a sharp break with the Bush-era policy of simply ignoring climate change, and opens the door for the EPA to regulate the gases directly. That could affect broad swathes of the U.S. economy; still, agency officials said there would be a lengthy review process, and the WSJ reports that new regulations could be years away. The Post notes that the move puts added pressure on Congress to move to limit greenhouse gases through new legislation, as the President would prefer. "Whether Congress can rise to the challenge this year is an open question," sighs the NYT.
As an undemocratic nation, Cuba is barred from attending the Summit of the Americas; still, arriving in Port of Spain, Obama had warm words for Raúl Castro, prompting speculation that a historic thaw in Cuban-American relations is in the offing. "I know there is a longer journey that must be traveled in overcoming decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take toward a new day," the President said, adding that he was prepared to engage directly with Cuba on a wide range of issues. The carefully stage-managed move went down a storm at the summit, earning Obama plaudits from regional leaders and a hearty handshake from Hugo Chávez; from Havana, Raúl Castro welcomed the comments and said he was ready to discuss "everything, everything, everything" with the Obama administration.
While Obama's gesture—and Hillary Clinton's admission that America's past regional policies had failed—went down well, it's unclear exactly what happens next. The NYT calls for Obama to go all-in and lift the economic embargo of Cuba and to demand that in exchange Havana releases political prisoners and respects human rights. The Post is more restrained, noting that some observers question Castro's willingness to change his policies as well as merely his rhetoric. "This was nothing new," said Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue. "This wasn't an overture at all."
Back home, Citigroup raised eyebrows by clawing its way back into the black yesterday, posting a strong first-quarter profit despite the continued deterioration of many of its core businesses. The NYT accuses the banking giant of engaging in legal but "creative" accounting to gloss over its problems, in the hope of attracting private investment and extricating itself from the strings attached to government bailout money. The Post similarly notes that with increasing numbers of consumers defaulting on loans, America's bankers don't have much to smile about. "We don't see the light at the end of the tunnel," admits Citigroup's chief financial officer.
Under new guidelines being circulated by the National Institutes of Health, researchers will soon be able to receive federal funding for stem-cell research using spare fertility-clinic embryos. In an effort to placate anti-abortion campaigners, however, scientists will not be permitted to create new embryos for research purposes. The NYT notes that while the move drew criticism from both sides, researchers generally greeted the new rules as a step in the right direction. The Post calls the move "an intelligent solution" but argues that the White House should have made the decision directly rather than lumbering the NIH's scientific experts with a political hot potato.
The captain of a freighter hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia returned home to Vermont yesterday to be greeted by cheering, pompom-waving crowds. A pirate captured during the Navy SEAL rescue operation will also soon be heading to America: The NYT reports that law-enforcement officials plan to try the pirate in a Manhattan courtroom. "Just what New York needs—another show trial," grumbles one defense attorney.
Ben Whitford writes for the Guardian, Mother Jones and Newsweek.