Pelosi raises stakes in interrogation controversy; Detroit's pain is spreading.

Pelosi raises stakes in interrogation controversy; Detroit's pain is spreading.

Pelosi raises stakes in interrogation controversy; Detroit's pain is spreading.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 15 2009 6:47 AM

Pelosi Knew About Water-Boarding

The Washington Postand the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with the continuing debate over whether the CIA fully informed lawmakers about the interrogation techniques used by the Bush administration on terror suspects. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, involved in a controversy that has been bubbling for weeks, decided to up the ante and explicitly accused the CIA of knowingly misleading Congress about the practices. But she also admitted for the first time that in early 2003 she knew the CIA had used water-boarding on detainees. USA Todayleads with a look at how the federal government is having difficulty getting rid of more than 50,000 houses it currently owns. Most of the houses became federal property when borrowers defaulted on government-backed loans. Like all sellers in this market, the government is having trouble unloading the homes, particularly since they are concentrated in struggling areas.

The New York Timesleads with recently released Mexican census data that show there was a 25 percent decline in emigrants from Mexico during the year that ended in August 2008 compared with the previous year. The vast majority of people who leave Mexico go to the United States. Experts say Mexicans are delaying coming into the United States because of the lack of jobs in the current economic crisis. Still, despite what many have been saying, there's no evidence of a mass exodus of Mexicans living in the United States, at least so far. The Los Angeles Timesleads with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger presenting lawmakers with two alternative budgets, both of which would translate into "substantial pain" for "almost every constituency in the state." Along with cuts in education and health care, Schwarzenegger also proposed selling some of the state's best-known landmarks, including the Los Angeles Coliseum and the San Quentin state prison.

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Republicans have been accusing Pelosi of hypocrisy for harshly criticizing the Bush administration's use of torture on terror suspects when she knew it was going on and didn't try to stop them. Yesterday, in a "heated" ( WP), "contentious" ( WSJ), and "tense" ( NYT) news conference, Pelosi said that in a 2002 briefing, she was told that water-boarding had been deemed legal by the Justice Department but was not being used on detainees. But she also acknowledged that five months later, a senior aide attended a briefing on the harsh interrogation techniques and informed her that water-boarding was being used. "At every step of the way, the administration was misleading Congress," Pelosi said. "And that's the issue."

The CIA responded by noting the recently released chart that said a September 2002 briefing  Pelosi attended included discussions of the interrogation techniques "that had been employed." But the WP notes that's hardly a resounding contradiction mainly because the CIA records on the matter "are based on the almost seven-year-old recollections of officials present for the briefings." Government officials tell the Post that it might never be possible to really know who was told what because no one wrote up a precise transcript. Regardless, it seems clear now that this issue "will drag into the summer," a time when the Obama administration had hoped lawmakers could make progress on its domestic agenda.

The WP's Dan Balz writes that Pelosi's move "was either a calculated escalation of a long-running feud" or  "a reckless act by a politician," or both. Pelosi's statement amounts "to a virtual declaration of war against the CIA," an agency still reeling from Obama's decision to release the torture memos. It is clear that "whether by design or accident" Pelosi "succeeded in enlarging a controversy that is no longer a sideshow." How could this help her? Well, Pelosi favors a truth commission to investigate the Bush era, and her explosive charges against the CIA could make that more likely, even though the president and several Democratic leaders have come out against it.

The LAT fronts, and WSJ goes inside with, word that the White House will announce today plans to bring back the military commission system from the Bush years in order to try terrorism suspects. The LAT calls it a reversal of Obama's campaign promise to rely on federal courts and the traditional military justice system. But the WSJ doesn't quite see it that way, noting that while Obama has criticized the Bush approach, he has also said he could back a system of military trials if they could likely withstand a legal challenge. The administration will also institute several major changes to the military commission system to expand the legal rights of defendants. Evidence obtained through "cruel, inhuman or degrading" interrogations will be banned and the use of hearsay evidence will be restricted. Detainees will also be given more flexibility in choosing their lawyers.

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The administration still intends to prosecute some Guantanamo detainees in federal court, as well as release others. In fact, the WSJ hears word that Obama will also announce developments on both fronts. The Guantanamo detainee accused of carrying the 1998 embassy bombings will be prosecuted in federal court, and another detainee will be resettled in France. It looks like the military commissions will try at least 50 cases, in which the prisoners are seen as dangerous but the government lacks sufficient evidence to prosecute.

In an analysis piece inside, the NYT states that if Obama is serious about keeping the photographs of prisoner abuse out of the public's hands, his best bet might be to classify them. That would allow him to claim they're exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. As many have noted, the obvious route would be for the administration to go to the Supreme Court, but that "would preclude playing the classification card," notes the paper. Some think courts might have an issue with the fact that the material wasn't classified before, but even so, the administration could, at the very least, delay the release of the photographs for months, if not years.

Everybody fronts news that the downsizing of Detroit's Big Three that has hit hard in Michigan and much of the Midwest is spreading the pain across the country. Chrylser announced that it will close 789 dealerships by June 9. Dealers in every state except Alaska are on the list. The pain will spread today, when General Motors is expected to give bad news to as many as 1,200 of its dealers. That's without counting the additional 1,400 GM dealers that will likely be forced to close as the automaker finalizes restructuring plans. All in all, "nearly 20% of the nation's roughly 19,000 auto dealerships will be forced out of business," notes the LAT.

The NYT fronts an interesting look at how the companies that make processed foods are increasingly "unable to guarantee the safety of their ingredients." The problem is particularly bad with frozen foods that often require thorough cooking in order to be safe, which is something that consumers often overlook. Many of the companies say it's the consumer's responsibility to make sure the food is thoroughly cooked before eating. But many don't have prominent or easy-to-understand instructions, and even those that do don't actually achieve the required result. The NYT followed directions on several brands of frozen meals and found that none of them reached the required temperature to kill any pathogens.

Everyone notes that former Vice President Dick Cheney was denied his request to declassify memos pertaining to the success or failure of the CIA's harsh interrogation methods. The CIA said it wouldn't declassify the documents because they are part of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The LAT notes the group that filed that lawsuit finds it ironic that the CIA would use a suit that seeks to get the release of the documents as a reason for not doing so. "It is unusual for Amnesty International to find itself on the same side ... as Cheney," said a counterterrorism expert at the organization. "But we welcome his late conversion to the value of transparency in government."

The LAT fronts a dispatch from Neumont University, aka Geek Heaven, where students can choose only one major: computer science. While the six-year-old school has found success in placing students at some of the biggest names in the industry, employers often complain that graduates can't get away from the computer and have trouble socializing with colleagues. So, administrators have started social clubs and are forcing students to take classes in public speaking and interpersonal communication. But students have resisted the efforts, saying that one of the main reasons they chose to attend the for-profit university was to be with people who had similar interests. "Back in high school, I was the lone geek," said a student. "Now I'm surrounded by geeks."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.