Believe It or Not
Thursday, September 7, 2006; 12:52 PM
White House reporters sometimes see right through the official line. For instance, White House aides repeatedly insisted yesterday that President Bush's surprise announcement about detainee policy had nothing to do with the upcoming election.
The press corps didn't buy it. Rather, they identified it as a bold political gambit, cleverly and effectively designed to change the subject from the unpopular war in Iraq to the more Republican-friendly topic of national security and Sept. 11.
But when it came to the substance of what Bush had to say, the coverage was less skeptical.
Undoubtedly, it was a big news day. And there were some noteworthy reversals in the administration's positions. For instance, after months of expressing fury over The Washington Post's disclosure of a network of secret CIA prisons around the world, Bush suddenly championed them and announced the transfer of the network's last 14 high-profile prisoners to Guantanamo Bay. A new military code was released yesterday that would appear to put the armed forces' interrogation techniques firmly in line with international standards. And Bush, almost five years late, is finally and officially recognizing that Congress has a role in setting up a legal system for detainees.
But in his core defense of his administration's treatment of detainees, was Bush credible?
In insisting once again that "the United States doesn't torture," what definitions was Bush using? In crediting the secrecy under which the CIA prisons operated and the harsh tactics they used with significant intelligent breakthroughs, was Bush reporting the facts accurately?
A skeptical view on what Bush said yesterday suggests that under the cover of some impressive-sounding but fragmentary and in some cases dubious disclosures, the president was actually making some very controversial demands.
He was, in fact, calling for the CIA to continue to be allowed to use interrogation tactics that many people would reasonably consider torture; he was demanding retroactive legal immunity for American interrogators who used tactics that many people would reasonably consider torture; he was calling for the unprecedented admission of coerced evidence in an American legal proceeding; and after all those years of refusing to give Congress any role in this matter, he was insisting that they take action in a matter of days.
Reframing the Debate
Susan Page writes for USA Today: "President Bush demonstrated with a dramatic speech Wednesday one of the most consequential powers of his office.
"He changed the subject.
"With less than nine weeks until congressional elections, the president turned the topic from the war in Iraq and complaints about stagnant wages and rising health care costs to the only major area in which Americans continue to give him and the GOP high marks."