8 a.m. ET: President Obama may be on vacation this week but he'll get no respite from the past. From new details of controversial interrogation tactics to the "deteriorating" situation in Afghanistan, this weekend brought fresh reminders that Obama still has a host of thorny problems left to sort through from the Bush administration.
Seven months into his presidency, Obama has yet to determine whether to prosecute alleged detainee abuses, where to move prisoners from Guantanamo Bay and how to reverse decreasing U.S. public support and increasing pressure from the enemy in the Afghanistan war. Revelations in the last few days have made none of those questions any easier to answer.
A long-awaited report from the CIA's inspector general on the agency's interrogation practices is due to be unveiled today, and the administration appears eager to get out in front of its findings. "Obama has approved the creation of an elite team of interrogators to question key terrorism suspects," reports the Washington Post, with the new "High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group" to be staffed by several different agencies and housed at the FBI. As for the IG report, the goriest details seem already to have been leaked, including that at least one prisoner was threatened with a gun and a power drill and that CIA interrogators staged mock executions. At the same time, according to the New York Times, "The Justice Department’s ethics office has recommended reversing the Bush administration and reopening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases," encouraging Eric Holder to consider prosecuting CIA officials. But Jeffrey Smith, the former CIA general counsel, today provides "six reasons prosecutions are not in the nation's best interests."
In Afghanistan, the situation is "serious and deteriorating," Mike Mullen said Sunday. Allied military commanders are reportedly asking for more troops to deal with problems along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Now that the commanders' desire for more troops has been made public, can Obama really deny their requests? John McCain claimed Sunday that "people around" the president are pressuring the military to reduce its estimates for how many troops it needs to reverse the tide in Afghanistan.
As for the debate Obama actually wants to have -- on health care -- the Los Angeles Times reports that "the insurance industry nevertheless rallied its lobbying and grass-roots resources so successfully in the early stages of the healthcare overhaul deliberations that it is poised to reap a financial windfall." Why? Because "the half-dozen leading overhaul proposals circulating in Congress would require all citizens to have health insurance, which would guarantee insurers tens of millions of new customers -- many of whom would get government subsidies to help pay the companies' premiums." That windfall is dependent on the final reform package not including a public insurance option. Chuck Schumer said Sunday such an option was "essential," and the NYT repeats the storyline that Senate Democrats are seriously considering using reconciliation to get such a plan through. We'll believe it when we see it.
Jonathan Cohn writes that Obama made a big mistake by "focusing so heavily on how reform would reduce the cost of medicine" instead of emphasizing the "security from financial ruin and medical catastrophe" that reform could provide. Politico judges that Obama has bitten off more than he can chew, as his "Big Bang" approach of trying to reform health care, energy and the financial system all at once simply isn't working. But Matthew Yglesias argues that Obama's failure so far, particularly on health care, isn't so much indicative of mistakes on the president's part but simply more evidence that "for better or for worse, our system makes big changes difficult to implement." And in a move that will further endear him to liberals, Joe Lieberman called Sunday for Obama to slow down the pace of reform and put off a lot of major changes until the economy improves.
August 24, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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