Quick Takes

By Dan Froomkin
1:30 PM ET, 03/ 9/2009

Kevin Sullivan writes in The Washington Post from London: "Opposition lawmakers on Sunday called for a judicial inquiry into allegations that British intelligence agents participated in the 'extraordinary rendition' and torture of a British resident who was held in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other locations for nearly seven years."

Binyam Mohamed, in a newspaper interview published Sunday, told the Mail on Sunday newspaper that during 18 months of CIA-controlled captivity in Morocco, when his captors repeatedly sliced his chest and genitals with a scalpel, interrogators questioned him about photos and information contained in British intelligence files they showed to him.

David Rose writes for the Mail: "The worst time in Binyam Mohamed's seven-year ordeal in American captivity, worse even than the medieval tortures he endured for 18 months in Morocco, came in the first half of 2004 when he was held for five months at a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan."

Charlie Savage and Scott Shane write in The New York Times that the notoriety of George W. Bush's controversial "war council" of lawyers "raises difficult questions: What is a government lawyer's responsibility if legal advice he gives turns out to be, in the view of many authorities, grievously flawed? Can he be blamed for damaging, and arguably illegal, acts carried out with his imprimatur? Should he suffer any punishment?... What, if anything, should happen to these lawyers -- damage to their professional reputations, punishment by state bar associations, perhaps even prosecution at home or abroad -- is now the subject of a lively debate in the legal world and beyond." So far, they write: "For some of Mr. Bush's lawyers, the most likely consequence may be wariness from potential employers....David S. Addington, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney who was a forceful voice in internal legal debates, is also said to still be looking for work."

Helene Cooper and Sheryl Gay Stolberg write in Saturday's New York Times: "President Obama declared in an interview that the United States was not winning the war in Afghanistan and opened the door to a reconciliation process in which the American military would reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban, much as it did with Sunni militias in Iraq."

Anthony Shadid writes in The Washington Post: "The U.S. military announced Sunday that 12,000 American soldiers would withdraw from Iraq by September, marking the first step in the Obama administration's plan to pull U.S. combat forces out of the country by August 2010."

Peter Nicholas writes in the Los Angeles Times: "President Obama is facing misgivings about his policy agenda from inside his own party, with prominent Democrats objecting to parts of his taxation and spending plans and questioning the White House push to do so much so fast. Obama's strategy is to advance on all fronts. Buoyed by favorable poll numbers, he is moving to jolt the economy with a massive stimulus package, revamp the healthcare system and push the nation toward renewable energy sources."

Julianna Goldman and Michael Tackett write for Bloomberg that Obama may be overreaching: "The risk is that his efforts prove to be too much, too soon, leading to a backlash that erodes his current support. 'If he's mistaken in his judgment about what the economy and the political system can bear, then he will end up overloading the Congress and getting less than he might have done otherwise,' says Bill Galston, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton."

Matt Bai writes in the New York Times Magazine that Obama's efforts at bipartisanship "haven't been the failure that some think them to be... Obama is right to value bipartisanship, even if he doesn't manage to win a single Republican vote -- and even if he doesn't need any to enact his legislative program. During the closing weeks of the fall campaign, Obama told me that bridging the cultural chasm in America would require of him, as president, a governing style that acknowledged differences rather than exploited them. This is why he intends to keep Republican leaders on speed dial, even if they vote against him -- in doing so, he demonstrates to the voters that he will not be dragged into the pettiness and derision that have caused so many of them to lose faith in their government. He may also, over time, accumulate enough goodwill to wrangle Republican votes when he really does need them."

Jeff Zeleny profiles Obama's senior adviser David Axelrod in the New York Times: "His voice, and political advice, carry more weight than most anyone else's on the president's payroll....[I]t is Mr. Axelrod who sits the closest to the Oval Office. His proximity is a symbol, in a unique West Wing kind of way, of how close he remains to Mr. Obama....Jon Favreau, the president's chief speechwriter, said there was a familiar refrain during [brainstorming] meetings, with Mr. Axelrod urging the team not to become consumed by the insularity of Washington. 'Can I speak on behalf of the American people here?' he said Mr. Axelrod often asks aloud."

Mike Dorning profiles Favreau for the Chicago Tribune: "Behind a president defined more by his oratory than any political figure in a generation is chief speechwriter Jon Favreau... the second-youngest person ever to work as chief White House speechwriter...Favreau has explained their joint approach to friends simply: 'Tell a story. That's the most important part of every speech, more than any given line. Does it tell a story from beginning to end?'...'I've never worked for a politician who values words as much as the president does,' Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said. 'The speechwriter is an unusually important person in the operation. [Obama's] willingness to entrust his words to others is limited.'"

Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post about the White House's outreach to minority media outlets, and warns: "The challenge for minority journalists is not to slip into the role of cheerleader."

Michael Calderone writes for Politico about "an administration that's trying much harder than its predecessor did to influence inside-the-Beltway opinion makers." He writes that the White House press office is even planning a presidential sit-down with prominent bloggers. And he warns: "There's a downside to all the media-courting, a risk that the new administration will seem preoccupied with the chattering classes from Georgetown and the Upper West Side and therefore out of touch with flyover country."

Peter Bray writes for Slate, asking who rewrote the George W. Bush biography on Whitehouse.gov to make it much more flattering?

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