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With Friends Like These

By Dan Froomkin
1:00 PM ET, 05/20/2009


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. (Brendan Smialowski - Bloomberg)

Here's one thing that hasn't changed in the Obama era: Republicans are still able to come up with scare tactics that turn Senate Democrats into a terrified and incoherent bunch of mewling babies.

It's hard to imagine anything more ridiculous than the suggestion that bringing some of the terror suspects currently incarcerated in Guantanamo to high-security prisons in America will pose a threat to local communities.

It is nothing more than a bogeyman argument, easily refuted with a little common sense. (Isn't that what prisons are for?) But that's assuming you don't spend your every moment living in fear of Republican attack ads questioning your devotion to the security of the country. Or that you have a modicum of respect for the intelligence of the American public.

Ah well. Old habits die hard, I guess. And Senate Democrats apparently remain an easily frightened bunch, after eight years of faint-hearted submission.

Here's a question. Democratic congressional leaders ostensibly want to close Guantanamo, which they recognize has become the ultimate symbol of the Bush administration's violations of human rights. They acknowledge that keeping it open only makes the country less safe -- and that any number of the detainees there have been imprisoned sometimes cruelly and often under false pretenses, for as long as seven years. So they want all the detainees there to -- what? Vanish? Die? How do they expect any other country to take custody of anyone if we refuse to do it ourselves?

Worrying about releasing prisoners here is one thing. But refusing to even consider putting them in our prisons is nonsense. It it tantamount to insisting that Guantanamo stay open.

But as Shailagh Murray writes in The Washington Post: "Under pressure from Republicans and concerned about the politics of relocating terrorism suspects to U.S. soil, Senate Democrats rejected President Obama's request for funding to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and vowed to withhold federal dollars until the president decides the fate of the facility's 240 detainees...

"As recently as last week, Senate Democrats had hoped to preserve a portion of Obama's Guantanamo funding request. But their resolve crumbled in the face of a concerted Republican campaign warning of dire consequences if some detainees ended up in prisons or other facilities in the United States, a possibility that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has acknowledged."

Specifically, as the Associated Press is now reporting, the Senate voted 90 to 6 today for an amendment that would keep any detainee held in the Guantanamo prison from being transferred to the United States.

Here's the transcript of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's nonsensical news conference yesterday.

Reid: "I think there's a general feeling... that the American people, and certainly the Senate, overwhelmingly doesn't want terrorists to be released in the United States. And I think we're going to stick with that...."

Q. "No one's talking about releasing them. We're talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States."

Reid: "Can't put them in prison unless you release them."

Q. "Sir, are you going to clarify that a little bit? I mean -- "

Reid: "I can't -- I can't -- I can't make it any more clear than the statement I have given to you. We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States. I think the majority -- I speak for the majority of the Senate....

Q. "[I]f a detainee is adjudicated not to be a terrorist, could that detainee then enter the United States?"

Reid: "Why don't we wait for a plan from the president? All we're doing now is nitpicking on language that I have given you. I've been as clear as I can. I think I've been pretty clear...."

Q. "But Senator, Senator, it's not that you're not being clear when you say you don't want them released. But could you say -- would you be all right with them being transferred to an American prison?"

Reid: "Not in the United States."

Q. (OFF-MIKE)

Reid: "I think I've had about enough of this."

Joseph Williams writes in the Boston Globe: "The decision to buck the president on Guantanamo left Democrats on the defensive and Republicans reveling at the discord....

"Caroline Frederickson, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office, said she and others...believe that the White House and Democrats are reacting to Republican fearmongering about terrorists on US soil.

"Any legitimate terror suspect, she said, would almost certainly be held in remote, high-security 'supermax' federal prisons, which are already home to convicted terrorists like British shoe bomber Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"'That's what these prisons are designed for,' she said."

David M. Herszenhorn writes in the New York Times: "On Tuesday Republicans, including the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has been warning for weeks about the dangers of closing the prison, applauded the Democrats' decision.

"At a news conference, Mr. McConnell said he hoped it was a prelude to keeping the camp open and dangerous terrorism suspects offshore, where he said they belong."

Herszenhorn writes: "Administration officials have indicated that if the Guantánamo camp closes as scheduled more than 100 prisoners may need to be moved to the United States, including 50 to 100 who have been described as too dangerous to release.

"Of the 240 detainees, 30 have been cleared for release. Some are likely to be transferred to foreign countries, though other governments have been reluctant to take them. Britain and France have each accepted one former detainee. And while as many as 80 of the detainees will be prosecuted, it remains unclear what will happen to those who are convicted and sentenced to prison."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said yesterday that Obama will be giving a speech tomorrow on his Guantanamo plans, as well as other issues relating to detainees and detention policy.

"Thursday he'll outline his thoughts on detainee and detention issues, as well as the other issues like photos and memos," Gibbs said. "He'll outline the reasoning of why he strongly believes, and many in both parties believe, that closing Guantanamo Bay is in our best national security and foreign policy interest. And he will go through a number of the decisions related to that and other issues that we've discussed in the last few weeks that all relate to it."

Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei write for Politico: "Obama advisers are comparing Thursday's speech to his big-picture Georgetown University speech on the economy last month — not intended necessarily to produce 'hard news' but a sustained effort to describe and defend his policies and the political and intellectual assumptions behind them."

They also note that former vice president Cheney will be giving his own national-security speech tomorrow morning at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Glenn Greenwald blogs for Salon: "The 'debate' over all the bad and scary things that will happen if Obama closes Guantanamo and we then incarcerate those detainees in American prisons is so painfully stupid even by the standards of our political discourse that it's hard to put into words."

One key step in the process, Greenwald writes, entails "'Journalists' who are capable of nothing other than mindlessly reciting what they hear...depicting the Right's frightened neurosis as a Serious argument, and then overnight, a consensus emerges: Democrats are in big trouble politically unless they show that they, too, are as deeply frightened as the Right is."

Kevin Drum blogs for Mother Jones: "His own party won't support him against even the most transparent and insipid demagoguery coming from the conservative noise machine. The GOP's brain trust isn't offering even a hint of a substantive case that the U.S. Army can't safely keep a few dozen detainees behind bars in a military prison, but Dems are caving anyway. Because they're scared."

Also see Jon Stewart's take on the issue from last night's Daily Show.

Meanwhile, in a bit of related news, Josh Gerstein reports for Politico: "A federal judge has rejected aspects of the Obama administration's definition of who can legally be held as a prisoner in the war on terror.

"In a 22-page decision issued Tuesday evening, U.S. District Court Judge John Bates ruled that members in Al Qaeda or the Taliban could be detained, but that mere support for Al Qaeda activities is not a sufficient basis for the government to hold prisoners at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere.

"Bates said he pressed the Justice Department to explain why rendering assistance to Al Qaeda was enough to lock someone up without criminal charges.

"'After repeated attempts by the Court to elicit a more definitive justification for the 'substantial support' concept in the law of war, it became clear that the government has none,' wrote Bates, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush."

Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press takes a somewhat different view of the ruling, writing that the judge did allow the United States to hold some prisoners indefinitely.

Middle East Watch

By Dan Froomkin
12:30 PM ET, 05/20/2009

In the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Oval Office visit, I wrote yesterday about what appears to be President Obama's
stealth Middle East peace plan.

What I'm seeing today suggests that the plan may put Netanyahu under more pressure than his public appearance with Obama indicated.

David Ignatius writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "The Obama strategy over the next few months will be to create a regional framework for peace negotiations that's enticing enough to draw in the wary Netanyahu. To give Israel some quick tangible benefits, the United States wants the Arabs to begin normalizing relations with the Jewish state. Jordan's King Abdullah describes this promise of recognition by the Arab League nations as a '23-state solution.'

"The key to this front-loading strategy is Saudi Arabia. But the Saudis warn privately that they won't normalize anything unless Israel makes some dramatic moves -- such as freezing settlements in the occupied West Bank -- that demonstrate its commitment to the 2003 'road map' for peace.

"To break this logjam, the Obama administration appears ready to lean hard on Netanyahu. Obama has a range of options, starting with criticism of Israel for failing to meet the road map conditions and escalating to tougher measures."

The Jerusalem Post Web site reports that Wednesday's Yediot Ahronot newspaper outlines the details of Obama's plan. "The US president's initiative, which was formulated in consultation with Jordan's King Abdullah II during the two leaders' recent meetings at the White House, reportedly does not significantly stray from the pan-Arab peace initiative proposed in 2002...

"Obama is expected to present the initiative in an address to the Arab and Muslim world from Cairo in three weeks, and set out conditions for a demilitarized Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, within the next four years....

"The matter of borders will be solved with territorial exchanges between Israel and the Palestinians, and the Old City of Jerusalem will be established as an international zone."

Donald Macintyre writes for the Independent: "Amid a series of differences between the US and Israel's right wing-led government over Jewish settlements, Iran, and a two-state solution, one possible area of common ground began tentatively to emerge in the wake of the White House meeting. This is the idea of 'phased normalisation' by the Arab states in return for movement by Israel towards Palestinian demands.

"Thinking in Washington continues to evolve on a possible comprehensive regional solution in the Middle East."

Why the relative black-out in the news columns of American newspapers? Beats me.

Quick Takes

By Dan Froomkin
12:25 PM ET, 05/20/2009

John M. Broder and Micheline Maynard write in the New York Times: "Why, after decades of battling, complaining and maneuvering over fuel economy standards, did carmakers fall in line behind the tough new nationwide mileage standard President Obama announced Tuesday? Because they had no choice. The auto industry is flat on its back...Simply put, Detroit and the other companies need Washington's help, and they are powerless to block the rules Washington dictates."

Jim Tankersley writes in the Los Angeles Times: "What made the agreement possible was a combination of unyielding demands by the federal government on some points and a willingness to make major concessions on what it considered smaller ones, said officials involved who requested anonymity when discussing the negotiations. With the U.S. auto industry on the brink of collapse, its leaders came to see that they could no longer forestall action -- and would be better off with a single, strict national rule than a state-by-state patchwork."

Joe Palazzolo and Amanda Bronstad write in the National Law Journal: "President Barack Obama began filling the nation's 93 U.S. Attorney positions on May 15, announcing his first wave of six nominees. The move touched off a closely guarded process freighted with symbolism in the wake of the Bush administration firings scandal....Obama is announcing his picks for U.S. Attorneys in waves, replacing holdover Bush prosecutors once his nominees are confirmed or appointed on an interim basis....But Obama's piecemeal approach means some of the most controversial Bush-era prosecutors... will likely remain in place until their successor is confirmed."

Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times: "To the frustration and discouragement of many Democrats, House and Senate lawmakers and aides say it now appears likely that President Obama will this week sign into law a provision allowing visitors to national parks and refuges to carry loaded and concealed weapons."

Zachary A. Goldfarb, Binyamin Appelbaum and David Cho write in The Washington Post: "The Obama administration is actively discussing the creation of a regulatory commission that would have broad authority to protect consumers who use financial products as varied as mortgages, credit cards and mutual funds, according to several sources familiar with the matter....The leading proponent of such a commission is Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard University law professor who now chairs the Congressional Oversight Panel for the government's financial rescue initiative....In March, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced legislation to create a commission like the one that Warren had described."

Paul West writes in the Los Angeles Times: "National Republican Committee Chairman Michael Steele, in an effort to move beyond the woes of his party and his own gaffes, declared Tuesday that Republicans had turned a corner and were ready to step up their attacks on President Obama." From Steele's speech: "The era of apologizing for Republican mistakes of the past is now officially over. It is done. The time for trying to fix or focus on the past has ended. The era of Republican naval gazing, done....The honeymoon is over. We're going to challenge those policies that we believe are wrong, and we're going to do so without apology and without a second thought."

Del Quentin Wilber writes in The Washington Post: "A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that the White House does not have to make public internal documents examining the potential disappearance of e-mails during the administration of President George W. Bush." But this was a narrow ruling, upholding a 2008 decision by a federal judge that the White House's Office of Administration is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act -- and it has no direct impact on the continuing efforts by watchdog groups to make sure missing Bush era e-mails are recovered.

Spencer S. Hsu writes in The Washington Post: "Although President Obama has spent much of his time in office moving away from the policies of his predecessor, on immigration enforcement, he has embraced several Bush administration initiatives, and the changes he has promised to make are couched in nuance....At a news conference April 29, Obama said a stay-the-course strategy on aggressive border enforcement is needed to build public support for his pledge to overhaul the nation's immigration laws and deal with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States."

Carol J. Williams writes in the Los Angeles Times: "President Obama's campaign vow to end the ban on gays in the military -- and the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy that forces thousands of military personnel to stay in the closet -- appears to be driven now by a strategy of 'don't rush.'"

Fredreka Schouten writes in USA Today: "More than one in four members of President George W. Bush's Cabinet have landed jobs with consulting or lobbying firms in which they can help clients navigate the departments they once oversaw, a USA Today analysis shows.... In all, 10 of the 34 former Cabinet secretaries who served during Bush's eight years in office have registered as lobbyists or joined consulting or lobbying firms, the analysis shows. Others sit on the boards or work for industries they regulated. For instance, Gale Norton, who once oversaw 500 million acres of public land as Interior secretary, now is a lawyer in a Shell Oil division for oil exploration."

Claudia Feldman writes for the Houston Chronicle about her interview with former Bush confidante Karen Hughes: "She acknowledged the current uproar over interrogation tactics and allegations of prisoner torture during the Bush years. 'I was very vocal in the internal debate,' she said. 'I worried about how that would make us look in the eyes of the world. But I had left the White House when a lot of that was taking place.' Then she paused, worried for the first time in 90 minutes that she'd made a gaffe." Hughes left her White House job as counselor to the president in early July 2002. According to a recently declassified Justice Department timeline, the White House's official approval of waterboarding and other techniques that constitute torture for use by the CIA came on July 17.

Michael Fletcher writes for The Washington Post: "President Obama held an Oval Office meeting today with four of the nation's foreign policy wise men, who endorsed his administration's vision for a world free of nuclear weapons....'I don't think anybody would accuse these four gentlemen of being dreamers,' Obama told reporters after the meeting with the bipartisan group." The group included former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George P. Shultz, former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Sen. Sam Nunn.

Timothy Rutten writes in his Los Angeles Times opinion column about Obama's Sunday commencement address: "Even in Washington's charged partisan atmosphere, it will be hard to ignore the president's call for civility at Notre Dame....John Kenneth Galbraith once remarked that the one thing all the great leaders of his lifetime had in common was their willingness to speak directly to the great popular anxieties of their era. Obama's rhetorical success as a leader derives not simply from his measured eloquence but from his willingness to do precisely that."

Ben Smith writes for Politico that Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer "has emerged in the Age of Obama as a central conservative voice, the kind of leader of the opposition that that economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman represented for the left during the Bush years: A coherent, sophisticated, and implacable critic of the new president." Smith notes, without any obvious irony, that the "key to Krauthammer's appeal is the clarity of his opposition to Obama, which began soon after a December, 2006, column during which he urged Obama to run for president, and guaranteed that he would lose."

Late Night Humor

By Dan Froomkin
11:00 AM ET, 05/20/2009

Jon Stewart mocks members of Congress for not wanting terrorists held in Supermax facilities in their states: "The United States is really good at imprisoning people. Why can't we handle this?"

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Guantanamo Baywatch - The Final Season
thedailyshow.com
Cartoon Watch

By Dan Froomkin
9:57 AM ET, 05/20/2009

Dan Wasserman on the Democrats' dilemma, Jimmy Margulies and Tom Toles on the Obama-Netanyahu talks, Mike Keefe and Mike Luckovich on the new auto emissions standards.

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