The Highs and Lows of Obama's Big Speech

By Dan Froomkin
1:30 PM ET, 05/21/2009

Obama at the Archives today. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

President Obama's rousing speech on national security today served as an important reminder of how far the country strayed after 9/11 from its core values and how important it is for us to return to them.

His voice echoing in the rotunda of the National Archives, the U.S. Constitution behind him, the Declaration of Independence to his right and the Bill of Rights to his left, Obama made the case that the Bush administration's ad hoc approach to the war on terror now must be laboriously undone and brought under the rule of law -- for the sake of both our enduring principles and our national security.

He explained how the use of torture and the establishment of a prison intended to be beyond the law had hurt us much more than they had helped us.

He rejected the notion that he was continuing the unilateral, absolutist policies of his predecessor. And he actually made some news by announcing new steps he is taking to increase oversight by the courts and Congress in even the most sensitive areas of government.

In a speech that he said was made necessary by all the recent fearmongering and political posturing in the national security debate, he called on members of Congress to put aside their unseemly terror of attack ads and show some spine instead. (Yesterday, the Democratic-majority Senate, by a 90-6 vote, rejected Obama's request for funds to shutter the prison at Guantanamo Bay, citing concerns about detainee transfers to the U.S.)

Obama spoke of the need to set up a legal framework for detainees and interrogation that rather than reflecting expediency or ideology will stand up for years to come. And he expressed his hope that national security would cease to be a wedge issue, and once again be a cause that unites us all.

But in some parts of his speech, Obama appeared to be defending actions and even taking positions that didn't live up to his own professed standards.

When it came to what to do with the detainees at Guantanamo, he declared that he would work to create a system that would enable the indefinite detention without trial for a limited number of people whom the government is unable to prosecute for past crimes, but whom are nevertheless considered to be threats to the country. Even though he spoke of establishing lawful standards and periodic reviews, that's a dangerously extreme policy proposal. He once again expressed his intention to use a reformed military commission process for some detainees -- but gave no reason to think it won't run into many of the same legal challenges that Bush's process did. He spoke of sending many detainees to face trial in federal courts -- but then promised that no one would be released who endangers our national security. The whole point of a fair judicial system is that the executive can't guarantee the results.

Obama spoke passionately about his commitment to transparency, but offered up the same lousy and unpersuasive excuses he did last week for his decision to fight the court-ordered release of more photos of prison abuse. In particular, the weight he put on his responsibility not to release information that would inflame our enemies was deeply disturbing.

He offered no additional clarity regarding his position on the state secrets doctrine, where his lofty promises still stand in dramatic conflict with what his administration is actually doing.

And in continuing to oppose the creation of an independent commission that would fully investigate the abuses of the Bush administration, he marginalized those of us who want to find out what happened as polarizers, much like those who continue to doggedly defend Bush policies. He said the recent debate has obscured the truth -- when all we want is to let it free.

Here is the transcript of Obama's speech.

On the big picture:

"I believe with every fiber of my being that in the long run we ... cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values. The documents that we hold in this very hall - the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights - are not simply words written into aging parchment. They are the foundation of liberty and justice in this country, and a light that shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality and dignity in the world...

"I took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and as a citizen, I know that we must never - ever - turn our back on its enduring principles for expedience sake. I make this claim not simply as a matter of idealism. We uphold our most cherished values not only because doing so is right, but because it strengthens our country and keeps us safe. Time and again, our values have been our best national security asset - in war and peace; in times of ease and in eras of upheaval."

On how fidelity to our values has served us well in the past:

"It is the reason why enemy soldiers have surrendered to us in battle, knowing they'd receive better treatment from America's armed forces than from their own government.

"It is the reason why America has benefited from strong alliances that amplified our power, and drawn a sharp and moral contrast with our adversaries.

"It is the reason why we've been able to overpower the iron fist of fascism, outlast the iron curtain of communism, and enlist free nations and free people everywhere in common cause and common effort.

"From Europe to the Pacific, we have been a nation that has shut down torture chambers and replaced tyranny with the rule of law. That is who we are. And where terrorists offer only the injustice of disorder and destruction, America must demonstrate that our values and institutions are more resilient than a hateful ideology."

On how things went terribly wrong after 9/11:

"Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions. I believe that those decisions were motivated by a sincere desire to protect the American people. But I also believe that all too often our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight, that all too our government often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, too often we set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And during this season of fear, too many of us - Democrats and Republicans; politicians, journalists and citizens - fell silent.

"In other words, we went off course. And this is not my assessment alone. It was an assessment that was shared by the American people, who nominated candidates for President from both major parties who, despite our many differences, called for a new approach - one that rejected torture, and recognized the imperative of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay....

"The decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable - a framework that failed to rely on our legal traditions and time-tested institutions; that failed to use our values as a compass."

An important reminder of what's wrong with torture:

"I know some have argued that brutal methods like water-boarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more. As Commander-in-Chief, I see the intelligence, I bear responsibility for keeping this country safe, and I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation. What's more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured. In short, they did not advance our war and counter-terrorism efforts - they undermined them, and that is why I ended them once and for all."

And a reminder of what's wrong with Guantanamo:

"There is also no question that Guantanamo set back the moral authority that is America's strongest currency in the world. Instead of building a durable framework for the struggle against al Qaeda that drew upon our deeply held values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined the rule of law. Indeed, part of the rationale for establishing Guantanamo in the first place was the misplaced notion that a prison there would be beyond the law - a proposition that the Supreme Court soundly rejected. Meanwhile, instead of serving as a tool to counter-terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.

"So the record is clear: rather than keep us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies. It sets back the willingness of our allies to work with us in fighting an enemy that operates in scores of countries. By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it. That is why I argued that it should be closed throughout my campaign. And that is why I ordered it closed within one year."

On the mess he inherited:

"In dealing with this situation, we do not have the luxury of starting from scratch. We are cleaning up something that is - quite simply - a mess; a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my Administration is forced to deal with on a constant basis, and that consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on better protecting our country....

"In other words, the problem of what to do with Guantanamo detainees was not caused by my decision to close the facility; the problem exists because of the decision to open Guantanamo in the first place.

"There are no neat or easy answers here. But I can tell you that the wrong answer is to pretend like this problem will go away if we maintain an unsustainable status quo."

On the current political climate:

"Now, over the last several weeks, we have seen a return of the politicization of these issues that have characterized the last several years. I'm an elected official, I understand that these problems arouse passions and concerns. They should. We are confronting some of the most complicated questions that a democracy can face. But I have no interest in spending our time re-litigating the policies of the last eight years. I want to solve these problems, and I want to solve them together as Americans. And we will be ill-served by the fear-mongering that emerges whenever we discuss this issue. Listening to the recent debate, I've heard words that are calculated to scare people rather than educate them; words that have more to do with politics than protecting our country."

And again later:

"Now, as our efforts to close Guantanamo move forward, I know that the politics in Congress will be difficult. These are issues that are fodder for 30-second commercials. You can almost picture the direct mail pieces that emerge from any vote on this issue, designed to frighten the population. I get it.

"But if we continue to make decisions within a climate of fear, we will make more mistakes. And if we refuse to deal with these issues today, then I guarantee you that they will be an albatross around our efforts to combat terrorism in the future.
I have confidence that the American people are more interested in doing what is right to protect this country than in political posturing. I am not the only person in this city who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution; so did each and every member of Congress. And together we have a responsibility to enlist our values in the effort to secure our people, and to leave behind the legacy that makes it easier for future presidents to keep this country safe."

On the notion that terrorists can't be safely held in American prisons:

"Where demanded by justice and national security, we will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of dangerous and violent criminals within our borders - highly secure prisons that ensure the public safety.
As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact. Nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal Supermax prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists. As Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said, the idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees, within the United States, is not rational."

On how, when it comes to transparency, even though he keeps some things secret, he's not like Bush. Includes his big news:

"Here's the difference....: whenever we cannot release certain information to the public for valid national security reasons, I will insist that there is oversight of my actions - by Congress or by the courts. We are launching a review of current policies by all of those agencies responsible for the classification of documents to determine where reforms are possible, and to assure that the other branches of government will be in a position to review executive branch decisions on these matters. Because in our system of checks and balances, someone must always watch over the watchers - especially when it comes to sensitive information."

On his general approach to transparency:

"[T]he common thread that runs through all of my decisions is simple: we will safeguard what we must to protect the American people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the hallmark of our constitutional system. I will never hide the truth because it is uncomfortable. I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government. I will tell the American people what I know and don't know, and when I release something publicly or keep something secret, I will tell you why."

On how he's really, really not like Bush:

"In all of the areas that I have discussed today, the policies that I have proposed represent a new direction from the last eight years. To protect the American people and our values, we have banned enhanced interrogation techniques. We are closing the prison at Guantanamo. We are reforming Military Commissions, and we will pursue a new legal regime to detain terrorists. We are declassifying more information and embracing more oversight of our actions, and narrowing our use of the State Secrets privilege. These are dramatic changes that will put our approach to national security on a surer, safer and more sustainable footing. Their implementation will take time, but they will get done.

"There is a core principle that we will apply to all of our actions: even as we clean up the mess at Guantanamo, we will constantly re-evaluate our approach, subject our decisions to review from the other branches of government, as well as the public. We seek the strongest and most sustainable legal framework for addressing these issues in the long-term. Not to serve immediate politics, but to do what's right in the long term. By doing that, we can leave behind a legacy that outlasts my Administration, and that endures for the next President and the President after that; a legacy that protects the American people, and enjoys broad legitimacy at home and abroad."

On how those nutty people who want to find out what really happened are really only interested in finger-pointing, and are just as bad as the Bush dead-enders:

"It's no secret that there is a tendency in Washington to spend our time pointing fingers at one another. And it's no secret that our media culture feeds the impulse that lead to a good fight and good copy. But nothing will contribute more than that than an extended relitigation of the last eight years. Already we've seen how that kind of effort only leads those in Washington to different sides to laying blame. It can distract us from focusing our time, our efforts and our politics on the challenges of the future.

"We see that above all in the recent debate -- how the recent debate has obscured the truth and sent people into opposite and absolutist ends. On one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism and would almost never put national security over transparency. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: 'Anything goes.' Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the president should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants, provided it is a president with whom they agree.

"And both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right. The American people are not absolutist, and they don't elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems."

On Cheney (OK, not by name):

"Every now and then, there are those who think that America's safety and success requires us to walk away from the sacred principles enshrined in this building. And we hear such voices today. But the American people have resisted that temptation. And though we have made our share of mistakes and course corrections, we have held fast to the principles that have been the source of our strength, and a beacon to the world."

On killing al Qaeda, and coming together as a nation:

"And I do know with certainty that we can and will defeat al Qaeda. Because the terrorists can only succeed if they swell their ranks and alienate America from our allies, and they will never be able to do that if we stay true to who we are; if we forge tough and durable approaches to fighting terrorism that are anchored in our timeless ideals.

"This must be our common purpose. I ran for President because I believe that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together. We will not be safe if we see national security as a wedge that divides America - it can and must be a cause that unites us as one people, as one nation."

In an astonishing bit of political theater, the cable networks cut away right after Obama's speech to show former vice president Cheney, the ultimate torture dead-ender, launching into his own speech at the American Enterprise Institute. Here is his prepared text. I'll have more on that tomorrow, but I can't imagine he said anything new. So read this and this and this for background.

Meanwhile, in other national security news, Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "An unreleased Pentagon report concludes that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has returned to terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials.

"The conclusion could strengthen the arguments of critics who have warned against the transfer or release of any more detainees as part of President Obama's plan to shut down the prison by January."

But, as Bumiller writes: "The Pentagon has provided no way of authenticating its 45 unnamed recidivists, and only a few of the 29 people identified by name can be independently verified as having engaged in terrorism since their release. Many of the 29 are simply described as associating with terrorists or training with terrorists, with almost no other details provided.

"'It's part of a campaign to win the hearts and minds of history for Guantánamo,' said Mark P. Denbeaux, a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law who has represented Guantánamo detainees and co-written three studies highly critical of the Pentagon's previous recidivism reports. 'They want to be able to claim there really were bad people there.'"

Devlin Barrett writes for the Associated Press: "The Obama administration is pressing ahead with its plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, deciding to put a 'high value' detainee on trial in New York City despite resistance from some in Congress.

"Attorney General Eric Holder announced early Thursday that Ahmed Ghailani will be sent to New York City for trial, which would make him the first Guantanamo detainee brought to the U.S. and the first to face trial in a civilian criminal court."

Quick Takes

By Dan Froomkin
1:10 PM ET, 05/21/2009

Alicia Mundy and Brent Kendall write in the Wall Street Journal: "In a sweeping order Wednesday, President Barack Obama called for a rollback of Bush administration regulations designed to protect companies from product-liability lawsuits in state courts. The memo didn't name specific industries but it could affect a wide range of consumer products subject to both federal and state regulation. Companies have long complained about having to deal with 50 different state rulebooks, and the Bush administration aggressively took up the issue. It encouraged federal agencies to issue rules pre-empting state laws and declared that a single federal standard held sway."

Robert Barnes and Shailagh Murray write in The Washington Post: "President Obama is intensifying his search for a Supreme Court nominee and has interviewed Judge Diane P. Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago, believed to be among a handful of top contenders."

Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times: "Congress on Wednesday sent President Obama a set of new rules governing credit card companies, completing a trio of consumer-related measures that Democrats had raced to get signed into law by Memorial Day. But the credit card victory came at a cost that angered some backers of the legislation: approval of an unrelated provision allowing visitors to national parks and wildlife refuges to carry loaded weapons if they are otherwise licensed to possess guns."

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington reports "that the Obama administration is opposing our request that the Supreme Court reconsider the dismissal of the lawsuit, Wilson v. Libby, et al. In that case, the district court had dismissed the claims of Joe and Valerie Wilson against former Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and Richard Armitage for their gross violations of the Wilsons' constitutional rights. Agreeing with the Bush administration, the Obama Justice Department argues the Wilsons have no legitimate grounds to sue." "The government's position cannot be reconciled with President Obama's oft-stated commitment to once again make government officials accountable for their actions," says Melanie Sloan, the group's executive director.

Nancy Gibbs and Michael Scherer write in a Time Magazine cover story on Michelle Obama: "Few First Ladies have embedded themselves so quickly in the world's imagination. And none have traveled so far, not just from Chicago's South Side to the East Wing, but from the caricatured Angry Black Woman of last spring to her exalted status as a New American Icon, as if her arrival will magically reverse eight years of anti-American spitballing, elevate the black middle class, promote family values, give voice to the voiceless and inspire us all to live healthier, more generous lives."

Katharine Q. Seelye writes in the New York Times: "Barack Obama has been president only four months, but already his name is cropping up on schools, other buildings and avenues across the country...Proponents of the idea say Mr. Obama has been an inspiration, especially for students — that becoming president is an achievement in itself and that becoming the first black president is a historic achievement, worthy of special honor...Skeptics call the move premature, since no one can know how Mr. Obama's presidency will turn out."

Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent gets hold of former vice president Dick Cheney's final financial disclosure statement and finds a wealthy man. Among the gifts Cheney received during his last year in office: "Former Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady gifted him a Remington 12-gauge automatic shotgun worth $999."

Washington Post opinion columnist David S. Broder applauds Obama for heeding the advice of his uniformed and civilian defense leaders and abandoning positions he had taken as the Democratic presidential candidate. "Obama's liberal critics are right. He is a different man now. He has learned what it means to be commander in chief."

Former senator Bob Graham writes in a Washington Post op-ed about the "reform urgently needed in the relationship between the intelligence community, the executive branch and Congress." He particularly recommends some new rules for briefings on covert action.

The USA Today editorial board writes: "After CIA abuses were revealed in the 1970s, the modern oversight process was created to provide some public check on a system that, by its nature, must be secret. The intelligence committees would be briefed by the CIA. They'd set limits on the agency, guarantee secrecy and once they'd approved something, they'd back the agency even when the political winds changed....Oversight in recent years has been almost the opposite of that vision." Instead, "The Bush administration arbitrarily restricted its briefings" and "Democrats acted like a bunch of potted plants."

Nader Mousavizadeh writes in a Washington Post op-ed that Obama is on the path to war in Iran: "While the Obama administration appears likely to resist the near-term pressure for military action (not least because of its preoccupation with the creeping Talibanization of Pakistan, Iran's already nuclear-armed neighbor to the east), its mix of rhetorical innovation and policy continuation is unlikely to produce a different outcome....Our goal should be a new geostrategic environment in the Persian Gulf, in which Iran has fewer reasons to pursue overt nuclear weapons status, and in which it won't trigger a cascade of conflict if it nonetheless decides to do so...This means opening direct bilateral talks without preconditions, focused on the many areas of common urgent concern, beginning with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. By building trust through joint efforts in arenas where Iranian and U.S. interests greatly coincide, we can move toward candid acknowledgment of each side's legitimate interests."

The Meeting Before the Gitmo Speech

By Dan Froomkin
10:22 AM ET, 05/21/2009

Here's something to chew on while we listen to and digest the president's big speech: Obama and several top aides met yesterday at the White House with leaders of about a dozen human and civil rights organizations, as well as several law professors.

The money quote, it seems to me, came from Elisa Massimino, CEO of Human Rights First, in her interview with Sam Stein of Huffington Post:

On Gitmo, Massimino said, the President "emphasized that he was in this for the long game. He said he realized that you can't change people's misperceptions overnight, that they have had eight long years of a steady dose of fear and a lack of leadership and that is not something that you wave a magic wand and make it go away."

Stein also writes:

"Obama expressed frustration with Congress' decision to remove funding for the closure of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. The president declared that his hands were tied in some ways regarding the use of reformed military tribunals, though he pledged to try as many detainees as possible in Article III federal courts....

"We talked a lot about the framework in which he is operating, and he talked about his strong desire to reestablish a system under which the executive is not exercising unfettered authority," said [Massimino]. "One of the chief differences between him and his predecessor was that he didn't think he ought to be making these decisions in an ad-hoc, unaccountable way. And so he said that, in thinking through this, he was focused on how his successor might operate."...

As for the criticism of Senate Republicans, who suggest that moving terrorism suspects to America would be tantamount to releasing them on the streets, Massimino recalled Obama's remarks as being relatively brief. He dismissed it, she said, "as really an unfounded fear that is being fanned by people who are seeking political advantage."

Overall, however, Massimino still registered concerns:

"I think that many of us were disappointed by the announcement about the military commissions and wondered what the reasoning was behind that. And to be honest, I am still wondering having been in this meeting today. I don't think that this fits the overall framework that the president had articulated about using our values to reinforce a counter terrorism strategy against al Qaeda."

Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post:

Several participants discussed the meeting on the condition of anonymity. One said Obama argued that there was no trade-off between American values and national security, but that GOP demagoguery in Congress was dominating the issue. Another said Obama seemed irritated that some of those who attended the meeting had recently compared his policies to those of Bush.

Anthony D. Romero, head of the American Civil Liberties Union, who has used that comparison, declined to discuss what Obama said but in an interview after the meeting repeated the comparison.

"President Obama's decision to continue George Bush's policies essentially means that they become his own," Romero said. "And if he continues down this path, these policies will certainly become known in the history books as the Bush-Obama doctrine." Romero described the discussion as "freewheeling" and said Obama was "clearly deeply steeped in the issues. But he had little interest in revisiting his recent decisions."

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times:

President Obama told human rights advocates at the White House on Wednesday that he was mulling the need for a "preventive detention" system that would establish a legal basis for the United States to incarcerate terrorism suspects who are deemed a threat to national security but cannot be tried, two participants in the private session said....

They said Mr. Obama told them he was thinking about "the long game" — how to establish a legal system that would endure for future presidents. He raised the issue of preventive detention himself, but made clear that he had not made a decision on it. Several senior White House officials did not respond to requests for comment on the outsiders’ accounts.

"He was almost ruminating over the need for statutory change to the laws so that we can deal with individuals who we can’t charge and detain," one participant said. "We’ve known this is on the horizon for many years, but we were able to hold it off with George Bush. The idea that we might find ourselves fighting with the Obama administration over these powers is really stunning."

The other participant said Mr. Obama did not seem to be thinking about preventive detention for terrorism suspects now held at Guantánamo Bay, but rather for those captured in the future, in settings other than a legitimate battlefield like Afghanistan. "The issue is," the participant said, "What are the options left open to a future president?"

Torture Watch

By Dan Froomkin
10:18 AM ET, 05/21/2009

Here's something new for the torture timeline.

Many of us have long wondered what sort of legal guidance the CIA got for the abusive measures it used on Abu Zubaydah before getting the verbal go-ahead from the White House and the Justice Department in mid-July for waterboarding and the like. (The infamous August 1 memos put it all in writing.)

Ari Shapiro reports for NPR: "The public record includes testimony from Ali Soufan, a former FBI interrogator who was with Zubaydah during April and May of 2002....Soufan testified that in the first two months of Zubaydah's interrogation, a CIA contractor used nudity, sleep deprivation, loud noise and extreme temperatures during interrogations. That contractor has been identified as a psychologist named James Mitchell."

Sources tell NPR that "nearly every day, Mitchell would sit at his computer and write a top-secret cable to the CIA's counterterrorism center. Each day, Mitchell would request permission to use enhanced interrogation techniques on Zubaydah. The source says the CIA would then forward the request to the White House, where White House counsel Alberto Gonzales would sign off on the technique. That would provide the administration's legal blessing for Mitchell to increase the pressure on Zubaydah in the next interrogation....

"Attorneys who have worked in the White House counsel's office describe it as 'highly unusual' for the White House to tell interrogators what they can and cannot do."

Signing Statements Watch

By Dan Froomkin
10:15 AM ET, 05/21/2009

Kate Phillips writes for the New York Times: "President Obama on Wednesday signed legislation aimed at curbing financial fraud in the mortgage and other industries, including a provision that created an independent panel to investigate the root causes of the nation’s economic downturn....

"But after signing the bill, the White House issued what is called a signing statement by Mr. Obama, which includes this advisory to agencies about the financial panel’s potential reach: 'Section 5(d) of the Act requires every department, agency, bureau, board, commission, office, independent establishment, or instrumentality of the United States to furnish to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a legislative entity, any information related to any Commission inquiry. As my administration communicated to the Congress during the legislative process, the executive branch will construe this subsection of the bill not to abrogate any constitutional privilege.'

"In other words, the president is reserving the right to claim executive privilege if the commission seeks information or documents that the White House considers to be beyond the bounds of public information and/or privileged communications and negotiations within the executive branch."

Silla Brush writes in The Hill: "The Bush White House was criticized heavily for issuing more signing statements than all previous presidents combined and for using the tool as a practice to alter the intent of congressional legislation. Some estimates put the number of statements in the thousands during Bush's eight years in office.

"Obama's statement on Wednesday is one of a handful during his roughly four months in office. The president has said his administration would rarely issue statements, but defended the practice as a constitutional right."

Late Night Humor

By Dan Froomkin
9:33 AM ET, 05/21/2009

Via U.S. News, Jimmy Fallon: "Both President Obama and Dick Cheney will give competing speeches tomorrow on national security and terrorism. It's kind of like 'American Idol' except one of them got voted off months ago."

Jay Leno: "Hey, President Obama has found a way to quickly close Guantanamo Bay. He's going to turn it into a Pontiac dealership."

Cartoon Watch

By Dan Froomkin
9:24 AM ET, 05/21/2009

Pat Oliphant on Cheney's last crusade, Dan Wasserman on the Cheney precedent, Lee Judge and David Fitzsimmons on the GOP and torture, Tom Toles on the GOP's empathy, Mike Luckovich on the Gitmo bogeymen, Pat Bagley and Matt Davies on those brave congressional Democrats, Ted Rall on liberal projection, Jeff Danziger on Bush, Rumsfeld and God, Tony Auth on Obama's first commandment, Nate Beeler on losing sight of things in the Middle East, John Sherffius on the national park disservice, Ken Catalino on the eighth dwarf, and Jim Morin on health care reform.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company