What was on the torture tapes that the CIA destroyed?

The ACLU is trying to get the details. On Friday, the group filed a motion (PDF) in an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The ACLU hopes to force the release of documents that would help the public reconstruct what was on the destroyed videotapes and understand why they were destroyed. Those documents include, "among other things,":

(1) cables describing the contents of the destroyed videotapes and the CIA’s use of "enhanced interrogation techniques,"; (2) documents "summariz[ing] details of waterboard exposures from the destroyed videotapes," (3) numerous memoranda and cables discussing and perhaps deciding what to do about the videotapes and the harsh interrogations they depict; and (4) a photograph of Abu Zubaydah presumably depicting the use or consequences of "enhanced interrogation techniques."

If government officials were willing to defy a court order and destroy the videotapes to prevent them from ever being released, what are the odds that the ACLU will get documents that describe what was on the videotapes?

Sgt. Joshua Anderson of Battery B, 1st Battalion, 113th Field Artillery Regiment, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, from Indian Trail, N.C., secures the outside of a home while on a joint patrol with the Iraqi army, south of Baghdad, July 18. (Photo courtesy army.mil.)

"Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping."

-- Democratic People's Republic of Korea on Hillary Clinton, July 23, 2009

"...those sad-sack, grandpa jeans were off message."

-- Robin Givhan on Barack Obama, the Washington Post style section, Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sgt. Jerrod Fields, a U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program Paralympic sprinter hopeful, works out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. A below-the-knee amputee, Fields won a gold medal in the 100 meters with a time of 12.15 seconds at the Endeavor Games in Edmond, Okla., on June 13, 2009. Sgt. Fields lost his leg to an improvised explosive device in Baghdad, Iraq, in March 2005. You can read more about him here. (Photo courtesy army.mil.)

When is a presidential deadline not a deadline?

On Wednesday night, during a primetime White House press conference, President Barack Obama was asked why he had been pushing to complete action on a health care reform package by August 7, the day Congress is scheduled to shut down for its summer recess. He replied:

if you don't set deadlines in this town things don't happen.  The default position is inertia.  Because doing something always creates some people who are unhappy.  There's always going to be some interest out there that decides, you know what, the status quo is working for me a little bit better.

But the next day Senate majority leader Harry Reid said there was no way Congress could meet Obama's August 7 deadline. This was not a shocking pronouncement. Virtually no one in Washington truly believed legislation this complex could be wrapped up in time for Congress's vacation. And with the slow pace of the recent deliberations within the Senate finance committee, it seemed especially unlikely that a Senate bill could be written by this date--let alone voted on.

So Obama, acknowledging reality, gave up on the dog-day deadline. At a town hall meeting in Shaker Heights, Ohio, on Thursday, the president responded to Reid's statement of the obvious:

My attitude is I want to get it right, but I also want to get it done promptly.  And so as long as I see folks working diligently and consistently, then I am comfortable with moving a process forward that builds as much consensus as possible.

But not only is Obama rolling with the punches; he's dropping the whole idea of a deadline.

At Friday's daily White House press briefing--after Obama made a surprise appearance to say that he had spoken with the police officer who had arrested Skip Gates and to note that he regretted accusing the Cambridge cops of having acted "stupidly"--I asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs whether Obama will be establishing a new deadline. Maybe one in September? Or October? By Christmas?

Gibbs chuckled. But seriously, given that Obama on Wednesday night had said that a deadline is necessary to concentrate the mind of Congress, wasn't a new one required?

Gibbs replied that the deadline Obama had previously set had led to real progress, noting that various committees in Congress had taken steps toward constructing health care reform legislation "because we poked." He said that Obama and his aides had always realized that the final bill would not be produced until after August. "We continue to believe we can see health care reform this fall," Gibbs said.

And what about a deadline? Gibbs said nothing about a new deadline.


Meanwhile, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, according to informed sources, is telling people that the demise of the August 7 deadline is no big deal. His scenario: during the August recess, members of the House and Senate will work to make sure that the House and Senate health care reform bills will be similar to one another--with a collection of different taxes being adopted to finance reform--and then in September returning legislators will have an easier time handling the final steps. Sounds easy.  If this is what happens, no deadline will be necessary. If.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Dan Rather Wins One

Dan Rather has won access to a whole bundle of internal CBS documents in his lawsuit against his former employers. This all goes back to a controversial "60 Minutes" report on George W. Bush's time in the military. The report was disputed, and CBS ended up essentially firing Rather. He sued in 2007, saying the panel CBS set up to review the 60 Minutes report was biased. Now Rather's lawyers will have access to e-mails between CBS and the law firm that it hired to investigate the segment. Media Matters' Eric Boehlert explains why this new development is important [emphasis mine]:

The picture painted by the CBS memos and documents already reviewed by Rather suggest a craven news organization that was less interested in uncovering the truth about the disputed memos, and more interested in appeasing Rush Limbaugh. It wanted to "mollify the right," as one internal CBS memo put it.

You can probably expect this to get juicy.

It's time for a new episode of the PinkerCorn show on Bloggingheads.tv. Jim Pinkerton and I discussed President Barack Obama's recent news conference and the prospects for health care reform. When Pinkerton claimed that average Americans are growing skeptical of Obama, I accused him of projecting. We also gabbed about two matters that did not come up at that press conference: the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war. Since the Afghanistan war quickly became "the other war" after George W. Bush invaded Iraq, I opined, it remains insufficiently covered by the media, even though thisis an expanding conflict. (The monthly death toll of US and NATO soldiers is up in Afghanistan.) But you can hear and watch for yourself:


You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Time magazine posted a marvelous piece of journalism today on the final days of the Bush-Cheney administration--and the final drama of their administration: Dick Cheney pressuring George W. Bush to pardon Scooter Libby, and Bush, with the backing of most of his aides, resisting Cheney. This was a conflict that threatened to ruin the relationship between Cheney, who wanted to protect the guy who took a bullet for him, and Bush, who didn't want to pardon Libby (after having commuted his prison sentence) because he believed that Libby had indeed lied to the FBI during the investigation of the Valerie Plame leak and feared that a last-minute pardon would taint his presidency (as did President Bill Clinton's out-the-door pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich). It's a telling tale, and it shows that Cheney, by the end of the administration, was isolated and off in a world of his own.

In response to the Time article, Cheney released a statement declaring Libby "an innocent man" and noting that Libby was not the source of the leak that outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA officer. But Cheney had it wrong: Libby was convicted not for leaking but for lying to the FBI agents. That lie came when Libby did not tell the agents that he had learned about Valerie Wilson's CIA position from Cheney. Instead, Libby had told the investigators that the late Tim Russert was the person who first informed him about Valerie Wilson's CIA connection; Russert testified at the trial that he could not have told Libby any such thing because he hadn''t known about Valerie Wilson's CIA position until after it became public knowledge. Even Bush acknowledged the validity of the jury's verdict when he wiped out Libby's jail time, arguing that this particular sentence (30 months) was excessive. The Cheney statement seemed to indicate the ex-veep doesn't understand the Libby case--or that he's willing to obfuscate facts to defend his former chief of staff.

Cheney is good for business--my businesss, at least. I was invited to go on Hardball to discuss the Time article and Cheney's response. And Chris Matthews does enjoy talking about Cheney. Here's what happened:


You can follow David Corn's postings and appearances via Twitter.

Kevin's usually optimistic about health care reform on odd-numbered days, but the news out of Congress is a little sour today. Voila, 4 sweet story recommendations for your Thursday news chaser:

1) Apocalypse Ciao: When the economic Rapture comes, will collapsitarians be the chosen ones?

2) Hippie, put your clothes on. California doesn't want to see your naughty bits at the beach anymore.

3) A zombie meme returns: Vaccines still don't cause autism. But you wouldn't know it from the comments on this article.

4) The Going Galt movement protests Obama with a collective shrug.

And what the heck, 5) A video of Amy Poehler hearting on Mother Jones with Sarah Silverman and a few other very funny ladies.

Laura McClure hosts podcasts, writes the MoJo Mix, and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

Well, how about that. John Murtha announces he'll abandon his fight to keep the F-22 alive. That means the plane is finally, officially, definitely dead.

He did manage to shoehorn a few sweeteners into the House version of the defense budget, though:

* He allocated the money that he'd wanted to spend on new F-22s to buy parts for existing F-22s (way back when, this money was supposed to go to environmental clean-up.)

* He's hanging on to the VH-71 presidential helicopter (the one designed so Obama could whip up a bite to eat during a nuclear attack.)

* The House bill also contains money for C-17 cargo planes that Defense Secretary Robert Gates didn't want.

For a pork addict like Murtha, I guess this is kind of like legislative nicorette.