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Bush told Cardinal Angelo

"Bush [told Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state], 'Not all the American bishops are with me' on the cultural issues. The implication was that he hoped the Vatican would nudge them toward more explicit activism. Other sources in the meeting said that while they could not recall the president’s exact words, he did pledge aggressive efforts on the cultural front, especially the battle against gay marriage, and asked for the Vatican’s help in encouraging the U.S. bishops to be more outspoken.

That's an excerpt from the National Catholic Reporter, picked up in a full-length article in The New York Times.

As you probably know, there has been a movement afoot in a number of Roman Catholic diocese to deny communion to Roman Catholic politicians who oppose certain Catholic moral teachings as matters of public policy, as opposed to ones of personal conscience. The key example is abortion.

One bishop, I believe, has even held out the option of denying communion to ordinary voters who don't vote a consistently pro-life line.

According to today's Times ...

In his recent trip to Rome, President Bush asked a top Vatican official to push American bishops to speak out more about political issues, including same-sex marriage, according to a report in the National Catholic Reporter, an independent newspaper.

In a column posted Friday evening on the paper's Web site, John L. Allen Jr., its correspondent in Rome and the dean of Vatican journalists, wrote that Mr. Bush had made the request in a June 4 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state. Citing an unnamed Vatican official, Mr. Allen wrote: "Bush said, 'Not all the American bishops are with me' on the cultural issues. The implication was that he hoped the Vatican would nudge them toward more explicit activism." Mr. Allen wrote that others in the meeting confirmed that the president had pledged aggressive efforts "on the cultural front, especially the battle against gay marriage, and asked for the Vatican's help in encouraging the U.S. bishops to be more outspoken." Cardinal Sodano did not respond, Mr. Allen reported, citing the same unnamed people.


I guess on one level we can say we've come a long way since 1960 when John F. Kennedy had to foreswear that he'd follow the instructions of the Pope in his decisions of governance. Today we have a Protestant born-again who tries to enlist the Pope to intervene in an American election.

Now, let's look at this phrase 'more explicit activism'.

The key point of activism we've been hearing about is that of denying communion to pro-choice Catholic pols, or perhaps those who support gay marriage -- seemingly always Dems, pro-choice GOPers seem always to find a special dispensation, shall we say.

This creates at a minimum a political nuisance which affected Democrats must deal with.

Now, just what sort of activisim is it Bush is asking the Pontiff to press upon the bishops?

It seems a pretty small leap to think that pressing the denial of communion issue is one of them. And sources told the National Catholic Reporter that "while Bush was focusing primarily on the [gay] marriage question, he also had in mind other concerns such as abortion and stem cell research."

Presidents regularly meet with Popes. Certainly they talk about matters both political and moral, perhaps even theological. But is it the president's place to press the pope to sow religious divisions among American Catholics, a majority of whom seem uncomfortable with the efforts of some in the hierarchy to discipline pro-Choice Catholic politicians? And all that aside is it proper for the president to enlist the Vatican as an arm of his political campaign? The articles noted above make it pretty clear these requests were made for electoral political purposes.

Remember the words ... "Not all the American bishops are with me"

A new article from

A new article from Newsweek reveals some interesting cleavages in the internal administration debate ...

The handling of al-Libi touched off a long-running battle over interrogation tactics inside the administration. It is a struggle that continued right up until the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in April—and it extended into the White House, with Condoleezza Rice's National Security Council pitted against lawyers for the White House counsel and the vice president. Indeed, one reason the prison abuse scandal won't go away—two months after gruesome photos were published worldwide—is that a long paper trail of memos and directives from inside the administration has emerged, often leaked by those who disagreed with rougher means of questioning.


Always the VP, always the VP.

The BBC reports that

The BBC reports that Muqtada al-Sadr delivered a conciliatory sermon on Friday: "Mr Sadr called upon the interim government to work to end the occupation according to a timetable set by Iraqi officials, reported a correspondent for Voice of Mujahidin radio present at the sermon. Mr Sadr added that the formation of the government was a good opportunity to bury past differences and 'forge ahead toward the building of a unified Iraq'."

From the front page

From the front page of Friday's Post ...

U.S. intelligence personnel ordered military dog handlers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to use unmuzzled dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees during interrogations late last year, a plan approved by the highest-ranking military intelligence officer at the facility, according to sworn statements the handlers provided to military investigators.

A military intelligence interrogator also told investigators that two dog handlers at Abu Ghraib were "having a contest" to see how many detainees they could make involuntarily urinate out of fear of the dogs, according to the previously undisclosed statements obtained by The Washington Post.

The statements by the dog handlers provide the clearest indication yet that military intelligence personnel were deeply involved in tactics later deemed by a U.S. Army general to be "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses."


Then there's this from the Associated Press ...

"What I've authorized is that we stay within U.S. law," Bush told reporters at the close of the G-8 summit in Savannah, Ga.

Asked if torture is ever justified, Bush replied, "Look, I'm going to say it one more time. ... The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you."


When addressing this topic today <$Ad$>President Bush placed great emphasis on the fact that whatever may have happened would have been consistent with his order that "anything we did would conform to U.S. law and would be consistent with international treaty obligations."

But that statement has a certain, shall we say, tortured ring to it when we've just seen this lengthy Pentagon memo which describes novel and improbable legal interpretations by which actions that seem on their face to violate US laws and international treaties actually do not because of the president's plenary powers as commander-in-chief and grand interrogation muckety-muck.

And one other thing: can we have a show of hands of those who still think those half dozen reservists weren't following orders?

Even back home theyre

Even back home they're starting to <$NoAd$>wonder. This from an editorial in yesterday's Houston Chronicle ...

The United States' moral authority to call for the rule of law and respect for human rights has been undermined by legal machinations the Bush administration undertook to justify torturing prisoners taken in the war on terror.

Administration officials have attempted to downplay the significance of a March 6, 2003, Justice Department memorandum that concluded that, as commander in chief in time of war, President George W. Bush is bound neither by federal law nor the tenets of the Geneva Conventions that ban torture as a means of extracting information from detainees.

...

The March memo asserts that interrogators could inflict severe pain on a detainee with impunity as long as the intent was something other than to torture. An interrogator would be culpable only if he knew his actions would inflict suffering that is severe enough to induce "prolonged" physical or mental effects. An interrogator would be immune from punishment if he believed he acted to prevent a larger harm, the lawyers determined.

The memos were obviously concocted to defend acts that are clearly beyond the bounds of a civilized nation.

The memos support the view that the prisoner abuses uncovered at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were not merely the grave mistakes of a few soldiers, but resulted from policies formed at the highest levels of government. They strengthen concerns about how detainees at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan are being treated.


As I suggest today in The Hill, I think we're actually pretty far past that point.

We're like contestants on Wheel of Fortune with a long phrase spelled out in front of us with maybe one or two letters missing. We know what the letters spell. It's obvious. We just don't have the heart to say it out loud.

Dont miss Fred Kaplans

Don't miss Fred Kaplan's piece in Slate on the interplay between Reagan and Gorbachev, how Reagan did play a key role in triggering, though not causing, the end of the Cold War -- though not in precisely the way his hagiographers imply. It's a good piece, with illustrative quotes from declassified documents. Also take a look at this piece by Sid Blumenthal in Salon, which looks at this dimension of Reagan's presidency from a distinct though complementary perspective.

A few days ago

A few days ago I noted a divergence between the websites of the two presidential candidates. John Kerry's website showed lots of pictures of John Kerry in all the expected poses of authority, empathy and so forth. Meanwhile, President Bush's website also showed lots of pictures of John Kerry caught, as you might imagine, in poses suggesting buffoonery, arrogance, indecision and the like. What the GWB website didn't have any of was pictures of George W. Bush.

Now, earlier today I noted how the Bush campaign has replaced the front page of their website with a Reagan tribute, with a huge picture of the late president backgrounded with flags, accompanied by links to a Reagan tribute video, links to President Reagan's most famous speeches and statement of his praise for President Reagan by President Bush.

That's the Bush website now. (You really need to see it to get the picture.)

Now, how many days of leaving the site that way will it take before people start to see the obvious: that President Bush's campaign staffers believe that pushing their own guy isn't a particularly good political strategy and that bashing Kerry or grasping on to Reagan nostalgia is far preferable?

Now to a related point. I've got a number of notes from people (few of them Bush supporters in the first case, of course) who are outraged by the Bush campaign's unabashed exploitation of Reagan's passing as part of their reelection campaign effort --- the morphing of the Bush website into the Reagan tribute website being a key example.

Yes, it's crass and cynical. But it's also a tad desperate. And that's the more important point, I think. Having watched the Bush White House for some time and seen them try all manner of crude and crass political gambits, very few of them, in my recollection, haven't ended up biting them in the behind.

I suspect this case will be the same.

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