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It's no secret that after 9/11, the administration authorized the use of waterboarding, and that the technique was used on a number of detainees in 2002 and reportedly stopped in 2003. But the administration has never explicitly admitted that.

In fact, when Dick Cheney, seduced into loose talk by a friendly interviewer, confirmed that "a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives," the White House furiously backpedaled, and Tony Snow did his best to proclaim that "a dunk in water" had not been a reference to waterboarding, but just "a dunk in the water."

So John Negroponte is really letting the horse out of the barn here. In an interview with National Journal, the former director of national intelligence casually mentions the use of waterboarding:

Q: When we as a nation are still debating the morality and efficacy of "harsh" interrogation techniques that much of the world consider torture, and indefinite detainment that lies outside the rule of international law, can the United States really win the "war of ideas" that President Bush insists is crucial to this conflict?

Negroponte: I get concerned that we're too retrospective and tend to look in the rearview mirror too often at things that happened four or even six years ago. We've taken steps to address the issue of interrogations, for instance, and waterboarding has not been used in years. It wasn't used when I was director of national intelligence, nor even for a few years before that. We've also taken significant steps to improve Guantanamo. People will tell you now that it is a world-class detention facility. But if you want to highlight and accent the negative, you can resurface these issues constantly to keep them alive. I would rather focus on what we need to do going forward.


Somehow I think that his upbeat, glass-is-half-full message will get lost here.

And expect for White House spokeswoman Dana Perino to do her best to put the horse back in the barn tomorrow.

So all but a handful of Dems held together to rebuff the Republican attempt to push through a surveillance bill with retroactive immunity. With that, the Senate is off until tomorrow morning -- when the battle will be rejoined.

The first fight looming is over an extension to the administration's surveillance bill, the Protect America Act. Even if all sides were able to hash out a deal in the next few days, the Dems argue, they wouldn't be able to get the bill signed before the law lapsed on Friday.

Up until now, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had refused to entertain any such scenario. It was part of the Senate Republican-administration tag-team squeeze play. But in remarks today, he seemed to soften his stance, saying that he might support a short extension to the PAA. But he didn't say for how much time, and it's apparently less than thirty days.

In the House tomorrow morning, they'll hold a vote on a bill that would extend the PAA by thirty days. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has indicated he'll try the same thing. But given the tactics the Republicans used last week, it's far from clear that the Republicans will even allow a vote on it. So-- we'll see you in the morning.

The fight goes on.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) cloture vote failed 48-45 just now, well short of the 60 votes necessary.

In the end, four Dems crossed over to vote with the Republicans: Sens. Mark Pryor (D-AR), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA). Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) was the lone Republican to vote with the Dems.

Now we're on to the question of whether an extension will be passed. We'll have more on that in a moment.

Update: Here's the official tally.

A prepared transcript of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) remarks before the vote today are below.

Some highlights:

Mr. President, in my twenty years in Congress, I have not seen anything quite as cynical and counterproductive as the Republican approach to FISA.

The American people deserve to know that when President Bush talks about the foreign intelligence bill tonight, he's doing little more than shooting for cheap political points - and we should reject his efforts....

The Republican leader filed cloture on this bill after it had been on the floor for just a few hours. He filed cloture after Republicans blocked every amendment they could from being offered and blocked all amendments from getting votes.

In simple terms, this means the Republicans were filibustering their own bill. Let me repeat that. The Republicans were filibustering their own bill. In my time in the Senate, I can't remember this taking place....

We are the deliberative body. Let us deliberate.


Full transcript below.

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Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the champion of the Senate intelligence committee bill that contains retroactive immunity, and one of the twelve Democrats who voted against the Senate Judiciary Committee bill last week, just said on the floor that he'll also vote against cloture. The administration is placing politics above national security, he says.

This isn't shaping up to be a close vote.

Update: His full statement is below.

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Not a good sign for the Republicans Just now on the Senate floor, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) spoke against the Senate Republican leadership's attempt to invoke cloture on the surveillance bill, indicating that he'll vote with the Democrats.

Among the amendments that the Republicans seek to block is one of Specter's own amendments, one he's sponsoring along with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). The amendment would, rather than granting the telecoms retroactive immunity for cooperating with the administration's warrantless wiretapping program, substitute the government as the defendant in the numerous lawsuits against the telecoms.

Update: We have a rough transcript of some of his floor remarks below.

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The race is on to determine which Republican can best walk and chew gum at the same time: that is, simultaneously fear-monger about the lapse of the Protect America Act while at the same time rejecting Democratic efforts to extend it for thirty days.

President Bush, in his weekly radio address, warned: "We need to know who our enemies are and what they are plotting. And we cannot afford to wait until after an attack to put the pieces together." Bush, remember, has threatened to veto any extension of the PAA.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), face underlit with a flashlight observed succinctly: "It’s not about frightening the American people. The American people should be frightened and remember full well what happened on 9/11."

And House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) ties it all up into a neat bow: "The implications of failing to act are real. If we let this law expire, we will go back to a system that last spring kept American soldiers in Iraq waiting on D.C. lawyers before they could look for a kidnapped colleague.... Our national security is far too important for another temporary patch."

For me, I have to say that Blunt takes the cake. Not only does it rely on the by-now debunked claim that the prior FISA law prevented the NSA from wiretapping Iraqi insurgents who'd kidnapped U.S. troops, but he claims that the old FISA law prevented the U.S. from even looking for those missing soldiers. And Blunt glancingly describes the administration lawyers who deal with surveillance authority as "D.C. lawyers." Gotta love that. His full statement, which is just bursting with distortions too numerous to catalog, is below.

Note: Any other outstanding examples we didn't note? Let us know in the comments.

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For years, the families of the four Blackwater guards killed in the infamous Fallujah incident have carried on a wrongful death lawsuit against the company. A House oversight committee investigation faulted the company's cost-cutting for leaving the guards vulnerable to the ambush.

But Blackwater, always in need of very good lawyering, says that if it weren't for some lousy (though very expensive) lawyers, they would have easily disposed of the lawsuit already. From Legal Times:

Blackwater Security filed a $30 million malpractice suit against Wiley Rein on Wednesday, alleging that the firm made costly missteps in a wrongful death case brought on behalf of four former Blackwater employees who were killed in Iraq in 2004.


Somewhat awkwardly, one of the lawyers who was on that Wiley, Rein team being sued for incompetence is current White House counsel Fred Fielding. It's nothing personal, I guess.

Blackwater dropped Wiley, Rein back in 2005, opting for another heavy-hitting firm, Greenberg, Traurig. The suit is ongoing.

From 60 Minutes' fascinating interview with FBI agent George Piro, who led the American team to interrogate Saddam Hussein:

Piro says no coercive interrogation techniques, like sleep deprivation, heat, cold, loud noises, or water boarding were ever used. "It's against FBI policy, first. And wouldn't have really benefited us with someone like Saddam," Piro says.

Why not?

"I think Saddam clearly had demonstrated over his legacy that he would not respond to threats, to any type of fear-based approach," Piro explains.

"So how do you crack a guy like that?" Pelley asks.

"Time," Piro says.

Months of time, during which Piro manipulated Saddam, creating a relationship based on dependency, trust and emotion.


Oh, and by the way: "He considered [Osama bin Laden] to be a fanatic. And as such was very wary of him. He told me, 'You can't really trust fanatics,'" Piro says."

via Laura Rozen.

You hear a lot about the administration's torture regime, but not a lot about the process of how we got to where we are.

Say hello to TPM alum and drinking buddy Spencer Ackerman at his new muckraking home, The Washington Independent. In his first big piece, Spencer looks at how the CIA ended up implementing a system where "U.S. interrogators are still mostly in the dark—in the dark not only about al-Qaeda, but about how to effectively elicit vital national-security information from the detainees in its custody."

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