Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Jack Kennedy from 1960 ...

“But l<$NoAd$>et me stress again,” he told the assembled ministers, “that these are my views — for, contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for president [but the candidate] who happens also to be a Catholic.

“I do not speak for my church on public matters — and the church does not speak for me.

“Whatever issue may come before me as president, if I should be elected — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictate. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”

As I wrote in my Hill column this evening, what a difference 45 years makes!

Then a Catholic senator from Massachusetts running for president was at pains to distinguish between his personal religious views and those he'd try to enact into policy as president. He chose a meeting of Southern Baptists in Texas to make the point.

Now we have a Texas born-again president trying to score political points by pressing certain elements of the Catholic hierarchy into disciplining another Catholic Senator and presidential candidate from Massachusetts for not imposing his personal views as public policy.

Straight out of gag(gle)ville -- Geneva Conventions, Cheney on al Qaida, Plame, Dick Clarke, a movable feast -- from this morning ...

Q Why do you say you've made <$NoAd$>it clear on Geneva Conventions when it's -- obviously, they've been violated ever since we went into Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Are you talking about the abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib?

Q And Guantanamo and everywhere else.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what specifically you're referring to, everywhere else.

Q I'm saying that you people have never said definitively that you are obeying the Geneva Conventions.

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, no, we made it very clear when it comes to Iraq that the Geneva Convention did apply.

Q Consistent with, you say, but --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, not in Iraq. In Iraq we made it very clear the Geneva Convention applies.

Q Can I ask about Vice President Cheney, because yesterday he repeated what is a very controversial claim. He said that Saddam Hussein had long-established ties with al Qaeda. Does the President believe that Saddam Hussein had long-established ties with al Qaeda?

MR. McCLELLAN: We certainly talked about the ties with terrorism between the -- between the regime that was removed from power, and we talked about those ties prior to the decision to remove that regime from power. So that was well-documented. Secretary Powell went before the United Nations and talked about some of those ties to terrorism, as well. And Zarqawi is certainly a senior al Qaeda associate who was in Iraq prior to the decision to go in and remove the regime from power.

Q There's also al Qaeda in the United States. That does not mean the United States is cooperating with those members of al Qaeda. Just by the presence of someone does not mean there's a cooperation.

MR. McCLELLAN: But, remember, we're talking about an oppressive regime that was in power in Iraq that exercised control over that country. And go back and look at what we documented, Norah. We documented all this, and I think that's what the Vice President was referring to.

Q So today you're saying the President does agree there were long --

MR. McCLELLAN: We stand by what we've said previously, in terms of the regime's ties to terrorism, yes. And I think that's what the Vice President was referring to.

Q The President said there were no ties in the run up to the war.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, Helen, that's a mischaracterization. There were clear ties to terrorism between the regime --

Q He said there were no ties with al Qaeda.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- certainly supporting suicide bombers in the Middle East.

Q Are you repudiating what the President said?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think you're talking about September 11th.

Q Has the President been asked to answer questions before the CIA leak investigation?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any update at this point. But those are the types of questions that you need to direct to the prosecutors who are overseeing that investigation. And I'll see if there's any further update beyond what we said previously.

Q Why can't you tell us? I mean, he's the President of the United States. You aren't going to tell us if he's been questioned in a criminal investigation>

MR. McCLELLAN: I just said I don't have any update from where he -- what he previously responded to, Terry.

Q Right, but we'd like it from you, please.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I'll see what else I can find out. But remember what we've made clear from the very beginning. There's an ongoing investigation right now. We want to do everything we can to help that investigation conclude successfully and get to the bottom of this. And in that spirit, that's why we've referred questions like that to the investigators, because if they feel it will help move their case forward, I'm sure that they will discuss that information with you. But I will -- but I'll go back and just check from our end to see what else I can find out.

Q It's an historic event. Not many Presidents --

MR. McCLELLAN: Understood. No, understood, but I have to balance that with the ongoing investigation that's underway.

Q Has he retained his lawyer yet, regarding this?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's what I said. I don't have any update from what he previous said. Let me look into things.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, Richard Clarke says that in the wake of his book, NSC lawyers were used to do opposition research against him, that they contacted his former colleagues to -- quote -- "dig up dirt" on him. Is that accurate? And is it an inappropriate --

MR. McCLELLAN: Arash, I think we've been through this issue and I don't think there's anything to add to what we've previously said.

So many questions ...

Allow me a moment of suspicious speculation ...

Earlier today we noted reports that President Bush had told one of the Pope's chief advisors (actually Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state) that "Not all the American bishops are with me" on cultural issues and asked the Vatican to nudge the American bishops toward greater 'activisim'. The issues of Bush's concern were gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research.

Now, out of context it's not immediately clear what such 'activism' might mean. But perhaps here is some of the context.

The question of whether pro-choice politicians (particularly Democrats, it would seem, and particularly one named John Kerry) should be denied communion has been roiling the country's Catholic bishops. And starting today, June 14th, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will gather in Englewood, Colorado and one key item on their agenda will be to arrive at some guidelines or uniform decision on this issue of denying communion to Catholic politicians.

The archbishop heading the task force on this question is Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington. In public statements he has said that he is uncomfortable with the idea of denying communion to Catholic officeholders. And for this he's been the target of a high-priced ad campaign by a group calling itself the American Life League.

Finally, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said recently that he would like to meet with the Bishops on this question.

(For what it's worth, a recent poll of lay Catholics shows they lean strongly against denying communion to the likes of Kerry, and even a majority of weekly church-going Catholics opposes the idea. And even some of the more conservative cardinals at the Vatican have recommended caution.)

Now, a decision which leans in the direction of placing a sanction Kerry would of course be helpful to the president. But a decision which led to denying communion to various Catholic politicians who dissent from various Church-positions could quickly get out of hand. So one of Karl Rove's chief conservative Catholic allies, Deal W. Hudson -- with whom he has recently been strategizing -- has tried to simplify the issue.

Here's a clip from the Post ...

Karl Maurer, vice president of Catholic Citizens of Illinois, a conservative grass-roots group, said he would add sodomy and gay marriage to that list. Some liberal grass-roots groups have said they believe the church's teachings against war and the death penalty are worthy of equal treatment.

"Once you open this door, what's going to come rolling through it?" asked Deal W. Hudson, editor of the magazine Crisis and a key Catholic ally of the Bush administration. "Pretty soon, no one would be taking Communion."

Hudson said he believes the denial of Communion should begin, and end, with Kerry. Even better, he said, would be if priests would read letters from the pulpit denouncing the senator from Massachusetts "whenever and wherever he campaigns as a Catholic."

Hudson's and Rove's agenda here seems rather clear.

Now, put all this together. When the president tells Vatican officials that not "all the American bishops are with me" and then asks them to push the bishops to greater 'activism', what might he be getting at? Think about it.

"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 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 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 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 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.