Today’s Must Read

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February 7, 2008 8:44 a.m.

If it’s seemed to you that the administration has blundered its way into its recent pro-waterboarding PR offensive, you’re right.

It all started, Newsweek reports, when John Negroponte blurted out in an interview that “waterboarding hasn’t been used in years”:

Negroponte’s comments, which were seen as confirmation that waterboarding had in fact been used before that, were not cleared beforehand and caught White House officials off guard, according to [a] senior administration official. “It was an accidental disclosure,” said the official. It also forced a reassessment of whether the administration should at least publicly confirm Negroponte’s remarks, if only to reap whatever public-relations benefit could be derived from the slip.

That’s right: the “public-relations benefit.” You might think that admitting to a technique internationally condemned as torture would have no PR pluses. But not from the administration’s point of view. Negroponte’s comments came right before Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s scheduled appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the thinking, apparently, was that now Mukasey could state publicly that waterboarding is not a currently authorized technique (although it might be deemed necessary and legal in certain “circumstances,” but let’s not focus on that). That should help satisfy all those petulant Democrats and human rights activists, right?

For some reason, it seems to be having the opposite effect. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) has called for a criminal investigation based on the disclosure that waterboarding occurred. And human rights activists have finally gotten the break they’ve been waiting for. From The Washington Post:

Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said the Bush administration’s admissions about waterboarding mark an important milestone. “It’s not an abstract debate anymore,” Malinowski said. “They’ve acknowledged that they’ve waterboarded people, and virtually every legal authority in the United States believes that waterboarding is torture and a crime.”

Note: Newsweek also sheds light on those supposedly unique circumstances that led to the waterboarding of the three detainees in 2002 and 2003:

A former senior intelligence official who was working for the government at the time said intelligence officials were petrified that terrorists had smuggled a nuclear weapon into the United States and were planning to blow up New York City. The scenario was like a real-life episode of “24,” the official said. Ultimately, the nuclear threat proved bogus.

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