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Shields and Brooks Look at Detention Policy, Election Race

Lawmakers lashed out over secret memos on interrogation tactics, and presidential hopefuls reported fund raising figures this week. NewsHour political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss these issues and other political news of the week.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    An update of the story about secret Bush administration documents on interrogation, with the analysis of Shields and Brooks. NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman begins.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    In again defending as legal the administration’s policies for interrogating alleged terrorists, the president insisted today the controversial methods have saved lives.

  • GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States:

    I have put this program in place for a reason, and that is to better protect the American people. And when we find somebody who may have information regarding a potential attack on America, you bet we’re going to detain them, and you bet we’re going to question them, because the American people expect us to find out information, actionable intelligence, so we can help them, help protect them. That’s our job. Secondly, this government does not torture people.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    But how torture is defined is at issue once again after the New York Times reported yesterday on two secret Justice Department memos leaked to the newspaper. In late 2004, the Justice Department publicly had called torture “abhorrent,” but according to the Times, Justice formulated a contradictory opinion in May 2005.

    Under the leadership of then-new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the department’s Office of Legal Counsel authorized in a memo a combination of painful physical and psychological interrogation methods. Those methods included head-slapping, simulated drowning, and exposure of detainees to frigid temperatures.

    A follow-up memo said those interrogation practices did not violate legislation then pending in Congress to outlaw “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment.

    Yesterday, Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy blasted the president and the Justice Department on the floor of the Senate. He sought to place the revelations in a years-long continuum of disclosures about administration efforts to authorize harsh interrogation and, thereby, redefine torture.

  • SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), Massachusetts:

    We’ve been here before. It would be bad enough if this administration had disgraced itself and this country by engaging in cruel and degrading treatment of detainees. It’s worse still that it enlisted the Justice Department in the effort to justify and cover up its activities.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    White House spokesperson Dana Perino said yesterday the newly disclosed memos did not conflict with the administration’s previous disavowals of torture. However, the White House rejected congressional Democrats’ demands to release the documents, saying that certain members of Congress had been notified of the administration’s legal judgment.

    The chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, West Virginia’s Jay Rockefeller, issued a bluntly worded retort today, writing, “The administration can’t have it both ways. I’m tired of these games. They can’t say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program. The reality is the administration refused to disclose the program to the full committee for five years, and they have refused to turn over key legal documents since day one.”

    Other congressional leaders have demanded the administration hand over the memos and have promised hearings into the administration’s handling of detainees and the methods it uses to interrogate them.

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