Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

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Thursday, April 30, 2009
The Obama 100 days press conference: cool, calm and enchanted
What the right got out of it: he didn't call on Fox News. Then again, Fox (non-cable) didn't bother to air Obama's prime time press conference, so there you go.

What the rest of us got out of it:
  • He also seems to have settled on a theme in mind for his presidency: the "New Foundation..."
  • Jeff Zeleny is in his own way, a freakin' genius, having produced the most interesting moment of the night ... and Obama thinks damned fast on his feet, using deft debate technique (writing it down, thinking through the next answer while answering the current one, etc. ...) to explain what has "enchanted" him most about the presidency so far...
  • Obama still prefers to be a generalist when answering questions specific to Black America. (And the Chyron guys at MSNBC didn't know who Andrew Showell is (he's from BET. I didn't know either until this morning, because I don't watch BET...) probably because the administration understands the dangers that still lurk in his being perceived as the "Black president" rather than the American president. Still, the communications team should come up with a lexicon that works.
  • The president skillfully explained why his government has intervened so heavily in the auto industry, and expressed hope for Chrysler's survival ... (he'll talk more about the automakers at noon today.)
  • He pronounced "nuclear" correctly, as "nuclear" and Pakistan as "Pah-kee-stahn" not "Paak-i-staan" (like Aflak).
  • And unline his predecessor, he didn't embarrass either himself or us with stupid fraternity-style nicknames and razzing of the press corps.
The other important moment in the press conference came when President Obama invoked none other than Winston Churchill to explain why the U.S. should not be in the business ot torturing people (and in doing so, he stated clearly what waterboarding is.) Per the Times of London:

President Obama last night waded back into the bitter controversy over the CIA’s harsh interrogation of terror suspects by declaring clearly that the waterboarding authorised by the Bush Administration was torture.

In a White House press conference, Mr Obama said that the simulated drowning technique used repeatedly on detainees such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had violated “our ideals and our values”.

He added: “I do believe that it is torture. I don't think that's just my opinion; that's the opinion of many who've examined the topic. And that's why I put an end to these practices.”

... Citing the experience of Britain in the Second World War, “when London was being bombed to smithereens”, he pointed out that Winston Churchill had refused to allow torture of 200 German detainees because to have done so would have corroded “the character of a country”.

And while some at the Huffpo are crediting Brit Andrew Sullivan for the Obama reference, the Times says the credit for the original article goes to one of their writers, Ben McIntyre:

The President cited an article he'd read,

"talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees, and Churchill said, 'We don't torture,'".

Huffington Post today - Is Obama reading Andrew Sullivan? - points to an article by the Sunday Times columnist from last Thursday - Churchill vs Cheney -

"As Britain's very survival hung in the balance, as women and children were being killed on a daily basis and London turned into rubble, Churchill nonetheless knew that embracing torture was the equivalent of surrender to the barbarism he was fighting."

And who was Sullivan quoting? See Ben Macintyre's article in The Times on Tin Eye Stephens, the commander of the wartime spy prison and interrogation centre codenamed Camp 020. Was it a coincidence that Ben returned to this character in the article he wrote on torture on the same day as Sullivan's?

Meanwhile, the Times, and many others, continue to ask, if torture was a war crime in Churchill's day (and thereafter) what exactly has changed?

Full transcript of the press conference here.

Or watch it again here:

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posted by JReid @ 9:24 AM  
ReidBlog: The Obama Interview
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"I am for enhanced interrogation. I don't believe waterboarding is torture... I'll do it. I'll do it for charity." -- Sean Hannity
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