Which came first: memos or torture?

John C. Yoo likes the limelight, but it’s causing him some grief. Of the half a dozen lawyers who played important roles in a Bush administration decision to legalize the use of highly coercive interrogation techniques, only Yoo has emerged as the public face — and target — related to the policy.

In 2002 and 2003, Yoo was second in command at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and wrote two memos, one for Alberto R. Gonzales and one for the Pentagon, that provided broad legal authority for the use of extreme measures in the questioning of wartime detainees. In one famous phrase, the memo to Gonzales concluded that only techniques “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death,” could be considered torture. The 81-page Pentagon memo, declassified April 1, contained similar language and added fuel to the fire over torture and the White House. Through it all, Yoo has defended his position in the media.

12 reasons to get out of Iraq

Can there be any question that, since the invasion of 2003, Iraq has been unraveling? And here’s the curious thing: Despite a lack of decent information and analysis on crucial aspects of the Iraqi catastrophe, despite the way much of the Iraq story fell off newspaper front pages and out of the TV news in the last year, despite so many reports on the “success” of the President’s surge strategy, Americans sense this perfectly well. In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, 56% of Americans “say the United States should withdraw its military forces to avoid further casualties” and this has, as the Post notes, been a majority position since January 2007, the month that the surge was first announced. Imagine what might happen if the American public knew more about the actual state of affairs in Iraq — and of thinking in Washington. So, here, in an attempt to unravel the situation in ever-unraveling Iraq are twelve answers to questions which should be asked far more often in this country:

Rice, in Iraq, praises moves against militias

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, making a surprise stop in Baghdad on Sunday, praised the Iraqi government’s decision to take on Shiite militia members in Basra and in Baghdad and painted an upbeat picture of the Iraqi government’s progress toward unifying the country.

Ms. Rice, who visited the Iraqi capital on her way to a conference in Kuwait of Iraq’s neighbors, said that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government “has made a choice to pursue militias and is willing to bear the consequences.”

Conceding that it had been “a long five years,” Ms. Rice said that Iraq had made “significant progress, remarkable progress,” however fragile, and she quoted the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, who said that the country was experiencing “a political spring.”

Iraqi Army takes last Basra areas from Sadr force

Iraqi soldiers took control of the last bastions of the cleric Moktada al-Sadr’s militia in Basra on Saturday, and Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad strongly endorsed the Iraqi government’s monthlong military operation against the fighters.

By Saturday evening, Basra was calm, but only after air and artillery strikes by American and British forces cleared the way for Iraqi troops to move into the Hayaniya district and other remaining Mahdi Army militia strongholds and begin house-to house searches, Iraqi officials said. Iraqi troops were meeting little resistance, said Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry in Baghdad.

Despite the apparent concession of Basra, Mr. Sadr issued defiant words on Saturday night. In a long statement read from the loudspeakers of his Sadr City Mosque, he threatened to declare “war until liberation” against the government if fighting against his militia forces continued.

A diplomat’s view on engaging Iran

Former Ambassador Thomas Pickering has had unofficial meetings with Iranian academics and policy advisers for the past several years on everything from the war in Iraq to Iran’s nuclear program. Pickering discusses his diplomatic efforts.

U.S. military seeks to widen Pakistan raids

American commanders in Afghanistan have in recent months urged a widening of the war that could include American attacks on indigenous Pakistani militants in the tribal areas inside Pakistan, according to United States officials.

The requests have been rebuffed for now, the officials said, after deliberations in Washington among senior Bush administration officials who fear that attacking Pakistani radicals may anger Pakistan’s new government, which is negotiating with the militants, and destabilize an already fragile security situation.

American commanders would prefer that Pakistani forces attack the militants, but Pakistani military operations in the tribal areas have slowed recently to avoid upsetting the negotiations.

Perceived slights have left many U.S. Muslims wary of Pope

Pope Benedict XVI has said he would like to reach out to the Muslim community through dialogue, and Muslims were included in the pontiff’s meeting with interfaith leaders in Washington on Thursday night. But many Muslims in America remain wary, saying the pope has created the impression that he is insensitive to their faith.

On Sunday, the pope will visit Ground Zero, perhaps the most poignant symbol of the divide between the West and the more extremist elements of Islam. But interviews in New York and elsewhere indicate that even those Muslims who do not hold such radical views are critical of the pope.

Many still recall the pope’s September 2006 lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany, in which Benedict quoted a Byzantine Christian emperor saying that the prophet Muhammad brought “things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

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