- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

Mike McCurry, President Bill Clinton’s adroit press secretary, told the New York Post that George W. Bush’s present spokesman, Tony Snow, “has chilled the White House press corps.” Mr. McCurry went on to say, “And that is some Snow job if you ask me.” But Mr. Snow also has a long record as a credible journalist — even though he also worked in the White House as a speechwriter and media adviser to President George H.W. Bush.

Mr. Snow has been a successful syndicated columnist, and his work has regularly appeared in USA Today. He has also had stints as editorial-page editor of The Washington Times. Most recently, he’s worked as a host and commentator at the Fox News Channel. I’ve long respected his work and recognize that as a presidential spokesman he cannot publicly rebut his boss.

However, if Mr. Snow intends to return to journalism eventually, there are limits to how much credibility capital he can spend in his present job.

On June 7, he assured this nation and the world: “The United States does not condone torture. Furthermore, we will not agree to send anybody to a nation or place that practices torture.” That’s like saying, with a straight face, that the Earth is flat. On July 5, Italian prosecutors arrested two Italian intelligence officials on charges of complicity with the CIA in the kidnapping of an imam, Hussan Mustafa Nasr, from a street in Milan. The kidnapping resulted in the CIA “rendition” of Mr. Nasr to Egypt, where he was tortured.

An Italian investigating judge has activated a criminal case against 22 CIA members of the kidnapping ring, who left behind bountiful evidence of their operation in expensive hotels. Arrest warrants have been issued.

On June 6, the 46-nation Council of Europe, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights, released an extensively and carefully documented 76-page report, which I have, on the collusion of a number of European countries with CIA agents, who, contrary to Mr. Snow, do indeed send terrorism suspects to countries known (in our own State Department reports) for torturing their prisoners.

Included, in what the Financial Times called a “devastating” Council of Europe account of the CIA’s extralegal adventures, are flight logs of planes used by the CIA; interviews with those victims eventually released; and information from present and former members of intelligence agencies in European countries.

Then after the stunning June 29 Supreme Court decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld — which reversed, among other “unitary executive” policies of this administration, the president’s bypassing Congress in setting the procedural rules for military commissions at Guantanamo Bay — Mr. Snow again addressed us and the world.

Of the Supreme Court’s requirement that the administration must at last observe Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions in its treatment of detainees, Mr. Snow said blithely that “It is not really a reversal of policy.” But even the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, a staunch defender of the commander in chief’s policies on detainees and other unilateral actions in the war on terror, admitted that this decision was a “major Court intrusion into executive war powers and thus a setback not only for this Presidency but, more important, for future ones.” Sounds like quite a reversal of policy to me.

Ruefully agreeing with the Wall Street Journal was John Yoo, the chief architect of the administration’s insistence after Sept. 11 that to protect national security, the president alone decides what the law is.

Mr. Yoo, now back at the University of CaliforniaLaw School at Berkeley, was at the Justice Department while this core administration policy was detailed in a series of memoranda. It was Mr. Yoo who convinced a cadre of presidential lawyers that Congress could not “place limits on the president’s determination as to any terrorist threat … These decisions under our Constitution are for the president to make.”

After the Supreme Court vigorously decided otherwise in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, a disappointed Mr. Yoo said that this decision “could affect detention conditions, interrogation methods, the use of torture. It could affect every aspect of the war on terror.” Those are certainly policy reversals.

In the present intense debate inside Congress on how to write legislation conforming to Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that will not be reversed by the Supreme Court, a retired U.S. Navy judge advocate general, Adm. John Hutson, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 13, said of the Supreme Court standard on evidence in future trials of terrorism suspects:

“What you can’t do, I think, is say to the accused, we know you’re guilty. We can’t tell you why, but there’s a guy we can’t tell you who who told us something, we can’t tell you what. But you’re guilty.” Mr. Snow will be asked about such problems in admissible evidence in accordance with the Supreme Court, our own laws and the Geneva Conventions. Answers won’t be easy, but he is a trained journalist.

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