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Context of 'December 19, 2007: White House Wins Correction of New York Times Sub-headline in CIA Tape Destruction Dispute'

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Philip A. Cooney, chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, resigns. Two days earlier, the New York Times revealed he had edited reports downplaying the link between greenhouse gases and global warming. According to White House deputy spokeswoman Dana Perino, his departure is unrelated to the recent disclosure. “Phil Cooney did a great job,” she says, “and we appreciate his public service and the work that he did, and we wish him well in the private sector.” Four days later, ExxonMobil announces that Cooney will be working for the company in the fall. (Revkin 6/15/2005)

The White House denies reports that a secret Justice Department opinion in 2005 authorized the use of torture against detainees suspected of terrorist connections, or superseded US anti-torture laws (see February 2005). Press secretary Dana Perino tells reporters: “This country does not torture. It is a policy of the United States that we do not torture and we do not.” The existence of the 2005 memo, signed by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was revealed by the New York Times. It apparently superseded a late 2004 memo that characterized torture as “abhorrent” and limited the use of “harsh interrogation techniques” (see December 30, 2004). Perino confirms the existence of the 2005 memo, but will not comment on what techniques it authorized. She merely says that the memo did not reinterpret the law. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says the 2004 opinion remains in effect and that “neither Attorney General Gonzales nor anyone else within the department modified or withdrew that opinion. Accordingly, any advice that the department would have provided in this area would rely upon, and be fully consistent with, the legal standards articulated in the December 2004 memorandum.” Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a consistent opponent of torture, says he was “personally assured by administration officials that at least one of the techniques allegedly used in the past, waterboarding, was prohibited under the new law.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calls the 2005 memo and other Justice Department memos authorizing torture “cynical attempt[s] to shield interrogators from criminal liability and to perpetuate the administration’s unlawful interrogation practices.” House Democrats want Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), to “be made available for prompt committee hearings.” Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, says: “The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer—it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration’s approach.” Perino does not comment on another secret memo that apparently concluded all of the CIA’s torture methodologies were legal (see Late 2005). (Associated Press 10/4/2007)

The White House protests about a sub-heading in a New York Times story on the destruction of CIA videotapes showing detainee interrogations, and the New York Times admits the subheading was misleading and prints a correction. The subheading is “White House role was wider than it said” (in discussions about what to do with the tapes), but White House spokesperson Dana Perino complains. She issues a statement saying that the subheading is “pernicious and troubling,” as it indicates a conscious effort to mislead by the White House, which has not actually yet officially described its role in the tapes’ destruction except to say that President Bush thinks he was not informed. Even though it corrects the subheading, the paper notes that the White House “had not challenged the content of our story.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007; Shane 12/20/2007; Abramowitz and Warrick 12/20/2007)

Bush, wearing his flight suit, before giving the ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech.Bush, wearing his flight suit, before giving the ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech. [Source: MSNBC]Reporter Helen Thomas, the grande dame of Washington reporters who is not popular with the Bush administration, asks White House spokesman Dana Perino about the five-year anniversary of President Bush’s declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Thomas asks, “How does the president intend to commemorate ‘Mission Accomplished’ after five years of death and destruction?” Perino responds with the explanation that the banner was merely to acknowledge the completion of the mission of the aircraft carrier on which the ceremony was conducted. “President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific and said ‘mission accomplished for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission,’” Perino says. “And we have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year.” (CBS News 10/29/2003; White House 4/30/2008)


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