OK, the White House dispensed with the likes of Dana Peroxide and Tony Fratto and brought back the A-Team (such as it is) in the guise of Pony Blow.
But one can hardly tell the difference astoday’s gaggle was largely occupied with Pony’s inability to convincingly explain away Dick Cheney’s love for waterboarding.
Q Tony, your argument that Vice President Cheney didn’t know that he was being asked about water boarding or wasn’t being asked about water boarding and didn’t intend to give an answer that suggested he was saying the United States uses water boarding, it doesn’t follow when you read the transcript and it doesn’t follow sort of common sense.
MR. SNOW: Well, I’ll tell you what he —
Q How can you really make that argument?
MR. SNOW: I’ll tell you what he said. He was asked the question, “You dunk somebody’s head in the water to save a life, is it a no-brainer?” And also, if you read the rest of the answer, he also — the Vice President, who earlier had also been asked about torture, he said, “We don’t torture.”
Q Then how can you say that he’s not referring to water boarding, when it was very clear, when you look at the whole context, not only that specific question —
MR. SNOW: Does the word —
Q — but the one before?
MR. SNOW: Did the word “water boarding” appear?
Q It came up in the context of talking about interrogation techniques and the entire debate that has been conducted in this country.
MR. SNOW: I understand that. I’ll tell you what the Vice President said. You can push all you want, wasn’t referring to water boarding and would not talk about techniques.
Q Let’s Holden it up here for a second, because what we’re saying is — and I’ve got the transcript — “Would you agree a dunk in water is a ‘no-brainer’ that can save lives?” Vice President: “It’s a ‘no-brainer’ for me.” Tony —
MR. SNOW: Read the rest of the answer.
Q What could “dunk in the water” refer to if not water boarding?
MR. SNOW: I’m just telling you — I’m telling you the Vice President’s position. I will let you draw your own conclusions, because you clearly have. He says he wasn’t talking —
Q I haven’t drawn any conclusions. I’m asking for an explanation about what “dunk in the water” could mean.
MR. SNOW: How about a dunk in the water?
Q So, wait a minute, so “dunk in the water” means what, we have a pool now at Guantanamo, and they go swimming?
MR. SNOW: Are you doing stand up?
Pony continues to lamely explain why the “dunk in the water” interrogation techinique does not refer to waterboarding.
Q Why did the Vice President then, when the inference was clearly there from the questioner, who more than once referred to a dunk in the water —
MR. SNOW: I believe that his office is —
Q Let me finish. He, in the questioning, talked about how his radio listeners believe that this is a useful tool. “If it takes dunking someone in order to save lives, isn’t it a silly debate to even be questioning that?” The Vice President says, “I do agree,” later says, “That’s been a very important tool that we’ve been able to secure the nation” — referring to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
If the Vice President is so careful, why did he allow himself to answer a question in which “dunking in the water” was a part of that question?
MR. SNOW: The answer — look, he was answering a question. And also as you know, he went on to talk about torture. Look, I’ve said what I’m going to say on it. I can’t — I really — what you’re asking me to do is to deconstruct something. I’ve asked what he meant. I’ve told you what he said he meant. I can’t go any further than that, so you can ask all the whys and wherefores. But I want you to think — let’s go back to the “no brainer” part here.
The Vice President is not somebody who’s going to reveal techniques. He’s been in this business for a very long time.
Q He was asked about a technique, and he responded to a technique, and said that he agreed —
MR. SNOW: No, he was not asked — he was not asked, no.
Q Informally, he did.
MR. SNOW: No, informally doesn’t work.
Q It does in the context of a radio interview —
Q You’re quibbling over semantics, to borrow your phrase. You’re quibbling over semantics.
MR. SNOW: I know. But, no, I think — I actually think —
Q He’s in a conversation with a radio audience to speak to the American people.
MR. SNOW: I understand all that.
Q It doesn’t have to be legally precise. The Vice President understood what the questioner was asking.
MR. SNOW: I’m telling you — and I will tell you once again — the Vice President says that he refers to the fact that when you’re questioning people, you don’t torture. You obey the law, and you protect the American people. We’re not going to go any further.
Q Tony, is it not possible that the two are not mutually exclusive? In other words, that the Vice President does not construe water boarding as torture, and therefore, to him —
MR. SNOW: No, no, no, no —
Q — it’s the same sentence —
Q So he does construe water boarding as torture?
MR. SNOW: No, what he does — he doesn’t talk about water boarding. And he also — what he does say is that the techniques that the Americans use do not qualify as torture, and he is not going to talk about specific techniques.
Q So we know from this that a “dunk in the water” does not qualify as torture, right? And the Vice President is saying we’re not involved in torture, and a dunk in the water is a “no brainer” for him.
MR. SNOW: Okay, and I will let you —
Q Is he saying —
MR. SNOW: I will let you deconstruct. The text speaks for itself. Let’s change —
Q Did you talk to him?
MR. SNOW: No, I didn’t. I talked to Lea Anne.
Q — when he says “dunk in the water,” that’s a serious question. You can’t just sort of beg off and say, I’m sorry, I’m not going to deconstruct it.
MR. SNOW: No, but, Jennifer — Jennifer, you’ve listened — there have been statements out of that office for two consecutive days that say they don’t talk about water boarding, they don’t talk about torture, they don’t condone torture. They’re not going to talk about techniques.
Q All we’re asking is, what’s a “dunk in the water”?
Q He agrees with it. We want to know what that means.
MR. SNOW: All right.
Q If he agrees with a “dunk in the water,” then —
MR. SNOW: All right, talk about a dunk in the water.
Q But you need to deconstruct it, not us. That’s why we’re asking you.
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, I’ve told you what deconstruction I’ve had.
Dick Cheney Is Infallible
Q One follow on this, because what you said in the morning was, “You think Dick Cheney is going to slip up on something like this?” Is it possible that he’s not slipping up at all —
MR. SNOW: No.
Q — but that he’s winking to the base and saying —
MR. SNOW: No.
Q — “of course we water board, and of course we’ll do anything we need to to get the information because he knows that what they do —
MR. SNOW: I think you just won the cynical question of the year award. No, I don’t.
Q How is that cynical?
Q To say that Vice President Cheney doesn’t make mistakes like this, he did go up and curse a senator to his face on the Senate floor, and accidentally shot his friend, so he’s not perfect. (Laughter.)
Q He never slips up?
MR. SNOW: No, I mean, it’s just — that’s — that’s a great line, but it’s not germane.
Helen Chimes In
Q Is the emphasis on “we don’t torture” when we send captives to notorious places that do torture? Does that absolve you?
MR. SNOW: No, it’s — as we’ve said many times, when we move people to another place, we have to have assurances that there will be no torture, and the treatment will be in accordance with international law.
Q Why do you send them there? Why? Why don’t you keep them in your own captivity?
MR. SNOW: Well, wait a minute, I thought you guys wanted to close off Guantanamo. The only way you do that — we quite often try to repatriate people to places —
Q No, this was going on before you even had any intention, or you certainly don’t now.
MR. SNOW: Let me just make it clear again. We don’t condone torture. We don’t participate in torture. We don’t do torture.
Q How can we believe you when there’s so much indication otherwise? Cheney went to the Hill to convince them they should not vote for a ban on torture.
MR. SNOW: Well, the people on the Hill have expressed their will, and furthermore, the administration has always said that we don’t conduct acts of torture. And we don’t condone torture.
Kinda Like “We’ve Never Been ‘Stay The Course'”
Q I think the larger issue is credibility — yours and the White House’s. We’re talking both in this instance and yesterday about very clear — about specific language where you refute the semantic differences within the language and refuse to acknowledge what’s very clear.
MR. SNOW: No, I can understand that people will look at this and draw the conclusions that you’re trying to draw, as for yesterday. Those are two entirely different issues, and I think I’ve explained that on the issues of Prime Minister Maliki in the United States, we’re playing off the same playbook.
I understand this. We will try to deal with it. I think you guys are — maybe it’s the end of the week. You’re getting whipped into a frenzy.
Q Do you have contempt for the American people, do you think they don’t understand?
And, Finally, Pony Blow Don’t Know™
Q Clarify something. A couple seconds ago, you said, “I can understand why people look at this and draw this conclusion.”
MR. SNOW: Well, because you’re going to talk about dunks in the water, and I know people say, “oh, that must mean water boarding.” I mean I understand that you’d draw that, so we’ll get into it.
Q What is it, a swim?
Q Wouldn’t you draw that conclusion if you were reading this?
MR. SNOW: No, I wouldn’t because I know the Vice President, and I know the way people think in the White House.
Q Is there anything other — any other term referring to water that’s been in this public debate over the last year, and intensely over the last six weeks up on the Hill as this bill was being debated?
MR. SNOW: I just — I don’t know, Dick. I don’t know. Thank you.
Q You’re up there trying to redefine the meaning of “is.” I mean —
Ixnay on the Enchmarksbay
Q Can you clarify that on Maliki? Is there an agreement in place that the U.S. and the Iraqis have mutually agreed to on benchmarks?
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way. We get ourselves — this is one of these things where I want to be careful about the wording because Prime Minister Maliki I think is rightly concerned that there may be the perception that somebody is saying, you must do this by a certain date, and that is not the way it works. What you do have is collaborative efforts to try to work towards a series of goals: political, economic, and security.
Q Will you stop using the word “benchmark”?
MR. SNOW: I think — I’d be delighted to. Even if it’s used in questions, I’ll change it back to goals, yes.
Pony Blow Don’t Know™, Part II
Q Can I just sort of follow up on that and clarify? The President has said in the past that he supports civil unions if that is what states choose to allow. Is that still the case?
MR. SNOW: I think the President said — has he said — has that been the phrase he’s used? I’m incompetent. We’re all newbies here. I’ll check and see if that’s precisely what he said. His position hasn’t changed.
Your Daily Les
Q Twelve Republican members of Congress from nine states have written the President asking for an investigation of U.S. District Judge Cardone’s sentencing of U.S. Border Patrol Agents Campean and Ramos to prison for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler who brought 743 pounds of marijuana across the U.S. border, but who was given full immunity to testify against them. And my question, since there will be a congressional hearing on this case on November the 13th, will the White House refuse to respond to these 12 Republican congressmen?
MR. SNOW: I don’t have an answer for that, Lester. As you recall the other day when I tried to give you an answer about why we don’t answer those questions, it was used provocatively by your editors. So let’s just say, let’s wait and see what the hearing produces. I believe you have 12 people who want to have a hearing, and we’ll be interested in seeing what those hearings provide.