Remains ID’d of vagabond poet Everett Ruess, who vanished in ’30s


This image provided by National Geographic Adventure shows Everett Ruess photographed in 1933 by Dorthea Lange. Everett Ruess, a talented artist, poet and wanderer of the 1930s whose disappearance became the stuff of Western lore and Navajo legend.

Scientists at the University of Colorado have confirmed that a skeleton found in remote southeastern Utah was that of a young artist, poet and wanderer who disappeared in the 1930s.

The disappearance of Everett Ruess, a self-described vagabond from California, became part of Western legend, inspiring books, film documentaries and folk songs.

Ruess was just 20 when he set off for his final wilderness journey from the town of Escalante, Utah, in 1934. The skeleton was found 60 miles to the east at Comb Ridge.

University of Colorado geneticist Kenneth Krauter says DNA tests involving the explorer’s surviving relatives make it “irrefutable” that the bones were that of Ruess.


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A Mystery of the West Is Solved


Everett Ruess with two donkeys in the Southwest in the 1930s

The gifted young idealist who slips the bonds of civilization and prevails against the wild, or fails in the trying, is a recurring theme of the American West — not to mention Hollywood.

Everett Ruess in many ways defined the template. A poet, painter and confidant to a leathery set of Western artists in the 1930s, including Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams, the 20-year-old Mr. Ruess rode off into the desert of the Southwest in 1934 with two burros and a notebook full of dreams, never to be seen again. Over the next 75 years, the West became tamer, but Mr. Ruess and his legend did not, and the lingering mystery of his disappearance only added to the romantic aura of the time and fueled the periodic search for evidence of his fate.

ruess july 4

A photograph of Everett Ruess by Dorothea Lange, with photographic superimposition of skeletal remains found in southern Utah done by Paul Sandberg of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Now the circle has been closed with a tale that is gritty and grim — and scientifically gee-whiz at the same time.

Human remains were found last year about 60 miles from Escalante in southern Utah by a Navajo man who knew nothing of the Ruess story. The man has been searching for evidence of a killing that his grandfather had witnessed during the Depression. On Thursday, researchers at the University of Colorado connected the dots and said that DNA in the recovered bones matched that of living Ruess relatives. Citing the DNA evidence, as well as a forensic facial reconstruction that was compared with photographs of Mr. Ruess, the researchers concluded that the remains were those of the long-lost artist.

So it was that two family stories of secrets and mysteries became intertwined, and then resolved.

“Navajo oral tradition, the forensic analysis and now the DNA test,” said Dennis Van Gerven, a professor of anthropology at the university. “We can be certain that this is Ruess.”

But the story, pieced together in the April/May issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine and announced Thursday in a conference call, probably still leaves enough loose ends to keep Ruess flame-keepers at work.

The resonant sentences Mr. Ruess wrote in a letter to his family before heading out in November 1934 will probably live on as well. “As to when I shall visit civilization, it will not be soon, I think,” he wrote, as quoted in the book Sandstone Sunsets: In Search of Everett Ruess, by Mark A. Taylor (Gibbs Smith, 1997).

“I prefer the saddle to the streetcar, the star-sprinkled sky to a roof,” wrote Mr. Ruess, who painted, made woodcuts and filled volumes of notebooks, all while still in his teens.

In their analysis, the Colorado researchers said the preliminary evidence was circumstantial; the bones confirmed that the body was male, Caucasian, 19 to 22 years old, and about 5 feet 8 inches tall — all a match for Mr. Ruess. The jaw and eye sockets were largely intact, and so a facial reconstruction came next. It closely matched photographs of Mr. Ruess taken by Ms. Lange, a photographer probably best known for her images of migrant workers during the Depression.

Finally, DNA extracted from the bones showed a 25 percent match with nephews and nieces of Mr. Ruess, the exact amount that would be expected in that family relationship. The conclusion, said Kenneth Krauter, a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Colorado, was “irrefutable.”

How the remains were found at all is an astonishing tale in its own right.

That story begins in the early 1970s, when Aneth Nez broke a 37-year silence to tell his family about being witness to a dark incident in the 1930s. He told them that while sitting on a ridge, he watched three Ute boys chase down and kill a young white man. After the killers took the victim’s two mules, Mr. Nez, out of respect, buried the body, he told his granddaughter, Daisy Johnson, but was too afraid to talk about it.

Last year, Ms. Johnson told the story to her younger brother, Denny Bellson, and together, on May 25, they went to the general area their grandfather had talked about. Mr. Bellson, speaking in the conference call, said he saw a saddle first— probably his grandfather’s, which, in the Navajo tradition, he would have disposed of because it had been contaminated by coming in contact with the blood of the dead. Then, Mr. Bellson said, he saw the bones, jammed down into a rock crevice.

“The skull was in pieces,” he said. But he said he also saw that it was indented, as though caved in, which fit with his grandfather’s tale.

One of Mr. Ruess’s nephews, Brian Ruess, said in a telephone interview that he had grown up with open-ended versions of his uncle’s story, with each family member drawn to speculate. Some wanted to think their uncle had fallen in love with a Navajo girl and intentionally disappeared into the desert. Brian Ruess said he had always imagined his uncle being swept away while crossing the Colorado River.

“But Everett’s story is more important than just his disappearance — his message wasn’t to go disappear,” added Brian Ruess, 44, who works in software sales in Portland, Ore. “I think the message to be found in his life and writing and art — that there’s beauty in the wilderness and beauty in adventure, and go seek adventure, go live your wanderlust.”

And what happened to Everett Ruess’s gear and notebook, and the bulky box camera that was being carried by one of his burros? Much is still unknown.

Was the campsite discovered in 1957 on a high plateau by geologists working on the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River — spoons and cups set on rocks as if someone had just stepped away, set around a fire ring and a box of razor blades from a Los Angeles drug store near the Ruess family home in Los Angeles — evidence of Mr. Ruess’s last night on earth, as some researchers have long believed?

It is a question the National Geographic article does not address. So it may be a piece of someone else’s desert mystery, still waiting to be solved.


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Study bolsters hopes for prostate cancer vaccine rejected by FDA

The vaccine, Provenge, extended life an average of four months, nearly twice as long as the best available chemotherapy, researchers say.
A controversial prostate cancer vaccine that previously had been rejected by the Food and Drug Administration improves survival of patients with the advanced form of the disease more than existing treatments and should be brought to market, researchers said Tuesday.

The therapeutic vaccine, called Provenge, extended average survival by four months compared with a placebo, nearly twice as long as the best available chemotherapy, and increased three-year survival by 38%, researchers said at a Chicago meeting of the American Urological Assn.

“This is going to change the way we treat . . . metastatic prostate cancer,” said Dr. David Penson, a urologist at USC’s Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Any patient who has this form of cancer, this is the drug they are going to want, and it is going to be first-line therapy.”

“This will be much easier for patients than going through chemotherapy because there are no side effects,” added Dr. Stanton Gerson, director of the University Hospitals Ireland Cancer Center in Cleveland. Prostate cancer patients “have never had cell therapy or a vaccine as an option before. Now they will.”

Dr. Jonathan W. Simons, president of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, said in an e-mailed statement, “The results validate 16 years of modern research to harness a patient’s own immune system to fight their prostate cancer.”

Both Penson and Gerson participated in the study, but neither has financial links to Dendreon Corp. of Seattle, which developed Provenge. The foundation provided support for some of the initial research on the vaccine.

As a therapeutic vaccine, Provenge is designed to treat the disease rather than prevent it. Physicians collect specialized immune cells called dendritic cells from the patient’s blood, mix them with proteins collected from the surface of tumor cells and inject them back into the patient in three doses at two-week intervals.

In a previous study released in 2007, Dendreon found that the vaccine increased survival in patients with metastatic disease by 18 weeks compared with patients given a placebo. After three years, 34% of those in the vaccine group survived, compared with 11% of those in the placebo group.

An FDA advisory committee recommended that the vaccine be approved for marketing, but the FDA disagreed, arguing that the study did not provide evidence the vaccine slowed progression of tumors.

The decisions provoked outrage among cancer patients. “Since 2007, I have watched men who could have been helped by Provenge suffer and die from prostate cancer,” Thomas A. Farrington, founder and president of the Prostate Health Education Network, said in a statement. “I urge FDA to move as quickly as possible now to make Provenge available to patients.”

The new double-blind study involved 512 patients with advanced prostate cancer. Two-thirds received Provenge, and the rest received a placebo. Dr. Paul Schellhammer of Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va., said that median survival in the Provenge group was 26 months, compared with 22 months in the placebo group.

That may seem like a short time, experts said, but drugs that provide shorter survival are routinely approved.

“The ability to boost survival for patients is the gold standard end point in prostate cancer clinical trials,” said Dr. Ira D. Sharlip, a urologist at UC San Francisco, a spokesman for the urology association.

The current treatment for such patients is Taxotere, known generically as docetaxel, which extends survival two to three months at most and has often-disabling side effects. Many men refuse to take it, Penson said. He has seen many patients taking it end up in a wheelchair from its side effects, which can include bone and muscle pain, allergic reactions, decreases in white and red blood cells, and neuropathy.

But with Provenge, “they might have a little fever, and the next day they are out playing golf,” Sharlip said.

Dendreon officials said they would reapply to the FDA sometime this year. They have not said how much the therapy might cost. An estimated 186,000 American men develop prostate cancer each year, and about 28,660 die of it.

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Spider sex violent but effective

A violent but evolutionarily effective mating strategy has been spotted in spiders from Israel.

Males of the aptly-named Harpactea sadistica species pierce the abdomen of females, fertilising their eggs directly in the ovaries.

The so-called traumatic insemination gives the first male to inseminate a reproductive advantage by bypassing structures in the females’ genitalia.

The findings are reported in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Insects including mites and bedbugs have been spotted using a similar strategy, but this is the first time that it has been seen in spiders.

Typically, spider males deliver their genetic package via sperm that is deposited into a small web and manually inserted using a pair of appendages on their undersides known as pedipalps.

The sperm are then held in a receptacle between the ovipore and ovary known as a spermatheca until an egg is released.

However, the spermatheca is a “last in, first out” structure, so that if any further males inseminate a female, the last mate’s sperm is the first in line to fertilise an egg.

Direct route

Milan Rezic, an entomologist at the Crop Research Institute in Prague, has spotted a spider circumventing this problem by delivering sperm directly to the ovaries via holes that the males bore directly in the females’ abdomens.

H sadistica male genitalia (M Rezac)

The male sports a pair of these emboli, optimised for piercing the females

Naming the species H. sadistica , Dr Rezac noted that the species has specialised sex organs at the ends of its pedipalps, with one part specialised for gripping and another, hypodermic needle-like structure for injecting sperm.

Like many spider mating rituals, H. sadistica ‘s approach follows an elaborate pattern, with the male tapping the female, subduing her, and wrapping himself around her to properly position the sex organs.

He then alternates between the two, piercing and injecting the sperm on one side, then the other, forming two neat rows of holes in her abdomen.

An analysis of the females of the species has shown that relative to other spiders, their spermathecae are atrophied, or shrunken.

In an apparent case of co-evolution, they seem to be slowly shrinking into nonexistence now that their purpose is being bypassed by the males’ more direct approach.

“In insects there is a co-evolutionary development of female physiological responses to the male sperm that gives her at least some control of fertilisation,” said William Eberhard, an expert in the mating habits of insects and spiders at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

“Something similar might occur here.”

Dr Rezac suggests equally that a means to avoid the injury caused by the males might drive the evolution of secondary genitalia nearer to the ovaries, which have been seen in some spiders and butterflies.

“The evolution of these features has been heretofore difficult to explain,” he said.

“Perhaps the secondary genital structures of butterflies and spiders could have originated via traumatic insemination.”



Violent sex strategy of spiders

The ritual of traumatic insemination plays out.


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Al-Qaeda ‘agent’ Ali al-Marri in US court plea


Ali al-Marri, file image
Mr Marri is said to have met top al-Qaeda leaders and attended camps

 A man accused of being a sleeper agent for al-Qaeda has pleaded guilty in the US to conspiring to provide material support for terrorism.

Ali al-Marri, a dual Saudi-Qatari national, was arrested two months after the attacks of 11 September 2001.

Prosecutors said he had met top al-Qaeda figures, who sent him to the US to help plan further attacks.

He was held for nearly six years as an “enemy combatant” in a military jail, before being charged in a civil court.

US Attorney General Eric Holder said that the case was “a grim reminder of the seriousness of the threat we as a nation still face”.

“But it also reflects what we can achieve when we have faith in our criminal justice system and are unwavering in our commitment to… the rule of law,” he said.

Training camps

Ali al-Marri, a married father of five, admitted the charge as part of a plea deal.

Prosecutors said he made contact with top al-Qaeda leaders in 1998 and then went on to attend training camps in Pakistan.

He entered the US on 10 September 2001 on a student visa.

While studying, he carried out research into poisons and the location of US dams, waterways and tunnels, prosecutors said.

He was arrested in December 2001 and charged with credit card fraud.

In 2003 the Bush administration labelled him an “enemy combatant” and held him in a military base in South Carolina.

In December 2008 the Supreme Court agreed to review the legality of his detention.

But two months later, after President Barack Obama took office, he was formally charged by a federal court with supporting a foreign terror group.

A second charge against him was dropped as part of the plea deal.

He faces up to 15 years imprisonment and will be sentenced on 30 June.


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Canada and Ontario to lend Chrysler $3.8-billion

Federal and Ontario governments secure 2% stake; car maker agrees to maintain 20% of output in Canada.

Canadian governments are providing a $3.8-billion lifeline to Chrysler LLC, one they say is crucial to securing a future for the auto sector in Canada.

The loans are part of a $15-billion (U.S.) bailout package announced on Thursday by the Obama administration in Washington and the federal and Ontario governments on this side of the border.

In return for the $3.8-billion (Canadian) in assistance here, the federal and Ontario governments will receive 2 per cent of the equity in Chrysler, one seat on its nine-member board and a pledge from the company to maintain at least 20 per cent of North American auto production in Canada.

The announcements came as Chrysler sought Chapter 11 protection in the United States from creditors Thursday and formed a new partnership with Italy’s Fiat SpA.

Mr. Harper said on Thursday that Canada had no choice but to participate in the restructuring once the former Bush administration in the United States got involved late last year. He and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty concluded that the only realistic option was to have Canada participate as well in the restructuring, he said.

“Otherwise, through a politically directed restructuring in the United States, we would stand a serious risk of the complete restructuring of the industry outside of this country,” he said at a news conference in Toronto.

Mr. Harper stressed that the loans from Ottawa and Ontario come with strings attached, including a requirement that Chrysler produce 20 per cent of the cars it makes in North America in Canada. If it falls below that threshold, both in auto production and investment, the company will be in default on the loans and the federal and Ontario governments can demand repayment.

“Let not anyone suggest that the money we are giving today is a gift,” Mr. Harper said. “We have insisted that the very difficult decisions that are necessary to ensure the viability of this company have been made.”

But the governments did not extract commitments from Chrysler on job quotas in Canada and Mr. Harper acknowledged that a smaller company will emerge out of the restructuring.

“Let’s be clear,” he said. “We’re choosing between a smaller company or if we had stayed out of this, simply allowing the collapse of the company.”

Premier Dalton McGuinty, who was at Mr. Harper’s side during the news conference, said Ontario is the No. 1 auto producer in North America and a collapse of Chrysler would have rippled through the economy.

“The auto sector exercises such a powerful and disproportionate influence on our economy,” he said.

Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza said maintaining the 20 per cent threshold was a crucial issue for the union. “From our perspective that was a deal breaker.”

Mr. Lewenza endorsed the proposed partnership between Chrysler and Fiat. He referred to his face-to-face meeting this week with Mr. Sergio Marchionne, Fiat’s CEO. “He is a talented, fair person, and I look forward to working with him. Canada has been very good to Chrysler over the years, and we will be very good to Fiat, too,” he said.

Mr. Lewenza commended the Canadian and Ontario governments for their efforts to safeguard Chrysler’s presence here. “By participating in the restructuring, and confirming Chrysler’s continuing footprint here, our governments are helping to ensure that Canadians capture a fair share of the benefits once the company turns around in the future.”

He said he expects Canadian Chrysler plants will be shut for most of the duration of the Chapter 11 proceedings, once they run out of parts.

“Our plants will run for as long as the supply base allows them to,” he said. “Once the supply chain exhausts its inventory, we will be down.” But it won’t take long to use up available parts, he said, because of the just-in-time inventory system.

Chrysler will have up to eight years to repay the Canadian loans, which will carry an interest rate of at least 7 per cent.

Ottawa is providing two-thirds of the funding, and Ontario the remaining one-third. The loans will be provided in three separate tranches:

– Interim loans of $1.21-billion, including $1-billion that has already been committed;

– A $1.45-billion contribution to the debtor-in-possession financing in the United States;

– A restructuring loan in the amount of $1.16-billion.

There are no plans for Chrysler Canada to seek bankruptcy protection in this country.

In comments Thursday, Mr. Lewenza also stressed the need to develop a broader national auto strategy to reinforce the industry’s underlying fundamentals in the future.

“It’s essential to help the industry survive the side-effects of the global financial crisis,” he said. “But we also need a long-term vision to build this industry well into the future, one that addresses key challenges like infrastructure, the environment, and trade imbalances.”

Mr. Lewenza called on the federal government to recommit to the work of the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council, the multi-stakeholder body which has been developing a long-run industrial policy for the automotive sector.


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Gettelfinger Motors

The mauling of GM’s bondholders reveals Treasury’s political hand.

President Obama insisted at his press conference last night that he doesn’t want to nationalize the auto industry (or the banks, or the mortgage market, or . . .). But if that’s true, why has he proposed a restructuring plan for General Motors that leaves the government with a majority stake in the car maker?

[Review & Outlook]

Ron Gettelfinger.

The feds have decided they should own a neat 50% of GM, yet that is not the natural outcome of the $16.2 billion that the Treasury has so far lent to the company. Nor is the 40% ownership of GM that the plan awards to the United Auto Workers a natural result of the company’s obligations to the union.

Yet Secretary Timothy Geithner and his auto task force, led by Steven Rattner, have somehow decided that Treasury and UAW chief Ron Gettelfinger will get to own a combined 90% of GM. If there’s a reason other than the political symbiosis among the Obama Administration, Michigan Democrats and the auto union, it’s hard to discern. From now on let’s call it Gettelfinger Motors, or perhaps simply the Obama Motor Company, though in the latter they’d have to change the nameplates.

The biggest losers here are GM’s bondholders. According the Treasury-GM debt-for-equity swap announced Monday, GM has $27.2 billion in unsecured bonds owned by the public. These are owned by mutual funds, pension funds, hedge funds and retail investors who bought them directly through their brokers. Under Monday’s offer, they would exchange their $27.2 billion in bonds for 10% of the stock of the restructured GM. This could amount to less than five cents on the dollar.

The Treasury, which is owed $16.2 billion, would receive 50% of the stock and $8.1 billion in debt — as much as 87 cents on the dollar. The union’s retiree health-care benefit trust would receive half of the $20 billion it is owed in stock, giving it 40% ownership of GM, plus another $10 billion in cash over time. That’s worth about 76 cents on the dollar, according to some estimates.

In a genuine Chapter 11 bankruptcy, these three groups of creditors would all be similarly situated — because all three are, for the most part, unsecured creditors of GM. And yet according to the formula presented Monday, those with the largest claim — the bondholders — get the smallest piece of the restructured company by a huge margin.

This seems to be by political design. GM CEO Fritz Henderson says Treasury insisted that bondholders receive, at most, 10% of the company. “We went to the maximum and offered 10%,” Mr. Henderson said. Mr. Rattner’s office did not return our calls, so we can’t say why Mr. Rattner wanted private risk capital cut out of the ownership of the new GM, but no one has contradicted Mr. Henderson.

Some Treasury officials have told the media that 50% government ownership is important to ensure that taxpayers get repaid for the $16.2 billion in Treasury loans. But this is false logic. Taxpayer-shareholders are likely to be far better off with a smaller stake in a truly private company that is better insulated from political meddling. Private owners are more likely than the Treasury or the unions to try to run the company for profit, and so increase its equity value over time. Treasury says it would be a hands-off owner, but that hardly seems plausible and in any case that would merely leave the UAW in control. At the next labor contract bargaining session, the union would sit on both sides of the table.

GM, the government and the bondholders all insist that a bankruptcy filing would be a disaster. GM’s SEC filing on the debt-equity swap also warns darkly that if the requisite 90% of bondholders don’t agree to these terms, they may recover little or nothing in bankruptcy court. But given the choice between a 10% stake in Gettelfinger Motors and the independent mercies of a bankruptcy judge, bondholders could be forgiven for taking their chances in court.

Certainly the bondholders deserve to take a haircut like everybody else. But squeezing them in such a blatant fashion has other consequences. Who would be crazy enough to lend GM money in the future? The Treasury also says it wants banks that do poorly in its “stress tests” to try to raise private capital before putting in more public money. The mauling of GM creditors tells investors not to invest in TARP banks because everything this Treasury touches turns to politics.

Monday’s offer is so devoid of economic logic or fairness that it confirms the fears of those who said the original bailout would lead to a nationalized GM run for political ends. This fiasco will in part go down on George W. Bush’s copybook, since he first decided GM was too big to fail.

But rather than use his early popularity to force hard decisions through the bankruptcy code, President Obama has decided in essence to have the feds run GM and Chrysler. This inevitably means running them for the benefit of the UAW that is so closely tied to the Democratic Party. Next up will be tax changes and regulations intended to coax, or coerce, Americans to buy Gettelfinger Motors cars. This tale of taxpayer woe is only beginning.

Opinion, Wall Street Journal


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100 Days: ‘Harry, I Have a Gift’

If opinion polls were real life, Barack Obama would be walking with the immortals. In polls taken as he headed to his 100th day, his numbers are high and heavenly, cruising on issue after issue at 70-plus percent.

One number in last weekend’s Washington Post/ABC poll, however, stands out. On whether he is “willing to listen to different points of view,” Mr. Obama elevates into hyperspace, hitting 90%. Just behind is “he understands the problems of people like you,” at 73%.

An argument made repeatedly during the campaign by converts to the Obama movement was that this guy simply “gets it.” If one pressed the argument deeper into the soil of, say, the high costs of green energy or of federalized health insurance, it seemed the details were beside the point. The remarkable ability to put people around him at ease with the feeling that he “gets it” has brought Mr. Obama to this place and into the high ethers of public approval. Even a doubter can marvel.

Permit a doubter, though, to offer a cautionary tale.

Early in the campaign, in January 2007, a New York Times reporter wrote a story about Mr. Obama’s time as president of the Harvard Law Review. It was there, the reporter noted, “he first became a political sensation.”

Here’s why: “Mr. Obama cast himself as an eager listener, sometimes giving warring classmates the impression that he agreed with all of them at once.” Also: “People had a way of hearing what they wanted in Mr. Obama’s words.”

Harvard Law Prof. Charles Ogletree told how Mr. Obama spoke on one contentious issue at the law school, and each side thought he was endorsing their view. Mr. Ogletree said: “Everyone was nodding, Oh, he agrees with me.”

The reason I have never forgotten this article is its last sentence, in which Al Gore’s former chief of staff Ron Klain, also of Harvard Law, reflects on the Obama sensation: “The interesting caveat is that is a style of leadership more effective running a law review than running a country.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a book out next week, tells of congratulating freshman Sen. Obama on a phenomenal speech. Without a hint of conceit, Mr. Obama replied, “Harry, I have a gift.”

He does. We know from tradition, though, that when the gods bestow magic on mortals, the gift can also imperil its possessor. The first hint of potential peril in Mr. Obama’s gift arrived last week with the confusion over where the president stood on the terrorist interrogation memos and prosecution of former Bush officials. Here, as 19 years ago, many on both sides of a contentious issue who heard him speak thought Mr. Obama agreed with them.

First, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said Sunday morning there would be no prosecutions of the authors of the Bush interrogation memos. He said this emerged from the president’s decision-making process.

Then on Tuesday, Mr. Obama seemingly reversed Mr. Emanuel (as happened earlier to Larry Summers on bonuses) by saying the prosecution decision belonged to Attorney General Eric Holder. Now it may be true, as many concluded, that Mr. Obama decided to tack left to appease the anti-Bush obsessives, who screamed after the Emanuel remark. Most interesting, though, was an account in this paper of the White House’s efforts, “as aides struggled to gain control of the message.”

According to the Journal, “Aides said that Mr. Obama’s seemingly contradictory remarks were misinterpreted, and that the president’s view had been conveyed poorly.” Misinterpreted? Let’s look at what he said.


The President’s Response

Q: I appreciate it. I want to ask you about the interrogation memos that you released last week; two questions. You were clear about not wanting to prosecute those who carried out the instructions under this legal advice. Can you be that clear about those who devised the policy? And then quickly on a second matter, how do you feel about investigations, whether special — a special commission or something of that nature on the Hill to go back and really look at the issue?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the — look, as I said before, this has been a difficult chapter in our history, and one of the tougher decisions that I’ve had to make as President. On the one hand, we have very real enemies out there. And we rely on some very courageous people, not just in our military but also in the Central Intelligence Agency, to help protect the American people. And they have to make some very difficult decisions because, as I mentioned yesterday, they are confronted with an enemy that doesn’t have scruples, that isn’t constrained by constitutions, aren’t constrained by legal niceties.

Having said that, the OLC memos that were released reflected, in my view, us losing our moral bearings. That’s why I’ve discontinued those enhanced interrogation programs.

For those who carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House, I do not think it’s appropriate for them to be prosecuted.

With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws, and I don’t want to prejudge that. I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there.

As a general deal, I think that we should be looking forward and not backwards. I do worry about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively, and it hampers our ability to carry out critical national security operations.

And so if and when there needs to be a further accounting of what took place during this period, I think for Congress to examine ways that it can be done in a bipartisan fashion, outside of the typical hearing process that can sometimes break down and break it entirely along party lines, to the extent that there are independent participants who are above reproach and have credibility, that would probably be a more sensible approach to take.

I’m not suggesting that that should be done, but I’m saying, if you’ve got a choice, I think it’s very important for the American people to feel as if this is not being dealt with to provide one side or another political advantage but rather is being done in order to learn some lessons so that we move forward in an effective way.

And the last point I just want to emphasize, as I said yesterday at the CIA when I visited, what makes America special in my view is not just our wealth and the dynamism of our economy and our extraordinary history and diversity. It’s that we are willing to uphold our ideals even when they’re hard. And sometimes we make mistakes because that’s the nature of human enterprise. But when we do make mistakes, then we are willing to go back and correct those mistakes and keep our eye on those ideals and values that have been passed on generation to generation.

And that is what has to continue to guide us as we move forward. And I’m confident that we will be able to move forward, protect the American people effectively, and live up to our values and ideals. And that’s not a matter of being naive about how dangerous this world is. As I said yesterday to some of the CIA officials that I met with, I wake up every day thinking about how to keep the American people safe. And I go to bed every night worrying about keeping the American people safe.

I’ve got a lot of other things on my plate. I’ve got a big banking crisis, and I’ve got unemployment numbers that are very high, and we’ve got an auto industry that needs work. There are a whole things — range of things that during the day occupy me, but the thing that I consider my most profound obligation is keeping the American people safe.

So I do not take these things lightly, and I am not in any way under illusion about how difficult the task is for those people who are on the front lines every day protecting the American people.

So I wanted to communicate a message yesterday to all those who overwhelmingly do so in a lawful, dedicated fashion that I have their back.

All right? Thank you, everybody.


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What follows is the Holder-will-decide part of the answer. By my reading, the first half of it is what the left wanted, and the second half is what conservatives believe. Even inside each side’s half, one finds caveats and self-protective hedges:

“With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws, and I don’t want to prejudge that. I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there.

“As a general deal, I think that we should be looking forward and not backwards. I do worry about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively, and it hampers our ability to carry out critical national security operations.”

The new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll suggests the public did its own translation: 61% oppose the prosecutions.

The Gift has been good for Mr. Obama. But in a still-dangerous world, in which one’s listeners now have names like Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, Putin, Hu Jintao, Netanyahu, Sarkozy and Merkel, the costs for the rest of us of being “misinterpreted” for a compulsive lack of clarity could be high.

As back in January 2007, the key question remains: Is this Hamlet-like style of leadership suited for conducting the presidency of the United States? More bluntly, is it leadership?

As he heads towards the next 1,300 days, Mr. Obama might consider trying a different gift that served an earlier Democratic president, Harry Truman, quite well once in office: Plain speaking.

Daniel Henniger, Wall Street Journal


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