Today's Papers

Augusto Justice

The New York Times and Washington Post lead with the ruling by Britain’s highest court that Augusto Pinochet must remain under arrest in England subject to extradition elsewhere because his status as an ex-head of state does not confer legal immunity. The Los Angeles Times leads with another in its series of important stories about the abuse of inmates in the California state prison system–this one reporting an investigative panel’s conclusion that two dozen fatal or serious inmate shootings at the state’s most notorious prison were not justified. Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s arrest yesterday in connection with the euthanasia broadcast last Sunday on “60 Minutes” makes the fronts of the majors putting out editions today.

The WP reports that all five Law Lords ruled that a former head of state, unlike a sitting one, has but limited immunity: he or she can be forced into court to answer for actions that are not part of the legitimate function of government. This finding prompted, the Post reports, Pinochet’s lawyers to observe that their client is therefore vulnerable to prosecution only because he stepped down in favor of a democratic government. But the crucial ruling, both leads report, was the lords’$2 3-2 decision that torture and hostage taking are not legitimate government functions. Therefore, they explain, the Pinochet matter will be disposed of in a British court when Spain presses its extradition request, unless the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, decides otherwise. The Post says the early betting is that Straw will not intervene. On the other hand, both papers note that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, appreciative of Pinochet’s pro-British stand during the Falklands War, has already publicly appealed for his release.

The Post says the Pinochet ruling is a watershed in human rights law, and the Times says it marks a potentially significant broadening of the powers of prosecutors to pursue those charged with crimes against humanity. The LAT refers to the development as “a wake-up call to tyrants around the world.”

Although Kevorkian claims to have presided over 120-plus mercy suicides, in this most recent case, he directly caused death. And indeed, as the papers point out, he openly admits he took this extra step to encourage a legal showdown. The papers report that in filing a first-degree murder case against Kevorkian, the county prosecutor said that the consent of the dying man was no legal defense. In a separate NYT story about the legal ins and outs of the case, some lawyers are quoted making the following argument against a murder verdict: Murder requires malice, the disregard for human life. Therefore a homicide undertaken out of regard for life cannot be murder. But the Post and LAT make it clear that it’s not just murder at issue, reporting that Kevorkian is also being charged with violating Michigan’s brand-new ban on assisted suicide.

The NYT and WP run inside stories reporting that according to a human rights group, a recent crackdown by China against Protestant congregations that do not formally accept the leadership of the government has resulted in the arrest of seventy church members. The Times says one leader of such a church, shot while fleeing police, is now the subject of a nationwide manhunt. The Post says another was beaten with a wet rope and a nightstick, and says the authorities are using heavy fines as a prime weapon in this campaign of suppression. The paper also usefully points out that China recently signed a UN document protecting religious freedom.

Do you feel the need for a new government sex scandal? Relax, the Navy has dropped anchor. The NYT and WP, following up a story in Wednesday’s Washington Times, report that a Pentagon admiral has been accused of improperly steering military contracts to the firm owned by the woman he was committing adultery with. Although the admiral is named in both stories, the woman is not. This seems unfair.

A story inside the WP suggests Linda Tripp may not be convicted in Maryland of illegally recording her conversations with Monica Lewinsky. First, Maryland requires showing that Tripp knew she was breaking the law when she taped, and second, Tripp’s immunity agreement with Ken Starr means the tapes she gave him cannot be used by the Maryland prosecutor. So he has to find other copies.

An AP story running in both the Post and the NYT reports that last week a Boston man who suffered a heart attack became the first person on a domestic flight to have his life saved by a defibrillator, a device only recently available on U.S. airliners. The man serves on the Boston Public Health Commission, where he has promoted the installation in office buildings and malls of…defibrillators.