Today's Papers

Here Comes the Gun

The New York Timesand the Los Angeles Timeslead with President Bush’s defense of his controversial military tribunal scheme. In a speech in Washington to U. S. District Attorneys, Bush said the tribunals were necessary to protect national security. The Wall Street Journaland USA Todaylead with the battle for Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold. Opposition troops are reportedly closing in, supported from above by U.S. warplanes. The Washington Postgoes with the negotiations in Germany, where the U.S. said it would not welcome an international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan while military operations are still underway. The Northern Alliance agreed to such a force, at least as part of an interim administration that would replace the Taliban.   

Bush had a friendly audience on Thursday—a room full of D.A.’s he’d recently appointed. “You are on the front line of war,” he told them, according to the transcript in the NYT. “And make no mistake about it, we’ve got a war here just like we’ve got a war abroad. And we have a huge responsibility, and that’s to defend America while protecting our great liberties. And I’m confident you can do the job; otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting here.”  To help with that liberties part, Bush wheeled out John Ashcroft, who touted the Responsible Cooperators Program, under which foreigners might be able to extend their time here—and maybe even become citizens—if they provide good information about terrorist doings. Ashcroft has been criticized for detaining and interrogating hundreds of Arab-Americans and foreigners in the wake of Sept. 11. In a nice detail included in the NYT, he is seen leading the D.A.’s around town, “from one monument on the Mall to another, so that they would soak in the words of Jefferson and Lincoln.” 

While most Americans—90 percent according to yesterday’s Today’s Papers—favor the detention program, a string of lawsuits are coming down the pike, according to a separate NYT fronter. The director of the Constitutional Law Center in New York accuses Bush of trampling habeas corpus, the procedure that protects citizens from being held illegally by the government. “My job is to defend the Constitution from its enemies,” the director, Bill Goodman, says. “Its main enemies right now are the Justice Department and the White House.” Other lawyers said they would focus directly on the military tribunals, which give defendants fewer rights than they would have in civilian trials. The legal wranglings could take years to unfold.

Opposition forces are closing in on Kanadahar, “setting the stage for a final, bloody confrontation” with the Taliban, according to the WSJ worldwide news lead. The paper counts Northern Alliance troops among the opposition—a claim disputed in the NYT’s off-lead, which reports that the Alliance has not strayed that far south, into Pashtun territory. If Alliance soldiers are indeed present, they and the Pashtuns may have disputes of their own to settle once their common enemy is defeated. USA Today reports that there have been some Taliban defectors—more evidence of this conflict’s remarkably fluid allegiances—but that those who remain “appear to be hard-core fighters who may not give in as quickly as those in other cities.” The Post’s two cents has the Taliban mounting a fierce counterattack just south of Kandahar, in a town they’d lost to Pashtun guerrillas last weekend. The outcome is not included in the piece.

Back in the U.S., Portland, Ore., makes the LAT front with its refusal to question foreigners about terrorist activities. Earlier this month, John Ashcroft asked local law enforcement to help out the FBI by interviewing 5,000 Middle Eastern men who have entered the country in the past two years. Portland Police Chief Mark Kroeker won’t do it—he believes that “some of the questions are illegally intrusive if asked of people who are not criminal suspects.” His is the only local force in the country that’s not participating. The FBI says other agencies will go ahead with the questioning in Portland.

USA Today fronts the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s new political ads, which will feed on “George Bush’s recession.” The ads will run in key congressional districts—places the Dems hope to conquer next November when they try to retake the House. “I think it shows incredibly poor political judgment to attack a president with an 86% approval rating,” says a Republican biggie who goes on to blame the recession on Clinton and Sept 11. The new ads bring to an end the 3-month moratorium on national campaigning.

The news of George Harrison’s death, at 58, must have come too late for the papers’ early editions, but it plays prominently on the Web. Harrison was treated for lung cancer in 1998 and was stabbed repeatedly by an intruder at his home west of London in 1999, according to the AP obit on the NYT site. In July of this year he told fans “not to worry” about his battle with cancer.

And then there were two.