Today's Papers

The King Who Would Be King

USA Todayleads with news that the four Afghan factions meeting in Germany “neared agreement on a framework for a transitional government to replace the Taliban.” The potential deal would have Afghanistan’s former king serve as a figurehead for about six months, while in the interim the four groups and other Afghans would hash out a permanent agreement and presumably try to pick a leader to whom they could give power. The New York Timesleads with news that Attorney General John Ashcroft has released some information about, though not all the names of, the 642 people detained in the FBI’s Sept.-11-related dragnet. The Los Angeles Timesleads with comments by Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, that the United States has identified about 40 potential chemical or biological labs in the country. American troops haven’t found any offending goo yet, but they’re taking samples. The Washington Postleads with a summary of the war and focuses on the Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s comments that Afghanistan is still dangerous and is increasingly lawless. “There are people in cities who are hiding, who are perfectly willing to tie grenades around their bodies and blow up,” said Rumsfeld. Wall Street Journaltops its world-wide news box with the United States’ bombing of a building that it believed was housing members of al-Qaida. “A confluence of intelligence information led us to believe that the buildings contained senior leaders,” an official said. “So we whacked them.” No word yet on the results. Ashcroft released the names of 93 out of the 104 detainees who’ve been charged with crimes—the government has sealed the cases of the other 11. The attorney general said some of the detainees were members of al-Qaida and that putting them in jail probably foiled some attacks. Those folks are probably among the 11 still being held completely under wraps. Ashcroft also released the country of origin and supposed transgressions—but not the names—of 538 other folks who are being held on immigration violations, nearly all of them for overstaying their visas. NYT announces, in the 22nd graph of its lead, that the Bush administration has an idea who it might name to be the first defendant to face the reincarnated military tribunals: Zacarias Moussaoui, the guy who, at least as early reports had it, wanted to learn how to fly but wasn’t interested in learning how to take off or land. Although the NYT doesn’t mention it, French authorities contend that Moussaoui is an Islamic extremist.  Gen. Franks said the prison revolt in Mazar-i-Sharif is “not yet fully under control” and about 30 or 40 hard-core Taliban are still holding out. But Northern Alliance commanders insist that all the prisoners are dead. “We checked all the rooms in the compound and will check them again tomorrow, but it is over,” said one officer.The Post reports that there’s still no sign of the CIA agent who was in the prison at the time of the uprising. The alliance says the Taliban killed him as soon as they revolted. The papers say that the United States believes it’s homing in on Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden. It believes most senior Taliban leaders are holed up in or around Kandahar while Bin Laden and his cohorts are hiding in mountains southeast of Kabul. Still, a Pentagon official said that there are still hundreds of caves he could be hiding in. The papers also note that the Marines started land patrols yesterday. Everybody goes high with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta’s comments that the FAA will probably miss a congressional deadline that mandated screening for all checked bags. The WSJ emphasizes that this is the first of many airport security-related deadlines that will be departing late from the gate.  The NYT goes inside with word that two of Pakistan’s top nuclear scientists, who were interrogated last month because of suspicions about their connections to the Taliban, were arrested again. This time authorities found various spooky documents, including a sketch showing how to fill a balloon with anthrax then shoot it down. Police also found a rocket-propelled grenade and a container of helium. One expert said he wasn’t impressed, “It doesn’t sound like a very good game plan.” The NYT, in a stuffed story, says that a new Justice Department rule lets the “government keep a foreigner behind bars even after a federal immigration judge has ordered him to be released for lack of evidence.” The Times gives some good context, explaining that Justice has long thought that federal immigration judges are too lenient. The piece also quotes a lawyer from the Washington Legal Foundation saying that the new rule is a good idea since the government will have to hold back classified but potentially crucial evidence anyway. (The Times doesn’t mention the foundation’s political leanings. According to the group’s Web site, it’s dedicated to promoting “individual freedom, limited government, free market economy, and a strong national security and defense.”) The ACLU plans to challenge the ruling.The WP goes below the fold with some former FBI agents’ critique that the government’s anti-terrorism dragnet is the wrong approach. “It’s the Perry Mason School of Law Enforcement, where you get them in there and they confess,” said that. “It just doesn’t work that way.” The retired G-men say that the best approach is, of course, the one they used before they retired: Monitor suspected terrorists until you know who they’re connected to, then take ‘em all down.   The NYT stuffs a report that the media-savvy Marines have brought five U.S. journalists with them into Afghanistan. The Marines, apparently, aren’t just talented at making war, according to one officer, “They are very good at manipulating the press—all that Semper Fi stuff.”