Today's Papers

Kashmir Sweater

The Washington Post leads with more saber-rattling on the Indian subcontinent. Yesterday, India ordered Pakistan to withdraw half its diplomatic entourage from New Delhi and announced that it would shut its airspace to the Pakistani national airline. Pakistan retaliated in kind with reciprocal sanctions. The New York Times lead and Washington Post off-lead both disclose a proposed draft of procedures for running terrorist military tribunals that is currently circulating in the Bush administration. The officially unreleased rules respond to the barrage of criticism that met President Bush’s initial Nov. 13 order, which established the military tribunals, by expanding rights for suspected terrorists. USA Today’s lead says there’s increased confusion about Osama Bin Laden’s whereabouts thanks to a statement yesterday by a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry who alleges that Bin Laden has fled to Pakistan. The top item in the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox reports that Pakistan has turned over 20 suspected al-Qaida and Taliban fighters to the U.S.

Coverage of India and Pakistan’s tit-for-tat exchange of diplomatic blows takes up most of the WP’s front page above the fold but is reefered by the NYT. India continues to be peeved by the perceived half-heartedness of Pakistan’s efforts to clamp down on militant Muslim groups blamed for this month’s terrorist attack on the Indian parliament. As both countries mass forces along the Kashmiri front, their leaders are trading brash threats of full-scale war. The WP quotes a senior Indian official saying, “If we move militarily, it will be with the full expectation that it will lead to a large-scale confrontation between India and Pakistan.”

As the WP notes in a front page piece, the U.S. is becoming increasingly worried that developments along Pakistan’s eastern border with India may hamper the nation’s ability to keep its western frontier sealed to fleeing Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

The Los Angeles Times is the only paper to put a strong emphasis on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s precarious position. He has already enraged many of his country’s fundamentalist Muslims by throwing his support to the U.S. and leaving the Taliban out to dry. Now, if he cracks down too harshly on the Islamic militants behind the parliament attacks, he risks jeopardizing his presidency and perhaps destabilizing the country.

The draft terrorist tribunal procedures, apparently leaked only to the NYT and WP, revise several of the provisions that were most sharply criticized in Bush’s initial Nov. 13 order. The draft offers several stipulations that would expand the rights of suspected terrorists: 1) Suspects will be presumed innocent and tried under the normal criminal standard requiring proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. 2) A unanimous verdict will be necessary to impose the death penalty, though a two-thirds vote will still be all that’s required to convict. 3) Except when classified materials are being discussed, the trials will be open to the public. 4) Bush’s controversial denial of a right to appeal will be replaced with some sort of not-yet-clarified review process. The major differences between the terrorist tribunals and standard courts-martial will be the admittance of hearsay and other evidence that would normally be excluded.

Both papers play down any notion that these revised procedures mark a concession to civil libertarians and other critics of Bush’s initial order. The WP waits until the fifth graph of its article to mention that the draft “appears to address questions … raised by human rights organizations and members of Congress,” and the NYT also waits until the fifth paragraph to mention that administration officials have been “sensitive to the criticisms.” The WP even adds that some of the provisions may be a response to internal input from judge advocates general, “who feel a strong personal stake in preserving legitimacy of military justice.”

Snubbed by the Pentagon’s leakers, the LAT leads with a story that all the other papers stuff: Donald Rumsfeld’s announcement that Taliban and al-Qaida POWs will be held offshore at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Everyone quotes Rumsfeld’s assessment of Guantanamo as “the least worst place we could have selected.”

The USAT’s lead on Bin Laden’s whereabouts reports that Muhammad Habeel, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry believes Bin Laden has fled to Pakistan, where he is being sheltered by Taliban devotee Mullah Fazlur Rehman. The NYT, which also fronts the story, says that Habeel cited “intelligence sources who were considered reliable” to back up his claim, but USAT maintains that Habeel offered no supporting evidence. Not only was Habeel’s claim promptly denied by Pakistan’s government and Rehman’s followers, it was also dismissed by Donald Rumsfeld and Hamid Karzai, the new leader of Afghanistan’s government. According to USAT, Karzai claims to be as clueless as everyone else about where Bin Laden is holing up. Both the NYT and USAT miss an interesting question raised by the story: Why are the Afghan Defense Ministry and Afghan president feeding the press different lines on this issue?

While USAT does note that Habeel represents the Northern Alliance, which has had poor relations with Pakistan, neither paper explores any possible ulterior motives for the spokesman’s assertion. The WP puts so little stock in Habeel’s claim that it buries it in the fifth graph of an A12 story.

Brother, can you spare a dime? A small box at the bottom of the WP’s front page announces that next week the vending machine and retail price of weekday editions of the newspaper will go up by a dime to 35 cents. It’s the WP’s first price hike in 20 years.

Oops! She did it again. A NYT “Business” section piece picks the year’s highs and lows in advertising. Among the best ads—the “New York miracle: Be a part of it” commercials that featured Henry Kissinger running the bases at Yankee Stadium. Among the worst follies: Pepsi spokeswoman Britney Spears was caught—twice—drinking the rival’s brand. After the second offense, she was reportedly sent a helpful cheat-sheet of which soft drinks to avoid.