Today's Papers

Here’s Johnny

The Washington Postand New York Timeslead with word that Enron’s accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, fired its lead Enron auditor, saying that he ordered the “rushed” destruction of Enron-related documents after the SEC began an inquiry into the energy company. The shredding only stopped when the SEC actually subpoenaed the papers. Andersen also disciplined seven other partners and managers. The Los Angeles Times’ four-column lead says that the full text of a bombshell Enron memo, which the press saw excerpts of on Monday, suggests that Enron’s chairman knew that his company was involved in sketchy accounting practices even before the author of the memo complained to him about them. USA Todayleads with Attorney General John Ashcroft’s announcement that John Walker will be charged with conspiracy to kill Americans. The charge carries a possible life sentence; he will not face the death penalty. Walker will also be charged with supporting terrorists as well as engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban. The Wall Street Journal’s worldwide newsbox says that purported al-Qaida computer files, which the paper bought in Kabul for $1,100, show that over a period of months an al-Qaida agent had exactly the same travel plans as Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. Authorities believe that’s because Reid is the al-Qaida agent.

The Journal adds, “not only were many of the files encrypted, but also couched in elliptical, coded language. The Taliban regime, for example, is referred to as Omar & Brothers Company.” Very tricky.

The WP reports that the SEC is scrambling to come up with revised rules to police auditors. Meanwhile, some legislators are saying that SEC Chairman, Harvey Pitt, should recuse himself from the commission’s investigation since in the past as a lawyer he represented the big accounting firms, including Andersen.

The New York Stock Exchange delisted Enron’s stock yesterday.

The papers note that Marines found an arms cache hidden about 300 yards from Kandahar’s airport, where U.S. troops are based and were fired upon last week. Marines were tipped off to the cache after they saw men loitering around the area.

Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and an expert on Afghanistan (he wrote the book Taliban), reports in the WSJ that Afghan warlords, after receiving loads of American cash and weapons, “are now refusing to disarm or accept the writ of the country’s fledgling interim government.” Rashid adds that Western diplomats say the warlords, “are even defying the Americans.”

For example, says Rashid, “Gen. Rashid Dostum, who was heavily armed by the Americans, is protecting former Taliban leaders and his own commanders, who are carrying out widespread pillaging and looting, making it impossible for U.N. agencies to start humanitarian relief operations.”

The WP fronts a similar article that’s more detailed and more equivocal. The Post, for instance,agrees that Dostum isn’t the nicest guy. But it adds, “With Dostum’s cooperation, U.S. investigators have systematically questioned Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners.”

Yesterday, Palestinian terrorists killed an elderly Israeli man. The NYT, citing an eyewitness,says “four Palestinian civilians who were with four Palestinian police officers” dragged the Israeli out of his car, and then the civilians shot him.

The man, who was a dual-U.S. citizen, often spent time in Palestinian areas. “He always said he was half Palestinian, and he was proud of it, too,” said one of his Palestinian friends. “He was killed because he had a Jewish name, that’s all.”

In another incident, Palestinian gunmen shot and killed one Israeli woman and wounded another.

Meanwhile, Palestinian officials say they finally arrested the leader of a group Israel says is responsible for last fall’s killing  of the country’s tourism minister.

Israel was skeptical. “We’ve been told so many times that somebody has been arrested and then after 24 hours they go free,” said a government spokesman.

In what the NYT dubs “the first major expansion of the war on terrorism,” 600 U.S. soldiers—150 of whom are Special Forces—are on the way to the Philippines to help that country wipe out a group of Muslim extremist rebels who may have links to al-Qaida. The U.S. troops will mostly train and advise Filipino soldiers. But they will also take part in joint patrols. Still, one official explained, “The only combat they’re likely to see would be in a self-protection mode.”

The NYT says, “Pentagon officials have been loath to describe details of the highly classified mission.” But the paper does notice a detail that gives a clue about the importance of the operation: The brigadier general assigned to oversee the mission is the head of all Special Operations in the Pacific. 

The WP, echoing officials, repeatedly refers to the operation as an “exercise,” which seems a bit odd considering that the operation is aimed at a real target.

The NYT explains, “Filipino officials are careful to call [it] an ‘exercise’ to avoid inflaming domestic sensitivities to a large American military presence.”

The Times also says foreign troops are currently barred by the Philippines’ constitution from taking part in offensives.

The LAT surveys the world’s reaction to Bush’s Pretzel Problem. “True to form,” says the paper, “the Germans consulted pretzel experts, the French contemplated Americans’ ‘complicated relationship with food,’ and the Italians looked to the religious roots of the pretzel.”

Then there were the Saudis, who in one paper offered this bit of wisdom: “If Bush’s unusual collapse is a symptom of more serious medical problems, we can be absolutely sure that, lacking any clear direction from a troubled White House, Washington’s foreign policy will click back on its traditional Zionist track. Palestinians will continue to choke on Israeli aggression while the U.S. president may again choke on a typical Yiddish pretzel.”