Today's Papers

Powell, Right in the Kisser

The New York Timesand the Los Angeles Timeslead with a possible rift between President Bush and Colin Powell over the designation of prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay. Powell contends that the detainees should be granted the protections afforded by the Geneva Convention, though they may not technically be POWs. Bush (and the rest of the administration) say no. The Washington Postignores the imbroglio, if that’s what it is, leading (online, at least) with a blow-by-blow account of the Bush administration’s response to Sept. 11.

The Bush people call the Guantanamo group “unlawful combatants,” a classification that affords them no legal protection under the Geneva Convention, according to the NYT and LAT leads. Neither paper goes out its way to tell us why some prisoners get to be POWs, while others are called something else. Bush’s rationale, finally explained in the NYT’s closing graph, is that terrorists operating “beyond the control of any state” are unlawful combatants. The problem is that the Geneva Convention says all prisoners must be treated as POWs until a court deems them otherwise. This has not happened at Guantanamo and may be what Powell is arguing for. The Secretary of State is not quoted directly in either paper, and administration sources offer a range of interpretations on his views. The papers seem excited by the possibility of a rift within the administration, especially between Bush and Powell, but it’s not clear that one exists, as the LAT reluctantly admits.

Bob Woodward and Dan Balz are the writers on “10 Days in September,” an enormous, novelistic WP enterprise detailing the administration’s response to terror, starting at 9:30 p.m. on Sept 11 in a “bunker beneath the White House grounds.” Sources are rarely mentioned—it’s all fly on the wall stuff. “That afternoon, on a secure phone on Air Force One, Bush had already told Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that he would order a military response and that Rumsfeld would be responsible for organizing it. ‘We’ll clean up the mess,’ the president told Rumsfeld, ‘and then the ball will be in your court.’” It’s a solid story, dramatically told—camera-ready. Robert Mitchum as Rumsfeld, Mickey Rooney as the President.

On a relatively quiet Enron day, the NYT fronts Veba, a German company that detected deep do-do in Houston three years ago. The Germans were considering a merger with Enron, but, drawing on public sources “like trade publications and securities filings,” they saw past the sleight-of-hand that continued to dupe American regulators until this fall. “Veba concluded that Enron had shifted so much debt off its balance sheet accounts that the company’s total debt load amounted to 70 to 75 percent of its value as expressed in its debt-to-equity ratio,” the Times reports.

The NYT off-leads a poll showing that Enron’s belly flop is soaking Republicans more than Democrats—and that folks think the Bush camp is “hiding something or lying about its own dealings” with the big E. Other interesting numbers: The economy beats out terror (by a nose) as the number one concern. Six in 10 say Bush should postpone further tax cuts. He’s still widely adored (82 percent approval rating). The poll also revealed that the Republican drive to demonize Tom Daschle has not succeeded. “He is still a virtual unknown,” the Times deadpans.

“The strait-laced accountant is a thing of the past, and that’s a loss for all of us,” laments D.T. Max in his “front of the book” column in the NYT Magazine. “The accountant is supposed to be our superego, the guy who suggests that you don’t really need that last drink before you hit the road and takes your keys if you insist on having it.” On the undoing of Arthur Andersen, Max writes, “It still wanted to join the fast crowd. … It didn’t want to be in the business it was in.”

Finally, a visit to The Ethicist, Randy Cohen, in the Magazine. A mother in Connecticut writes: In my car, the back seats by the doors have lap belts and shoulder harnesses, but the middle seat has only a lap belt. My two children, ages 3 and 7, ride in the car, and occasionally we pick up another child for a play date. Ethically, who should sit in the middle, less safe seat—one of my children or the friend? Good question. You dump the friend in the death seat, according to Cohen. He says you already favor your own kids over others in other ways, so why stop now? But then he says you have to tell the kid’s parents, which seems an awkward task. (“I love your Johnnie like one of my own … except when it comes to safety.”) Ultimately, the lap belt is probably just as safe as the harness, Cohen says, citing research, so this question—which happens to make up the whole column this week—is moot.