The Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox and the Washington Postlead with the crash of a Marine Corps refueling plane that had seven marines onboard, all of whom were killed. There’s no evidence the plane was shot down. It apparently ran into a mountain as it approached an airfield in southwest Pakistan. The Los Angeles Timesand USA Todaylead with the Justice Department’s confirmation yesterday that it has begun a criminal investigation into Enron for potential accounting fraud. Authorities suspect that Enron hid losses for years. The Securities Exchange Commission has also been investigating the failed energy company since October. Last year the company was worth $77 billion dollars. It’s now valued at about $540 million. The New York Timesleads with word that Iran is trying to “exert political and military influence in border regions in western Afghanistan in ways that challenge the authority of the interim government in Kabul.” The Times says Iran has gone so far as to give refuge to “small numbers” of al-Qaida fighters as a way “to weaken Western influence.”
Iran was enemies of the Taliban and thus was quietly aligned with the U.S. in the first stages of the war. But now, “Iran is trying to stir up mischief,” said one military official.
That’s naïve, says another expert. “I’m sure Iran would be concerned about a United States military presence on its border,” said the expert, a NYU professor. “I wouldn’t necessarily say theirs is an aggressive terrorist position. It’s quite a reasonable security concern.”
The papersreport that earlier this week seven top Taliban officials surrendered to a local warlord who then promptly let them go. The NYT says a U.S. military spokesperson “did not sound overly alarmed” about the release of these guys. “We’re not in the business of determining who should and should not be in custody right now,” he explained. The Post, meanwhile,headlines: REPORTS THAT TALIBAN LEADERS WERE FREED SHOCK, ALARM U.S. The WP also says the U.S. wasn’t even sure if the report of the release was true. The NYT says the move, which it never doubts happened, “raises fresh questions” about whether the interim government can control the country’s warlords.
The WP fronts the visit of one of its reporters to the Afghan village of Qalai Niazi, where between 50-100 people were killed last week by U.S. bombs. If, as the villagers claim, the causalities were civilians, it would be the worst U.S. bombing accident since the war began.
The Post paints the kind of scene you’d expect to see in a village that was mistakenly bombed: “Children’s rubber shoes with tiny red pompoms scattered in the rubble of blasted-out houses.” But it may not be so simple. The papersays that journalists visiting the village on the Sunday saw a house filled with ammunition and rockets. Now the villagers insist there was no such stockpile.
Hamas claimed responsibility for yesterday’s attack on an Israeli military outpost, which killed four Israeli troops. Everybody notes that the attacks ended three weeks of relative calm. The NYT takes the extra step and compares the numbers: “The Israeli deaths were the first at the hands of Palestinian militants since the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, called for a halt to attacks on Dec. 16. At least 20 Palestinians have died violently during the same period.” (The Post mentions that one Israeli was killed during that time.)
The papers note that the Israeli soldiers killed were actually Arab, nomadic Bedouins. The NYT also points out another twist: the attackers themselves were Bedouin.
Israel said the attack proved that Yasir Arafat still wasn’t cracking down on militants, and Israel’s Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, promised to retaliate.
The NYT notes that six U.S. congressmen canceled a meeting with Arafat, “citing an American intelligence briefing that they said proved Arafat was personally responsible for the attempt to smuggle munitions aboard the freighter Karine A.”
“These guys are nailed,” said one congressman. “Let me tell you the level it rises to: 100 percent certainty that Arafat was personally involved. 100 percent certainty that it was intended for the Palestinian Authority.”
The LAT off-leads with the collapse of the peace process in Colombia yesterday. The country’s president gave rebels 48-hours to leave what had been territory ceded to the guerrillas. The rebels aren’t likely to follow the order, meaning a big battle may happen soon.
The LAT fronts a look at an investment firm called Carlyle Group. It owns a chunk of one of the country’s largest defense firms, and also happens to employ a chunk of Bush I’s former cabinet, including the former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci (who’s buddies with Rummy.) The article suggests, but doesn’t prove, that Carlyle’s Bush I connections helped the company land military contracts.
Everybody goes high with word that the White House is proposing to restore food stamp eligibility to legal immigrants, who lost the ability to receive them as a result of the 1996 welfare reform law. Nearly 400,000 immigrants could qualify for benefits. The proposal, which the NYT says has an “excellent chance” of becoming law, is seen as politically savvy because it reminds voters of the compassionate conservative shtick and picks up some Hispanic votes.
The LAT goes above the fold with Japan’s latest fad: Wakaresaseya–literally “breaker-uppers.” You hire these folks to break up with somebody–spouse, mistress, employee–for you. The Wakaresaseya will do whatever it takes to force a breakup: bribery, blackmail, or perhaps even gentle persuasion. It’s not a pleasant line of work. “I’ve experienced the depths of hell,” says one Wakaresaseya. “It’s really too much. You stop trusting people.”