Today's Papers

En Garde, and On Guard

The New York Times, surprisingly,is the only paper that leads with a detailed FBI alert that warns of an attack as early as today in the United States or in Yemen. [Editor’s note: In fact, the Washington Post also led with the story.] The warning, which the FBI says is based on information obtained “as a result of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and ongoing interviews with detainees,” identified a number of suspects in the supposed plot, including the apparent ringleader, a Yemeni named Fawaz Yahya al-Rabeei. The FBI has posted photos of Rabeei and the other suspects on its Web site. USA Today’slead reports, “President Bush is preparing for military action against Iraq and lining up support from allies in the Middle East, U.S. officials and diplomats from the region said.” The Washington Post leads with word that the Senate and House intelligence committees will conduct what the paper calls an “unprecedented” joint investigation into the intelligence community’s response to terrorism over the last 16 years, including, of course, Sept. 11. The hearings will begin in mid-April. The Los Angeles Timesleads with the Pentagon’s promise that it will investigate allegations that Afghan prisoners were abused after they were captured in a raid last month. Still, a Pentagon spokesperson said that beyond yesterday’s reports about it in the media, “we have no evidence that those sort of beatings took place.” The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with the Pentagon pooh-poohing yesterday’s report in the WP that three peasants were killed last week by a missile attack from an unmanned CIA plane. “These were not peasant people up there farming,” said Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral Stufflebeem.

Citing senior law enforcement officials, USAT says yesterday’s warning “had ‘stronger credibility’ than previous alerts because it came from multiple and varied sources.”  It adds, though, that officials say they have no idea where the suspects are or even whether they’re still alive.

Everybody notes that Stufflebeem said that U.S. troops have gathered plenty of evidence from the site of last week’s missile attack, including English-language credit card applications, airline schedules, “and, yes, some human remains.”

The Pentagon took a few minutes to do some finger-pointing and reminded reporters that the CIA, and not the Pentagon, pulled the trigger. Unnamed CIA officials, meanwhile, took a few minutes to remind reporters that it was a joint operation. The WSJ’s piece mistakenly says that the WP “quotes local Afghans saying the strike also killed civilians.” The Post didn’t say civilians were also killed, it suggested—and today’s WP emphasizes—that the strike only hit civilians.

USAT cites various Middle East leaders who’ve “resigned” themselves to a United States v. Iraq face-off, which the paper helpfully gives a timeline for: “Military action is unlikely before May, when the United Nations Security Council will vote on new sanctions against Iraq. A showdown could erupt then if Saddam refuses to re-admit U.N. weapons inspectors.” The paper says the smackdown could take the form of anything “from a limited intervention to help rebel groups to ‘Desert Storm lite.’ ”

The above story, citing a new USAT/CNN/Gallup poll, says, “82 percent [of those polled] agreed with Bush that Iraq is ‘evil.’ ” (The poll wasn’t exactly the paragon of nuance; the only other option given was “not evil.”)

The NYT fronts what looked like a blast from the past: hundreds of thousands of Iranians—perhaps millions—marched yesterday chanting “Death to America!” and burning American flags. The crowds had gathered to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Iranian revolution. The article and a NYT editorial report that Bush’s axis talk has hurt reformers in Iran.

Of course, it can get old burning flags for 23 years in a row. So the event’s organizers made an attempt to spice things up.  A gold coin, for example, was offered for the best Uncle Sam effigy.

And some of the messages had been updated. Instead of the old cliché,“America Is the Great Satan,” one poster declared, “America Is Extremely Naughty.”

Hamas claimed responsibility for firing a Qassam-2 rocket toward an Israeli farm on Sunday. Nobody was injured. But Israel, as a government spokesperson reminded, “said many times that if these rockets were used, it would change the rules of the game.”

So Israel retaliated by bombing a police building in Gaza, resulting in the injury of more than 30 people, including some U.N. workers.

The NYT says the White House essentially backed a proxy force, the Republican National Committee, to fight the campaign finance reform bill. The paper says that Bush doesn’t want to be seen as opposing the bill, so instead his political advisor, Karl Rove, called the RNC to egg them on. The paper notes, “A White House spokesperson said that it was ‘absolutely not true’ that the White House was working through the party,” then the paper boldly adds, “even though the White House effectively controls it.”

The NYT’s Nicholas Kristof, who’s writing from the Philippines, has an op-ed that could just as easily be front-page news. He writes, “Interviews with officials and ordinary people alike leave no doubt that the antiterror operation that the United States is enthusiastically backing is itself based in part on terror.” Kristof explains that Filipino troops have organized death squads to execute suspected Abu Sayyaf members and have sometimes targeted civilians.

USAT runs a small box inside on an important scientific find: Researchers have uncovered the petrified vomit from a dinosaur that lived 160 million years ago. The dinosaur—which the paper describes as a fish-like reptile with a long head, tapered body, and four flippers—is named, appropriately, the ichthyosaur.