Today's Papers

Olympic Start

The leads at the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times and the top story in the Wall Street Journal’sworld-wide news box announce that President Bush has reversed an earlier decision and concluded that the Geneva Conventions will protect captured Taliban at Guantanamo Bay because their country, Afghanistan, was a signatory to the conventions. However, the conventions will not apply to al-Qaida, which didn’t sign the accords. Neither group will be classified as P.O.W.s. The Taliban don’t deserve P.O.W. protection, Bush believes, because they didn’t obey the laws of war as the conventions define them. All detainees will remain classified by the administration as unlawful combatants. Bush’s decision on the detainees is stuffed by USA Today, which leads instead with testimony from former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling before a House subcommittee. Skilling, who is atop the WSJ’s business news box and top-fronted with a photo in the other papers, said he knew little about Enron’s questionable partnerships that allowed the company to hide debt. When he resigned from Enron last summer, he said, he believed the company was on solid financial ground. Other Enron leaders testified that Skilling got many warnings about the partnerships, and four more executives, including former CFO Andrew Fastow, took the Fifth.

Unlawful combatants, protected by the conventions or not it appears, can be interrogated indefinitely, tried before a military tribunal, and are not required to be repatriated after the end of the war, the papers say. Then how does it help a captured fighter, legally or practically, to be protected by the Geneva Conventions if he is not granted P.O.W. status? No paper looks into what guidelines, if any, the Geneva Conventions offer for the treatment of non-P.O.W. combatants. It could be that the conventions simply suggest that unlawful combatants be treated humanely. The administration says that all detainees already are being treated humanely, as the conventions prescribe. Furthermore, legal experts told the WP, the legal prospects of the captured Taliban remain the same. It appears, then, that the detainees may not get any additional benefit from protection under the conventions. So, why is the United States bothering to honor the Geneva Conventions?

It’s not to help the detainees, it seems. As the opinion pages have pointed out over the last few weeks, and the papers suggest today, U.S. soldiers captured in foreign countries will be more likely to be afforded Geneva Convention protection if the United States applies the conventions to detainees at Camp X-Ray. The papers refrain from commenting on this maneuvering by the administration, while other news organizations called it “artful” (NPR) and “having your cake and eating it too” (CNN).

Enron’s former CEO said that those partnerships he didn’t know much about weren’t to blame for Enron’s failure anyway, USAT says. The papers report that instead, Skilling believed that Enron was wrecked by “a classic run on the bank,” spurred by lack of confidence in the company. As the WP reported earlier this week, a report by the Enron board of directors released over the weekend said that this confidence crisis was sparked when Enron was forced to disclose huge losses that had been hidden in those partnerships, partnerships that Skilling had allowed to be set up. Furthermore, according to USAT, Skilling knew that these partnerships were being used to hide debt and inflate profits, Enron COO Jeff McMahon testified yesterday. McMahon said he was moved to a new job after complaining to Skilling about how the partnerships were set up. But Skilling claimed not to remember meetings he attended where minutes showed others made comments about him approving partnership deals. The NYT says that no one seemed to believe Skilling’s testimony.

The LAT and WP headline pieces with news that Bush was under pressure from visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to cut ties with Yasser Arafat but that he refused to do so. However, the NYT reports that Sharon had planned to ask Bush to drop the Palestinian leader, but he didn’t actually go through with it.

After reports indicated that American forces may have killed anti-Taliban troops accidentally in a raid last month, Gen. Tommy Franks ordered American commanders to coordinate more closely with Afghan allies, the NYT reports. The general emphasized that the investigation into that raid isn’t complete, but the paper says that the C.I.A. has paid the families of the dead over $1,000 each. 

The WP follows up on its report a month ago that the Justice Department is looking for Middle Eastern immigrants in the United States who have ignored deportation orders. Instead of deporting them, as had been originally planned, federal agents are now instructed to find ways to detain them to find out if they have ties to terrorism.

Scientists are evaluating a new blood test that looks like it can reliably detect ovarian cancer in its early stages, the papers report. The uncommon disease usually isn’t caught until it’s too late.

The papers say that a man who tried to break into the cockpit on a United Airlines flight from Miami to Buenos Aires was “subdued” by being hit over the head with an ax the co-pilot had.

The papers preview the Olympics Games, which open tonight. The NYT reports that for the first time, the United States looks to be a leading contender for winning the most medals (perhaps 24) at the Winter Games, putting them in the running with usual suspects Germany, Russia, and Norway. The Americans’ chances are looking good this year because the United States excels at weirdo sports that have only recently made the Olympics, such as skeleton, or face-first sledding.