Today's Papers

Bagging Barghouti

The New York Times and Washington Post   lead with word that Pope John Paul II summoned American cardinals to the Vatican to discuss the sexual abuse scandal by U.S. priests. The papers note that the move was a serious change of tack for the church. Just last Saturday, American bishops had insisted that the pope would let church officials in the U.S. deal with the scandal. USA Today leads with the airing of an al-Qaida video excerpt by the Arab TV network Al Jazeera. The video includes an undated clip showing Osama Bin Laden and his top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahri. Bin Laden doesn’t speak in the video (well, the NYT says he can be seen “mumbling to himself”), while al-Zawahri celebrates Sept. 11 as “a great victory.” The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s announcement that Israel will pull troops out of the West Bank within a week, except in Ramallah and Bethlehem, where they will remain for now. “We’re on our way out,” Sharon told CNN. The Los Angeles Times leads with Israel’s arrest of Marwan Barghouti, head of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement in the West Bank. Israel says Barghouti is the man behind the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorist group. Palestinians said that Barghouti is simply a politician.

The WP has the most detail about Barghouti’s alleged connection to terror. The paper, citing an Israeli intelligence official, says, “Israel has at least five documents showing that Barghouti made direct requests to Arafat for military operation funds for the Al Aqsa Brigades.”

The NYT, meanwhile, says, “Members of the [Brigades] have said they respect Mr. Barghouti, as they do Mr. Arafat, but do not act on their orders in conducting attacks.”

The NYT also says that while Barghouti advocates armed resistance inside the occupied territories, “he has said he opposes attacks on civilians inside pre-1967 Israel.”

Everybody says the arrest is expected to seriously tick off Palestinians. According to the LAT, “The pudgy, diminutive Barghouti is one of the few Palestinian leaders who enjoys a mass following among young Palestinians.”

The papers all note that Barghouti was once a supporter of the Oslo peace accords. And the LAT quotes a number of Israeli politicians as saying that Barghouti could still be somebody to negotiate with. As one politician put it, Barghouti is “one of the people who, if there ever will be two states, will take care that the Palestinian state will be friendly toward Israel.”

Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat pooh-poohed Sharon’s announced pullout, saying that Israeli troops will still encircle the cities they pull out of. “He’s playing with words,” Erekat said. “He is turning our towns, villages and refugee camps into big prisons.”

Meanwhile, President Bush called the announced pullouts, “a positive development.”

The LAT and WP, both filing dispatches from the Jenin refugee camp, agree that while civilians were definitely killed in the camp, so far no evidence has emerged of a large-scale massacre.

Everybody notes that Secretary of State Powell said he was considering Sharon’s proposal for a regional peace conference. In order to side-step Sharon’s insistence that Arafat not attend the meeting, Powell suggested the meeting should be limited to mid-level officials.

The al-Qaida video appears to be made up of various segments filmed at various times. In one clip, a man suspected of being one of the Sept.11highjackers says, “The time of humiliation and subjugation is over. It’s time to kill Americans in their heartland.”

The NYT concludes, “Perhaps even more than the other Qaida videos that have come to light in recent months, [this video] strongly suggests the responsibility of Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaida in the attacks.”

Meanwhile, the papers report that former Taliban leader Mullah Omar also released a statement yesterday. He expressed solidarity with Palestinians and equated the American-led war in Afghanistan with Israel’s latest offensive.

Everybody reports that at least four U.S. soldiers were killed in an accidental explosion in Afghanistan. The troops were trying to get rid of old Soviet rockets.

In a story that’s unlikely to make the White House’s favorites list, the NYT reports, “Senior members of the Bush administration met several times in recent months with leaders of a coalition that ousted the Venezuelan president.” According to one official who was present, “We were sending informal, subtle signals that we don’t like this guy.”

The story’s 25th paragraph adds, “One Democratic foreign policy aide complained that the administration, in phone calls to Congress on Friday, reported that Mr. Chávez had resigned, even though officials now concede that they had no evidence of that.”

The NYT reports that food industry lobbyists are quietly opposing a bill meant to enhance food safety. According to one critic of the lobbying effort, “The industry is trying to keep the F.D.A. as weak as possible.”

Everybody notes that former Supreme Court Justice Bryon White died yesterday, at the age of 84. White, who was also a football star, served on the court for 31 years.

The WP stuffs a piece noting the White House’s habit of sanitizing its official transcripts. Among other instances, the article looks at a speech in Knoxville, Tenn., last week during which the president was heckled. Here’s a news service transcript of the event:

PRESIDENT BUSH: I’ve come to highlight what works, so others around the country, if they’re interested in …MEMBERS OF THE AUDIENCE: (Chanting.) (Inaudible.) PRESIDENT BUSH: … if you’re interested … MEMBERS OF THE AUDIENCE: (Chanting.) (Inaudible.) PRESIDENT BUSH: … if you’re interested in doing what is right to encourage your citizens to become involved … (chanting continues from the audience) … and so I want to thank the city of Knoxville, Tennessee, for showing Americans—(chanting continues from the audience)—for showing Americans how best to help their communities. (Cheers, applause.)

And here is the White House’s transcript:

THE PRESIDENT: I’ve come to highlight what works, so others around the country, if they’re interested in doing what is right, to encourage your citizens to become involved. And so I want to thank the city of Knoxville, Tennessee, for showing Americans … for showing Americans how best to help their communities. (Applause.) Thank you all.