Today's Papers

Celibacy Rules

All the papers lead with the pope’s speech to a group of Nigerian bishops in which he firmly “upheld” the principle of celibacy for the priesthood. He also, less clearly but still firmly, instructed bishops everywhere to address the growing sex abuse scandals, urging them to “investigate” and “correct” the problems. The New York Timesand the Los Angeles Timesalso front detailed summary accounts of the fighting in Jenin over the last few weeks, and the Washington Postfronts an article on the growing concern among many experts in Washington about Bush’s foreign policy consistency.

Even though he never mentioned the American sex abuse scandals directly, and in fact he wasn’t even addressing the American clergy he had just gathered in Rome, the NYT still calls the pope’s remarks “his most direct on the subject since the sex abuse scandal began.” (The previous two statements were really vague.) The comments on celibacy come at a time when many people in and out of the church are questioning the wisdom of what the LAT calls “the cornerstone of the priesthood for nearly 900 years.” At least one American cardinal had indicated he “planned to raise the issue of whether priests should be allowed to marry” at the official meeting of the American clergy, starting Tuesday.

The papers report that Israeli army has begun pulling out of Ramallah and Nablus, though “there was no resolution in sight that would free Arafat from his battered Ramallah headquarters, or release about 200 gunmen, civilians and others who are holed up in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity,” writes the LAT. Still, the cooling situation gives the NYT and LAT enough breathing room to stretch out their full narrative accounts of the Jenin battle, beginning with the April 3 Israeli siege of the camp and progressing day by day. Both articles also note the post-battle spin war which is proving to be nearly as intense. “Jenin camp has sparked a new fight, one in which each side seeks to cast itself as the victim,” writes the LAT; “each side’s version is already settling into a concrete sturdier than the stuff scattered throughout this camp,” writes the NYT.

There is no shortage of gruesome scenes—”the floor of the room was caked with blood,” and the like. But it’s still hard to draw conclusions. Both accounts confirm that the camp was crawling with hundreds of known and armed gunmen. The Israeli army insists its actions were as targeted and precise as possible; they insist they gave plenty of warning to civilians. “Generally, a bulldozer would hit a house, then pause to give the occupants another chance to escape,” an army official tells the NYT.

A WP article reports what most Middle East observers have assumed, that Ariel Sharon has been preaching the expulsion of Arafat for weeks. He first seriously “argued” the case “in an all-night cabinet meeting” at the start of the Israeli incursion. He’s been prevented thus far by a widespread if vague fear about the “alternative leadership” that might fill Arafat’s vacuum (Slate’s David Plotz assessed the concerns and possibilities late last year), and a host of practical constraints, such as “whether any other country would agree to take him,” and how to remove him from his Ramallah compound with martyrizing him. The LAT also notes that “the Arabs, who just last month offered Israel full recognition in exchange for its withdrawal from all occupied land, bluntly made clear that they will not participate in any peace effort without Arafat.”

A vintage Maureen Dowd column coyly passes on “those rumors all over Georgetown that Cheney and Rummy had set up Colin to fail because they think he’s a squishy internationalist.” But an LAT front-pager on the administration’s evolving Middle East policy casts Powell, with his fresh view from the battle lines, in the leading role; it also suggests that Bush’s two favorite peace plans, Tenet and Mitchell, are out the window. “Powell is telling the administration that Israelis and Palestinians are so estranged that, for now, the chasm separating them cannot be bridged through gradual confidence-building measures on security. The security and political phases of a peace process, outlined sequentially by two previous U.S.-orchestrated plans, should be merged. Israeli concerns about peace and stability need to parallel action on a political track that addresses the aspirations of the Palestinians—and prevents them from resorting to violence.”

The Post fronts a piece on the administration’s foreign policy meltdown so full of gossip and sniping that Tim Russert might have to devote a special program to it. Everybody is worried that Bush is backsliding on Israel, Iraq, Venezuela, North Korea, even Mexico. Regular snipers include Senate Foreign Relations chairman Joe Biden, who calls the administration “inept,” and Brookings foreign policy head James Steinberg, who says that the Bushies can’t handle the “second order of problems”—i.e., anything more complicated than the fight against evil. But the article also voices the “deep concern” of Brent Scowcroft, Pat Robertson, a source close to Mexican President Vicente Fox (who apparently is steamed over the lack of action on immigration reform), and plenty others.

The NYT reports that the Bush administration is “considering a new legal doctrine” (“considering” is the article’s short-hand for “writing”) that will allow the prosecution of some Guantanamo Bay detainees “even without evidence from witnesses or documents that they committed war crimes.” In the “new approach,” it would be enough “to show that they were part of a group and furthered its aims.” (“A military version of the civilian charge of conspiracy,” one expert characterized it.) The “furthered its aims” part is important though, because the Supreme Court has previously ruled against “status crimes, in which it is an offense merely to be a member of a group, like the Communist Party.” Interestingly, the article suggests that the lawyers involved in “considering” this new doctrine are quite conscious of a potential Supreme Court ruling on the doctrine; interesting because the military tribunal rules as currently written do not allow for appeal to the non-military Supremes.

The reason the administration has been doing all this “considering” is because the interrogation effort in Guantanamo has apparently been an utter disaster, producing almost nothing in the way of evidence or confessions. The Post fronts a detailed report on the interrogations that concurs and pegs the blame on the translators. “With many of its best interrogators and speakers of Middle Eastern dialects dispatched to Afghanistan, the military has been forced to rely on some underqualified officers who are overmatched by captives trained in methods of evasion.” Another problem is incompetent and mismatched translators—in part due to a “bitter dispute” between the two translation firms hired for the job. The Post gives an example: “One interpreter repeatedly interrupted an interrogator to remind him that he had previously posed the same questions earlier in that session—not realizing that it is a common tactic for interrogators to double back for more detail or to test the captive’s truthfulness.”

The WP fronts a large photo of yesterday’s pro-Palestinian rally and happily reports on the general lack of violence—a “stark contrast to [the] demonstrations in April 2000, when protests against the World Bank and IMF led to a virtual shutdown of the downtown area and sparked clashes between police and demonstrators that ended in mass arrests.” Even the D.C. chief of police can barely contain his admiration: “The organizers did an outstanding job. … This is really what protest ought to be.”

In an essay-ish article in NYT’s business section, Tom Redburn reports both on his daughter’s angst over which college to attend and on new research by a pair of economists that suggests the decision may not be quite as life-charting as is often assumed. Using post-college salary as a measure, the economists found that “students rejected by a highly selective college did as well as those who attended it.” The Ivy/salary correlation has grown fuzzy to the point that, say the economists, “the best school that turned you down is a better predictor of your future income than the school you actually attended.” That is, the real predictor of “success” isn’t whether you won or lost in the admissions game, it’s whether you had the chutzpah—rooted in justifiable aptitude or in grand self-delusion, it makes no difference statistically—to apply to the top schools. “Students who apply to schools for the ambitious are ambitious enough to do well just about anywhere.”