Today's Papers

Eagles Eyed

Everyone’s lead is the Supreme Court’s decision that executing mentally retarded criminals is unconstitutional because it is cruel and unusual punishment. The 6-3 ruling reverses the court’s stance since 1989 and is in keeping with a trend among states to outlaw such executions. Eighteen of the 38 death penalty states don’t execute retarded offenders today while just two didn’t back in 1989. The New York Times says the ruling could take more than 200 people off death row. An NYT fronter anticipates vigorous legal wrangling in the wake of the ruling because the high court didn’t offer states any guidelines for determining if someone is mentally retarded. The top story in the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox, at least online, is word that Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli settler mother, three of her children, and another civilian during a shootout in the family’s home near Nablus.

Eight Israelis were wounded, including a child, in the attack, the papers say. Israeli troops killed one of the Palestinian gunmen, and the other either escaped or died, depending on which paper you read. According to most papers, the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which the Washington Post describes as “allied with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat,” said it sent the attackers. A refresher: This group is the one which claimed responsibility for killing the Israeli Cabinet minister last year, but it hasn’t been implicated in recent attacks. The Los Angeles Times says the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades also took responsibility.

Everyone notes that the Israeli army rounded up Arab men and set up bases throughout the West Bank, in Nablus, Jenin, Qalqilya, Tulkarm, Bethlehem, and the Dheisheh refugee camp. In gun battles in Qalqilya, a few Palestinian soldiers, an intelligence officer, and a pregnant Palestinian woman were killed, the NYT reports. The WP and USA Today report that a 14-year-old Palestinian died when Israeli soldiers blew up a building.

The papers conclude that the army’s incursions are examples of Israel’s new policy to take back Palestinian land until terrorist attacks stop, though Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been vague on just what that policy entails.

According to the LAT, Israel’s moderate defense minister said the military forays would last only two or three weeks, would just be to ensure security, and would not entail full reoccupation of the West Bank. He and the foreign minister denounced the notion that Israel would retake Palestinian land. “I don’t recall agreeing to anything like that,” he said in a quote the NYT borrowed from an Israeli daily, adding that he spoke “through clenched teeth.” The LAT had no reaction to the defense minister’s reoccupation timeline from more hard-line Israeli officials.

Everyone reports that a panel of scientists who advise the federal government have recommended against immunizing every American against smallpox. Instead, about 20,000 first-responders would be vaccinated now, and other Americans would be eligible only if they end up in the vicinity of an attack. There’ll be enough vaccine for everyone by next year, but the panel thinks that the smallpox threat doesn’t justify the health risks of mass immunization. The NYT notes that the panel’s recommendations have never been rejected by the government.

The WP fronts, and others go inside with, promising research that found a type of adult bone-marrow cell that appears able to transform itself into most of the body’s specialized cells, just as embryonic stem cells can. If the research holds up, the adult cells could be used for therapies for diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, and hemophilia, thus avoiding ethical concerns about using discarded embryos for these treatments.

The LAT catches word that, according to the Philippine government, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf was killed by U.S.-trained Philippine troops in a shootout in a speedboat. U.S. troops weren’t involved in the battle but did provide “unspecified support,” according to a U.S. military official quoted in a wire report on the NYT  Web site.

Inside the papers is Tom Ridge’s first testimony before Congress on the proposed department of Homeland Security. Lawmakers are most concerned about the administration’s plan to keep the intelligence agencies outside of the new department and have them hand off intelligence to Homeland Security. Skeptics foresee a three-way intelligence turf war among the FBI, CIA, and the new department and thus an even greater inability to connect the dots that may prevent terrorist attacks. The NYT believes this intense questioning on intelligence matters suggests that the administration’s plan could be significantly changed by Congress.

The papers report that Congress has asked the Justice Department to look into the leak of the Sept. 10 NSA intercepts. Vice President Cheney called the chairmen of the joint House and Senate intelligence committees to complain about the leak.

The NYT unearths a secret government project in Manhattan that had officials posting “Area Closed” signs and begging a curious reporter not to disclose the operation’s existence: The Parks Department has relocated four baby bald eagles to New York’s Inwood Hill Park, hoping the national symbols will find America’s greatest city a nice alternative to their previous home in northern Wisconsin. Officials fear that the people who come with publicity will upset the birds as they settle in.