Today's Papers

The Dirty Bomb Plot Bombs

USA Today’s lead reports that “Bush administration and law enforcement officials” were “annoyed” with Attorney General John Ashcroft because they believe he “overstated” the “dirty bomb” plans of suspect José  Padilla (aka Abdullah Al-Muhajir). According to the officials, Padilla was tossing around various ideas, and a dirty bomb was only one of them. The Washington Post   leads with word that investigators believe they’ve identified the al-Qaida operative who originally recruited Mohammed Atta and other Sept. 11 plotters. The New York Times leads with, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with, the start of congressional hearings yesterday on the White House’s proposed homeland security reorganization, during which legislators from both parties said the plan may not go far enough and worried that the CIA and FBI have been left out. “We may have to pull those agencies more fully into the structure than was proposed,” said Republican Rep. Dick Armey. The Los Angeles Times  leads with word that Pakistan has handed a second, unnamed, suspect in the latest alleged al-Qaida plot over to U.S. officials, who are interrogating him at an undisclosed location.

Yesterday’s USAT lead had the skinny on the fact that Pakistan had been holding another suspect.

The Post says that the alleged 9/11-recruiter is Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a German citizen born in Syria. U.S. authorities wouldn’t explicitly say whether Zammar is already in custody, but one official said, “Zammar is not walking the streets.” The WP points out, “During the past nine months, the U.S. government has secretly transported dozens of terrorism suspects to countries other than the United States, bypassing extradition procedures.”

The LAT’s lead notes that some senators were given a closed-door briefing on the case against Padilla and were not impressed. “Not many people were satisfied that we had a whole hell of a lot” on Padilla in terms of hard evidence, one congressional source told the paper. “We’re all for sticking bad guys in the hole, but you’ve got to have evidence.”

Everybody mentions that Padilla’s lawyer has already filed a motion challenging the government’s detention of him. “My client is a citizen,” she told reporters. “He still has constitutional rights.”

Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld told reporters yesterday, “We are not interested in trying [Padilla] at the moment or punishing him at the moment. We are interested in finding out what he knows.”

(Tangent: Some of the papers are referring to the suspect as Padilla, while others as calling him Al-Muhajir. Today’s Papers would love an itsy-bitsy sidebar from one of the papers explaining its choice. And if you must know, TP is simply playing follow-the-leader: Absent evidence that Padilla legally changed his name to Al-Muhajir, TP is sticking with what the majority ofother folks are going with.)

A front-page NYT piece on the captured al-Qaida leader Abu Zubaydah—who led authorities to Padilla—notes officials’ assertions that they’re cross-checking Zubaydah’s tips. Said one official, “If something Zubaydah says matches up with something we hear from one of the lieutenants—bingo, we move on it.”

Everybody notes that a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up yesterday in Herzliya, a town north of Tel Aviv, killing a 15-year-old girl and wounding eight others. The papers say no group has claimed responsibility yet. Meanwhile, the Israeli army said it killed one Palestinian gunman, while Palestinians said that a9-year-old boy was also killed by Israeli army gunfire.

Everybody notes that Israeli troops continued to surround Yasser Arafat’s compound in Ramallah and arrest militants in the town.

The NYT stuffs word that Secretary of State Powell said yesterday that President Bush will outline his views on how to move toward Mideast peace “in the very near future.”(A story inside yesterday’s USAT suggested that this was going to happen. That story also does a better job than the Times does of clearly explaining that Bush will likely offer general principles and “not a detailed plan.”)

Everybody notes that a Catholic bishop resigned yesterday after acknowledging he had a number of affairs with women. He was also facing accusations, which he denies, that he had molested three minors. Also yesterday, the pope accepted the resignation of another bishop who has also been accused of molestation. The resignations come just a day before American bishops are to get together to decide, among other things, whether the church should adopt a no-tolerance policy for pedophilia.

Everybody notes that after a one-day delay, Afghans opened their loya jirga yesterday to decide on a new government. The papers say that support seems to be coalescing around current interim leader Hamid Karzai. (According to early morning reports, “dozens” of delegates have walked out in protest over what they said was the lack of a free vote.)

In a well-argued WSJ op-ed, a former head of the National Security Agency (the electronic eavesdropping guys) says that the FBI can’t be fixed:“There is no way for the FBI to create and sustain both criminal-catching and spy-catching skills and cultures. The only solution is the creation of a new National Counterintelligence Service dedicated only to counterintelligence and counterterrorism.” (Here’s the link, but it’s only open to subscribers.)

The WP fronts a new GAO report concluding that, “Damage, theft, vandalism, and pranks occurred in the White House during the 2001 presidential transition.”The GAO estimated that the total cost of the damage was somewhere between $9,300 and $14,000. The congressional investigative arm said it was “unable to conclude” whether that’s worse than previous transitions, but the Post says it’s about on par with when the first President Bush took office.

The papers’ various editorial writers and columnists opine on the wisdom of the administration’s classification of Padilla as an “enemy combatant.” A NYT editorial concludes, “The government’s position is unacceptable.”

But the WP’s Michael Kelly says he’s fine with it, “This war must be successfully prosecuted, and success in war pretty much always requires the violation of civil liberties.” Kelly tallies up the various secretive aspects of the government’s handling of Padilla, then concludes, “Now, that’s what I call a violation of civil liberties. I am sorry about it, and I will be even sorrier in the unlikely event that al Muhajir is innocent and should not have been locked away. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”