Today's Papers

Resolution Rock

The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today lead with the agreement between the United States and France on the final wording of a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding that Saddam Hussein allow weapons inspectors back into Iraq. The agreement apparently also resolves the concerns of other security council members, and the resolution is expected to pass on Friday. The Washington Post gives a banner headline to the decision by Attorney General John Ashcroft to hand over the D.C. sniper suspects to two different counties in Virginia for prosecution. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with President Bush’s plans to move forward with his agenda now that Republicans have regained control of the Senate. He wants the Senate to pass legislation authorizing the creation of a Department of Homeland Security right away.

The papers offer a rather hazy account of precisely what the U.N. resolution compromise means. The WP and the NYT both report that the agreement came after a phone conversation between President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac, and that negotiations came down to substituting the word “or” in the U.S. draft with the word “and.” But the NYT and WP offer astonishingly little detail on the compromise resolution itself. (The LAT and USAT do a better job on that score; you can read the resolution here.) The resolution sends inspectors back into Iraq with broad authority and requires them to report any Iraqi resistance to the security council, which would then decide on what action to take. The LAT says the resolution leaves the U.S. free to attack Iraq without security-council authorization, but that’s overstating the case (unless one interprets the absence of a specific prohibition against a U.S. attack as an implicit endorsement of same). It makes no mention of the use of force; its most belligerent passage warns only of “serious consequences as a result of [Iraq’s] continued violations of its obligations.”

Everybody fronts Ashcroft’s decision to prosecute sniper suspects John Muhammad and Lee Malvo in Virginia. The papers say Ashcroft wanted to be sure that both men get the death penalty, and that while Montgomery County, Md., prosecutors wanted to take the case—that’s where the shootings began and where six of the 14 killings attributed to Muhammad and Malvo occurred—Ashcroft chose Virginia because it has a better record on death penalty cases and would allow for Malvo, a minor, to be executed. Muhammad was sent to Prince William County, and Malvo to Fairfax County; they will be tried separately. The LAT explains why Malvo was sent to Fairfax: Prosecutors have concluded that he fired the shot that killed an FBI analyst in a Fairfax Home Depot parking garage. (The NYT had that bit of info back in October.)  The NYT and WP both note that Ashcroft’s power over where the two are prosecuted stems from no legal authority but from the simple fact that he had them in federal custody and got to choose what jurisdictions he handed them over to—possession is nine-tenths of the law. Only the NYT has a pretty big detail—prosecutors say the laptop found in Malvo and Muhammad’s car contains a travel diary that puts them at the scene of some of the more than 21 shootings they are now accused of. The diary may also include coded references to the killings.

The WSJ and the NYT both front the first installments of a Webster deathwatch. The embattled chair of the SEC’s accounting industry oversight board, whose recent selection to the aforementioned board precipitated the resignation of SEC commissioner Harvey Pitt, is going forward with his duties, scheduling the board’s first informal meeting in early December. But documents released yesterday by the accounting firm BDO Seidman contradict Webster’s account of that firm’s ouster by U.S. Technologies when he chaired the company’s audit committee. Webster has said he didn’t know that BDO Seidman had complained about U.S. Technologies’ accounting practices before he canned the company; the documents suggest that he did. The WSJ notes that he might not be lying—he’s 78 years old and may have forgotten the details, a fact that doesn’t recommend him for the job of taking on the accounting industry.

The WP fronts  news that one of the people killed in the Predator missile strike in Yemen on Sunday was a U.S. citizen. Ahmed Hijazi, who held U.S. citizenship but was not born here, was one of six suspected al-Qaida operatives killed in the strike. The WP says it’s unclear whether the CIA, which conducted the strike, was aware of Hijazi’s citizenship. The story says Hijazi’s death raises a host of questions about the legality of such strikes, but doesn’t follow through and tell us whether or not it is legal for the CIA to kill an American citizen residing in a friendly nation like Yemen. (It does, however, inaccurately claim that assassination is banned by executive order—it is, but only against heads of state. Civilians are fair game.) The story relies on anonymous administration officials for confirmation of Hijazi’s citizenship; the State Department’s spokesman officially says he doesn’t have enough information to verify that. Which begs the question: If they can be confident of his membership in a shadowy terrorist organization, shouldn’t they be able to figure out his citizenship?

The WP also fronts an exclusive interview with Mildred Muhammad, John Muhammad’s ex-wife. She says Muhammad experienced humiliating racism while serving in the Army during the Gulf War and returned a changed and angry man. He threatened to kill her, and she suspects his rampage was an elaborate scheme to murder her and make it look like just one more of many unsolved sniper shootings (she lives in Clinton, Md., a Washington, D.C., suburb). His plan, she says, was to shoot her and then get custody of their children without making himself look like a suspect.

The NYT fronts a story that doesn’t bode well for Vermonters. Two of the Republicans’ most loathed figures in the Senate—Sens. James Jeffords and Patrick Leahy—represent Vermont. Leahy was the Democratic Judiciary Chairman who has held up all of President Bush’s judicial appointees, and Jeffords is the former Republican whose defection from the party a year and a half ago allowed Democrats to gain control of the Senate and Leahy to take his post. Now that Republicans are back in power, they are thirsting for revenge, and the NYT says Vermonters can expect a nuclear waste repository to show up in their state soon. Jeffords, the story says, “is like the Woody Allen character in Bananas, who bravely pushes a gang of tough guys out of a subway car as the doors are closing, only to have his moment of heroism abruptly end when the doors open to let them back in.”