Today's Papers

Manila Twist

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times all lead with word that the United States is sending troops back to the Philippines, and this time, rather than taking on the limited task of training Filipino forces to combat Muslim militant group Abu Sayyaf, U.S. soldiers will fight alongside them until the group is “wiped out.” USA Today relegates this news to a reefer, and leads with the 50-count indictment against former Florida university professor Sami Al-Arian, which the rest of the papers front. Al-Arian is accused of leading the American fundraising wing of the terrorist group the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the pieces all note that the government’s copiously documented case against Al-Arian is brought to you in part by the USA Patriot Act, which makes some intelligence gathered in classified national security investigations admissible in criminal court. The Wall Street Journal  tops its world-wide news box with word that Turkey has delayed its decision on allowing U.S. troops to use bases in the country; the LAT fronts the same story, and the NYT buries it in its offlead.

The papers agree on the basics of U.S. deployment to the Philippines: 350 Special Ops soldiers will be backed by 400 support personnel on the ground, and 1,300 sailors and 1,000 Marines will be on nearby ships in case back-up proves necessary. (The Post calls this 3,000 troops in its headline; the NYT skips the sailors and goes with 1,700.) Less clear is whether Abu Sayyaf has current links to al Qaida. USAT says U.S. intelligence officials have new evidence of a connection, but the Post calls those ties “dated and tenuous,” and notes that U.S. officials have recently emphasized only that the group is a threat to U.S. interests in Southeast Asia, and that the country’s president asked for help.

Everyone notes that the government’s case against Al-Arian (whom you may remember as the professor known for vocally advocating Palestinian causes who was suspended by the University of South Florida in the wake of 9/11) hinges on many faxes between Al-Arian and other alleged Islamic Jihad members. He’s charged with raising money to support terrorist activities and using the university as a shelter for other Islamic Jihad members, among other things. In the Post, Al-Arian’s lawyer calls him a “political prisoner,” and argues that he did no fundraising for the group once doing so became illegal in 1995. In its kicker, the Times piece quotes a terrorism analyst who terms the indictments “a breakthrough” because they target a group other than al Qaida. None of the papers ask how this new focus on a range of terror groups from Florida to Manila meshes with the Bush administration’s war on terrorism or its plans for Iraq.

Speaking of which, every paper fronts a war news round-up of some kind. The NYT offleads a new (and some say, risky) strategy for getting the Security Council to approve a second resolution: get nine non-permanent member votes aboard, and the recalcitrant veto-wielding countries will be forced, at least, to abstain. The Post offleads this morsel on post-war Iraq: The Bush administration plans to take unilateral control of the country, and an American civilian will oversee Iraq’s reconstruction. And USA Today fronts a feature promising “a kind of war the world has never seen before” in Iraq, but talk of “surgical” precision has echoes of the Gulf War.

The WSJ fronts a mini-scoop: In the past several days, Iraq has been exporting boatloads of oil, sending large shipments via the illegal port of Khor al Amaya, which is off-limits to Saddam & co. under U.N. sanctions. No word on who’s buying. 

Everyone but the LAT fronts word of the FCC’s decision not to completely deregulate the country’s local phone companies; the WSJ explains most lucidly what happened. The agency freed the regional Bells from having to lease their high-speed internet lines to competitors (in a move that may cause companies to invest in better infrastructure, and that may also allow them to charge higher prices for access to that network), but failed to grant the same freedom when it comes to the Bells’ local phone lines. The Post piece offers a rundown on why FCC Chairman Michael Powell wanted to deregulate both, and how an eleventh-hour maneuver by a Republican panel member thwarted his goals; the Journal piece even cites rumors that Powell may resign.  

Everyone but the WSJ fronts word that Jesica Santillan successfully underwent a second heart and lung transplant, this time with organs from a donor with the correct blood type. Though all stories observe that Santillan’s anonymous donor did not make a directed gift, none explained why Santillan had to wait three years for her first transplant, and only two weeks for her second. (Presumably, her need became more critical, but TP would like to know exactly how the process of matching donors and recipients works.)

Finally, the LAT fronts word that Pentagon higher-ups are avid fans of Comedy Central. Well, not really. But they’ve planned a contest that sounds a lot like that network’s Battlebots: a Pentagon team charged with increasing the number of unmanned vehicles used in future wars offered a $1 million prize to whoever builds an unmanned ground vehicle that wins a race from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in March 2004.