Today's Papers

Putin on the Ritz

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with, and the  New York Times off-leads, the chance arrest of the right-wing extremist charged with setting off a homemade, knapsack-and-nails bomb that killed one and injured more than 100 during Atlanta’s 1996 Olympic Games. After a five-year, multimillion-dollar manhunt through the thick Appalachian forests of North Carolina, a rookie cop on a routine patrol there finally happened on the alleged bomber, Eric Rudolph, early yesterday morning. The NYT leads, and the WP and LAT front, President Bush’s stop in his new favorite country, Poland, yesterday to deliver a speech reaffirming the U.S. alliance with Europe—at least so long as Europe plays by the U.S.’s rules. After the speech, Bush met Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg for an extravagant evening of ballet and fireworks to celebrate the city’s 300th anniversary. Later today, Bush will fly to the next stop on his tour: Evian, France, for a G-8 summit of industrialized nations.

The papers pay only scant attention to the FBI spin that the capture of the Olympic Park bomber is a huge law-enforcement coup, and focus instead on the relatively fascinating investigation that eventually pointed toward this survivalist ideologue, even if it didn’t actually find him. It wasn’t until two years after the Olympic bombing that feds actually charged Rudolph with the crime, after a witness spotted him fleeing the scene of an abortion-clinic bombing and reported his license plate number. That bombing was linked to two others and the Olympic bombing in part by letters to local papers claiming they were the work of the “Army of God.” According to the NYT, which prints the most finely detailed story, the letters all included language associated with Christian Identity, a white-supremacist group based in northern North Carolina, where Rudolph spent his teenage years hiking wilderness trails. “He was purported to be a much-vaunted outdoorsman, this mythical figure, this Jeremiah Johnson,” an ATF agent told the WP, explaining how feds descended on the wooded area in an ongoing dragnet. After some time, however, the trail grew cold, and the government scaled back its efforts. Some even thought Rudolph was dead. According to both the Post and the NYT, forensic psychologists at the FBI calculated how many calories he would need to consume each day and were baffled about how he was getting enough food. In the end, the answer was far more prosaic than they had expected: Rudolph was caught while rummaging for old produce in a dumpster behind a Sav-a-Lot supermarket.

The WP goes inside with a story on Rudolph’s background that offers some more unexpected twists. The paper describes him as a big stoner—a “Nietzsche-reading” college dropout who “traveled to Amsterdam to procure high-quality marijuana seeds for the crops he raised behind his mother’s western North Carolina house, on land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.” Moreover, his former sister-in-law told the Post that Rudolph was opposed to abortion on rather unconventional grounds: He believed that white people would become a minority if they kept aborting their babies.

More than two weeks after U.S. officials told the WP that al-Qaida is making a comeback (which was, in turn, only 10 days after U.S. officials told the WP that they thought AQ was finished), the LAT jumps on the anonymously sourced terror-scare bandwagon with a today’s off-lead. At least this time, the unnamed U.S. officials have something more to offer than vague threats and “increased chatter.” Intelligence from the investigation of the Saudi bombings indicates that AQ has created new “operational cells” populated with terrorists whose names are not in the U.S.’s master terrorist database, and officials believe some of these “untraceable” cells have already infiltrated the country. The LAT doesn’t explain how its sources didn’t see this simple work-around coming a mile away, but it does hint at alarming scenarios: Some cells are “believed to be planning” strikes on “soft targets” like subways with suicide bombers in coming months.

As many as 8 million low-income taxpayers who were promised a tax cut in the bill Bush signed on Wednesday won’t get one, according to the results of a second study of the fine print that the NYT fronts. When reached by telephone on Bush’s European tour, Ari Fleischer defended the bill’s exclusion of many poorer taxpayers, openly contradicting his statement on Thursday that people in the lowest tax bracket would “benefit the most”:

“If any taxpayers did not get tax relief in this bill, it is because it was such a priority to get them a head start on tax cuts in 2001,” [Fleischer] said. “They had a two-year head start, because they were prioritized over upper-income taxpayers. The upper income taxpayers had to wait for tax relief for this bill.”

The NYT fronts and the WP stuffs news that Burma’s military junta has “detained” Nobel Prize-winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi only 19 months after it freed her from house arrest with unfulfilled promises of greater cooperation. Neither paper’s story is datelined from Burma, and both rely heavily on wire reports of the military’s press conference in Rangoon yesterday, where it said it took Suu Kyi and at least 17 members of her pro-democracy party into “protective custody” after a clash between her supporters and some 5,000 pro-government loyalists left four people dead. The arrests, along with the military’s closing of Suu Kyi’s party headquarters in Rangoon, have tempered any optimism that the dictatorial government might be loosening its grip on the country.

According to a piece inside the NYT, French President Jaques Chirac has invited the leaders of 12 poorer countries to the G-8 summit that starts today in Evian in order to shift the agenda away from terrorism and toward helping less developed parts of the world, especially Africa. French officials also downplayed expectations for today’s scheduled meeting between Chirac and Bush, their first since the acrimonious run up to Gulf War II. “One cannot measure the thickness of the handshake and the breadth of the smile” to judge how well they’re getting along, one French official conceded to the NYT.

Speaking of Africa, NYT’s Week-in-Review runs a piece that follows up on yesterday’s news that the U.N. Security Council is sending 1,400 peacekeepers to the northeastern corner of Congo to stop ethnic killing there. The piece’s chilling point is that even though some 60,000 people have been killed in that area since 1999, a massacre had to occur in close proximity to a U.N. compound before the Council felt enough pressure to do anything.