The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox lead with formal word to Congress from David Kay, the government’s chief weapons inspector in Iraq, that no illicit arms have been found in the country, but that Saddam “had not given up his aspirations and intentions” to develop such weapons. USA Today leads with increased attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq. Assaults are now numbering an average 17 a day, killing around three to six American soldiers a week, according to the military, and the resistance is only getting worse. The New York Times leads with a federal court ruling yesterday that the government cannot seek the death penalty against accused 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui or present evidence that might tie him to the attacks because of prosecutors’ refusals to allow him to interview captured al-Qaida operatives. The Los Angeles Times leads with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mea culpa yesterday that he had “behaved badly” and is “deeply sorry” in response to allegations that he had groped and made unwanted sexual advances toward several women.
Everybody notes up high that Kay’s “interim progress report,” presented in a closed-door briefing with members of Congress yesterday, appears to seriously undermine pre-war intelligence on what Saddam was up to. While inspectors have “discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant equipment” that Iraq had concealed, “we have not found stocks of weapons,” Kay said, according to a declassified statement issued after the briefing. “But we are not yet at the point where we can say definitively either that such weapon stocks do not exist, or that they existed before the war and our only task is to find where they have gone.”
The WP’s lede says that Kay’s team has determined that Saddam’s nuclear program was at only the “very most rudimentary level”—reminding readers in the second paragraph that the Bush administration had described Saddam’s nuclear ambitions as an imminent threat to the United States while pushing for war. Yet the LAT, which also describes the threat as a “linchpin” in the White House’s case for preemptive war, is the only paper to preface Kay’s statement, mentioning that he also said the Iraq’s nuclear development is the program “inspectors know the least about after months of searching.” Interrogation of Iraqi scientists and officials, Kay said, showed that Saddam “remained firmly committed to acquiring nuclear weapons” and that the dictator “would have resumed nuclear weapons development at some future point,” the LAT says.
The papers note that the report undermines White House, State Department, and CIA claims that Saddam had a fleet of modified trailer trucks that it used to produce biological agents and that Iraq had produced large stockpiles of germ weapons. Yet the administration downplayed that assessment, stressing the report’s “interim nature,” USAT notes. Kay told lawmakers he needs another six months to nine months to conclude his work. As the NYT reported yesterday, the administration is asking for $600 million—double what the search has cost so far—to fund that effort.
The NYT goes inside with results of a poll the paper conducted with CBS News that found a majority of those polled are uneasy about Bush’s foreign policy. Just 45 percent of those polled “have confidence” in Bush’s handling of international crises—down from 66 percent last April. Nearly nine in 10 Americans say the war in Iraq is still going on, and six in 10 say the United States should not spend as much on the effort as Mr. Bush has sought. Three-quarters of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, say the administration has yet to clearly explain how long American troops will have to stay in Iraq or how much it will cost to rebuild the country.
Everybody describes yesterday’s ruling in the Moussaoui case as a major setback for the Justice Department, who has described the Moussaoui as a central figure in the 9/11 plot. Defense lawyers and prosecutors had expected charges to be dropped against Moussaoui. Now, as USATnotes, the ruling puts the government in a tight spot. The Bush administration had previously threatened to move the case to a military tribunal—where defendants have far fewer rights—if civilian courts insist that Moussaoui have access to al-Qaida operatives. Now, if that happens, analysts tell the paper that the U.S. “will appear to be shopping for the venue most likely to permit Moussaoui to be executed.” For now, it appears the case will be appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the WP says, citing sources.
On a somewhat related note, a senior general acknowledged yesterday that military pilots now routinely practice shooting down hijacked commercial airliners to hone defenses against potential 9/11-type terror attacks, the NYT says on Page One. Air Force pilots are specially certified and trained for the missions, and they undergo psychological evaluations to ensure they are not “trigger hesitant” at the moment of decision. “We certainly don’t take this lightly,” a military official says.
The WP fronts word that Justice Department investigators will begin interviews with Bush administration officials within days to identify who might have leaked Valerie Plame’s identity to Bob Novak. “A department official” declined to name names but tells the paper that the first interviews will be with officials “whose names have surfaced in news reports as possible sources of the information.” Meanwhile, as most everybody fronts, the probe has expanded beyond the White House to include the Defense and State Departments.
Everybody goes high with Schwarzenegger’s apology yesterday. During a campaign stop in San Diego, the wanna-be governor acknowledged that “wherever there is smoke, there is fire” and apologized for having “behaved badly sometimes” toward women, though he later denied the accusations reported in yesterday’s LAT as “untrue.” How all of it will play out is unclear, the WP reports. But judging by one LAT header today, somebody out there doesn’t think the fallout will be too bad: AN IMMIGRANT PRESIDENT? IT COULD HAPPEN.