Today's Papers

The Hole Story

The Los Angeles Times’ lead announces: “U.S SAYS HUSSEIN IS COOPERATING; Ex-Dictator Provided Information Leading to Several Arrests, Officials Say.” The New York Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and USA Today lead with President Bush’s press conference and message to Saddam: “Good riddance, the world is better off without you.” The Washington Post highlights Bush’s suggestions that Saddam will face an Iraqi court, not an international tribunal.

While the papers all say that documents found in Saddam’s hideout have helped nab what the military described as two “key individuals,” it’s only the LAT that proclaims that Saddam himself is giving up info. In fact, the other papers mostly suggest the opposite. One unnamed administration official told the NYT, “He is compliant in the sense that he is responding, as opposed to being obstinate and not speaking at all. But he is not helpful.” Another (unnecessarily anonymous) official told the paper, Saddam “has given no indication that he will be a helpful person in getting information.” The Post echoes that, with one official quoted saying, “When they talk to him about anything substantive, he hasn’t been particularly helpful.”

Another hint that the LAT’s headline is shakier than J. Lo’s booty: The story doesn’t quote a single source, named or unnamed, saying Saddam is talking.

Here’s what the president said about Saddam’s coming trial, “We will work with the Iraqis to develop a way to try him that will stand international scrutiny.” Regarding whether the death penalty will be an option, Bush said, “It’s going to be up to the Iraqis to make those decisions.” Extrapolating from those comments, the Post announces in a near-banner headline: “BUSH SAYS IRAQIS WILL TRY HUSSEIN.” The NYT’s lead story has a similar angle. But a piece inside the Times says that Bush purposely avoided endorsing the Iraqi plan for a war crimes court. White House officials explained that while is the president OK with the gist of proposal, he wants room to maneuver.

The Post, which has had the best coverage of the coming war crimes tribunal, has a front-page piece saying that Iraqi officials are pushing to begin Saddam’s trial in just a few months. The U.S., which will be underwriting the trial, probably won’t be into that since, as the Post explains, the administration first wants to concentrate on interrogating Saddam, and then there’s the issue of getting a qualified court up and running.

A WP editorial criticizes the proposed tribunal, saying that, among other problems, its bylaws were drawn up “in private by a small group of Iraqi and U.S. lawyers.” The court also appears to lack adequate provisions for defendants. The Iraqi official who has been speaking to the papers about the plan, and who the Post calls a “key architect” of the proposal, is lawyer Salim Chalabi, Ahmed’s nephew. Obvious suggestion: How about a profile of Salim Chalabi, including a look at his qualifications?

In a story that only the NYT gives stand-alone Page One treatment, two car bombs exploded outside police stations in Baghdad, killing at least six officers and wounding about 20. The LAT mentions that two other bombs near police stations were found and defused. According to early morning reports, five Iraqis were killed by U.S. forces during pro-Saddam riots and 11 guerrillas were killed in a failed ambush.

Everybody mentions that France played nice and announced it will forgive some of the $3 billion Iraq owes it. 

In a story that yesterday’s WSJ had to stuff onto A11, the paper reported that “U.S. and Kuwaiti officials” may have tried to “steer” Halliburton toward a Kuwaiti subcontractor that then overcharged the company—costs that Halliburton passed on to the government. According to a letter the Journal got a peek at, and written after Halliburton knew its fuel purchases were being audited, a negotiator for Halliburton tried to get a cheaper rate but complained about “political pressures” from the Kuwaiti government and the U.S. embassy. Embassy officials denied pressuring Halliburton and said they just told the company the truth: Kuwaiti officials demanded that fuel subcontracts go to one company; the WSJ says the leading shareholder of the company is “a member of a prominent Kuwaiti family.”

Today’s Journalsays that the German police have concluded that a Saudi diplomat briefly met with a member of the alleged 9/11-helper Hamburg al-Qaida cell a few days after the Sept. 11 attacks. Apparently, the diplomat cut off the meeting when he realized who the guy was. Saudis officials had previously denied the diplomat ever met with members of the cell.

The WP, alone among the papers, fronts news that Secretary of State Powell had surgery for prostate cancer. He is expected to be back on the job in a month or sooner. While he’s out, Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage is in charge of State.

The LAT fronts and NYT reefers the Supreme Court’s announcement that it will decide whether Vice President Cheney needs to disclose who he met with while working on the White House’s energy policy task force a few years ago.

With the endless commentary about what’s going to happen now in Iraq and what the U.S. should do, TP thought one of the most intriguing suggestions came from NYT reader Ilya Shlyakhter: “With Saddam Hussein captured, we should offer an amnesty to at least the rank-and-file members of the insurgency who turn in their arms. Offered from a position of strength, the amnesty would be much more likely to help end the insurgency than if offered later in less happy times.”