Today's Papers

Roche Clipped

According to early morning reports, at least multiple bombs hit train stations in Madrid, killing at least 60 and injuring at least two hundred. There are no claims of responsibility yet, but police have been on high alert for attacks by Basque separatists in advance of Spain’s elections this weekend.

The Los Angeles Times leads with criticism of the U.S.’s process for awarding rebuilding contracts in Iraq. As the LAT emphasizes and other papers note, the Pentagon has had to cancel a multi-hundred million dollar deal to equip Iraqi security services because the contract process was so poorly managed. USA Today’s lead says that Saddam’s sons fled to Syria and then were kicked out. The New York Times leads with the U.S.’s trade deficit climbing to a monthly record of $43 billion in January. According to analysts cited by the Times, at least some of the growing disparity has been caused by lax consumer spending abroad. “The real problem is that our trading partners are only beginning to recover,” said one economist. The Washington Post leads with news that teenage sniper Lee Boyd Malvo was sentenced to life in prison. He still faces a capital murder charge, though it appears likely he will get a plea deal on that.

USAT’s story relies on one former and two current Bush administration officials “who have detailed information about Saddam’s sons’ travels.” Syria’s ambassador to the U.S. said he “categorically denies” that the two were ever hiding in Syria. USAT says that Syrian officials may not have known “initially” that Uday and Qusay were hanging out.

The Wall Street Journal says that Senate investigators are about to grill members of a Pentagon unit that before the war did an end-run around the CIA and gave the White House a briefing on alleged links between al-Qaida and Saddam. The PowerPoint presentation apparently included a slide criticizing the CIA for having insisted that the links weren’t substantial.

Everybody notes that Air Force Secretary James Roche, nominated by SecDef Rumsfeld to head the Army, has withdrawn his name from consideration after it became clear that Congress wasn’t going to give him the thumbs up. Roche has faced scrutiny for a now frozen $21 billion Air Force contract with Boeing that reeked of crony capitalism. Sen. John McCain essentially killed the nomination after Roche refused to release e-mails pertaining to the deal.

The papers all go inside with word that two American contractors and their translator were murdered in Iraq by gunmen disguised as police. Polish soldiers said they have arrested the attackers. According to early morning reports, one GI was killed yesterday in a bomb attack; two others were injured.

The Post’s Iraq update briefly mentions that members of an (unnamed) Shiite militia got into a gun battle with Iraqi police in Nasiriyah, leaving at four cops dead.

The NYT notices inside that the Pentagon is still paying Ahmad Chalabi’s group to help with intel despite the fact that so many of Chalabi’s prewar tips turned out to be bunk. The paper quotes some officials, including one who’s been critical of Chalabi, saying that the relationship might have more value now since Chalabi and his people know they’re on the spot. As the Times mentions (in the seventh paragraph), the continued payments were first reported by Knight Ridder last month.

The WP fronts word that the Marines in Haiti have been given more aggressive rules of engagement after they found that just being there didn’t stop violence. The forces are now tasked with disarming any gunmen they come across, and they can shoot before they are directly threatened. Meanwhile, Marines shot and killed two Haitians Tuesday night who had fired at them.

The NYT goes Page One with the passage of a Republican-backed bill in the House that shields restaurants from obesity suits. It’s not clear if the Senate will go for it. The Times calls the House bill, “the latest Republican-led effort to provide legal immunity for a specific industry after efforts to impose broader limits on lawsuits have been blocked in Congress.”

In its continued hounding of Supreme Court judges, the LAT goes above-the-fold with word that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has “lent her name and presence” to a lecture series sponsored by the liberal NOW legal defense fund, a group that often is involved in cases before the Supremes. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick recently argued that the Times’ conflict-of-interest dragnet has gone too far.

The Post flags something first noticed by blogger phenom Wonkette (with whom TP, so sue me, once worked): Visitors to the official Bush campaign sitecan create their own Bush posters with any slogan they want. Repeat: any slogan they want. Tip to the randy-minded: Enter your motto in the “city” field.