The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with, and the New York Times fronts, President Bush’s White House speech to international diplomats defending the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on its one-year anniversary. The NYT leads with the president’s short-term campaign strategy: Define John Kerry as indecisive before Kerry manages to define himself. To that end, Bush has outspent Kerry 10-to-1 since Kerry clinched the nomination March 2.
Headlines of Bush’s speech emphasize his call for international unity in the fight on terror. Everyone notes the somber atmosphere in the East Room as envoys from 83 nations listened silently to the address. Bush acknowledged that “there have been disagreements in this matter among old and valued friends” but argued that “all of us can now agree that the fall of the Iraqi dictator has removed a source of violence, aggression and instability in the Middle East.” (Well, all except France, whose foreign minister told Le Monde that the Iraq war has made the world “more dangerous and unstable.”) The papers also note that the U.S. is trying to appease Spain’s incoming prime minister by getting the U.N. to authorize the occupation, and that Secretary-General Kofi Annan has pledged to send a team to assist with June’s transfer of sovereignty.
The NYT and WP front Spain’s provisional charges against three Moroccans and two Indians for the March 11 bombings. The lead perp appears to be Jamal Zougam, who emigrated from Tangier to Spain at age 10 and who owns a cell-phone shop where, the NYT says, investigators found a tiny piece of plastic belonging to a phone found with one of the unexploded bombs. The terrorists probably got free explosives from a Spanish mineworker, the NYT reports, and used a stolen van without bothering to change the plates. The entire operation may have cost less than $1,000. (9/11 cost about $500,000.)
The WP’s Madrid coverage focuses on Abdelaziz Benyaich, a French Moroccan who met with Zougam in Tangier in April 2003 and who has been jailed in Spain since May for planning an unsuccessful bombing in Morocco. Benyaich, whose two brothers worked for the Taliban, met with an electronics expert in Morocco last year about cell-phone detonators. The LAT focuses on Mohammed Chedadi, who owns a shop in Madrid two blocks from Zougam’s and who is one of five new suspects picked up this week. Chedadi’s brother is imprisoned in connection with both 9/11 and last May’s bombings in Morocco. Chedadi’s brother also had al-Qaida connections in London, which Zougam may have shared.
“Senior Clinton administration officials” will tell a congressionally created panel next week that the Bush administration was slow to act on their warnings in late 2000 about the threat of al-Qaida, the NYT reports on its front page. The piece is a handy primer on the upcoming intelligence hearings, but its thesis is supported by only one anonymous quote, and it acknowledges that the major Clinton players scheduled to testify—Madeleine Albright, William Cohen, and Sandy Berger—refused to be interviewed.
With the Bush campaign accusing John Kerry of weakness on defense, the NYT looks at the senator’s record. In the 1980s, Kerry favored a nuclear freeze and voted against many of President Reagan’s weapons programs, including missile defense. After voting against the Gulf War in 1991 (the Times does not mention that 46 senators sided with him), he read from an antiwar novel on the Senate floor. He voted against three defense authorization bills in the 1990s (again, the Times does not say whether this is a common practice) and in 1994 and 1995 proposed deep intelligence cuts that found little support. Since then, he has voted to boost intelligence spending by 50 percent and in 1999 voted for missile defense when technologically possible. Overall, the Times finds his defense-spending instincts to be liberal but mainstream, veering more moderate over the last decade.
All three papers front USA Today’s revelation that one of its ex-reporters, Jack Kelley, serially fabricated and plagiarized stories (one of which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize), coached people to act as dummy “sources,” and perhaps even embezzled expense-report money. The Post concludes that, “in its global scope and decade-long duration,” Kelley’s crimes exceeded those of the NYT’s Jayson Blair. It quotes a former USAT editor—who had previously defended Kelley—saying that the ex-reporter “had a tremendous yearning to please people.” In the NYT, a USAT writer blames editors for enabling Kelley; the Post reports widespread internal discontent with management. The LAT says that U.S. intelligence officials have long criticized Kelley’s vivid reports of special ops. (USAT concluded that Kelley was likely ordering room service at an Islamabad hotel when he claimed to have been with commandos hunting al-Qaida near Afghanistan in 2002.)
Two Marines were killed in Iraq yesterday. The Post publishes its periodic gallery of slain soldiers, “Faces of the Fallen,” listing all those whose deaths have been announced since the previous update on Dec. 28. To view an interactive graph, click here.
The Post fronts word that the IRS failed to pursue 2 million delinquent tax accounts last year, totaling more than $16 billion—a figure nearly unchanged from the previous year. A deputy treasury secretary blamed understaffing and advocated IRS use of private debt collectors. “The amount of money the IRS knowingly left on the table last year,” the Post writes,
equaled 1.8 percent of the total individual and corporate income tax take expected for 2003. It could have fully covered NASA’s 2004 budget, the government’s international aid programs, or the budgets of the departments of Commerce and Interior combined.