The Washington Post leads with yesterday’s federal appeals court decision to restore the government’s death penalty case against alleged 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui, a story the New York Times fronts. The Los Angeles Times and USA Today stuff the Moussaoui trial, and the LAT leads instead with a threat from the top Marine general in Iraq to renew the offensive in Fallujah if insurgents don’t shape up, a story that tops the Wall Street Journal’s worldwide news box and lands inside the WP and USAT. The general said that the militants, who are supposed to give up their heavy weapons, have so far turned in only “junk”; he gave them “days, not weeks” to cooperate before an all-out assault. USAT leads with a U.S. effort to create a new, elite, all-volunteer Iraqi force to combat insurgents. The paper says the effort, which may involve financial incentives, is a tacit admission that the current Iraqi Defense Force has been next to useless. The NYT leads with a civil rights panel’s decision allowing companies to reduce or cut health insurance coverage for retirees over 65, a story the WSJ runs inside. Employers and unions generally support the change, saying that the requirement to offer uniform benefits to everyone is forcing them to cut insurance programs altogether. The AARP says it may sue to block the ruling.
Apart from USAT, the papers all paint the Moussaoui decision as a victory for the government, but the NYT is the most successful at highlighting the case’s constitutional stakes, which may eventually land it before the Supreme Court. At issue is Moussaoui’s right to present evidence on his own behalf—specifically, testimony from al-Qaida leaders in U.S. custody, whom the government refuses to make available on national security grounds. Even as it restored the government’s case, the panel ordered the trial court to craft a compromise to allow Moussaoui to present summaries of the detainees’ classified statements, a solution the trial judge had rejected last year.
The Post and NYT both say that it’s unclear whether either side will appeal the ruling. The NYT quotes a defense lawyer bemoaning the possibility of a death penalty trial without the ability to present all mitigating evidence while the WP cites another member of the defense team spinning the positive side of the decision, saying he is “pleased that the court recognized our right to access the witnesses.”
As few as 54 and as many as 3,000 North Koreans may have died in a huge explosion along a key train line near the Chinese border, according to stories the WP, NYT, and USAT front and the LAT reefers. The NYT reports that North Korean TV had made no mention of the tragedy by last night, playing only the “standard evening entertainment” of military songs, but early morning reports say the North Korean government has broken its silence, reporting only 54 dead but 1,850 homes destroyed. Satellite imagery shows enormous black clouds, suggesting that the fire is still raging 18 hours later. The going story, cobbled from South Korean TV, is that two fuel-laden freight trains collided in a heavily populated area, unleashing the massive explosion. The WP and NYT suggest the fuel on the trains may have represented a reward from the Chinese government for Kim Jong-il’s participation at a secret summit in Beijing, from which he’d returned only hours before the blast.
Despite being embargoed by the Pentagon, tragically majestic images of U.S. soldiers’ flag-draped coffins grace the front pages of the WP, LAT, and NYT—the result of a FOIA request from thememoryhole.org, a site dedicated to “rescuing knowledge, freeing information.” According to stories the LAT fronts and the NYT and WP run inside, the site’s request was initially turned down, but then approved on appeal in what the Pentagon termed a mistake. According to the NYT, only one TV news channel chose not to run the images: Fox.
A State Department official told a Senate committee yesterday that the Iraqi government-to-be-named-later will be handed something more like Sovereignty Lite on June 30, according to the NYT’s off-lead and stories that the WP and LAT run inside. In other words, the newly sovereign government will have no power to enact or change laws and control of neither its own armed forces, nor the more than 100,000 U.S. troops expected to remain in the country. One anonymous administration official spoke candidly to the NYT about the policy’s contradictions: “Clearly you can’t have a sovereign government speaking for Iraq in international forums, and yet leave open this possibility that we’ll do something they won’t particularly like or disagree with.”
In the meantime, according to the Financial Times, U.S. overseer L. Paul Bremer wants to ease up on fair-bidding procurement rules to help speed reconstruction that has, according to a piece inside the LAT, stalled in the escalating violence.
The papers’ Iraq stories—and a separate piece inside the LAT—mention that supporters of Muqtada Sadr marched yesterday in Basra to protest the synchronized attacks there on Wednesday, blaming British troops for the casualties, while the NYT reports inside that coalition officials are tending to blame the bombings on al-Qaida or another outside group. The NYT also fronts a follow-up on Wednesday’s massive attack in Riyadh, contrasting Saudis’ strong support for jihadis in Iraq with their condemnation of attacks at home. The piece includes a sample of the rhetoric that’s permitted at the country’s tightly controlled mosques: “Oh God, avenge America, oh God, avenge its allies,” said one prayer leader in Riyadh last week. “Oh God, order your soldiers to show them torture, oh God divide them, oh God avenge them for what they are corrupting in Iraq.”
Toward the bottom of a catch-up piece retreading the WP’s scoop yesterday that the U.S. is going to let the Baath Party on, dude, by allowing back purged party members, the NYT notes something a little strange. The C.P.A. insisted, in a briefing yesterday, that many of the insurgents in Fallujah are, in fact, on drugs. “It is part of what they’re using to keep them up to engage in this violence at all hours,” a spokesman explained.
The papers all note—the WP on its front page—that USA Today’s independent panel of journalistic wisemen released a scathing assessment of the paper’s treatment of discredited star reporter Jack Kelley yesterday. The report blames a “virus of fear” for allowing Kelley to get away with so many fabrications. Two senior editors also announced their resignations, and more heads are expected to roll. “We’re still in the Imelda Marcos phase where the shoes are dropping,” one USAT reporter told the WSJ.
According to the NYT, the Japanese public is treating its returned civilian hostages—one of whom had started a nonprofit to help Iraqi street children—with disgust and revulsion. “You got what you deserve!” read one sign at the airport where they landed, on a return flight for which the government says it will bill them each $6,000.
The Post’s Al Kamen hints inside that the unmarried Condoleezza Rice may feel more wedded to her job than previously reported. According to an account published in New York magazine’s “Intelligencer,” Rice was attending a recent dinner party at the home of the NYT’s Washington bureau chief when she started saying,
“As I was telling my husb—” and then stopping herself abruptly, before saying, “As I was telling President Bush.”
When asked for a clarification by the magazine, an NSC spokesman laughed and said, “No comment.”