Today's Papers

Central Reservations

The New York Times lead looks at the “coercive interrogation methods” used by the CIA on high-level al-Qaida suspects. In a technique known as “water boarding,” AQ chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was “strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown.” The Times says some AQ sessions were so rough that the FBI ordered agents to stay away, for fear of later legal trouble. The Washington Post leads with SecDef Rumsfeld saying the U.S.’s rules for interrogations in Iraq conform to the Geneva Conventions, which doesn’t appear to be the case. The conventions ban “physical or moral coercion.” As the Wall Street Journal says up high, while orders issued last fall by the top military commander in Iraq said “the detainee will NEVER be touched in a malicious or unwanted manner,” it also approved “dietary manipulation” and “stress positions.” One former Marine judge told the Journal, “There’s no getting around it, we have ignored provisions of the Geneva Convention in favor of gathering intelligence.” The Los Angeles Times leads with legislators looking at the abuse images behind closed doors. Included were photos of female prisoners being forced to expose themselves and male prisoners apparently being forced to touch each other sexually. The Post emphasizes that the images convinced some lawmakers that the abuse was widespread. “It’s not just seven reservists,” said one Republican rep. USA Today leads with what’s already known: Lawyers for some of the accused guards are saying their clients were ordered to carry out abuse by military intel folk.

Buried under the administration’s latest less than shocking statements—”RUMSFELD DEFENDS RULES FOR PRISON”—the Post’s lead reports that military lawyers wrote the New York state bar last year saying they were concerned about the interrogation rules. “They said this was a disaster waiting to happen and that they felt shut out,” said a bar lawyer.

The CIA prisons where AQ suspects are interrogated have always been kept secret and off-limits to any independent groups such as the Red Cross. “There was a debate after 9/11 about how to make people disappear,” one official told the NYT.

The truth is that the NYTimes’ lead doesn’t have much different from a piece the paper did about a year ago, or from one the WP did in Dec. 2002. Of course, there is a difference that will probably make this latest story stick and not quickly drop off the radar as the others did. It’s not in the details; it’s the Abu Ghraib photos.

And that has intel sources afraid the jig is up. “Some people involved in this have been concerned for quite a while that eventually there would be a new president, or the mood in the country would change, and they would be held accountable,” one unnamed spook told the NYT. “Now that’s happening faster than anybody expected.”

A front-page LAT piece notes that an Army investigator concluded that the specific abuse captured in photos at Abu Ghraib doesn’t appear to have been widespread or connected to intel gathering. “Taking pictures of sexual positions, the assaults, and things along that nature were done simply because they could,” he said. The investigator also concluded that the abuses happened after-hours, when commanders were off-duty. For some reason, the paper doesn’t headline any of this, instead focusing on an intel serviceman’s assertion that one military interrogator was particularly brutal.

Everybody notes inside that the U.S. continued to move against cleric Moqtada Sadr’s militia, with heavy fighting around the holy city of Karbala. About 20 militiamen were killed and six GIs were wounded. A possible peace deal now appears to be iffy. The NYT says Sadr seems opposed to it. And Newsday says the U.S. put the kibosh on it.

Elsewhere in Iraq, a GI was killed in an attack on a convoy near Baghdad, a Filipino contractor was killed in a mortar attack, three Iraqi civilians were killed by a bomb outside a cop’s house, and insurgents overran Samara’s police station and then bombed it.

The Post goes inside with a poll concluding that 80 percent of Iraqis don’t have confidence in the U.S. occupation. The poll was commissioned by occupation authorities and was taken before the abuse scandal and last month’s uprisings. One question: If this was the WP’s poll would the paper still be stuffing it?

The Journal reports that the U.S. has recently created “commissions,” with five-year mandates and U.S.-appointed staffers, that will effectively oversee various Iraqi ministries. U.S. officials said they’re only doing that to ensure that the incoming appointed government doesn’t make irreversibly bad choices. But the WSJ says the upshot is that “the new Iraqi government will have little control over its armed forces, lack the ability to make or change laws and be unable to make major decisions within specific ministries without tacit U.S. approval.”

The Post off-leads Sen. Kerry coming out of his shell and loudly criticizing Bush on Iraq, something he has avoided for weeks. Kerry had spent the week talking about health care.

The NYT’s Thomas Friedman decides that the White House has jumped the shark. Wondering why they’re so inept, Friedman answers: “They were always so slow to change course because confronting their mistakes didn’t just involve confronting reality, but their own politics. Why did the president praise Mr. Rumsfeld rather than fire him? Because Karl Rove says to hold the conservative base, you must always appear to be strong, decisive and loyal. It is more important that the president appear to be true to his team than that America appear to be true to its principles.”