Today's Papers

Going Native

The New York Times leads with the apparent withdrawal of many Marines from Fallujah and their replacement with a U.S.-sponsored Iraqi unit headed by a former Republican Guard commander. The Washington Post’s lead reports that last year, for the first time, the number of surveillance warrants issued by secret intelligence courts outnumber those issued by traditional criminal courts. The Los Angeles Times leads with the California secretary of state’s de-certification of most of the state’s electronic voting machines. He also directed the attorney general to investigate one of the companies producing the machines, Diebold Inc., for misrepresenting its technology. (In the NYT, he calls Diebold’s behavior “despicable. … If that’s the kind of deceitful behavior they’re going to engage in, they can’t do business in California.”)

The NYT can’t quite pin down the military background of Jasim Muhammad Saleh, whom it identifies as a Fallujan and a major general under Saddam Hussein. But the Post says he commanded a Republican Guard unit until 1996, when he entered the reserves, and the LAT identifies the uniform he wore yesterday as a Republican Guard one. A Marine commander tells the NYT that Saleh “has his own methods that he will employ in the city,” but the LAT reports that Saleh is subordinate to a U.S. lieutenant general. Saleh, along with several other former Iraqi generals, now commands a “brigade” of several hundred to a thousand former Iraqi soldiers. The NYT says he rode through Fallujah in a sedan yesterday to meet with tribal leaders at a mosque. The Marines told reporters they aren’t “withdrawing,” just “repositioning.”

The Post fronts a predictable analysis that concludes that the U.S. is taking a big gamble by essentially outsourcing Fallujah’s security to a former Iraqi general. (There is a similar piece inside the NYT.)  It stuffs a more revealing report, which outlines the U.S. military’s effort, begun two months ago, to find and elevate former Baath Party military commanders willing to work with the coalition. This effort is part of a larger strategy to form a new Iraqi army under Defense Minister Ali Abdul-Amir Allawi. Allawi has already appointed two Saddam-era officers as generals, and plans to create an army of 35,000 within two years. (Saddam’s army was 300,000.)

State and federal courts issued 1,442 surveillance warrants in 2003, the Post writes, while Washington’s secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued over 1,700, an 85 percent increase since 2001. Provisions in the U.S.A. Patriot Act, as well as a 2002 decision by a (yes) secret court, allow investigators to apply for an intelligence warrant even when the investigation’s primary goal is criminal prosecution rather than intelligence-gathering. Such warrants have a longer duration and wider scope, the paper reports, and do not need to meet probable cause. The story is sourced to “government officials,” “legal and privacy experts,” data released by federal courts, and a “recent report” by the 9/11 commission. Confusingly, the piece implies a distinction between “wiretapping” and “electronic surveillance” but doesn’t define these terms.

Everybody fronts President Bush’s condemnation of the U.S. soldiers who humiliated Iraqi prisoners in photographs aired Wednesday on 60 Minutes II. “[The prisoners’] treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people,” he said. “I think [the soldiers] will be taken care of” by authorities. (The LAT reports inside that investigators have questioned employees of a military contractor.) Everybody notices that the abuses took place in Saddam Hussein’s favorite torture prison, and the LAT predicts that the forced nudity of many of the prisoners is sure to offend most Muslims. The WP and LAT front a picture of an Iraqi prisoner wearing a black hood while being threatened with electrocution; the NYT runs this inside. (Britain’s Daily Mirror publishes a photo of a British soldier urinating on a hooded Iraqi.) The NYT reports that it did not run the photos earlier because it could not verify their authenticity while the New York Post’s editor tells the NYT he will not run the photos because “a handful of U.S. soldiers” shouldn’t be allowed to “reflect poorly” on the 140,000 who do their job well.

The Macedonian government has charged its former interior minister with ordering the slaughter of seven innocent South-Asian immigrants in order to frame them as terrorists and curry favor with the United States. The NYT’s piece (the LAT and WP run wire dispatches) says that Macedonian police planted weapons and guerrilla uniforms on the dead men, then concocted a “foiled” plot against Western embassies.

The NYT fronts word that several airlines gave as much as a year’s worth of passenger data to FBI investigators in the days after 9/11. The FBI attempted, unsuccessfully, to identify associates of the 9/11 hijackers by analyzing the information. A nonprofit discovered the data handover in a related Freedom of Information Act request. The Times gets its confirmation from an anonymous FBI official and the airlines themselves.

Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Malta, and Greek Cyprus joined the European Union yesterday. The new EU has more people, and a bigger gross domestic product, than the U.S. Soon it will have a common currency and may include Turkey.

Apropos of nothing, apparently, President Bush told reporters yesterday that “I believe that people whose skins aren’t necessarily—are a different color than white can self-govern.” According to the Post’s deadpan “A” section piece, neither the president nor his spokesman would specify who, exactly, has accused the president of not believing this.