The Wall Street Journal goes high with word that top U.S. military officials in Iraq were sent a Red Cross report in early November detailing the prisoner abuses now at the center of the scandal, but the military didn’t start an investigation until two months later. Previously, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said the Pentagon didn’t know about the abuses until a guard blew the whistle in mid-January. The Washington Post leads with Israel’s largest incursion into Gaza in years. At least 19 Palestinians were killed, including a few children, and about 60 wounded. The U.N., European Union, and, as the Post notes, Secretary of State Powell condemned the attack. President Bush said, “Israel has every right to defend itself.” The Los Angeles Times’ top non-local spot goes with Sonia’s Gandhi’s stunning announcement that despite her party having won India’s recent elections, she won’t accept the job of prime minister. Hindu nationalists had been complaining about the Italian born-Gandhi. She insisted that she had already fulfilled her goals by re-energizing her secular party. The New York Times leads with 9/11 commission hearings in New York, where panel members lambasted the city’s lack of interagency coordination. The city’s disaster plans, said one panelist, were “not worthy of the Boy Scouts, let alone this great city.” USA Today’slead predicts longer lines this summer at airport security checkpoints. The story mentions in passing that Congress has reduced the number of screeners from 55,000 to 45,000.
The NYT’s off-lead has the same information that the Journal does about the military’s reaction to the Red Cross’ report. But the Times emphasizes one quick response the military did have: It tried to cut off the Red Cross’s spot inspections at Abu Ghraib. An unnamed senior Army officer said, “They wanted the [Red Cross] to schedule visits” to the cellblocks that just happen to now be at the center of the abuse scandal. Both the Times and Journal stories are based on an unnamed top officer as well as the tush-covering former commandant of Abu Ghraib, Gen. Janis Karpinski.
The LAT fronts word that at a closed preliminary hearing last month for one of the accused guards, the intelligence officer in charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib and two others invoked their right against self-incrimination, essentially acknowledging some connection to the abuse.
The NYT says inside that in an apparent reversal of policy, military lawyers have not been allowed to observe interrogations in Iraq. They were allowed to do so during the first Gulf War and apparently had the right to intervene then. The piece relies almost completely on a human-rights lawyer to whom military lawyers complained; the Pentagon didn’t respond to requests for comment.
ABC News aired an interview last night with a former intelligence soldier at Abu Ghraib who said that “dozens” of soldiers were involved in the abuse. “There’s definitely a cover-up,” said Sgt. Samuel Provance, who ignored an order not to speak to the press. “People are either telling themselves or being told to be quiet.”
The papers have wire stories on a Reuters’ announcement that three of its Iraqi staffers were detained a few months ago and mistreated, including being forced into sexually humiliating positions and photographed. The Pentagon says it investigated and doesn’t believe there was any abuse. It didn’t interview the staffers.
Everybody says inside that top Iraqi cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for the exit of U.S. troops as well as upstart cleric Muqtada Sadr’s militia from the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, where there’s been regular fighting the past week. The Times says neither side is likely to bite. And noting that Sistani made the call after Sadr urged all Shiites to come fight in Najaf, the Post says “a test of wills” is developing between the two clerics. The WP mentions that Sistani’s office came under fire, apparently from Sadr’s men.
The NYT mentions in passing that two of the U.S.’s biggest allies in Iraq—Italy and Poland—”called for the transfer of real authority to the Iraqis on June 30.”
The NYT notices the White House’s recent habit of doling out bits of pork in strategic states while slashing the same programs on a national level.
In a WP op-ed, Caribbean advocate Randall Robinson checks in on how the White House is spreading its message of freedom in the neighborhood. Robinson—who FYI, appears to be good buddies with Aristide—says the administration has “demanded that the democratic countries of the Caribbean: 1) drop their call for an investigation into the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, 2) push the Aristide family out of Jamaica and the region, and 3) abandon their policy of admitting only democratically elected governments into the councils of Caricom (a multilateral organization established by the English-speaking Caribbean countries 31 years ago to promote regional cooperation). In short, the Bush administration is strong-arming the Caribbean to confer on Haiti’s new ‘government’ a legitimacy it has not earned and does not deserve.”