Today's Papers

Custody Rattles

The New York Timesleads with the sabotage of two major Iraqi oil pipelines that have forced the country to shut down most of its exports. Repairs are expected to take a week or two, and Iraq could lose about $1 billion in revenues. The Wall Street Journal worldwide news box and Los Angeles Times’ top national spot go with an emerging custody battle over Saddam Hussein. Iraq’s prime minister called for the U.S. to hand over control of all detainees, including Saddam, by June 30. President Bush said the U.S. will do that when Iraq is good and ready, explaining, “I just want to make sure that when sovereignty is transferred, Saddam Hussein stays in jail.” The Washington Post leads with the U.S.—or at least Paul Bremer—floating at least a symbolic compromise. “If they ask for him, we’ll turn him over,” said Bremer, who added, “legal custody and physical custody can be two separate things.” USA Todayleads with Fed chief Alan Greenspan saying that with inflation under control, interest rates will probably rise gradually. His comments came as new inflation numbers were released: While consumer prices jumped .6 percent, the core rate of inflation—which factors out energy and food costs—rose a modest .2 percent. Just about everybody viewed that as cause for celebration; bonds had their biggest gains in three years. The only exception is the NYT, which gives the numbers panicky play: “CONSUMER PRICES SURGE AT FASTEST RATE IN 3 YEARS.”

The NYT’s lead flags another ominous Iraq development: Six Shiite truck drivers delivering supplies to the Fallujah brigade were killed over the weekend by Sunni militants in town. Shiites marched yesterday in Sadr city demanding retribution. “They are starting an old feud, a sectarian feud,” said one Shiite tribal leader. “We now demand blood from the residents of Fallujah for our innocent sons.”

A piece inside the Post emphasizes that Bush endorsed the notion of letting renegade cleric Muqtada Sadr into politics. Though the Post doesn’t mention it, Bremer recently issued an order banning Sadr from the ring.

Everybody mentions that at least four foreign contractors were killed in an attack on a convoy near Baghdad’s airport. Also, a small-town police chief was assassinated, and a car bomb exploded near Hilla, killing one Iraqi. And according to early morning reports, a top Iraqi oil exec has been killed.

The Post mentions inside that President Bush formally nominated four-star Gen. George Casey to replace three-star Gen. Ricardo Sanchez as top commander in Iraq. Casey, the WP says, is well-regarded by both military folk and diplomats. Meanwhile, TP is curious why nobody is following up on the U.S. News & World Report story disclosing a memo showing that Sanchez himself ordered a prisoner taken off the rolls and hidden from the Red Cross. Could it be at least partly a case of NRIMBY: Not Reported In My Backyard?

The LAT fronts an interview with Sean Baker, a National Guardsman who was beaten by fellow soldiers at Gitmo while posing as an uncooperative prisoner. The assault caused brain damage, something the military at first denied. Also, the beating was apparently videotaped, but the recording lost. Anyway, all this has been reported before. The story was first broken by a Kentucky TV station that interviewed Baker last month. But with the exception of NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof, the papers have basically ignored the story. (Part of it is that Baker hasn’t been giving interviews.)

Everybody notes that Saudi militants aired video of an American hostage and threatened to kill him in three days unless some of their fellow fighters are released.

Citing Spanish media reports, the Post says on Page One that a Spanish investigating judge is getting ready to charge about a dozen militants already in custody with helping to organize 9/11.

Everybody mentions that Israeli prosecutors have dropped their bribery case against Prime Minster Sharon for lack of evidence. Meanwhile, the Journal emphasizes that Israel said it’s moving toward building thousands more homes in the West Bank—a move that keeps with Sharon’s plan to evacuate Gaza but keep large chunks of the West Bank.

The NYT fronts the 9/11 commission’s conclusion that the Pentagon’s air command, NORAD, was, as the Times puts it, “disastrously unprepared for a major terrorist strike on American soil.” The commission apparently believes that NORAD bungled the opportunity to shoot down at least one of the jetliners. Long ago, TP founder Scott Shuger made just that point. Shuger died two years ago this week; he is still missed.