Today's Papers

Immunity Mutiny

According to early morning reports—caught by the Los Angeles Times—there have been coordinated attacks across Iraq. A few dozen Iraqis, mostly police, have been killed along with at least two GIs. Gunmen assaulted police stations in Ramadi and Baquba. And there have been multiple—perhaps four—bombings in the northern town of Mosul. There are also reports that U.S. tanks have moved into Fallujah, where there’s now heavy fighting. Some of the heaviest fighting has been in Baquba, where insurgents were wearing headbands that seemed to ID them as supporters of militant Abu Musab Zarqawi. Yesterday, three Iraqis were killed by a bomb in central Baghdad.

The Washington Post’s lead says the U.S. will unilaterally grant GIs and perhaps contractors immunity from Iraqi law. While such an order has long been in place, the difference is that the White House has decided to extend it beyond June 30. Apparently there still is some disagreement with the administration, namely over whether foreign contractors are covered. The interim Iraqi government doesn’t want them to be. The New York Timesleads with the U.S. dropping its effort to get a Security Council resolution giving GIs immunity from the International Criminal Court. The SC has given the go-ahead in each of the last two years, but members weren’t feeling as friendly this time. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan also had joined the opposition, saying members should uphold the “primacy of the rule of law.” The LAT leads with big criticisms of the CIA in a report from the Republican-controlled House intelligence committee. The report, which isn’t part of an investigation and is separate from the much talked about coming Senate report on Iraq and the CIA, asserts that the agency doesn’t have nearly enough spies in the field and is heading “over a proverbial cliff.” Quitting CIA chief George Tenet shot back, calling the report “ill informed” and “frankly absurd.” USA Today leads with 2003 census numbers showing that the biggest growth in the country is happening in suburban Sunbelt cities. The search for affordable housing has also caused population increases in a few Northeastern industrial towns, such as Newark.

The Post’s immunity-in-Iraq lead adds some fascinating context: “The issue of immunity for U.S. troops is among the most contentious in the Islamic world, where it has galvanized public opinion against the United States in the past. A similar grant of immunity to U.S. troops in Iran during the Johnson administration in the 1960s led to the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who used the issue to charge that the shah had sold out the Iranian people. ‘Our honor has been trampled underfoot; the dignity of Iran has been destroyed,’ Khomeini said in a famous 1964 speech that led to his detention and then expulsion from Iran.”

Everybody notes Saudi Arabia’s limited amnesty offer to militants who turns themselves in within the next month. Militants who’ve never taken part in attacks apparently won’t be prosecuted. As for those who have, the offer is more restricted. As the Wall StreetJournal puts it, “SAUDI ARABIA WON’T EXECUTE TERRORISTS WHO SURRENDER.”

The WP uncovers a document the White House didn’t release Tuesday. It’s an old State Department memo that ripped—as “seriously flawed and “incorrect as well as incomplete”—the Justice Department brief that claimed torture was legal. The Post says military lawyers also warned against the administration tossing aside the Geneva Conventions. The dissents, says the WP, had “limited impact.”

The Post goes inside with the administration’s announcement that private guards will be allowed to replace federal airport security screeners come 2005.

The NYT teases on Page One President Bush saying condom use should be part of an approach to prevent HIV. The Times says it’s the first time he’s said that to a domestic audience. The president was quick to add, “In addition to other kinds of prevention, we need to tell our children that abstinence is the only certain way to avoid contracting HIV.” Still, said one advocate, “I can’t believe the president actually used the C-word.”

The WP and USAT front the arrest of an AOL engineer for hacking into the company’s computers and selling 92 million subscriber e-mail addresses to a spammer.

A NYT editorial observes, “The newly released presidential memo of Feb. 7, 2002, talks about treating detainees humanely and refers comfortingly to American values. [But] while it does not condone torture, it opens loopholes in the treatment of prisoners that the military could drive a Hummer through.” Flashback to yesterday’s NYT: “WHITE HOUSE SAYS PRISON POLICY SET HUMANE TONE.”

A Post editorial notices that many of the harsh interrogation techniques that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld approved and then rejected in the winter of 2002—nudity, stress positions, etc.—appeared a year later in an interrogation directive by the top U.S. commander in Iraq:

Nearly word for word, the harsh methods detailed in memos signed by Mr. Rumsfeld—which even administration lawyers considered violations of the Geneva Conventions—were then distributed to interrogators at Abu Ghraib. The procedures in turn could be read to cover much of what is seen in the photographs that have scandalized the world. How did this spread of improper and illegal practices occur? The Bush administration has yet to offer a convincing answer—or hold anyone accountable for it.