Today's Papers

Lost in Transition

The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal worldwide news box lead with violence in Iraq: There have been at least three car bombings in the past 24 hours—killing at least 16 Iraqis and one GI—and there were at least four assassinations: two government officials, a moderate cleric, and a professor. According to early morning reports, the latest bombing hit Americans or other foreigners in a caravan, killing anywhere from four to 12.  After the explosion, a crowd gathered at the scene, chanted “down with the USA,” and burned an American flag. The Associated Press says a few soldiers “dragged a bystander away from the scene and began beating him with a stick.” The New York Times’ lead says that some interrogators wrote to senior officers back in November complaining about beatings of prisoners and other abuse. Top commanders have said they didn’t know about the abuse until January—though the Red Cross had also complained about it in November. The memos were sent to the top intelligence officer in Iraq, and it’s not clear whether they were read by, say, Gen. Sanchez, the country’s top commander. USA Today leads with a Marine commander pondering the situation in Fallujah and concluding, “to be frank, the progress hasn’t been what we wanted it to be.” The Los Angeles Times fronts the bombings and leads with news that while most states are now showing surpluses, they’re hesitant to revoke the cuts they made back when the economy went south. (The piece is largely anecdotal and in one of its few stats notes that state budgets actually grew, albeit modestly, during the recession.)

In other Iraq violence, the NYT says at least six Iraqis were killed in ongoing fighting in Baghdad’s Sadr city, where U.S. forces are battling cleric Muqtada Sadr’s militia. Also, three rockets were fired into the U.S.’s fortified Green Zone, though they didn’t cause much damage. The Post says there’s been an average of one car bomb and 35 to 40 attacks against U.S. forces per day this month.

The Marine commander kvetching about Fallujah wasn’t exactly handing USAT a scoop. As yesterday’s LAT noted, “INSURGENTS AND ISLAM NOW RULERS OF FALLOUJA.” Of course, his comments would be Page One worthy if they were a tease for a coming change in strategy. Too bad for USAT, the commander suggested that was “unlikely.”

The NYT says inside that the new kinder, gentler Sadr has formed a political party to take part in elections, though he obviously hasn’t disbanded his militia. Shiite leaders have been encouraging Sadr’s move toward politics while the U.S. apparently wants to keep him out.

The Post says above-the-fold that the U.S. has told Iraq it wants to keep American civilian contractors exempt from Iraqi laws, a position the new interim government is resisting (or at least complaining about to the Post). As it stands, contractors can’t be prosecuted by Iraqis or the military. (As a Slate piece noted, the Justice Department can go after contractors if it so desires.)

In a welcome push at reconstruction reporting, the NYT says on Page One that Iraq’s electricity output is stillbelow prewar levels. Most of Iraq, including Baghdad, gets less than 10 hours of juice per day. One-third of the $18 billion budgeted for reconstruction last year was assigned for power grids, though the Times doesn’t say how much has been spent.“We thought before that the Americans will do some excellent job and they can cover the demand,” said Iraq’s deputy electricity minister. “But until now we have only peanut.”

The Journal says the commander once in charge of Gitmo—and now overseeing Iraq’s prison system—told Red Cross officials last year that things like forced shaving and solitary confinement had nothing to do with interrogations, even as those techniques were on a list of interrogation methods approved by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. For what it’s worth: The WSJ appears to be basing its story on the same set of memos the Post flagged Sunday. Finally, the Journal’s headline (at least online) doesn’t exactly tell the whole story: “PRISON CHIEF DEFENDED U.S. TACTICS.”

The WP’s Web site publishes a previously disclosed Justice Department memo that basically said torture was A-OK. As a Post intro explains, the CIA asked the White House how far, legally speaking, it could turn the screws with detainees. The White House then gave the job to a Justice Department office that the WP describes as the “federal government’s ultimate legal advisor.”

There’s obviously plenty of abuse reporting in this morning’s papers, but TP didn’t see ink on one story that seems to deserve it: According to U.S. News & World Report, last fall the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Sanchez, ordered soldiers to keep a detainee hidden from the Red Cross and off the prison roster.

The Journal says the Bush administration has approved classifying much of the 9/11 commission’s source material for 25 years, about 15 years longer than normal. Many panel members are complaining. “I think 25 years is just absurd,” said the commission’s chairman, a Republican. The classified docs include things like transcripts of the conference call between the president and other top officials on the morning of Sept. 11.

The WP’s “In the Loop” columnist, Al Kamen, wonders what happened to the investigation of Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a top Pentagon official who said Islamic militants hate the U.S. “because we’re a Christian nation … and the enemy is a guy named Satan.” The investigation began seven months ago and no report yet. It took Gen. Taguba three months to complete his 6,000-page report on prisoner abuse that focused largely on grunts. “What is that old military expression?” Kamen asks, “Different spanks for different ranks?”