The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and USA Todayall lead with follow-ups on the death of former President Reagan. His body will be in repose through Tuesday at his presidential library in Simi Valley and beginning Wednesday will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. President Bush last night ordered the federal government to be closed Friday. The New York Times, in an interesting move,off-leads Reagan and leads with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon getting his Cabinet’s approval for a scaled back version of his already partial disengagement plan. While still supporting the notion of removing some settlements, the revised plan requires Cabinet approval for each pull-out. Sharon had originally proposed removing all 21 Gaza settlements and four small ones in the West Bank while also suggesting Israel would keep large parts of the territory. The Times adds that Sharon’s government might collapse even with approval of the scaled-back plan.
The NYT’s Adam Nagourney wonders what effect Reagan’s death might have on The Race. “I’ve been dreading this every election year for three cycles,” said Sen. Kerry’s former campaign manager. “Bush has totally attached himself to Ronald Reagan.” Nagourney says the Bush campaign is considering inserting Reagan into some ads, though some GOPsters think that’s a bad idea. “Reagan showed what high stature that a president can have—and my fear is that Bush will look diminished by comparison,” said “one Republican [the Times asserts is] sympathetic to Mr. Bush.”
Kerry said he won’t campaign this week. “We think it’s respectful, and No. 2, I don’t think we’re going to get any coverage,” one named Kerry staffer told the NYT.
The Wall Street Journal says up high that just before the invasion of Iraq, Bush administration lawyers issued a lengthy brief arguing that—damn the Geneva Conventions—the president is allowed to order torture. “In order to respect the president’s inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign … (the prohibition against torture) must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander in chief authority,” stated the report, complete with parenthetical. The brief, which was written by a joint task force including the White House’s counsel, the Justice Department, and the Pentagon, also outlines potential defenses for any underlings who might end up torturing suspects. The document was apparently written amid frustration that al-Qaida suspects in Gitmo weren’t talking. Some military lawyers working on the brief said they were uncomfortable with its conclusions. One said “political appointees” heading the task force insisted on pushing “presidential power [to] its absolute apex.”
Though nobody fronts the latest from Iraq, a few blasts killed at least 21 Iraqis, including nine in a car bombing just outside a U.S. base north of Baghdad. (The LAT does have a Page One feature on the growing casualties in Baghdad’s Sadr city, where about 800 Iraqis—mostly insurgents—have died in the last two months.) One GI was also killed and three wounded. And a private security company announced that four of its workers, two Americans and two Poles, had been killed in an attack south of Baghdad. It was the murder and mutilation of four workers from the same company in March that prompted the siege of Fallujah.
Speaking of Fallujah, the Post’s Daniel Williams heads there and finds: “DESPITE AGREEMENT, INSURGENTS RULE FALLUJAH.”He also backs up a recent Associated Press report that the city is turning into something like Taliban-country: “Clandestine vendors of alcohol have been flogged and paraded naked on the street; beauty salons have been shut down and barbers told to eschew Western cuts and not shave off beards.”
As the NYT says up high, the U.S. released about 320 prisoners from Abu Ghraib, leaving about 3,200 still there.
With a cease-fire now seeming to hold in Najaf, top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani met with upstart Muqtada Sadr in what the Post says is an attempt to draw Sadr into the political process. The paperalso sees it as recognition from Sistani that Sadr now has significant support among Shiites. U.S. officials have stopped their talk of arresting Sadr.
The NYT teases on Page One and the others go inside with the U.S. and other Security Council members moving close to nailing down a resolution for Iraq. The Times says France, which had been opposed to the resolution, was placated after the U.S. and interim Iraqi government exchanged letters stating that any multinational force will “coordinate with Iraqi security forces at all levels.” The other papers say France wasn’t satisfied and wants the resolution itself to state that the interim government has a veto over “sensitive operations.”
One resolution question the papers fly by: Does the new draft still not mention Iraq’s interim constitution, which essentially codifies Kurdish autonomy? Kurdish leaders have threatened secession if the resolution doesn’t include an endorsement. “We are not bluffing here,” one Kurdish leader told Reuters. Sistani has suggested he’ll raise hell if the U.N. does endorse the interim constitution.
The LAT says on Page One that an Australian who was recruited by al-Qaida in 2000 tried to rat on the group then but intelligence authorities in the U.S. and Australia didn’t take him seriously. Al-Qaida did. The recruit recalled dining with Bin Laden: “I sat down for a meal and I looked across and I said, ’Whoa, that’s like the bloke on the telly.’ … I nodded, he nodded.” It’s worth keeping in mind that the Australian might have a slight agenda for playing up his snitch cred: He was recently convicted of conspiring with al-Qaida.
Back to Fallujah … If you’re wondering how the Post’s DanielWilliams got there in the first place, it wasn’t easy: “Fallujah byways are a hell of roadside bombs and ambushes. On Friday, an armored sport-utility vehicle carrying this Washington Post reporter and his driver was attacked close to Fallujah on the main highway to Baghdad. Four men in an orange-and-white taxi pumped dozens of bullets from AK-47 assault rifles into the vehicle for more than two minutes. The fusillade stopped when the SUV, its back tires missing and its rear windows shattered, spun out of control. The gunmen sped down the road, evidently thinking their mission was accomplished. Neither the driver nor the reporter was injured.” That was just part of his troubles.