Today's Papers

Arraign Storm

The papers all flood the zone with Saddam Hussein’s alternately nervous and belligerent appearance before an anonymous Iraqi judge yesterday morning. The first of a dozen members of the former regime to appear in the proceedings, Hussein was the most “defiant,” a word in every paper’s top headline. The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post also front several photographs of Hussein’s wild gesticulations and facial contortions.

(According to early morning reports, insurgents tried to rig a minibus to fire rockets at a Baghdad hotel  today, but they exploded inside the vehicle, apparently without causing any casualties.)

During a 26-minute session, Hussein challenged the legitimacy of the court and insisted that he is the “current” president of Iraq. “Everyone knows this is theater by Bush, the criminal, in an attempt to win the election,” he said in one of his most widely circulated quotes. He also sarcastically rebuffed the offer of a court-appointed attorney. “According to the Americans,” Hussein said, “I have millions of dollars in Geneva, so I should be able to afford one.”

The only newspaper pool reporter at the hearing, according to a story inside USA Today, was the New York Times’ John Burns, who lavishes his paper’s lead story with a characteristic number of first-hand rhetorical flourishes that make it well worth the 2,700 words. “He began nervously, like a hunted man in alien terrain,” Burns writes of Hussein’s entry into the courtroom. “His eyes swiveled back and forth, his voice was weak, and his fingers stroked his beard and touched his bushy eyebrows.” Later on, when Chemical Ali was read his charges, Burns reports that Ali calmly rebutted them “in an even tone that had something of the quality of a man concerned that he has been overcharged for his car repair, but was unwilling to make much of it.”

Others who faced the court were much more shaken, “broken men, shadows of their former roles as masters of the Iraqi nation,” writes USAT. The papers say Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister, seemed on the verge of tears as he was told that he would be eligible for the death penalty, which was reinstated by the new Iraqi government.

Strangely buried in the coverage is a detail that TP only saw in the LAT’s front-page trial backgrounder and a separate NYT piece profiling yesterday’s nameless and pugnacious investigative judge: Although the papers call what happened yesterday an arraignment, Saddam and his lieutenants were not formally charged under specific statutes. The actual charges will be crafted months from now. So then who was behind accelerating the process to allow for yesterday’s supersized photo-op? Was it aimed more at Americans, as Hussein claimed, or more at Iraqis?

A hint may come from the papers’ obligatory Iraqi-on-the-street pieces, which paint an ambivalent picture of what it’s like to watch your former dictator rant forcefully from a witness stand. “Only God could do this,” one Saddam-hater said in the Post. “It is the most beautiful scene.” Another man, however, told the NYT that he felt humiliated by the Americans’ treatment of Hussein: “Right now, I want to cry.” According to USAT, Saddam’s performance helped him regain some respect, even among those who suffered under his rule. “Our wolf is back,” said a cafe worker. “Today, it was Saddam Hussein in a more respectable form.”

The Sudanese government emptied thousands of refugees from one of the most desperate and cramped camps in its western Darfur region only hours before a visit from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, according to stories in the WP and NYT. It’s unclear if the government was trying to avoid embarrassment over the continuing humanitarian disaster in the region, which has claimed 30,000 lives. “Of course, it is of concern,” Annan said of the removal in the Times. “We are trying to sort it out.”

The Israeli Supreme Court froze construction on another section of the contentious security barrier that Israel is building around Jerusalem and inside the West Bank yesterday, according to a story inside the NYT. It was the court’s second such ruling in response to Palestinian petitions in two days.

Lawyers representing 53 detainees at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, faxed a letter to Donald Rumsfeld demanding access to their clients, as they claim ws mandated by the Supreme Court Decision Rasul v. Bush. A Pentagon spokesman said that government lawyers were still figuring out “what the intent of the rulings was.” He implied the military might release some low-priority detainees rather than letting them challenge their detention.

According to all the papers, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents turned out in 95-degree heat to call for universal suffrage in a pro-democracy protest that was more openly critical of Beijing than previous marches. In response, China’s Foreign Ministry said that “[t]he residents of Hong Kong enjoy real and unprecedented democracy, which can be witnessed by the international community.” Nevertheless few protesters would give the papers their full names, fearing retribution.

NASA’s Cassini probe reached Saturn yesterday, and all of a sudden, TP has major competition in the bad pun department. Neither the NYT nor LAT can resist Page One “RINGSIDE” heds while USAT counters with an A-1 “Lord of the rings” reefer.

And the WP and NYT both report that that the Virginia legislature and governor accidentally reinstated an old blue law that gives workers in the state the right to insist on getting Saturday or Sunday off. The papers have slightly differing accounts about how it happened, but apparently, in attempting to get rid of other blue laws, some exemptions to even older blue laws were either mistakenly repealed or not included in the new law, meaning that the law reverted to its original state. “It’s a shame it happened,” said the Virginia House speaker.