Today's Papers

Sandy Hooked?

The Washington Post leads with yesterday’s early-morning truck-bomb explosion outside a Baghdad police station, a story that tops the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide news box but lands inside the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. Nine people were killed, and 60 were wounded. USAT leads with the revelation that Sandy Berger, President Clinton’s national security adviser, is being investigated for improperly removing classified memos (and notes he took on them) from the National Archives during his preparations for hearings with the 9/11 commission—a story first broken by the AP last night. The LAT leads with what it calls “a potential rift” between the Bush administration and the CIA, as the president said he is interested in a possible link between Iran and the Sept. 11 attacks, despite the agency director’s assessment that there is “no evidence” of an official connection. The NYT leads with manpower shortages some states are facing because of the largest National Guard call-up since World War II, leading to concern about states’ abilities to control wildfires, guard prisons, and fight crime. Some governors delivered their complaints to Pentagon officials during a closed-door session at the National Governors Association meeting in Seattle.

The papers paint the Baghdad truck bombing attack as a crest on a surge of violence that has swelled up after a reasonably quiet post-transition period. The stories all mention up high that a senior Iraqi Defense Ministry official was assassinated in a drive-by shooting on Sunday night, and the justice minister survived an attack Saturday that killed three of his body guards. Meanwhile, the scene of the bombing was a grisly reminder of the violence of the past few months. A guard for the police station told the WP he saw the truck approach quickly, its lights flashing. “Then it just exploded, and there were pieces of hands and legs all over the street. No faces,” he said.

According to a separate piece in the Post, a crowd gathered around the explosion’s crater very quickly, becoming convinced it had been the work of a dastardly U.S. airstrike. The image of aggrieved Iraqis chanting pro-Saddam slogans was broadcast across much of the Arab world. Not all the news from Iraq is grim, however. The NYT fronts a piece on small, but quickly accomplished projects in Iraq that are finally generating some of the goodwill the U.S. had hoped to create through its larger efforts. “It makes people think good things are on the way,” a villager said about a well that was being built in his dusty town. “[E]ach time somebody takes a drink of water they will say the Americans did something good.”

Sandy Berger claims that after reading secret intel docs on the Clinton administration’s handling of terrorist plots to disrupt millennium celebrations, he inadvertently packed them in his briefcase. His lawyer admitted, however, that Berger had intentionally smuggled out handwritten notes he’d taken about the documents; in fact, the investigation was triggered when National Archives employees reported seeing Berger stuffing notes into his jacket and pants. Nevertheless, USAT says no decision has been made on whether to charge him. Even more ambiguous is the legality of removing the notes. “He knew it was a technical violation, and he admits that it was an error in judgment,” Berger’s lawyer told the WSJ. But USAT writes, in an almost contradictory pair of sentences, “Berger was allowed to take handwritten notes. He knew that taking his own notes out of the secure reading room violated archives procedures.”

President Bush used a quick Oval Office Q&A to say that the government was looking into connections between Iran and al-Qaida—connections that the final report of the 9/11 commission is expected to detail when it’s released Thursday. The NYT’s off-lead cites “government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity,” who said the report would offer new evidence that Iran has lent al-Qaida logistical support over the years, a stark contrast with Iraq, which the commission has repeatedly said had no collaborative relationship with the group. “We will continue to look and see if the Iranians were involved,” Bush said.

The LAT goes inside with the drive-by killing of an Israeli judge in Tel Aviv by an assailant who shot him at point-blank range and made a get-away on a motorcycle. While al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades took responsibility for the attack, Israeli police were skeptical. “There is no suspicion that this was an act of terror,” the Interior Minister said. In fact, the judge lived near a suspected crime lord and some TV commentators speculated that the shooting might have been a gangland hit.

The other papers mention the killing in the context of Middle East stories focused on the leadership crisis among Palestinians. In an effort to quell continued unrest in Gaza over the appointment of his own cousin as security chief, Yasser Arafat promoted a senior security commander yesterday to be chief of security for all Palestinian territories—in effect making him his cousin’s boss. Still, the move did not satisfy the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which released a statement calling it “another attempt to fool people and … a way of circumventing reforms and change on the part of the national administration.” Which raises a question: Since when is al-Aqsa not just a terror organization but also good-governance reform group? While the Post says that the Brigades’ newfound defiance “is seen as” a bid by a younger generation of Palestinians to claim power alongside Arafat’s old guard, the papers generally do an unsatisfying job explaining the politics of the situation.

The Marine who disappeared, was feared beheaded, and then turned up, underweight but unhurt, three weeks later in Lebanon, made a public statement yesterday to subdue rumors that he had deserted his unit. “I was captured and held against my will by anti-coalition forces for 19 days,” Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun said in a prepared statement. “This was a very difficult and challenging time for me.” A Marine Corps spokesman said investigators still had no assessment of Hassoun’s account, and USAT says they will not question him until he has returned to duty.

In the battle for an original way to frame the presidential campaign horserace, the WP fronts a story on the dueling databases maintained by the Democratic and Republican parties. Known as DataMart and Voter Vault, respectively, these troves contain approximately 166 million profiles each—or one for every registered voter. The article includes some great trivia (people without call waiting, for example, are more likely to respond favorably to a political fundraising call). But most interesting is that Republicans, who refused to comment, are said to have an edge in databases because they started building theirs several years earlier. It was only when the party’s 72-Hour Task Force won decisive victories using block-by-block data in several recent elections that “spooked” Dems started playing catch-up.