The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal worldwide news box, and Washington Postall lead with the panel report on prisoner abuses that, as expected, hit top Pentagon officials for lax leadership. USA Todayfronts the abuse report and leads with the EPA’s announcement that one-third of lakes in the U.S. and one-quarter of rivers tested show high levels of mercury, which is a danger to children and pregnant women who eat contaminated fish. Those are higher percentages than before, but that might just reflect better reporting. Deep sea fish are OK. “This is about trout, not tuna,” said the EPA’s administrator.
Appointed by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and led by former defense secretary James Schlesinger, the panel concluded that direct responsibility for the “brutality and purposeless sadism” at the prison lies with personnel who were stationed there. Schlesinger added that there was “no policy of abuse” and said Rummy resigning “would be a boon to all of America’s enemies.” The Post says no members of Congress called for Rummy’s resignation.
A front-page Post analysis hammers Rummy: “RUMSFELD’S WAR PLAN SHARES THE BLAME.” The piece, by Tom Ricks, points to the panel’s knocking two of Rummy-influenced moves: Sending too few troops to Iraq, including guards, and the administration’s poor postwar planning (or, perhaps more accurate, its spurning of the good postwar planning that had been done).
The LAT looks at another failure—the confusion over interrogation tactics—and mentions that the panel seemed to aim higher than Rumsfeld: A 2002 memo by Bush stating that the Geneva Conventions don’t apply to al-Qaida types purportedly led top commanders in Iraq to believe “additional, tougher measures were warranted” in battling the insurgency.
The Journal flags interrogators’ complaints that the military is now overcompensating (an issue that has been raised before). “The Iraqis already know the game. They know how to play us,” said one Marine interrogator. “We can’t even use basic police interrogations tactics that they use in the States.”
One point that the papers fly by—and which, in fairness, the report itself might gloss over: Much of the recorded abuse didn’t happen at Abu Ghraib. The report found 300 overall cases under investigation—three times what the military has previously acknowledged—in Iraq, Gitmo, and Afghanistan. The NYT raises this issue, albeit in the 16th paragraph. A Red Cross report, which made news a few months ago, said officers “confirmed that it was part of the military intelligence process to use inhumane and degrading treatment, including physical and psychological coercion.” The Post did a detailed piece at the time: “MISTREATMENT OF DETAINEES WENT BEYOND GUARDS’ ABUSE.”
Another abuse report, this one focused on military intelligence’s role, is due out today. Everybody reports that it will implicate about two dozen intelligence officers as well as a handful of civilian contractors.
USAT’s lead on mercury in the water gives the following detailed policy brief: “The EPA plans to publish rules restricting mercury from power plants by mid-2005, although to environmentalists the preliminary draft of those rules does not go far enough.” That’s one way to put it. And here’s how the Post put it last December,“The Bush administration is working to undo regulations that would force power plants to sharply reduce mercury emissions and other toxic pollutants.” This March, the LAT pointed out that the administration’s proposal mirrors a plan pitched by an energy lobbyist. A few months ago the administration suggested it might tip-toe away from the proposal, though today’s NYT, which goes into some detail on the policy, doesn’t suggest a change.
Most of the papers front the crash of two passenger planes, carrying a total of about 90 passengers, which took off within minutes of each other from the same Moscow airport. There are elections this weekend in Chechnya, where there was heavy fighting last weekend. One analyst told the Post—before the planes crashed—that the fighting appeared to be a “prelude to some bigger event.”
The LAT fronts a major takeout on the Bush administration’s policy of pushing drilling above all else across the Rocky Mountains, an area some bureaucrats are now calling “the OPEC states.” The more than 4,000-word piece notes that among other changes, the administration has created a task force to serve as a sort of concierge service for energy companies, helping them to get in touch with federal land management employees. “Deer, elk, sage grouse are no longer considered to be part of the natural heritage,” said one current, named bureaucrat. “They’re considered impediments to oil and gas development.”
Nobody fronts the latest from Najaf or Iraq, where U.S. and increasingly Iraqi forces are tightening their cordon around the Imam Ali shrine and not meeting much resistance. “If they don’t watch themselves, we’ll be in on them in a heartbeat,” one officer told the Post. Nobody has significant coverage of clashes in the southern city of Basra, where wire reports say 500 Sadr militiamen are skirmishing with British troops.
The NYT, alone among the papers, fronts word that the Bush campaign’s “top outside lawyer” has given legal advice to Vietnam vets who aired misleading ads about Kerry’s service. The lawyer said the work is completely separate and said the Bush team didn’t even know about. “The truth is there are very few lawyers who work in this area,” he said. “It’s sort of natural that people do come to the few of us for the work.” The Times doesn’t dispute that. And TP wonders if the story is not only overplayed, but also tangential. As an editorial in yesterday’s LAT argued, the issue is less whether Bush and the vets are truly tight, it’s that the president has been benefiting from the disingenuous ads and—whatever his connections to them—could almost certainly end their run by disavowing them.
The Post and NYT front Vice President Cheney going off the reservation and saying that in his opinion, same-sex marriage should be a state issue. “Freedom means freedom for everyone,” said Cheney, whose daughter is gay. He added, “The president makes policy for the administration.”
Sneak peek leaks … Over the past week, TP has been flagging the leaks previewing the various abuse reports, wondering what the leakers’ motivations were (and why the papers weren’t discussing them). Did the leakers hope to dissipate the reports’ conclusions by slightly spinning them and/or turning them into yesterday’s news? With that as one possible explanation, consider the NYT’s play. Yesterday’s Times outlined the latest report’s conclusions—noting up high that the report “does not explicitly blame” Rummy—while today’s paper focuses on the panel’s recommendations. Says the one-column lead, “ABUSE PANEL SAYS RULES ON INMATES NEED OVERHAUL.” (The recommendations are mostly prosaic: better training, more MPs, etc.) The LAT didn’t get the leak. Its near-banner headline: “PRISON ABUSE PANEL FAULTS LEADERS.”