Today's Papers

Danke, Dan

The Washington Postand USA Todaylead with Sen. Kerry unleashing on President Bush about Iraq, saying the administration has made “colossal failures of judgment,” and exhibited “stubborn incompetence” that has ultimately weakened the U.S.’s security. Kerry also made “specific” proposals for Iraq: “Get serious about training” security forces, get international support, do a better job with reconstruction, and, somehow, make sure the elections happen. The Los Angeles Times leads with an exclusive: The military is now launching an investigation into the March 2003 apparent murder of an Afghan soldier along with the torture of seven of his colleagues by U.S. special forces, who had arrested them. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox (at least online) with at least 556 Haitians killed in flooding causing by tropical storm Jeanne. “The water is high. As it goes down, we expect to find more bodies,” said a U.N. rep. The New York Timesis the only other paper to give the flooding significant play, putting a photo of it on Page One. The NYT is alone in leading with a federal judge’s decision that the rules the FEC implemented in response to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law are too loose. Among things the decision may push the FEC to create is more distance between political parties and the independent groups known as 527s. But nobody knows yet; the FEC needs to decide first how to respond.

Kerry said that if his ideas for Iraq are followed, “We could begin to withdraw U.S. forces starting next summer and realistically aim to bring all our troops home within the next four years.” The Bush campaign retorted that Kerry is proposing “retreat and defeat in the face of terror.” Meanwhile the Post is the only paper that seems to check in on what independent analysts think. The consensus: Kerry’s goals are nice but not particularly detailed, realistic, or new.

The LAT says the alleged torture of the Afghan soldiers included “repeated beatings, electric shocks, being hung upside down and toenails being torn off.” The article says Army investigators tried to look into the case earlier this year but were “stymied” by an apparent “lack of information.” They reopened the case after the Times started asking questions. The paper suggests that the soldiers involved in the apparent torture tried to cover it up. 

Most of the papers front the beheading of an American hostage by terrorists in Iraq. A video showing the execution of Eugene “Jack” Armstrong was posted on a jihadi Web site. The group identified with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility and said it would kill two other Westerners it’s holding, an American and a Brit, unless the U.S. releases all Muslim women it’s detained. (The U.S. says there are only two, both former weapons scientists for Saddam.)

Also yesterday, two Sunni clerics were murdered, and a bomb exploded in the northern city of Mosul, killing three. It’s unclear who killed the clerics, whom the LAT notes had been opponents of the occupation. U.S. planes also struck Fallujah again. Hospital officials said a few municipal employees were killed; the military said it hit guerrillas who were making fortifications.

Filing from Fallujah (at least the outskirts), the Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran talks to some residents who said the airstrikes have been killing both militants and civilians. Chandrasekaran also adds meat to the notion—briefly mentioned by the LAT last week—that there’s now tension between foreign jihadis in the city and local fighters. The head of the local group, who had once invited jihadis in, issued a statement calling Zarqawi a criminal. Unfortunately, the Post buries the goods under a rehash of officers disagreeing about how to deal with Fallujah.

A stuffed NYT piece airs Iraqi bureaucrats’ complaints that the administration’s proposal to shift $3.46 billion from reconstruction and toward security is going to cripple the nascent effort to provide basic services like water and electricity. The Iraqi in charge of water works said that of 100 projects initially planned only four are even scheduled to start soon. The story is by James Glanz, who’s done some fine reporting on reconstruction. 

Everybody fronts CBS acknowledging that it has no idea whether the purported National Guard Bush memos are real. (Actually, it does have an idea: They’re probably fake.) “We made a mistake in judgment and for that I am sorry,” said Dan Rather, who also tried to defend his network and himself, against the notion, say, that they didn’t do proper vetting or ignored experts who questioned the memos authenticity before broadcast. “We have been misled on the key question of how our source for the documents came into possession of these papers,” Rather said.

Bill Burkett, who gave CBS the documents, told Rather in an interview that he had lied about who he got them from. CBS was never able to get in contact with the supposed first source, nor has it been able to find the supposed person whom Burkett now says gave the docs. USAT, whom Burkett also gave the docs to, names his claimed source: Lucy Ramirez, then adds, “USA TODAY has been unable to locate Ramirez.” The NYT airs another possibility: “A lawyer for Mr. Burkett said Monday that his client was given the documents at the livestock show in March.”

The WP has a backgrounder on Burkett, and it isn’t flattering.

In full (cheap) scandal mode, USAT alone among the papers fronts word that a CBS producer told a Kerry aide that he should call Burkett, who wanted to give tips on general strategy. The aide did, and says they talked for a few minutes, the memos didn’t come up, and nothing came of the call.

The “memos” in question seemed to show that Bush ignored a direct order to take a physical; other, official documents seem to establish that Bush, contrary to his assertions, did not fulfill his requirements in the Guard.

Nobody fronts continued violence in Afghanistan, which is scheduled to have presidential elections in about three weeks. Two GIs were killed in a firefight, a roadside bomb narrowly missed Afghan’s vice president (four days after a rocket narrowly missed President Hamid Karzai in his chopper), and three captured Afghan soldiers were reportedly beheaded. The Post mentions that NATO and the U.S. have both said they’re beefing up their comparatively small troop levels in anticipation of the elections. But the paper doesn’t put numbers on it. A piece in the Journal highlights the problem: “In northern Afghanistan, 320 soldiers patrol a territory 1½ times the size of Bosnia.” Meanwhile, Europe has said it won’t send elections monitors, citing the security problems.

The NYT goes inside with an interview with Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who acknowledged that he’ll probably renege on his promise to step down as military chief. “Yes, I did give my word that I would,” he said. “But the issue is now far greater than this.” The story—a paragon of the “No Need to Report, I Scored an Important Interview!” genre—leaves it at that. Much better is a Times piece of a few days ago, whose authors (brainstorm!) talked to some Pakistanis and put things in context: “Pakistani political analysts said this week’s pronouncements [hinting at Musharraf’s move] appear to be an orchestrated effort to prepare the Pakistani public for the latest in a series of power plays by Pakistan’s president-general.”

A Post editorial is even more succinct: “Mr. Musharraf has betrayed nearly every promise he has made about democracy and social reform in Pakistan.” It adds, “What’s interesting is his timing: The general chose to reveal his intentions just days before his planned meeting in New York tomorrow with President Bush. Mr. Musharraf obviously believes he has nothing to fear.”