Today's Papers

Ridge Over Troubled Waters

The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and USA Today lead with the resignation of Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, who has long been expected to clock out. He  said he will pack up by Feb. 1. The Washington Postleads with a local story but fronts Ridge.

There’s no evidence Ridge was pushed. But says NYT, there’s also “no indication Mr. Bush made a concerted effort to persuade him to stay.” Another “senior administration official” didn’t exactly show the love, telling the Post, “This is a chance for a fresh start and a different approach.”

As the papers say, the new-ish Department of Homeland Security has been dinged by independent analysts as well as internal watchdogs for bureaucratic messiness and inertia.

Ridge “will be remembered as an affable cabinet secretary who had lots of good will and the very best intentions, but who ultimately didn’t manage to pull this huge merger off terribly well,” one analyst told the Journal. No word yet on a replacement.

A Ridge assessment inside the NYT flags the checkered record but also points out that he has often had his hands tied and didn’t have enough money. At one point, Ridge apparently joined with the EPA in proposing tough safety rules for chemical and oil facilities: “But after the oil and chemical industries met with Karl Rove, the president’s political adviser, and other senior aides, the White House quietly blocked those efforts, current and former officials say.” (BTW: A gratuitous reference to Rove?)

The Post’sAl Kamen notices those not leaving: At a Pentagon policy makers meeting called by Undersecretary Douglas Feith,it was “announced that all the members of the team were going to remain in place.”

The Post fronts a leaked Army report from late last year that said members of one elite commando unit were abusing detainees in Iraq and keeping them at a secret prison. The military had said it didn’t know of abuses until early this year. Doctors told the investigators that detainees captured by the unit, known as Task Force 121, showed “signs of having been beaten.” The report also confirmed that when some units couldn’t find their targets, they took family members instead and waited for the suspects to swap. One “Pentagon official” told the Post that the generals had alerted higher-ups about the report: “The official said TF 121 was investigated, but he could not provide results.”

The WP says the report was also critical of the military’s then habit of rounding up thousands of Iraqis nearly willy-nilly, a practice that was “making gratuitous enemies.” After the Abu Ghraib photos came out, thousands of Iraqi detainees were released. But as the Post notes, in the past few weeks the number of detainees has again surged..

The Post’s Anthony Shadid visits with an Iraqi insurgent who fought in Fallujah—alongside his 13-year-old son, who was killed. “He was still a child, but he was a hero,” the father said. Back in March, the son apparently befriended GIs, then left a hidden bomb for them.

The LAT fronts some in the Pentagon raising their eyebrows over the military’s efforts at “information warfare” in Iraq, which has recently involved combining public affairs with “psychological operations,” despite warnings against that from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The LAT says it knows only one example of when that has resulted in something approaching lying: A military spokesman told CNN troops in Fallujah had “crossed the line of departure”—three weeks before the invasion really went down. (Apparently, the military wanted to see how the insurgents would react.)

A bomb killed seven Iraqis north of Baghdad and wounded about 20. (That earns, so far as TP sees, no headlines.) As USAT fronts, November tied April for most GIs killed in Iraq, 135—about 40 percent of them in Fallujah.

The LAT fronts the administration’s proposal to “dramatically scale back” protections for salmon and steelhead trout, a move that environmentalists and fisherman decried and the National Association of Homebuilders celebrated. (The Times doesn’t quote any independent scientists.)

The Post’s Mike Allen has a fascinating piece on the White House press corps’ frequently futile efforts to knock the president off his talking points. The acknowledged master of the trade is Time’s John Dickerson. He’s the one who froze Bush with, “After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?”

“It’s an excellent question that totally stumped me,” Bush later acknowledged. “I guess looking at it practically, my biggest mistake was calling on John.”