Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Timeslead with the Bush administration’s efforts to encourage Sunni participation in the upcoming Iraqi elections. The NYT focuses on the administration’s proposal to guarantee Sunnis high-level positions in the new government—or even seats in the legislature—regardless of the election’s outcome. The LAT considers several more of the administration’s approaches to the Sunni problem: One is its “quiet” support for Prime Minister Allawi’s negotiations with Sunni insurgents (less violence could mean a higher Sunni turn out), while another is its “blunt” warning to Sunni leaders about the possible fallout from their election boycotts: “‘Do they really want … a civil war against a Shia population that outnumbers them 3 to 1?’” The Washington Post leads with new allegations of serious abuse from at least 10 former Guantanamo Bay detainees. The claims come on the heels of last week’s release of thousands of pages of memos in which FBI agents detail pervasive and severe mistreatment of prisoners there.
The wires report the disastrous 8.9-magnitude earthquake near Indonesia—the largest earthquake anywhere in 40 years *. Early reports indicate that massive tidal waves from the quake may have claimed more than 3,000 lives in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
A low Sunni turnout in the election would mean a disproportionately Shiite parliament—a result that could raise ethnic tensions to critical levels. But the idea of tinkering with the election results is so sensitive that the NYT hides the identities of its story’s main sources; officials are concerned that if Sunnis know they’ll get seats no matter what, they might be even less inclined to go to the polls. Both the LAT and the NYT outline another major obstacle to Sunni participation: the Iraqi government’s insistence that candidates previously allied with Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party renounce the affiliation in writing. The requirement has caused some Sunni candidates to withdraw from the election.
More and more Guantanamo detainees are filing abuse claims (according to the WP, 60 of 550 and counting), and the details are horrific: “They say military personnel beat and kicked them while they had hoods on their heads and tight shackles on their legs, left them in freezing temperatures and stifling heat, subjected them to repeated, prolonged rectal exams and paraded them naked around the prison as military police snapped pictures.” Other prisoners claimed overt instances of sexual abuse. According to the statements, the object of the mistreatment was to obtain confessions from prisoners that they belonged to the Taliban or al-Qaida. The Army has called the abuse allegations “simply not true,” an assertion weakened somewhat by Pentagon lawyers’ recent statements that the military followed “treaties on the handling of enemy prisoners ‘to the extent possible’ in the middle of a war.”
The NYT runs a Column One story on Argentina’s economic rebound. After a financial collapse in 2002 that had experts predicting further disaster unless the government settled its massive $100 billion debt, the country’s economy has grown by 8 percent for two years running, and unemployment has dropped from 20 percent to 13 percent. The debt remains unpaid, meaning Argentina has not received bailout help from the International Monetary Fund. By keeping the debt and opting to spur growth internally by stimulating consumer activity, Argentina has chosen an economically unorthodox strategy that may be working.
The WP fronts the halting of several large and promising medical studies involving Vioxx and Celebrex. The studies were investigating the potential of the drugs to treat or prevent major illnesses, including Alzheimer’s and several types of cancer. The disruptions have frustrated experts, who say they’ve already got plenty of data showing that the drugs, if prescribed at the right dosage, could be highly beneficial to many patients and that the public’s perception of the painkillers has become a counterproductive “mass hysteria.”
The LAT looks at the Bush administration’s efforts to halve the deficit in five years without raising taxes. The approach will require major spending cuts for many government programs, with Medicare and Medicaid apparently high on the list. The ultimate losers, the article observes, will likely be the poor and elderly. The NYT reports on a bipartisan effort by many state governors to repel the cuts.
Correction, Dec. 28, 2004:This piece originally stated that none of the newspapers got word of the massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean in time for Sunday’s editions. In fact, the Los Angeles Times did have a wire report on the earthquake. Return to the corrected sentence.