Today's Papers

Chertoff and Running

The Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and USA Todayall lead with President Bush nominating federal judge Michael Chertoff as the homeland security chief. The Los Angeles Timesleads with, and others front, six people now confirmed killed—and another dozen still missing—in a mudslide outside Los Angeles. Southern California has had about 17 inches of rain in the past two weeks.

As an assistant attorney general in the early years of the Bush administration, Chertoff was point man for the Justice Department’s forward-leaning post-9/11 policies, including using the “material witnesses” statute to hold suspects indefinitely without charges. But while he was in office he also apparently raised red flags with the administration about military tribunals and did the same thing publicly once he left his post. President Bush also noted another important Chertoff accomplishment: “He’s been confirmed by the Senate three times.”

“He was an aggressive prosecutor, but he was never an ideologue,” one liberal law prof told the NYT. “We’ve differed on many aspects of the war on terrorism, but I think he’s a thoughtful and independent thinker on a lot of these issues, and not insensitive to civil liberties concerns.”

Slate’sFred Kaplan wonders whether Chertoff has the management chops for the job and offers some confirmation questions.

The Post announces on Page One that the Iraq Survey Group, which when last heard from was still hot on the trail for banned weapons, has in fact folded its tent, and it did so about three weeks ago. (No, you didn’t miss the White House announcement.) The “interim report” the group put out in September, which caused a big stink, will essentially be reprinted as the final report. The WP also notes that fulfilling experts’ worries, “many” Iraqi scientists who worked on banned programs have now left the country, perhaps to peddle their skills elsewhere.

The WP alone fronts the U.S. releasing five Gitmo detainees, four Brits and an Australian. The Aussie is the same guy whose lawyers say he was rendered to Egypt and tortured there while questioned by interrogators with “American accents.” (The Post fronted those charges last week.) The five have been the center of an international protest campaign, and all said they have been beaten and otherwise mistreated. Officials in Australia and Britain have said they’ll key an eye on the soon-to-be former detainees but won’t arrest them right off the bat.

The NYT fronts appointed Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi acknowledging that “some pockets” of the country “will not be able to participate in the elections.” He added, “There is improvement in the security situation.” About 20 Iraqis—mostly police—were killed in a series of attacks. One Marine was also reported killed somewhere in the Anbar province, where Fallujah happens to be located. Also, a big oil pipeline was destroyed near Kirkuk, meaning no oil will be exported north for a few days.

USAT fronts big delays in the building of two key U.S. plants to destroy old chemical weapons; ground won’t be broken until 2011. The U.S. is bound by international agreement to destroy the weapons by 2012.

The NYT notes that Indonesia’s military, in an apparent bid to assert control, has banned relief groups from operating independently outside Aceh’s two main cities. The Journal goes with the wider picture, suggesting that move might be a response to Indonesia’s president sending out feelers about a peace deal with Acehense rebels, a deal the military—which makes tons of money in Aceh via shady businesses—might oppose.

The Post stuffs a study concluding that the number of HIV cases in Russia is probably three times the official figure of 300,000. Meanwhile, testing for the virus has dropped off seriously after the Russian government cut funding for it.

The papers mention the death of James Forman, a civil-rights organizer who headed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the early 1960s.

Brainstorm for the unemployed and retired… A letter to the NYT:

To the Editor:Re “Your Call (and Rants on Hold) Will Be Monitored” (front page, Jan. 11):As a preventative measure against wrong information coming from hurried customer service representatives, I begin many calls to a call center with a “this call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes” of my own. I ask the agent for permission to record the call on my end, as well. They almost always say no and hang up. Jon D. Morrow
New York, Jan. 11, 2005