The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post all lead with Army reservist Charles A. Graner Jr.’s conviction on charges of abusing inmates at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. Graner, a former corrections officer from Pennsylvania, was the first soldier accused in the Abu Ghraib scandal who went through a court martial rather than offer a plea. He now faces 15 years in jail and will address the jury today when the case enters its sentencing phase. The LAT has the best details on the workings of the trial, while the NYT plays up the international fury sparked by the abuse. The Post explains that the judge derailed Graner’s “obedience to orders” defense by ruling that testimony on what Graner’s commanders knew was “inadmissible hearsay.” All the papers seem somewhat sympathetic to the argument, however; the Post closes its story with a quote from Graner’s lawyer: “Not one witness from the chain of command came to this proceeding. … Do you think the prosecutors just forgot to call those officers?”
All the papers front Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to cut off contact with the Palestinians following an attack on a Gaza Strip checkpoint. The NYT provides the best political analysis of the move: It provides Sharon political cover for his continuing Gaza pullout plan while signaling to the Palestinians and the West alike that Arafat’s death will not change Israel’s emphasis on security before negotiations. Still, the move comes at an awkward time; as the LAT notes, new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has yet to be sworn in as president. The Post gets the best quotes from the Palestinians’ negotiator, who accuses the Israeli government of giving in to extremists.
Everyone also fronts the Huygens probe’s successful landing on Titan, a frozen moon of Saturn. The LAT points out that although Huygens offers a tantalizing glimpse of a planetary body with an atmosphere resembling Earth’s own, the real mysteries have yet to be explained. As the NYT reports, the signs of water on Titan particularly fascinate scientists. The best story of the landing comes from the Post, which offers an excellent description of the tense environment in the control room outside Frankfurt, Germany, where scientists for the mission (a collaboration between Europe and America) awaited signals from their interplanetary explorer.
An LAT feature about the deaths of civilian contractors in Iraq reminds readers that soldiers are not the only ones suffering the consequences of the country’s raging violence. But although the paper captures two specific contractors’ stories very well, it does little to explain the larger dynamic that puts nonmilitary support personnel at risk. Aside from a throwaway line about “the country’s first outsourced war,” the paper does not describe the new war-fighting techniques that have increased risks for contractors.
The LAT sticks a far more significant and worrisome report from Iraq below the fold. Mosul, once seen as a “model” postwar city, has degenerated into a battleground. Although Iraqis are set to go to the polls nationwide in just over two weeks, significant obstacles remain in Mosul and other cities targeted by insurgents. The United States is determined that the vote will proceed as planned, but the insurgents seem equally committed to stopping it. Meanwhile, the Post explains an equally serious threat to Iraq’s continuing development: targeted, sophisticated attacks on the country’s vital infrastructure. In a country with vast oil reserves, lines for gas in the capital now stretch three miles long.
The Post continues its tsunami coverage with a remarkable report about an Australian doctor who conducted a random survey of an Indonesian town devastated by the disaster. The doctor’s survey put numbers on the seemingly incalculable losses the town suffered, but, more important, his efforts will help relief groups direct their aid. Although such studies are common after man-made disasters, they are rarely undertaken following natural catastrophes. The LAT continues its own coverage of the tsunami with a story on a $37.5 million plan to upgrade the U.S. tsunami warning system. Science officials in the Bush administration say that the upgrade will offer coverage for the entire U.S. coastline; they predict other countries will benefit as well. The NYT doesn’t front tsunami news and instead goes with a story from beneath the seas. Apparently the crash last week of a Navy submarine was the result of poor maps; the craft hit an undersea mountain that wasn’t on any navigation charts.
Basketball fans for whom this weekend’s football games hold little excitement will enjoy the Post’s 2,000-word chronicle of basketball’s decline in Indiana; the paper’s other front-page feature, a look at Global Positioning System technology, is probably worth skipping—it offers little new information.