Today's Papers

Iranium Enrichment

The New York Timesleads with the Pentagon’s plan to halve Gitmo’s detainee population by transferring hundreds of prisoners to foreign governments and releasing dozens more outright. No new prisoners have been transferred there since September and senior DOD officials said recent court decisions allowing detainees to challenge their incarceration inspired the plan: “It’s fair to say that the calculus now is different than it was before, because the legal landscape has changed.” The Los Angeles Times leads (and everyone else stuffs) Iraq, where a suicide attack on a Shiite funeral tent in Mosul killed at least 47 mourners as they were gathering for dinner. “I saw bodies lying on top of each other, most of them blown into small pieces,” said one survivor.

The Washington Post leads with a U.N. envoy’s plan to deliver an ultimatum to Syrian President Bashar Assad today: Withdraw from Lebanon quickly or face crippling sanctions. In recent days, the envoy has made the rounds and even has support from Egypt and the Arab League. “If [Assad] doesn’t deliver, there will be total political and economic isolation of his country,” a U.N. official told the WP. “There is a steel-hard consensus in the international community.” USA Today leads with the Bush administration’s announcement of strict new caps on air pollution from power plants in 28 central and Eastern states. The EPA estimates that the rule should prevent about 17,000 premature deaths each year by 2015, when it fully goes into effect.

The NYT off-leads an agreement between the U.S. and European allies to dance to the same tune in negotiations with Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons program. The U.S. will for the first time offer some modest economic enticements if Iran permanently suspends uranium enrichment, and Europe in turn has agreed to help bring Iran before the Security Council if the negotiations fail. The WP talks to an independent analyst who says the American offers to enrich the Iranians “just aren’t of the scale that would induce Iran to begin to consider trading their crown jewels”—i.e., the permanent cessation of uranium enrichment.

But the NYT does one better, talking to “hawks on the issue inside the White House and the Pentagon,” who say the incentives are part of a gambit predicated on their very insufficiency to sway Tehran. “They see the president’s decision to dangle what amount to modest American economic incentives as part of an effort to speed along the negotiating process so that Iran’s intentions become clear” (NYT’s words). They will then have the Europeans’ cooperation in taking the matter before the Security Council.

Everyone fronts a surprising turn in the search for the killer of a U.S. district judge’s husband and mother in Chicago last week, a case in which white supremacists had been the prime suspects: An unemployed electrician, whose rambling, incoherent lawsuit was dismissed by the judge last year, claimed responsibility in a suicide note. He shot himself at a police traffic stop Wednesday evening, leaving behind letters in which he said he had meant to assassinate the judge, but “had no choice but to shoot” her family when they discovered him hiding in her basement utility closet. Police said last night that the man’s DNA matched that found on a cigarette at the judge’s home, according to the LAT.

The NYT, LAT, and (of course) the Chicago Tribune delve more deeply into the alleged killer’s background, describing how his medical malpractice suit transformed over the course of 12 years into a delusional rant against the government and judges who refused to see any merit in his claims. He sought $1 billion in damages, declaring that “the same United States through judiciary is the Nazi-style criminal and violator of plaintiff’s civil rights, and the same United States through the judiciary is the leader of the al-Qaeda style terrorist network.”

“I guess on one level I’m relieved that it didn’t have anything to do with the white supremacy movement, because I feel my children are going to be safer,” the judge told the NYT. “It’s heartbreaking that my husband and mother had to die over something like this.”

The WP stuffs word, in a sworn document obtained by the ACLU, that top military commanders at Abu Ghraib prison had a signed agreement with the CIA to keep “ghost” detainees off the books, an arrangement that violates international law. The Pentagon has previously admitted keeping such prisoners, but maintained they fell through the cracks and weren’t part of an explicit arrangement. 

In their EPA stories, the papers all run glowing quotes from Fred Krupp, president of a group called Environmental Defense, which pushes for tighter air-pollution standards. No surprise there: As USAT gamely points out, Krupp was actually part of yesterday’s announcement ceremony. The NYT, however, deserves credit for actually asking a few other environmentalists what they thought, and it finds their endorsements are more tepid. Although the new rule imposes strict limits, they aren’t applied as quickly as the Clean Air Act provides. Sen. Jim Jeffords agrees: “This rule represents a small step forward in reducing pollution from old, dirty power plants, but the administration has chosen to exercise only part of its authority to control damaging emissions,” he said in a statement. “Full and responsible enforcement of the Clean Air Act would have required significantly greater reductions from the oldest and dirtiest plants sooner.”

The Senate approved a bill backed by the credit card industry that would make it harder for consumers to wipe out their debts by declaring bankruptcy. The House is expected to pass the bill by the first week in April or earlier, according to the Wall Street Journal, which flags its story at the top of its world-wide news box. The NYT notes that the measure passed with significant Democratic support, surprising even some Republicans.

Speaking of the Senate, the WP does a headcount and finds only one—or maybe two—Dems considering supporting Bush’s plan to convert part of Social Security into individual accounts. Meanwhile, after the first of two days of campaigning on behalf of his reforms in states he won in November, the NYT says Bush seems to be spending more time convincing wavering Republicans than winning Dems to his cause.

House Democrats effectively shut down the chamber’s ethics committee yesterday by refusing to approve Republican ethics rule changes that would limit the panel’s power. The panel is unique in that it is evenly divided between the two parties, and the rule-change vote was deadlocked 5-5. “Democrats have chosen to shut down the ethics process,” a spokesman for House Speaker Denny Hastert told the WP, adding, ahem, “It’s up to the House Democrats to put the ethics process above partisan politics.”