The Los Angeles Timesand New York Timeslead with Iranian officials saying they’ll extend the freeze on their nuclear program for a more few months, heading off a Security Council showdown for now. Iran had been talking big about putting its program back into gear but decided to play nice after European negotiators promised to offer a detailed list of incentives. Nobody is putting much hope in the extension, especially since Iran’s chief negotiator said he still needs the OK from his bosses. The Washington Postis particularly skeptical, stuffing Iran and instead leading with FBI memos showing that about a dozen Gitmo detainees complained that guards mistreated the Quran; one prisoner charged that the holy book was flushed down the toilet. There have been plenty of previous reports of similar detainee allegations. The documents—which were mostly written in 2002 and 2003 and released per an ACLU lawsuit—add in quantity to the charges but not quality. That is, they’re still allegations—which makes TP wonder why the Post is leading with them.
The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox (online, at least) with the Senate confirming, as expected, Priscilla Owen as a federal appellate judge. USA Today leads with state government coffers filling up again. Tax revenues rose to a record $600 billion last year, about 7 percent more than in 2003. (A couple of years ago, Slate’s Jack Shafer got huffy about credulous stories that states were heading toward the fiscal abyss.)
As has been previously reported, the Red Cross once told the military about the detainees’ allegations. Soon after, the prisoners’ complaints apparently stopped. (Here’s an interview with a former translator at Gitmo who attributed some of the abuse to a lack of cultural training. At least initially, guards didn’t know they weren’t supposed to handle the Quran.) The latest FBI docs also include 19 separate allegations of beatings, as well as complaints about sexually humiliating interrogation tactics. TP doesn’t see it flagged in this morning’s papers, but when the Newsweek toilet story first hit it big, the Pentagon’s top spokesman was asked whether the military has ever investigated charges that the Quran was disrespected at Gitmo. He answered no, explaining, “There haven’t been credible allegations to that effect.”
In the name-calling wars: Everybody notes that Amnesty International launched a big broadside against the U.S., calling the treatment of detainees “atrocious” and dubbing Gitmo a “gulag.” The Journal’s editorial page, never one to get riled, in turn proclaims that Amnesty’s take “amounts to pro-al Qaeda propaganda.”
According to wire reports, about 10 Iraqis were killed this morning by attacks in Baghdad.
Everybody mentions that about 1,000 Marines, along with Iraqi commandos, have launched another offensive in the western Iraq, centered in the town of Haditha. It’s the second big sweep in the area earlier this month. Many officers have complained that the Marines simply don’t have enough men to control the region.
The Christian Science Monitor details a positive development in Iraq. Baghdad’s Haifa Street, once among the most dangerous in the city, is now relatively tranquil thanks to the Iraqi soldiers who have taken the lead on security. “Before, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, for all the bullets flying,” said one resident. “Now,” she says, pointing to the Iraqi troops, “God is truly great.” (The NYT’s John Burns saw the beginnings of improvement two months ago, though unlike the CSM Burns warned of ethnic divisions.) The street is just about the only place were Iraqi units have been put in control, and U.S. commanders said it will take years for most other Iraqi units to get up to snuff.
A Page One WP piece looks at the myriad ways in which President Bush and congressional leaders have centralized power. Nothing really new here: Cabinet members have no freedom, committee chairmanships are no longer decided by seniority, etc. But the Post certainly comes out swinging: The president “has constructed what many scholars said amounts to a virtual oligarchy with Cheney, Karl Rove, Andrew H. Card Jr., Joshua Bolton, himself and only a few others setting policy.”
The LAT and WP front pro-democracy demonstrators being beaten in Cairo. They had come out to protest yesterday’s referendum on election “reforms” that actually bar most opposition politicians from running. The beatings were mostly meted out by pro-government thugs. But that doesn’t give the full picture. The WP: “Journalists and witnesses at the scene of several incidents, including this correspondent, saw riot police create corridors for stick-wielding men to freely charge the demonstrators. Women were particular targets.” The only U.S. government response TP sees came from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said during an interview yesterday, “I’ve not seen the reports that you’re talking about.”