Today's Papers

Mishandled, but Not Flushed

The Washington Post leads with Pentagon officials announcing the preliminary results of an ongoing investigation that has found five instances of the Quran being mishandled in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by military guards and an interrogator. Four of the cases seem to have taken place before January 2003, when a procedure was written up on how to properly handle the Quran. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times,and the Wall Street Journal lead with Senate Democrats forcing a delay on John R. Bolton’s nomination to be United Nations ambassador by refusing to end debate. Democrats are requesting that the White House relinquish classified documents about Bolton that the Bush administration has refused to provide the Senate. All the papers, except USA Today, front the delay and emphasize how this could compromise the fragile agreement reached by Democrats and Republicans on Monday regarding the filibuster of judicial nominees. USATleads with, and is the only paper that fronts, the latest plan by the Iraqi government to station 40,000 soldiers and police officers in Baghdad’s streets, which will be the largest security operation ever launched in the city. By next week, as part of “Operation Lightning,” Iraqi forces, with the aid of U.S. troops, will have set up 675 checkpoints around the city. During the news conference to announce this latest plan, Iraq’s interior minister confirmed that insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been injured, but he refused to say how he knew this information.

Pentagon investigators looked into 13 allegations that the Quran had been treated improperly and determined that eight of them were unfounded. Out of the five cases of Quran mishandling that Pentagon officials identified, which all the papers except USAT front, three were labeled as probably deliberate, while two were probably accidental. The general in charge of the investigation made a point of emphasizing that they had found “no credible evidence” that a guard flushed a Quran down the toilet. The general said they interviewed the detainee who, according to an FBI report, had raised the issue of a Quran being flushed, and they determined his account lacked credibility, although he was never specifically asked about the incident.

The WP and LAT front the meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and President Bush at the White House, the first time the Palestinian leader has gone to the White House since he took office in January. Although Bush did not give Abbas a written letter of support, like he gave Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, he did offer up $50 million in direct aid. Both of the papers emphasize the differences between Bush’s warm demeanor and praise for Abbas and his refusal to meet with the former leader of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat. The WSJ says the meeting illustrated how Bush walks a “tightrope” while trying to “engineer peace in the region, a situation in which he is less a quarterback than a cheerleader.”

The WP is alone in fronting a ruling by a Texas judge that determined the treasury of a political action committee formed by Rep. Tom DeLay broke campaign finance laws when it failed to report contributions. Texans for a Republican Majority helped Republicans gain control of the Texas House in 2002. The judge, who did not name DeLay in the decision, failed to determine whether the contributions themselves, rather than just the failure to disclose them, were also illegal. There is still a criminal trial pending relating to the PAC, as well as at least two other civil cases.

The NYT fronts a story on how Iraqis are starting to see the violence in their country, which caused 550 deaths this month, as increasingly sectarian, pitting Sunnis against Shiites. These tensions have only worsened as allegations increase about the existence of Shiite death squads that work with the army and police to target Sunnis. Iraq’s prime minister said there might be some truth to the rumors of these death squads and warned that the government “will act very strongly against those who take the law into their own hands.” 

The LAT is the only paper that fronts French President Jacques Chirac’s prime-time speech to convince the country to vote “yes” on Sunday’s referendum for the European constitution. The speech marked the official end of campaigning before the vote that many fear will deliver a blow to both Chirac and Europe as polls show the majority of voters are likely to reject the constitution. The WSJ says those who are planning to vote against the constitution will do so for a variety of reasons, ranging from dissatisfaction with the French government to unhappiness with the expanding European Union. USAT publishes a dispatch from a village in the Burgundy wine region to illustrate that the fear that competition from Eastern Europe will increase unemployment is what will lead many to vote against the constitution on Sunday.

A day after Iranian officials said they would extend the freeze on their nuclear program, the NYT goes inside with news that the World Trade Organization announced it would start negotiations to admit Iran as a member. The decision came through after the United States, which had blocked Iran from joining the organization more than 20 times throughout the years, removed its opposition.

The NYT reports on a study by the World Policy Institute that revealed U.S. weapons sales to other countries have increased since the Sept. 11 attacks. In order to improve its relationship with new allies, the United States has sold weapons to countries that in the past could not receive American products because of their poor human rights records. In 2003, more than half of the top 25 recipients of weapons sales were countries the State Department has classified as undemocratic.

An editorial in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal says laws should require knives to have rounded tips, instead of sharp ones, reports the NYT. Violent crime in Britain is on the rise, and in the first two weeks of 2005 there were 15 killings resulting from stabbings. In the United States, representatives of groups that deal with gun issues found humor in the editorial. An executive vice president at the National Rifle Association wondered whether they would force people to use “plastic knives and forks and spoons in their own homes, like they do in airlines?” A spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence asked jokingly, “Can sharp stick control be far behind?” but also admitted that gun control advocates are “envious” of England’s problem.