Today's Papers

Commission Impossible II

The New York Times leads with the sequel to the best-selling 9/11 commission, whose new, privately funded, subpoena-less hearings begin today. USA Todaycounters with a lead on the Homeland Security Department’s stepped-up, but perhaps misguided, efforts to detect nukes at ports. The Los Angeles Times leads with Iraqi government plans to make up deficits and meet IMF targets by slashing its payroll by 40 percent to 60 percent. Critics worry that, in a country with 30 percent unemployment and as much as half of the 6.5 million workforce employed by the state, the move would only feed the insurgency. The Washington Post’s top story is a confidential House report that says the FBI wasted more than $100 million on a custom computerized case-file system, even after it was clear that the thing would need to be scrapped. (The Post doesn’t link to the report online, a strangely secretive practice that TP has long decried but that is still common to many papers. Is it to guard other scoops that the paper is still pursuing? To protect sources? Organizational inertia? An explanation in such stories would be welcome.)

The new 9/11 hearings are to culminate in a “report card” later this year on government progress in addressing recommendations. But it seems that some grades are already in. “There are a lot of our recommendations that have not been implemented,” said the former chairman. “We don’t have a lot of time left to act.” USAT provides a good example of progress so far: DHS announced last week that the nation’s busiest sea ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach, will be fitted with enough drive-through detectors to scan all incoming containers by the end of the year and that many more are being purchased elsewhere. Don’t feel too safe: The $250,000 machines are notorious for false alarms and cannot tell the difference between radiation from enriched uranium and that from cat litter.

The papers all present different takes on the likelihood of negations with or sanctions against North Korea. According to the Wall Street Journal, a “senior Pentagon official” told reporters traveling with Donald Rumsfeld Saturday that the administration might soon push for sanctions. “The frustration is building up,” he said, adding, in a suspiciously Rumsfeldian flourish, that the rogue country “appears to be marching to its own frustration drum.” But the WP reports that yesterday SecState Condoleezza Rice dismissed the Pentagon’s posturing: “The idea that within weeks we are going to decide one way or another is a little forward-leaning.” Meanwhile, the LAT and NYT offer some context for the good-cop-bad-cop routine: North Korean negotiators reportedly phoned their American counterparts in recent days, a possible prelude to a resumption of talks. According to the LAT, Pyongyang was impressed when President Bush recently referred to the North Korean leader as, merely, “Mr. Kim Jong-il.”

The papers all mention—only the NYT with its own Beirut dateline—that the Hezbollah ticket steamrolled the elections in 23 districts in Shiite-dominated southern Lebanon. To wit: In one district, with two-thirds of the vote counted, Hezbollah racked up 80,000 votes, compared with 8,000 for its nearest rival. The Parliament has 128 seats.

Everyone mentions word that Saddam Hussein will face trial as early as this summer or fall for a limited slate of 12 crimes, rather than the 500 he had been charged with. The NYT’s off-lead on the topic gives the best context, explaining that in trying Hussein so soon, the tribunal has bowed to the wishes of the government, which wants a swift death penalty based on fewer charges, rather than to those of the U.S. advisers, who urge a more methodical approach that would build up Hussein’s culpability for a slew of war crimes by trying his deputies first—a strategy honed in Slobodan Milosevic’s trial at The Hague. The paper also hints, briefly, at a reason for the rush: The new timeline puts Hussein in the dock for the mass murder of Shiites and Kurds before the next round of elections, currently scheduled for Dec. 15.

Speaking of trials, the LAT fronts a detailed, chilling story about another death-penalty trial in Iraq—the third such penalty handed down since Hussein’s fall.

The papers’ Iraq stories all mention in passing that U.S. troops have swept this weekend through part of the Euphrates Valley south of Baghdad known as the “triangle of death” and rounded up some 200 suspected insurgents by yesterday morning. Despite the roundup, the violence has continued, with an Iraqi driver killed when gunmen attacked a car carrying a policeman in a town northeast of Baghdad, while in the capital, a policewoman was killed in another drive-by attack.

The WP, meanwhile,fronts a story on the dangers Iraqi journalists face, from government and police intimidation to insurgent kidnappings and killings. Five were slain in a four-day period in April, and in mid-May three more were pulled from a minibus south of Baghdad and shot dead.  Nevertheless, the number of students studying journalism is growing. “Here I can help myself and I can help my country,” said one woman who is pursuing a doctorate and who two years ago founded her own paper, which now boasts a circulation of 5,000, despite death threats. “All of this, starting a newspaper, being a leader for my country, this is my dream. Why would I leave? I am not afraid.”