Today's Papers

Cnooc Out

The Washington Postleads with Iraq, where seven Marines were killed Monday, including six in a single small-arms attack in the western town of Haditha. That’s the same town that Marines tried to clear out two months ago. The Los Angeles Timesand New York Timeslead with Chinese oil company Cnooc dropping its bid to buy Unocal, saying U.S. politicians were causing too much of a ruckus. President Bush has the authority to accept or reject such a bid, and as the Post says, theWhite House had “indicated” it didn’t want to make the call. Cnooc’s pullout clears the way for Chevron to snap up the California company, a deal that Unocal’s board has already endorsed. USA Todayleads with a handful of states moving to restrict the powers of eminent domain in response to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that property can be grabbed for private development. The Wall StreetJournal has a similar piece and tops its world-wide newsbox with Judge Roberts responding to a Senate questionnaire with an essay portraying himself, surprise, as far more measured than the image that’s emerged from his early-career papers. For some reason, the NYT and LAT see that as Big News.

The LAT catches early-morning reports that an American journalist has been found murdered in the southern town of Basra. Steven Vincent, who had reportedly been kidnapped by gunmen, had just published an op-ed in Sunday’s NYT criticizing Shiite militias in Basra.

Though the NYT only teases the Marine deaths, it actually has the most info on them. The men were snipers “working in two teams of three men each; both teams were wiped out.” That kind of casualty rate is unheard of for a gun battle. As the Times’ Dexter Filkins writes, “Ordinarily, in a street fight, the guerrillas are no match for the marines.” One of the Marines was found dead about a mile from his comrades, apparently taken there by insurgents.

Relying largely on Army investigative documents, the Post’s off-lead reports that an Iraqi general who died in American custody had been tortured by an Iraqi paramilitary unit with a CIA agent present. The unit, a group of CIA-recruited exiles known as the Scorpions, played the bad cops. “Detainees knew that if they went to those people, bad things would happen,” said one Army soldier. “It was used as a motivator to get them to talk.” Though the general’s autopsy cited “contusions and abrasions with pattern impressions”—injuries that investigators attributed to a “long straight-edge instrument” and an “object like the end of an M-16”—the military announced he had died of natural causes. Four GI’sare facing court martial in the case, but Army investigators said they lacked the authority to go after the CIA.

A piece inside the Post looks at the Scorpions, who were originally created by the CIA to infiltrate Iraq before the war and be behind-the-scenes helpers. Things didn’t go so well back then. The WP says most of the prewar missions were “delayed or canceled because of poor training or planning.” After the invasion, the Scorpions found employment doing what one “intelligence official” called “dirty work.” Oh, and in case you’re worried that such talk might get Congress curious, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee said he knew all about the program and isn’t interested in investigating: “We’re not spending a lot of time going back and dissecting tactical programs.”

In one of this morning’s more curious decisions, the NYT—suffering from “Iraq fatigue”?—stuffs a piece saying that Iraq’s defense ministry is, basically, FUBAR. “What are lacking are the systems that pay people, that supply people, that recruit people, that replace the wounded and AWOL, and systems that promote people and provide spare parts,” said a “top American commander” in Iraq. The explanation for the commander’s anonymity is a classic: He “asked not to be identified because his assessment of Iraqi abilities went beyond the military’s public descriptions.” 

For those who think the good news in Iraq always goes uncovered, the Post heralds the ground-breaking of a new international airport near Najaf. The U.S. didn’t even have to front the $25 million needed for the project; Iran already did.

Everybody mentions Russia’s decision to boot ABC from the country, after the network broadcast a Nightline interview with Shamil Basayev, the Chechen rebel leader and suspected mastermind of last year’s hostage-taking in Beslan. It’s the first time Russia has made such a move since the Soviet Union collapsed.

The WP alone fronts follow-up to President Bush’s surprise comments that so-called intelligent design theory should be included in classrooms. “You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes,” the president told a few reporters Monday.

Apparently intent on furthering the argument for abolishing editorials, the NYT offers up this one. The editorial begins:

Q. Knock, knock.A. Who’s there?Q. Ivory-billed woodpecker.A. Ivory-billed—what? No way.

And never gets better.