Today's Papers

Death Squads Detailed

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today all lead with Republican Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham resigning and announcing that he’s guilty of taking bribes in return for defense contracts. “The truth is, I broke the law, concealed my conduct and disgraced my office,” said Cunningham. The Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox and New York Timeslead with the restart of Saddam Hussein’s trial, where the former dictator threw of a bit of a hissy fit, complaining that U.S. guards were leaving him in handcuffs and forced to walk up two flights of stairs because the court elevator was on the fritz. The trial promptly adjourned again for a week so replacements could be found for two murdered defense lawyers. As to why any of that amounts to the most important news of the day …

In return for nailing down defense deals, Cunningham was given hundreds of thousands of dollars, furniture, rugs, use of a yacht, and to complete the cliché, a Rolls Royce. He faces 10 years in prison but probably won’t get hit with that much time in pokey since he’s promised to sing to prosecutors.

The papers don’t really explain what happened to the Pentagon contracts Cunningham rigged. And TP sees only a WP editorial raising a related issue: How exactly does the appropriations system work—or not work—given that one congressman seems to have the power to shovel money to specific contractors, crooked or not? (Cunningham’s shenanigans were made all the easier by the fact that, as USAT recently reminded, the contracts were part of the military’s classified, “black budget.”)

The LAT and NYT both—finally—front the rise of what appear to be  Shiite death squads operating as part of Iraqi government forces. The LAT says U.S. military advisers now agree that the term “death squads” is apt. “There are such groups operating—yes, this is correct,” said the inspector general for Iraq’s Interior Ministry. There has been evidence mounting for months that government-affiliated units have been executing Sunnis, but there’s been little coverage and plenty of official denial. (TP suspects the lack of coverage has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the media’s tendency to stick with what’s hot. Until the other week the conduct of Iraqi forces didn’t qualify.)

One human rights group told the NYT that 700 Sunni civilians have been killed or disappeared over the last four months. “There is no question that bodies are turning up,” said an investigator for the group. “Quite a few have been handcuffed and shot in the back of the head. The stories are pretty much consistent across the board, both in the manner that the men are being abducted and in who they say is taking them.” Knight Ridder has a similar story, with sources talking about more secret jails where detainees are tortured.

As for who is in the death squads, the LAT says Shiite militia have “infiltrated Iraq’s police force.” It’s an interesting choice of words since as the story itself later explains, the militia haven’t “infiltrated,” they’ve been recruited. In fact, the LAT quotes one U.S. officer as saying the militia-cum-police unit behind the recently discovered torture center reports directly to the head of the Interior Ministry. (TP flagged that possibility the other week.)

Referring to two different Shiite militia groups, one U.S. officer told the LAT, “The Mahdi Army’s got the Iraqi police and Badr’s got the commandos. Everybody’s got their own death squads.” The officer added that “up to 90 percent” of the 35,000 police in one part of Baghdad have some connection to the Mahdi army, which is firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr’s posse. And yes, the LAT has the more detailed story and is today’s must read.

One final note on the death squads: The stories themselves don’t pull punches, but the headlines do. The NYT’s Dexter Filkins, for example, writes that the militia act with “what appears to be official backing.” The headline: “SUNNIS ACCUSE IRAQI MILITARY OF KIDNAPPINGS AND SLAYINGS.” The government connection may not yet rise to newspaper-level “fact,” but it’s not just an accusation; as Filkins’ suggests, there’s evidence.

And in yesterday’s Iraq developments, two Sunni politicians were reported assassinated. Diplomats also confirmed the kidnapping of four Western aid workers, including an American. The LAT also says two Iraqi journalists were murdered by insurgents as were two foreign pilgrims.

The NYT previews a GAO report due out today concluding that the U.S.’s multilateral efforts to cut off al-Qaida’s financial network has been tripped up by infighting between the State and Treasury departments. Apparently, the agencies can’t agree on which one should be in charge of the effort.

A front-page WP piece clarifies some of the mystery behind the recent news that Time reporter Viveca Novak will testify in the Valerie Plame leak case. The Post says Karl’s Rove’s lawyer asked Novak (no relation to that Robert) to testify because he thinks it could somehow help Rove. We’re not going to have to wait long for the details: “Viveca Novak is expected to write a firsthand account after she is deposed.”

The NYT and WP both have pieces on Reagan-era Justice Department documents showing Judge Samuel Alito pushing for expanding police powers. The Post emphasizes one memo Alito wrote asserting that non-resident foreigners in the U.S. have no constitutional rights. The Post doesn’t explain where the law stands on that. 

USAT fronts the American Heart Association offering radically revised procedures for doing CPR. The association concluded that too few people know how to do the whole proper breath, press technique. So, it simplified things. As USAT puts it, “Call for help.   Push the chest. Don’t stop.” Push down all the way, and quickly. No mouth-to-mouth required.

Please note, this is not sh*tty oil… From the NYT:

Because of an editing error, an article on Oct. 27 about the fruit of the threatened Moroccan argan tree, used to produce an oil for gourmet cooking and cosmetics, omitted a complete explanation of how exported Argan oil is produced. While some Moroccans make oil from argan pits that have been excreted by grazing goats, none of those pits are used to make the oil that is exported. Because of that error, the article also carried a misleading headline. While goats do climb Argan trees to eat the fruit, they are not “doing their bit for gourmands.”