Today's Papers

Testing Tribunals

The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and New York Timesall lead with the Supreme Court agreeing to hear a challenge to the tribunals of Guantanamo Bay detainees. Chief Justice John Roberts recused himself since he was one of the appeals court judges who previously ruled on the case. The justices are expected to hear arguments in March and issue a ruling by July. USA Todayreefers the court case and leads with President Bush defending the administration’s detainee policies. “We do not torture,” he said.

The Supreme Court case involvesSalim Hamdan, who was a chauffer for Bin Laden but says he wasn’t a fighter or al-Qaida member. The issue before the court is whether the president has the legal authority to send detainees, such as Hamdan, before the tribunals. There’s the question of whether the president has the power to do so without Congress giving it to him. Another potential stumbling block for the administration’s case: the Geneva Conventions, which mandate higher standards of justice than the tribunals offer. The White House’s position tracks closely with that of now Chief Justice Robert’s ruling on the case. As the Journal puts it, Roberts ruled that the president “enjoys almost unfettered power to deal with enemy prisoners.” Given Roberts’ recusal, it’s possible the court could tie 4-4 (though unlikely given Justice O’Connor’s temp-worker status). Still, if there’s a tie, the earlier Roberts opinion stands.

Within hours of the Supreme Court’s announcement, the Pentagon announced that it’s putting another five detainees before the tribunals.

“We are gathering information about where the terrorists may be hiding,” said the president. “We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans. Anything we do to that effort, to that end, in this effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law.” From an early version of the Post:

Asked whether he would allow the Red Cross to have access to the prisoners and whether he agreed with Vice President Cheney that the CIA should be exempt from legislation to ban torture, Bush did not answer directly. Nor did he confirm the existence of the secret prisons. Instead, he launched into a strong defense of the U.S. war on terrorism.

The passage didn’t make it to the final version for one reason or another.

The NYT fronts the Pentagon apparently issuing stricter guidelines on detainee interrogations. The seven-page directive, which the Times “obtained” but doesn’t offer readers (as of 4 a.m.), says detainees must be treated “humanely,” which isn’t new or specifically defined. Apparently, the key to the directive is that it opens the way for the Army to issue a new, improved interrogation manual.  Here is how the NYT describes the manual’s improvements:

The Army intends, for example, to ensure that interrogation techniques are approved at the highest levels within the Pentagon, that interrogators are properly trained, and that personnel in the field are required to report any abuses.

Does that mean that, say, personnel were not previously required to report abuses? A bit confusing, right? Lo and behold, 19 paragraphs in we learn that “one defense official said that parts of the manual were still vague.” Said the official, “There is a lot more that could have been done. It could have been clearer.” The Times also says the administration still hasn’t decided whether Pentagon guidelines on detainee treatment should include bans on “cruel” and “humiliating” punishment. The NYT’s headline on this mishmash: “PENTAGON PLANS TIGHTER CONTROL OF INTERROGATION.”

Four GIs were killed by a suicide bomber at a checkpoint south of Baghdad, which, as the NYT picks up, was the deadliest suicide attack against U.S. forces in months. The military also said it has arrested five U.S. soldiers—elite Rangers—for allegedly punching and kicking a prisoner. The military also announced that one Marine has been killed in the offensive near the Syrian border. A local aid official told the Post that 29 civilians have been killed in the fighting. About 15 people were killed in various terrorist attacks in Baghdad.

The papers all front—and have particularly strong coverage of—the riots in France, which continued last night. The Post gives a sense of political paralysis among France’s leaders driven by, among other things, infighting at the top and French-style vacations.

Eleven days into the violence the prime minister said another 1,500 police will be sent to patrol and gave localities the power to impose curfews. There has been rioting in about 300 French towns and cities, and last night a school and a hospital were torched. Yesterday a 61-year-old man who was beaten by thugs last week became the first to die in the riots.

The LAT gives a sense of the racism in French society. In the mostly North African-dominated neighborhoods where many of the riots are, unemployment is 40 percent. One analyst told PBS’s NewsHour, “A French Muslim has one-eighth to one-tenth the chance of a non-Muslim French national with a non-Muslim name to get a job.” Extraordinary, if true.

A piece inside the NYT explains that many French police aren’t just out of touch with the communities they’re patrolling; they’re “inexperienced and ill-equipped.”

A Page One piece in the Journal looks at how conservative Muslim groups are recruiting some of the angry young men. They are not advocating violence, but they are trying to get the men to “identify themselves with their religion rather than as citizens.”

A handful of cars were torched in Belgium and Germany, raising fears the riots are going cross-continental.

Damn Yankees … From the WSJ: “Fed Chief Alan Greenspan grew up rooting for the Dodgers, not the Yankees as reported last week in some editions.”