Today's Papers

Trampling on the Grassroots

The New York Timesleads with Russia’s government moving to impose restrictions on domestic grassroots organizations and outright ban foreign NGOs from Russia. The Washington Poststuffs Russia and instead leads with NASA saying fixes to the space shuttle program are sucking up cash meant for the president’s big space plans. NASA officials are pushing for more overall money, while the White House seems to be pushing NASA officials to simply shut their traps and live within the current budget. The Los Angeles Times leads with word that LAX airport still has one of the worst safety records in the country despite pushes for improvement. Five “close calls” have been reported there in the past six months. Apparently, the runways are not properly laid out. “It’s very hard to exaggerate the seriousness of the runway safety problem” at LAX, said the FAA’s administrator.

Russia’s lower parliament, which usually operates as a rubber stamp for President Putin, voted for the anti-NGO legislation nearly unanimously. * As it happens, just a few months ago Putin slammed foreign NGOs, and the head of Russia’s security service accused them of being spies. “Under the cover of implementing humanitarian and educational programs in Russian regions,” said the spy chief, “they lobby for the interests of certain countries and gather classified information on a wide range of issues.” The chief’s proposal to restrict NGOs became the basis for the law now being considered.

The U.S.’s response to the proposed NGO limits was … tepid. “We have made our concerns known to the Russian government on this issue and remain in close contact with them,” said a State Department spokesman. “This is only the first step in a multistep process before any proposal could become law.”

Citing unnamed current and former government officials, the NYT says on Page One that the administration backed down from more serious charges against Jose Padilla because the case relied on the testimony of two al-Qaida suspects who are secretly being held by the U.S. and who gave their testimony while being tortured. An internal CIA report concluded that one of the men had talked while being subjected to what the Times calls “excessive use” of waterboarding.

The Times’ Padilla story is remarkable. So, it’s all the more disappointing that the story’s headline is so unremarkable: “SHIFT ON SUSPECT IS LINKED TO ROLE OF QAEDA FIGURES.” How about: “INITIAL PADILLA ALLEGATIONS BASED ON ABUSIVE INTERROGATION OF QAEDA SUSPECTS.”

Slate’sPhil Carter pondered just this torture scenario last year, pointing out that information gleaned through abuse risks undermining terrorism cases.

Everybody mentions that lawyers for Saddam Hussein and his codefendants ended their boycott of the trial after American officials promised to investigate the killing of two defense lawyers as well as to beef up security for the surviving lawyers. The LAT has the most detail, saying the lawyers will be allowed to carry guns themselves and be allowed to choose their own bodyguards who the U.S. will pay for.

Also in Iraq, gunmen “wearing Iraqi army uniforms” assassinated a prominent Sunni Arab sheik and killed three of his sons and a son-in-law. The sheik had recently encouraged members of his tribe to vote in the elections, and the speculation is that Sunni guerrillas were looking to send a message.

A front-page NYT piece on the Catholic Church’s new rules on gays in the priesthood flags a clause in the rules saying that those who hear confessions of seminarians admitting they’re gay “have the duty to dissuade” them from joining the priesthood. “The relationship between a seminarian and his confessor or his spiritual director should not be about enforcing church documents,” countered rebel one priest.

Despite the Times’ big play, the new church policy leaves plenty of room for interpretation and might not result in much change. “Unless you get a critical mass of bishops and religious superiors who say, ‘Now we can’t admit any gay men,’ I don’t think it’s going to have any discernible effect,” said one priest and professor. “There are lots of excellent gay priests and seminarians, and we have a priest shortage. We’re not exactly in a buyer’s market here.”

Correction, Nov. 25, 2005:Eric Umansky wrote that Russia’s lower parliament “passed” anti-NGO legislation. In fact, while the parliament voted for the legislation, parliament rules require
two more votes before it’s “passed.” Click here to return to the corrected sentence.