Today's Papers

Woodward Exits From Woodwork

In a near banner headline, the Washington Postleads with the Senate overwhelmingly passing a Republican-sponsored bill requiring the White House to give quarterly updates on Iraq. The bill also declares the hope that 2006 will be “a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty.” A Democratic version of the bill, which included demands for “estimated dates” of departure, was defeated but did get 40 votes. The New York Timesleads with GIs in Iraq discovering what the Times calls a “secret torture chamber” inside an Iraqi Interior Ministry building in Baghdad. About 170 malnourished prisoners were found, two of whom were paralyzed and others who had their skin peeled off. The discovery was first noted inside yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, in a piece TP missed. The LAT leads with a few small barriers in the search for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. For one thing, he appears to have a better intel network than the U.S. or Iraq. “They are watching every time we recruit an Iraqi to come back and inform to us about where he has been and what he has seen,” said one U.S. counterintel official. “And every time we have been able to do that, the person has ended up dead.” USA Todayleads with Major League Baseball and the players union agreeing on a tougher steroids policy, including a three-strikes rule. The agreement came after the Senate threatened to impose its own penalties.

As an analysis in the WP emphasizes, Republican leadership could have simply defeated the Democratic bill on Iraq and “left it at that.” The fact that they didn’t means nothing good for the White House.

Tossed into the larger coverage of the Iraq Senate bill are details about the Senate’s passage of a “compromise” amendment on the treatment of Gitmo detainees. It essentially blesses the Gitmo tribunals, which have been heavily criticized by lawyer-types, and gives the detainees some access to U.S. courts. Detainees will be allowed to challenge their designations as enemy combatants. But TP doesn’t see anybody ask an obvious question: What recourse, if any, would a detainee have if he’s being held but hasn’t yet been declared an enemy combatant?

One of those who objected to the detainee bill: Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who declared it “untenable and unthinkable,” because, he argued, it would eliminate Supreme Court jurisdiction over detainees’ legal cases.

In any case, all these Iraq and detainee measures are amendments to the overall defense budget bill, as is the McCain amendment on the treatment of detainees. And now they’ll face negotiators from the House.  

As the LAT emphasizes, Iraq’s prime minister said there will be an investigation pronto into the Interior Ministry dungeon. But the head of the Interior Ministry, who is the former head of a Shiite militia, said the “allegations” were just Sunni propaganda.

Most of those found were Sunni, while the forces at the building were apparently affiliated with a Shiite militia. As the LAT noted, a U.S. general promised to “hit every single” ministry building, looking for abused prisoners.

There are “allegedly” bad headlines in the torture stories. For example, the Post: “TORTURE ALLEGED AFTER U.S.-LED RAID UNCOVERS IRAQI-RUN PRISON.” As NYT notes, “An Interior Ministry statement said flatly that torture had occurred.” So, what’s it take to move something from an allegation to an apparent fact?

One final point on the torture coverage: The papers mention that there have long been “rumors” about torture by the new Iraqi government. What there has also been is scant coverage of the torture that’s been documented. Human Rights Watch released a report early this year titled “Torture and Ill-treatment of Detainees in Iraqi Custody.” Judging from a quickie Nexis search, of the majors only the WP gave it more than wire copy. And then there was the time six months before that when GIs witnessed and photographed Iraqi police torturing prisoners. The Oregonian reported the story, and the national papers let it fly by. The guy the Oregonian suggested was behind the abuse: the then-head of the Interior Ministry.

Though nobody seems to headline it, the military announced that six troops have been killed in Iraq in the last two days: Three Marines were killed in the offensive near the Syrian border, and three GIs were killed by a roadside bomb near Baghdad. The Post also mentions that 46 men were found bound and executed; a police official said all were Sunni.

In today’s most bizarre story, the WP says below-the-fold that nominal WP reporter Bob Woodward testified earlier this week that a “senior administration official”—not Karl or Scooter—told him about Valerie Plame a month before she was outed. Though Woodward said he was told “casually” and didn’t know Plame was undercover, it now appears that, contrary to what the special prosecutor said in his press conference, Woodwardwas the first reporter to be told about Plame’s identity.

Woodward apparently didn’t tell his bosses about the chat until recently. And he only testified after his source, who the WP won’t name, talked to the special prosecutor. The fact that Woodward was involved and first obviously means … who knows? In any case, Woodward was a bit of a talking head during the height of the leak-investigation speculation and didn’t happen to mention his role.

The WP goes Page One with documents showing that oil companies did indeed meet with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force back in 2001. The White House has always refused to talk about any such meetings, and some oil execs said last week in congressional hearings that they sure didn’t recall any such confabs.

A front-page USAT piece previews a government report reminder that “nearly all” cargo on airlines goes unchecked for little things like, say, explosives. 

Bob-ing and Weaving … The Post publishes a letter from Woodward about his role in the Plame saga. The WP’s story adds this:

Woodward declined to elaborate on the statement he released to The Post late yesterday afternoon and publicly last night. He would not answer any questions, including those not governed by his confidentiality agreement with sources.