Today's Papers

Jailhouse Iraq

USA Todayleads with the Pentagon’s plans to spend $300 million spreading pro-U.S. messages, often without IDing the U.S. as the source. “While the product may not carry the label, ‘Made in the USA,’ we will respond truthfully if asked” by journalists, said the commander in charge of the program. The New York Timesleads with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, saying American officers will inspect hundreds of Iraqi prisons. He made the commitment after saying that “over 100” of the mostly Sunni prisoners found at an Interior Ministry prison last month had been tortured, a higher number than the U.S. has previously acknowledged. “It was far worse than slapping around,” said Khalilzad.

The Washington Post leads with a Transportation Security Administration test program to send uniformed agents along with air marshals to look out for terrorists on trains, buses, and subways in selected spots across the country. The TSA said the program isn’t in response to any specific threat, but rather they’re just trying to help out. Not everybody is thrilled. “In one word, this is absurd,” said one top security consultant. “They don’t have enough air marshals to carry out the mission they are supposed to do.” The Los Angeles Timesleads with a bill in California’s Assembly that would impose a three-year moratorium on executions in the state. The bill is going to be considered by a committee next month, but it has actually been sitting around for a while, and its chance are unclear. (For the record: The LAT has a wee habit of leading with controversial bills whose chances are somewhere been slim and zilch.)

USAT says the Pentagon’s propaganda effort will include newspaper, radio, and other standard venues. But $300 million buys more than that. Also on the drawing board, says USAT, ” ‘novelty items’ such as T-shirts and bumper stickers.” In fairness, and in a point the paper is slow to get to, while the contracts have been awarded, no specific plans have been greenlighted yet.

USAT takes a brief look at the companies that have been assigned the $300 million project. One of them is named the now-often-cited Lincoln Group, which started two years ago and had “no experience in public relations, advertising or other media work.” One of the group’s founders is a 30-year-old guy who’s been active in the Republican Party. Meanwhile, during the bidding process, one of the companies asked the Pentagon if the military will “protect them from U.S. and foreign media inquiries.”

Ambassador Khalilzad said the U.S. will now have American advisers embedded with the Iraqi commando groups that have been implicated in the torture. Given that there have long been complaints against the units, the NYT wonders why that hasn’t happened before: “When the issue has been pressed with American commanders, they have said the effective use of limited American troops has meant that ‘hard choices’ had been made on where embedded American units were most needed.”

The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the likely high Sunni turnout in tomorrow’s elections. About a thousand Sunni clerics issued a call yesterday to vote. The Journal figures Sunnis might become kingmakers in a coalition government since the Shiite coalition probably won’t get an outright majority of votes. A front-page NYT piece from Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit gives similar feeling of Sunni involvement. “Democracy is not very good,” said local official, “but it’s better than nothing.”

The NYT quotes an anonymous Interior Ministry official saying that Iraqi border police caught a truck crossing from Iran stuffed with ballots. Also, a Sunni candidate was assassinated in Ramadi as some insurgent groups warned people against voting. Other guerrilla groups said they won’t attack polling stations. Finally, though the papers all but skip it, four GIs were killed in Iraq yesterday.

Presumably afflicted by Not Created Here Syndrome, none of the papers seem to flag a fascinating poll about Iraq taken by Iraqis. Respondents were overall pretty darn optimistic about Iraq’s future, and they want the U.S. gone pretty darn badly.

The NYT fronts a curious piece reporting that the Army Field Manual includes a new, classified set of interrogation methods that, according to one defense official, “go right up to the edge.” The Times suggests that the new rules could somehow muck up negotiations for any anti-torture amendment since the law mainly mandates that all U.S. personnel follow the manual.  “This is a stick in McCain’s eye,” said that same defense official. “He’s not going to be comfortable with this.”

It’s hard to know what to make of the NYT’s interrogation piece. For one thing, the Times says it doesn’t know any details on the new methods. Rather, the paper goes after the guidelines by saying they are so “specific” they will “help teach [interrogators] how to walk right up to the line between legal and illegal interrogations.” But couldn’t it be the opposite, that in detailing what’s permissible soldiers would simply be taught what’s appropriate?

Double-twist! Doublespeak! Double-entendre! The NYT says that Secretary of State Rice seems to have backed away from her recent reassuring—but as this TPer argued, misleading and ultimately empty—comments on detainee treatment. Rice said yesterday, “We should be prepared to do anything that is legal to prevent another terrorist attack.” The Times:

Some State Department officials dismissed any suggestion of major policy shifts. “She was not breaking any new ground,” a senior State Department official said. “Do not read this in a tortured, convoluted and contrived way.”