Today's Papers

Patriot Act Intermission

The Los Angeles Times and USA Today lead with the Senate, in a setback for the administration, agreeing to extend the Patriot Act for six months while negotiations continue on adding civil liberties protections. The New York Times(national edition), Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox, and Washington Postlead with the Senate narrowly turning down an administration-backed effort to open ANWR to drilling, while the GOP barely eked out a win on a $40 billion budget-cut bill. Five Republicans opposed the cuts, which targeted student loans, Medicaid, and Medicare and will take place over five years. Vice President Cheney cast the swing vote.

Though most of the papers play the Patriot deal as a compromise, that seems more the press release version than reality. The LAT doesn’t play along, saying right up top that the deal was “a major setback for the White House.”

The Patriot Act had been set to expire in a few weeks. The White House had opposed any short-term extension, instead insisting that Congress accept a mostly permanent version of the law sans extra protections (otherwise, GOP leaders said, the Act dies). But Dems and a handful of Republican allies had enough votes to filibuster the White House’s bill. The filibuster crew ended up agreeing to a small compromise—a six-month extension for the Act rather than the three months initially proposed. Nevertheless, the White House was presented with a fait accompli.  

The NYT and WP front a conservative federal appeals court issuing a smackdown to the White House, refusing to grant the administration’s request that “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla be moved into the civilian court system. The court said the switch can’t happen until at least the Supreme Court hears the case. The White House had tried to move Padilla out of the brig just days before the Supreme Court had been set to hear his case, which would have been—and still may be—a constitutional showdown in which the administration does not appear likely to come out ahead. Yesterday the court—the same one that had concluded the government has the power to hold Padilla indefinitely—wrote that the White House’s attempt to move him gives “rise to at least an appearance that the purpose of these actions may be to avoid consideration of our decision by the Supreme Court.”

Everybody mentions that Saddam Hussein charged in court yesterday that he’s been tortured by GIs. “I have been beaten on every part of my body, and the marks are still all over me,” said Hussein. He didn’t exactly show the evidence. A top U.S. official at the trial said “any allegation, no matter how suspect” will be investigated.

The NYT goes inside with some officials at the National Security Agency squirming uncomfortably about the apparently limited domestic snooping ordered by the president and carried out by, of course, the National Security Agency. The officials—who go unquoted—seem to be perplexed about why the administration didn’t seek special national security FISA warrants. They also offered more details about the program. From the Times:

After all, officials who have been granted anonymity in describing the program because it is classified say the agency’s recent domestic eavesdropping is focused on a limited group of people. Americans come to the program’s attention only if they have received a call or e-mail message from a person overseas who is already suspected to be a member of certain terrorist groups or linked somehow to a member of such groups. And the agency still gets a warrant to intercept their calls or e-mail messages to other people in the United States.

The Post says on Page One that the judge in charge of the FISA national security court is “arranging” a meeting between her fellow judges and the administration in order to, as the Post puts it, address the judges’ “concerns about the legality” of the snooping. “The questions are obvious,” said one judge. “What have you been doing, and how might it affect the reliability and credibility of the information we’re getting in our court?” On Monday, one of the 10 FISA judges resigned in protest.

The Post actually mentions after the fold that the White House did give the chief FISA judge at the time a heads-up when it started the program. But that has not exactly placated the other judges. “The president at first said he didn’t want to talk about it,” said one. “Now he says, ‘You’re darn right I did it, and it’s completely legal.’ I gather he’s got lawyers telling him this is legal. I want to hear those arguments.”