Today's Papers

Snoop Scoop

The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Los Angeles Times all lead with the Iraqi elections, which featured heavy Sunni turnout and were overall “strikingly peaceful.” There were 35 insurgent attacks reported yesterday, half the daily average. USA Today teases the election and leads with a piece pointing out that many states do a really poor job of enforcing fire-safety standards at assisted-living facilities. The paper crunched data and found an average of one fatal fire per month in the industry.

Initial reports had overall turnout at about 70 percent. In January’s elections it was 58 percent. The difference was Sunnis. In Ramadi, long an insurgent hotbed, voting was so strong some stations ran out of ballots by noon. (Don’t worry, extras were shipped in.)

The NYT has a fascinating piece from Ramadi:

Tribal chiefs assumed the responsibility for security at polling centers, replacing American and Iraqi government troops with locally hired armed guards. Residents had said that the heavy involvement of American and Iraqi troops in the referendum process in October had intimidated many voters from going to the polls.

The Post also has a tidbit from Ramadi, where there were some particularly persuasive get-out-the-vote workers: “Masked guerrillas of the anti-U.S. Iraqi Islamic Army movement, wearing tracksuits and toting AK-47 assault rifles, went out among houses to encourage people to vote. Witnesses said the guerrillas told them: ‘Do not be afraid, we will protect you.’ ”

The NYT’s John Burns observes/argues that not only are Sunnis distancing themselves from al-Qaida-type groups, “many seemed to agree on the possibility of reconciliation between the Americans and the Sunnis.” Said one Sunni storeowner, “Let’s have stability, and then the Americans can go home.”

The Times also cites polls suggesting that “most Iraqi voters were voting along demographic lines.” But Reuters did some exit polling (albeit with just 500 voters). The results have the Shiite coalition in the lead, as expected, but with former prime minister and secularist Iyad Allawi running a close second.

In a big Page One takeout, the NYT says that for nearly four years the White House has been allowing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on some U.S. citizens without first getting court warrants. The snooping was limited to calls made to overseas. It was all part of a counter-terrorism effort and is, apparently, of questionable constitutionality. One of the curious things about the program is that there is already a special court that issues national-security-related subpoenas and has a much lower threshold for evidence than regular courts. That court has rarely—if ever—turned down a subpoena request.

Finally, the Times’ snoop scoop has this:

The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted.

What changed after a year?

The WP chases the NYT’s scoop and posted its own take late last night. One expert on national security (who is also a civil liberties activist) told the paper, “This is, I believe, the first time a president has authorized government agencies to violate a specific criminal prohibition and eavesdrop on Americans.”

Everybody gives front-page play to the White House conceding defeat and agreeing to Sen. McCain’s amendment banning “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” treatment any of detainee in U.S. custody, anywhere. The White House had spent the past few months threatening to veto it and more recently to water it down. Then earlier this week, the House joined the Senate in overwhelmingly supporting the amendment. After that, the White House announced McCain’s proposal was the cat’s meow. “We’ve been happy to work with him to achieve a common objective,” said the president, who had McCain over to the White House to … celebrate.

As a WP editorial reminds, there are still potential loopholes to McCain. For one thing, the administration has a minimalist approach toward what constitutes “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” treatment. And as Slate’s Emily Bazelon details, an amendment set to be approved along with McCain’s contains a “big, fat exception” on detainee treatment. Namely, it specifically allows military tribunals to use testimony gained through “coercion.”

The papers front the White House announcing it will double spending on New Orleans levees to about $3 billion. As TP noted when USAT previewed the announcement yesterday, the administration was vague about the level of protection that will be added. And the papers offer different assessments. “That’s not going to come close to protecting New Orleans, let alone the other areas,” said an engineer quoted the NYT (and who’s working for Louisiana). But the Post says that while the feds dodged the question of Cat-5-level protection, most people seem pleased with the amount of dough promised. “We now have the commitment and the funding for hurricane protection at a level we have never had before,” said New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

Everybody goes high with news that the cloned human embryonic stem cells purportedly created by a South Korean researcher appear to have been bogus. The scientist will reportedly cop to it today.

Back to the NYT’s spy revelations … The Times held the story for the year. They must be happy their competition flew right past this:

At an April hearing on the Patriot Act renewal, Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the F.B.I., “Can the National Security Agency, the great electronic snooper, spy on the American people?” “Generally,” Mr. Mueller said, “I would say generally, they are not allowed to spy or to gather information on American citizens.”

Emphasis added.