Today's Papers

Courting Disaster

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New York Timesall lead with a judge suspending the sentencing phase of accused 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui’s trial after prosecutors told her a lawyer on their team coached witnesses. The judge could throw out the possibility of a death sentence, as defense lawyers have requested. She could also exclude the testimony from the involved witnesses, or she could do nothing. USA Todayleads with an interesting in-house analysis showing enrollment in federal aid programs—such as Medicaid and food stamp assistance—increasing 17 percent during the last five years (compared with 5 percent overall population growth). The paper attributes the uptick to little-noticed expanded eligibility rules, and then there’s the fact that the poverty rate has gone up, too.

“In all the years I have been on the bench,” Moussaoui’s judge told the courtroom, “I have never seen such an egregious violation.” One of the lawyers for the government had sent witnesses e-mails telling them what to say and, as it happens, trash-talking the government’s case. “We’re really not in a position to defend her conduct,” said the lead prosecutor. The government is asserting that hadMoussaoui told FBI agents back before 9/11 that al-Qaida was interested in suicide hijackings, the FAA might have instituted tighter security and the attacks might have been thwarted. The lawyer who coached the witnesses is an aviation expert and said in the e-mails that the argument was way dubious, or she put it, big enough to “drive a truck through.”

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick has repeatedly detailed the government’s bumblings on the Moussaoui case: “Why is it that Moussaoui’s story hasn’t changed much in four years, while the government has downgraded him from hijacker to secret-keeper?”

The LAT picks up rumblings—and not really more than that—that despite all the tough talk, Iran might be interested in negotiations with the U.S. President Ahmadinejad didn’t exactly say he wants Bush over for tea, but what the paper does have is non-top-dog politicians saying talks would be fabulous. “We have no problems in negotiating on nuclear issues, and also issues of interest to Muslims, things that will bring calm to the region, provided that they are honest and that Mr. Bush does not harangue us,” said one conservative politician not particularly close to power. As for the U.S.’s  possible interest, Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton did not quite suggest it was there, saying, “I don’t think we have anything to say to the Iranians.”

Meanwhile, the NYT notes that Iran is sticking its tongue out at the U.N. Security Council and making the reasonable bet that the council won’t be able to agree on sanctions.

Finally, the WP goes Page One with Iranian dissidents inside the country complaining, as many have suggested from the outset, that the U.S.’s funding of opposition groups is counterproductive. “This is something we all know, that a way of dealing with human rights activists is to claim they have secret relations with foreign powers,” said one activist in Tehran. “This very much limits our actions. It is very dangerous to our society.”

The military announced the deaths of a GI and a Marine in Iraq. Meanwhile, four men—suspected of being insurgents—were beaten, killed, and hanged from lampposts in Baghdad’s Shiite-dominated Sadr City. Also, Britain announced it will send 800 troops home, about 10 percent of its total force in Iraq.

The WP, alone, fronts the president’s latest speech and tries to squeeze some news out of it, declaring “President Bush vowed for the first time yesterday to turn over most of Iraq to newly trained Iraqi troops by the end of this year.” “BUSH SETS TARGET FOR TRANSITION IN IRAQ,” announces the Post.

Here’s what the president said: “As more capable Iraqi police and soldiers come on line, they will assume responsibility for more territory with the goal of having the Iraqis control more territory than the coalition by the end of 2006.” Nobody else gives significant play to that, and for good reason: Bush’s talk of a general “goal” aside, the amount of territory transferred is not a particularly telling metric. As the NYT astutely notes, “The target could be misleading because the sectarian violence is concentrated in small but strategically crucial parts of the country.”

The Post, USAT,and LAT all go Page One with a study concluding that the cholesterol-lowering drug Crestor appears to actually help clear up clogged arteries. Though the study was apparently done independently, it was sponsored by Crestor’s maker, and critics pointed out there wasn’t a control group. Still, most observers seem excited about the results. “This is the first study showing you can take a pill for two years and get some actual reversal of disease. It really supports aggressive treatment,” said one specialist.

The NYT goes Page One with what seems to be a handful of universities opening up minorities scholarships to all students. The schools, apparently, are afraid of lawsuits.

Making up for its credulous coverage yesterday, the NYT off-leads word that a toxicologist who tested Slobodan Milosevic a few months ago concluded he was secretly taking pills to keep his blood pressure high so he could then demand to have treatment in Russia where his family is. “He wanted to go to Moscow on a one-way trip,” said the doc.

And then there’s Eric Sharon … From the NYT:

A report in the “Arts, Briefly” column in Weekend on Friday about a visit to Israel by the actress Sharon Stone misstated the given name of the former Israeli prime minister who founded the Peres Center for Peace, which sponsored the visit. He is Shimon Peres, not Simon.