Today's Papers

Nothing To Mullah Over

The Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox and New York Times lead with the White House’s formal rollout of CIA chief nominee Gen. Michael Hayden, which is also the top nonlocal story in the Washington Post. The Los Angeles Timesleads with the White House appearing to toss a letter from Iran’s president into the circular file, with officials saying it was just a meandering mishmash, a sense that the WSJ, which looked at the letter, confirms. “This letter is not the place that one would find an opening to engage on the nuclear issue or anything of the sort,” said Secretary of State Rice. USA Todayleads with about a dozen states now considering requiring cigarette makers to sell only “fire-safe” smokes that quickly go out if nobody is puffing. The tobacco companies, as it happens, have long fought such requirements.

Hayden’s nomination hasn’t generated warm fuzzies among Republicans, with the head of the House intel committee calling Hayden “the wrong man at the wrong place at the wrong time.” As part of its bid to win back support, the White House also announced who they’ll nominate as Hayden’s deputy: a longtime, well-regarded CIA guy who left after the now-dearly departed Porter Goss came aboard.

Republicans critical of the nomination have mainly pointed to the fact that Hayden is a military man and thus shouldn’t head a civilian agency. But as Slate’s Fred Kaplan notes, there have been some heads of the CIA who were military men. The Republicans’ real beef seems to center to around a turf battle, namely an attempt by Hayden’s current boss, intel czar John Negroponte, to gain more control of the intel apparatus and to cut off the Pentagon’s push into worldwide spying and manhunting. Of course there’s the not-tiny issue that Hayden, as head of the National Security Agency, was one of the architects of the warrantless wiretapping program.

A WP editorial takes a bold stance: “Gen. Hayden’s nomination deserves a careful and fair review by Congress.”

The CIA also confirmed yesterday that the agency’s No.3, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, is moving from reading classified papers to theclassifieds—the kind that’s on Craig’s List. Foggo had been a surprise appointment by Goss, and he’s now under investigation in connection with a defense contractor’s potential bribes (and apparent hooker-filled parties).

The WSJ says Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s letter doesn’t include any real proposals but does have a section speculating that the 9/11 attacks couldn’t have happened “without coordination” or “infiltration” of U.S. intel agencies. “Of course this is just an educated guess,” he wrote. (Is the White House going to release the letter? How about the Wall Street Journal?)

Not that detailed invitations to talk would have mattered much. “We don’t have anything to say to Iran until they give up their pursuit of nuclear weapons,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton.

USAT flags what seems to be a bit of little-appreciated history: Three years ago, Iran proposed wide-ranging negotiations, including over the nuclear issue. The Bush administration, according to one national-security official involved at the time, refused to talk.

As for why Ahmadinejad tried to get a new pen pal, everybody cites the White House’s explanation that Iran is just trying to muck up U.S. attempts to tighten the screws at the Security Council. That’s probably part of it. But the Post also notices a domestic component. “With such a letter,” says the WP, “he is following the example of the prophet Muhammad, who was known to write even to his enemies.” Apparently, 2006 (or its equivalent) has been designated the “Year of the Prophet.”

The papers all go inside with rioting at a Darfur refugee camp as a top U.N. official visited. A translator for African Union peacekeepers was hacked to death by a mob a few hours after the official left. The rioters were demanding that a more heavily armed U.N. contingent replace that almost symbolic African Union force.

There was a similar protest at another Darfur camp, and the NYT offers glimpses of a more complex picture: “The population of the camp is mostly of the Fur ethnic group, the same tribe as the leader of a rebel group that refused to sign the [Darfur] peace agreement. … One banner denounced the leader of the rebel faction that did sign the agreement.”

Tensions are also increased at the camps since the U.N. has been forced to cut food aid to near-starvation levels because of lack of donations. Acknowledging the situation, President Bush ordered more emergency aid to be sent and said he’ll ask Congress for another $225 million in support.

The LAT fronts the top U.S. ground commander in Iraq telling his officers that some U.S. troops have been their “own worst enemy” becauseof how they’ve dealt with Iraqis.  “We have to understand that the way we treat Iraqis has a direct effect on the number of insurgents that we are fighting,” he said. The NYT had a similar piece last week flagging the general’s stance.

About 30 civilians were killed in Iraq, including about a dozen who were found executed in Baghdad. The military also announced that two GIs were killed.

Everybody goes inside with Zacarias Moussaoui trying to withdraw his guilty plea, saying he lied about his involvement in 9/11. Moussaoui explained his change, “I had thought that I would be sentenced to death based on the emotions and anger toward me for the deaths on Sept. 11, but after reviewing the jury verdict and reading how the jurors set aside their emotions and disgust for me and focused on the law and the evidence that was presented during the trial, I came to understand that the jury process was more complex than I had assumed.” Federal rules say defendants can’t change their pleas after sentencing, so the judge tossed Moussaoui’s bid.