Today's Papers

All Shook Up

The New York Times and Washington Post lead with the military’s investigation of four soldiers accused of raping and killing an Iraqi civilian and killing her family. (The Los Angeles Times fronts this.) The LAT leads with news that California’s Office of Homeland Security had been monitoring political protests as part of an anti-terrorism strategy.

Four soldiers of the 502nd Infantry Regiment are alleged to have raped an Iraqi woman, killed her and three family members (including a child), and burned the family’s house with the bodies inside. The killings—which the accused soldiers had blamed on “insurgent activity”—took place March 12 in Mahmudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad. (A local resident tells the Post that the woman was a schoolteacher.) On June 23, two (uninvolved) soldiers from the 502nd came forward with the allegations, and the Army began investigating the next day.

(The NYT says that one soldier has confessed and been arrested, while the other three are confined to base without weapons. The Post says that one soldier has been discharged for unrelated reasons and that none of the accused has been arrested or confined. The LAT reports yet another variation.)

Last month, insurgents near Mahmudiya abducted and killed two soldiers from the same platoon as the accused. The NYT says that the accused soldiers’ involvement in the March 12 killings came to light during “counseling-type sessions” conducted after the mutilated bodies of the abducted soldiers were recovered.

Everybody notes that this is the fourth criminal investigation into soldier misconduct announced by the Pentagon in June. The Post and LAT remark that this most recent investigation may be the particularly incendiary because it involves an alleged sex crime against a Muslim woman.

Three American soldiers were killed by insurgents Wednesday and Thursday. According to the Post, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on his followers to go to the Sunni stronghold of Samarra to repair the Shiite mosque that was bombed there in February, setting off weeks of sectarian violence.

The LAT obtained two daily intelligence reports commissioned by California’s Office of Homeland Security, which is run by the state but financed mostly by the feds. The agency commissioned a private company to conduct counterterrorism analysis, and the company’s reports include summaries of news stories and lists of anti-war and animal-rights protests. The state attorney general’s office (which learned about the protest monitoring two months ago and had it ended) as well as Gov. Schwarzenegger’s office (which claimed ignorance of the reports) denounced the practice.

The civil-liberties fears cited in the LAT story seem overblown to this TP writer. The whole project appears more amateurish than nefarious—more Keystone Cops than Hoover FBI. Based on the paper’s description of them, the reports appear to have been created by high-priced security consultants who cobbled together useless public information, then dressed up their “findings” as intelligence to fulfill a (probably cushy) government contract. The victims here aren’t the anti-war activists spied upon so much as the California taxpayers who underwrote the pointless spying.

The NYT fronts the suspension of seven Tour de France riders—virtually all of this year’s favorites—a day before the race begins. Tour officials made the ruling after Spanish authorities implicated the riders in a doping investigation. The suspended cyclists include those who finished second, third, fourth, and fifth behind last year’s winner, the now-retired Lance Armstrong.

The NYT and LAT run an identical article on their op-ed pages—a defense of the media’s right to publish exposés of secret government programs. The article is co-authored by the papers’ editors, Bill Keller and Dean Baquet. It cites the Pentagon Papers case and emphasizes the deliberation with which editors make publication decisions. It notes that reporters working on such stories live in cities targeted by terrorists, and that the papers often withhold information to allay government officials’ national-security concerns:

The New York Times has held articles that, if published, might have jeopardized efforts to protect vulnerable stockpiles of nuclear material, and articles about highly sensitive counterterrorism initiatives that are still in operation. In April, the Los Angeles Times withheld information about American espionage and surveillance activities in Afghanistan discovered on computer drives purchased by reporters in an Afghan bazaar.

All four papers note USA Today’s partial retraction of a national-security story from May 15. That story reported the existence of a National Security Agency database of all domestic phone calls made by customers of most of the country’s major telecoms. The companies participated voluntarily, and the database did not include the content of the calls. (TP’s summary of the May 15 story is here.) In Friday’s edition, USAT editors confirmed the gist of the story—the NSA does have a gargantuan database of calls—but reported that Bell South and Verizon did not participate in the program, as originally reported. AT&T and MCI, a Verizon subsidiary, do participate. Most of the paper’s new information came from members of Senate and House intelligence committees.

Think Washington D.C.’s emergency response system has gotten any better since the Jan. 6 death of former NYT reporter David Rosenbaum? According to Post columnist Colbert King, the Rosenbaum snafu is the tip of the iceberg.

The Post and NYT front a photo of the debonair Junichiro Koizumi, prime minister of Japan, doing an Elvis impersonation at Graceland as an amused but slightly uncomfortable President Bush looks on. (Bush halted Koizumi’s rendition of “Love Me Tender” before it could get out of hand.) The NYT’s piece links to a wonderfully surreal audio slide show.