Today's Papers

Murder They Charged

The New York Timesand Washington Postlead, while the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with military prosecutors charging four U.S. Marines with murder relating to the deaths of 24 people in the Iraqi town of Haditha. Four officers were also charged with failing to investigate the killings. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally but off-leads the charges.

USA Todayleads with an analysis of Census estimates that show more than half of the country’s population growth in the last year took place in southern states. The estimates also reveal 219,563 people left Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, which is the largest annual decline in any state since World War II. Arizona became the fastest-growing state, a position that had been held by Nevada for the last 19 years. Additionally, North Carolina pushed New Jersey out of the list of the 10 most populous states. 

Everyone notes the military charges, in particular against those accused of failing to investigate the killings, are unusually aggressive. “I definitely think the Marine Corps is sending a message to commanders … that they better pay close attention to the activities of their subordinates to ensure that there was no wrongdoing,” an expert tells the NYT. To recap: On Nov. 19, 2005, a Marine was killed in an ambush and members of his unit then proceeded to attack a car and three nearby houses. In total, 24 people were killed, including several women, six children, and an elderly man in a wheelchair. The Marines initially said the deaths were the result of a bombing and a gunfight. The military only began to investigate after Time published a story in March questioning their version of events. Both the LAT and WP credit the role of Time in breaking the story, something the NYT and USAT fail to mention.

The Marines were charged with multiple killings. Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, 26, faces 13 counts of unpremeditated murder. According to the LAT, prosecutors said Wuterich allegedly gave the order to “shoot first and ask questions later.” The WP includes some discussion on why the Marines were charged with unpremeditated murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. “I think they know they can’t prove premeditated murder, because you need to prove intent,” an expert said. Defense lawyers insist the Marines were merely following the rules of engagement and that mistakes were made in the heat of the moment.  

The WP goes inside with word that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Defense Secretary Robert Gates U.S. generals should decide whether there ought to be a “surge” of U.S. troops in Iraq. The Iraqi defense minister said he could be open to the idea. “I did not say no to an increase in the number of U.S. troops … if we need it, we need it.” Everyone notes Gates met with a group of enlisted soldiers and asked for their opinions. They all said more troops should be sent to Iraq.

Everyone notes a suicide bomber killed 15 police recruits in Baghdad yesterday. In addition, the U.S. military announced the death of three more U.S. service members.

Also in Iraq yesterday, cleric Muqtada Sadr announced he was ending a three-week boycott and is allowing his supporters to return to their positions in the Iraqi government.

The LAT interviewed Iran’s ambassador in Baghdad, who said there is no need for his country to talk to the United States about ending the violence in Iraq. The ambassador says Iran is already going ahead with plans on how to stabilize the country. “We have our own well-defined polices about Iraq. We have never waited for a Mr. Baker or someone else to offer talks,” he said.

All the papers mention the unexpected death of Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan’s authoritarian president. The gas-rich country is essential to European energy supplies and the succession is being watched closely by the industry. In what is being characterized as the early signs of a power struggle, officials announced they were opening a criminal investigation against the speaker of the parliament’s lower house, who, according to constitutional rules, should become acting president. In the WP’s op-ed page, Masha Lipman characterizes Niyazov as a “tyrant par excellence.”

The NYT fronts word that Democratic leaders are lavishing special attention on the newly elected members of Congress who won by a small margin in districts where President Bush did well in 2004. It is all part of an “incumbent retention program” that is giving these members of Congress good committee assignments, sponsorship in important bills, and an early start on fund-raising for the 2008 election. Democrats are taking special care of these members to try to make sure they don’t lose the majority in 2008.

Incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is planning four days of celebration surrounding her swearing-in on Jan. 4, reports the Post on Page One. The WP is quick to emphasize it will all be “more than just a party.” It will be a chance for Pelosi to show the new face of her party and start shaping the Democratic image for the 2008 elections. 

The WP notices Raul Castro told university students in Havana they should debate “fearlessly,” raising questions about how much Cuban politics will change after the death of his brother. Raul emphasized Fidel is “irreplaceable” and noted the need for a “unified command” but also said “that doesn’t mean that discussions can’t happen.”

The LAT fronts word that many seeking asylum in the United States are having their petitions rejected because of a law passed after the Sept. 11 attacks that denies anyone who ever provided “material support” to terrorist groups. And it makes no distinction on why this support was provided. For example, Liberian women who were forced to cook and clean for rebels, are seen as having provided material support even though they might have been raped and their family members killed.

Earlier this week, Flynt Leverett, a former CIA analyst who was a senior director at the National Security Council, complained that the White House was trying to silence his criticism of its Iran policy by saying an op-ed piece he had written with his wife contained classified material. Today, the NYT publishes the piece, but, unusually, decides to show readers what sections of the op-ed were redacted by the White House. In an accompanying piece, the authors insist there is nothing classified in their piece and put up links to several articles to show that what they said in the redacted portions was already in the public domain. The authors argue the United States was able to work successfully with Iran on Afghanistan but the Bush administration failed to capitalize on this good will by “targeting the Islamic Republic for prospective ‘regime change.’ ” The authors think it’s important for the United States to engage Iran and insist there is a limited window of opportunity.

The approaching end of the year means the papers are publishing their lists with the memorable moments of 2006. Today, the LAT amusingly takes a look at the worst in movies, television, and music. The WSJ lists the best and worst ads of the year.