The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Timeslead, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with senators defeating a Republican amendment that would have removed any reference to a timeline for the withdrawal of combat troops in Iraq from the military spending bill. The final vote was 50-48 as two Republicans and one Democrat split from their party. Republicans had previously said they were not going to try to use parliamentary maneuvers to block the bill, so the Senate now appears ready to pass the legislation as early as today.
USA Todayleads with word that the U.S. military is “quietly” working to increase its ability to attack computer networks, including Web sites, run by terrorists. As is commonly known, terrorists effectively use the Internet to recruit new fighters and publicize their acts. Instead of just monitoring these efforts, the military wants to take a more aggressive approach. It is unclear whether any attacks have been carried out but some worry the effort might hinder intelligence gathering. As one contractor makes clear, the tactic might not be very effective because terrorists could quickly replace any sites that are attacked.
The $122 billion Senate package requires combat troops to begin coming home within 120 days of its enactment and it would set March 31, 2008, as the tentative date for a full pullout. As the Post and NYT clearly explain, Democrats worried that if the Republican amendment had passed, negotiators might have felt pressured to remove any timeline references from the final bill. But now President Bush is likely to get a bill that includes some sort of timeline, which he has repeatedly threatened to veto. The WSJ points out Bush and Congress must reach some sort of compromise by mid-May because that’s when the military will start facing major money problems.
The NYT fronts word from an Iraqi government monitoring group that says some detention centers are holding hundreds of suspects in facilities designed for only dozens of people. The news appears to confirm fears that the new security plan in Baghdad would overwhelm the detention centers. Everyone publishes details of yesterday’s two deadly suicide bombings in Tal Afar. In the most deadly explosion, which killed at least 50 people, the bomber started handing out sacks of flour from a truck, saying it was free aid. He exploded the truck once a crowd had gathered. Also yesterday, a rocket attack in the Green Zone killed an American soldier and a contractor. The U.S. military also announced two Marines were killed in recent days.
The WP and LAT front, while everyone else reefers, White House press secretary Tony Snow’s announcement that his colon cancer has returned and spread to his liver. “He told me that he beat this thing before, and he intends to beat it again,” a tearful Dana Perino, Snow’s deputy, said as she announced the news yesterday. Snow, who was treated for colon cancer in 2005, had gone in for surgery to remove a growth that appeared benign. Everyone says the news comes at a particularly bad time for the embattled administration, which is in dire need of an effective spokesman.
There are few details available about Snow’s condition, but research shows that approximately 60 percent of Stage III colon cancer patients survive five years. As the NYT makes clear, there are no reliable statistics on the survival rate of colon cancer recurrence. In a separate story, the Post says several studies suggest an average survival rate of about two years. But, if he responds well to chemotherapy, Snow might be a candidate for surgery, which could go a long way to prolong his life.
All the papers go inside with the increasing tensions between Britain and Iran over the 15 British sailors and marines that were captured last week. Officials say British Prime Minister Tony Blair is preparing to go public as early as today with evidence that they did not enter Iranian waters. The LAT talks to Iranian officials who say it might be impossible to resolve this issue quickly because the Britons are being held by “conservative elements” of the Revolutionary Guard, which is “outside the normal channels of government.”
The NYT publishes two good follow-up stories about David Hicks, the Australian prisoner at Guantanamo. In one piece, the NYT seeks to answer the question of how a man who seemed ready to argue his defense suddenly changed his mind. Although he’s in a rather unique circumstance, Hicks weighed factors similar to those in civilian courts and, in the end, his guilty plea seems to be about his desire to get home as soon as possible. In another story, the NYT chronicles the life of the high-school dropout, who appeared to be looking for direction and seems to have stumbled into al-Qaida. The LAT quotes someone from Amnesty International who brings up an angle that, while evident, has mostly been missing from the coverage: “The fact that the one white guy is getting to go back to Australia is not going to impress anyone in the Muslim world.”
WP columnist Jim Hoagland wonders why Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah said no when the White House invited him to a gala in his honor. It’s a story that has received scant attention in the papers, but an official flew to Washington last week to explain the cancelation as a scheduling conflict. No one is buying that. Hoagland says it’s “one more warning sign that the Bush administration’s downward spiral at home is undermining its ability to achieve its policy objectives abroad.” And Saudi Arabia’s king is not alone. Jordan’s King Abdullah, who has never been shy about visiting Bush, said he won’t be able to make a state visit that was being discussed for September.