Today's Papers

Presidential Intent

The Los Angeles Timesand Washington Postlead with news that a divided U.N. Security Council voted to establish an international tribunal to prosecute those suspected of carrying out the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. It will be the first tribunal of its kind in the Middle East. The New York Times leads with a new study that reveals that U.S. immigration courts are anything but consistent when dealing with asylum seekers. When deciding who should get asylum, there are troubling differences between courts and the specific judge who hears a case.

USA Todayleads with word that the new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles that have been touted as better protection from roadside explosions are vulnerable to a new type of bomb, which is known as an explosively formed penetrator. The military has prioritized getting these new vehicles to Iraq and has vowed to spend millions in the effort, but now it seems they will have to be outfitted with more armor. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi troops who entered Baghdad’s Sadr City  yesterday and aggresively searched for the five British citizens who were kidnapped in Iraq Tuesday. There is growing suspicion that cleric Muqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia  was responsible for the well-coordinated kidnapping.  

Ten of the Security Council’s 15 countries voted to approve the tribunal, while five, including Russia and China, abstained, saying that it would unnecessarily interfere with domestic politics, which would lead only to more internal conflict in Lebanon. The prospect of a tribunal has caused much debate in Lebanon’s parliament as many pro-Syrian leaders have vehemently opposed an international investigation. Analysts interviewed by the Post predict that violence is likely to increase in the coming months. The LAT, meanwhile, brings up Iraq and notes that, for the Bush administration, “raising tensions with Syria … could prove costly on other fronts.”

The study of asylum seekers reveals that courts in some states may be more willing to grant asylum to specific nationalities than others, and the differences aren’t minor. For example, a Chinese asylum seeker has a 76 percent chance of success in a court in Orlando, Fla., while in Atlanta it’s a mere 7 percent. These same striking differences exist between different judges in the same court, as female judges are much more likely to grant asylum than their male colleagues. “Oftentimes, it’s just the luck of the draw,” the executive director of a legal assistance group tells the NYT. The study’s authors say the discrepancies are more disconcerting now because changes instituted by the Bush administration in 2002 resulted in a lower likelihood of successful appeals.

Everyone notes that Fred Thompson has stepped up his efforts to seek the Republican nomination for president, and USAT fronts an interview with  the actor  in which he states his intentions to run. The former Tenneessee senator wants to be seen as an outsider and appeal to people who, like him, are disillusioned with politicians. The Law & Order star hasn’t officially announced his candidacy, but, as the WP and NYT also front, Thompson told supporters that he’s creating a committee to raise money for the race. The conventional wisdom is that no Republican candidate has really stood out as a front-runner, and the news that Thompson was stepping into the fray “sent ripples through the party,” says the NYT. Although he does plan to bring back the famous red pickup from his Senate campaign, he will now focus his efforts on the Internet, which will allow him “to cut through the clutter and go right to the people,” Thompson said.

The LAT fronts a look at how the former U.S. attorney for Minnesota, Tom Heffelfinger, who was frequently praised as an effective prosecutor, ended up on the infamous Department of Justice list of U.S. attorneys who could be fired. It increasingly looks like Heffelfinger’s work to protect the voting rights of Native Americans was at least partly to blame. His name appeared on the list only three months after his office began questioning a state directive that would have forbidden tribal ID cards as a valid form of identification at the voting booth. Meanwhile, everyone goes inside with word that an internal Justice Department investigation has broadened and will now look into whether party affiliation played a role in hiring decisions in several areas of the department.

The WSJ goes inside with a look at how U.S. military leaders are currently assessing whether the “surge” strategy can succeed and what they can do to maximize the effectiveness of the recent troop increase in Iraq. Those reviewing the strategy seem to conclude that the United States must take a more hands-on approach to dealing with the Iraqi government and making sure that things get done. If any politicians are impeding progress, U.S. officials should apply pressure until they’re replaced. “We’ve been too passive and deferential to Iraqi sovereignty,” a military official tells the paper.

The LAT is alone in devoting a separate nonwire story to how Bush sees the long-term role for troops in Iraq similar to the presence of the U.S. military in South Korea. American forces have been based in South Korea for more than 50 years, and there are currently 30,000 U.S. troops in that country.

The WP and LAT go inside with news that a NATO helicopter crashed in Afghanistan and killed five American soldiers as well as a Canadian and a Briton. The crash is still under investigation, but the Taliban is claiming responsibility for shooting down the helicopter.

In honor of Fred Thompson, the WP’s Style section takes a look at other actors who used their star power to join politics  and their legacy. The list includes the obvious (Ronald Reagan) but also some that many might have forgotten about (the mechanic on The Dukes of Hazzard).