Today's Papers

A Brig Decision

The New York Times leads and the Wall Street Journaltops its world-wide news box with news that a federal appeals court ruled the military cannot indefinitely hold civilians whom the president deems “enemy combatants.” The Washington Post’s top nonlocal story involves Senate Democrats’ failure to move for a vote of no confidence on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ leadership.

The Los Angeles Times leads poll results indicating that Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., remains on track for the Democratic presidential nomination, and that Law and Order star Fred Thompson would trail only front-runner Rudolph Giuliani if he entered the Republican race. USA Today reefers the enemy combatant decision and leads news of Iraqi insurgents targeting bridges in what a military spokesman calls an attempt to erode civilian trust in the Iraqi government.

“We refuse to recognize a claim to power that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our republic,” wrote Judge Diana Gribbon Motz in the appeals panel’s 2-1 majority decision on al-Marri v. Wright, a case brought on behalf of a legal U.S. resident who has been imprisoned since 2001 on suspicions of being an al-Qaida “sleeper agent.” Although Qatari national Ali al-Marri may well be guilty, Motz wrote, his case must be heard by a civilian court. The Bush administration vowed to have the case heard again by the full Fourth Circuit, which the Post notes is one of the country’s most conservative courts.

No big coverage surprises, with each paper giving similar play to civil libertarians hailing the decision and administration officials criticizing it. Only the WSJ notes that al-Marri’s indefinite imprisonment violates a provision of the Patriot Act that authorizes strictly limited detention of “terrorist aliens.” Oddly, the dissenting vote was cast by a judge who was visiting from another federal court; nobody explains whether it’s standard practice for unaffiliated judges to drop by the local courthouse and hear a case or two while they’re in town, or whether Judge Henry Hudson was merely on loan to the Fourth Circuit as part of some judicial Lend-Lease program.

Although seven Republicans voted for the no-confidence resolution, the measure fell seven votes short of the supermajority necessary to move to cloture—an outcome that was really never in doubt. Senate Democrats still claimed victory, rather unconvincingly: The stunt brought Gonzales no closer to resigning and may have further intensified President Bush’s support for his embattled friend. The always astute Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., thinks he knows what the Democrats were after: “[A] ‘gotcha’$2 30-second commercial.”

Other tidbits from the LAT poll: Clinton would lose in a head-to-head matchup with Giuliani, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., matches up best against the Republicans, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is still despised by his party’s conservative wing. The Post goes below the fold with its own poll, which finds that Clinton’s lead can be attributed to overwhelming support among female voters. Today’s USAT is apparently poll-free.

The LAT offleads a heartbreaking report alleging that U.S. soldiers in Iraq often fire their weapons indiscriminately, resulting in what one analyst claims are tens of thousands of accidental civilian deaths. LAT stringers in Iraq have witnessed 18 incidents this year in which U.S. troops have opened fire in crowded civilian areas, often in the course of responding to roadside bombings or other attacks. Although military officials claim troops are trained to exercise restraint in civilian-populated areas, anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise: “They were confused and angry and suspecting anyone around. If a bird had passed by, they would have shot it,” said one Iraqi man, recalling one such incident.

A senior U.S. military official advised Iraq’s prime minister that Congress needs to see evidence of tangible political progress soon, the NYT notes above the fold. (The gist of Nouri al-Maliki’s response: Tangible political progress is really, really hard.) Case in point: The NYT also reports that the Iraqi parliament voted to remove its speaker, one day after one of the speaker’s bodyguards physically shoved a legislator.

Yesterday, the Senate began debating whether to impose tighter fuel economy regulations on automakers, the LAT reports. Similar measures have failed in the past, thanks to the auto lobby’s staunch opposition, but everybody seems to think that now is the Golden Age of Green in the Senate. Other facets of the energy legislation include support for alternative energy and scorn for gasoline price-gougers.

At least one prominent Washingtonian hasn’t given up on immigration reform. The Post and the LAT note that President Bush will swallow his bile and deign to visit Capitol Hill in hopes of convincing the Senate to reopen debate on the immigration bill that was tabled last Thursday. He’d better be pushing several wheelbarrows filled with money: Senate opposition to the bill has calcified since last week, and energy reform is the order of the day.

The Post stuffs a report indicating that FBI Director Robert Mueller regularly uses a $40 million jet, intended for counterterrorism use, for routine travel. Mueller is, however, apparently scrupulous about getting Justice approval before reserving the jet.

USAT goes below the fold with news that several relatives of victims in last month’s shootings at Virginia Tech are demanding that a family representative be named to the state panel that is investigating the attack.

A judge overturned the sentence of a Georgia man who, at 17, was given 10 years imprisonment for engaging in consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old, everybody reports. The case had been frequently cited as an example of the problems inherent in mandatory minimum sentencing. Georgia’s attorney general promised to appeal.

Fatwa number 3741: No laughing at our fatwas … The NYT goes up top with a news feature on the role of the fatwa in Egyptian daily life. Thousands of fatwas—edicts that provide guidelines for daily life in Muslim communities—are issued every month by Quran scholars, some of which are, um, bizarre: One came out in favor of drinking the Prophet Muhammad’s urine; another maintained that unmarried male and female co-workers could interact freely, as long as the woman breast-fed the man at least five times. TP is reminded of those ever-popular “weird news” stories about small American towns where it’s illegal to eat chicken on Tuesdays, or cross the street in March without wearing a hat. Culture clash, my foot.