Today's Papers

Demanding Opinions

The Washington Postleads with the repercussions of yesterday’s New York Times story that revealed the Justice Department issued secret opinions authorizing the CIA to use harsh interrogation tactics. Congressional Democrats demanded to see the classified documents and the House judiciary committee vowed to hold hearings. The Los Angeles Timesleads with news that the Food and Drug Administration is looking into creating a new category for medicines that would be known as behind-the-counter drugs. The new category would allow patients to get certain commonly used drugs, such as birth control pills and cholesterol medicine, without a prescription but only after talking to a pharmacist.

The New York Timesleads with the House voting overwhelmingly in favor of a bill that would make all government contractors in combat zones subject to U.S. criminal law USA Todayleads with word that the U.S. military has uncovered “six al-Qaida media centers in Iraq” and arrested 20 people that are thought to be leaders in the group’s propaganda efforts. The crackdown is a testament to the increased focus on the group’s media operations, but intelligence experts caution that the gains from these types of raids often don’t last long since new centers can be set up fairly quickly. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the latest from Iraq, where roadside bombs killed a Shiite official and a Sunni tribal leader who had aligned with U.S. forces.

The administration insisted it doesn’t condone torture and that the documents don’t contradict public repudiations of the practice. And, hey, detainees can simply avoid any harsh interrogation tactics if they simply cooperate. Saying that members of al-Qaida are trained to resist interrogation, the White House homeland security adviser explained  harsh tactics can be avoided if the detainee “becomes cooperative.” (For those wondering why torture or torture-light techniques often lead to false statements, there’s your answer.) The Post talks to a senior official who says the opinions didn’t actually lead to any new tactics, but rather were a result of CIA officials wanting some sort of confirmation that they weren’t doing anything unlawful.

The WP also says some officials think that, to a certain degree, the opinions “have been overtaken by events.” Some believe the CIA’s techniques have changed since legislation required Bush to issue an executive order affirming the agency must comply with the Geneva Conventions. Human rights groups, however, contend that all this back-and-forth merely helps create confusion and encourages interrogators to use questionable tactics.

Senators have vowed to repeatedly question Michael Mukasey about his views on interrogation during his confirmation hearings to be the next attorney general, which are scheduled to begin on Oct. 17.

Pharmacists, drug companies, and, presumably, patients, like the idea of behind-the-counter drugs, which exist in several countries. As could be expected, doctors aren’t too keen on the idea and say it could be dangerous. An open question is whether insurance companies would cover these medicines since they don’t usually pay for over-the-counter drugs and their decision could be a deciding factor on whether the proposed program is succesful.

Lawmakers voted 389-30 for the bill relating to contractors, which is largely seen as closing a loophole since private companies working for the Defense Department are already subject to U.S. and military law.The bill would not apply retroactively, so it’s still unclear whether Blackwater guards involved in the Sept. 16 shooting could be prosecuted. And although the White House said it also wants to improve contractor accountability, it spoke up against the bill yesterday, saying it is flawed and would unduly burden the military.

The Post fronts word that “U.S. military reports” on the Sept. 16 shooting involving Blackwater guards say the contractors weren’t provoked and used excessive force, which would appear to confirm the Iraqi government’s view that the contractor is to blame for the incident. The paper also seems to confirm what the NYT revealed earlier this week that a group of Blackwater guards were involved in a second round of shooting against civilians after they had moved more than 100 feet away from Nisour Square. Besides statements from witnesses, the U.S. military also reviewed video footage from the scene. “Members of a U.S. unit working with Iraqi police” were in the area during the shooting and helped take victims to hospitals.

The Post also got word of some statements that Blackwater Chairman Erik Prince was planning to make to lawmakers during the hearings this week but was warned against it by the Justice Departement because of the ongoing investigation. Prince’s prepared statement said the guards “came under small-arms fire” and “returned fire at threatening targets.” He was also prepared to tell lawmakers that, as far as he knew, only five Blackwater guards, of the 20-person team, fired their weapons.

The NYT, LAT, and WP front Sen. Larry Craig’s announcement that he would stay in the Senate even though a judge refused to let him withdraw his guilty plea to disorderly conduct in a restroom. Craig had earlier said that he would resign if he couldn’t get the guilty plea thrown out. His change of heart angered several Republican leaders who fear Craig is now a liability to the party as a whole. “It’s embarrassing for the Senate, it’s embarrassing for his party,” Republican  Sen. John Ensign  said.

Everyone notes Sen. Pete Domenici revealed he won’t seek re-election next year because he was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease. “The progress of this disease is apparently erratic and unpredictable,” the 75-year-old senator said.

The WP and NYT front, while USAT reefers, word that track star Marion Jones, who won five medals at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, is expected to plead guilty today to lying to federal agents about her use of performance-enhancing drugs. The Post got a copy of a letter Jones sent to family and friends where she writes that  her coach gave her the steroid THG  for two years and told her it was flaxseed oil. “I want to apologize to you all for all of this,” Jones said in the letter. “I am sorry for disappointing you all in so many ways.”