Today's Papers

Unauthorized Deal

The New York Timesand Washington Postlead with news that State Department officials who were investigating the Sept. 16 shooting that killed 17 Iraqis promised Blackwater guards immunity from prosecution. The immunity deals have complicated matters for the FBI agents who took over the investigation because they can’t use the information gathered by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security to prosecute the guards. USA Todayleads with word that the Pentagon gave Congress erroneous statistics in last week’s spending request when it tried to justify $1.4 billion to target snipers in Iraq. The Pentagon told Congress that sniper attacks in Iraq have quadrupled this past year, but USAT found out that the number of attacks has actually declined “and fallen dramatically in the past four months.” Officials said they would correct the record, but the Pentagon’s press secretary emphasized “the threat is very real and needs to be combated.”

The Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox leads with an Iraq catch-all and emphasizes news that a suicide bomber killed 29 police recruits in Baqubah, which is north of Baghdad. It was the deadliest attack in Iraq in more than a month. The Los Angeles Timesleads with the Supreme Court agreeing to consider whether Exxon Mobil should be forced to pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages for the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989. Exxon says the award was excessive, particularly since it has already paid $3.4 billion relating to the spill, but the court emphasized that it will only consider how the issue relates to maritime laws. Exxon seems to have the upper hand in the case but its prospects for victory are complicated by Justice Samuel Alito’s decision to recuse himself because he owns stock in the company.

The immunity deals for Blackwater guards, first reported by the Associated Press, were brokered by State Department officials who lacked the proper authority and without the knowledge of prosecutors at the Justice Department. But it’s still not clear exactly who gave the immunity or under what conditions it was granted. Although the deals don’t prevent the Justice Department from prosecuting the guards, they have made the investigation more complicated since some guards have refused to be interviewed again by the FBI because they had been promised immunity.

In order to prevent any problems, the NYT notes, the Justice Department had to remove prosecutors from the case who had read the statements that the guards gave to State Department investigators under promise of immunity. Still, even if it weren’t for this new complication, it’s far from clear that any cases can actually be brought against Blackwater guards under U.S. law. As the NYT notes, if prosecutors try to bring a case in federal court, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove that any evidence gathered by Iraqis and later turned over to U.S. officials had not been compromised.

The NYT off-leads a look at how more foreigners are fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. Although some officials contend the reliance on foreigners shows just how much the Taliban leadership has been decimated, their presence complicates the landscape because “they are more violent, uncontrollable, and extreme,” says the NYT. The increasing number of foreign fighters also serves as another illustration of how Pakistan’s tribal areas have  become a fertile ground for training new militants who then go on to carry out terrorist attacks elsewhere.

The WP fronts, and the LAT goes inside with, a new report set to be released today that reveals Iraq’s largest dam is in such bad shape that it’s at risk of collapsing and could kill thousands of people. The WP notes the Army Corps of Engineers concluded in September 2006 that “in terms of internal erosion potential of the foundation, Mosul Dam is the most dangerous dam in the world.” In May, Gen. David Petraeus warned the dam could fail and create massive floods, but little has been done to fix the problem, mostly due to mismanagement of U.S. reconstruction funds. Iraqi and U.S. officials have apparently been reluctant to discuss the problem in public because they don’t want to scare the residents of the area.

It has often been said that Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania loves his earmarks, but today the WSJ fronts a detailed look at just how often the Democratic lawmaker uses the tactic to send money to his hometown. In the 2008 military spending bill, for example, Murtha has inserted more funds for his hometown than any other member. The paper reviewed contracts obtained through Murtha’s earmarks and says many were mismanaged, inefficient, and weren’t actually “sought by the military or federal agencies they were intended to benefit.” The paper says several military contractors have found that the best way to get federal contracts is to set up shop in Murtha’s district and hire the right lobbyists.

The Post notes inside that Rudolph Giuliani continues to work part time at a consulting firm he had previously promised to leave in order to focus on the presidential race. This has raised concerns that Giuliani Partners is taking on some of the costs and logistical responsibilities of his campaign, which would be a violation of federal election laws.

The way in which the acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission is speaking up against legislation that would increase her agency’s budget  “is consistent with the broadly deregulatory approach of the Bush administration over the last seven years,” notes the NYT.

The WP points out there are hints that Democratic lawmakers are beginning to open up to the idea of compromising with Republicans on a few key issues after some high-profile failures to get important legislation passed. Although no one is saying that a new era of cooperation is at hand, congressional Democrats seem eager to try to get some legislation passed and prevent their approval ratings from dipping to even lower levels.

Meanwhile, the NYT’s Adam Cohen  notes the Bush administration has “usurped a frightening number of Congress’s powers” and it remains an open question “whether members of Congress of both parties will do anything about it.” The nation’s founders clearly wanted Congress to be strong, which makes it even more “troubling” that lawmakers have stood by and “allowed its institutional power to erode.” Although this is often seen as an issue that splits Republicans and Democrats, “defending Congressional authority should not be a partisan issue.”