The New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times all lead with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declaring a state of emergency, firing the chief justice of the Supreme Court and flooding the streets of Islamabad with troops. All the papers describe the move, which came just as the court was expected to rule on the constitutionality of Musharraf’s recent re-election, as a desperate measure to retain power in the face of growing opposition.
Independent and international television networks were blacked out, telephone lines were disconnected, and police swarmed the Supreme Court building with some of the justices still inside. A Proclamation of Emergency, which most of the court’s members condemned, replaced the Constitution. (The proclamation’s text is here.) Musharraf gave a speech at about midnight in which he attempted to justify the actions, arguing that the measures were necessary to fight terrorism and “preserve the democratic transition that I initiated eight years back.” The Post calls the speech “rambling.” The Times says Musharraf’s fate will “play out on Pakistan’s streets over the next three to four days.” Everyone tips a hat to the same term: martial law.
Each of the papers puts four or more reporters on the story, and they all dredge up nice details. The Post reports that Condoleezza Rice called Musharraf on Friday to discourage him from following through with the emergency declaration. The Times finds that the Pakistani government has distributed an order to local media prohibiting news that “brings into ridicule or disrepute” Gen. Musharraf and his government. The LA Times, meanwhile, gets an uncertain Pentagon spokesman on the record. And all the papers have their own takes on the various dissidents and opposition leaders that were carted off and into custody.
The papers also note that the move puts the U.S. in a bit of a pickle. The New York Times says the act “boldly defied the Bush administration, which had repeatedly urged General Musharraf to avoid such a path and instead move toward democracy.” Inded, the U.S. has greased the democratic wheels by “sending him more than $10 billion in aid since 2001, mostly for the military.” “Now,” the Times continues, “the administration finds itself in the bind of having to publicly castigate the man it has described as one of its closest allies in fighting terrorism.” The Los Angeles Times adds a bit of nuance: “[T]he Pakistani leader’s action will not mean an automatic suspension of U.S. military aid, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Saturday. ‘At this point,’ Morrell said, ‘the declaration does not impact our military support for Pakistan.’ “
In other news, The New York Times reports that U.S. officials are “considering granting Guantanamo detainees substantially greater rights as part of an effort to close the detention center and possibly move much of its population to the United States.” The paper, which sources its findings to “officials involved in the discussions,” says that one of the proposals under discussion would grant the prisoners “legal representation at detention hearings and by giving federal judges, not military officers, the power to decide whether suspects should be held.”
The Washington Post fronts some fun campaign muckraking: “Republican presidential candidate Fred D. Thompson has been crisscrossing the country since early this summer on a private jet lent to him by a businessman and close adviser who has a criminal record for drug dealing.” The businessman, Philip Martin, received probation in 1979 for selling 11 pounds of marijuana and was charged again four years later with trafficking cocaine, felony bookmaking, and conspiracy.
The NYT fronts a breakdown of the $1.8 billion in pet projects that U.S. congressmen attached to the annual military appropriations bill. This is the first year in which lawmakers have had to disclose this information in detail, and the Times finds that 21 lawmakers were responsible for almost $1 billion of the pork. Leading the pack were Democrat John Murtha and Republican Bill Young, the top two legislators on the defense appropriations subcommittee, who requested a combined $300 million.
The Post goes inside with an update on the latest Democratic campaign infighting: Barack Obama took another shot at Hillary Clinton, describing her campaign as long on poise but short on substance. “It’s a textbook that’s all about winning elections but says nothing about how to bring the country together to solve problems,” he said.
The Los Angeles Times has a front-page report on the dangers of downed power lines, otherwise known as “a fiery culprit only money can stop.” Power lines are thought to have caused at least five of the 12 major fires that burned in Southern California last week, including the Witch fire, which the paper says burned nearly 200,000 acres, destroyed 1,041 homes and killed two people. According to the LAT, high-voltage lines “can start fires when they cross, touch tree branches or hit the ground, causing the electrical current to arc in explosions of sparks.”
Finally, the NYT fronts a feature on a new breed of vigilantism. “As cellphone use has skyrocketed, making it hard to avoid hearing half a conversation in many public places,” the paper claims that “a small but growing band of rebels is turning to a blunt countermeasure: the cellphone jammer, a gadget that renders nearby mobile devices impotent.” Using such a device is apparently illegal.