Today's Papers

The Cleanup Crew

The Washington Postleads with word that the decision to charge six Guantanamo detainees with planning the Sept. 11 attacks was partly because of the success that FBI and military interrogators had in extracting information from the men without the use of “coercive interrogating tactics.” The 16-month effort to reconstruct the evidence against the men apparently yielded good information and convinced the Bush administration to go ahead with the prosecutions. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with the capital charges filed against the detainees, which must be approved at the Pentagon. Prosecutors want to try the six together, but defense lawyers might request separate trials. USA Todayleads with a poll that shows Democrats remain deeply divided about their choice for a nominee but most think they’re both good candidates. For his part, Sen. John McCain is clearly the front-runner, but almost half of Republican voters would rather have someone else. In a hypothetical matchup, McCain runs about even with both Democratic candidates, although Sen. Barack Obama does have a slight lead that is within the poll’s margin of error.

The New York Timesleads with a look at how the credit crisis is spreading beyond subprime mortgages and is increasingly affecting people with good credit. Although nowhere near as severe as the problems in the subprime credit market, the number of prime mortgages that are past due or in foreclosure is at its highest level in at least 10 years, which could lead to even more losses in the financial industry. Meanwhile, problems are also popping up in other sectors for people with good credit, including auto loans and credit cards. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally with word that the state’s largest for-profit health insurer, Blue Cross of California, is sending copies of health insurance applications to doctors and asking them to tell the company if they come across any pre-existing medical information that it can use to cancel a patient’s coverage. Physicians say they’ve never seen anything like it before, while the company insists it’s standard practice and emphasizes that it’s a voluntary program.

The existence of a so-called “Clean Team” in Guantanamo that had the goal of collecting much of the same information that CIA agents obtained through controversial, and sometimes illegal, tactics was reported by the LAT late last year. Today the WP, which gives the LAT credit for breaking the story, reveals how the interrogators were able to get good information from most of the detainees by “using time-tested rapport-building techniques.” Throughout the process, interrogators were careful to tell detainees that they understood they may have been treated poorly in the past and to emphasize that any information they provided was strictly voluntary. But there are still questions about whether the detainees would have ever cooperated without first receiving the rough treatment and if the “Clean Team” would have been as successful without the CIA information as a guide to what the suspects might say.

The LAT fronts a look at how the Department of Defense was quick to emphasize the detainees would be given an “extraordinary set of rights” and will receive more rights than those tried at Nuremberg. Although it is true that there have been many modifications to the tribunals since they were first instituted almost four years ago that removed some of the more controversial measures, the fact remains that the trials would be carried out by the military and “the court of public opinion may never be convinced that the trials … will be fair and credible.” Regardless, it will probably be a while before any of the six actually face a military jury, particularly since the chief defense counsel for Guantanamo detainees made clear he currently doesn’t have the resources to deal with such a high-profile and complicated trial as most of his staff is tied up with other cases.

The White House was quick to insist yesterday that President Bush had nothing to do with yesterday’s announcement, but news that prosecutors would be seeking the death penalty for the six detainees shows that “the 9/11 presidency is far from over,” says the NYT in a Page One analysis. In its efforts to slow down the withdrawal from Iraq and pass wiretapping legislation, and, now, with the military tribunals, it’s clear that the administration “seems eager to lock in as many of the president’s policies as possible before he leaves office.”

Obama is widely expected to come out ahead in today’s so-called Potomac primaries in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. But while Clinton’s aides were widely pessimistic about the former first lady’s chances, some were quietly hoping for a surprise in Virginia. The LAT fronts a look at how Clinton’s campaign is hoping she will get a good number of delegates out of the state. But the fact that independents can vote with either party doesn’t bode well for Clinton. The Post’s Dan Balz notes that although wins in all of today’s contests would give Obama “a narrow but undisputed lead among pledged delegates” it won’t necessarily mean he would gain front-runner status. Obama is likely to shun the label, and, as the NYT details, Clinton’s aides believe this month’s losses won’t mean much as long as she wins in Ohio and Texas on March 4.

Several of the papers have interesting stories out of Pakistan. The NYT goes inside with a look at how an alleged cease-fire between the military and Baitullah Mehsud (“one of Pakistan’s most wanted men”) has once again raised questions about the determination of the Pakistani government to fight militants in the country’s tribal areas. The government has refused to confirm the existence of such a pact, but senior officials confirm that a cease-fire is in place. The LAT also mentions the cease-fire but focuses its front-page story on Mehsud, and notes that while the Pakistani government portrays him as one of the most powerful insurgents, some analysts think he’s little more than a figurehead and a scapegoat. Benazir Bhutto, whose assassination Mehsud allegedly planned, used to describe him as a “pawn.” Meanwhile, the WSJ notes that Pakistan’s military leaders are increasingly distancing themselves from President Pervez Musharraf and making it clear they won’t play a part in next week’s elections.

All the papers note that  two CBS News journalists, a British citizen and his Iraqi interpreter, remain missing after they were were abducted in the southern Iraqi city of Basra by a group of armed men on Sunday night. 

The LAT and NYT front news that three men walked into a museum in Zurich and easily carried out one of the largest art robberies in European history. They stole paintings by Cezanne, Degas, Van Gogh, and Monet worth around $163 million. The robbery came a mere five days after thieves stole two Picassos from a nearby cultural center.

Everybody reports Rep. Tom Lantos of California died yesterday of complications from cancer. He was the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress and was a strong defender of human rights as well as Israel. He was 80.

In the LAT’s op-ed page, Asra Nomani writes that, as someone who has faced mental illness in her family, she can’t find “any entertainment value in the public harassment of Britney Spears. … And as a journalist, I doubt there is news value in it either.” Spears is clearly sick, and although mental illness is hard to understand, Nomani wonders whether we’d be as eager to “make a sideshow of someone with a brain tumor.” It’d be easy to just blame the paparazzi, but major media companies have “crossed the line of basic moral decency” by failing to “remember one important fact: This is a 27-year-old in a fight for her life.”