The Los Angeles Timesand the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox lead with, while everyone fronts, President Obama’s surprise visit to Baghdad yesterday, where he urged Iraq’s leaders to step up their efforts to unite the country’s factions. During the four-hour visit, his first to a combat zone as president, Obama met with U.S. soldiers, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and other Iraqi officials. “It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis,” Obama told hundreds of American servicemembers. “They need to take responsibility for their country.” The Washington Postleads with a federal judge dismissing the conviction of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan appointed an outside lawyer to investigate the six Justice Department prosecutors who ran the case against Stevens and determine whether they should face criminal contempt charges.
The New York Timesleads with the Vermont Legislature overriding a veto to a bill that legalizes same-sex marriage. It marked the first time that a state legalized same-sex marriage through its legislature rather than the courts and made Vermont the fourth state to recognize the unions. It marked the second victory in less than a week for proponents of marriage equality—the Iowa Supreme Court legalized marriage between partners of the same sex last Friday—and many are hoping others states could soon follow suit. USA Todayleads with word that $300 million from the stimulus package will go to 61 housing agencies that have been criticized by auditors at least three times since 2004 for mishandling government money. The money is part of a $4 billion effort to fix public housing projects, and the government has vowed to keep close tabs on how the money is spent.
Obama’s brief stop in Iraq came at a time when a recent spate of bombings has raised uncomfortable questions about whether the recent drop in violence can be sustained. The day before his visit, six car bombs exploded in Baghdad, killing 36 people, and nine more people were killed by another car bomb mere hours before Obama’s arrival. There’s a growing fear that unresolved political disputes could spark a new round of intense violence as different groups vie for power ahead of the withdrawal of most American combat troops.
The trip to Baghdad capped Obama’s first trip overseas as president. * In a front-page piece looking at the trip, the WP notes that Obama “portrayed a proud but flawed United States, using a refrain of humility and partnership” in order to get other countries to work together on a variety of issues that ranged from the economy to climate change. He received a “celebrity reception” wherever he went, but that didn’t help him convince European allies to follow the U.S. example on fiscal spending or Afghanistan. In an analysis piece inside, the NYT declares that a grand strategy for the Obama presidency has yet to emerge, “but that may have been the point. Pragmatic, conciliatory, legalistic and incremental, he pushed what might be called, with a notable exception or two, an anti-Bush doctrine.” Throughout his trip, Obama emphasized the importance of international institutions and the rule of law to battle terrorism and rogue states, essentially veering “toward a pre-Sept. 11 world order.”
Ordinarily, the Justice Department would handle claims of prosecutorial misconduct with its own internal investigation, but the judge made it clear yesterday that after witnessing such “shocking and disturbing” behavior, he couldn’t trust the government to properly investigate itself. “In 25 years on the bench, I have never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I have seen in this case,” Sullivan said. Among the six lawyers that will be investigated are the chief and deputy chief of the Justice Department’s public integrity section. Stevens’ lawyer didn’t hold back on the outrage and said the “government engaged in intentional misconduct” that cost the longest-serving Senate Republican his seat.
At least nine state legislatures are considering allowing marriages between same-sex couples, and the recent victories for gay rights could push them to pass the measures quickly. The WP fronts news that the Washington, D.C., Council gave preliminary approval to a measure that would recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. The vote was unanimous. The final vote could come in early May and might quickly make its way to the federal government since Congress has the final say in the city’s laws. The NYT states that even opponents of marriage equality “recognized the week’s developments as a potential watershed moment.” But even if all the legislatures currently considering legalizing same-sex marriages approve the measures, there’s little chance that it could become a countrywide phenomenon any time soon. Forty-three states have laws prohibiting the unions, of which 29 have constitutional amendments that define marriage as between a man and a woman.
As same-sex couples get more rights in the United States, the NYT fronts a look at how gay men and lesbians in Iraq are finding that their newly found freedoms can carry a very high personal cost. Although Iraqis have been able “to enjoy freedoms unthinkable two years ago,” openly gay men are still vulnerable to attacks if they aren’t careful to hide their identity. Over the past two months, bodies of “as many as 25 boys and men suspected of being gay” have been discovered in Baghdad’s Sadr City, some with “pervert” written on notes that were pinned to their bodies. It seems family members who feel shamed by their gay relatives have been responsible for some of the killings. But Shiite death squads have also carried out some of the killings, and the police have begun a “campaign to clean up the streets and get the beggars and homosexuals off them,” as one officer eloquently explained.
The WSJ fronts a look at how “cyperspies” from Russia and China, as well as other unnamed countries, have managed to get into the U.S. electrical grid and leave behind software tools that, if activated, could destroy several key components of the network. “If we go to war with them, they will try to turn them on,” an intelligence official said. The spying has been discovered across the country, and officials warn that other infrastructure systems, including water, are also vulnerable to spies and attacks. Although terrorist groups could also gain the technical know-how to gain access to the networks, officials say the intrusions have been so sophisticated that Russia and China have to be the main culprits. But, of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the attacks were sponsored by their governments.
The WSJ fronts word that the Treasury Department will offer bailout funds to life-insurance companies, adding a third industry after banks and automakers that will get an infusion of taxpayer dollars. But only insurers that own federally chartered banks will be able to qualify for the program. The move isn’t exactly a surprise since the government had said last year that life insurers could be eligible, but it has delayed implementing the move as it focused on other issues. Since that announcement, several life insurers have bought regulated savings and loans in order to be eligible.
Everyone goes inside with news that former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was convicted of “crimes against humanity” and sentenced to 25 years in prison. After a 15-month trial, the Peruvian Supreme Court found Fujimori guilty of ordering two massacres in the early 1990s that killed 25 people. He was also convicted of ordering the kidnappings of a journalist and a businessman in 1992. The WP highlights that it “marked the first time that an elected head of state has been extradited back to his home country, tried and convicted of human rights violations.” Experts in human rights law say Fujimori’s conviction could set a precedent for trying other former heads of state for abuses while in power.
In what sounds like a bad April Fools’ joke, the WP reports that Fox is working on a new reality series that will feature struggling companies that will let employees decide who should get fired in order to cut down on costs. Sadly, Someone’s Gotta Go is no joke. The show will feature small companies, and each week a different company will call its employees together and the boss will reveal all relevant information about the employees, such as salary, to help employees make their decision. The WP’s Lisa de Moraes was having a hard time believing this was real, but “Fox’s reality-series madman/genius” noted that “every time he comes up with one of these trashtastic reality series, we ask the same question: What on Earth would motivate anyone to be on this show?” And he always has the same answer. “They want to be on TV,” he said. “Who knows? There’s never a shortage.”
Correction, April 8, 2009: This article originally stated that the trip was Obama’s first trip abroad. Obama had previously been to Canada. (Return to the corrected sentence.)