Today's Papers

With a Little Help From My Friends

The New York Times leads with the U.S. depending on foreign intelligence services to do its dirty work in the war on terror. The current approach, which began under George Bush and continues under Barack Obama, relies on foreign governments “to capture, interrogate and detain all but the highest-level terrorist suspects seized outside the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.” The Los Angeles Times leads with the story of four French and Belgian al-Qaida recruits who were picked up by police in Europe after they traveled to Pakistan. The seemingly failed recruits “just weren’t tough enough,” says one of their lawyers. But anti-terrorism officials wonder if they were meant to attack inside Europe. The Washington Post leads with Nancy Pelosi’s trip to China, where she will focus on the country’s carbon emissions. The Post notes that Pelosi, a staunch critic of Beijing’s human rights record, declined to say whether that topic would come up in her talks. Hillary Clinton played down human rights when she visited China earlier in the year, and the paper sees a trend.

In its lead, the NYT notes America is continuing to provide intelligence and logistical support to foreign governments, but it’s letting them pick up and detain terror suspects. This has put Barack Obama in a tough spot. He is likely to take heat from the left for continuing a Bush-era approach that has the United States relying on regimes that are known to torture prisoners. Yet Obama’s own policies—such as closing the prisons at Guantánamo Bay and the CIA’s black sites—have left him with few options. For example, one official says the administration is having an “extremely, extremely sensitive” debate over what to do with two al-Qaida suspects in Pakistani custody. “They’re both bad dudes,” says the official. “The issue is: where do they get parked so they stay parked?” That is something that the president did not address in his speech on Thursday.

The Belgian and French governments are trying to figure out whether four returning al-Qaida recruits are bad dudes or really bad dudes. The LAT weaves an interesting, if confusing, tale of how the four men were determined to fight in Afghanistan but came home after getting ripped off by guides, dodging missile strikes, and enduring “disease, quarrels and boredom” in a Pakistani training camp. It makes for a good story, but there are aspects that are begging for more details. For example, the Times says the recruits trained with an American, but that’s all the information we get. In another section, investigators claim that the “increasing infiltration” of al-Qaida “has contributed to recent captures and killings of militants.” But no one explains who’s infiltrating the group or how they are doing it.

Republicans are using Barack Obama’s proposed closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay as a wedge issue, reports the NYT (in an article similar to a WSJ piece from yesterday). “Republicans in Congress started laying plans even before the inauguration to make the debate over Guantánamo Bay a question of local community safety instead of one about national character and principles,” says the Times. And the strategy has worked, as congressional Democrats have caved on the issue, faulting Obama for failing to provide them with political cover. So it now seems that everyone in Congress has signed on to the not-in-my-backyard argument. Of course, as the WP reported on Friday, many terrorists are already securely imprisoned in our backyard. The Times mentions that also, in the second-to-last paragraph.

The WP fronts a profile of Max Baucus, the Democratic senator who is responsible for crafting health care reform legislation. The Post asks “which version of the independent-minded Montanan will preside as the debate intensifies this summer?” Democrats want to see the “newly reliable champion of the administration’s ambitious agenda.” Republicans prefer “the cautious loner with a history of betraying his party on politically sensitive bills.”

But do Republicans really care? The NYT Magazine interviews Frank Luntz, a Republican consultant and pollster who has told his party to frame the Democrats’ plans for health care reform as “a Washington takeover.” Asked if that’s a correct description of the president’s agenda, Lutz replies, “We don’t know what he is proposing.” He later admits that he’s “not a policy person.” Asked who paid him to write the memo, he responds, “It’s not relevant.”

In an interview with C-SPAN yesterday, Barack Obama elaborated on what he is looking for in a Supreme Court nominee. “I want somebody who has the intellectual firepower but also a little bit of a common touch and has a practical sense of how the world works,” he said. In that case, the WP says that Sonia Sotomayor, “raised by a single mother in a Bronx housing project,” or Diane P. Wood, “praised … for her grasp of business issues,” might be a good fit. In a separate article, the Post looks at two contentious cases involving those two justices and another possible nominee. The NYT, meanwhile, looks at Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s “sparse legal record.”

During the C-SPAN interview, Obama said it was “safe to say that we’re going to have an announcement soon” and that he hoped to have confirmation hearings in July. The NYT reports “widespread speculation” that the pick will come before the president’s next overseas trip in early June.

The WP and NYT report that Obama nominated Charles F. Bolden Jr., a former Marine aviator and space shuttle astronaut, to head NASA. If approved, Bolden will become the first black man to run the space agency. While the Post notes his ties to the space industry, only the NYT reports that he will be given “a limited waiver to the administration’s ethics policy.”

In foreign news, the NYT and WP report that Roh Moo-hyun, a former president of South Korea, committed suicide by jumping off a cliff. Roh was overwhelmed by shame as a result of corruption allegations.

According to author and academic Paul Collier, “civil conflicts have tended to outlast international wars by a factor of about 20.” Sadly then, the NYT and WP report that Pakistan’s government and the Taliban are fighting over a key city. The NYT reports that Somalia’s civil war is turning into a religious war involving a once-peaceful group. And the NYT also reports on the seizure of a large drug cache in Afghanistan after a battle that killed 60 insurgents. But at least the war in Sri Lanka is over, though many horrible memories remain.

The NYT takes a harrowing photographic look at the dangers of childbirth in Tanzania.

The NYT and WP run pieces by their public editor and ombudsman, respectively. In the Times, Clark Hoyt describes how Maureen Dowd lifted almost all of a paragraph written by Josh Marshall for her column last week. Somehow he then concludes, “I do not think Dowd plagiarized.” Dowd says the lifted passage was part of an e-mail conversation with a friend who apparently pawns off paragraphs from Marshall as his or her own thoughts. Hoyt believes her. But in the NYT’s handbook, does plagiarism require intent?

In the more interesting Post column, Andrew Alexander also deals with intent, that of an old quote by Ari Fleischer in which he cautioned Americans to “watch what they say” shortly after 9/11. Dana Milbank, the reporter who used the quote in a recent column, said Fleischer’s remarks referred to a joke by liberal comedian Bill Maher and were “intended to be chilling.” But when making the remarks Fleischer also referred to the anti-Muslim comments of a former Republican congressman. The all-important context paints the quote in a different light, says a critical Alexander, the more fearless of the two watchmen this Sunday.

Liberty and irony for all … The NYT (via the AP) reports that Liberty University has banned its College Democrats club. According to the AP, the university, which was founded by the late Jerry Falwell, told the club’s president that “the Democratic Party violated the university’s principles because … it supports abortion, socialism and the agenda of gay, bisexual and transgender people.” Opposing viewpoints on a university campus? Perish the thought!