Everyone leads or off leads with the release of a recently discovered amateur videotape of Osama Bin Laden discussing the Sept. 11 attacks. On the tape, apparently filmed in Kandahar in early November, a chuckling Bin Laden virtually admits having masterminded the strikes. U.S. officials call the tape further, though redundant, proof of Bin Laden's guilt.
In the tape's most cited segment Bin Laden says he and other planners had calculated the number of casualties and that "I was the most optimistic of them all. ... I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all that we had hoped for." Bin Laden also brags that many of the hijackers had no idea of their mission's form until the very last minute. Throughout the tape, Bin Laden and his guest, a radical Saudi sheik, frequently praise and thank Allah.
Everybody notes that the White House delayed release of the tape so that government translators could triple-check their work. The Los Angeles Times fronts, and the New York Times and Washington Post stuff, stories on ambiguous Islamic public opinion. The tape horrifies some fence sitters on the question of Bin Laden's guilt. But many adamant defenders of Bin Laden's innocence just see another conspiracy. Among the naysayers: several Islamic professors, Mohammed Atta's father, and, according to the LAT, a "London-based Islamist" who told Al Jazeera that the United States may have culled the video from old wedding footage.
Repeating a claim made earlier by the White House, USA Today says the tape shows that "some of the hijackers had no idea they were about to die." But the WP, NYT, and LAT point out that Bin Laden also says on tape that the men knew they were participating in a "martyrdom operation."
The NYT also reports, above the fold, that an unidentified senior military official believes that American-backed forces have cornered Bin Laden in a pocket of Tora Bora. The unnamed official cites intriguing, but not totally persuasive, evidence: fierce resistance from al-Qaida fighters, unconfirmed sightings of Bin Laden, and unconfirmed other intelligence sources. The WP also reports that Bin Laden may be cornered and notes that the United States has sent elite sniper and "snatch and grab" teams to the Tora Bora region.
Speaking of snatching and grabbing, USAT leads with a story about hands-on airport security. Passengers now frequently complain that guards fondle them at checkpoints. A former Dulles security manager lays down the law: "There's going to be an occasional touch," he says. "But there should not be rubbing or poking." The WSJ fronts a story about the Sultan of Oman's love for classical music and his renowned national orchestra.
Everyone also fronts the continued degeneration of the situation in Israel. Yesterday, Israelis destroyed several buildings in Ramallah near Yasser Arafat's compound and toppled a giant antenna of Voice of Palestine radio. Arafat, meanwhile, decided to end his crackdown on militant groups. "We are as close as we've ever been to a full military confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority," says a U.N. official in the LAT.
The WP and NYT front the news of a terrorist attack on the Indian parliament. Five gunmen brazenly stormed into the parliament complex and opened fire, killing a gardener, a driver, and five security officials before dying themselves. No one has identified the terrorists yet, but Indians assume they are Pakistanis. The papers note that both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, are angry about Kashmir, and that the United States is in a tough spot between the two. Pakistan's government vigorously condemned the attacks but Atal Vajpayee, India's prime minister, said ominously: "The battle against terrorism has reached its last phase. We will fight a decisive battle to the end."
The NYT, LAT, and WP front, and USAT reefers, Bush's decision to unilaterally withdraw from the ABM treaty, clearing the way for the United States to test assorted missile-defense plans whenever and however it wants. Vladimir Putin called the withdrawal a mistake but also went on Russian TV to say that it didn't threaten his country's national security. Critics charge that the withdrawal might instigate an arms race with China since an operational U.S. defense system could neutralize China's limited nuclear arsenal.
The House also passed the final version of Bush's education bill in a bipartisan fashion, and the Senate should follow suit soon. If the plan falls apart for some reason, the country could try to mimic Cuba's. According to the NYT, students in our southern neighbor performed astoundingly well on U.N.-administered tests compared to other Latin American countries. The paper offers one interesting explanation: Perhaps Cuba's desolate economy steers talented young people away from business and into teaching.