The Los Angeles Times leads with secret U.S. contingency plans for the use of nuclear weapons against seven potential enemies including the so-called "axis of evil," Iran, Iraq and North Korea. The New York Times leads with, and the others front, the deadliest day of Arab-Israeli violence in 17 months of fighting, as Israeli forces kill at least 40 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Washington Post goes with Afghan forces preparing to battle al-Qaida in Eastern Afghanistan.
A LAT contributing writer got hold of "Nuclear Posture Review," a top-secret report sent by the Bush administration to Congress on January 8. The target countries named, in addition to the "axis," are Syria, Libya, Russia, and China. "This is dynamite," says a Washington peacenik. "I can imagine what these countries are going to be saying at the U.N." Another adds, "Dr. Strangelove is clearly still alive at the Pentagon." The report details the potential use of smaller, "theater" nuclear weapons that could be aimed at specific battle targets. Supporters argue that these baby nukes would function as deterrents because, without fear of devastating collateral damage, the Pentagon would not hesitate to use them.
According to the report, specific scenarios in which nuclear weapons might be deployed include "the Arab-Israeli conflict, in a war between China and Taiwan, or in an attack from North Korea on the south" (LAT's wording).
In response to the Israeli strikes, Palestinian refugees in Jordan chanted, "Bin Laden, hit Tel Aviv!" according to the NYT lead. Foreign ministers from 22 Arab nations called for international intervention "to stop Israeli aggression that has no excuse or justification." Meanwhile, P.M. Ariel Sharon made what the Times calls a "tentative gesture toward diplomacy," agreeing to negotiate a cease-fire while the fighting rages on. He had earlier demanded "seven days of quiet."
In a news analysis, the NYT calls U.S. envoy Tony Zinni's visit to the Middle East a "setback" for Sharon, who had previously enjoyed "a virtual green light" from Washington. Sharon may be compelled, under U.S. pressure, to reopen negotiations with Yasser Arafat.
The doings in Afghanistan seem like an odd choice for the Post lead, given the gravity of Friday's events in the Middle East. The news is that Afghan forces are planning a "regional push" intended to flush al-Qaida out from their various strongholds in Eastern Afghanistan. Escapes are to be prevented, regrouping discouraged. The story also follows George W. in Florida, speaking to families of two Americans killed in action. ("We will take loss of life, and I'm sad for loss of life.")
Palm Beach's Catholic bishop, Anthony O'Connell, resigned after admitting that he sexually abused a teen-age seminary student in the 1970s, according to a NYT fronter. The victim had already been molested by two other priests and was approaching O'Connell, then just a priest himself, for help. The Missouri diocese where the incidents took place settled a lawsuit with the teen-ager for $125,000 in 1996. Three years later, the Vatican made O'Connell a bishop, apparently unaware of his run-in with the law. Asked yesterday if others might bring accusations against him, O'Connell said there might be "one other person."
Bill Keller devotes his op-ed column in the NYT to the shenanigans in Massachusetts, where 80 priests have been accused of molesting minors over the past 40 years. The question, Keller writes, is why Boston's Cardinal Law "and the bishops who knowingly shuffled sexual predators from parish to parish should not face criminal indictment for abetting the grotesque offenses against the children of their parishes. It will take something like that to break the Catholic Church's long, sad cycle of sexual abuse, public scandal, promised reform, resurgent complacency, followed, always, by another horrific disclosure."
The WP fronts the "K Street Crew," a vicious D.C. gang known for eliminating anyone who might testify against them. "This was the most organized witness-killing system that we've ever seen," says the gang prosecutor in the DA's office. "It wasn't haphazard. When they found out someone was talking to police, they got up each morning and worked at killing them." Gang members employed defense investigators to secure secret court documents containing phone numbers, addresses, and license plate numbers. They even killed off the key witness in the current case against them, but not soon enough.
The papers stuff Kmart's plans to close 284 stores and lay off 22,000 workers, who learned of the decision by watching a videotape of the company's chief executive delivering the bad news. The move still leaves 1,800 stores, but another round of closings may be near at hand, according to the LAT. "I don't know where I'm going to go now," says one loyal shopper. "It makes me want to cry." Cheer up, says the NYT, because there's likely to be a Wal-Mart (which does about six times more business than Kmart) very close by.