USA Today leads with oil executives' congressional testimony yesterday in which they denied that they tried to manipulate the market to drive gas prices up last summer, but did admit that they kicked the idea around: "The options were presented ... and rejected," said one exec. The Washington Postleads with word from a "senior defense official" that the United States is preparing to send about 1,000 troops after al-Qaida in eastern Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan. The paper says that there's unconfirmed intelligence that Osama Bin Laden and other al-Qaida heavies are in the area. The New York Times leads with word that the United States and Saudi Arabia have decided to divvy up responsibility on Mideast peace negotiations. The administration will pressure Israel, especially when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visits Washington next week. Meanwhile, the Saudis will push Yasser Arafat and get other Arab leaders to do the same. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with, and the Los Angeles Times leads with, word that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that since Israel is still blocking the U.N.'s planned inquiry, the Security Council should simply give up on the proposed investigation.
The papers notice that though the White House has been supportive of the proposed investigation, it didn't seem too bothered by the inquiry's imminent demise. (The NYT calls that "yet another shift by Washington.")
Everybody notes that 26 Palestinians left Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity yesterday. That's the most people to leave since the siege began weeks ago.
The papers all report that Israel pulled out of the West Bank town of Hebron yesterday, two days after it entered.
The 24th paragraph of the NYT's lead says that among the short-term Mideast peace goals is "the visible entry of the United States and the international community into the process, lots of monitors and financial aid." Lots of monitors? What kind?
The Post says that after al-Qaida forces were pummeled by U.S. airstrikes in March, they've decided to operate in small groups. Meanwhile, U.S. and Australian soldiers got into two firefights with al-Qaida fighters and killed four of them. No allied forces were injured. The NYT says, "The firefights appear to have been with a small group of Taliban or Qaeda fighters who had separated from a larger group."
Like the Post, the NYT also says that a big fight may be brewing in eastern Afghanistan: "A Pakistani intelligence official said a major American-led military operation would probably begin in the area around Khost in the next 24 hours." But the Times plays it down, putting it in a stuffed article headlined, "AFGHAN AREA SCENE OF FIGHT THAT KILLED FOUR MILITANTS."
The Post, by the way,has been leading coverage of the goings-on in Afghanistan's border area.
Everybody reports on yesterday's questionable vote in Pakistan to extend the term of President General Musharraf. The NYT has fun describing just how rigged this referendum was: "The system for counting votes seemed particularly relaxed. At the end of the day, officials said, poll takers simply dumped the ballots out of their boxes, added them up and phoned in the numbers." The papers all suggest that turnout was low. (According to early morning wire reports, with three-quarters of the vote "counted" Musharraf has a slight lead: 98 percent have endorsed him; two percent opposed.)
Everybody goes high with a federal judge's ruling that, as the WSJ puts, "authorities can't imprison people just because they might be helpful in grand-jury investigations." At issue was the Justice Department's post-Sept. 11 habit of detaining people as material witnesses in terrorist-related grand jury investigations. Attorney General John Ashcroft said the DOJ will appeal the ruling. The Journal emphasizes that this is only the latest court rebuke for the Justice Department's anti-terrorism tactics.
The NYT mentions in the 23rd paragraph of its story on the ruling that the FBI messed up its arrest of the man who the case was based on. The judge said she concluded that "there were both misrepresentations and omissions in the affidavit, and that this was not a result of mistake or accident." Uh, doesn't that suggest that FBI agents committed a crime?
Everybody reports that a leader of a U.S.-based Muslim charity was charged yesterday with perjury for falsely claiming he had no connections to terrorists. The Justice Department said that he had a "relationship with Osama Bin Laden and many of his key associates dating back more than a decade." Moreover, the feds contend that the charity has been used to funnel money to terror groups.
The papers also report that the Justice Department indicted members of Colombia's largest rebel group, FARC, for the murder of three Americans in 1999.
The WP fronts word that President Bush has accepted an offer from North Korea to renew diplomatic contacts. Contacts were suspended last year, though the paper doesn't mention why.
Everybody notes that Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, broke with fellow abortion opponents and said he will support a bill that will allow scientists to clone human embryos for research purposes. The papers say that Hatch's new position enhances the chances that the Senate will pass a pro-cloning bill.
Everybody runs super-cool photos from the Hubble Telescope. The four images, which were released yesterday, show, among other things, "Tadpole," a galaxy 420 million light-years away that broke apart after it had a fender-bender with another galaxy. Scientists are especially pumped because in the background of that photo are faint images of more than 3,000 galaxies.