Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 20 2002 4:54 AM

Lost in Translation

The Los Angeles Times and New York Times lead with the second suicide attack in Jerusalem in as many days. This time a bomber hit a bus stop, killing six Israelis and injuring more than 40. The Wall Street Journal also tops its world-wide newsbox with the attack. The Washington Post  leads with news that the National Security Agency, the electronic eavesdropping folks, intercepted two vague al-Qaida messages on Sept. 10 warning of the next day's attacks. The messages, originally in Arabic, said, "The match is about to begin" and "Tomorrow is zero hour." They weren't translated until Sept.12.  USA Today's lead reports, "At least seven grand jury investigations across the country are focusing on the role of America's Roman Catholic bishops and other church officials in ignoring or covering up sexual abuse by priests." The paper says that grand juries are investigating Boston's Cardinal Law and have also opened investigations in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Cincinnati.

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The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for yesterday's attack.

Everybody notes that the bombing happened at a commuter waiting area that's been the target of two previous attacks and thus has been heavily patrolled by police and security cameras. According to witnesses, the bomber jumped out of a car and raced to the bus stop as police noticed him and ran to catch him.

The papers all say that Israel has moved into Jenin, seemingly as part of its new policy of reoccupying portions of Palestinian territory. Israeli helicopter gunships also fired at what Israeli officials said were weapons labs in Gaza City. Meanwhile, two Israeli soldiers and one Palestinian were killed in a firefight in Qalqilya.

The papers note that the Israeli government hasn't clarified the exact details or intent of the new policy. According to one Israeli official quoted by the Post, the ambiguity is deliberate. "It gives us the space to maneuver later on," he said. (Here's a smart analysis of the new policy by Slate's Will Saletan.)

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The NYT emphasizes that Arafat "strongly condemned" the suicide bombings, which, he said, "have nothing to do with our national rights in legitimate resistance to Israeli occupation."

Meanwhile, the papers mention that prominent Palestinians took out a newspaper ad urging fellow Palestinians to end the bombings. "Stop sending our young people to carry out such attacks," the ad read. "We see no results in such attacks but a deepening of the hatred between both peoples and a deepening of the gap between us."

A strongly worded NYT editorial mentions the ad, calling it, "very nice, but way too little, way too late." The editorial also says, "For months, Palestinians have grown intoxicated with the idea of power through death. They are exalting the most vicious acts of their own young. This is a severe failure of Palestinian leadership."

The papers are all careful to emphasize that the NSA's intercepted al-Qaida warnings apparently consisted simply of the vague messages quoted above and didn't exactly include the hijackers' itineraries. In other words, according to intel officials in the papers, even if the messages had been translated on Sept. 10, authorities still wouldn't have come close to having known enough to stop Atta and company. The LAT and NYT seem to implicitly agree with that; they both stuff news of the intercepts.

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The messages were revealed in a closed-door congressional hearing Tuesday and first reported by CNN yesterday.

The Post emphasizes that the NSA has long had trouble analyzing the mountains of data that it intercepts.

The USAT properly credits itself for reporting a few weeks ago  that "U.S. intelligence overheard al-Qaeda operatives discussing a major pending terrorist attack in the weeks prior to Sept. 11." (Weeks, days, close enough.)

Everybody notes that the White House was briefly evacuated last night after a small plane entered restricted airspace over the capital. The pilot, apparently, just made a mistake.

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The WP off-leads news that the Justice Dept argued "in a strongly worded court brief" that a U.S.-born al-Qaida detainee, Yaser Esam Hamdi, does not have the right to a lawyer nor can civilian courts challenge his status. According to the brief, courts can't "second-guess the military's enemy combatant determination" because that would "intrude upon the Constitutional prerogative of the Commander in Chief."

The Post says that some legal scholars "compared the filing to arguments used by the government during World War II to intern thousands of Japanese Americans." But others disagreed, namely the legal scholar Ruth Wedgwood, who says that since this guy was nabbed in a "battlefield capture," he's off-limits to civilian courts. (By the way, Wedgwood is one of the few prominent law professors who's frequently expressed support for the administration's anti-terror legal tactics—that's why, it seems, she's quoted everywhere. Somebody should profile her.) 

Given the prominent placement the Post gave this story (the other majors stuff it), it's no surprise that the paper also runs an editorial about it. The editorial begins with a quote from the brief, then observes, "These words were not written by some petty dictator whose kangaroo courts rubber-stamp his every whim. They were filed yesterday by the U.S. Department of Justice."

The WP fronts word that today the Securities Exchange Commission is going to vote on and likely approve a new auditor-oversight system that, says the Post, "has much in common with the old system discredited by the collapse of Enron." According to one observer, "the big firms will basically control" the new system.

The papers report that, as the NYT suggested earlier this week, the Bush administration has decided to expand the U.S. military operation in the Philippines and let American advisers go out on patrol with Filipino soldiers. But the papers also say that, contrary to what the Times reported, the mission will likely end on July 31, as originally scheduled. (For the record: Today's Papers ribbed the LAT earlier this week for having reported that the mission would end on July 31. Personal, from TP to the LAT: D'oh! Sorry.)