Bali Bombs

Bali Bombs

Bali Bombs

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 14 2002 5:23 AM

Bali Bombs

The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post (with a near banner headline), and USA Today all lead with followup to Saturday's horrendous bombings in Bali, Indonesia, that killed nearly 200 people, mostly foreigners. At least 13 Australians died as well as two Americans. But those numbers are likely to go up since all but about 50 of the dead were so badly burned that they haven't yet been identified. The State Department ordered all dependents of American diplomats in Indonesia, as well as all non-essential personnel, to leave the country. Various diplomats and officials pointed out that they've been warning Indonesia for a long time to take action against burgeoning terror groups in the country. The Wall Street Journal, which tops its world-wide newsbox with the bombing, says there is credible evidence that other attacks are coming against American economic targets in Indonesia. The New York Times leads with a personal checklist Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has written up listing what he thinks the preconditions should be for sending America to war. The bullet points have a smattering of Powell Doctrine mixed in with a big dollop of pre-emption: Before acting there must be "clear goals," and the U.S. must be prepared to "act early."

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Most of the papers say that intel officials suspect that the attack was the work of Jemaah Islamiyah, an Indonesian Islamist group that is believed to have links to al-Qaida. The NYT cites Singaporean intel officials saying that at least two men in the group were trained in explosives at AQ camps. Everybody points out that the bombing occurred on the second anniversary of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. But only USAT actually suggests that Osama and Co. did it: "AL-QAEDA SUSPECTED IN BALI." Meanwhile, the LAT, alone among the papers, quotes an analyst saying that he doesn't think that al-Qaida was responsible, or is even in Indonesia. "I don't think the linkages are clear," he said.

The WSJ and NYT, which off-leads the story, are the only papers that give more than a passing reference to Jemaah Islamiyah. Both say that the group, which hasn't admitted to terrorist acts, actually has some support within Indonesia's government. The papers also say that the man suspected of heading JI, Abu Bakar Bashir, hasn't been arrested and lives openly in Indonesia. According to previous reports, Indonesia's vice prez has had Abu Bakar  over for dinner. The Journal says that Abu Bakar, who denies that he's involved with terrorism, held a press conference yesterday to explain things. "From the size of the explosion it must have been done by foreigners, and most likely by America," he said. The WP adds  that last year Indonesian authorities may have tipped-off an AQ suspect that the U.S. was after him.

Two things this morning's papers don't mention: According to a recent report in the Post, the U.S. has threatened to name Jemaah Islamiyah a terrorist group, but it hasn't yet done so. Also, according to the Australian Sydney Morning Herald—which has an enormous amount of coverage on the bombing—and according to the ICG , a respected if liberal advocacy organization that has published one of the most detailed reports on JI: The Indonesian military has had links in the past  to Jemaah Islamiyah.

The first sentence of the NYT's lead says Rumsfeld "wrote that America's leaders must quickly judge when diplomacy has failed, then 'act forcefully, early, during the precrisis period' to foil an attack on the nation." That partial quote of Rumsfeld suggests he advocates early military strikes. Maybe. But the full quote is more ambiguous: "U.S. leadership should make a judgment as to when diplomacy has failed and act forcefully, early, during the pre-crisis period, to try to alter the behavior of others and to prevent the conflict." [Emphasis added.]

Rumsfeld's principles don't break much new ground. But they are pithy, for example: "If U.S. lives are going to be put at risk ... the U.S. must have a darn good reason." The NYT, in its why-we're-leading-with-this-story paragraph, says that the last time a defense secretary outlined his guidelines for war was way back during the Reagan administration. (That was when former DefSec Casper Weinberger essentially authored the precepts now known, unjustly, as the Powell Doctrine.) The Times also says that it has had the memo for months but had promised an unnamed source that it wouldn't write about it. The paper then explains that it kept pestering Rumsfeld to release the doc and that he finally agreed to do so.

Everybody notes that Stephen Ambrose, the historian who wrote wildly popular books about WWII, died yesterday. He was 66.

The NYT's business section airs journalists' complaints that the White House is being too tight with information. "If the National Hurricane Center were as stingy with its information, there would be thousands dead," said one reporter. Meanwhile, the article notes, "Even Mr. Fleischer's Democratic predecessors said the strategy of limiting information to the press was effective." The paper leaves it at that, which leaves one wondering: Effective in what sense and for whom?

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.