Touchy Techniques

Touchy Techniques

Touchy Techniques

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 26 2002 3:11 AM

Touchy Techniques

The Washington Post's lead says that while the Bush administration has talked a big game about compassionate conservatism, it has lagged in implementing it. The New York Times' lead notices that many of the Democrats' presidential aspirants are accusing the White House of doing too little on the war on al-Qaida and of not adequately preparing the country for another attack. Part of the reason for this tack, aides told the Times, is that they want to position themselves if and when there's another terrorist attack. The Los Angeles Times leads with what's essentially an evergreen: Fraud is costing California's state health program, Medi-Cal, huge amounts of money. USA Today leads with the White Christmas that hit the Midwest and East Coast yesterday.

The Post's check-in on compassionate conservatism says that movement has stalled on everything from proposed health-case tax credits to proposals to liberalize immigration. "The compassionates win a lot of rhetorical battles," says Robert Putman, an academic who has occasionally advised the White House. "But when you look where the budget is, it shows hardly a hint of the compassionate." The Post does point out that Bush has proposed funding for some of the programs but has been rejected by Congress. The article, by the way, is by Dana Milbank, who has developed the commendable, and relatively rare, habit of fact-checking the White House's spin. 

The Wall Street Journal says up high that North Korea has taken another step toward restarting its nuke program. Apparently they're installing fresh fuel rods that are needed to fire up the reactor. The LAT says that many South Koreans think the whole thing is being overblown. "George Bush," said one student. "He's a war maniac."

The WP off-leads a superb story on one of the uncovered aspects of the war on al-Qaida: What happens to suspected AQ guys once they're captured and sent off to be interrogated by the CIA in third-party countries. The article, which seems remarkably well-sourced (the reporters say they spoke to multiple people who have actually been present during some of the interrogations),says that prisoners are often exposed to what's known as "stress and duress" techniques, such as tying them in painful positions and denying them sleep. If prisoners still refuse to chat, they're often handed over to foreign intel services who regularly torture captives (think Egypt and Saudi Arabia). "We don't kick the [expletive] out of them," explained one source who has been involved in the transfers. "We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them."

The Post says that the U.S. officials who detailed the interrogations defended them as necessary to glean info. As one official put it, "If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job."

Meanwhile, the WP says that according to the officials it interviewed, "time rather than technique" has produced the most useful information.

The NYT says in a front-page piece that investigators may have discovered another way in which Enron cooked the books: In addition to using complex partnerships to hide losses, execs may have listed inflated values for all sorts of hard assets, such as pipelines and power plants.

None of the papers seem to pick on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's statements that Iraq has sent relatively long-range rockets (60 miles) to Hezbollah in Lebanon, presumably to fire at Israel in the event of a Gulf War II. Sharon also recently speculated that Saddam has hidden some no-no weapons in Syria.

How to get reporting done during Christmas ... FromUSAT's snowstorm story: "There have been some doozies in the past, but this will rank as quite a good one," said Paul Kocin, winterweather expert at The Weather Channel.

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