The Wall Street Journal leads its worldwide newsbox with the reluctance of some U.S. allies to send troops to Iraq. A day after the strike on Italian soldiers in Nasiriyah, Japan is reneging on its modest troop pledge, while NATO says its focus will remain on Afghanistan. USA Today (online) leads with U.S. Gen. Abizaid's gloomy and yet somehow simultaneously upbeat assessment of the opposition. He says coalition forces are facing up to 5,000 well-trained, well-funded fighters in Iraq.
The Washington Post leads with the sniper stories, as the Mohammed case goes to the jury and the Malvo trial begins. The New York Times fronts Malvo but leads with moves by two mutual funds intending to reassure investors. One, PBHG Funds, ditched its founders, while another, Putnam Investments, settled a securities fraud suit. The Los Angeles Times leads and off-leads with local stories, one on state math scores, which have gone up, and the other on the state budget, which (do the math!) is likely to be cut.
As the postwar picture gets murkier, the only good news for the U.S. in the WSJ lead comes from South Korea, which will stick to its pledge to send 3,000 troops to Iraq, possibly to relieve American soldiers come spring. Japan's symbolic offer (700 soldiers) has been withdrawn. "We could send the troops if circumstances permit," says the chief cabinet secretary in the WSJ. "But there is no such situation." The Journal says the timetable for ceding authority to Iraqis has been pushed up—information the NYT had for us yesterday.
"The goal of the enemy is not to defeat us militarily," Gen. Abizaid says in the USAT lead, speaking from his headquarters in Florida. "The goal of the enemy is to break the will of the United States of America, to make us leave." His characterization of the enemy seems somewhat muddled: The 5,000 well-trained men are later described as "young, unemployed criminals" (USAT's words). Either way they are not to be trifled with, according to the general.
"There's a canyon of lack of evidence against Mr. Muhammad," defense attorney Peter Greenspun said in his closing arguments on Thursday, as quoted in the WP. Prosecutors have acknowledged that their case against Muhammad is circumstantial but convincing—and lengthy: 150 witnesses over 16 days. Prosecutors are asking for the death penalty, which, in Virginia, obtains in the circumstances of the killings of more than one person in a three-year period.
Closing arguments in the Muhammad case came on the same day as opening statements in the Malvo trial, in which the evidence is somewhat more direct. The NYT reports that prosecutors will present two hours of audiotaped confessions from Malvo, both to establish his guilt and to rebut a possible insanity defense. "He's glib," the lead prosecutor says in the Times. "He's articulate. He's knowledgeable. He talks about the killing power of the rifle he used and the damage it can cause."
Everybody fronts the ousting of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore—relieved of his judge robes after refusing to remove his pet 5,280-pound "Ten Commandments" rock from the rotunda of the Supreme Court building in Montgomery. Moore's banishment was spearheaded by a former ally, Alabama Attorney General William Pryor Jr, whose allegiance shifted after being nominated for an appellate judgeship by President Bush, according to the NYT. Up until now, Senate Republicans haven't been able to get Pryor past Democratic opposition.
Moore noted that an appeal of the decision, which would be heard by his former colleagues on the Alabama Supreme Court, "brings on a whole host of delightfully interesting legal issues," the NYT reports. Moore is free to run again for Supreme Court justice, though his soaring celebrity makes him a likely candidate for senator or governor, according to the WP.
Tempers flared outside the courtroom, as a group of Moore supporters told a handful of atheists to go to hell. "I can't," the president of the Atheist Law Center of Montgomery says in the NYT. "Hell doesn't exist."
Meanwhile, the Capitol remained "insomniac central," as the WSJ puts it, at least for the few senators who kept babbling into the night. The Journal reports that at 2:45 a.m. on Thursday, Dem Mark Pryor of Arkansas started reading aloud from Robert Caro's Master of the Senate, for want of something better to do. The Republicans instigated the marathon session to call attention to the filibusters Dems have used to block Bush's judicial nominees—the above-mentioned William Pryor among them.
Finally, NYT drama critic Ben Brantley savages Taboo, the new Boy George musical, one day after the paper ran a kindly interview with the androgynous tunesmith. "It's not a good sign when a main character returns to the stage, and it takes you a couple of seconds to remember who he is," Brantley carps. The others pile on, with talk of "mind-boggling awfulness" (WSJ) and "preachy melodrama" (USAT). Rosie O'Donnell, fresh from not losing any money in court, parted with $10 mil on this one.