Ace in the Hole

Ace in the Hole

Ace in the Hole

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 14 2003 7:18 AM

Ace in the Hole

According to early-morning reports, Saddam Hussein has been captured in Iraq. The BBC and other news outlets were reporting Sunday morning that DNA tests had confirmed his identity, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair remarking that the arrest "removes the shadow" hanging over Iraq. Hussein was reportedly found hiding in a hole in a cellar located in his hometown of Tikrit. L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq, announced at a news conference: "We got him."

The New York Times leads with, and the Washington Post fronts, Saturday's collapse of negotiations among European Union delegates trying to hammer out a new constitution. Members couldn't agree on a voting system, with medium-sized countries Spain and Poland wanting to retain almost as much voting weight as Germany. Several other nations, led by France, suggested they might form their own group to go forward on commonly agreed-upon issues (though observers question the legality of such a split). The Post's lead details how, according to American, European, and U.N. officials, governments abroad are not enforcing global sanctions created to cut off funding to al-Qaida. The affirmation that AQ is still well-funded follows a General Accounting Office report released last week concluding that U.S. law enforcement doesn't know how terrorists remain so flush. The Los Angeles Timesleads with its own survey revealing that 32 percent of Democratic National Committee members polled favor Howard Dean in the presidential race.

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According to other  late-breaking reports, a car bomb killed at least 17 and injured 33 in a town west of Baghdad Sunday morning. The Associated Press reports that no American soldiers were in the area at the time of the blast.

The abrupt end to the EU talks is seen as "a crisis" and "a failure" by both participants and observers. Leaders pledged to try again next year, but the debate ignited bitterness among members, especially between current members and soon-to-be members. (Ten new countries will formally join in May.)

The WP's lead headline reads "Al Qaeda's Finances Ample, Say Probers," but just who are these probers? We're told they're U.S., European, and U.N "investigators," "terrorism experts," and "a senior U.S. official who monitors terrorist finances." There isn't a named source until the 22nd paragraph.

The LAT has this cheery headline on its front page: "U.S. Officials, Iraqis Agree That Conflict Will Get Worse." The story and the officials quoted strike a tone of inevitability, theorizing that something big is about to occur, and nothing can be done. Said one anonymous senior commander: "We either have put a huge dent in their ability to strike in Baghdad ... or they're getting ready for a major attack. It's been too quiet."

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On page A6, the Post mentions an eight-page report released by the White House Saturday concluding that the Iraq invasion produced "clear evidence of Saddam's illegal weapons program." The report also includes a "tacit acknowledgement" that no one has actually located any WMD.

Most of the weapons-related findings publicly documented by the U.S. inspection team in Iraq was not news to the U.N. and in fact were known before the invasion, according to the U.N.'s top weapons inspector. Buried on page A27, the WP says his comments illustrate U.N. weapons inspectors' continued doubt of President Bush's prewar contentions that Saddam Hussein had violated U.N. weapons resolutions.

Hundreds of buildings across the country with fireproofing similar to what was in the World Trade Center are prone to damage because flaws in the insulation trap the heat and weaken the building structure. The discovery is one of the early findings from the federal investigation into the causes of the WTC collapse, says the NYT. Officials are trying to determine whether the towers could have remained standing if they had better fireproofing, and their full report is slated to be released next fall. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which built the WTC, maintain the collapse was unavoidable given the damage by the planes. 

On its front page, the WP tells the story of Essie Mae Washington-Williams, the retired schoolteacher holding a press conference this week to go public with her claim that she is the mixed-race illegitimate daughter of the famous and now dead segregationist and senator, Strom Thurmond (the NYT plays it in the national section). Though there have been rumors of her relationship to Thurmond for years, she has always maintained he was a "family friend" who provided her with financial help. Diane McWhorter wrote about the alleged connection for Slate in July, shortly after Thurmond's death.

A 50-minute interview by the Post yields specifics on Howard Dean's foreign-policy strategy, including his support of the Geneva Accord (which determines borders for a Palestinian state), and his plan to offer North Korea a package deal to give up its nuclear arms. He also favors immediate elections in Iraq to replace the Iraqi Governing Council. Dean's foreign-policy advisers include a former national security adviser and former chief of Centcom.

Back to the drawing board? The Post reports that a Mexican soap-opera star donning angel wings has been hired as an antiterrorism spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security. Translated, some of his slogans include: "Terrorism? Help is not going to fall from heaven," and "A shrimp that falls asleep is swept away by the current."