Full Court Press

Full Court Press

Full Court Press

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 19 2003 5:25 AM

Full Court Press

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox (online), and USA Today all lead with two rulings undermining the administration's detention of suspected terrorists: One federal appeals court ruled 2-1 that the president can't keep American citizen and alleged "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla incommunicado, even if he's been declared an "enemy combatant." Hours later, a second federal court ruled that detainees at Guantanamo Bay are subject to the authority of U.S. courts. This second decision is essentially symbolic since the Supreme Court has already agreed to hear the case after another federal court ruled for the government. The Washington Post banners teen sniper Lee Boyd Malvo's conviction on two counts of capital murder. The jury rejected Malvo's insanity defense and he faces life in prison or execution.

The court gave the government 30 days to charge Padilla, release him, or hold him as a material witness.The Post gets this wrong, "SEIZED CITIZEN IS ORDERED RELEASED." Though none of the papers highlight it, as the feds face their options it's worth recalling that the evidence against Padilla may be flimsy. "Not many people were satisfied that we had a whole hell of a lot," said one congressional staffer who was briefed on the case soon after Padilla was detained. Anyway, the case is almost sure to get kicked upstairs to the Supremes.

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The LAT, NYT, and WP all front Israeli Prime Minister Sharon saying that unless Palestinian leaders move against militant groups in the next few months,  Israel will impose a unilateral settlement, withdrawing from only portions of the West Bank and keeping most settlements. "If Israel unilaterally draws a border," said Sharon, "the Palestinians will receive much less than they would have received through direct negotiations." The NYT says that Israeli officials have talked of abandoning or "redeploying" about 20 out of 100 settlements. The Post says it will likely be fewer than that. Sharon also said that Israel will take some unilateral steps toward peace, including removing illegal settlements and curtailing closures and curfews. As the papers note, Sharon has promised that before and hasn't followed through.

The NYT highlights the White House's seeming dismay following Sharon's speech. Spokesman Scott McClellan said, "We would oppose any effort—any Israeli effort—to impose a settlement." The Times emphasizes the apparent unease: "U.S. WARNS ISRAEL AGAINST STEPS THAT HARM PEACE PLAN."

But the WP notes that after McClellan's comments, a "senior Bush administration official" insisted that Sharon's speech was a "very positive" development, since Sharon said he supported the roadmap. It is a "misreading of what Scott McClellan said" to assume the White House is ticked off, said the official. (The Times also talks to an unnamed administration official who tries to downplay McClellan's comments, but the paper largely dismisses the efforts.)

According to early morning reports  at least one GI was killed when a U.S. tanker truck exploded this morning. The LAT catches news of the bombing of a Shiite political party office in Baghdad, killing at least one person. And a Shiite political official was also assassinated yesterday.

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The Post says on A43 that the U.S. has launched a program to hire Iraqi scientists formerly involved in Saddam's weapons programs. As the Post notes in the 10th paragraph, the administration has allocated all of $2 million for the project. According to a recent Associated Press story, top Iraqi scientists are being paid about $400 per month; they used to receive about $8000.

The Journal fronts Pentagon auditors complaining that Halliburton is refusing to turn over some documents relating to its apparent indirect overcharging of the government for fuel in Iraq. According to an auditor who was allowed to see the documents but not to copy them, they show that Halliburton suspected a Kuwaiti subcontractor was charging too much for fuel, but didn't tell the government. Halliburton says the documents are confidential and don't need to be shared.

The WP says on Page One that the Justice Dept. inspector general has found videotapes showing federal guards at a Brooklyn penitentiary abusing foreigner nationals picked up in post-9/11 sweeps. Prison officials had previously claimed that the tapes had been destroyed. Among other abuses, guards repeatedly slammed prisoners' heads against a wall. The prisoners said the treatment was worse before cameras were installed. The NYT stuffs a short dispatch on the abuse.

An op-ed in the Post by two military analysts notes that as part of the administration's effort to portray Iraq as a continuation of the war on terror, the Pentagon has decided to eschew tradition and award just one campaign medal for those who have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan: "The collection of ribbons and medals worn on the left breast of a military uniform tells a unique story of individual service to the country, career achievement and sometimes valor in combat. The Bush Pentagon is not denying campaign ribbons to worthy veterans, but it is denying them recognition for their distinctive service and individual accomplishments."

The WP goes inside with newly declassified documents—courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act—about SecDef Rumsfeld's 1984 trip to Iraq. Rumsfeld has previously said that the purpose of the visit was to "caution" Iraq about its use of chemical weapons. According to State Department cables, Rumsfeld was ordered to tell the Iraqis that despite a formal administration warning about their use of CW, the U.S.'s desire "to improve bilateral relations, at a pace of Iraq's choosing," was "undiminished. This message bears reinforcing during your discussions."