Muammahhhvelous!

Muammahhhvelous!

Muammahhhvelous!

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 20 2003 6:56 AM

Muammahhhvelous!

The papers all lead with—and the Washington Post   banners—the surprise announcement that Libya has decided, after nine months of secret discussions with the U.S. and Britain, to forsake all nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. George Bush announced at the White House that the North African nation would "immediately and unconditionally" allow international inspectors to verify the destruction of its unconventional weapons programs.

The WP, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times report that even as Bush announced the decision in Washington and Tony Blair unveiled it in London, Tripoli also issued a statement explaining that it had made the decision to dismantle its weapons program "of its free will." Despite the doth-protest-too-much feel of that phrase, the statement went on to say that Libya plans finally to sign the treaty banning chemical weapons and, moreover, that it urges countries, "starting with the Middle East region," to follow its example "without exception."

Advertisement

According to accounts in the papers, Libya approached the U.S. and Britain through a European backchannel in mid-March, on the eve of their invasion of Iraq. "I can't imagine that Iraq went unnoticed by the Libyan leadership," an unnamed administration official told reporters at the White House briefing after Bush's announcement and before distributing a statement that made the connection even more explicit: "Libya's announcement today is a product of the president's strategy which gives regimes a choice," the statement read, according to the LAT's lead. Still, the papers don't entirely buy the Iraq-scared-'em-straight spin, least of all the Los Angeles Times: "LIBYA BEGAN ITS OVERTURES MORE THAN A DECADE AGO" reads the headline for its above-the-fold news analysis.

The WP and LAT provide the best blow-by-blow of the negotiations. In the WP, we learn that a recent, incriminating, and unspecified intelligence find helped the U.S. bring pressure on Tripoli. According to the LAT, American and British experts visited Libya for a total of three weeks over the last two months, touring more than 10 weapons sites. "The Libyans were quite open. They provided access to facilities. They provided substantial documentation about their programs, and we were able to take samples and to take photographs and other evidence," said the same senior official who spoke after Bush, according to the WP's front-page analysis.

Of course, the papers all suggest that this announcement represents yet another significant step in Libya's decade-long effort to shed its rogue status and rehabilitate the image of its leader, Col. Muammar Qaddafi—whose name may also be the source of more orthographic angst than any other in the American press. To wit: Muammar el-Qaddafi ( NYT), Moammar Gaddafi (WP), Moammar Kadafi (LAT). (Slate, in case you're curious, takes its spelling from the Associated Press.)

The NYT fronts a nicely reported piece on the still-unnamed informant who gave up Saddam a week ago. The NYT builds on the (gamely credited) groundwork laid by Thursday's Wall Street Journal piece (subscription required) on the 4th Infantry intelligence officers who created a chart called the "Mongo Link" that diagrammed more than 200 people connected tribally to Saddam. According to the NYT, the crucial informant was initially "templated" in the diagram as a mid-level guy, rather than Hussein's "right arm." After crucial intel came in, things changed: On the morning of Dec. 3, soldiers went on five raids in Tikrit to find him. Another raid came a few days later in Baiji. Soldiers eventually got lucky when they caught the source on Dec. 12 in Baghdad as part of a larger roundup; the Times says it took the military a couple hours to realize who they had in custody.

Advertisement

The NYT, WP, and LAT all front news that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dealt the music industry a major setback yesterday, curbing its ability to sue file-sharers who trade pirated songs. The court decided that the industry could not force Internet service providers to turn over names of subscribers who trade music because the current law, written in 1998, only allows the industry to request information about subscribers who keep copyrighted material on their ISP's servers—something present-day peer-to-peer file-sharing programs do not do.  "It is not the province of the courts ... to rewrite the [law] in order to make it fit a new and unforeseen Internet architecture, no matter how damaging that development has been to the music industry," the author of the majority opinion wrote, according to the WP. The NYT reports that the music industry will now have to go through the more cumbersome process of actually initiating lawsuits against anonymous users before the courts can force their identities to be revealed.

The NYT and LAT report inside that the U.S. Navy seized two tons of hashish and arrested three men it suspects of being tied to al-Qaida when it boarded a small boat in the Persian Gulf this week. The hash would have had a street value of $8 million to $10 million. The WP skips the boat news altogether, but has an even more interesting piece on Syria's capture last week, according to U.S. sources, of six to eight al-Qaida couriers carrying a total of $23.5 million. If true, the seizure would represent the largest al-Qaida interception to date and a significant blow to the organization, which intelligence officials believe operates on a budget counted only in the tens of millions.

The LAT fronts news that the backers of Proposition 187—the California ballot initiative that barred illegal immigrants from social services including public healthcare—are pushing a new ballot initiative that they say can withstand legal challenge.

The NYT off-leads, the WP fronts, and the LAT teases with a nice, big, front-page photo, the unveiling of the 1,776-foot-tall "Freedom Tower" yesterday. In an accompanying "appraisal," which the Times also fronts, architecture critic Herbert Muschamp writes that the building is surprising because it is "much closer to being a piece of architecture than the public had any right to expect." The LAT is less charitable in its commentary: "What's most striking about the design, however, is its lack of originality."

Unsatisfied with just two tower stories, the NYT fronts a third WTC piece on whether the proposed tower really will be the world's tallest if it's built. Despite repeated claims yesterday, and in the other papers today, that it would be, the Times speculates the organization that bestows that honor might not think the latticework wind farm on top counts as part of a "habitable building." And, of course, that misrepresentation has got some people just a teensy bit peeved. According to one critic, "The world's tallest building moniker is a shibboleth of feel-good boosterism perpetrated by rebuilding officials who have nothing else to offer the public but a P.R. campaign." Oh, snap!

The NYT fronts reactions from Strom Thurmond's family about revelations earlier this week that the late senator had fathered an illegitimate child, Essie May Washington-Williams. "For the first time in my life, I felt shame," one of Thurmond's legitimate nieces said, explaining that if her new half-cousin were white it would be less difficult. "My family always had help around the house. But it just seems Strom would have been above that." Still, the niece admitted she could see a family resemblance with Washington-Williams.

The NYT fronts a pork article below the fold that details some of the more amusing pet projects from among the more than 7,000 "earmarks" inserted into the omnibus spending bill the House recently passed. For example: $50 million for an indoor rainforest near Iowa City, $225,000 to repair a small-town pool a congressman says he clogged with tadpoles when he was young, and $500,000 for a program at the University of Akron called "Exercise in Hard Choices." The program examines, of all things, the hard choices involved in Congress' budget decisions.