The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times all lead with the announcement that the U.S. military has banned several controversial interrogation methods in the wake of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal. Under new directives issued by the top military commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, interrogators will be barred from using tactics such as depriving prisoners of sleep, hooding them for long periods of time, and forcing them into "stress positions". The NYT notes in a print-edition subhead that the change in policy comes a day after Donald Rumsfeld's visit to Baghdad.
Many of the coercive interrogation methods barred by the new procedures had until now been allowed only with the approval of Gen. Sanchez. * The WP and NYT fill out their stories by walking readers through the development of the U.S. military's interrogation policy in Iraq, which did not exist in specific form until last autumn and was initially based to some degree on the policy used at Guantanamo Bay.
The WP and LAT prominently front, though the NYT stuffs, the latest skirmishes in Najaf, which took place in a sprawling cemetery near the shrine of Imam Ali, a sacred site for Shiite Muslims. The WP says the offensive involved some of the most aggressive tactics yet employed by the U.S. against militia forces loyal to rebel Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. The U.S. described the initiative as a reaction to mortar attacks by Sadr's forces on two police stations, rather than as a new push to drive the insurgents out of the center of the city. Aware that attacks on holy sites could further inflame Shiite sentiment against the occupation, U.S. commanders are denying responsibility for hitting the shrine with gunfire—a denial in which the NYT seems to place more stock than do the other papers. The WP best captures the general uncertainty over the damage to the shrine, quoting a Najaf resident, who says, "If it was done by the Americans, I don't think they did it intentionally."
The WP fronts, the LAT reefers, and the NYT stuffs, Colin Powell's statement that U.S. forces would leave Iraq if asked to do so by the interim Iraqi government set to take over after June 30. Both Powell and other U.S. officials emphasized that they couldn't imagine the new government making such a request with the security situation so dire. Powell, whose comments were echoed by the foreign ministers of Italy and Japan appearing alongside him, was seeking to clarify the U.S. position after State Department and Pentagon officials had appeared to contradict each other when asked about the issue during testimony Thursday before the House International Relations Committee.
The LAT fronts an analysis that points to various recent reversals of course in Iraq and argues that U.S. policy there is guided increasingly by a "go with what works" philosophy. In addition to yesterday's comments from Powell, the LAT cites the abandonment of plans for grassroots electoral caucuses; the reversal of a policy that had barred Baathists from the Iraqi military; and the recent decision to turn to the U.N. to design an interim Iraqi government. A NYT editorial takes an even less optimistic view of the same developments: "The lowering of the administration's expectations might be therapeutic if it produced a realistic strategy for achieving a realistic set of goals. Unfortunately there appears to be no such strategy, only odd lurches this way and that under the pressure of day-to-day events."
The NYT fronts a story that quotes some prominent Democrats talking up the notion of a John Kerry-John McCain ticket for the November election. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, and former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey—both of whom have been mentioned as possible vice-presidential picks themselves—are getting excited about the prospect of a "unity government," which wouldn't require McCain to quit the GOP (though it would mean he couldn't appoint any judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade, according to Kerrey). Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, who used to work for Kerry, compares a Kerry-McCain partnership to "the Yankees signing A-Rod." And perhaps most tantalizingly of all, an unnamed Democratic official who works for the Kerry campaign says the presumptive nominee himself "continues to be interested" in McCain. Everyone agrees that the selection of the straight-talking Arizona Republican, who, like Kerry, is a Vietnam veteran, would instantly transform the race. There's just one problem: McCain's statement yesterday that, "I have totally ruled it out."
The WP off-leads a report on the perfect storm that's hit gas prices lately: Based on a mistaken assumption that international oil consumption would drop this year, OPEC cut production in February, leaving reserves depleted. In addition, traders are nervous about continuing attacks on Iraqi pipelines and political instability in other oil-producing states like Venezuela and Nigeria. Throw in new environmental laws that cut allowable levels of sulfur, reducing the supply of high-sulfur refined gasoline from Latin America, and you're left with average gas prices of $1.95 nationally. Those prices are the highest ever in raw dollars, though still well below the $3 level, when adjusted for inflation, that was reached in March 1981. That could explain why the NYT and LAT ignored the story.
And the NYT fronts a report from the "new gay mecca": Wilton Manors, Fla. This once-conservative town of 13,000, just north of Fort Lauderdale, now has the third-highest proportion of same-sex households of any city in the country, after an influx of gays over the last decade. And the shift seems to have occurred largely without rancor: Wilton Manors, says the NYT, "is to urban revitalization what "Will and Grace" was to prime-time television—proof that people may be more accepting of gays than polls suggest."
Correction, May 17, 2004: This story originally and incorrectly stated that Pentagon officials said Gen. Ricardo Sanchez never signed off on the interrogation methods used in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. In fact, Pentagon officials said the actions depicted in the Abu Ghraib photographs would not have been permitted under any military policy. (Return to corrected sentence.)