The 9/11 commission continues to top the papers' front pages, bumping down even the deadly bombings in Iraq yesterday, which claimed 41 lives and wounded at least 141. The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal worldwide news box all lead with the conclusion of the panel's 12th and final public hearing, which detailed a series of communications breakdowns between the FAA and the military as the Sept. 11 attacks unfolded across the Northeast. "We fought many phantoms that day," Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs, testified. USA Today goes up high with the commission hearing but leads instead with its revelation that an aide to Condoleezza Rice visited Abu Ghraib last fall. The intelligence officer who oversaw interrogations there told investigators that Rice's aide was there "purely on detainee operations and reporting" and reminded him "many, many, many times" that he had to improve the intelligence output of the prison.
The 9/11 panel—its commissioners reading aloud from their reports and playing audio tapes of air traffic controllers and hijackers—made the case that the FAA and NORAD's collective response to the attacks was completely FUBAR. A separate piece in the NYT clarifies that the panel's blame is aimed mostly at the organizational structures and the senior officials who were guiding them; lower-level air-traffic and military personnel "thought outside the box," "were proactive in seeking information," and "made the best judgments they could based on the information they received."
By contrast, senior FAA officials didn't inform the military quickly enough that hijackings were in progress, managers never approved or acted on a recommendation to warn planes to increase cockpit security, and, at one point, the FAA could not take part in a coordination phone call because its secure line to NORAD wasn't working. An FAA official testified yesterday that things may not be much improved today. "I don't think the lines of communication are as clear as they should be," he said, according to the WP.
While NORAD's commander testified yesterday that his fighters would have been able to take out the hijacked flights had they been notified earlier, the commissioners were skeptical. Most damning of all, it appears the order to shoot down civilian airliners that threatened D.C. didn't make it to fighters on patrol until after all the hijacked jets had crashed. "When the president of the United States gives a shoot-down order, and the pilots who are supposed to carry it out do not get that order, then that's about as serious as it gets as far as the defense of this country goes," one of the commission chairmen said, according to the WP.
Speaking of giving the order, the WP off-leads, the NYT fronts, and the LAT stuffs the disclosure that the crucial (if late) shoot-down order actually came from Vice President Cheney, who apparently told the commission during his buddy-system testimony with President Bush that the two had discussed the decision via telephone. Oddly, the commission says that some people who were there in the bunker don't remember those conversations ever taking place, and one even urged the veep to call Bush back to confirm. In its story, the NYT buries that skeptical take until well after the jump, but still works in an early swipe, saying that the episode, "illustrated the symbiotic relationship of these two men: vice president and president, tutor and tutored."
Both the LAT's and WSJ's Iraq bombing stories jump over the gory details and headline the incoming interior minister's threat to impose martial law if the situation doesn't improve by June 30. "If we see the need to do it, we won't hesitate," he said. The NYT barely mentions the threat, and the WP ignores it altogether, perhaps wisely. As the LAT says, it's a little unclear "how martial law would be implemented in a country that has been occupied for more than 14 months, after a regime with a harsh security apparatus was deposed." TP's translation: Isn't this already martial law?
Yesterday, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the first civilian indictment in the sprawling scandal over the treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan—a development that lands on the front pages of the WP and NYT. The charges allege that a CIA contractor used a large flashlight to beat an Afghan man, who died the next day. According to a "member of the U.S. military" to whom the Post talked, CIA personnel initially blamed special forces troops for the death and only changed their tune when the special forces team threatened to go public. The CIA vigorously denies that account.
An amendment the Senate approved for the defense authorization bill would require the Army to add 20,000 soldiers. Despite opposition from the Bush administration and even the Army, which would prefer to have flexibility in adding and eliminating soldiers, the House version of the bill includes an increase of 30,000.
The papers all mention, the NYT on Page One, that the Air Transportation Stabilization Board turned down the bankrupt United Airlines' application for $1.6 billion in federal loan guarantees, the second time the board has rejected the ailing airline. The papers speculate that United might offer a revised proposal to sweeten the deal in the next week or so. (In May, Slate's Daniel Gross pointed out that the ATSB could actually profit handsomely from the favorable terms it has extracted from several airlines in return for the loan guarantees.)
Donald Rumsfeld spoke up yesterday about reports—originally in U.S. News and World Report and elaborated on yesterday's NYT front page—that he ordered an Iraqi prisoner hidden from the Red Cross. "There are instances where that occurs, and a request was made to do that and we did," he said, acknowledging that this was not the only "ghost detainee."
According to the NYT, Merck emerged yesterday as the first big drug company to back the idea of a government database that would publicly track the results of all late-stage clinical drug trials. Currently, unfavorable results are rarely made public.
The NYT and LAT front Bush and Cheney's public insistence that Iraq and Al-Qaida were linked, despite the 9/11 commission's report Wednesday that there is "no credible evidence" that Saddam Hussein's government participated in the 9/11 attacks, nor that Iraq and al-Qaida had ever cooperated. Nevertheless, Bush told reporters after yesterday's Cabinet meeting, "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda, because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda." Cheney, for his part, deserves some kind of lifetime achievement award for chutzpa. Referring to yesterday's Page-One NYT story "PANEL FINDS NO QAEDA-IRAQ TIE," he said, "The fact of the matter is, the evidence is overwhelming. The press is, with all due respect, and there are exceptions, oftentimes lazy, oftentimes simply reports what somebody else in the press said without doing their homework."