Legal Grief

Legal Grief

Legal Grief

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 27 2004 6:55 AM

Legal Grief

The New York Times leads with the fact that the 2002 Justice Department torture memo was prepared as an "after-the-fact legal basis" for the harsh interrogation methods used on top Bin Laden aide Abu Zubaydah, who was captured earlier that year. The Washington Post's lead also mentions the memo's genesis but gives top billing to the fact that, pending a review by Justice Department and other administration lawyers, the CIA has suspended its use of such techniques. The Los Angeles Times leads with the kidnapping of three Turkish contractors by followers of Abu Musab Zarqawi, something the other papers stuff. It seems the Turks were taken hostage to overshadow President Bush's fence-mending trip to Istanbul for a NATO summit. High in the LAT's lead is the news that 54 people were killed by skirmishes and two car bombs yesterday, another detail that the NYT and WP stick inside.

The administration has stayed mum about the origins of the Justice Department interrogation brief. Thus, both the NYT and WP rely on anonymous officials, and here's what they say: Evidently it arrived on the heels of a debate between the CIA and Justice about the legality of draconian methods used on al-Qaida detainees, who had just been labeled unlawful combatants by the White House. The NYT asserts that Attorney General John Ashcroft's role in preparing the memo remains unclear, but the WP, which seems to have dug a bit deeper, says it was in fact approved by Ashcroft's office. What's more, the Post claims that it was also vetted by lawyers for the National Security Council, White House counsel, and Vice President Cheney.

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The WP fronts the revelation that Paul Bremer has issued at least 97 U.S.-crafted revisions to Iraq's legal code, which will take effect unless they are overturned by the interim government. "Many of [the orders] reflect an idealistic but perhaps futile attempt to impose Western legal, economic, and social concepts on a tradition-bound nation that is reveling in anything-goes freedom," the paper observes. Perhaps not uncoincidentally, Prime Minister-in-waiting Iwad Allawi editorializes just a few pages away, "The democratic system developed in Iraq will not and should not be a replica of models imported from the United States, Britain or any other country." Many of the new regulations seem to be of the micromanaging variety (i.e., capping tax rates at 15 percent; banning intellectual property piracy; and requiring drivers to "hold the steering wheel with both hands"), whereas some seem to be downright undemocratic (one election law gives a seven-member commission the authority to disqualify political parties and any of their candidates).

The WP goes above-the-fold with a must-read dispatch from a refugee camp in Darfur, Sudan, an area where an estimated 1.2 million people suffer from famine and over 10,000 have been killed during government-backed ethnic cleansing over the past 16 months. "In Darfur, there is no hunger," bluffs Sudan's foreign minister. "There is no malnutrition." He can tell that to Colin Powell, who's visiting the region next week and will press the Sudanese government to disarm the Arab militias or face U.N. sanctions.

The NYT's off-lead reveals that federal prosecutors in Boston are investigating whether global drug giant Schering-Plough offered unsolicited payoffs to doctors in exchange for prescribing the company's medicines. Three physicians tell the paper they received personalized checks—one for $10,000—from the company, and other handouts are said to have reached six figures. Schering-Plough, which may also be charged with obstruction of justice and document destruction, says that with the arrival of a new CEO last April, it has since banned the tactics under investigation.

John Kerry's campaign is raking it in, fronts the NYT, enabling the senator to outspend President Bush's campaign in both April and May. Since Super Tuesday in March, Kerry has raised more than $100 million, making him the best-financed challenger in presidential campaign history. And he'll need every penny: The Bush/Cheney cup runneth over with an unprecedented $213 million.

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Evidently operating under the assumption that it was his call to make, Bush declared in Ireland yesterday an end to the "bitter differences" between the U.S. and Europe over the Iraq war. He then appealed to NATO for postwar help, and it appears that the alliance will agree this week to help train Iraqi troops.

Which is good news, thinks TP after reading the NYT's Page One peek at that Herculean task. "I am not ready to fight Iraqis," said one Iraqi officer standing guard at an American compound. "I will throw down my weapon, I will throw down my uniform, and I will give back my badge. I will fight foreigners; but I am not ready to fight Iraqis."

Analyzing SEC filings and other public documents, the LAT off-leads that the family fortune of ketchup queen and first lady aspirant Teresa Heinz Kerry is worth around $1 billion, double previous estimates.

A NYT editorial body-slams Bush judicial nominee Thomas Griffith, who was recently outed by the WP for practicing in two separate jurisdictions without the required law licenses. Fine, but if the Times is so gung-ho that the Senate "should regard his situation as a reminder of the need to be vigilant in vetting the administration's remaining nominees," where was its own vigilance on the issue? The Post first revealed on June 4 that Griffith practiced law in D.C. without valid accreditation, and more than two weeks passed—plenty of time for a Times follow-up—before it was the Post again that broke the news that Griffith has been doing the same thing in Utah.

The WP's Dana Milbank draws attention to a recent open letter from non-Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader to Michael Moore, in which Nader calls the filmmaker a fatso. "Your old friends remain committed to blazing paths for a just society and world," wrote Nader. "As they helped you years ago, they can help you now. They are also trim and take care of themselves. Girth they avoid. The more you let them see you, the less they will see of you." When reached for comment, Nader scoffed, "Don't you have better things to write about?" One might ask him the same thing.