The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post alllead with Iraq catch-alls, emphasizing militants threatening to behead a kidnapped Marine, Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun. The military acknowledged Hassoun has been missing for a week. There was also video of a Pakistani contractor who's been kidnapped and threatened with beheading. USA Today reefers the hostages but leads with an analysis concluding that out-of-pocket tuitions costs for students at public universities has actually dropped nearly a third since 1998. The paper credits new federal tax breaks and an increase in government grants.
According to early morning reports, in a bid to outsmart guerrillas, the U.S. is going to hand over nominal sovereignty to Iraq today, two days earlier than scheduled. Also, an American defense contractor died after the plane he was in took fire on takeoff from Baghdad. And two Iraqi girls were killed in Baghdad by guerrilla mortar rounds. Finally, the death toll from a suicide bombing in Hilla Saturday night rose to 40.
The Wall Street Journal and NYT both go high with President Bush's glad-handing in Turkey. But the treatment is a touch different. The Times headlines the president's declaration that he no longer has beef with Turkey, which ticked off the administration last year for refusing to serve as a front in the invasion. The NYT adds that NATO members aren't rushing to deliver on their vague promises to help train Iraqi forces. The Journal skips the Turkey talk and gets to the meat right away: "BUSH STRUGGLES TO NAIL DOWN DETAILS ON NATO'S IRAQ PLEDGE."
The NYT has a throaty piece inside saying that the U.S. is getting shown the hand because these past few years it hasn't played nice. "What we are seeing is other nations joining to resist U.S. unilateralism and exacting a higher price," said one conservative analyst. "We've seen pounds of flesh being exacted before. Now it's an aggregate pound of flesh."
The Post has similar coverage to the Times but opposite, and stronger, placement. It stuffs the NATO training and fronts a withering analysis that begins, "The occupation of Iraq has increasingly undermined the core tenets of President Bush's foreign policy, according to a wide range of Republican and Democratic analysts." Of the four planks Bush laid out—pre-emption, unilateralism, Iraq as central to the GWOT, and democracy-building, "three have failed, and the fourth—democracy promotion—is hanging by a sliver," said one former Reagan-era official. "You have a feeling that even Bush isn't saying, 'Hey, that was great. Let's do it again,' " said another analyst. Indeed, the Post notes, "The administration would not make a senior official or spokesman available for quotation by name to support its policy."
USAT says Army investigators are considering whether troops exposed Iraqi prisoners to such extreme heat that they may have killed them. Fifteen prisoners have died in custody of "natural causes," 11 during periods of extreme heat. Abu Ghraib didn't have a doctor on duty for prisoners until November.
The NYT announces inside, "UNCERTAINTY ABOUT INTERROGATION RULES SEEN AS SLOWING THE HUNT FOR INFORMATION ON TERRORISTS." The story doesn't quote anybody saying that. But it does note, "Other intelligence officials have expressed a sense of resignation, saying they had a feeling that, from the early days in the war on terror, aggressive steps taken in an effort to protect the country from another attack would lead to criticism and internal investigations."
The NYT fronts Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi talking big and insisting that Saddam will be in Iraqi custody "very soon." Secretary of State Powell said Saddam will "remain in our hands for the foreseeable future." The Times explains that the "custody" change will likely involve Saddam being formally turned over to a few Iraqi cops, after which he will be guarded by ... GIs. Nobody else gives this significant coverage.
The papers say inside that suspected Taliban guerrillas in Afghanistan killed at least 14 men who had registered to vote. Saturday, a bus carrying two female election workers exploded, killing two and wounding 13. The NYT, which has the best coverage, emphasizes that while Afghan and U.N. officials have asked for 6,000 additional NATO troops, the coalition agreed to send only 1,800 and will place them in the safer parts of the country.
The Post says inside that Sudanese government thugs have been warning refugees in Darfur to keep quiet about atrocities; Powell is scheduled to visit the region next week.
According to early morning reports, Palestinian rockets launched in Gaza killed two Israelis. * Five soldiers were wounded Sunday by a bomb in the strip.
The Post's Howard Kurtz reports that the FBI isn't showing the love to NYT reporter Eric Lichtblau. Complaining about "the slanted and biased report[ing] style of Mr. Lichtblau," an FBI spokeswoman sent a memo around the bureau saying, "We encourage each of you to please avoid providing information to this reporter." Soon after, the Justice Department lifted Lichtblau's press credentials, a move they say was unrelated. Apparently, he didn't visit the building often enough.