Mourning in America

Mourning in America

Mourning in America

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 11 2004 6:54 AM

Mourning in America

The Washington Post leads with an Abu Ghraib revelation: Intelligence personnel authorized dog-handlers at the prison to terrify and intimidate prisoners with unmuzzled military dogs, according to sworn statements the handlers made to military investigators. USA Today leads with a giant photo teaser for its Ronald Reagan special section, which concides with the former president's state funeral and his burial later this afternoon near his presidential library in California. The WP and USAT offer the most in-depth Reagan coverage; the New York Times fronts a Johnny Apple prognostication on the Gipper's future legacy, and the Los Angeles Times stuffs today's events (at least online). The NYT leads with a catchall from President Bush's "relaxed and at times almost ebullient" post G-8 news conference, headlining his concession that NATO is not likely to contribute troops to Iraq. "That's an unrealistic expectation," Bush said. "Nobody is suggesting that." The admission tops the Wall Street Journal's worldwide news box while the  LAT fronts it and the  WP and USAT cover it inside. Online, the LAT leads with its own poll showing that 53 percent of Americans think the war in Iraq isn't worth it and 61 percent think the U.S. is "getting bogged down." Nevertheless, the poll found that 52 percent think the U.S. is still winning.

The papers run rapturous scene pieces about the everyday visitors who traveled, sometimes across the country, to spend only a minute or two with President Reagan as his body lay in state on a catafalque in the Capitol Rotunda. The Post adds, with a hint of snark, that some of the mourners' attire (flip-flops, halter tops) was not in keeping with the former president's affinity for formalwear. Online, both USAT and the WP post bloglike features with quick sketches of the Rotunda scene.

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The papers also note that, along with George and Laura Bush, many dignitaries paid their respects to Ronnie and Nancy yesterday, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, Rudolph Giuliani, and Lech Walesa, who contributes his own hagiography to today's WSJ opinion page. The NYT and WP run dueling soft-focus remembrances from Gorbachev, imparted in (apparently) separate interviews at the Russian embassy yesterday, and the Post also informs readers that Thatcher's seven-minute eulogy (one of two to be delivered at the closed funeral) was actually recorded earlier this year after her doctors ordered her to stop making public speeches. One person who won't be there, according to the LAT: Ollie North. "Every doggone camera in the place would be shooting pictures of me instead of paying attention to what was going on," he told the paper.

The WP's dog intimidation lead comes on the heels of a (subscription only) story in yesterday's WSJ that says Donald Rumsfeld himself approved "fear of dogs" interrogations at Guantanamo in 2002. Today's piece offers no new word on whether Rummy expanded that system of interrogations to Abu Ghraib, as first alleged in Sy Hersh's piece in the May 25 New Yorker. The article does say, however, that the "fear of dogs" stuff started after the initial wave of sexual humiliation as part of a more coordinated intelligence-gathering effort, a contention the paper previously advanced on June 1. It wasn't until mid-December 2003 that the dog-handlers, whose animals were trained for things like narcotics, were asked if they would participate in interrogations. "We went outside and saw Col. Pappas," one handler told investigators, referring to the head of military intelligence at the prison. "He told us MI wanted to use the dogs for interrogations and he told us that they had received permission to use dogs in an interview." The Post mentions that it has an Army memo specifically allowing the use of dogs, too. TP says post it.

The WP says this kind of interrogation violates international law and the Army's own field manual. But, as another Post piece and the NYT lead report, Bush said at the G-8 press conference yesterday that he only authorized interrogations that conform to U.S. law and are consistent with treaty obligations. "The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law," he said. "That ought to comfort you." The WP and NYT point out, however, that Bush would not say whether torture is permitted under U.S. law and he sidestepped reference to the Justice department memo (uncovered this week) that attempted to reinterpret the law to allow behavior that would have previously been called torture.

A front-page scoop in USAT says soldiers at Camp X-Ray in Cuba were told that they do not need to talk to lawyers representing people detained there. Although the headline says that employees were warned "not to talk" and paper quotes sources who say the document "gives the appearance of encouraging (people) to be less than forthcoming," the military says it was just informing soldiers of their rights, and USAT doesn't quote any passages explicitly discouraging contact with defense lawyers. Again, TP urges: Post the document online, and let readers judge for themselves.

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Knight-Ridder reports from Baghdad that dozens of Iraqis may be lost in Abu Ghraib because poorly entered prisoner data prevents them from being tracked or accounted for. The story's central anecdote revolves around a 15-year-old named Mohamed Khaled Saleem, who was allegedly arrested six months ago and is still missing despite scattered reports that he has been seen inside the prison. "The whole system is desperately overloaded, so the names get gobbled up and disappear," said an anonymous human rights official for the coalition.

On the other hand, a pair of pieces inside the Post paints a rosier picture of U.S. prisons in Iraq. One story highlights the Pentagon's new policy of referring all detainee deaths to criminal investigators. The other profiles Camp Bucca, once a site of abuse and now also a showcase for the military's more touchy-feely approach. At one point in the article, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller—who last year urged the commanders to "Gitmoize" Abu Ghraib—rejects metal cages erected at Bucca to house misbehaving prisoners. "Guys, these don't sing to me," he said within earshot of the reporter. "I don't like it. You can't put people in here."

According to the WP, NYT, and LAT, gunmen loyal to rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr seized a police station in Najaf yesterday, helping looters plunder the building and setting fire to police cars. A hospital official said as many as seven people were killed in the clashes that shook a five-day-old cease-fire.

The NYT and WP mention inside that an April announcement from the State Department erroneously reported a drop in world terrorism in 2003, an achievement the Bush administration and campaign touted as a victory. "Indeed, you will find in these pages clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight," Richard Armitage said at the time. In fact, incidents of terrorism and victims in attacks sharply increased in 2003.

Evidence for anyone who wonders if the papers would really rather be writing about talking dogs: The WP and LAT front and USAT and the NYT both reefer a report from the journal Science that a 9-year-old border collie is capable of quickly learning words by a process of elimination, a skill previously only attributed to humans.

The papers all front news that Ray Charles died yesterday at the age of 73—USAT goes so far as to tease its front-page obit with a separate roof line. The NYT's story gives special prominence to an interview it did with Charles early this year, in which he said he wanted to tour until he died. "I'm like Count Basie or Duke Ellington. Until the good Lord calls my number, that's what I'm going to do."