The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Todaylead with the Supreme Court dismissing, on a technicality, a challenge to the "under God" reference in the Pledge of Allegiance. Five justices ruled that the complainant, a father who didn't want his school-age daughter subjected to the phrase, lacked standing. With Justice Scalia having recused himself, the three other justices on the case—Rehnquist, O'Connor, and Thomas—argued that "under God" is constitutionally legit. The Wall Street Journal worldwide news box and New York Times lead with yesterday morning's three suicide bombings in Iraq, including a massive one in Baghdad that killed 13 people, including an American, two Britons, a Frenchman, and a Filipino. Five Iraqis also died, and about 65 were wounded in that blast, which was followed by rioting and celebration by supporters of Muqtada Sadr. Eight Iraqis were killed in the two other bombings.
Sadr supporters swarmed the site of the big Baghdad bombing and chucked rocks at GIs, who left the scene. While police stood back, the men then jumped atop the foreign contractors' burning cars. The Times ponders the scene and says "a power vacuum seems to be forming" as GIs are "deferring, more and more each day" to still unprepared Iraqi forces.
The Post also gives a gloomy assessment: "Although no bloodier, Monday's blast in the capital carried significantly more political meaning than its predecessors. ... It brought to the capital's center a display of anti-occupation fury previously seen only in outlying trouble spots such as Fallujah."
In a potential bit of good news, the NYT says a few Marines went into Fallujah ... and weren't attacked. "The Marines said many good things," said one elder who met with the unit. "The people here were happy to receive them." According to a British Arab-language paper, the Marines agreed to release 50 jailed Fallujans.
The Post interviews a handful of the hundreds of prisoners released from Abu Ghraib and says things are much improved since the photos came out and the media began focusing on the abuses. "The Army is good now," said one newly released detainee.
The WP says inside that former Halliburton employees have said in sworn statements that the company frequently frittered away government money and did things like charge $100 per bag of laundry. The Republican head of a congressional committee has so far refused to let the employees testify in hearings. Ponder that, and consider the Post's headline, "IRAQ CONTRACTORS' TESTIMONY DEBATED." Now compare it to Knight Ridder's: "GOP REFUSING TO ALLOW TESTIMONY ON HALLIBURTON SPENDING."
The LAT also goes inside with the Halliburton allegations. It adds that military auditors have found the company may have significantly overcharged the government and, as the Times puts it, "failed to follow its own procedures for billing the government." Though the LAT doesn't include the links, all this dirt comes via Rep. Henry Waxman, who has posted the audit and employee statements. (For the record: The only coverage TP sees of this in today's NYT is a Reuters dispatch.)
A NYT op-ed complaining about private contractors in Iraq notes that the U.S. recently awarded a $293 million contract for coordination of "security support" to a company of apparent smugglers and mercenaries. Its chief executive once sent 30 tons in weapons to Sierra Leone, in violation of a U.N. ban, and he was once hired by Papua New Guinea to put a down a rebellion.
The Journal and Post preview a report due out today from the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations that concludes Saudi Arabia still isn't cracking down on terror funding. Several men suspected of being big al-Qaida fund-raisers are apparently living openly in the kingdom. A few days ago, the NYT suggested that the report was watered down after complaints from the White House. One sentence that was removed, "The Bush administration has done very little to push the implementation of the rules and regulations."
The WP off-leads unnamed sources saying that the 9/11 commission has found evidence that al-Qaida originally planned to carry out the Sept. 11 attacks months earlier but held off because the hijackers needed more training.
Apparently tiring of Attorney General Ashcroft's habit of slightly spinning terror cases, nobody fronts his announcement that a Somali man has been indicted for his role in an alleged plot to blow up an Ohio mall. As the Post emphasizes, the man reportedly has connections to Iyman Faris, the guy who apparently has admitted to connections to al-Qaida and once considered trying to topple the Brooklyn Bridge.
Responding to Ashcroft, the NYT does the journalistic equivalent of coughing while muttering "bull---t": FBI types suggested the plot "appeared not to have advanced beyond the discussion stage. The officials expressed doubt that [the defendant] had the financial, organizational or technical skills to carry out an attack." The Times adds that the indictment itself doesn't mention the alleged bombing plot; rather, it's cited in the government's motion to keep the guy without bail.
Meanwhile, NYT columnist Paul Krugman declares, "No question: John Ashcroft is the worst attorney general in history."
The NYT announces that the country's top medical journals are considering requiring drug makers to register their trials in a public database in order to be considered for publication. As it stands, trials that don't go well for drug-makers often end up getting concrete boots. That is, they never get released.
A NYT editorial notices that Angola has become a huge oil producer while its population is among "the world's most miserable," in large part because the Angolan government steals scads of oil revenue—by one estimate, 9 percent of the country's total domestic product. The president of Angola has twice visited the White House and President Bush, who once said, "Corrupt regimes that give nothing to their people deserve nothing from us." The Times notes: "In December, Washington deemed Angola eligible for trade preferences, based on a set of criteria that are supposed to include corruption-related policies." This editorial aside, and with the notable exception of the LAT, the papers have basically ignored the administration's oil-friendly actions involving unsavory leaders in Africa.