Slight of Handover

Slight of Handover

Slight of Handover

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 29 2004 8:12 AM

Slight of Handover

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal worldwide news box, and Washington Postall lead with the surprise early handover of formal sovereignty in Iraq. USA Todayfronts the handover but leads with the Supreme Court's rulings that while the executive branch technically has the power to designate enemy combatants, the prisoners have a right to challenge their detention in front of a judge or other "neutral decision maker." The "state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens," wrote Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in one opinion.

The early transfer, reportedly pushed by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, happened with such heavy security that journalists ushered into the small room to watch didn't know what they had been invited to until it was happening, and even then their cell phones had been confiscated, part of a failed attempt to embargo the story for a few hours.

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Immediately after the ceremony, former proconsul Paul Bremer was driven over to the airport and quietly hopped on a plane. The Post quotes one CPA staffer calling it a "tail-between-your-legs exit." Another American staffer told the WP, "I knew there were big security concerns, but I figured that at the very least we'd have a ceremony with a few hundred Iraqis—something that would be televised for the country to see. This was embarrassing."

The NYT's Steven Weisman does a good job summarizing the murkiness of the new reality.  For one thing, the U.S. issued a number of far-reaching edicts before Bremer left—including exempting U.S. contractors from Iraqi laws—and there still are about 150 American advisers in Iraqi ministries. (Overall, the Postand Journalhave been leading the pack in uncovering the various limitations on sovereignty.) Still, the new government could end up locking horns with the U.S. and prove to be somewhat independent. The Times' piece also mentions that of the $18 billion allocated for reconstruction, $400 million has been spent.

The LAT, which caught the handover in its late edition yesterday, asks a few military commanders if they plan on doing much different now. The response was typified by one officer who said he'll check in more with Iraqi forces, but "it's not going to cramp my style."

The Post mentions another change: The Green Zone is no longer; it will now be known as the International Zone.

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Everybody checks in with Iraqis, whose feelings about the transfer ranged from indifference to genuine enthusiasm. "Everybody will consider it a little bit of a show, but a nice show," one Iraqi poli-sci prof told the LAT. The Journal mentions a recent U.S.-funded poll that found that 72 percent of respondents believe the transfer will "bring significant change for the better."

The NYT fronts the apparent killing of Spc. Keith Maupin, who had been held hostage since April. Al-Jazeera received a video reportedly showing Maupin being shot in the head.

In one of the Supreme Court's decisions, the justices ruled 8-1 that American citizen and enemy combatant Yaser Hamdi deserves a "fair opportunity to rebut the government's factual assertions." (Justice Thomas was the lone hold-out.) "The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive," wrote Justice Scalia, who went further than the majority, arguing that Hamdi should be charged or freed. In a second decision, the justices ruled 6-3 that federal courts do have jurisdiction over enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay even though it's not on U.S. soil. In a third case, involving American al-Qaida suspect Jose Padilla, the court punted, saying the suit had been filed in the wrong place, a decision that angered some of the more liberal justices, who dissented. (Slate's Dahlia Lithwick and Walter Dellinger discussed the rulings here.)

As for how this is all going to play out, the NYT says the justices gave lower courts "only limited and conflicting guidance."

The NYT unveils a poll showing President Bush's approval rating at 42 percent, by far the lowest of his presidency. It also has Bush and Sen. Kerry in a dead heat.

Everybody notes inside that Palestinian homemade rockets launched in Gaza hit just inside Israel, killed two Israelis, including a 3-year-old boy. (Yesterday's TP mistakenly reported that the rockets landed inside the Gaza Strip.)

Nit-picking ... From the NYT's correction box:

An account in the Soccer Report column on June 22 about Ethan Zohn, a former player in Zimbabwe who won $1 million on the CBS reality show "Survivor: Africa" in 2002 and has capitalized on his moment of fame by starting an international nonprofit AIDS awareness foundation on the continent, misstated a word in a comment he made. Mr. Zohn said, "We can make value judgments all we want, but through some cultural differences it has been all right for men in Africa to have multiple sex partners"—not "all right for me."