This morning, the 9/11 commission releases its long-awaited final report, which, clocking in at more than 500 pages, offers plenty of different angles to go around. The Los Angeles Times leads with the panel's rejection of claims that Saudi Arabia backed the Sept. 11 attacks. USA Today's report report, however, goes high with President Bush's defense of his prosecution of the war on terror. The Washington Post, which ran a big 9/11 panel preview yesterday, pushes today's story almost below the fold, leading instead with word that the U.S. war effort is close to broke. The New York Times off-leads its commission piece, going instead with an Iraq round-up that focuses on the abduction of six civilians by a militant group that is threatening more beheadings, a development that rates the top of the Wall Street Journal's world-wide news box.
Though the papers' commission pieces draw on the growing set of folks, like members of Congress, who have been "briefed on the panel's findings," there's apparently not much new to tell. The LAT lead, for example, is drawn largely from the commission's staff reports, which were released in June. One exception is the NYT's off-lead, which says the commission will recommend a wholesale reorganization of the way congressional committees oversee intelligence policy and spending. It's not a solution that will be easy to implement. "It goes without saying that chairmen of committees are generally very vigorous in guarding their committee's jurisdiction," said a Democratic House member.
The WP mentions the oversight issues but chooses to spice up its commission story by leading it with a couple brief excerpts from the report itself. In one, the panel spanks the Bush administration by urging a Geneva Conventions-based "approach toward the detention and humane treatment of captured terrorists." USAT notes that while the report is, as expected, critical of the CIA, it also praises improvements made by the FBI; perhaps that's why the WP says it doesn't recommend the creation of a domestic intel agency like Britain's MI5. Instead, the NYT and USAT say that the panel will push for an "interagency counterterrorism center."
USAT also catches another little departure from the CW: According to a member of Congress, the report does not propose making the ballyhooed intelligence czar a member of the Cabinet. And while a story inside the WP reiterates the now stale news that the report will contain evidence of a "collaborative" relationship between Iran and al-Qaida, the paper teases out a few new wrinkles: There's evidence Iran allowed Qaida members into the country even after 9/11, and a chance that AQ freelanced on the Hezbollah/Iranian Khobar Towers bombing in 1996.
In other 9/11 news, the papers all mention the release yesterday (not by the commission, but by lawyers for 9/11 victims' families) of a grainy and chilling video of five hijackers passing through security at Washington's Dulles airport on the morning of the attacks. The video, which was broadcast widely, showed three of the five being searched but eventually cleared to board.
According to the WP's lead, and a story inside the LAT, the Pentagon's approach to dwindling war funds can be summed up in the maxim, if it ain't completely broke, don't embarrass yourself by asking for more money. The Defense Department, facing a more than $12 billion hole in its war chest for the rest of the fiscal year, has chosen to move funds from other areas of its budget to cover the shortfall. The Post reports that the approach is not without its own costs, as the Army has been forced to curtail equipment repairs in Iraq, while the other armed services have reduced training and maintenance elsewhere around the globe. (If that weren't enough, the WP reports inside that the military is also running short on bullets.)
The NYT lead focuses on an Islamic militant group's announcement yesterday that it has captured six civilians and will behead them, one every 72 hours, unless the Kuwaiti company for which they work pulls out of Iraq. "We have warned all the countries, companies, businessmen and truck drivers that those who deal with American cowboy occupiers will be targeted by the fires of the mujahedeen," read a statement released by the group, which calls itself called the Holders of the Black Banners, or as the WP more ineloquently translates, the Hoisters of the Black Flags.
Meanwhile, everyone reports that violence continued to surge in Iraq yesterday, as U.S. troops battled militants in Samarra and Ramadi, while a missile struck a hospital and a car bomb rocked a narrow street in Baghdad.
The papers go inside with the grisly discovery of the the severed and frozen head of Paul Johnson Jr., who was killed by Islamic militants a month ago. Saudi security forces made the discovery inside a suspected al-Qaida hideout, after a heated gun battle with suspected Qaida members. According to the NYT and LAT, the Saudis also found an enormous weapons cache that included a surface-to-air missile.
A front-page Post article paints a sobering picture of the situation in Gaza, where a power struggle between different factions of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement has become cloaked and muddled in the rhetoric of and need for political reform. "It's a catastrophe," said Fatah's general secretary in the Gaza Strip. "The truth is that both sides are corrupt. There's not a good side and a bad side." The latest development, as covered inside the NYT and LAT, was a rare and perhaps futile show of defiance from the Palestinian parliament only a day after one of its most outspoken members was shot in the leg by an unknown assailant. Members called on Arafat to respect the resignation of PM Ahmed Qurei, who has been frustrated by Arafat's refusal to turn over control of Palestinian security forces. The resolution also asked Arafat to create a new Cabinet with broader security control.
Following through on buzz that his campaign is going to start making a case for a second term, President Bush offered "the barest outlines of new initiatives" for health-care and retirement programs yesterday, according to the NYT and LAT. Meanwhile, the WP goes way above the fold to pimp its own poll showing Sen. John Kerry with a commanding lead among Latino voters.
And the NYT reports that one of the first same-sex couples to be married in Canada may now become the first to get a divorce. There's only one snag: When a court decision legalized same-sex marriage in Ontario last year, it left the Canadian Divorce Act untouched. "These people were legally married, but under the law of our land cannot be divorced until the Divorce Act is changed," said a lawyer for the couple.