Mourning in Mosul

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 22 2004 4:10 AM

Mourning in Mosul

Everybody leads with the attack on a base in Mosul that killed about 25 people, including as many as 19 GIs. (There's confusion about the exact numbers.) About 60 soldiers and contractors were wounded in the explosion, which hit a cafeteria during mealtime. It was the deadliest single attack since the war began.

It's not clear what caused the explosion. The Wall Street Journal cites military officials saying it was a rocket. But a militant Web site claimed responsibility and asserted it was a suicide operation. The base has thousands of people on it, including foreign contractors and Iraqi security forces. And even if it was a rocket or mortar, the attack could have been aided by insiders. As USA Todaynotices, the commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq said a few weeks ago that insurgents "probably know about when meal times are and [when] there is a concentration of people. The rest of the day, folks are scattered."

It also could have been a "lucky" hit. The Washington Postsays, "Mortar rounds fall frequently on the post—sometimes a half-dozen a day." The Richmond Times-Dispatch's Jeremy Redmon, who was there during the explosion, writes that the mess hall itself has been targeted "more than 30 times this year."

The Los Angeles Times and WP run Redmon's dispatch. "A fireball enveloped the top of the tent, and shrapnel sprayed into the men," he wrote. The NYT quotes from it but declines to run the second-hand copy.

As USAT mentions, the Portland (Maine) Press-Herald had a reporter on the scene a couple of minutes after the blast.

Elsewhere in Iraq, two French journalists were released after being held hostage for four months. And British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a surprise visit to Baghdad.

The LAT alone has word that a major contractor has decided to pull out of Iraq because of the security situation and the sky-rocketing costs of dealing with it. Contrack International, Inc. is abandoning a $325 million contract to rebuild Iraq's transportation system.

The Journal's Iraq catchall flags some Pentagon officials saying the White House is wrong: The U.S. needs fewer troops in Iraq. The fewer number of troops, the less the resentment from Iraqis. "What you get with a smaller force is an ink-blot approach," one "senior defense official" said. "You work on one small, manageable area at a time and spread out from there."

The ACLU has unleashed another batch of detainee abuse/torture docs, and the papers have different tacks. The Post goes Page One with it, saying in its lead that the docs, which were culled from military investigation files, suggest the mistreatment was "more widespread, varied and grave in the past three years than the Defense Department has long maintained." It happened in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Gitmo, of course, and included "shocking detainees with electric guns [and] shackling them without food."*

The LAT and New York Timesstuff the ACLU docs, with both suggesting the memos indicate the military has been slack in investigating alleged abuse and torture. In one case, a doc states, some evidence was "not collected" even though "probable cause existed for a murder charge." As the LAT says, and others have suggested before, part of the problem is that investigators seemed to have been overwhelmed by the number of abuse cases.

TP has also noticed that the papers seem to making few distinctions about what appears to have been policy—such as using dogs to scare prisoners—and what went beyond what even that, such as shocking detainees. (If the point, or contention, is that the policies themselves muddied the waters, then the papers should say that.)

Meanwhile, while everybody notes that the White House promised that there will be an investigation. But TP doesn't see the papers mention a related point: There has been no independent or overarching investigation of the abuses, and the administration has opposed the creation of one. (The Post reported that back in May ... on Page A14.)

In a big Page One investigation, the LAT flags "dozens" instances in which doctors at the National Institute for Health earned big bucks moonlighting for drug companies while in their day jobs they were supposed to be evaluating the same corps' pills and products. Such double-timing goes on under-the-radar and against NIH guidelines.

The NYT teases word that the Department of Homeland Security, after hearing much complaining, has decided to reroute a few hundred million bucks in anti-terrorism grants to high-risk cities such as New York.

The Post and NYT front the forced resignation of mortgage backer Fannie Mae's top exec. Regulators yanked him after the SEC concluded that the company had violated accounting rules.

Citing "officials of several charities, some Republican members of Congress and some administration officials," the NYT says the White House, in a budget-cutting move, is cutting "up to $100 million" from international food programs meant to promote self-sufficiency. The Times relies on NGOs for the obviously fuzzy number.

Everybody mentions that D.C.'s city council approved a tweaked deal on a baseball stadium, meaning Washington will again experience Spring Fever.

Who's Our Daddy ... Everybody mentions in one spot or another that Slate has a new boss: the Washington Post Co., which also owns Newsweek. TP's ramblings will continue apace.

Correction, Dec. 22, 2004: This article originally said that the Washington Post waited until the 13th paragraph to mention that the latest prisoner abuse documents were taken from military investigators' files. In fact, the Post mentioned it in the second paragraph.

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.