The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Postall lead with the confirmation hearings for Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales, who said "torture and abuse will not be tolerated by this administration," but who also repeatedly declined to disavow the White House policies and memos that built the framework for torture. USA Today's lead teases the hearings and leads with word that many states have plenty of flu vaccine, owing to a combination of an as yet mild flu season and people who've been skipping shots on the assumption that others need it more.
Asked what his position had been during the original discussions involving the recently repudiated 2002 "torture" memo—which he apparently helped draft and stated that torture only consisted of something that induces organ failure or worse—Gonzales said, "I don't recall." adding that generally speaking "I don't have a disagreement with the conclusions then reached."
That memo also stated that the president has the power to toss aside anti-torture laws. Asked repeatedly whether he still thinks the president can order torture, Gonzales bobbed and weaved, insisting it's not an issue since the president would never do such a thing. Finally, he said, "I guess I would have to say that hypothetically that authority may exist." (Slate's Chris Suellentrop covered the hearing and writes, "It's a strange argument from a conservative: We're the government. Trust us.")
Sen. Lindsay Graham was the one Republican to lay into Gonzales, saying the administration had been "playing cute with the law" and as a result had "dramatically undermined" the war against Islamic extremism.
A Post editorial says Gonzales left an "unmistakable" message: "As attorney general, he will seek no change in practices that have led to the torture and killing of scores of detainees and to the blackening of U.S. moral authority around the world."
The NYT's coverage deserves an extra look: It plays down the evasion factor and, unlike the other papers, emphasizes Gonzales' promise that the U.S. will abide by international law. Whizzed by are his comments the U.S. will follow "Geneva Conventions whenever they apply." It's all wrapped up with the heart-warming and misleading, "GONZALES SPEAKS AGAINST TORTURE DURING HEARING." TP would be happy to hear from any Times editors who care to defend that headline—on the record, please.
Not that any of this matters much: Gonzales' confirmation is what the LAT calls"a foregone conclusion;" the paper also suggests the hearings are now done.
Seven GIs were killed in Baghdad when their Bradley Fighting Vehicle was destroyed by a roadside bomb; two Marines were killed somewhere in the Anbar province, where Fallujah is. Eighteen Iraqi contractors were found executed near a road north of Baghdad. And two election workers were found beheaded and burned in Basra.
As the NYT off-leads, the commander of ground forces in Iraq acknowledged that four provinces, which include Baghdad and 50 percent of the country's population, aren't safe for elections. "Today I would not be in much shape to hold elections in those provinces," he said, adding that they should still go on. "I think there is a greater chance of civil war with a delay than without one." Republican wise-man Brent Scowcroft had a different take, saying the elections have "a great potential for deepening the conflict."
From the LAT inside, on Fallujah: "AFTER LEVELING CITY, US TRIES TO BUILD TRUST."
The NYT fronts word that SecDef Rumsfeld has dispatched a retired general on a wide-ranging fact-finding mission to Iraq. The Times says the "unusual open-ended" review is a signal of "deep concern by senior Pentagon officials and top American commanders."
The WP fronts, and other go inside with, an anonymous Army official saying the military might try to change policy and call up some National Guard troops for far more than the current max of two years. Everybody seems to quote the same "senior Army official," who said the Army hasn't asked SecDef Rumsfeld to make the change, "We're going to have this discussion this spring." The papers seem to ignore their own roles in the story: Presumably the quotes are via a backgrounder condoned by the top Army officials. If so, what was their likely aim?
After what the Wall Street Journal calls "rising concerns" that the U.S.-led "core group" on tsunami aid was undermining the U.N's effort, the U.S. backed away from going its own way. "The core group helped to catalyze the international response," said Secretary of State Powell. "But now, having served its purpose, the core group will fold itself into the broader coordination efforts of the United Nations."
The papers mention that soon to be Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has chosen trade negotiator Robert Zoellick as her No. 2. He's widely regarded as a pragmatist.
The NYT fronts an internal CIA investigation ripping top officials, including former chief George Tenet, for pre-9/11 intel failures. The Times declares the whole thing très awkward, "particularly since President Bush awarded a Medal of Freedom to Mr. Tenet last month."