Supremely Confusing

Supremely Confusing

Supremely Confusing

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 13 2005 3:30 AM

Supremely Confusing

The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and New York Timesall lead with the Supreme Court ruling 5-4 that federal judges aren't required to follow mandatory sentencing guidelines, but still, um, "must consult" them and "take them into account." The seemingly split-the-baby ruling came via an unusual two-part decision.

The Los Angeles Times leads with word that the development of FBI software meant to help agents share counter-terrorism info is going so poorly that the bureau might have to scrap it and start over. The software was supposed to be ready at the end of 2003. USA Todayleads with, and others front, the fed's aggressive new dietary guidelines. If you don't want to disappoint your government: Exercise an hour a day, eat heaps of fruit and veggies, and skip stuff with added sugar. That last bit of advice irked the high-minded sugar lobby, which told the Post the recommendation is "not science based."

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The way mandatory sentences worked before, judges, without findings from a jury, were required to dole out more years if there were aggravating circumstances, such as being a ringleader. One majority of justices concluded that was unconstitutional.

Another five-justice majority decided that judges should still try to follow the guidelines anyway, at least until Congress comes up with new rules. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the key to the compromise. She was the only justice who concluded that the guidelines were both unconstitutional and advisable. Apparently she was convinced by Justice Breyer, who one law prof credited with a "remarkable act of judicial jujitsu." 

The Journal sees the Supremes' decision(s) as a win for defendants. The other papers say it's unclear how it's going to shake out. An analysis inside the NYT says the ruling opens the door to another round of fighting on sentencing between the judiciary and Congress.

The NYT says on Page One that last month the White House successfully pushed congressional leaders to kill legislation that prohibited the CIA from torturing detainees or other "inhumane treatment" (NYT). The Senate had passed the provision 96 to 2. Then, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice wrote congressional leaders explaining that the bill "provides legal protections to foreign prisoners to which they are not now entitled."

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The LAT confirms some details about the case of the Aussie detainee at Gitmo, who the U.S. shipped off to Egypt, where he was tortured for six months. A U.S. tribunal apparently used "confessions" given during that sojourn to rule that the detainee is a "member of, or affiliated with, al-Qaida forces." In any case, the detainee is about to be sent back to Australia, where a government spokesman said he "will not be detained or charged."

What the Aussie was treated to is a process known as "extraordinary rendition." One "recently retired" CIA official involved in the practice called it "a growth industry. We rendered a lot of people to Egypt, Jordan and the Saudis in particular. Ultimately, the agency just wants these people to disappear forever."

The NYT teases and others stuff the latest from the Abu Ghraib court martial proceedings, where a former prisoner testified, and some soldiers suggested, that defendant Charles Graner was ordered to beat detainees, though not to slam their heads against the wall as he did. "He kept pushing the envelope," one of his superiors testified. (Question: Was Graner disciplined for that at the time, or only after the photos got out?)

The Post goes high with the White House explaining that when it comes to the Iraqi elections, the whole notion of turnout, or other immediate measures of success, is passé. "I would really encourage people not to focus on numbers, which in themselves don't have any meaning, but to look on the outcome and to look at the government that will be the product of these elections," said a "senior administration official," in a background briefing.

The NYT's Christine Hauser hangs with some of Iraq's latest hunted: election workers. "I believe in democracy," said one Sunni worker. But "my family has asked me to resign. I think I will, and other people will too, as the elections get closer."

Despite the troubles, the Times' Thomas Friedman says calls for postponing Election Day are "dead wrongliterally. Any delay would simply embolden the guys with the guns to kill more Iraqi police officers and to intimidate more Sunnis."

The Financial Times says despite U.S. complaints about the scale of Saddam's smuggling that went on under the nose of the U.N.'s oil-for-food program, the biggest such operation actually happened with "the knowledge of the U.S. government."

Everybody mentions that Indonesia pulled the welcome-mat a little farther away in Aceh, saying all foreign troops need to leave by the middle of March. Meanwhile, Knight Ridder notices that local officials in Aceh have—quietly—posted a revised casualty count for the province: Nearly 210,000 people are either dead or missing. The paper adds, "Rescue workers think even that number may be low."