Sweet Relief

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 2 2005 6:57 AM

Sweet Relief

Everyone leads with the first round of substantial U.S. aid finally reaching tsunami victims in South Asia. American Navy ships, including the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, stopped off the coast of Sumatra yesterday. The Lincoln dispatched a fleet of helicopters to ferry food, water, medicine, and tents to hard-hit towns and villages in Indonesia.

As the death count seemed to hold steady at about 150,000 (including at least 80,000 in Indonesia alone), officials shifted their focus from burying the dead to caring for the living. Over half a million people are believed to be seriously hurt, while an estimated five million have lost their homes, according to the New York Times.

U.S. officials promised that this was just the opening gambit of the American relief mission. A convoy of seven vessels is expected off the coast of Sri Lanka within the week, while six slower ships are headed to the region from Guam. So far the effort includes around 10,000 to 12,000 American military personnel. The Los Angeles Times notices that cargo planes from Australia, New Zealand, and other countries have also been pitching in to deliver supplies.

Just a day after President Bush promised $350 million in American funds, Japan upped its tsunami aid pledge to $500 million. The offer from Tokyo is the largest of any government so far and brings the international aid total to $2 billion.

Despite the much-lauded global munificence, bad roads, rainy weather, and several aftershocks have made delivering the goods a nightmare. And in a related Page One piece, the Washington Post catches word of serious organizational bottlenecks already stalling the relief effort.

More feature stories from the tsunami's frontline put a human face on all the statistics. Following on the heels of last Friday's NYT piece, the LAT fronts a compelling tick-tock on how tepid tsunami chatter ricocheted between scientists in the hours just before the catastrophe hit. (One new detail in the LAT piece: Tsunami water is apparently dark and dense with fine debris—it's described both as "syrupy brown" and "oily black.") Meanwhile, the Post files an in-the-moment front page account of the tsunami's touchdown on Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, and Thailand. For its part, the NYT checks in on the ravaged Meulaboh, Indonesia.

Bush administration officials are readying a plan for indefinitely detaining suspected terrorists, the Post reports below the fold. The current ad hoc system of indefinite detention apparently makes the Pentagon and CIA nervous, especially since there are "hundreds of people now in military and CIA custody whom the government does not have enough evidence to charge in courts." CIA and Pentagon officials are hoping the White House will issue "a more permanent approach for potentially lifetime detentions." For now, the CIA keeps the problem under control with "renditions"—transferring captives who are apprehended abroad to countries—like Egypt and Jordan—that have no qualms about holding people without due process. Not surprisingly, human rights groups are up in arms.

The LAT and the WP go inside with opposing takes on the upcoming Iraqi elections. Under the headline IRAQI OFFICIALS CITE RISE OF INTEREST IN ELECTIONS, the Post picks up word that "[a]bout 1.2 million forms were submitted to add names to the voter lists." (Officials touted these requests for corrections as indications of voter interest since voter registration in Iraq is automatic.) The LAT, on the other hand, goes with the far less optimistic news that just three candidates turned out to make political ads in the Sunni triangle city of Baqubah. Even as security concerns mount, other challenges—like Iraq's very low literacy rate of 40 percent—plague the election process.

U.S. officials can't decide what Afghanistan should do about its massive poppy harvest, the LAT reports. Some, fearful that the proceeds will go straight into the pockets of al-Qaida, have recommended killing off the crops with aerial spraying. But others, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, warn that this would cripple the Afghan economy and provide a powerful anti-American image for terrorist recruiters. The State Department is hoping for about $780 million from Congress to fight narcotics in Afghanistan, $152 million of which would go to spraying poppy fields with an herbicide. In an effort to clue Karzai into the threats of drug trafficking, some U.S. officials have been urging him to chat with members of the Colombian government. 

American oil executives are anxious to get their hands on newly available Libyan petroleum, the NYT reveals below the fold. Now that U.N. sanctions against Libya have been lifted U.S. companies will have access to significant oil reserves. That should take some of the sting out of surging oil prices, but lots of hurdles remain. For one, Libya is still on a U.S. government list of state sponsors of terrorism. Rampant corruption and the always unpredictable leadership of Muammar Qaddafi are the other wild cards at play.

Families of American troops killed in Iraq are often divided over the justness of the war, the Times says up front. While G.I. relatives bond over the experience of losing a loved one, political disagreements can fracture these ties. Relations remain civil between war supporters and detractors, but the NYT notes that "flashes of tension have crept up at small gatherings and group interviews, and even after condolence sessions with President Bush."

Fun and Games ... The Los Angeles Times reports on the popularity of video games among U.S. troops in Iraq. G.I. faves include "Halo," "Madden NFL 2005," and "Neverwinter Nights." But all that time in front of the PlayStation may have a serious purpose. According to the article, "[p]sychologists who treat combat stress recommend video games for Marines to unwind and boost morale."

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