Power to the CIA

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 6 2005 6:38 AM

Power to the CIA

The New York Timesleads with its finding that immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration gave the CIA carte blanche to "render" prisoners—or secretly fly them to foreign countries for interrogation. The article's main source, "a senior United States official," says that the CIA has "gone to great lengths to ensure that [prisoners] were detained under humane conditions and not tortured." The article goes on to cite a "half-dozen current and former government officials" who all believe that "the administration's approach may have involved turning a blind eye to torture." The Washington Post's top non-local story is Syrian President Bashar Assad's statement Saturday that he would begin withdrawing his troops from Lebanon by moving them to the country's eastern border. Critics called the announcement politically motivated, pointing to Assad's failure to set a timeline for the action, or to say if the troops would actually cross the border once they got there. The Los Angeles Times leads (at least online) with an in-depth description of the BTK case and the capture of suspected killer Dennis Rader.

The NYT lead is quietly incredulous about the administration's stated policy against torture. The second half of the article features CIA chief Porter Goss equivocating something awful to Congress about it: "We have a responsibility of trying to ensure that [prisoners] are properly treated, and we try and do the best we can to guarantee that. But of course once they're out of our control, there's only so much we can do." The piece also repeatedly notes the increasing number of former prisoners claiming they were detained in secret, flown to undisclosed locations, and tortured, all without being charged. In most cases, the interrogations were conducted in countries "identified in a State Department human rights report released last week as practicing torture in their prisons."

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CBS's 60 Minutes will broadcast a report on rendition tonight at 7 p.m.

The LAT's BTK coverage reads like a macabre police procedural, following the killer through the first years of his murder spree, then cutting to the police station where cops slowly weave clues (including a word-search game with the killer's address hidden in it) into a murky profile. The WP focuses instead on challenging the image of Dennis Rader as a cheery, selfless Samaritan by day. In fact, according to neighbors he was "mean-spirited and a coward," and they "didn't know anyone on the street who didn't despise him." A co-worker claimed he "nitpicked people to death [and] was a total control freak."

An NYT front wonders gleefully if it's the beginning of the end for authoritarian Arab regimes. In addition to the groundswell of antigovernment protest in Lebanon, it points out, the last few months have seen viable elections in Iraq and Palestine, the possibility of another in Egypt, and at least a hint of progress in Saudi Arabia, where the government just allowed men (but not women) to vote on a limited basis for municipal councilmen. The piece cautions that "the changes wrought in each country thus far appear minor and preliminary," but still, the optimism is hard to resist.

The WP fronts an outrager on how credit card companies are swamping poor people with a torrent of increasingly hefty late fees, over-limit penalties, and stratospheric interest rates. Because of these added costs, debtors who conistently make their minimum monthly payments can, over several years, still see their total balance grow dramatically—one woman with an original debt of $1,900 shelled out $3,500 in monthly payments over six years. Her ending balance? $5,500.

Saddam Hussein's trial is about to begin in Iraq, reports the LAT. But will it be fair? Human-rights advocates are questioning several aspects of the trial, including the poorly defined rules of evidence, and what they view as Saddam's limited access to legal representation. Critics have recommended that the trial be moved out of the war zone—one judge was recently assassinated outside of his home in Baghdad—and into a safe, neutral location in another country with experienced judges and international oversight.

The NYT runs a wrenching survey of the tsunami's aftermath in one small town in Sri Lanka. Navalady lost nearly half its people in the disaster, and the town itself was obliterated. Most of the remaining inhabitants witnessed the death of multiple relatives—parents, siblings, children, in some cases all three—and have barely begun to cope, though from reading the article, you have to wonder if coping is even a relevant term here.

80-Foot Wave: In Australia, a group of 40 surfers broke the world record for tandem surfing on Saturday by all riding to shore together on one giant surfboard. The board itself was 40 feet long and 10 feet wide and carried its army of riders for a whopping four minutes (an eternity in surfing). The previous world record for large-group surfboarding was a paltry 14.

David Sarno is the founder of Lighthaus Inc, which develops interactive storytelling for news, education, and health care. He was a technology and culture writer at the Los Angeles Times from 2006 to 2013.