The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Postlead with al-Qaida plotter Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty to six counts of conspiracy yesterday. Moussaoui, once described as the 9/11 "20th hijacker," admitted that Osama Bin Laden approved a plan for him to crash a plane into the White House. But as the LAT emphasizes, Moussaoui adamantly maintains that he had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks and that he was preparing for a separate plot. The Post notes that the guilty pleas hardly put an end to the legal wrangling. As the case moves into its penalty phase, Moussaoui wants to interview al-Qaida members detained by the government in the hope that evidence they can offer will help him avoid execution. The government opposes the interviews, and, as one former federal prosecutor told the Post, "They could be back in the 4th Circuit before you even have the sentencing phase trial." (Be sure to see Slate's take on the case.) The New York Timesruns the Moussaoui pleas as its off-lead but reserves its top spot for the conclusion of an Army investigation that found no wrongdoing by four of the five top-ranking officers who oversaw prisoner policy in Iraq (the Post fronts the story as well). Only Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who commanded the military police at Abu Ghraib, will face punishment.
The latest problem in Iraq, the NYT writes, is the possibility that the new Iraqi government may fall apart before it is even formed. Kurdish politicians fear that the Shiite chosen to be prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, is too religious and will work against the regional autonomy they seek. The Kurds plan to oppose Jaafri, which may prolong the nearly three-month power vacuum that has followed the elections. Meanwhile, the Post examines one group of individuals thriving (financially, anyway) in this chaos: private security contractors.
The NYT plays up Vice President Cheney's comments yesterday that he will support a Senate rule change to stop the filibustering of judicial nominees. Of course, Cheney's position is hardly surprising. More interesting is the revelation that traditional GOP allies such as the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are refusing to support the change because they fear legislative retaliation from Democrats who have vowed to bring the Senate to a standstill. (As Today's Papers noted yesterday, Slate writers have come out both pro- and anti-filibuster).
The Post offers a frightening update on avian influenza. The bird flu, which had its first major outbreak in humans just over a year ago, appears to be adapting to its new hosts. There are signs that the disease is being passed from person to person without avian contact. At the same time, the flu's mortality rate is falling. While this is good news for those stricken, it means the disease can spread more quickly. Doctors worry that the flu may quickly become a global pandemic.
As it winds down its papal coverage, the NYT fronts an intriguing story on the new pope. As a cardinal, Benedict XVI was the Vatican official with the most responsibility for reviewing and acting on the cases of priests accused of sexual abuse. In 2002, he publicly minimized the scandal, saying it was driven by a "desire to discredit the church." But the then-cardinal later met with laypeople from the United States and appeared to grasp the significance of the problem. How he'll act now is anyone's guess.
In a piece of Saturday filler, the Post writes that typing 150 messages a day on a BlackBerry can injure your thumbs. This follows September's front-page story about BlackBerry etiquette. The LAT also serves up plenty of light fare for Saturday morning, with front page stories on the new TV image of FDR as a polio survivor, the increasing availability (and acceptance) of porn, and "swooping," an extreme form of skydiving.
Amid the fluff are a few of those ought-to-read pieces. As Congress heads toward approving drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Post checks in with Inupiat Eskimos in Kaktovik, Alaska. Inupiats often are cited as major supporters of drilling, but the Post discovers that their opinion may be shifting. A long piece in the NYT explores the work of one nursing home "abolitionist" who is working to create a better assisted living experience—an "eldertopia."