The Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Washington Postall lead with a military judge voiding Lynndie England's guilty plea in the Abu Ghraib scandal. The judge said he wasn't convinced, as TP suggested earlier this week, that England knew her actions were wrong. According to military law, defendants can plead guilty only if they show that they knew at the time they were in the wrong. The New York Timesleads with yesterday's bombing at a police recruiting post in the Kurdish town of Irbil that killed about 60 people and wounded 150. The bomber was on foot and apparently posed as job applicant. A suicide car bomber also hit a checkpoint in Baghdad, killing nine Iraq soldiers and wounding 15. This morning, another 20 Iraqi police and soldiers were killed in two attacks. Two GIs were reported killed in separate car bombings. USA Today'slead says the bill pending in Congress that would make people applying for a driver's license prove they're here legally will make the application process longer for everyone. Apparently DMV workers will have run names through federal databases.
The military judge made his call after England's former superior and lover, Charles Graner, insisted in testimony that the photos and abuse were de rigueur and part of what he said was a "planned extraction" in which he had ordered England to take part. That's when the judge lost it: "If Private Graner is to be believed, he was not violating any law, so you could not be violating any law." England will almost certainly be retried and now might not be able to cop a plea.
Everybody fronts the arrest in Pakistan of a man U.S. and Pakistanis described as AQ's No 3. The Libyan, named Abu Faraj al-Libbi, is thought to have been behind two assassination attempts of Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf. The papers were all briefed by seemingly the same unnamed "counter-terrorism official," who said al-Libbi's connection to Bin Laden goes back nearly a decade.
While President Bush called al-Libbi a "top general for bin Laden," others aren't so sure. The NYT goes high with a mixed reaction from European intel officials, with some saying he's a big fish but others pointing out that al-Libbi isn't on the FBI's most-wanted list. The Times also gently raises the possibility that they got the wrong guy: There's apparently another al-Qaida man who has nearly the identical name.
Headline aside—"BIN LADEN AIDE HELD IN PAKISTAN"—the LAT also waxes skeptical about al-Libbi's rank and role. "There may be some grade inflation going on," said one terrorism analyst. When Pakistan announced last year an award for his capture, they described him as a "regional commander." As the Post emphasizes, it could also be a case of a backbencher having recently moved up the ranks.
Another peek into the opaqueness of the al-Libbi story: The Post says he was caught with "three other men after a shootout." The NYT says he "fled on a motorbike," locked himself in a house, and was arrested "unarmed."
The LAT says inside that the Marine who killed a man who appeared on video to be an unnamed wounded insurgent last year at a mosque in Fallujah has been cleared by investigators.
Knight Ridder says Shiite students at Baghdad University have been rioting the past few days after one of their leaders was murdered. Classes have been canceled, and the dean has "fled."
The WP goes A21 with ... a townie rumor: "U.S. SAYS ZARQAWI MAY BE ILL." There was talk among locals that Zarqawi was at a hospital in Ramadi. A military spokesman said U.S. troops swung by the hospital, but he "did not confirm that Zarqawi was the target." The troops left without detaining anybody. Solid scoop, eh?
USAT fronts and others mention that two Republican congressmen on the ethics committee have recused themselves from the Tom DeLay investigation since they donated to his defense fund.
The Post's off-lead details the fine flying House and Senate leaders have been enjoying, courtesy of corporate-owned jets. There were at least 360 such flights taken between 2001 and 2004, with 140 of them by DeLay and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid came in third at 38. The trips are legal (swag). Legislators are usually required to pay some of the trip's cost, just a fraction.
The Post and NYT front the Justice Department finally charging a midlevel Pentagon analyst, Lawrence Franklin, with blabbing about classified info to pro-Israel lobbyists in 2003. The intel was around the possibility that Iranian forces might try to go after GIs in Iraq. As the Times explains, Franklin was a hard-liner on Iran and frustrated by the U.S.'s "inaction."
The LAT has the late-breaking announcement from Vietnam's prime minister that he plans on visiting the U.S. It would be the first such visit since the war.
Why TP types with his knuckles... The NYT goes inside with the Texas House passage of a bill outlawing "overtly sexually suggestive" cheerleading routines. The bill has caused a deep debate in Texas. It hasn't been introduced in the state Senate yet. But the Democratic congressman who wrote it does have an impressive legislative record. As the Times recalls, he "once proposed a measure to amputate the fingers of drug dealers."