Everybody leads with NASA grounding all shuttle flights until it figures out how to keep foam from falling off the external fuel tank during liftoff. A big chunk peeled away during Discovery's launch but doesn't seem to have hit the shuttle itself. NASA had insisted it basically fixed the foam problem. "Obviously we were wrong," said the shuttle program's manager. "Until we're ready, we won't fly again." NASA gave no time frame for a fix.
After the post-Columbia redesign, engineers estimated that nothing heavier than one-300th of a pound would fall off. But according to the New York Times, the piece that just broke off is only "slightly smaller" than the 1.7-pound chunk that doomed the Columbia. The shuttle program's deputy manager said if the debris had hit the shuttle, "we think this would have been really bad."
NASA also said that the nicked heat-shield tile on the Discovery doesn't seem to be a major problem.
The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and NYT all front—and Wall Street Journal goes high with—the House narrowly approving the White House-supported Central American Free Trade Agreement. The Senate has already approved CAFTA. As only the Post emphasizes, last night legislators at first voted to defeat the bill; then Republican leaders held the vote open for an hour. After the leaders made some members of Congress offers they couldn't refuse, the bill finally passed at about midnight, 217 to 215. Holding the vote open for so long goes against congressional tradition, but Republicans seem to be making a habit of it. They made the same move with the prescription-drug bill.
A provocative—and thinly sourced—front-page LAT piece goes with allegations from Afghan officials that Pakistani troops are training and equipping Afghan militants. The Afghan sources pointed out that militants have been using particularly sophisticated bombs in the last few months. They're the kind of devices, argued the Afghans, that militants could get only if they had, say, Pakistani military help. The Times also says that one of its freelance reporters visited (nebulously described) "training camps" for militants in Pakistan that were once closed by the government and now seem to be thriving.
The NYT and LAT front British police confirming the arrest of a Somali man believed to be one of the would-be bombers in last week's botched attacks. Meanwhile, ABC News reported that police found 16 "explosive devices" in the trunk of the 7/7 attackers' rental car. (Though the British government asked that they not do so, ABC News published some photos of the bombs.) The LAT also says that Zambia has detained the man who investigators have said may be the mastermind of the July 7 attacks. According to early-morning reports, police have arrested another nine men in connection with the failed bombings.
Everybody flags the top U.S. general in Iraq saying that if everything goes according to plans, a "fairly substantial" withdrawal of GIs could happen by next spring. Meanwhile, SecDef Rumsfeld visited Baghdad and met with the Iraqi prime minister, who also offered vague talk about his desire for the U.S. to get a move on.
A NYT piece on Rumsfeld focuses on his exhorting Iraqi leaders to move along with their constitution. Buried in the story is a mention by Rumsfeld that the U.S. is now holding 15,000 detainees. Last time this TPer checked—about two months ago—there were just over 10,000 prisoners.
Algeria confirmed that two of its diplomats in Iraq had been executed.
The NYT looks at newly released documents showing that in 2003 the military's top lawyers fought hard against the White House's arguments that the president had the authority to order torture of prisoners. One military lawyer argued that some of the contemplated interrogation techniques "amount to violations of domestic criminal law." The Times doesn't post the dissenting memos, but you can find them here. The Post recently detailed the lawyers' objections, though it didn't have the actual memos.
The Financial Times talks to Australia's environmental minister, who confirmed that his country is working on a regional global-warming pact with the U.S.; the FT describes it as an attempt to "sideline" the Kyoto treaty. Australia and the United States are the only developed nations that have rejected Kyoto.
The NYT spent another day poring through early career papers of Judge John Roberts and concludes that they do show him quite the winger: "On almost every issue he dealt with where there were basically two sides, one more conservative than the other ... Judge Roberts advocated the more conservative course." The Times helpfully posts some of the documents.
The papers all go inside with a government report concluding that the FBI's backlog of untranslated wiretaps from counterterrorism investigations, which was about 4,000 hours long last year, has since doubled.
The NYT mentions inside that the EPA was about to send out its annual report on vehicle fuel efficiency—which details another step backward—when it suddenly delayed the release until next week. That will probably be well after President Bush has signed the coming energy bill. The Times found out about the report because an EPA flack, apparently unaware of the last-minute change, handed it over.
So nosy ... Everybody mentions a big study concluding that echinacea doesn't do jack for colds. The NYT described the study, which was published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, as particularly "rigorous." Subjects "were secluded in hotel rooms for five days while scientists examined them for symptoms and took nasal washings to look for the virus."