Daft Constitution

Daft Constitution

Daft Constitution

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 23 2005 5:07 AM

Daft Constitution

The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and New York Timesall lead with Iraqi politicians playing a bit of three-card monte with a draft constitution. Over Sunni objections, they submitted a draft to parliament, thus technically beating the 12 a.m. deadline. But it still has holes, and in what the NYT describes as "a legal sleight of hand" they gave themselves three more days to play around before the parliament will take a vote. The Los Angeles Timesleads with California Supreme Court's ruling in three cases that when lesbian couples have children together, both women have the rights and responsibilities of parents, apparently regardless of how the children were conceived. "We perceive no reason," the Supreme Court ruled, "why both parents of a child cannot be women." In one case, a woman gave birth to twins using her partner's eggs. The court ruled that the now ex-partners are both legally parents even though the egg donor had signed a waiver relinquishing her rights to the children. USA Todayleads with record gas prices, unadjusted for inflation, of course. The average price of a gallon of gas last week rose to $2.61; that's 73 cents above a year ago. AAA said it still expects 100,000 more Americans to hit the road this Labor Day than last year.

There is a lot of uncertainty about exactly what is the draft, which is understandable since early reports said that neither  journalists nor most politicians were allowed to see it. (The NYT has since posted the draft online.) The NYT'saccount of how it all went down is priceless:

At about 11:45, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, in his front-row seat, scribbled something, possibly his signature, on a large sheet of paper and handed it to Hussain al-Shahristani, the deputy speaker, who was standing over him. Mr. Shahristani turned around and gave the paper to Hachem al-Hassani, the Assembly speaker, who was seated at the center of the podium in front of the Assembly.

Mr. Hassani took the paper, left the room for a few minutes and returned. At that point, contrary to all expectations, there was no vote of any kind.

"Today we received the draft of the constitution," Mr. Hassani said into his microphone at approximately 11:55. "But there are some undecided points."

"So these points will be dealt with in the forthcoming three days," he added.

Then the meeting hastily broke up. The Assembly members streamed out, nearly all of them without a copy of the constitution in hand.

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The draft includes such clear edicts as, "A. No law may contradict Islamic standards. B. No law may contradict democratic standards." But the real sticking point, and what has Sunnis in a tizzy, is language calling for autonomy in the oil-rich, Shiite south. If that proposal stays in, warned one Sunni politician, "The streets will rise up." The NYT adds that former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has also come out against the draft and autonomy proposal.

The Post says the three-day delay is aimed at "appeasing Sunni negotiators." Which is a nice sentiment, but the head of the constitution writing committee, a Shiite, insisted there will be "no changes in the articles or the details of the constitution." As the NYT notes, Sunnis have been "largely excluded" from the talks.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq praised the draft as "very good." While there have been reports that the ambassador pushed an Islam-heavy draft and helped railroad Sunnis, the LAT and Christian Science Monitor both suggest that the ambassador deserves more credit than that. "He's played a very good role slowing the other parties down," said one Sunni politician.

Only the Journal highlights a crucial bit of procedure: If two-thirds of the population of any three of Iraq's 18 provinces vote no in a constitutional referendum, then the political process goes back to square one, requiring not only a new draft constitution but a new transition parliament. So, how many provinces are Sunni-dominated?

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Two GIs were killed in roadside bombings in Baghdad, and another roughly 20 Iraqis were killed in assorted attacks.

According to a Page One Post piece, a group of scientists from the U.S. government and abroad have confirmed that traces of weapons-grade uranium found in Iran's nuclear equipment parts were indeed a result of contamination by Pakistan, which sold Iran the second-hand equipment. "The biggest smoking gun that everyone was waving is now eliminated with these conclusions," said a "senior official." As the WP notes, last year now-Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton accused the Iranians of lying about the contamination.

An op-ed in the NYT argues that intel agencies' assessment that Iran is at least 10 years away from making nukes is flimsy at best and ignores countervailing evidence.

The LAT fronts words that five California National Guardsmen will face courts martial in connection with the apparent abuse of Iraqi detainees.

The NYT fronts a lobbying boom courtesy the prescription-drug coverage law. The government is putting out scads of new rules and guidelines for the law, and the lobbyists just want to get their clients' voices heard. The health-care industry spent $325 million lobbying in D.C. last year, more than any other industry.

The WP goes inside with the Pentagon saying they've looked into, and not found any support for, allegations that the pre-9/11 data-mining effort known as Able Danger fingered Mohamed Atta. "While we continue to review the documentation and conduct interviews," said the Pentagon's top spokesman, "the Defense Department has not discovered any documentation that shows Mohamed Atta connected to al Qaeda prior to the attacks of 9/11." Another Pentagon official said the search "has been both broad and deep" and included interviews with former Able Danger workers.

The NYT mentions the Pentagon's statement but has a slightly different emphasis: "SECOND OFFICER SAYS 9/11 LEADER WAS NAMED BEFORE ATTACKS." That officer—Scott Phillpott—was already ID'd last week, and he simply confirms his previous comments. More interesting is what's not in the NYT's take, for instance the 9/11 panel's explanation of why it didn't buy Phillpott's claims.

Then there's this: Phillpott tells the paper, "Atta was identified by Able Danger by January-February of 2000." That's curious, because at the time Atta didn't yet go by "Mohamed Atta." He used a different part of his name, Mohamed el-Amir. Take a look at  an e-mail Atta sent and flight records from his trip to Pakistan.