Rice Puffing

Rice Puffing

Rice Puffing

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 6 2005 3:30 AM

Rice Puffing

The Washington Postand USA Today lead with the former 9/11 commission issuing a final report nailing the administration for "shocking" gaps in its homeland security efforts. The New York Timesleads with a Texas judge dismissing one charge against Rep. Tom DeLay but upholding two others. As the Post explains, the upheld charges, based on alleged money laundering, are serious but were only brought at the last minute after the prosecutor realized that the initial charges probably wouldn't stick. The trial could start as soon as next month. USAT has a poll of voters in DeLay's district concluding he would lose a race against an unstated Democrat 36 percent to 49 percent. The Los Angeles Timesleads with the helter-skelter proceedings at Saddam's trial, where the defense lawyers—led by former AG Ramsey Clark—briefly walked out after initially not being allowed to question the legitimacy of the trial. The defendants also harangued the judge, observers, and the trial's first witness. The witness described what happened in his town after an attempted assassination of Saddam there. He testified to mass executions and torture, including what he described as a human meat grinder. Though he was imprisoned and tortured himself, he acknowledged under questioning that he didn't see much of what he testified to.

The former 9/11 commissioners, who are—really, honest—closing shop after this report, graded the administration's efforts on various homeland security fronts. In about half the categories, the administration was hit with a "D," "F," or "incomplete." "None of this is rocket science," said one Republican member of the commission. "None of it is in the 'too hard' category." The one area that got as high as an A-minus: the administration's work against "terrorist financing." That's the same effort that, as the NYT said last week, a government watchdog report concluded has been "stymied by infighting among American agencies."

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The Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox leads with, and LAT and WP front while the NYT teases, Secretary of State Rice heading to Europe while defending the U.S.'s handling of terrorism suspects and deflecting questions about it. Rice all but acknowledged the U.S.'s practice of rendition—which she suggested happens with the cooperation of European countries and has been "helping save European lives." Rice said the U.S. does not "condone torture," adding, carefully, that the U.S. "has not transported detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture."

If you want anything more than the official line, don't look to the NYT: "U.S. INTERROGATIONS ARE SAVING EUROPEAN LIVES, RICE SAYS." The Times takes most of Rice's statements at face value when the facts suggest they shouldn't be. For instance, Rice's insistence that the U.S. does not "condone torture" is played up high and likely only accurate if you accept the administration's narrow definition of torture. As the Post notes, "CIA interrogators in the overseas sites have been permitted to use interrogation techniques prohibited by the U.N. convention or by U.S. military law."

Administration officials, including Ms. Rice on Monday, have repeatedly maintained since the reports about the secret prisons began that the government is abiding by American law and international agreements. "We are respecting U.S. law and U.S. treaty obligations," she said several times on Monday. "And we are respecting other nations' sovereignty."

That is a change in the position of the Bush administration, which has repeatedly maintained in recent years that American law does not apply to prisoners held abroad.

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In something of a feat, the Times here manages to be both credulous and ignorant of the intended subtleties. Rice doesn't appear to have changed any position. The administration still contends U.S. law doesn't apply to prisoners abroad. That is exactly why the U.S., in the administration's view, can send prisoners to whatever foreign dungeons while still "respecting U.S. law." This TPer parsed some of Rice's language yesterday. And a Post editorial also carves it up, detailing Rice's "legalistic jujitsu and morally obtuse double talk."

ABC News reported last night that just last month the U.S. moved the 11 top al-Qaida suspects held secretly in Europe to somewhere in North Africa.

A front-page WP piece says the CIA allegedly misled Italy about an al-Qaida suspect they snatched in Italy. Citing Italian court documents and interviews with investigators, the Post says the CIA nabbed the guy—a jihadist-connected cleric named Abu Omar—then told Italian authorities he had gone off to somewhere in the Balkans. What the Post doesn't mention until much farther down is the circumstantial evidence suggesting that top Italian officials did agree to the snatching: CIA officials insist that Prime Minister Berlusconi's office was in on the heist. And the Post notes that top Italy officials have been, subtly, trying to put the kibosh on the investigation.

Whether top Italian officials were in on it or not, the snatching doesn't seem to have helped the war on terror much. "The kidnapping of Abu Omar was not only a serious crime against Italian sovereignty and human rights, but it also seriously damaged counterterrorism efforts in Italy and Europe," said the lead prosecutor on the case. "In fact, if Abu Omar had not been kidnapped, he would now be in prison, subject to a regular trial, and we would have probably identified his other accomplices."