Disorder in the Court

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 30 2006 5:19 AM

Disorder in the Court

The Los Angeles Times leads with a report that the Army is promoting its officers at a much higher rate than it has in the past. The Washington Post leads with a conservative-led movement to pass state laws allowing health workers to opt out of treatment that conflicts with their moral beliefs. The Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide news box with Hamas refusing to moderate its stance on Israel to placate Westerners. USA Today leads with the downward trend in the amount of assets frozen in U.S. anti-terrorism efforts, which has declined significantly every year since 2001. The NewYork Times leads with, and everyone else fronts, ABC anchor Bob Woodruff and his cameraman getting seriously injured in a bomb blast in Iraq.

The LAT says the Army's promotion rate is rising for two reasons: the increasing numbers of officers who are retiring, and the reorganization of the Army into a greater number of smaller brigades that need to fill leadership positions. The result is that last year 97 percent of eligible captains were promoted to major, up from previous rates of 70 percent to 80 percent. Majors wanting to get promoted to lieutenant colonel face similarly smooth sailing. A high-ranking Army officer was quoted anonymously as saying the trend has lowered standards: "The problem here is that you're not knocking off the bottom 20 percent. ... Basically, if you haven't been court-martialed, you're going to be promoted to major."

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At least 18 states are looking at the health workers' right to choose who and what to treat, the WP reports. About half the state proposals would protect pharmacists who don't want to distribute birth-control or "morning-after" pills, and others would protect doctors, nurses, and others against having to perform any procedure they don't agree with.

USA Today fronts and everyone else stuffs Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice threatening to cut off aid to the Palestinian government. Western leaders are meeting in London Monday to discuss the future of about $1 billion in annual assistance to the Palestinians. The LAT analyzes the challenges facing President Mahmoud Abbas, and the Journal analysis looks at the formidable tasks ahead for Hamas, from uniting disparate militias into a single military to paying civil servants' salaries.

Woodruff and his cameraman were injured in Taji, just north of Baghdad, when their Iraqi military vehicle hit a roadside bomb. They both underwent surgery at a U.S. hospital in Iraq and, according to early morning reports, were flown to Germany. Woodruff has only been anchor at ABC World News Tonight since Jan. 3. (The WP coincidentally ran a long profile of Woodruff and co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas on Sunday, before he was injured.)

Only $4.9 million in suspected terror assets was frozen in 2005, compared to $68 million in the 16 weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, USA Today writes. The story provides no figures for 2002-2004, which would help illuminate how recent the drop has been. But a former Treasury Department official says the trend is "very, very disturbing" and that the efforts exhibit a "lack of urgency." A current official counters that the 9/11 Commission report gave the terrorist funding effort an A-minus, the highest score it gave.

The WP and USAT (via AP) report that FEMA apparently ignored offers of help from various federal agencies in the hours after Hurricane Katrina hit, including such potentially useful assets as additional law-enforcement officers (from the Interior Department) and urban search-and-rescue teams with flat-bottomed boats (from the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service). "Experience has shown that FEMA was not equipped with 21st century capabilities," a Department of Homeland Security spokesman admitted.

Everyone stuffs the donnybrook in Saddam Hussein's war crimes trial. In the first session in a month, Hussein's co-defendant Barzan Ibrahim was dragged out, kicking and screaming, after an argument with the new judge. Hussein and the entire defense team also walked out, raising the possibility that the trial could continue with Hussein in absentia. The NYT observes that "The walkout suggested a deliberate defense strategy to give the tribunal the appearance of a show trial." But the LAT quotes an American law professor who has helped train Iraqi judges saying the willingness of the judge to lay down the law marked a positive "turning point" in the trial, which has been plagued by various forms of chaos.

The criminal trial of Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling starts Monday in Houston. The WSJ analyzes the role of key government witness and former CFO Andrew Fastow, and USAT profiles several executives who are now unindicted co-conspirators. The NYT takes the most reader-friendly approach and describes how difficult it will be to find Houston jurors who don't have an opinion—especially a bad one—about Enron. A jury consultant for the defense pointed out that of "among 280 questionnaires, 'greed' appeared 272 times and 'crook' appeared 55 times." Only 18 respondents didn't have anything negative to say about Enron.

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