Iraq's Dirty CHiPS

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 21 2006 3:25 AM

Iraq's Dirty CHiPS

The Los Angeles Timesleads with U.S. commanders suspicious that the Iraqi highway patrol forces are chock full of death squads. "We don't train them, we don't give them equipment, we don't conduct site visits over there. They are just bad, criminal people," said one U.S. commander. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with word that Iraq's oil production has "fallen sharply" during the last few months to just 60 percent of prewar levels. The paper cites insurgent attacks, corruption, and "slow funding from Washington." The Washington Postleads with  another achievement of the new Medicare drug program: A $400 million campaign to sign up low-income seniors for the near-freebie coverage has netted just 18 percent of those eligible. The New York Timesleads with a "secret" 7-year-old program at the National Archives to reclassify thousands of historical documents. The effort was launched during the Clinton administration—after intel agencies complained that the White House had gotten declassification-happy—but it really picked up pace during the Bush years. Among the important secrets on their way to being hidden again: details on a 1948 CIA scheme to send propaganda leaflets over the Iron Curtain, and a 1950 CIA assessment that Chinese intervention in the Korean War was "not probable." USA Todayleads with 16 states considering laws or propositions to ban gays and lesbians from adopting kids. Only a handful of states have such laws now.

The NYT, alone, fronts U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad talking tough to Shiite parties: "We are not going to invest the resources of the American people to build forces run by people who are sectarian." As TP flagged, Khalilzad told the WP's David Ignatius much the same last week. More important, contrary to the Times' credulous headline, it's far from clear whether Khalilzad's talk is anything more than empty threats/pleadings.

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Meanwhile, about two dozen Iraqis were killed in two major bombings, one in Mosul and the other at a bus station in a Shiite part of Baghdad. A GI was also killed by a roadside bomb. It was "the bloodiest day in Iraq in two months," says the NYT. Nobody fronts it, which is understandable. But there's buried and then there's just ignored. The papers chose the later. Consider the Post, where the bombings are mentioned on A10—14 paragraphs down.

The NYT off-leads German investigators now looking into evidence that German authorities were complicit in the U.S.'s rendition-cum-kidnapping of a German citizen. Khaled el-Masri was "snatched" from Macedonia, drugged, beaten, and put into a secret U.S. prison in Afghanistan. He was released a few months after the U.S. realized it had the wrong guy. Germany has long criticized Masri's abduction.

So far as TP sees, nobody covers a remarkable new New Yorker article, by Jane Mayer, that details how the Navy's top lawyer, a Bush appointee, not only objected to approved interrogation techniques as "at a minimum cruel and unusual treatment, and at worst, torture" but, along with other Pentagon lawyers, was misled about the secret conclusions of a detainee policy memo they themselves had originally helped author. [Clarification: The NYT covered  the story yesterday and yesterday's WP had a short wire story on it.

Following a detailed report by Knight Ridder a few weeks ago, the WP goes inside with complaints from bureaucrats in the State Department's nonproliferation offices that political appointees there have used a reorganization to go after employees viewed, in the Post's words, as "disloyal to the administration's policies." 

The Post goes inside with a counterinsurgency course that the U.S.'s top commander in Iraq now requires all American officers in the country to go through. The five-day class pushes officers to look for noncombat solutions and was heavily praised by the men who attended. The only problem, they said, is that they're just now learning about the new techniques, often halfway through their Iraq deployment. So, why is it being taught in Iraq and not the U.S. in before they ship out? The commander of the school explained the "Pentagon didn't do it for three years"; in other words, since the invasion. "That's why the boss said, 'Screw it, I'm doing it here.' "

The LAT's death squad story has a secondary angle that's relevant to the Post's piece above. The U.S. commander in charge of the new U.S. training schools, who's celebrated in the Post'sarticle and in the NYT,is quoted in the LAT  praising and defending Iraq's interior minister, Bayan Jabr. That the same minister who's long been linked to Shiite militia and made excuses for his forces torturing suspects. One U.S. commander said members of a captured death squad were asked who they report to, "And they're telling us, 'Jabr.' "

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.

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