Snow Daze

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 13 2006 5:41 AM

Snow Daze

The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal world-wide news box lead with current Iraqi interim leader Ibrahim Jafari winning his coalition's nod for prime minister on Sunday. Jafari is expected to be officially selected for the top post when the new legislature first convenes in two weeks. His coalition of Shiite religious parties controls 130 of the 275 seats in parliament. The New York Times fronts Jafari's victory but leads with the "awesome" northeaster snowstorm that slammed the east coast Saturday night. Heralding the blizzard as "the biggest winter storm in New York City history," the paper reports 26.9 inches of snow accumulated in Central Park. According to one meteorologist, "that's about as hard as it can snow in New York City." The Los Angeles Times leads (at least online) with a preview of an upcoming U.N. report finding that the U.S. mistreats and, in some cases, tortures detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The report, which was based on an 18-month investigation by 5 U.N. envoys, recommends that the prison be shuttered and its detainees put on trial on American territory. USA Today leads with a defiant Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad telling the paper that his country will endure whatever sanctions the U.N. imposes on it because of its nuclear program.

Jafari was far from the coalition's runaway pick for prime minister. He squeaked past his competition, Adel Abdul Mahdi, 64 to 63 votes; the NYT sees his victory as evidence of "the growing power of anti-American fundamentalists within the new Parliament." (The Times especially plays up, while the WP just glosses, the fact that Jafari got a major boost when Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr endorsed him.)

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Hopes are not high for the Jafari administration amongst the papers, either. The Christian Science Monitor calls the leader "polarizing and divisive" and ticks off the sizable groups—Sunnis, Kurds, secularists—that he has offended. The Post, likewise, seems particularly skeptical of Jafari's future as Iraq's chief, noting that U.S. officials preferred the more secular Mahdi and twice highlighting Jafari's humbler-than-thou posturing. (When Mahdi congratulated him, Jafari replied: "You should console me in this situation.") Once elected, Jafari will serve a four-year term.

The NYT goes above the fold with a look into the Army's stalled efforts to prosecute soldiers and officers responsible for the gruesome deaths of two Afghan prisoners in Bagram in 2002. So far, no one has received more than five months in military prison for the crimes, which the Times attributes to "Army judges and jurors ... [who] seemed to consider the soldiers' guilt or innocence with an acute sense of the sacrifices they had made." And 13 of the 27 people an internal investigation recommended for criminal charges have not even been prosecuted.

British officials are looking into abuse allegations against their troops in Iraq, as well. A U.K. tabloid has gotten hold of a video allegedly showing eight soldiers beating young Iraqis. Stills from the video were published on Sunday.

Everybody reports that Vice President Cheney accidentally shot 78-year-old Harry Whittington during a quail-hunting trip in Texas on Sunday. Cheney was trying to shoot into a covey of quails and didn't notice the fellow hunter approaching. Whittington is in stable condition. Cheney's rep assured the papers that the VP dropped by the hospital and found the injured man "in good spirits."

The NYT chases yesterday's Post scoop with a piece about the ultra-critical report that a committee of House Republicans will soon release on the Bush administration's Katrina response. And USA Today chimes in with a piece on scammers attempting to defraud the government of Hurricane Katrina relief checks. Already federal prosecutors have charged 150 people with the crime. Officials say it was easy to bilk FEMA in the storm's aftermath because the agency didn't check the validity of aid applications.

Bird flu was discovered for the first time in the European Union, the NYT and WSJ report. Dead swans in Italy, Greece, and Bulgaria tested positive for the virus, but many officials remained cool-headed, saying that they had expected migratory patterns to carry the disease there for months.

The WP goes inside with word that about 25 Muslim graves were vandalized in Denmark over the weekend. The country has been a target of protest throughout the Muslim world after a Danish paper published cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad.

The Post fronts the saga of a Russian railway worker who was sentenced to four years in a labor colony after being involved in a car accident that killed a famous regional governor. The man's Toyota was struck by the politician's speeding Mercedes—experts say it was probably cruising on a hilly road at over 90 mph—and the governor died when his car veered off and hit a tree. One Russian said the conviction showed that the country has "a caste system on [its] roads."

Sunday was day two of the Olympics in Turin, and the papers all offer the usual run-downs. Yesterday's biggest upset was American speedskating champ Apolo Ohno's dismal showing in the 1,500 meter race. And Norway has pulled ahead early in the medals race; it has seven to the U.S.'s three.

Small fish to fry ... The Post reports that some very anxious ichthyologists are competing to prove who among them has discovered the world's smallest fish. The debate has mostly remained cordial, but tempers have occasionally flared: "When one [scientist] confided in an interview last week that Guinness World Records was poised to anoint his fish as the smallest, he could not conceal his sense of triumph. ... After hearing that news from a reporter, another scientist couldn't help but voice dismay."

Keelin McDonell is an assistant editor atthe New Republic.

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