Spies and Lies
The New York Times leads with the CIA's efforts to crack down on leaks using lie detectors. The Washington Post leads with Osama Bin Laden's new audiotape. The Los Angeles Times leads with a look at Hamas' record so far governing the Palestinian Authority. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with word that Iraq's new prime minister began the process of assembling a Cabinet. And USA Today leads with word that American drivers are switching to public transit.
The NYT reports that as part of the CIA's efforts to re-emphasize a culture of secrecy, dozens of employees took polygraph tests. Even the agency's independent inspector general participated—a highly unusual measure, since only the president can remove him. Meanwhile, former employees say the agency is being more aggressive in censoring their books and articles and trying to block publication even when no single piece of information is classified.
Osama Bin Laden's new tape warns followers to prepare for a long conflict and accuses the West of a war against Islam. "You smile in our faces, saying: 'We are not hostile to Islam; we are hostile to terrorists,' " said Bin Laden. But in reality, he argued, the West is carrying out "a Crusader-Zionist war" in countries such as Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Somalia, and Pakisan. He also exhorted his followers to travel to Darfur to fight peacekeepers, who are actually there, he said, to steal the region's oil. Experts say Bin Laden is trying to position himself as a champion of oppressed Muslims worldwide, even though al-Qaida isn't active in Palestine or Sudan.
The LAT reports that one month into its reign in the Palestinian Authority, Hamas is already "diplomatically isolated, profoundly in debt and in a state of increasing internal disarray." As foreign aid has dropped off, tens of thousands of civil servants have gone unpaid; other Arab governments have been alienated by Hamas' defense of suicide bombings; a dispute between Hamas and President Abbas over a government appointee culminated in a shootout between rival gunmen. Meanwhile, Israel is warning that if rocket attacks from Gaza don't stop, reoccupying the strip via a ground offensive could be an option.
The WSJ reports that Iraq's Prime Minister-designate has 30 days to choose a Cabinet. U.S. officials are hoping that a unity government, drawn from Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish parties, will stem sectarian violence. The NYT reports that Iraqis are warily hopeful that the new PM will be good for Iraq.
USAT reports that, daunted by soaring fuel prices, commuters are increasingly choosing public transportation. Public transit systems across the country are seeing some of the busiest days in their histories. Officials and commuters agree that the spike in ridership is probably motivated by the high price of gas.
The WP fronts the news that six joint U.S.-Iraqi inspections of Iraqi detention centers between November and February found abuse of prisoners at all of them. In the past, detainees have been removed from abusive sites, but this time, the detainees have remained in place, prompting concerns that they could be victims again. Two of the sites showed signs of "severe abuse," including "broken bones, indications that they had been beaten with hoses and wires, signs that they had been hung from the ceiling, and cigarette burns" at one and "scars, missing toenails, dislocated shoulders, severe bruising, and cigarette burns" at the other.
The NYT analyzes the racial politics New Orleans' upcoming runoff election for mayor. In the primary election, white turnout overwhelmed black turnout by an even greater margin than usual. Even though incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin, who is African-American, received the most votes of the 22 candidates, he will be unseated if white voters again vote along racial lines. The WP notes that both candidates urged voters to leave race out of it.
The LAT fronts a look at recent litigation challenging lethal injection on the grounds that it can be excruciatingly painful. Lethal injection was originally adopted because its three-stage procedure was thought to be more humane. But the lawsuits allege that untrained prison personnel often deliver inadequate dosages of the sedative that deadens the pain. The paralytic drug administered next, human rights advocates charge, then prevents prisoners from expressing the pain from the final drug that stops their heart.
Sheep in sheep's clothing … The NYT reports on Europe's latest "low-technology billboards," which take the form of "walking, woolly flocks of bleating sheep." Startled Dutch motorists are making "ewe-turns," quips the Times, to peek at herds swaddled in "branded blankets" advertising a hotel booking site. The sheep presumably don't mind: The blankets repel both rain and insects. But one town objects to the ovine bling for fear of a slippery slope. "We have to stop this," said the town's mayor, who's fining the company 1,000 euros per day. "If we start with sheep, then next it's the cows and horses."
Jay Dixit is a writer in New York. He has written for the New York Times and Rolling Stone.