At Writ's End
The Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the New York Times all lead with the Senate's approval of rules for the interrogation and prosecution of terror detainees. The final vote came after the bill's backers narrowly defeated an amendment that would have allowed detainees to challenge their detention in court. The House, which passed virtually identical legislation Wednesday, is expected to approve the Senate's version immediately, clearing the way for President Bush to sign the measure. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the Senate vote and comments from Bush on energy independence, which he sees as a major priority for his last two years in office. USA Today stuffs the vote and leads with the restrictions America's allies have imposed on the duties their troops may perform in Afghanistan. (Separately, the WSJ reports that U.S. troops in Afghanistan are set to come under NATO command.)
Amazingly, only the LAT fronts a substantive account of what the detainee bill actually says. The paper focuses on the provision denying alleged terrorists the right to contest their imprisonment, explaining that the restriction generated so much controversy in the Senate because the "privilege of habeas corpus holds a venerated place in English and U.S. law." The LAT traces Supreme Court jurisprudence on the "great writ" and actually cites the relevant clause in the Constitution. (Apparently finding a copy of that old document was the sort of reportorial heavy lifting that eluded the other papers.) In short, the LAT's lead avoids getting caught up in the parliamentary minutiae and electoral politics that ensnare the NYT and the Post for a second straight day. (The NYT is so lost in the weeds that its lead makes the appallingly naive claim that "the president had to relent on some major provisions" of the bill.) For all the strengths of the LAT's account however, the one must-read piece on the detainee legislation is the Post's thoughtful legal analysis, which the paper inexplicably stuffs deep in the A section.
The Post's piece immediately cuts to the central issue: The new "rules for the detention, interrogation, prosecution and trials of terrorism suspects" are "far different from those in the familiar American criminal justice system." The paper reviews all the important divergences, from the acceptance of "evidence collected through hearsay or coercion" to the rejection of "the right to a speedy trial." Where does that leave the American legal system? The Post, citing constitutional scholars, argues that "the bill pushes at the edges of so much settled U.S. law that its passage will not be the last word on America's detainee policies." As Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh tells the paper, "it's not clear that most of the members understand what they've done."
Over in the House, meanwhile, Thursday's chief excitement was a visit from Hewlett Packard, and the LAT, the Post, and the NYT all front the news. The technology company, under investigation for its effort to find leaks with a potentially illegal spying operation, certainly spent the day taking a beating. The LAT and the Post relay the specifics: In the morning, HP's corporate counsel was forced to resign after documents directly linked her to the spying. Then, summoned before a House investigative committee, 10 people tied to the scandal—three of the company's own executives and seven of the investigators it hired—took the Fifth. The NYT looks at exactly what those investigators produced and finds a bizarre report that is part detective work, part psychological analysis.
The NYT goes high with the latest inside-the-Bush-administration gossip from Postie Bob Woodward. His new book, State of Denial, chronicles the administration's discord on Iraq, and the article pulls the best examples. (Among them: Donald Rumsfeld so disliked Condi Rice that he didn't return her phone calls until Bush intervened.) But the NYT can't resist taking a good shot at the author: "Like Mr. Woodward's previous works, the book includes lengthy verbatim quotations from conversations and describes what senior officials are thinking at various times, without identifying the sources for the information."
Also on Page One: The LAT reports on efforts to restore late actress Marion Davies' Santa Monica estate. Restoring her image, forever tarnished by her portrayal in Citizen Kane, is another matter. The Post writes that masking one's religious identity can be the key to survival in sectarian Iraq. One Web site offers tips for Sunnis who want to disguise themselves as Shiites. And the NYT examines India's inability to provide enough water for its citizens. The failure undermines both the country's economy and its image.
Apologize! "He's apologizing to others, certainly he should apologize to us as well." That's B. Frank Earnest Sr., the Virginia commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, on George Allen. The Post reports that the group is outraged the senator would turn his back on the flag of the Confederacy. Allen, who recently stopped campaigning for re-election so that he can devote his full attention to offering apologies for his offensive behavior, denounced the Southern Cross last month. He said he regretted his earlier embrace of a flag that "is, for black Americans, an emblem of hate and terror." No word yet on when Allen plans to apologize for his apology.
Alexander Dryer works for The New Yorker in Washington, D.C.