The House passes Bush's terror bill

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 28 2006 5:15 AM

Bill of No Rights

The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with the House's approval of the Bush administration's bill on the interrogation and trial of terror suspects. The legislation is likely to clear the Senate tomorrow, handing the president an important pre-election victory on a signature issue. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the vote and an update on other legislative business. The New York Times and USA Today stuff the House's decision; the NYT leads with an update on Democrats' campaign for the Senate, while USAT's top spot goes to NASA funding cuts that endanger efforts to modernize air traffic control systems.

Accounts of the terror legislation all focus on the political and parliamentary maneuvering surrounding its passage, largely setting aside any substantive examination of its provisions. The Post traces the nasty back-and-forth over the bill in the House, which the LAT describes as a prelude to the fall campaign, when Republicans will turn support for the measure into a political issue. (The paper quotes House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, virtually taunting opponents to vote against the GOP.) The NYT, meanwhile, reports on efforts to amend the legislation in the Senate. But all these stories (along with the similar one inside USAT) are worth skipping for the NYT's editorial, which should have run as an "analysis" on Page One.

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In plain language the news accounts lack, the Gray Lady lays out the array of breathtaking problems with the bill, from its embrace of coerced evidence to its narrow definition of torture. (The complete list illustrates just how credulous the straight reporting is; consider it alongside USAT's article, which describes Congress as working to "balance national security needs with the rights of prisoners," or the Post's lead, which asserts that the president "yielded some ground during weeks of negotiations.") The editorial's forceful conclusion puts the bill in context: "Americans of the future won't remember the pragmatic arguments for caving in to the administration. They'll know that in 2006, Congress passed a tyrannical law that will be ranked with the low points in American democracy, our generation's version of the Alien and Sedition Acts."

In the present, of course, Democrats think caving is a savvy political move. Under the headline (in the print edition) "Democrats Cite New Hope in Bid for Senate," the NYT's lead is an examination of the party's chances for an upset in November. But dig in and you'll see that Dems themselves don't seem to be stocking up on Moët. Even with newly competitive races in Virginia and Tennessee, the party faces long odds; the article itself concedes Democrats "would have to win nearly every close race." The only Dem actually quoted, New York's Chuck Schumer, offers a decidedly downbeat rallying cry: "[I]f the stars continue to align, we can take back the Senate." As the NYT notes, part of the problem for Democrats is two unexpectedly close races in what should be safe blue states, New Jersey and Maryland. The Post fronts the latest from the contest in Maryland, where racial politics are complicating Democrats' efforts to hold on to an open seat. USAT steps back from the horse-race campaign reporting and fronts an examination of the continuing problems with overseas voting. The paper suggests technology may be the answer.

The NYT and the Post both stuff sobering reports on U.S. military officials' assessment of the worsening situation in Iraq. Commanders are questioning whether Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has the will or the ability to end corruption and rein in militias. The concerns come as the country sinks ever-deeper into chaos. The NYT reports that "the past week saw the highest number of suicide bomb attacks of any week since the American-led invasion in 2003." Yet violence is so out of hand that the bombings failed to displace murders and executions as the No. 1 cause of civilian deaths in Baghdad. (And in still more bad news from Iraq, the Post fronts a report on the Baghdad Police College, which cannot train recruits because "feces and urine rained from the ceilings" of barracks that were built by U.S. contractor Parsons Corp.)

Also on Page One: The NYT examines the conflict between oil and democracy in U.S. policy toward Kazakhstan, the Post reports on support for the Taliban in Pakistan's northwest tribal region, and USAT looks at Baltimore's efforts to lower dropout rates. The WSJ and the NYT both report on a massive mortgage fraud in Virginia.

Nabbed in Namibia: The WSJ reports that Namibia may be a great place for Hollywood supercouples to hide while having a baby, but it's a lousy place for white-collar criminals to hide while running from the law. Despite having no extradition treaty with the United States, the country busted former Comverse CEO Kobi Alexander on Wednesday. Alexander, who has been pursued worldwide for his alleged role in a stock-options scheme, had been staying in the capital of Windhoek.

Alexander Dryer works for The New Yorker in Washington, D.C.

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