Why did Canada label an innocent man a terrorist?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 19 2006 4:57 AM

Canada's Canard

The New York Times and the Washington Post lead with the Canadian government's conclusion that its law-enforcement services gave the United States faulty information about one of its own citizens that resulted in the man's capture and torture. Maher Arar, who spent 10 months in a Syrian prison after being seized and deported by American authorities, had no terrorist ties, an official report said. California news dominates the Los Angeles Times; the paper devotes its top nonlocal spot to an examination of the ill will John McCain has generated on the right by opposing President Bush's proposal for interrogation of terror suspects. The Wall Street Journaltops its online world-wide newsbox with Europe's resistance to sanctioning Iran for its nuclear program. USA Today splashes spinach news across the top but leads with an update on President Bush's approval rating, which has risen to 44 percent in the paper's poll, administered by Gallup. While USAT plugs this as good news for Bush—it's his highest approval rating in a year—the political implications are unclear at best: Slate's "Election Scorecard" shows momentum in the upcoming Senate races shifting to the Democrats.

The Canadian government's report on the Arar case is perhaps the most detailed examination to date of "extraordinary rendition," the practice in which American agents take terror suspects to overseas prisons where they are sometimes tortured. No one is sure what the political fallout will be. The Post, which focuses primarily on the Canadian failures  in the report, implies any U.S. repercussions will be limited. But the NYT highlights the American actions that the report cites and notes that the details come at an awkward time for the president, who is pushing for more leeway in dealing with terror suspects.

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The LAT dives into the politics of that proposal with its examination of McCain's opposition. The piece, like a similar one the Post fronts, notes that McCain is risking his popularity with the Republican base by resisting Bush's efforts to define explicitly the treatment allowable under the Geneva Conventions. Neither the Post nor the LAT comes out with a final assessment of McCain's standing, however—largely because, as both note, opposing Bush may help McCain with independents. (The papers stuff updates on the actual legislation in question, probably because the White House did not release details of the new proposal it sent to the Hill last night.)

The WSJ says European opposition to any sanctions on Iran is part of an emerging "dual-track" approach in which the EU talks with Iran about suspending uranium enrichment while the U.S. talks with others about sanctions. French President Jacques Chirac is the leading EU "good cop"; USAT fronts his proposal to start negotiating with Iran without the U.S., a move the NYT reports could be consistent with existing U.S.-EU strategy. Of course the question none of the papers can answer is just how much of a "bad cop" the United States intends to be. No one outside the White House really knows if the Bush administration is prepared for another war; Slate's Fred Kaplan dissects the brinkmanship.

Nearly everyone checks in on Shinzo Abe, who is strongly favored to replace Junichiro Koizumi as Japan's prime minister next week. The Post fronts a look at his hawkish and nationalistic politics, which emphasize a stronger and prouder Japan. The WSJ stuffs an analysis of the political and economic challenges Abe will inherit. The LAT offers the must-read, however, tracing Abe's politics to his grandfather, who helped plan Japan's imperial conquest of Asia in the 1930s and who was arrested (although not tried) as a war criminal. No one adequately explains what Abe's election will mean for U.S. security interests in Asia, however. While the LAT notes that Abe sees his country's American alliance as vital, his potentially antagonizing nationalism may complicate U.S. relations with Japan's neighbors.

The NYT checks in on the Senate race in Washington to explain why the state's Democratic senator, Maria Cantwell, has avoided a serious primary challenge. The paper argues that the senator's savvy maneuvering (along with state Democrats' pragmatism) has helped her avoid Joe Lieberman's fate, despite her vote for the Iraq war. But the article fails to note that it wasn't just Lieberman's vote that cost him the nomination; it was his relationship with the White House.

The Post fronts a compelling story about a female soldier who refused to return to Iraq after suffering sexual harassment from superiors and now is facing charges as a deserter. The piece, while rich with detail, leaves open the broader questions about women's treatment in the military.

Together, the LAT and the NYT offer a pair of affecting below-the-fold stories—be sure to read the LAT on Cuba's crumbling infrastructure, and the NYT on India's suicidal farmers.

Salvation in unexpected places: The LAT fronts a major new initiative from Fox: FoxFaith, which will attempt to woo Christian moviegoers. News Corp., Fox's parent, wants to tap the audience that made The Passion of the Christ such a success. Meanwhile, the NYT fronts an Odd Couple-like portrait of Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., and his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn.

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

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