Overnight reports confirm that Saddam Hussein was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to hang by the Iraqi High Tribunal. Saddam was charged with ordering the massacre of numerous Iraqi civilians at Dujail in 1982 in retribution for a failed attempt on his life while visiting the town. Two of Saddam's seven co-defendants, including his half-brother, were also sentenced to death; one defendant was acquitted. An appeal of the verdict is possible. The Los Angeles Times, noting the theatricality of the court proceedings, reports that many Sunni observers doubt the court's fairness.
Everyone leads Tuesday's election. The New York Times leads news that Republican leaders estimate losing anywhere from 12 to 30 House seats, and are spending heavily in last-minute efforts to pull out victories in several close Senate races. One pollster says it's "the worst political environment for Republican political candidates since Watergate." The LAT leads an analysis that blames the GOP's downfall on six years worth of aggressively conservative national policies that have marginalized centrist voters. The Washington Post leads a general election overview, breaking down contested races and broaching the possibility that Democrats could take both houses of Congress.
"It's very grim," said one GOP flack, speaking about an election where the Republicans' best-case outcome still forecasts losing 10 House seats. Democrats need 15 seats to win a majority in the House—an outcome that, most observers agree, appears to be a near-certainty. There's a bit more drama in the contested Senate races; Democrats are leading in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Rhode Island, and running virtually even with the Republican candidates in four other states. President Bush spent yesterday rallying the Republican base, hoping that grass-roots efforts will mobilize conservatives to get out the vote.
Assorted election news: The NYT Week in Review notes that this is one of the few elections in American history that's poised to defy the "all politics is local" cliché. The Post fronts a piece claiming that the challengers in the Maryland and Virginia Senate races will win or lose depending on voters from Washington, D.C.'s "[b]ig, rich … slightly off-center" suburbs. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders are jockeying to take credit for engineering the expected power shift, and always-excellent Post movie critic Stephen Hunter names the five most obnoxious politicians in cinema history. No, King Ralph is not on the list.
The NYT fronts a long and funny campaign dispatch from a tight Tennessee Senate race that has recently drawn extreme national attention. Among the tidbits: Republican candidate Bob Corker records his conversations with a tape recorder and is unsure how he feels about cock-fighting; Democratic candidate Harold Ford Jr. "takes stage direction well" and "is a great and prodigious hugger." The LAT runs a more straight-faced examination of the race. Slate's Josh Levin spent a couple of (unfortunately hugless) days on the campaign trail in Tennessee last week, too.
The Post fronts news that the Pentagon is considering sending nearly 7,000 new National Guard troops to Iraq over the next two years, and may increase the extent of involuntary mobilizations of Guardsmen and reservists. While military officials deem these moves necessary to maintain the pace of troop rotation, Guard officials worry that extending these backdoor draft tactics might mean long-term disaster for the force. "If we continue to piecemeal these things like Swiss cheese, we will not find ourselves able to build complete forces back," said the National Guard's chief.
Everybody notes that a curfew has been imposed in Baghdad and the police presence has been increased in attempts to curb potential violence in the aftermath of the Saddam Hussein verdict. Iraq's prime minister implored citizens to mark the verdict with "calmness and discipline … in a way that is suitable to the security challenges."
The Post notes that former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega may very well win today's first-round Nicaraguan presidential vote—a prospect that chills both Washington insiders and Nicaraguans who remember his dogmatic 1980s regime. "Everyone is asking themselves: 'Should I vote for the candidate I really want, or should I vote for the guy who I think can beat Ortega?' " says one analyst. Slate's Alexandra Starr analyzed Ortega's resilience last week.
Disgraced evangelical leader Ted Haggard was fired yesterday from his post as senior pastor of Colorado Springs' massive New Life Church, days after news broke that he allegedly bought methamphetamine and solicited sexual favors from a one-time gay escort. Although Haggard denies any sexual misconduct, the church's investigative board determined "without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct."
Everybody notes that the Episcopal Church formally installed a woman as its top bishop yesterday, capping off a year's worth of controversy that has left the church divided. In her initial address, Katharine Jefferts Schori called for peace and healing.
The NYT reports on the U.S. government's attempts to salvage its poorly funded terror-tip hot line in Iraq, long forsaken as useless due to a dearth of operators and a proliferation of crank calls. TP has been saying for years that we need to add the Jerky Boys to the axis of evil. Meanwhile, the NYT Magazine catches up with former Iraqi exile leader and bad-intel purveyor Ahmed Chalabi, who thinks that Iraq would be stable right now if America had put Iraqis in charge of the post-Saddam rebuilding process.
The LAT off-leads a long news feature on how many organ transplant doctors are denying kidney transplants to elderly patients—many of whom have been on the transplant lists for years—and directing the kidneys to younger patients with "the potential for the most 'net lifetime survival benefit.' "
The adoption industry is booming in Guatemala, the NYT reports: Approximately one out of every hundred Guatemalan babies is adopted by American parents. What's behind the baby boom? Unlike many other countries, Guatemala permits adoptive parents to pay the biological parents for their children—a custom that has come under severe criticism recently. "This has become a business instead of a social service," said a representative from Unicef.
One man's ecological disaster is another man's gold mine: The Post fronts a feature on how rising temperatures and receding glaciers in the Arctic are fueling unscrupulous shippers' hopes of opening seasonal shipping lanes in the Northwest Passage—a move that would almost inevitably lead to shipwrecks and water pollution. Still, "dangle a 4,000-mile shortcut in front of them--that means time and money. There will always be someone who rolls the dice," says one man. The story's dateline reads "ICEBREAKER CHANNEL, Northwest Passage." TP really hopes the story was filed in Morse code.