Officials tightening rules for military spies; more violence in Gaza.

Officials tightening rules for military spies; more violence in Gaza.

Officials tightening rules for military spies; more violence in Gaza.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 18 2006 5:31 AM

Spy Troops

The Los Angeles Timesleads with word from military and CIA officials that they are increasing the oversight of spying operations carried out by U.S. Special Forces teams. Largely due to Donald Rumsfeld's distrust of the CIA to gather intelligence, small groups of Special Forces troops have been sent to a number of countries, including allies, to carry out operations that sometimes duplicate agency efforts. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, and nobody else fronts, the latest from Gaza, where after a day of violence that killed three people, a cease-fire was declared that has little hope of surviving. The New York Timesleads with a story on how an American civilian, who was also a whistle-blower, was detained for 97 days in a U.S.-run maximum-security detention site in Baghdad. The story illustrates how disorganized the detention system is in Iraq and shows how little recourse an American has to challenge his imprisonment.

The Washington Postleads with news that at least seven Virginia Episcopal parishes voted to split from the U.S. church. This could mark the beginning of a nationwide trend that will likely lead to a legal battle over valuable property. Two of the Virginia congregations that decided to split have buildings and land worth approximately $25 million. USA Todayleads with state governments struggling to meet the ever-increasing price tag of providing health-care benefits to its employees. A new accounting rule is forcing states to keep track of how much they owe for health-care benefits for retirees and in many cases the numbers were higher than most expected.

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The use of Special Forces to carry out military operations will probably come under greater scrutiny when Robert Gates, who will be sworn in today, takes over the Pentagon. Although officials insist they will staunchly defend the program, many also recognized its drawbacks, including the fact that combat units in war zones are not exactly plentiful and they could use all the help they can get. Some CIA officers complain the Special Forces have sometimes carried out missions without informing the agency, and put existing operations at risk.

The gunfire in Gaza between militants loyal to Hamas and Fatah, came a day after President Mahmoud Abbas announced he would call early elections. The Post and NYT focus on the cease-fire, but the LAT notes "no one showed up at a news conference" where the agreement was supposed to be presented and shooting continued late into the night. According to early morning wire reports, fighting erupted outside the president's residence early on Monday, "dashing hopes that an overnight truce would bring quiet" to the Gaza Strip. British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in Israel and is scheduled to hold talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders today.

Making matters worse for the American highlighted in the NYT's lead story is that he had actually been in contact with the FBI and was acting as a whistle-blower against his employer. It took the detention officers three weeks to get in touch with the prisoner's contact at the FBI. And even after that communication, they still decided to keep on holding him, labeling him as a security threat. While detained, he had few recourses to argue against his detention, and had to wait two weeks before he was even allowed to make his first call. Of course, the harsh treatment he received and his lack of rights pale in comparison to what many Iraqis have to face in the detention system, as told by the NYT yesterday.

Everybody notes former Secretary of State Colin Powell broke his long-held silence on the issue when he declared yesterday that the U.S. Army "is about broken" and he doubts an increase in the number of troops in Iraq would help resolve the current situation. Instead, he said the United States should work to transfer security responsibilities to Iraqi forces and American troops should begin withdrawing next year.

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Nobody gives much play to Sen. Harry Reid, the incoming Democratic majority leader, declaring he would be willing to accept a troop increase in Iraq if "it's part of a program to get us out of there."

The WSJ says Sen. Evan Bayh's surprise decision not to run for president, shows how much established Democrats are being affected by the excitement surrounding the big names of possible presidential candidates, especially that of Sen. Barak Obama. Helpfully, the paper has a chart that shows those who are running or strongly considering it, as well as those who have declared they will sit this one out.

The papersnote gunmen kidnapped about 25 people from the Red Crescent offices in Baghdad. "We do not suspect anyone, as we are a humanitarian organization that does no harm to any bloc," said a spokesman. The WP notes the area where the kidnapping took place is heavily fortified with checkpoints and barriers because the Dutch Embassy is nearby. The site is also less than a mile away from the Green Zone, where Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who made a surprise visit to Baghdad.

The LAT notes the U.S. military announced that a roadside bomb killed three American soldiers on Saturday.

The Post off-leads word that U.S. officials are increasingly worried Somalia will become a new haven for terrorists. Al-Qaida has established a presence in the country's capital, and as the threat of war between Somalia and Ethiopia increases, there are fears more foreign fighters will flock to the region. In a taped statement released in July, Osama Bin Laden urged Somalis to prepare for a regional war.

The NYT fronts documents that seem to show how Eli Lilly encouraged primary care physicians to prescribe its drug Zyprexa to patients who did not have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Although the drug was approved to treat those conditions, the company allegedly encouraged doctors to prescribe it to older patients with symptoms of dementia. The company denies the claim. Apparently, Eli Lilly is not alone, as the NYT notes, "nearly every company is under either civil or criminal investigation for alleged efforts to expand the use of its drugs beyond the specific illness or condition for which they are approved." Yesterday, the NYT chronicled how Eli Lilly has downplayed Zyprexa's health risks.

In the NYT's op-ed page, Ben Connable, a major in the Marine Corps who is no stranger to writing for the papers, says any talk of withdrawal from Iraq should take into account how that would affect the people on the ground. U.S. troops have withdrawn from Anbar Province twice, and each time, insurgents were quick to take over and proceeded to kill and torture many of those who were seen as friendly to U.S. interests.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.