The New York Times leads with word that the Justice Department wants to severely restrict the access that civilian lawyers can have to the detainees at Guantanamo they are representing. In its request to a federal appeals court, the department says these lawyers have caused "intractable problems and threats to security at Guantanamo." Not surprisingly, the lawyers aren't too happy about this development. USA Todayleads with a new human rights report by the U.N. mission in Iraq that says the situation in the country is "rapidly worsening" as violence continues to increase. The report takes aim at the Iraqi government for not addressing persistent problems with the torture of detainees, and for its failure to release civilian casualty figures.
The Washington Postleads with the House of Representatives narrowly approving the war-spending bill with a 218-208 vote. President Bush has repeatedly promised to veto the bill, which includes a timeline for the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq. The Senate is expected to approve it today. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with a new poll that shows 56 percent of Americans support setting a timeline for troop withdrawal. The poll also shows that only 12 percent say the situation in Iraq has improved since the beginning of the "surge." The Los Angeles Timesleads locally with news that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to spend $7.4 billion to expand the state's prison system, which is currently facing severe overcrowding. The money will also be used on rehabilitation programs to reduce recidivism.
In its filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department says the frequent visits by lawyers to Guantanamo have resulted in unrest among the detainees and are at least partly responsible for the hunger strikes and protests at the detention center. To fix these problems, the department proposes a new system that would limit the number of times a lawyer can go to see any current (three visits) or prospective (one visit) clients. Lawyers say these restrictions would make it impossible to represent the detainees and insist that one visit is usually not enough to convince detainees they're not government interrogators. The proposal would also give officials the authority to deny access to secret evidence as well as to read attorney-client mail. A lawyer involved with the defense of detainees says the proposal is merely "an effort to restore Guantanamo to its prior status as a legal black hole."
U.N. staffers said Iraqi government officials told them privately they didn't want to release the civilian death toll figures out of fear that they would further undermine public opinion. The LAT does its own digging and says that, according to numbers from several government ministries (which couldn't be independently confirmed), more than 5,500 people died in the Baghdad area since the beginning of the year. The report also criticized the lack of judicial guarantees for the thousands of Iraqis taken prisoner. Iraqi and U.S. government officials immediately criticized the report and said it was inaccurate.
The new WSJ poll also shows Sen. Barack Obama catching up to Sen. Hillary Clinton. As the Democratic candidates prepare for their first televised debate tonight, Clinton still leads the pack with 36 percent, but Obama is closing in with 31 percent. Last month Obama was 12 percentage points behind Clinton.
In other news from the presidential race, both the WP and LAT front, while everyone else reefers, Sen. John McCain's formal entry into the race for the White House. The WP and NYT focus on how McCain tried to emphasize some differences with President Bush yesterday. In an interview, McCain said Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should resign "out of loyalty to the president." The senator also mentioned the "many mistakes" in Iraq, the failures after Hurricane Katrina, and the poor state of medical care for wounded veterans. In a largely positive profile, the LAT looks at the way McCain has often defined his career as a reformer who is obsessed with oversight and investigations. In the process, he has damaged careers and sometimes even hurt his own party.
The Post fronts administration officials acknowledging that White House officials held 20 private briefings, in at least 15 government agencies, that examined the prospects for Republican candidates during the last midterm elections. A presentation made at the General Services Administration headquarters is currently under investigation because it is illegal to use federal resources for partisan political purposes. The White House insists there was nothing inappropriate about the briefings. Amazingly enough, all the officials that the Post talked to at different agencies about the presentations described them as "informational briefings about the political landscape."
In a story that has personally fascinated TP since the NYT first wrote about it in February, the LAT says researchers might have discovered the reason bees seem to be rapidly disappearing across the country. Although the results are "highly preliminary," researchers said the culprit could be a fungus that has already wreaked havoc on bee colonies in Europe and Asia.
No pressure … The LAT fronts a look at everything that is being done so the first Sumatran rhino to be born in captivity, who was transferred from Los Angeles to a rhino sanctuary in Indonesia, will procreate. In order to get Andalas in the mood, his keepers do everything from hand-feedings to massaging his feet and the "soft spots of his ample butt." At stake in his performance is "nothing less than the future of a species that has dwindled to about 300 animals in the wild," says the LAT. And if that's not enough pressure for a poor 5-year-old (and 1,540-pound) rhino, those who run the sanctuary say that if he doesn't produce an offspring it's likely they won't get any more funding.