Most of the papers lead with a report about Blackwater's activities in Iraq written by the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Washington Postand New York Timeshighlight the revelation that there have been 195 shootings involving Blackwater guards in Iraq since 2005. USA Todaygoes highest with the report's contention that State Department officials ignored and failed to investigate the frequent shootings involving Blackwater guards. The Los Angeles Timesleads with the 122 armed guards in Iraq whom Blackwater has fired over the past three years, which amounts to more than one-seventh of the company's current employees in Iraq. Most of the firings were for weapons-related incidents, drug or alcohol abuse, lewd conduct, or aggressive behavior.
The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, and the rest front or reefer, Russian President Vladimir Putin announcing that he might be interested in becoming prime minister when he steps down next year. Everyone takes this as the long-awaited answer of how Putin was planning to stay in power even if the constitution forbids him from running for president. With a friendly president in place, Putin could make sure that he is still running the show as prime minister. Yesterday, Putin agreed to lead the ticket for Russia's dominant party in December's elections, which guarantees he will at least have a seat in parliament. And his strong popularity means the pro-Kremlin party will almost definitely win a large majority.
The report on Blackwater ultimately paints a picture of a "security enterprise that almost routinely opens fire in Iraq's streets, occasionally attempts to cover up its transgressions, and frequently is protected from censure and prosecution by U.S. State Department overseers," the LAT summarizes. The Blackwater guards seem to care little about Iraqi civilians as they infrequently stopped to help those who may have been wounded by their actions. The NYT and LAT note that Blackwater guards fired first in 163 of the 195 shooting incidents, even though the company's contract states force should be used only defensively.
The report placed much of the blame for the trigger-happy attitude of Blackwater guards on the State Department, which never seemed interested in looking into the shootings. Even when Iraqis died, "it appears that the State Department's primary response was to ask Blackwater to make monetary payments to 'put the matter behind us,' " the report said.
The NYT devotes a separate story inside to, and everyone spends time detailing, the case of the drunk Blackwater employee who killed a security guard to one of Iraq's vice presidents on Christmas Eve, which a different security company described as a "murder" in an incident report. Blackwater fired the guard responsible and promptly whisked him out of Iraq, a move that was approved by the State Department, which also helped negotiate a financial settlement for the victim's family. At first, an embassy official suggested paying the family $250,000 but a diplomatic security official balked and said such a large payment could lead Iraqis to "try to get killed so as to set up their family financially." In the end, Blackwater paid $15,000, and the State Department helped deliver the money.
Blackwater's founder and chairman, Erik Prince, will testify today before the House committee along with the State Department's Iraq coordinator, David Satterfield. USAT notes Prince will tell lawmakers that his company's guards opened fire on Sept. 16 only after they came under attack.
Yesterday, the FBI announced that it was sending a team to Iraq to help the State Department investigate the Sept. 16 incident. The Post notes administration officials said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked for the assistance to avoid any talk of an "institutional bias" in the investigation.
The WP fronts a new poll that reveals most Americans don't want Congress to fully fund the administration's request for $190 billion to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although a majority think Congress hasn't done enough to pressure Bush to change his Iraq policy, "there is no consensus about the pace of any U.S. troop withdrawals."
The LAT, NYT, and WSJ front yesterday's increase in stocks, which led the Dow to close at a record after an increase of 1.4 percent. Two major banks announced they would write off billions in profit because of the losses in the mortgage sector yesterday, but investors saw it as a sign that banks are dealing with the problem and that the worst is over. Some warned investors are being too optimistic and that the economy remains unstable.
The LAT fronts, and the NYT goes inside with, Radiohead announcing that it will let fans decide how much to pay to download its latest album. And $0 is an acceptable answer. Everyone points out that only a band with such a devout following could try this tactic, but the industry sees the move as a significant example of how some artists are trying to come up with new ways to offer their music in the digital age.
The NYT publishes an op-ed by Anita Hill, who says that although Justice Clarence Thomas "has every right to present himself as he wishes in his new memoir ... I will not stand by silently and allow him, in his anger, to reinvent me." Hill says Thomas includes several unsubstantiated claims about her and his descriptions are full of inconsistencies. Still, she is not surprised as "this kind of character attack on women and men who complain of harassment and discrimination in the workplace" is fairly common.
The Post publishes a hilarious exchange that began when a Navy lawyer insinuated that a defense attorney was behind a Guantanamo detainee's possession of non-standard-issue underwear. The attorney goes on to say he's baffled at how they think the smuggling could have taken place with all the searches and cameras and wonders whether someone contends that "I have been stripping off to deliver underpants to our clients?"
And, ofcourse ... Everyone (except the WSJ, naturally) notes Britney Spears lost custody of her two sons. The LAT cites an expert who says "the court must have had an extreme set of circumstances to make such a drastic order," although USAT notes that she may have failed to report to a court-ordered class or test, which, generally, "is just as bad as failing one."