Debating what the Israeli intelligence means. Plus, another shooting by contractors in Iraq.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 10 2007 6:13 AM

Threat Levels

The New York Timesleads with word that a "sharp debate" has broken out in the Bush administration about whether the Israeli intelligence that claimed Syria was beginning a nuclear weapons program with the help of North Korea should lead to a change in U.S. policy toward the two countries. The intelligence led to the secretive airstrike inside Syrian soil, and while some in the administration agree with Israel's assessment of the threat, others aren't convinced. The Washington Postand Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with the private security guards who opened fire on a car in Baghdad and killed two women. Guards working for an Australian-run company, Unity Resources Group, riddled the car with as many as 40 bullets and then sped away.

USA Todayleads an interview with first lady Laura Bush where she warned that if the military government of Burma doesn't start moving toward democracy "within the next couple of days," the administration is ready to impose more sanctions. USAT notes that speaking up on this foreign-policy issue marks "a departure from her low-key work on other human rights issues around the world." The first lady also writes an op-ed in today's WSJ where she calls on countries around the world to pressure the military junta to change its ways. "The time for a free Burma is now," Bush writes. The Los Angeles Timesleads with the Los Angeles Police Department admitting that it was to blame for the violence that broke out at a May Day demonstration, which left 246 demonstrators and journalists injured. A new LAPD report details how there was a breakdown in command and says officers used their weapons inappropriately. The police chief apologized for "significant senior management failures, myself on down."

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The NYT seems to predict readers' boredom with just how predictable the Bush administration has become and says that the debate over the Israeli intelligence "has fractured along now-familiar fault lines." And, yes, that means Dick vs. Condoleezza. Vice President Dick Cheney and his hawks are confident the intelligence is accurate and should lead to a more forceful approach toward Syria and North Korea. The hawks are particularly upset at the recent deal with North Korea in light of the Israeli intelligence. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her allies aren't convinced the intelligence shows there's a credible threat and say the United States shouldn't turn back from its recent diplomatic gains.

At the heart of the debate is what exactly the Israelis hit in the airstrike. Syrian officials privately say it was a storage area for strategic missiles. Some contend Syria was trying to develop more technologically advanced missiles, but others think it's unlikely Israel would have gone through with such a risky move unless there was something bigger. "You don't risk general war in the Middle East over an extra 100 kilometers' range on a missile system," an expert said.

Coming just weeks after the Sept. 16 incident involving Blackwater, yesterday's shooting in Baghdad "seemed certain to heighten tensions between the Iraqi government and the thousands of private security guards operating in Iraq," says the WP. The company said the shooting began only after the car "failed to stop despite escalation of warnings," but some witnesses say the security guards got out of their convoy and began shooting after the car had already stopped moving.

Only the NYT looks into what is possibly the most interesting aspect of the shooting in Baghdad, which served as a reminder that many of the private security guards work for other contractors and not the government. The Unity Resources Group guards had been hired by RTI, a nonprofit organization that has a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development. A U.S. official said the government has no control over what security firm a contractor hires, thereby illustrating how the new emphasis on oversight "comes with many loopholes," the NYT says.

The LAT fronts the Supreme Court's refusal to hear an appeal from a German citizen who says he was abducted and tortured by the CIA. An appeals court had sided with the Bush administration's contention that the state secrets privilege protects the government from having to discuss what it describes as sensitive national security cases in open court. Meanwhile, a federal district judge ruled the Pentagon can't transfer a Guantanamo Bay detainee to Tunisia because of fears that he might be tortured or killed. It marked the first time a U.S. court has sided with a Guantanamo detainee in this type of case.

The WP off-leads a look at a House resolution that would label the killings of Armenians  by the Ottoman Empire during World War I a "genocide." The White House is hoping it can prevent the bill from being considered, saying that the United States risks losing an important partner in the Iraq war. Turkey is also lobbying heavily against the resolution and eight former secretaries of state signed a letter warning it "would endanger our national security interests." This comes at a particularly delicate time for the Bush administration because Turkey's government said it will seek parliamentary approval for an offensive against the rebels based in northern Iraq.

The WP and NYT front the Republican debate, where the debut of Fred Thompson was supposed to be the big draw but arguments between Rudolph Giuliani and Mitt Romney stole the show. Or as the NYT's headline succinctly puts it: "Romney and Giuliani Spar as New Guy Looks On." The Post's Steven Pearlstein  wasn't impressed: "It is becoming clear … that the leading Republican candidates aren't serious about economic issues."

The Post notes former White House counselor Dan Bartlett gave a speech where he candidly assessed Republican presidential candidates. He said Mike Huckabee is the "best candidate" but "he's got the obvious problems–being from Hope, Arkansas, and, quite frankly having the last name 'Huckabee.' " He was harshest on Thompson, whom he called the "biggest dud."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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