The Washington Postleads with word that U.S. diplomats weren't shy about criticizing the State Department's decision to force some Foreign Service officers to work in Baghdad. At a town hall meeting, the diplomats were "unusually blunt" in questioning the department's efforts in Iraq. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at the decreasing death toll in Iraq. Although members of the U.S. military are eager to say it's due to this year's buildup of troops, others are quick to point out "the picture is more complicated" and warn there could be unexpected consequences to the current strategy.
The New York Timesleads with a look at how attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey's refusal to answer whether waterboarding is torture was a clear attempt at avoiding suggestions that those who carried out the interrogation technique could be prosecuted. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with a Spanish court convicting 21 people for their connections to the Madrid train bombings of 2004. Three were convicted of murder but seven other suspects, including some who were thought to be integral to the planning of the bombings, were acquitted. The paper notes that the court's inability to figure out all the details of the bombings underscores "the difficulties of fighting global terrorism in the courtroom." USA Todayleads with a new study that says those with excess body fat are more likely to develop cancer, and people who regularly eat processed meat or drink alcohol are at a greater risk.
Although all Foreign Service officers make a pledge to work wherever they are sent, "no directed assignments have been ordered since the late 1960s," the Post notes. But now with a huge embassy to staff and a lack of volunteers, the department has said it might force officers to go to Iraq or risk losing their jobs. But one officer yesterday said that an assignment in Iraq amounted to "a potential death sentence" and several raised questions about how they could do their jobs in Baghdad when diplomats can barely travel outside the heavily fortified Green Zone. Some suggested the department isn't standing up for its employees, and one officer said she was denied medical care after returning from Basra with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Part of the reason why the civilian death toll in Iraq has decreased in recent months is certainly due to the lack of massive bombs that were once a common part of the country's landscape, but some contend it's also due to the fact that so many neighborhoods have become segregated by sect. Meanwhile, those who are still threatened are mostly choosing to pick up and move to another part of the country or abroad. Some Iraqis say even though violence has decreased they don't actually feel safe because of the growing power of Sunni and Shiite armed groups.
One legal expert said that if Mukasey were to declare that waterboarding is illegal it "would open up a Pandora's box" because even top administration officials, potentially including President Bush, could face legal problems for authorizing the technique. Mukasey's nonanswer remains his main obstacle to confirmation as the LAT fronts news that two more Democrats on the Senate judiciary committee said they would vote against him. Most Democrats have pointedly refused to declare how they will vote, and both the LAT and NYT point out it could all come down to Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who is normally a critic of the adminsitration but had declared his support for Mukasey early on in the process.
A NYT editorial calls Mukasey's refusal to directly answer the waterboarding question "a crass dodge." In fact, to consider waterboarding torture is nothing new as it "was prosecuted as such as far back as 1902."
The NYT, LAT, and WP all front stories on the next-day reactions to the Democratic debate and focus on how Sen. Hillary Clinton faced criticism from all sides, mostly for her failure to give a straight answer to a question about a plan to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Both the NYT and LAT focus on how issues relating to illegal immigrants have become an almost toxic topic for the campaigns that are struggling to appeal to various interest groups. Clinton's opponents kept on bringing up Tuesday's debate because it "played into a pre-existing caricature: that she is both secretive and calculating in her quest to win," says the Post. Everyone seems to agree the debate marks the beginning of a new, more aggressive phase in the campaign.
Clinton strategists tell the Post that ultimately all of the attacks actually help the senator because they motivate more women to vote for her. For an example of this, a reader only needs to go as far as the NYT op-ed page, where columnist Gail Collins criticizes Clinton's evasiveness but ultimately says the debate proved "she's one tough woman."
The WP off-leads a set of memos Donald Rumsfeld wrote when he was defense secretary that show how much he was affected by criticism and the way in which he worked to figure out how to get the public to support the Iraq war. He apparently wrote several of these memos a day, and they "shed light on Rumsfeld's brusque management style," says the WP. The memos show how the man who seemed uninterested in the opinions of others got personally involved in replying to critics and crafting the Pentagon's message to the public.
The LAT fronts a look at how prosecutors are trying to figure out whether to bring charges against the 10-year-old boy who admitted to starting a fire last week that consumed 21 homes.
Bush's longtime adviser Karen Hughes is resigning from her post as undersecretary of state, where she was tasked with improving America's image abroad. Although she clearly didn't make much progress on that front, the Post says "she was able to push through substantial institutional changes at the State Department," mostly because of her close relationship with Bush. The LAT notes some critics contend Hughes could have been more effective if she would have placed less emphasis on defending the Bush adminstration and focused more on general American culture and values.
The LAT fronts word that it looks like writers for TV and movies could call for a strike as early as tomorrow. If there is a strike, most viewers won't really be able to tell the difference for some time as networks "have been stockpiling scripts for weeks," but live late-night programs would feel the effects much more quickly.