The Washington Postleads with a report that radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr announced his militia will extend its current cease-fire in Iraq for another six months. The New York Timesleads with the Justice Department's announcement that its ethics office will launch an inquiry into the approval of water-boarding for suspected terrorists. The Wall Street Journal's weekend edition gives its top spot to news that the Department of Homeland Security won't continue development of its high tech "virtual fence" along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally, but off-leads with a piece on the "Video Vigilante," an Oklahoma City man who videotapes prostitutes with their clients and posts "cleaned-up" versions on the Internet in an effort to humiliate, and thus deter, johns.
According to the WP,Gen. David Petraeus and other U.S. military leaders praised Sadr's order, emphasizing its importance in de-escalating violence in Iraq. But, the piece notes, the efficacy of the truce depends on Sadr's ability to control his "unruly, decentralized" militia. Many militia members are openly discontent with the cease-fire and believe U.S. and Iraqi officials have exploited it in order to arrest Sadrists. Some insurgents fighting under Sadr's name have also continued to violate the truce, which the cleric originally instated last August. Iraqi and U.S. officials believe Sadr's extension of the truce indicates his willingness to compete for control in Iraq "through the ballot box," instead of violence, and could reflect a growing desire to engage politically with Sunnis in the Iraqi government. The NYT, deep in the A section, observes that in continuing the cease-fire Sadr also "has sought to wipe some of the stain away from the militia's more brutal past activities."
The NYT reports that the Office of Professional Responsibility (the Justice Department's internal ethics office) will consider whether approval given in memorandums, like one in 2002 that stated "interrogation methods were not torture unless they produced pain equivalent to that produced by organ failure or death," meets "the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys." The inquiry, ongoing since 2004, will also include confidential legal opinions written by the acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Steven Bradbury. In its A-3 coverage of the story, the WP emphasizes that the OPR has the power to refer DoJ lawyers for review under state bar laws, and in extreme cases, federal prosecutors. The WP reveals the DoJ's ethics office usually keeps the conclusions of its investigations under wraps, but "because of the significant public interest" will likely make these findings public.
A bleak portrayal of Basra's attempt at self-rule claims the NYT'sfront page spot for Iraq coverage. The supposed model city is still plagued by disappearances of professionals like doctors, teachers, and judges, as well as violence from rival militia groups with political ties. An alarming development is the growing number of women murdered there—100 in the past year. Iraqi officials believe Shiite militants are responsible, observing that they "had probably deemed the women to be impious." Also distressing are the connections between law enforcement and crime: One Basra policeman, who is still on the job, stands accused by Iraq's Interior Ministry of various kidnappings and assassinations enacted while leading the same police unit.
Below the fold, the LAT has a profile of Meghan McCain, where she reveals she voted for John Kerry in 2004. The Republican candidate's daughter also confesses she's "more liberal on social issues" than her father. The WSJ fronts a piece on Raul Castro's attempt to expand golf tourism in Cuba, in an effort to boost its economy. There's one problem: "Cuba is the sand trap from hell," according to a U.S.-Cuba policy adviser.
A feature on the problems of fraud associated with Indian matrimonial Web sites rounds out the WP's front page. To combat untruths in online profiles and husbands who make a business of absconding with their new wife's dowry after the wedding, many families hire private investigators to vet potential mates: So popular are the "wedding sleuths" that they have "become just another part of India's vast wedding industrial complex."
"There's something about an election year that makes politicians start bragging about how many furry or feathered critters they've killed," reflects Gail Collins on the NYT op-ed page. She notes that despite this campaign season's "extraordinary number of grisly shooting incidents," all of the major candidates have avoided voicing definitive support for increased gun control. Elsewhere, the NYT recounts the precarious financial situation of the Mount, Edith Wharton's historic home. A bank may foreclose on the Lenox, Mass., estate if Edith Wharton Restoration, the organization that owns and operates it, cannot repay a $4.3 million debt. In order to avoid foreclosure, the nonprofit must raise $3 million by March 24, a sum which will then be matched by an anonymous donor. The Mount has also defaulted on a payment to a British book collector, from whom it purchased Wharton's library for $885,000 in 2005.
In celebration of next week's Feb. 29, "a day that doesn't exist three years in four," the WSJ offers a history of lore surrounding the leap year, and the beverages that go with it. A tradition that predates Sadie Hawkins dances, "[t]he leap year (and especially the leap day) is when women can take the lead in popping the question—and when their proposals cannot be refused." The article crowns a cocktail that dates from the Prohibition era the definitive leap year drink—it's made from gin, sweet vermouth, Grand Marnier, and lemon juice.