The government details its case against Ivins; a split decision for Hamdan.

The government details its case against Ivins; a split decision for Hamdan.

The government details its case against Ivins; a split decision for Hamdan.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 7 2008 6:12 AM

Case Closed?

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with, and the rest of the papers front, federal investigators detailing the information collected during a seven-year investigation that has led the FBI to conclude that Bruce Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax attacks. There was no smoking gun, and everyone is sure to highlight that much of the evidence is circumstantial. Ivins' lawyer, along with scientists and legal experts, said the Justice Department hasn't managed to prove that Ivins was responsible or that he acted alone. "It was an explanation of why Bruce Ivins was a suspect," said a lawyer who represented the scientist for more than a year before he committed suicide. "But there's a total absence of proof that he committed this crime." Justice Department officials insisted yesterday that the sheer quantity of evidence against Ivins would have allowed them to prove his guilt to a jury.

The New York Timesand USA Todaylead with the military commission in Guantanamo Bay convicting Osama Bin Laden's former driver of supporting terrorism. But the six-member military jury acquitted Salim Hamdan on a charge of conspiring to commit terrorist acts, which the NYT says was "arguably the more serious of the two charges he faced." Supporters of the military tribunal system were quick to say that this acquittal proves that the military justice system is fair. But, of course, the detainees could still be held indefinitely regardless of any acquittals. Hamdan's sentence could be announced as early as today.

Advertisement

There was lots of information contained in the hundreds of pages released by the Justice Department yesterday tying Ivins to the anthrax attacks, and it's difficult to keep track of everything. But if there's one thing that's clear, it's that Ivins was a deeply troubled man who, even before 2001, was well-aware that he sometimes lost his grip on reality. The NYT dedicates a separate Page One story to e-mails written by Ivins that date back to 2000. "I wish I could control the thoughts in my mind," he wrote to a colleague in August 2000. He wrote poems about how he had a double personality and discussed his obsession with a sorority that he said had declared a "fatwah" against him. The WP also fronts a separate story that takes a look at the e-mails and says that, along with recollections from some who knew him, they paint "a dark portrait of Ivins" that conflicts "markedly with the depiction of him by many friends and colleagues." The paper talks to a counselor who says Ivins once described a very specific plan to kill a young woman.

The WSJ succinctly separates the more compelling evidence and the downright questionable, while the LAT does the best job of digesting the evidence against Ivins and presents it in an easily readable format. In a piece inside that helpfully summarizes the case against Ivins, the WP makes it clear that although the evidence was "circumstantial on its face …. together they made what Justice Department officials called a compelling case."

The main piece of evidence against Ivins is that he was the "sole custodian" of the anthrax strain used in the attacks (the NYT and WSJ highlight that "more than 100 people had access" to that specific anthrax) and that the scientist started working late hours in the lab in the days before the mailings in 2001. Significantly, Ivins couldn't really explain his late hours, and the FBI found no evidence of work he performed during that time. Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, Ivins also sent e-mails that used similar language to the notes that were sent with the anthrax. The envelopes themselves also provided some clues because of a "tiny printing defect" that narrowed down where they could have been purchased.

USAT notes legal analysts emphasized that "beyond matching the spores used in the attacks to … Ivins at the U.S. lab at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., the documents cited no physical evidence—no hair or handwriting match, for example." Also, the WSJ notes that his motive "remains one of the biggest unresolved mysteries." The closest thing to a motive is, as has been mentioned before, Ivins' frustration that government regulators had stopped production of an anthrax vaccine. At the very least, his e-mails seem to suggest that his anxiety grew as problems began arising with the vaccine. Skeptics also say federal officials have no physical evidence tying Ivins to the mailbox where the letters were mailed.

Advertisement

USAT says that the split decision in the Hamdan trial "could be a troubling sign for military prosecutors," particularly of the difficulty in proving a conspiracy charge. But some say that prosecutors learned a lot from this first trial and it will now be easier for them to present cases effectively. The WP highlights that one of the reasons why Hamdan, who was described by the military judge as "a small player," was tried first was so the system could be tested on him before it moves on to bigger fish. Still, the WSJ talks to a government official who says that prosecutors will face problems in future trials because "the evidence in Hamdan's case is about as good as it gets." A military panel will now review the case, and defense lawyers can also appeal to a civilian federal appeals court, and perhaps even to the Supreme Court.

The NYT's editorial board is decidedly unimpressed: "Now that was a real nail-biter." Although it makes logical sense that Osama Bin Laden's driver would be guilty of supporting terrorism, it was "an odd prosecution" because "drivers of even the most heinous people are generally not charged with war crimes." As it's designed and operated, the "military commission system ... is a stain on the United States."

The NYT notes in a front-page piece that the war in Afghanistan has reached a grim milestone as more than 500 American service members have now died in that conflict. The paper takes an extensive look at how the conflict has changed over the years and points out that in the first three years of the war, "about two-thirds of all American casualties came under so-called nonhostile conditions." By 2005, that pattern completely changed, and since then about 70 percent of the casualties were the result of "hostile conditions." So far this year, 91 Americans have died in Afghanistan.

The WSJ reports on an employment-bias complaint filed by a former executive of Huron Consulting Group that provides "a rare glimpse behind the curtain of big-money corporate fund raising." The 65-year-old executive says he lost his job after he raised complaints about his boss's repeated requests to contribute to Mitt Romney's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. He provided the WSJ with the e-mails that often mentioned how the donations would help Huron's business. In one e-mail, the chief executive thanked all those who donated: "You can't realize how much leverage this gives Huron going forward to ask various people for business." The company insists the e-mails were merely a "personal request" and that these types of appeals "are common in companies and organizations across America." In the end, Huron executives gave Romney at least $92,000.

The WP notes many Democratic strategists are worried that Barack Obama hasn't done enough to hit back at John McCain's negative ads. The presumptive Democratic nominee released a new ad yesterday that tied McCain to Bush and questioned the Republican's reputation as a "maverick." The WP says the ad "may be his toughest yet," but several strategists contend it doesn't go far enough. While Obama has done a good job of dismissing McCain's attacks as the same old politics, that's not enough. "At the same time you do that, you have to counterattack," said one. "You don't want to look like a whiner. You want to look tough." Obama's spokesman does TP's job for him: "This is a classic Washington story, anonymous quotes from armchair quarterbacks with no sense of our strategy, data or plan," he said.

Quote of the day: In the LAT's op-ed page, Heather Havrilevsky writes: "That good old Olympic spirit, set against the backdrop of the deeply depressing realities of life in China, makes this summer's festivities feel about as uplifting and cheerful as an accidental shooting at a wedding reception."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.