Looking at possible successors to the ailing North Korean leader.

Looking at possible successors to the ailing North Korean leader.

Looking at possible successors to the ailing North Korean leader.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 23 2009 10:26 AM

Who Can Follow Kim Jong-il's Act?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.

The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with a scoop on ailing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's apparent plan to begin transitioning power, according to anonymous U.S. officials. Unlike the last power change in North Korea 15 years ago, there is no clear successor to Kim, though his brother-in-law and third son are considered top candidates. The New York Times leads with a second-day analysis of the detention plan for terrorism suspects that President Obama outlined in a speech Thursday. Holding some detainees without trial inside the United States, as Obama proposed, would be a "departure from the way this country sees itself, as a place where people in the grip of the government either face criminal chargers or walk free," the NYT suggests, though it notes there are other longstanding exceptions, such as for sexual predators.

The Washington Post leads with an overview of economic woes across the Atlantic, noting that steep declines across Europe could now pose the largest obstacle to broad recovery at home. Many economists believe recovery in much of Europe will lag behind the United States by at least several months as countries put their own stimulus plans in place and scrutinize the financial fitness of their banks in sufficient detail. The Los Angeles Times leads with the prospect that the worst could be yet to come in California's budget crisis as companies, disenchanted by the state government's inability to mitigate the damage, take their business elsewhere.

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Continued questions over Kim Jong-il's health since he suffered a stroke last August come at a time when North Korea continues to rebuff six-party talks over its nuclear ambitions. But punditry in North Korean politics is difficult given the lockdown on reliable information coming out of the reclusive nation. Jang Seong Taek, who is married to Kim's younger sister, recently joined the country's powerful National Defense Commission and frequently appears in state media photos with Kim. Foreign media have reported that Kim's third son, Kim Jong Un, also holds a position on the commission, though U.S. officials say this is unconfirmed. Last month, North Korea tested a three-stage rocket, a possible precursor to a ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons, as is suspected to continue tests in coming months.

Should Obama succeed in closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center and transferring some of the inmates to U.S. soil, the constitutionality of the plan would almost certainly end up before the Supreme Court. Since Obama has not outlined specific procedures for how Congress and the courts could review the suspects' detentions, it's too early to game out how the top court might respond. Legal experts the NYT spoke with said that as-yet-unspecified oversight is likely to be a determining factor in their opinion. Other papers were light on next-day coverage of the Washington theomachy between Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday, though the WSJ reported in a similar analysis yesterday that the White House has tentatively suggested that the plan be ratified by Congress and overseen by a national security court.

The Post off-leads with an update on when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was made aware of harsh interrogation methods being used on terrorism suspects, based on documents related to a 2002 CIA briefing. The most definitive conclusion is that, in "Washington's latest who-knew-what-and-when saga," the public doesn't not know much of anything right now and probably won't for awhile. Because the documents are highly classified, housed in the bowels of the Capitol and requiring top clearance to view, they appear unlikely to leak in the near future. Predictably, Republicans and Democrats who have seen the documents disagree on how definitively they do or do not prove that Pelosi was aware at the time that water-boarding was being used against a top al-Qaida suspect.

In the gripping, ongoing saga of a foiled plot by four men to detonate bombs at Jewish centers in New York City, the NYT profiles a Pakistani man who frequented the mosque in Newburgh, N.Y., where the four suspects were based, and who is now believed to be the informant who helped bring in the case. The man, known around the mosque as "Maqsood," would frequently ply young male worshipers with offers of meals, jobs, and electronics, leading many at the mosque to suspect he was working for the government long before the four men were arrested. Sources tell the paper that the informant's real name is Shahed Hussain, who posed as a "wealthy Muslim radical" and eventually became intimately involved the suspects' scheming. The defense in the case is likely to argue that his facilitation of their plot amounts to entrapment, though such arguments have not registered well with juries in similar cases.

The WSJ approaches the same story from a different angle: Of the four Newburgh men charged in the plot, all were Muslim and several are believed to have converted in prison. (The NYT reported yesterday that at least two of the men originally identified themselves as Christians when entering prison.) Authorities the paper interviewed downplayed any risk of lasting, widespread radicalization occurring among inmates, with one NYPD official describing most converts as practicing "Prislam"—observance while incarcerated that inmates drop upon release. The issue has come up in a different context in the past week as Obama raised the prospect of introducing some terrorism suspects into the U.S. prison system, but the WSJ does not explicitly link the two stories.

Meanwhile, the NYT Arts page reports that Mimi Beardsley Alford, who had an affair with John F. Kennedy while she was an intern in the White House nearly half a century ago, will publish a memoir about her long-kept secret. Alford was identified by the New York Daily News six years ago after a biography of the former president revealed details of the liaison.