A Bloody Monday in Tehran
The papers continue to give top billing to Iran, where hundreds of thousands of protesters ignored a ban and marched through central Tehran to protest the result of Friday's presidential election. It was the largest unofficial demonstration since the 1979 Islamic revolution and came mere hours after the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered an investigation into allegations of fraud in the voting process. While most of the protests were largely peaceful, the day ended in bloodshed when members of a pro-government militia fired into a crowd. The Los Angeles Timescatches late-breaking news that Iran's state radio reported today that seven people were killed after protesters tried to "attack a military site." The Wall Street Journalnotes unconfirmed reports from "a student-run news service" that five students were killed Sunday night in raids at Tehran University carried out by pro-government militias. The New York Timesand LAT front breathtaking pictures of the "broad river of people" (NYT) that took to the streets yesterday and marched slowly from Revolution Square to Freedom Square. The Washington Postpoints out that there were reports of protests and clashes with police in other cities besides Tehran.
USA Todaygoes with a photograph from Iran at the top of its front page, but dedicates its lead spot to President Obama's speech before the American Medical Association to garner support for his efforts to overhaul the nation's health system. Obama took aim at those who say he wants the government to take over health care by saying that they "are not telling the truth." He made sure to emphasize that a public coverage plan would not be "a Trojan horse for a single-payer system."
In addition to calling for an investigation of the alleged electoral fraud, Ayatollah Khamenei also tried to calm protesters by meeting with Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main opposition candidate. But opposition supporters weren't buying it and saw Khamenei's moves as simply an effort to buy time and hope the protests die down naturally. Mousavi's wife had told supporters that the march had been canceled because they expected swift repression from government forces. But people gathered anyway, and many more quickly joined when it became clear the police weren't going to get involved. Mousavi made a brief appearance and told the crowd he didn't have much faith in the independence of the Guardian Council's investigation into the voting.
It seems the NYT and WP reporters may have been at different sides of the huge march. While the NYT takes pains to emphasize that the "people marched in silence" and "the crowd quickly hushed" anyone who belted out an occasional shout or chant, the WP describes it as a rowdy affair, with "ecstatic" crowds and lots of chanting and clapping. Regardless, the "diverse gathering refuted the charge … that Mousavi's support was drawn from the wealthy and educated in northern Tehran," notes the LAT. The marchers were from different generations and social classes, and there were even some families with children.
Deadly violence erupted after dark when members of the Basij, a pro-government militia group, fired onto a crowd from a rooftop. The WP says it's not clear whether the shooting began after the crowd threatened to storm Basij's headquarters. But after the shooting, protesters set fire to part of the building and several motorcycles. A spokesman for the Guardian Council urged Iranians to be patient while they investigated the claims of election fraud. More trouble could be in store today. Mousavi's supporters have called for a general strike today, and the LAT notes that a pro-government rally was announced for 4 p.m. today at the same site where an opposition rally is set to begin an hour later. Early morning wire stories report that the spokesman for the Guardian Council announced it will recount some ballot boxes from the election.
President Obama, in his first public comments on the situation, said he was "deeply troubled" by the violence in Iran. "I can't state definitively one way or another what happened with respect to the election," Obama said. "But what I can say is that there appears to be a sense on the part of people who were so hopeful and so engaged and so committed to democracy who now feel betrayed."
In a front-page analysis, the NYT states that Khamenei's move to quickly declare President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner of the election involved "a rare break from a long history of cautious moves." Although there seems little doubt that the Council of Guardians will simply uphold Ahmadinejad's victory, by calling for the investigation Khamenei "has opened a serious fissure in the face of Islamic rule and one that may prove impossible to patch over." Khamenei is often described as careful but "now faces a nearly impossible choice," says the NYT. "If he lets the demonstrations swell, it could well change the system of clerical rule. If he uses violence to stamp them out, the myth of a popular mandate for the Islamic revolution will die."
So, what about the results? Any chance Ahmadinejad actually won the election? The Post looks into this question and says that while there are "many signs of manipulation or outright fraud" in the election results, "the case for a rigged outcome is far from ironclad." The ballots were certainly counted very quickly, and at several polling places representatives of opposition candidates weren't allowed to oversee the initial counting. "There are suspicious elements here, but there's no solid evidence of fraud," one expert said.
As Obama tried to get the American Medical Association on his side, it also became clear that the plans for health care currently being discussed would not only cost a lot of money but might not even solve the problem of the uninsured. In a front-page piece, the NYT notes that a plan that was presented by Democratic leaders in Congress would cost at least $1 trillion over 10 years and only reduce the number of uninsured by 16 million people, leaving around 36 million people uninsured. Lawmakers are trying to figure out how to pay for this, and some think there's no option but to increase taxes. House Democrats are considering a tax on soft drinks, and the long-discussed idea of creating a value-added tax is also apparently on the table.
The LAT fronts new documents made public yesterday that reveal Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind, said during hearings at Guantanamo that he gave the CIA false information just so it would stop applying harsh interrogation techniques. "I make up stories," Mohammed said as he described how interrogators asked him about Osama Bin Laden's location. "Where is he? I don't know. Then, he torture me," Mohammed recounted. "Then I said, 'Yes, he is in this area.' " In his statements, Mohammed also gives the impression that he said some people belonged to al-Qaida even though he didn't know, just to avoid abusive interrogation sessions. Of course, there's no way to corroborate anything Mohammed said, but he is one of the detainees who we now know was repeatedly subjected to water-boarding.
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.