Fidel's Foggy Bottom Spy Ring
The New York Times leads on word that the Obama administration may allow Guantanamo detainees to plead guilty on capital charges without facing a full trial—a move that would potentially sidestep the complex legal questions raised by the harsh interrogation techniques used against the suspects, but that might also risk further damaging the hearings' credibility. The Washington Post leads on claims that a former State Department analyst and his wife were on Fidel Castro's payroll for nearly 30 years, using a shortwave radio and furtive meetings in D.C. grocery stores to pass government secrets back to their handlers in Havana. The alleged spooks, arrested this week after an FBI sting, apparently received little financial compensation for their work. "We think they did it because they love Cuba," said an investigator.
The Los Angeles Times leads on President Obama's European tour; visiting Germany, the president called for action to end 60 years of conflict in the Middle East. "The moment is now," he declared, announcing that he would send his Mideast envoy to the region this weekend to maintain the diplomatic push. The Wall Street Journal reports on the freshly forged alliance between Chrysler and Fiat, picking through internal e-mails highlighting tensions between Treasury officials and auto-company executives.
Senior administration officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, are considering proposals that would allow Guantanamo detainees to plead guilty without facing a full trial. The move, which follows a recommendation from military prosecutors, would bring Gitmo's military tribunals in line with federal and state courts. Still, the NYT reports, defense lawyers for the detainees say that allowing guilty pleas would risk encouraging martyrdom. "They are trying to give the 9/11 guys what they want: let them plead guilty and get the death penalty," complained one of the detainees' defense lawyers.
The jobless rate rose to 9.4 percent last month, its highest level for more than a quarter-century, according to new figures published yesterday. Still, notes the WSJ,the rate of job losses appears to be bottoming out: Payrolls fell by 345,000 last month, in the smallest monthly decline since September. "The free fall that the job market was in does finally appear to be tapering off," one economist told the NYT. "It's the prelude to an economic and job recovery later this year." The WSJ speculates that service-sector companies may resume hiring relatively soon, because they began layoffs early in the economic slump.
Still, others warn that the figures point not to economic recovery but merely to the end of months of outright panic. "Even the good numbers are bad," editorializes the NYT, noting that beyond short-term stimulus spending little has so far been done to secure America's job prospects. Republicans quickly sought to use the report to attack Democrats' handling of the economic crisis. "This is President Obama's economy now," said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor. The WSJ uncovers perhaps the bleakest data-nugget of all: According to the Mexican government, more Mexicans left the United States last year than entered. Economists say that immigrants who once saw America as a land of opportunity are now returning home in droves, reversing global migration flows for the first time since the Great Depression.
Meanwhile, President Obama spent an hour yesterday visiting the Nazi death camp in Buchenwald, Germany; the Post says that Obama called the site "the ultimate rebuke" to those who continue to deny the Holocaust. The visit was, the NYT notes, intended to underscore America's "unbreakable" bond with Israel, even as Obama drew fire from some in Israel (and some in the United States) for his opposition to expanding settlements in the West Bank. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton forcefully rejected claims that President Bush had secretly agreed to the expansion of West Bank settlements, saying the official negotiating record contained no mention of such a deal.
Obama's continuing efforts in the Middle East add significance to this weekend's elections in Lebanon, notes the LAT,where a secular pro-American alliance is squaring off against the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. "It's your choice between peace and war," one pro-government candidate told voters as they flooded home from overseas to cast their ballots. Still, the NYT reports, the reality is more nuanced: Lebanon's Christian voters dominate in key districts, and the election will likely swing on whether they support the pro-West ruling majority or side with controversial Christian opposition groups that favor sharing power with Hezbollah.
Meanwhile Iran—also soon to hold key national elections—is accelerating its nuclear program, according to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency; the NYT reports that Tehran now has enough centrifuges to produce fuel for up to two nuclear weapons per year, although there's no evidence that Iran has so far sought to produce weapons-grade nuclear material. Nuclear inspectors also reported discovering traces of uranium in two sites in Damascus, Syria, raising concerns that the country was secretly seeking to build nuclear weapons. The discovery "implies at least some kind of experimentation," a former UN inspector told the Post.
In Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is on the ropes following a dismal showing in local elections and a wave of defections by senior government officials. Five members of Brown's cabinet resigned this week alone, reports the NYT,while the governing Labor Party racked up its worst-ever showing in local elections, netting just 23 percent of the vote. The British leader called the results "a painful defeat," says the Post,but shrugged off calls for his resignation. Still, there may be further headaches in store; the WSJ notes that left-leaning parties are likely to fare badly in this weekend's European parliamentary elections.
Six days after Air France Flight 447 went down, searchers have yet to locate any wreckage from the disaster, reports the NYT. Debris initially believed to belong to the plane was later found to have come from a ship, muddying theories over the cause of the accident. French investigators will discuss the accident today, reports the WSJ; their focus will likely be on the plane's speed sensors, which appeared to be malfunctioning shortly before the aircraft disappeared.
Ben Whitford writes for the Guardian, Mother Jones and Newsweek.