The military probes civilian deaths; authorities search for Air France Flight 447 wreckage.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 3 2009 7:17 AM

Military Made Mistakes in Afghan Strikes

The New York Times leads with word that an internal investigation has found that military personnel failed to follow strict rules on some of the airstrikes carried out in western Afghanistan on May 4 that killed dozens of civilians. According to a senior military official, at least some of the civilian deaths could have been avoided if the rules had been followed. The Afghan government claims 140 civilians were killed in the attacks, while an earlier American investigation put the civilian death toll at 20 to 30.

USA Today and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with, while the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times off-lead, confirmation from Brazilian authorities that pieces of Air France Flight 447 were found spread out over a three-mile trail in the Atlantic Ocean, more than 300 miles off the Brazilian coast. An international team of searchers is scouring the area to locate more debris, particularly the plane's "black box" recorders that could shed some light into what could have caused the Airbus A330-200 to "simply drop out of the sky," as the WP puts it. The LAT leads with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pushing California lawmakers to cut spending to deal with the $24 billion hole in the state's budget. "We are running out of excuses and we have run out of time," Schwarzenegger said. The WP leads with news that no one is likely to be charged in last year's death of an inmate in Maryland. The chief prosecutor in Prince George's County said that after investigating for nearly a year, he doesn't have enough evidence to indict anyone in the death of the 19-year-old who had been accused of killing a police officer.

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The NYT was only able to get its source to talk about the military investigation into the airstrikes in the Farah province in broad terms because it's not complete. So there are no exact numbers on how many of the airstrikes the investigating officer determined shouldn't have taken place. Still, the findings amount to "the clearest American acknowledgment of fault in connection with the attacks," notes the NYT. Although all the targets were determined to have posed legitimate threats, in "several cases," according to the source, the airstrikes weren't the appropriate response due to the civilian presence, or the strict rules on how to conduct them weren't followed. The American airstrikes have angered many Afghans who say they show how U.S. troops aren't careful enough to avoid civilian casualties when conducting airstrikes. In his confirmation hearing to become the American commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said reducing civilian casualties was "essential to our credibility," because it would be impossible to sustain military gains if the civilian population turns against the Western coalition.

Finding out what led the Air France flight carrying 228 people from Rio de Janeiro to Paris to crash will be anything but easy. "Most of the wreckage is probably resting now 9,000 feet to 14,000 feet below the surface, where it is pitch black, the water temperature is 40 degrees and the pressure as high as 7,000 pounds per square inch," summarizes the LAT. USAT reports that French navy ships are trying to locate the plane's "black box" by dipping a receiver into the water to try to pick up signals from the "pinger" that is attached to the recorder. The floating pieces that were located yesterday may not even provide that much help in pinpointing the exact location of the wreckage since it's quite feasible that winds and currents moved the debris since the crash. Although searchers have been successful in recovering data from planes that crashed in deep water, it's not clear that they will be able to get to the wreckage if it's too deep in the water. "We're closer to the limits of technology than I'd like to be," said a flight safety expert. USAT points out that the crash is likely to spark a debate about whether the flight recorders should be able to float. 

The WP fronts word that former Vice President Dick Cheney led at least four briefings with senior lawmakers in 2005 in which he defended the harsh interrogation techniques that had been used on suspected terrorists. Although it's hardly a secret that Cheney advocated using harsh interrogation methods during his time at the White House, the "hands-on role" he took in trying to convince members of Congress, particularly during times when lawmakers were raising questions about the program, wasn't previously known. His name wasn't listed in the documents that the CIA delivered to Congress about the briefings, in which the documents related to the meetings that were overseen by Cheney stated that the name of the person who oversaw them was "not available." According to a witness, Cheney allowed professional briefers to give details on the interrogations, and then he proceeded to defend the program. 

The NYT fronts, and everyone else goes inside with, speculation that North Korea's leader has designated his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, as his successor. South Korea's intelligence services told lawmakers in Seoul that North Korean embassies were informed of the decision last week, and reports from inside North Korea claim that schoolchildren have been including his name in songs. Little is known about Kim Jong Un, and although the WP says he is 26, the NYT notes that no one is sure of specifics and he's generally believed to be in his mid-20s. He apparently attended an international school in Switzerland for two years under an assumed name, where he enjoyed skiing and was an avid fan of Jean-Claude Van Damme. Some intelligence officials believe that even if he was picked as his father's successor, it doesn't necessarily mean Kim Jong Un will be taking over, because other key officials could be plotting their own rise to power. White House officials say it might be impossible to carry out any sort of negotiations with North Korea during a time of transition.

Everybody reports that a Pakistani court ordered the release of the founder of a banned militant group that is thought to have masterminded last year's terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed is the leader of an Islamic charity that is widely believed to be a front of Lashkar-i-Taiba. The court said there was insufficient evidence to hold him, raising complaints from India that Pakistan is once again showing its lack of resolve for combating terrorists within its borders. Tensions are likely to increase between the two countries, making it even more difficult for U.S. officials to convince Pakistan that it should move troops from its Indian border to fight the Taliban.

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor went to Capitol Hill yesterday to meet with key lawmakers, and the WP fronts a look at how the Sen. Jeff Sessions went up against the same committee in 1986 and was denied a federal judgeship due to claims of racism. Now that he's the top Republican in the Senate Judiciary Committee, there have been those who wonder how he would handle the proceedings, particularly considering that "race (and ethnicity) once again looms as a major subplot," points out the Post. "I've felt sorry for the poor person in the pit getting grilled," Sessions said. "I don't think you'll find that I've abused any witness. And I don't like vindication."

Sotomayor and Sessions seem to have gotten off to a good start, but yesterday "her task was to be seen but not heard," notes the Post's Dana Milbank. "Rather, it was a time for senators to show how terribly important they are—so important that a future Supreme Court justice would come to meet with them and to plead her case for confirmation." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was so eager "to praise the nominee that he became tangled in his own clichés," notes Milbank. "We have the whole package here," Reid said, later adding that "you've been an underdog many times in your life but always the top dog." Reid was later asked whether anything in her record could raise concerns. "I understand that during her career, she's written hundreds and hundreds of opinions," he said. "I haven't read a single one of them, and if I'm fortunate before we end this, I won't have to read one of them."

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