Details on secret CIA program; Obama faces increased pressure to investigate Bush era.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 13 2009 6:39 AM

Obama Forced To Confront Past

The Wall Street Journalleads its world-wide newsbox with word that the secret CIA program that has been causing all the uproar on Capitol Hill involved a plan to kill or capture al-Qaida operatives. The agency's director, Leon Panetta, ended the program before it became fully operational and informed lawmakers that they had been kept in the dark. According to three former intelligence officials, the CIA also looked into carrying out targeted assassinations of al-Qaida leaders, but those discussions died down after six months. The Washington Postleads with Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court confirmation hearing, which will begin this morning. Both Democrats and Republicans think she'll be easily confirmed, but the way the hearing proceeds could have "broad and long-lasting political implications for the president and both political parties."

The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at the way that some of Mexico's most dangerous cities look as if they're "under military occupation," as the army has essentially taken over police work. During the two-and-a-half-year military offensive against the drug cartels, Mexico has sent more than 45,000 troops to dangerous places across the country, but there is little sign of progress and increasing concern that troops are abusing their power. USA Todayleads with the head of the Army's suicide task force saying that commanders aren't doing a good enough job of monitoring troubled soldiers, which has contributed to the record number of suicides. Suicidal soldiers often exhibit similar risky behaviors, and if commanders were better trained to identify certain tell-tale signs, they could seek help for those who might be in trouble before it's too late. The New York Timesleads with new numbers that show black New York City residents have been disproportionately affected by the recession. Overall, the number of unemployed blacks increased four times as fast as the number of unemployed whites.

Even though the WSJ was able to find out the most information about the secret CIA program that was kept from lawmakers, details are scant, so we still don't know the precise nature of the program. Still, the paper's sources say the agency spent money on planning and possibly some training to enact an effort to carry out a 2001 presidential authorization to capture or kill al-Qaida operatives. Republicans insist the program was still in planning stages and didn't move forward to the point at which lawmakers should have been notified. The discussions about targeted assassinations apparently took place among a small CIA unit right after Sept. 11 and included talk of creating teams of military Special Forces that would operate in much the same way the Israelis did after the Munich Olympics attacks. "It was straight out of the movies," one of the former intelligence officials said. "It was like: Let's kill them all."

Yesterday, Democratic lawmakers hinted that the Bush administration may have broken the law in keeping information about the CIA secret from Congress. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Panetta told lawmakers that former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered that the information be kept from Congress. Feinstein said this is a "big problem, because the law is very clear," while Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois said the secrecy "could be illegal."

The WP and NYT both front looks at how the White House is under renewed pressure to investigate controversial Bush-era programs. The WP says that administration officials "have begun to concede that they cannot leave the fight against terrorism unexhumed." Following Saturday's NYT story that the Bush administration blocked investigations into the mass killing of prisoners in Afghanistan by local forces, Obama ordered officials to look into the matter. On top of that, Attorney General Eric Holder appears to be leaning toward naming a criminal prosecutor to examine whether detainees were tortured. And, of course, there's the secret CIA program and the recent revelations that there was more to the domestic eavesdropping programs. All in all, "the intelligence apparatus is under siege" on "four fronts," says the NYT. Many senior officials in the White House were eager to avoid these investigations into the past that, they felt, would only distract from their priorities. But it seems officials are starting to realize they might have little choice in the matter. As the WP notes, federal law-enforcement officials "are obliged to investigate possible violations of anti-torture statutes and other criminal laws," so it's difficult for the administration to pretend all this information doesn't exist.

Despite Sotomayor's virtually assured confirmation, analysts say there will be plenty to watch for during the weeklong hearing. Democrats are hoping that Republicans will be so enthusiastic in their criticism of Sotomayor that they will anger Latinos. For their part, Republicans hope that the hearing can help energize their base. USAT points out that senators will be using their exchanges with Sotomayor as a way "to establish the tone for any future nominations by Obama." Liberals hope that if she receives an overwhelming amount of support, it will push Obama to pick even more progressive nominees in the future. The WSJ says that Sotomayor opponents "would consider it a victory" if slightly more than half of the Senate's 40 Republicans voted against her confirmation. That way, the GOP could show support to its base but also avoid angering Hispanic voters by not entirely dismissing her nomination. Republicans are aiming for 23 votes against Sotomayor, which would be one more than what Chief Justice John Roberts received "and would reflect a significant protest vote."

The NYT fronts speculation that Goldman Sachs will report a profit of more than $2 billion for the March-June period on Tuesday. If analysts are correct in their estimates, it will represent a huge triumph for a bank that only recently paid back its bailout cash to the government and had a quarterly loss of $2.12 billion last fall. Goldman has been able to make huge profits off the credit crisis, partly by embracing risk that others haven't been willing to take. Huge profits also mean huge paydays. Analysts predict Goldman will pay a total of $18 billion in compensation and benefits to its 28,000 employees. Some think Goldman's success will push other banks to once again pursue riskier trading strategies just to keep up. "Someone takes risks and makes money—maybe they were smart, maybe they were lucky," one expert said. "But then everyone else feels like they need to take the same risks."

The WP off-leads a look at how, despite what Washington insiders might say, Iran doesn't have a huge embassy in Nicaragua. For months, many in Washington, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have been talking about Iran's construction of a "super-embassy" in Managua, Nicaragua. But no such structure exists, and the WP uses it as an example of how Iran's expansion into Latin America really isn't all that it's cracked up to be. It's true that Venezuela has encouraged Iran to expand in Latin America and it has opened six new embassies in the area since 2005. But analysts say that even though Iran has signed lots of high-profile agreements, promising to invest billions of dollars in Latin America, the money often fails to materialize.

The papers report that, according to a South Korean cable television network, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has "life-threatening" pancreatic cancer. The cancer was apparently diagnosed around the time he had a stroke last summer. If true, it means Kim may not have long to live. Pancreatic cancer is usually found in its final stage, and only about 5 percent of people with the disease live for more than five years.

Brüno may have been the No. 1 movie in the country over the weekend, but studio executives aren't likely to be jumping for joy this morning. The movie sold $14.4 million on its opening day, but then receipts fell 39 percent on Saturday. The LAT says the Saturday decline was the "second biggest in modern history for a movie that didn't open on a holiday weekend." A representative sample of moviegoers gave the film a "C," considered an extremely low mark. Ultimately, Brüno pulled in around $30.4 million. In 2006, Borat made $26.5 million its opening weekend, but it opened on less than half as many screens.

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