The Pentagon releases detainee names to the Red Cross.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 23 2009 4:21 AM

The Pentagon Names Names

The New York Times leads with the Pentagon's decision to release the names of detainees held at secret camps in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Red Cross. The military previously insisted that the detainees' identities be kept classified for fear they could jeopardize counterterrorism efforts. The Washington Post leads with an unprecedented government effort in the works to vaccinate half of the U.S. population against swine flu "within months." More than 2,800 local health departments are gathering medical personnel and developing strategies to reach as many as possible. The Los Angeles Timesleads with California legislators having a difficult time slashing the required $1.2 billion from the state's ailing prison system. Federal courts ordered California to reduce its prison population by 40,000, and the state's ongoing budget crisis makes deep cuts a fiscal necessity.

Red Cross efforts to obtain the names of detainees held at two Special Operations prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan have long been for naught, but the U.S. military has finally agreed to hand over the information. The new tack from the Pentagon, which came without a formal announcement, indicates a shift in detention policy in keeping with the Obama administration's promise to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay by the end of the year. It also foreshadows a week where detainees and interrogations are likely to dominate the news: On Monday, the C.I.A. will release a long-awaited, critical report on its own interrogation techniques, and Attorney Gen. Eric Holder is expected to decide whether or not to begin a criminal investigation into C.I.A. interrogation policy after September 11, 2001.

Public health officials are cooking up a plan for what one professor says is "potentially the largest mass-vaccination program in human history"—a sweeping effort to protect Americans against H1N1, the first influenza pandemic the country has faced in 41 years. The number of cases could spike within the next few weeks as schools and colleges reopen, but vaccination efforts are still fraught with uncertainty. Scientists are "rushing" to test the vaccine for safety, but they still don't know how many shots people will need and what dosages should be. The campaign will not move forward until the results of clinical trials are in; the government is being cautious to avoid a repeat of a 1976 vaccination effort that caused more illness than it prevented.

The LAT reports that the clock is ticking on the U.S.'s remaining stockpile of chemical weapons, which it is internationally obligated to destroy by 2012. Construction on the facility to destroy an arsenal of deadly gases in Kentucky has been endlessly delayed, and the Pentagon notified Congress in May that even on an accelerated schedule the job will not be done until 2021. The Army holds chemical weapons at six locations, four of which are currently incinerating their stockpiles. The Kentucky site is the most difficult operation because the weapons "are loaded in highly explosive M55 rockets and corroding, fully armed munitions."

Tom Daschle may have withdrawn his nomination to be President Obama's "health czar," but he's still a key player in the debate over reform. A NYT front-pager reports that Daschle has met regularly with the president, and a "highly paid policy advisor" to Alston & Bird, a legal and lobbying firm with powerful health industry clients. Democrats are moving toward a health care solution centered on nonprofit insurance co-ops, a plan Daschle has promoted and that "happens to dovetail with the interests of many Alston & Bird clients."

Cartels that smuggle illegal immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border have realized they can extort money from other undocumented residents: their customers' relatives. A gripping WP story reports that cartels have called family members demanding ransom, forcing them to pay up or make an equally frightening call to U.S. immigration officials.

A front-page LAT story suggests that support for a junk-food tax is growing among the American population, though no one in Congress has endorsed it. According to a poll, 55 percent of Americans support a ban on "unhealthful snack foods," and "63 percent of those who opposed the idea said they would change their minds if the revenue were used to fund healthcare reform and combat health problems related to obesity." Junk-food taxes are "a no-brainer" to many health experts, but the numbers suggest they're not as effective as other "sin taxes" because it's easy to switch to an untaxed alternative.

Well made big-budget movies for adults are disappearing, according to a trend piece in the WP "Style" section. "High-end, relatively sophisticated movies made with glossy production values and well-paid stars" are becoming scarcer because their actors' salaries and marketing campaigns eat up so much of the studios' profits. Movies tied to an already-successful book or video game—or better yet sequels in already-successful movie franchises—are less of a financial gamble and more likely to get a green light.

Slate contributor Robert Wright suggests a compromise between militant atheists and religious believers, who are both wrong about the conflict between science and religion for the same reason. "Believers could scale back their conception of God's role in creation, and atheists could accept that some notions of 'higher purpose' are compatible with scientific materialism. And the two might learn to get along."

NYT ombudsman Clark Hoyt responds to a deluge of mail complaining that a recent Times story seemed to mock J.C. Penney's first store in New York City.

David Sessions is a former Slate intern. He is currently a blogger at Politics Daily.