Detention Tension

Detention Tension

Detention Tension

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 2 2005 4:11 AM

Detention Tension

The New York Timesleads with divisions within the administration about whether new Defense Department rules on the handling of terror suspects should include prohibitions against "cruel," "humiliating," and "degrading" treatment. The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and USA Today lead with President Bush unveiling the long-anticipated plan to prepare for a possible flu pandemic. The president called for spending $7.1 billion over about five years, mostly for the purchase of vaccines and the development of future ones. The plan also envisions states picking up somewhere between 40 percent  and 75 percent of the cost of antivirals, which didn't leave health officials pleased. The Los Angeles Times, which has a particularly skeptical flu piece, also notices that the plan's flowchart envisions not HHS in the lead but instead the Homeland Security Department. The LAT leads with a poll concluding that California voters are not into Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed plan to hand redistricting duties over to retired judges.

The administration debate—or at least divergent views—about detainees is focused on the possibility that the military might re-establish the Geneva Conventions protections that President Bush removed in 2002. Among those who reportedly support reinstituting the protections: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

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One official who is opposed: Vice President Cheney's new chief of staff, David Addington. Apparently a Pentagon aide headed to Addington's office and tried to argue in favor of reinstituting the protections. "He left bruised and bloody," said one Defense Department official, who was, presumably, speaking metaphorically.

Meanwhile, the Post goes across the top with a big takeout on the CIA's secret prisons for al-Qaida suspects. The fact that the CIA has such prisons has been widely reported. But since they basically operate off the books—prisoners are not registered, and "only a handful" of U.S. officials know the locations—there's almost nothing in the public domain about them. Today's WP piece, written by Dana Priest, gets a few details. The CIA operated prisons in Afghanistan, Thailand, and Gitmo and now has a few in "several democracies in Eastern Europe." Roughly 100 prisoners have gone through the system, most of them not high-level suspects and eventually "rendered" to other countries. Priest cites current (but unnamed) intel officials squirming about the system. "It's just a horrible burden," said one.

As for those Eastern European democracies:

The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior U.S. officials. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.

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Elsewhere in the piece the Post mentions that legal experts think the prisons, if they were known about, "would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries." Doesn't that, at the least, complicate the Post's decision to withhold the names?

Just about everybody fronts Senate Democrats invoking a little-used parliamentary rule and forcing the Senate into a closed session to discuss—and bring a wee bit of a attention to—the fact that the Republican-led intel committee has still not delivered its promised report on whether administration officials accurately portrayed prewar intel on Iraq. The Senate reopened a few hours later after Republicans got enraged andthen agreed to a bipartisan panel to check up on the committee's work.

It was the first time in 25 years that one party has closed the Senate to the public without consulting the other party. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist nearly had a coronary: "This is an affront to me personally. It's an affront to our leadership. It's an affront to the United States of America." In spring 2003, Republicans on the intel committee had resisted calls to investigate the administration's WMD claims. Finally, in February 2004, they agreed to a two-step investigation, the first part looked at the intel itself, and the second stage—the part that has yet to be delivered—was meant to look at how the administration portrayed that intel.

As it happens, the American Prospect recently looked at why the report has gone MIA; it saw Republican foot-dragging, Pentagon stonewalling, and Democratic incompetence.

Meanwhile, the National Journal recently reported that the vice president and his now-former aide Scooter Libby decided to withold a few key documents from the committee, namely Libby-authored drafts of the prewar speech Secretary of State Powell gave at the U.N. (Those would presumably be the same drafts that Powell reportedly threw in the air, proclaiming, "This is bullshit.")

Considering all that, the NYT'sheadline is vacuous-plus: "PARTISAN QUARREL FORCES SENATORS TO BAR THE DOORS." Partisan Quarrel? Sure. Most important aspect of a story ultimately about war and accountability? Probably not.

A front-page LAT piece notices the "striking" number of liberal colleagues who insist that Judge Alito is not just a good guy but a good pick. "Alito does not have an agenda, contrary to what the Republican right is saying about him being a 'home run.' He is not result-oriented," said one fellow federal judge. "He is an honest conservative judge who believes in judicial restraint and judicial deference." One thing that would have been helpful to know: Did the Times come across these colleagues on its own? (TP asssumes it did, but given how nomination campaigns work, it would have been helpful to have been told so.)

The military announced the death of one GI in Iraq. And the LAT has a front-page piece on an American colonel in Iraq who recently promised his battalion that the high casualty rate they've suffered—about 100 wounded in a 700-soldier strong unit—would soon drop. The colonel was killed 48 hours later by a roadside bomb as he came to the aid of a wounded GI. The colonel was one of the highest-ranking officers to die in the war so far.