The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Back to Iraq as a human shield
Ken Nichols O'Keefe, The Observer, December 29, 2002

Day by day, the latest headlines tell us that we are moving ever closer to war with Iraq. So many people around the world are ashamed and outraged by this prospect and yet feel powerless to make their voices heard. Large rallies for peace have been held in cities around the world. Yet the bulletins quickly return to the war drums beating ever faster for what must be one of the most choreographed and longest-planned wars in history.

Those who suffer most will of course be the innocent and victimized men, women and children in Iraq who are set to endure yet another war and unknown loss of life. Their crime? Simply to be the powerless citizens of an oil rich nation with a violent dictator who no longer fulfils the needs of Western powers who supported and armed him in the past.

Yet we need not be powerless. Gandhi said that "peace will not come out of a clash of arms but out of justice lived and done by unarmed nations in the face of odds." So what would happen if several thousand Western citizens migrated to Iraq to stand side by side with the Iraqi people? Along with at first just a few hundred people - from hundreds of millions in the west - I will be going to Iraq to volunteer to act as a human shield in the interests of protecting human life. We will join our fellow citizens of the world in Iraq to bear witness for peace and justice.

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An attack on us all
Ghada Karmi, The Guardian, December 28, 2002

The preparations for a war on Iraq are moving inexorably forward, despite UN intervention, formal and popular opposition, and Iraqi ingenuity and compliance. The real motives for this projected attack, despite a plethora of public pronouncements, remain confusing and mysterious. Many Arabs see in it a variety of sinister plots involving control over their oil, neo-colonialism in their region and the machinations of a hegemonic Israel. Much of this has been ascribed to the Arab obsession with conspiracy theories, and yet there is an anti-Arab theme running through the debate over Iraq. A deep and unconscious racism imbues every aspect of western conduct towards Iraq - and by extension the Arabs in general.

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Twin Towers steel set for US warship
BBC News, December 28, 2002

Steel salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York has been sent to a Mississippi shipyard to be used in the construction of a new US warship.

The metal was taken from the Fresh Kills landfill in New York, where the debris of the twin towers was dumped after they collapsed in last year's 11 September attacks.

According to reports, a massive structural beam which supported the south tower will be used to build USS New York, an amphibious vessel capable of carrying more than 1,000 soldiers.

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Eyes on 2004 vote, Democrats fault U.S. terror defense
Adam Nagourney, New York Times, December 26, 2002

Democratic contenders for president are beginning to challenge President Bush's record on terrorism, arguing that Mr. Bush has failed to do enough to prevent another fatal attack on American soil and that the nation is barely safer than it was before Sept. 11, 2001.

The expressions of concern about the nation's safety by Mr. Bush's prospective challengers, voiced in interviews, speeches and television appearances over the last three weeks, suggest that the focus of the Democratic White House candidates in 2004 will go well beyond the traditional Democratic fare of education, the economy, jobs and health care.

While so far the criticisms lack many specifics beyond asking for more money for police agencies or the creation of an additional intelligence force, campaign aides said these early challenges on terrorism signaled what they expected to be a central theme in 2004. They argued that Mr. Bush was potentially vulnerable on the issue that Republicans view as a pillar of the president's political strength.

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Al Jazeera in English to hit US market
Cameron W. Barr, Christian Science Monitor, December 26, 2002

Coming to a screen near you: Al Jazeera in English.

The Arabic-language news network, notorious for broadcasting the statements of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda colleagues, plans to open an English-language website in early 2003 and begin distributing English-language news programming by satellite and cable late next year.

See also Al Jazeera: Hits, misses and ricochets

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Many Koreans fear Bush, not a nuclear North
Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, December 26, 2002

When Lee Jin Ju pauses to think about the nuclear crisis brewing over the Korean peninsula, she knows exactly whom she fears.

"George Bush," replies the 22-year-old accounting student without missing a beat. "He's a war maniac."

Lee doesn't like North Korea's Kim Jong Il much, either. "But we're not afraid of him. He's a Korean like us. Even if he does get the bomb, he's not going to use it against us."

This is a sentiment echoed by many Koreans - even some conservatives - and it is complicating U.S. efforts to forge a consensus on North Korea among its allies.

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Don't let democracy fade into the sunset of American life
David Weintraub, Miami Herald, December 23, 2002

What does it take to kill democracy in America? Would we know it when we saw it? Jackboots and swastikas aren't the only symbols of democracys fall. As Huey Long, a Louisiana politician, so presciently stated 70 years ago, "when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the American flag."

Had a time traveler arrived 30 years ago to foretell that a U.S. president would be appointed, not elected; that secret courts would review evidence against undesirables; that privacy rights would be gutted; and that collective bargaining rights for labor unions would be seriously challenged -- most Americans would have fought against this deterioration of their democracy.

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Foreign students jailed in Colorado for cutting college course hours
Associated Press, December 27, 2002

At least six Middle Eastern students studying in Colorado have been jailed in the past 10 days for failing to take enough college classes as required by their student visas.

The students ran into trouble when they showed up to register with U.S. immigration officials, as required by new rules to track foreign students.

When they reported, they were jailed and required to post $5,000 bonds for enrolling in less than 12 hours of college credit.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service says the students are being detained because under-enrollment is a violation of their student visas. The students are not suspected of any other offense.

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Details of U.S. victory are a little premature
Eric Margolis, Toronto Sun, December 22, 2002

Soviet propaganda churned out films of Red Army soldiers playing with children, building schools, dispensing medical care. Afghan women were to be liberated from the veil and other backward Islamic customs. The Soviet Union and its local communist allies would bring Afghanistan into the 20th century.

Two years later, Afghans had risen against their Soviet "liberators" and were waging a low-intensity guerrilla war. Unable to control the countryside, Moscow poured more troops into Afghanistan. The Soviet-run Afghan Army had poor morale and less fighting zeal. The KGB-run Afghan secret police, KhAD, jailed and savagely tortured tens of thousands of "Islamic terrorists," then called "freedom fighters" in the West.

Fast forward to December, 2002, and a disturbing sense of deja vu. A new foreign army has easily occupied Afghanistan, overthrown the "feudal" Taliban government and installed a puppet regime in Kabul. Western media churn out the same rosy, agitprop stories the Soviets did about liberating Afghanistan, freeing women, educating children. The only real difference is that kids in today's TV clips are waving American instead of Soviet flags. The invaders have changed; the propaganda remains the same.

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Hekmatyar aligns with Al-Qaeda
Associated Press, December 26, 2002

An Afghan rebel leader yesterday said his forces had allied with Taleban and Al-Qaeda fugitives and that a "holy war" would be stepped up to target international forces and peacekeepers.

"We are together" with the fugitive fighters, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said in a Pashto-language message distributed in Pakistan by his followers.

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CIA interrogation under fire
Alan Cooperman, Washington Post, December 28, 2002

A leading human rights group said yesterday that the CIA's method of interrogating al Qaeda detainees could constitute torture and result in the prosecution of U.S. officials by courts around the world.

Human Rights Watch, based in New York, sent a letter to President Bush calling for an investigation of the "stress and duress" techniques allegedly used by the CIA on some captives at the U.S.-held Bagram air base in Afghanistan and other facilities overseas.

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U.S. decries abuse but defends interrogations
Dana Priest and Barton Gellman, Washington Post, December 26, 2002

Deep inside the forbidden zone at the U.S.-occupied Bagram air base in Afghanistan, around the corner from the detention center and beyond the segregated clandestine military units, sits a cluster of metal shipping containers protected by a triple layer of concertina wire. The containers hold the most valuable prizes in the war on terrorism -- captured al Qaeda operatives and Taliban commanders.

Those who refuse to cooperate inside this secret CIA interrogation center are sometimes kept standing or kneeling for hours, in black hoods or spray-painted goggles, according to intelligence specialists familiar with CIA interrogation methods. At times they are held in awkward, painful positions and deprived of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of lights -- subject to what are known as "stress and duress" techniques.

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The strange case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed
Paul Woodward, The War in Context, December 23, 2002

Imagine that a week from now, FBI director, Robert S. Mueller, was to hold a news conference where he announced a stunning success in decommissioning al-Qaeda. Not only had every member on the FBI's most wanted list been captured or killed, but dozens of their lieutenants as well. Not only that, but substantial caches of weapons and explosives had been located and destroyed. Where would that leave George Bush's plans to invade Iraq, and how would the American people be persuaded that they should continue paying billions of dollars to fight a war on terrorism?

Thus far, the FBI's track record has shown few signs that we might be on the brink of such a breakthrough, but the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed raises the compelling question: For those who are waging the war on terrorism, do the leaders of al-Qaeda hold their greatest value while they are believed - by the American people - to remain at large?

Sunday's Los Angeles Times, carries a special report on The Plots and Designs of Al-Qaeda's Engineer. The Times reporters provide a chilling account of Mohammed, a man described as being more important to the operations of al-Qaeda than Osama bin Laden himself. '"The way he is managing their affairs, the way he is controlling things, he is not an ordinary man," said one top Pakistani intelligence official. "He is very sharp and brave -- an unusual combination."' Further on in the article we learn that, 'even those investigators who have been most involved in the hunt for Mohammed say they know very little about him. In the small, closed world of international counter-terrorism, he has become a mythic figure -- a ghost in the machine -- whose vague presence lurks behind innumerable plots but never comes completely into view.' As one senior FBI official is quoted as saying, "[Mohammed] was under everybody's radar. We don't know how he did it. We wish we knew.... He's the guy nobody ever heard of. The others had egos. He didn't."'

Back in June this year, the LA Times painted quite a different picture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Far from being the ghost in the machine, he was described as 'a man far different from the typical abstemious al-Qaeda agent. In Manila, where police say he used the name Abdul Majid, he met associates in karaoke bars and giant go-go clubs filled with mirrors, flashing lights and bikini-clad dancers. He held meetings at four-star hotels. He took scuba-diving lessons at a coastal resort. When he wasn't otherwise engaged with the go-go dancers, he courted a Filipina dentist. Once, to impress her, he rented a helicopter and flew it over her office, then called her on his mobile phone and told her to look up and wave.'

The strange story of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed took an even more remarkable twist in October of this year. It was then that Asia Times reported that Mohammed was killed in the raid that netted the FBI their most celebrated prize, Ramzi Binalshibh, a mastermind behind the 9-11 attacks. This report claims that Mohammed was shot by Pakistani Rangers, his body was later identified by his wife and child and that the 'body was kept in a private NGO mortuary for 20 days before being buried, under the surveillance of the FBI, in a graveyard in the central district of Karachi. The widow subsequently underwent exhaustive interrogation in the custody of FBI officials, during which she revealed details of people who visited her husband, and of his other contacts and plans. News of the death of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was intentionally suppressed so that officials could play on the power of his name to follow up leads and contacts.'

Did these details slip under the radar of the Los Angeles Times reporters, or in the absence of official confirmation from the FBI, was the Asia Times story deemed unworthy of comment? What the LA Times does report is that 'Pakistani and American officials say catching Mohammed now could turn the tide in the war on terrorism. The senior Pakistani intelligence official said: "If you catch Khalid Shaikh at this point, you will break the backbone of the entire network."'

The question now, is this the backbone that supports the al-Qaeda network or the backbone of the war on terrorism?

(Note to regular readers: The War in Context will next be updated on December 28.)

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Case against Iraq has holes
Calvin Woodward, Associated Press, December 23, 2002

Today's claims about Iraq could become tomorrow's call to arms. But not all the statements coming from the Bush administration have been supported by evidence, and some that haven't are central to the question of whether Americans should go to war.

The overarching claim, that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction, may have the weight of probability behind it, but it has yet to be backed by proof shared with the public.

Behind that is a cast of supporting allegations, some veering off into murky territory.

Human rights monitors, for example, say it is news to them that when Iraqi soldiers captured by Iran in the 1980s returned from that war, President Saddam Hussein ordered their ears cut off, as the Pentagon stated.

When President Bush flatly asserted about Saddam, "He possesses the most deadly arms of our age," he seemed to ignore the consensus that Iraq does not have the weapons of Armageddon - nuclear ones - however actively it may be pursuing them.

A decade ago, Americans preparing for their first war against Iraq were shocked when a Kuwaiti girl, testifying to Congress, said she saw Iraqi soldiers occupying her country take infants off their respirators and let them die.

The story quickly became part of the first President Bush's campaign to win public support for the war. "Babies pulled from incubators and scattered like firewood across the floor," he said.

Only after the war did the story fall apart and the witness' true identity - the daughter of Kuwait's ambassador to the United States - become known.

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FBI lawyer who rejected Moussaoui search is given award
Greg Gordon, Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, December 18, 2002

A senior FBI lawyer who refused to seek a special warrant for a search of Zacarias Moussaoui's belongings before the Sept. 11 attacks is among nine recipients of bureau awards for "exceptional performance."

The award to Marion (Spike) Bowman, head of the FBI's National Security Law Unit, is sure to be controversial among Minneapolis agents who sought authorization for a search, former bureau officials said. A search after the suicide hijackings, which killed more than 3,000 people, produced clues that might have helped uncover the plot.

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Anti-American feeling rises in Pakistan as U.S. confronts Iraq
David Rohde, New York Times, December 22, 2002

With the possibility of an American attack on Iraq looming, people like Tanweer Ahmed, an amiable man in a cardigan sweater, has Western diplomats and Pakistani moderates worried.

Mr. Ahmed, a middle-class 37-year-old Pakistani shopkeeper, says Presidents Bush and Saddam Hussein are "equally aggressive." He cannot understand why the United States feels threatened by a small country like Iraq. He says it "goes without saying" that the United States is biased toward "the Jews" and discriminates against Muslims.

"There are so many doubts and suspicions among the people," he said, referring to Pakistanis' views of the United States these days. "The gulf of hatred between the Pakistani and American people is widening."

More than a year after President Pervez Musharraf cast his country's lot with the United States in the campaign against terrorism and Osama bin Laden's network, Al Qaeda, suspicion of and disenchantment with the United States is spreading through all parts of Pakistani society, Pakistani and Western observers say. There is also fear that Pakistan could be Washington's next target after Iraq.

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Egypt's Brotherhood sees Iraq war helping extremism
Esmat Salaheddin, Reuters, December 22, 2002

The new head of Egypt's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition group, said on Sunday that a war against Iraq would unleash a tide of extremism in the Middle East.

"Of course extremism would emerge if Iraq is attacked. Extremism would be faced by extremism," Ma'moun al-Hodeiby told Reuters in an interview. "If we want injustice to stop, we must build an order of justice."

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Cities urge restraint in fight against terror
Michael Janofsky, New York Times, December 23, 2002

Nearly two dozen cities around the country have passed resolutions urging federal authorities to respect the civil rights of local citizens when fighting terrorism. Efforts to pass similar measures are under way in more than 60 other places.

While the resolutions are largely symbolic, many of them provide some legal justification for local authorities to resist cooperating in the federal war on terrorism when they deem civil liberties and Constitutional rights are being compromised.

Most of the resolutions have passed in liberal bastions like Boulder, Colo.; Santa Fe, N.M.; Cambridge, Mass.; and Berkeley, Calif., where opposition to government policy has long been a tradition. But less ideological places have also acted, with more localities considering it, from big cities like Chicago to smaller towns like Grants Pass, Oregon.

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Iraq invites CIA to inspect weapons sites
James Hall, The Scotsman, December 23, 2002

CIA agents are free to visit Iraq to lead inspectors to disputed weapons sites, an adviser to Saddam Hussein said yesterday, as the Iraqi regime resorted to extraordinary measures to try to defuse growing the determination of the United States to go to war.

Amir al-Saadi said Iraq was ready to answer any questions raised by the US and Britain about the 12,000-page arms declaration it provided the United Nations.

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Casualties of an 'undeclared war'
Civilians killed and injured as U.S. airstrikes escalate in southern Iraq

Peter Baker, Washington Post, December 22, 2002

Mohammed Sharif Reda, a 23-year-old mechanic married just two months and planning to build a house for his family, was among four people who Iraqi officials said were killed Dec. 1 in what they call an "undeclared war" being waged here in southern Iraq.

While U.S. troops flow into the Persian Gulf region in preparation for a possible invasion of Iraq, U.S. and British warplanes fire regularly on what the Pentagon describes as military targets. U.S. officials say the bombings and missile attacks are responses to Iraqi challenges to enforcement of the southern "no-fly" zone in place since 1991 -- painting aircraft with air defense radars or shooting at them. But the pace of the attacks has quickened demonstrably in recent months and the Pentagon has broadened its targets to a wide array of command and communications facilities in what analysts see as an effort to weaken Iraq's defenses.

The attack on Dec. 1 destroyed a pair of large vehicles parked in an oil company courtyard in the center of Basra, the country's second-largest city, located near the Kuwaiti border. U.S. military spokesmen said they hit an air defense facility, not an oil company, and in any case never deliberately attack civilian targets. But something obliterated the vehicles here and everyone questioned believes it was the Americans.

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Bush administration to propose system for monitoring Internet
John Markoff and John Schwartz, New York Times, December 20, 2002

The Bush administration is planning to propose requiring Internet service providers to help build a centralized system to enable broad monitoring of the Internet and, potentially, surveillance of its users.

The proposal is part of a final version of a report, "The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace," set for release early next year, according to several people who have been briefed on the report. It is a component of the effort to increase national security after the Sept. 11 attacks.

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