|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
U.S. tanks deploy in Baghdad as Shiite radicals take to streets
Agence France Presse (via Yahoo), April 3, 2004
U.S. tanks deployed in the Iraqi capital to stop hundreds of angry protestors marching on the coalition's city-centre headquarters as Shiite Muslim radicals took to the streets across central and southern Iraq.
The protest in the capital turned violent as some supporters of radical leader Moqtada Sadr threw themselves at the U.S. tanks and a police officer said at least two of the demonstrators had been crushed.
There was no immediate confirmation of the deaths from police headquarters or the U.S. military.
Huge protests were also held in the central pilgrimage city of Najaf and as far south as Amara, while unarmed militiamen from Sadr's Mehdi Army paraded in Sadr City, a sprawling mainly Shiite neighbourhood of the capital regarded as a radical stronghold.
Sadr's followers have held almost daily demonstrations to protest the decision by the coalition last Sunday to close his weekly newspaper for 60 days on charges of inciting violence.
Early Saturday, Sadr supporters took to the streets of Najaf, reacting to unfounded rumours that Spanish coalition soldiers had detained Mustafa Yaacubi, the head of his office in the city. [complete article]
Uneven response seen on terror in summer of 2001
By David Johnston and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, April 4, 2004
In July 5, 2001, as threats of an impending terrorist attack against the United States were pouring into Washington, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, and Andrew H. Card Jr., the president's chief of staff, directed the administration's counterterrorism office to assemble top officials from many of the country's domestic agencies for a meeting in the White House Situation Room.
Even though the warnings focused mostly on threats overseas, Ms. Rice and Mr. Card wanted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and other agencies put on alert inside the United States. Ms. Rice and Mr. Card did not attend the meeting, run by Richard A. Clarke, the White House counterterrorism coordinator. When the meeting broke up, several new security advisories were issued, including an F.A.A. bulletin warning of an increased risk of air hijackings intended to free terrorists imprisoned in the United States.
That was as far as the Bush administration ever got to placing the nation on high alert before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The issue of whether the July 5 meeting and the actions that preceded it and followed were a reasonable response to the gathering threat in the summer of 2001 now lie at the heart of the independent inquiry into the attacks. Ms. Rice will be questioned intensively about these matters when she appears in public on Thursday for the first time before the independent commission investigating the 2001 attacks, according to members of the commission.
A review of the Bush administration's deliberations and actions in the summer of 2001, based on interviews with current and former officials and an examination of the preliminary findings of the commission, shows that the White House's impulse to deal more forcefully with terrorist threats within the United States peaked on July 5 and then leveled off until Sept. 11.
The review shows that over that summer, with terror warnings mounting, the government's response was often scattered and inconsistent as the new administration struggled to develop a comprehensive strategy for combating Al Qaeda and other terror organizations. [complete article]
Blast in Madrid kills 3 suspects in train attack
By Dale Fuchs, New York Times, April 4, 2004
Three men believed responsible for the Madrid train bombings blew themselves up inside an apartment building as the police prepared to assault the building on Saturday night, officials said. The blast also killed one officer and wounded at least 11 others.
The acting interior minister, Angel Acebes, said the men, on spotting the special agents, shouted in Arabic and fired shots through the window of the building in Leganes, a working-class district of Madrid where many immigrants live. The police, who began the raid at about 6 p.m., vacated the surrounding apartment buildings and when they moved to storm the building, "the terrorists set off a powerful explosion, blowing themselves up," Mr. Acebes said.
Among the dead, he said, were "some of the presumed authors" of the March 11 railway blasts that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,400. He declined to say whether one of the men was the Tunisian man labeled the "leader and coordinator" in an arrest warrant that was issued Thursday. [complete article]
Marines limiting info about attacks on troops
By Robert Burns, Associated Press (via Arizona Republic), April 3, 2004
Citing a need to protect the troops, the Marine Corps operating in Fallujah and elsewhere in the volatile Sunni Triangle of central Iraq is restricting the information it releases about insurgent attacks that kill Marines.
On Friday, for example, a statement from the Marines' base camp outside Fallujah said a Marine had been killed the day before "as a result of enemy action" in Anbar province. In a break from the practice of other U.S. forces in Iraq, the Marines gave no details.
The Army and the Pentagon, in their news releases announcing service members' deaths in Iraq, typically offer a brief characterization of the hostile action, such as mortar fire, roadside bomb or other type of attack. They usually cite the town where it happened; the Marines do not.
"Force protection measures preclude the release of any information that could aid enemy personnel in assessing the effectiveness or lack thereof with regard to their tactics, techniques and procedures," the Marine statement said. "The release of more details about the incident could place our Marines and sailors at greater risk." [complete article]
Let's make enemies
By Naomi Klein, The Nation, April 19, 2004
US occupation chief Paul Bremer hasn't started wearing a hijab yet, and is instead tackling the rise of anti-Americanism with his usual foresight. Baghdad is blanketed with inept psy-ops organs like Baghdad Now, filled with fawning articles about how Americans are teaching Iraqis about press freedom. "I never thought before that the Coalition could do a great thing for the Iraqi people," one trainee is quoted saying. "Now I can see it on my eyes what they are doing good things for my country and the accomplishment they made. I wish my people can see that, the way I see it."
Unfortunately, the Iraqi people recently saw another version of press freedom when Bremer ordered US troops to shut down a newspaper run by supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr. The militant Shiite cleric has been preaching that Americans are behind the attacks on Iraqi civilians and condemning the interim constitution as a "terrorist law." So far, al-Sadr has refrained from calling on his supporters to join the armed resistance, but many here are predicting that the closing down of the newspaper--a nonviolent means of resisting the occupation--was just the push he needed. But then, recruiting for the resistance has always been a specialty of the Presidential Envoy to Iraq: Bremer's first act after being tapped by Bush was to fire 400,000 Iraqi soldiers, refuse to give them their rightful pensions but allow them to hold on to their weapons--in case they needed them later.
While US soldiers were padlocking the door of the newspaper's office, I found myself at what I thought would be an oasis of pro-Americanism, the Baghdad Soft Drinks Company. On May 1 this bottling plant will start producing one of the most powerful icons of American culture: Pepsi-Cola. I figured that if there was anyone left in Baghdad willing to defend the Americans, it would be Hamid Jassim Khamis, the Baghdad Soft Drinks Company's managing director. I was wrong.
"All the trouble in Iraq is because of Bremer," Khamis told me, flanked by a line-up of thirty Pepsi and 7-Up bottles. "He didn't listen to Iraqis. He doesn't know anything about Iraq. He destroyed the country and tried to rebuild it again, and now we are in chaos." [complete article]
Iraqi oil: Hanging in the balance
By Charles Recknagel, Asia Times, April 3, 2004
Iraqi oil production slumped dramatically following the United States-led invasion last year, but it is now routinely back up to immediate pre-war levels. In past weeks, daily production has been running between 2.3 million and 2.7 million barrels per day (bpd). That is right around the prewar average of 2.5 million bpd. The sustained high level of output is good news for Washington, which has raced to get oil production back up as quickly as the dilapidated state of Iraq's oil infrastructure would allow. The US plans to fund much of the country's reconstruction through oil revenues.
The US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) announced last week that sales of Iraqi oil have generated some US$6.6 billion since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, and that the money has been deposited into the CPA's Development Fund for Iraq. That money is in addition to the some $33 billion pledged for Iraq's reconstruction by the international community - more than half of which comes from the US.
But as US and Iraqi oil engineers push to raise output, it is far from certain whether production can be further increased - or even sustained at current levels - in the near future. [complete article]
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Uzbekistan: the next Iraq?
By Ali Abunimah, Chicago Tribune/ElectronicIraq.net, April 3, 2004
When asked recently if the deaths of more than 500 U.S. service personnel in Iraq were "worth it," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld exclaimed, "Oh, my goodness, yes." His reason? "Twenty-five million people being liberated is gigantic."-- Fox News Channel, March 19, 2004.
Because there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Bush administration hopes Americans will believe that the noble goals of liberation, democracy and religious freedom justify the enormous sacrifices in human life that have resulted from the Iraq war.
But the administration's tight new embrace of one of the world's most repressive regimes--in Uzbekistan--shows that this is cynical at best. Uzbekistan is a Central Asian nation bordering Afghanistan. It's about the same size as Iraq and also has 25 million people. It lies in the center of a region with rich, untapped oil and gas reserves that U.S. energy companies are eager to exploit. Its president, Islam Karimov, is a holdover from when Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union, but he got on America's good side by allowing his country's bases to be used for the war in Afghanistan.
On Monday, in unprecedented violence that shook the country, bombs killed 19 people, mostly police, in Uzbek cities, including the capital Tashkent. A few days later, Uzbek authorities carried out bloody armed raids. The interior ministry released a statement saying, "Eleven male terrorists were eliminated. Five female terrorists were killed as well in one incident in the capital." The Karimov regime blames what it calls Muslim "fundamentalists" and "Wahhabis" for the violence, claiming that it is conducting a "war on terror" similar to that of the United States. The perpetrators of the bomb attacks remain unknown and some Uzbek opposition groups blame the government.
Whatever the case, the background to this violence is a concerted campaign of repression by the Karimov regime, which the United States is helping to fund. In a just-released 300-page report, Human Rights Watch states that "For the past decade, with increasing intensity, the government of Uzbekistan has persecuted independent Muslims. This campaign of religious persecution has resulted in the arrest, torture, public degradation and incarceration in grossly inhumane conditions of an estimated 7,000 people." [complete article]
In a Gypsy village's fate, an image of Iraq's future
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, April 3, 2004
A month ago, Qawliya's collection of perhaps 150 homes in southern Iraq contained a small red-light district, an isolated warren known for prostitution and gunrunning and as a haven from the law. Today, it is destroyed, the few sounds of life made by barking dogs and scavengers piling bricks from razed homes.
Its residents -- hundreds of men, women and children, mostly members of Iraq's tiny Gypsy minority -- were driven out by a militia controlled by a militant Shiite Muslim cleric, residents and police say. Neighbors systematically looted it. Some accounts say the village was burned, though the militia denies it.
No one has been punished, police say. The U.S.-led occupation, which learned of the raid soon after it happened on March 12, has yet to make it public. Qawliya's residents, most of whom fled to other cities, largely remain in hiding, fearful to talk.
Qawliya's fate is a grim tale about the forces that are shaping southern Iraq as the civil occupation nears an end -- the ascent of religious militias, the frailty of outgunned police and the perceived reluctance of foreign peacekeepers to play an assertive role. Making those factors more combustible, residents say, is the question of whose law rules Iraq's people. [complete article]
Iraqi cleric urges action against U.S.
By Sewell Chan, Washington Post, April 3, 2004
An influential Shiite Muslim cleric whose newspaper was shuttered for printing inflammatory articles called Friday for his followers to strike back at officials and appointees of the U.S.-led occupation authority.
"I and my followers of the believers have come under attack from the occupiers, imperialism and the appointees," Moqtada Sadr said in a sermon in the southern town of Kufa, outside the holy city of Najaf. "Be on the utmost readiness, and strike them where you meet them."
On Friday evening, clashes erupted in Kufa. Residents said that rocket-propelled grenades and mortars were fired but that it was unclear who was involved. At some point in the fighting, gunmen killed Kufa's police chief, Col. Saeed Tiryak, and a colleague, according to Iraqi police sources quoted by the Reuters news agency.
Spanish troops in charge of security in Najaf intervened, residents said, but the fighting continued into the evening. It was not clear whether the clash was related to Sadr's sermon. [complete article]
Broken U.S. troops face bigger enemy at home
By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, April 3, 2004
The Guardian has uncovered more than a dozen instances in which ill or injured soldiers were sent to war by a US military whose resources have been stretched near to breaking point by the simultaneous fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq. In its investigation, the Guardian learned of soldiers who were deployed with almost wilful disregard to their medical histories, and with the most cursory physical examinations. Soldiers went to war with chronic illnesses such as coronary disease, mental illness, arthritis, diabetes and the nervous condition, Tourette's syndrome, or after undergoing recent surgery.
One sergeant major was shipped out two months after neck surgery, despite orders from his military doctor for six months' rest. "The nurse told me to put my hands above my head and said you are good to go," he told the Guardian. A female supply sergeant said she was sent to Kuwait under medical advice not to walk more than half a mile at a time, or carry more than 50lb. Both had to be medically evacuated within weeks; the sergeant major required surgery on his return. [complete article]
Powell critical of prewar Iraq data
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, April 3, 2004
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Friday for first time directly criticized the intelligence community for giving him apparently flawed information he used to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Powell said that the "most dramatic" of his allegations, that Saddam Hussein's regime had mobile germ labs, was based on questionable U.S. intelligence. He urged the commission investigating prewar intelligence to examine how the data were gathered.
The comments were an abrupt reversal for Powell, who had acknowledged disagreements among analysts but had not criticized the intelligence community. [complete article]
Afghanistan: Hekmatyar changes color again
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, April 3, 2004
With the Afghan resistance poised for a do-or-die spring offensive against occupying forces in the country, already torn by instability, details are emerging of a breakthrough agreement that could see the implementation of a truce, at least in the troubled east of the country.
Steady behind-the-scenes efforts on the part of Washington, Islamabad and Kabul to find a political solution to Afghanistan's woes appear to have finally borne some fruit. Asia Times Online has learned that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) - the engine of the resistance in the east of the country - has provisionally agreed to call a ceasefire in resistance fighting in return for his party being allowed to contest September's general elections.
Such a move, though, is hinged on the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) setting a date for the withdrawal of the more than 13,000 US-led forces in the country. [complete article]
Spanish police foil new railway bomb attack
By Giles Tremlett, The Guardian, April 3, 2004
A fresh attempt to wreak havoc with a bomb attack on Spanish trains was foiled yesterday after a bag containing explosives was discovered under a high-speed rail track 40 miles south of Madrid.
The acting interior minister, Angel Acebes, said the device was discovered shortly before midday and was believed to contain between 10 and 12 kilos (about 25lb) of explosives.
He confirmed last night that the explosives appeared to be a brand called Goma 2 Eco - exactly the same type used in the Madrid bombings on March 11 in which 191 people were killed and more than 1,900 injured.
That left Spaniards contemplating the possibility that, despite a series of arrests, at least part of the bombing team behind the Madrid attacks might still be on the offensive. [complete article]
See also, Moroccan extremists named as Madrid bombing suspects
Iraqis say U.S. bid to pacify Falluja doomed
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, April 2, 2004
Peering down the road to the anti-American flashpoint of Falluja, nervous Iraqi security forces said on Friday there was only one way for U.S. troops to pacify the town -- stay away.
"The Americans should think before they act. If they enter Falluja and use force it will only be met with force and this will happen over and over," said Lieutenant Mohammad Tarik.
"This is Falluja. Everyone is angry with the occupation and there are many tribes, which means there will be revenge. The Americans should just keep out." [complete article]
Fallujah braces for U.S. reprisal
By Paul McGeough, The Age, April 3, 2004
The predominantly Sunni city of Fallujah is braced for what US leaders, from the White House down, promise will be an "overwhelming" response to the brutal deaths of four US security contractors in the city on Wednesday.
There were sporadic attacks across Iraq yesterday, but in the aftermath of scenes reminiscent of a horror film - in which the bodies of the four were incinerated and dragged around the city behind vehicles before being dismembered or left hanging from a bridge - an eerie and shocked silence descended on the country.
Internationally, particularly in the US, there was outrage.
Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt, the main spokesman for the US military in Baghdad, warned that 4000 US marines stationed near Fallujah would respond. "They are going to hunt down the people responsible for this bestial act," he said. "It will be at a time and a place of our choosing. It will be methodical, it will be precise and it will be overwhelming." [complete article]
Comment -- "Overwhelming" is a popular phrase among US military commanders who want to dispassionately emphasize the military muscle at their disposal, but it's hard to imagine who or what will be overwhelmed in this instance. By all accounts, hostility towards occupation forces has pervaded the populace of Fallujah ever since Saddam was toppled. Fox Television's Sean Hannity, while interviewing Tom Zovko, the brother of one the slaughtered American contractors, suggested last night that "justice" should require that everyone whose face was captured in AP's filming of the violence should be rounded up and executed. The problem that many Americans struggle with is that though on the one hand most profess faith in Christian teachings, at the same time the Biblical message of an eye for an eye resonates far more strongly than Jesus' admonition that one should love one's enemies. The Old Testament spirit is enshrined in the continued use of the death penalty, even while a veneer of Christian values insists that justice should not be vengeful. A religious morality that amounts to nothing more than using principles of convenience, thus obscures any understanding of the conflicting demands of passion and reason. The result is a feel-good sense of righteousness that displays a willful disregard for the future. The risk now is that sending a message to the people of Fallujah will become more important than any consideration about how that message is heard or what might ultimately be the outcome. American strength is being tested. But we should pause to consider, what requires greater strength: The ability to exercise restraint, or the ability to unleash violence?
From Mogadishu to Fallujah
By Tony Karon, Time.com, April 2, 2004
Plainly, the guerrillas who regularly attack U.S. forces [in Fallujah] enjoy considerable popular support in the local population. The U.S. had hoped to dampen local hostility by withdrawing from the city itself and handing security control to Iraqi forces, but February's daylight raid on the police station highlighted just how permissive an environment Fallujah is for the insurgents -- in the same way that Gaza is for Palestinian gunmen. The logic of occupation, as the Israelis well know, demands that the U.S. retaliate harshly for the Fallujah killings, or else risk sending a message of weakness that would likely inspire further attacks. Hence Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt's promise of an "overwhelming" response to "pacify that city."
That said, there are few good options for retaliation against an unknown enemy that enjoys considerable support in the local population. Israel's experience, and that of the U.S. thus far in Iraq, shows that far from deterring further attacks, collective punishment in an occupation situation tends to inflame hostility and boost support for the insurgents. Indeed, Fallujah residents cite previous U.S. actions as their primary complaint when trying to justify Wednesday's attacks.
The problem of handling Fallujah quickly mushrooms into a larger political dilemma at the heart of the U.S. effort to stabilize Iraq and transfer power to a representative government. British officials have publicly stated what has become conventional wisdom among Coalition officials in Baghdad -- that defeating the insurgency requires convincing the Sunni Arabs of their place in the sun under a post-Saddam order. [complete article]
'I saw papers that show U.S. knew al-Qa'ida would attack cities with aeroplanes'
By Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, April 2, 2004
A former translator for the FBI with top-secret security clearance says she has provided information to the panel investigating the 11 September attacks which proves senior officials knew of al-Qa'ida's plans to attack the US with aircraft months before the strikes happened.
She said the claim by the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, that there was no such information was "an outrageous lie".
Sibel Edmonds said she spent more than three hours in a closed session with the commission's investigators providing information that was circulating within the FBI in the spring and summer of 2001 suggesting that an attack using aircraft was just months away and the terrorists were in place. The Bush administration, meanwhile, has sought to silence her and has obtained a gagging order from a court by citing the rarely used "state secrets privilege". [complete article]
Bush aides block Clinton's papers from 9/11 panel
By Philip Shenon and David E. Sanger, New York Times, April 2, 2004
The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks said on Thursday that it was pressing the White House to explain why the Bush administration had blocked thousands of pages of classified foreign policy and counterterrorism documents from former President Bill Clinton's White House files from being turned over to the panel's investigators.
The White House confirmed on Thursday that it had withheld a variety of classified documents from Mr. Clinton's files that had been gathered by the National Archives over the last two years in response to requests from the commission, which is investigating intelligence and law enforcement failures before the attacks.
Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said some Clinton administration documents had been withheld because they were "duplicative or unrelated," while others were withheld because they were "highly sensitive" and the information in them could be relayed to the commission in other ways. "We are providing the commission with access to all the information they need to do their job," Mr. McClellan said.
The commission and the White House were reacting to public complaints from former aides to Mr. Clinton, who said they had been surprised to learn in recent months that three-quarters of the nearly 11,000 pages of files the former president was ready to offer the commission had been withheld by the Bush administration. The former aides said the files contained highly classified documents about the Clinton administration's efforts against Al Qaeda. [complete article]
9/11 widows skillfully applied the power of a question: Why?
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, April 1, 2004
Kristen Breitweiser was at home in Middletown, N.J., cleaning out closets. Patty Casazza of Colts Neck was dashing to the dry cleaners. Lorie Van Auken of East Brunswick was headed out to do grocery shopping. Her neighbor Mindy Kleinberg had just packed her children off to school.
Then came word, Tuesday morning, that President Bush had agreed to allow his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to testify publicly about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. All at once, the cellphones started ringing and the e-mail started flying and "the Jersey girls," as the four women are known in Washington, were getting credit for chalking up another victory in the nation's capital.
Americans just tuning in to the work of the commission investigating the attacks may not have heard of Ms. Breitweiser and the rest. But on Capitol Hill, these suburban women are gaining prominence as savvy World Trade Center widows who came to Washington, as part of a core group of politically active relatives of Sept. 11 victims, and prodded Congress and a recalcitrant White House to create the panel that this week brought official Washington to its knees. [complete article]
Prosecutors are said to have expanded inquiry into leak of C.I.A. officer's name
By David Johnston and Richard W. Stevenson, New York Times, April 2, 2004
Prosecutors investigating whether someone in the Bush administration improperly disclosed the identity of a C.I.A. officer have expanded their inquiry to examine whether White House officials lied to investigators or mishandled classified information related to the case, lawyers involved in the case and government officials say.
In looking at violations beyond the original focus of the inquiry, which centered on a rarely used statute that makes it a felony to disclose the identity of an undercover intelligence officer intentionally, prosecutors have widened the range of conduct under scrutiny and for the first time raised the possibility of bringing charges peripheral to the leak itself.
The expansion of the inquiry's scope comes at a time when prosecutors, after a hiatus of about a month, appear to be preparing to seek additional testimony before a federal grand jury, lawyers with clients in the case said. It is not clear whether the renewed grand jury activity represents a concluding session or a prelude to an indictment.
The broadened scope is a potentially significant development that represents exactly what allies of the Bush White House feared when Attorney General John Ashcroft removed himself from the case last December and turned it over to Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney in Chicago.
Republican lawyers worried that the leak case, in the hands of an aggressive prosecutor, might grow into an unwieldy, time-consuming and politically charged inquiry, like the sprawling independent counsel inquiries of the 1990's, which distracted and damaged the Clinton administration. [complete article]
Clarke wants TV ad with his voice pulled
By Nick Anderson, Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2004
The former White House counterterrorism chief who has heaped criticism on President Bush's response to terrorist threats protested the use of his voice and words Wednesday in an anti-Bush television commercial.
Richard Clarke told Associated Press that he wanted the ad, which quotes him directly, pulled from CNN, Fox News Channel and other news outlets.
The ad was sponsored by a political action committee of MoveOn.org, a group opposed to Bush's reelection. It began airing Tuesday and was scheduled to run through Friday. MoveOn said Wednesday that it would continue to run the ad.
Clarke complained that he was not consulted about the spot before it was launched. He has given interviews on national television and written a book critical of the president.
"I just don't want to be used," Clarke told Associated Press.
"I don't want to be part of what looks like a political TV ad. I'm trying hard to make this not a partisan thing but a discussion of how we stop terrorism from happening in the future -- keep this on a policy issue. I don't want this to become any more emotional or personal than it has already." [complete article]
Comment -- MoveOn recognizes Richard Clarke's effectiveness as a critic of the Bush administration. What they do not seem to recognize is that by attempting to co-opt Clarke into the anti-Bush campaign, MoveOn is actually risking damaging Clarke's credibility. He has clearly demonstrated his ability to get his message out without MoveOn's assistance. To the extent that he and his book have the power to derail the Bush campaign, it will be because he is perceived as an honest critic and not a partisan. Nevertheless, Clarke is increasingly regarded as partisan and MoveOn is now only reinforcing that perception.
How (not) to win
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, March 31, 2004
The pages have yellowed and the binding's cracked, but my old airport paperback of "Terrorism: How the West Can Win," edited by Benjamin Netanyahu, makes more interesting reading today than when it came out 18 years ago. The relentless tough-guy talk -- so articulate and persuasive and, read on the page, so satisfying -- has become conventional wisdom in Washington as well as in Tel Aviv. The West must "do away with the middle ground of neutrality," wrote Netanyahu, who served as Israel's prime minister from 1996 to 1999. "We must force a dichotomy." You're with us [meaning Israel and the West] or you're with the terrorists. "Retaliation and preemption," he says, are "acts of self-defense."
Yet terrorism, as we know, is a whole lot worse today than it was back in 1986, or 1996, for that matter. In one horrible sense, "Bibi" Netanyahu proved prophetic. He warned that "terrorism follows an inexorable, built-in escalation. To be effective, it must continually horrify and stupefy." And, yes, that's just what's happened.
So let's be glad Richard A. Clarke wrote his new book, "Against All Enemies." He may be vindictive, theatrical and egotistical ("pain in the a--," is the term most of our mutual acquaintances use for him), and his best seller has been talked about so much in the last week you're probably sick of hearing it mentioned. But the former coordinator for counterterrorism in the Clinton and Bush administrations is a thoughtful pro when it comes to the nuts and bolts of eliminating terrorists, and his recommendations for what should have been done after September 11 -- and still might be done -- are the best antidote I've found to the kind of fatal absolutism promoted by Netanyahu and his sympathizers. [complete article]
Why Colin Powell and George Tenet aren't bashing Richard Clarke
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, March 31, 2004
In the short story "Silver Blaze," Sherlock Holmes solves the mystery of a stolen racehorse by observing that the stable's guard dog didn't bark -- hence, the intruder was not a stranger.
The mystery of whether Richard Clarke is telling the truth about President Bush's counterterrorism policies might be solved the same way: Which dogs aren't barking? Amid all the administration officials bombarding the airwaves with denunciations, who has stayed mum?
The answer: Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet, and their silence speaks loudly. [complete article]
Most say they are less safe since 9/11
By Christopher Lee, Washington Post, April 1, 2004
Fewer than half of all Americans think the country is safer now than it was on Sept. 11, 2001, and more than three-quarters expect the United States to be the target of a major terrorist attack at home or abroad in the next few months, according to a new poll.
The survey, released yesterday by the nonpartisan Council for Excellence in Government, found that about half of respondents were concerned that terrorists would strike near their home or work. Seventy-three percent identified themselves as anxious or concerned about terrorism, and 26 percent said they were calm.
The survey findings come at a time when national security is a central issue in the presidential campaign, and after the Bush administration waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of fighting terrorism and making the United States safer from foreign threats. The findings follow by one year the creation of the Department of Homeland Security to better focus government resources on the task of keeping Americans safe at home. And they exist in an environment in which numerous buildings and airports have been fortified with security checkpoints to ward off potential attacks. [complete article]
Aliens in their own country
By Massoud Shadjareh, The Guardian, April 1, 2004
Seyf's a smart-looking guy, Mediterranean looking. If you're clued up about these things you'd guess he's of Turkish origin. Buying milk at his local supermarket he and his American flatmate of Pakistani origin were approached by a loud, white English shopper, who yelled in the middle of the dairy aisle: "Are you terrorists?"
This was an example of what passes as humour in Middle England at the moment. Before she burst out laughing and carried on what turned into a tirade, other shoppers stood by, nervously looking for staff and indicating that the two Muslim lads might be trouble.
Forget about the latest arrests around London. Forget about police profiling of Muslims (and of that there's plenty) - the general public now categorises all things Muslim as terror-orientated. Why? It's easy to blame victims of prejudice for their demonisation - it's a practice with a long pedigree. But the unending calls on Muslims, from rightwing shock jocks to former archbishops of Canterbury, to condemn terrorism reveal a level of conditionality that no other community has been asked to bear.
Throw into this mix the continuous police raids and arrests since 9/11 under various pieces of anti-terrorist legislation, the fanfare of media attention when Muslims of various origins are arrested and the deafening silence when most (some 450 out of 540) are released. Add the recent analysis of stop and search figures that shows a disproportionately high number of the 32,100 people who were stopped and searched in the last year (or more accurately 71,100 people when you take into account the misreporting of some police forces, according to Statewatch) were of Asian origin. Do not forget to include Islamophobic media coverage of an increasingly anti-Muslim "war on terror", and stir. The result?
British non-Muslims are scared of Muslims; they're angry with them and they're paranoid about the threat they perceive from Muslims ready to blow them up. British Muslims are scared of the backlash against them from non-Muslims. They're also paranoid about their safety from wider society, the security services and the other Muslims that they are told are out there waiting to blow everybody up. [complete article]
Midnight in Tashkent
By Sabine Freizer, Open Democracy, April 1, 2004
At least forty-three people are dead after four days of violence – bombings, armed attacks against police, lengthy shoot-outs between militia and militants – in the Central Asian state of Uzbekistan. It is not easy to access accurate information about the reclusive Central Asian state, but according to sketchy news reports one child was killed and nine police officers – the remainder being alleged terrorists.
At first glance, the chaos of 28-31 March echoed that of February 1999 in the capital, Tashkent, when bombings killed sixteen people (according to official figures) and wounded at least a hundred. But in many ways the latest incidents are much worse, because they demonstrate the complete failure of the anti-terrorism strategy applied since the 1999 events. In the interim period, the authoritarian regime of President Islam Karimov has sought to tighten its grip over the country, portray itself as the only clear guarantor against regional instability and the spread of Islamist terrorism, and win the support of the United States as a strategic partner in "war on terror". The current spate of violence indicates that all involved in this political project need to rethink. [complete article]
Israeli police storm mosque compound
By George Wright, The Guardian, April 2, 2004
Thousands of Palestinians today barricaded themselves inside mosques at one of Islam's holiest sites after Israeli police stormed worshippers who they said had been throwing stones at officers.
Officers entered the al-Aqsa mosque compound after some of the Muslim worshippers who gathered there for Friday prayers began throwing stones at police deployed nearby, according to an Israeli police spokesman cited by the Associated Press.
About 20 people were wounded and nine arrests were made as police moved in, firing plastic bullets, stun grenades and tear gas in an attempt to disperse the alleged stone-throwers.
But mosque authorities denied any stones had been thrown, and Palestinian worshippers expressed anger at the police tactics. [complete article]
A growing unity against Israel
By Molly Moore and John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, April 2, 2004
Three years ago, members of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah political movement created the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades to compete with Hamas -- in effect, to see which organization's armed wing could send the most suicide bombers against Israel and win the most support among Palestinians.
Today the former rivals have forged alliances, a shift that is complicating Israeli efforts to thwart major attacks and blurring the ideological lines between nationalist and religious factions, according to Palestinian militants, analysts and senior Israeli military officials.
In addition to al-Aqsa and Hamas -- formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement -- other militant groups have also participated in collaborative efforts, most notably Islamic Jihad. The growing trend toward cooperation emerged just over a year ago, Palestinian fighters and Israeli generals say, in a bid to combat the increasing success of Israeli forces in targeting, killing or capturing militant leaders and their operatives. [complete article]
By Sara Roy, London Review of Books, April 1, 2004
Recently, at Harvard University where I am based, a Jewish student, using an assumed (gentile) name, began posting anti-semitic statements on the weblog of the Harvard Initiative for Peace and Justice, an anti-war, pro-Palestinian group on campus. The student, it turned out, is the secretary of Harvard Students for Israel - which dissociated itself from the incident - and had previously accused the HIPJ of being too tolerant of anti-semitism. He now went undercover as part of a self-appointed effort to monitor anti-semitism on campus. In one posting, for example, he referred to Israel as the 'AshkeNAZI state'. Incidents of this kind, which are becoming commonplace on American campuses, reflect a wider determination to monitor, report, defame and punish those individuals and institutions within academia whose views the right finds objectionable. The campaign is directed at area studies generally but the most virulent attacks are reserved for those of us in Middle Eastern studies whose ideas are considered anti-Israel, anti-semitic or anti-American. [complete article]
As Iraq handover looms, transition questions remain
By Dan Murphy and Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, April 2, 2004
With Iraq hurtling towards sovereignty, US administrator Paul Bremer is running out of time.
His team is working hard to create an aura of inevitably around June 30, the scheduled date for the restoration of a limited form of sovereignty to Iraq.
Officials have fanned out across Iraq to explain the plan, and Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority has started to loosen the reins. This week, the health ministry was released from CPA control, the first of 25 ministries to be put in Iraqi hands over the next three months.
But with fewer than 100 days to go before the Governing Council takes over from the US-led coalition, the leadership here has yet to resolve Iraq's most fundamental challenge - how an independent Iraq should divide power between its Shiite majority and large minorities like the Kurds and Sunni Arabs. [complete article]
Sovereignty or 'sovereignty'
By Carolyn Eisenberg, Newsday, April 1, 2004
The Bush administration's commitment to restore sovereignty to the Iraqi people on June 30 is as illusory as Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
In what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld buoyantly described on March 12 as "an historic moment in history, one that shows the power of freedom," the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council four days earlier signed an "interim constitution" for the period following the proposed transfer of power.
Yet this "Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period" is a deceptive document designed to obscure continued U.S. control. [complete article]
Iraqi intellectuals flee 'death squads'
By Ahmed Janabi, Aljazeera, March 30, 2004
Occupied Iraq is suffering a new brain drain as intellectuals flood out of the country to avoid unemployment and an organised killing campaign.
In recent months assassinations have targeted engineers, pharmacologists, officers, and lawyers.
More than 1000 leading Iraqi professionals and intellectuals have been assassinated since last April, among them such prominent figures as Dr Muhammad al-Rawi, the president of Baghdad University.
The identity of the assailants remains a mystery and none have been caught.
But families and colleagues of victims believe that Iraqi parties with foreign affiliations have an interest in wiping out Iraq's intellectual elite. [complete article]
Driven by national pride
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, April 2, 2004
The architecture of the Iraqi town of Falluja bears little resemblance to the narrow alleys of Gaza's impoverished refugee camps. Detached two-storey homes with palm trees and small shaded gardens behind their sand-coloured front walls stand along wide streets, looking as comfortable as suburbs anywhere.
But as residents ushered reporters into their homes a few days ago, shortly before this week's attack on four American security guards (though mercenaries might be a better term), it was clear that deep communal anger was lurking here, and had reached boiling point. They wanted to show the results of several US incursions over four days and nights last week.
Rockets from helicopter gunships had punctured bedroom walls. Patio floors and front gates were pockmarked by shrapnel. Car doors looked like sieves. In the mayhem 18 Iraqis lay dead. On the American side two marines were killed. It was the worst period of violence Falluja has seen during a year of occupation.
So this week's retaliation comes as no surprise.The cycle of violence that US troops unleashed looks and feels increasingly like Palestinian rage in the face of excessive force by an occupying power. [complete article]
Is Fallujah Iraq's Mogadishu?
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, April 2, 2004
Paul Bremer, chief of the Coalition Provisional Authority, said of the murdered contractors, "Their deaths will not go unpunished." Maj. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, spokesman for the U.S. military command in Iraq, said today there will be a military response. "We will not rush in to make things worse," he said, wisely. But he added, the response, when it comes, will be "deliberate, it will be precise, it will be overwhelming." If Bush officials can devise a response that can be all that -- without inflaming and enlarging the ranks of insurgents in the process -- they will prove themselves more agile than they've otherwise shown the past year.
If there is a way to deal with the insurgents, it will be fundamentally political -- and it will have to take shape in the next few months. Two things are necessary. First, the occupying "coalition" must be broadened, and the occupation authority must be turned over to some international body. The Bush administration seems to realize this -- hence Bremer's recent urgent calls for the United Nations to mediate internal disputes in Iraq. Will an international organization—the U.N., NATO, the Arab League, or whatever -- be more effective than the U.S.-led CPA? Maybe, maybe not. But it would be more legitimate.
Second, somebody -- the U.S., the U.N. -- must devise a policy toward the Sunnis. It doesn't much matter whether the insurgents are local Baathists or foreign terrorists. The key thing is that vast majorities in the Sunni Triangle are so bitter about the occupation, and about their perceived place in the new Iraqi order, that they are willing, even happy, to give the insurgents refuge. [complete article]
Violence indicates extent of resistance
By Thanassis Cambanis and Anne Barnard, Boston Globe, April 2, 2004
U.S. strategists have carefully painted the armed opposition in Iraq as a constellation of frustrated Ba'athists, former lieutenants of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein, and Islamic terrorists from outside Iraq.
But the mob violence Wednesday in Fallujah, in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, underscored how popular -- and indigenous -- Iraqi resistance has become over the past year.
While organized insurgents might have sprung the ambush that killed the four US civilian contractors who were driving through Fallujah, it was a horde that seemed to be mostly teenage boys who doused the bodies with gasoline, mutilated them, and then hung them as resistance trophies from the town's major bridge.
Even in other regions of the country, Iraqis seem to have a deep well of sympathy for those who kill Americans. The attackers are called mujahideen, or holy warriors, and considered freedom fighters. [complete article]
See also, Anti-American voices get louder across Iraq (Reuters)
Fallujah attacks shocked many Iraqis
By Mohamad Bazzi, Newsday, April 1, 2004
Even in a country wracked by three wars and 30 years of Saddam Hussein's brutal rule, the photos of a cheering mob beating the charred bodies of four American civilians and dragging them through the streets of Fallujah shocked many Iraqis.
"It was completely un-Islamic to treat the bodies in that way. The people who did this were acting like animals," said Ali Khaled, 29, an electrician who sat drinking tea with four friends at a coffee house in Baghdad's old quarter Thursday afternoon. "They committed an unforgivable sin, and they will be punished by God." [complete article]
See also, No Iraqi shock over slaying of Americans (Reuters)
Soldiers of good fortune
By Barry Yeoman, Mother Jones, May/June, 2003
The four Americans horrifically killed on Wednesday by a mob in Fallujah, Iraq, worked for Blackwater USA, one of a growing number of for-profit companies hired by the U.S. military to to do work traditionally performed by soldiers. In this article in the May 2003 issue of Mother Jones, Barry Yeoman detailed the Pentagon's increasing -- and increasingly perilous -- reliance on private military companies. [complete article]
See also, Need an army? Just pick up the phone
In Iraq, looking through the unfiltered lens of hatred
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, April 1, 2004
One could also look back into Iraq's history and comfortably say, with the smug satisfaction of historical confirmation, that there's nothing new here. In 1963, when Iraqi President Abdul Karim Qassem was executed, Baathist radicals displayed the former leader's body on television, his corpse riddled with bullet holes. The camera panned in and a soldier "sauntered around, handling its parts," according to Kanan Makiya, who recounted the episode in the book "Republic of Fear." It was, according to Makiya, nothing particularly new for Iraqis, used to bloody displays, though television had extended its reach.
So we can place [yesterday's images of mutilation] in the Mogadishu file, or the Iraqi history file, both of which suggest precedents and lessons that blunt the power of the imagery, and both of which (whether we acknowledge the implicit message or not) suggest that this is the kind of thing people unlike us -- people who don't look like "us," people in poor, sandy parts of the world -- just happen to do, from time to time.
Yet there's a dignity owed to the charred corpses in Fallujah that demands we argue with any easy interpretation of these images, at least until they are superseded by newer, even uglier images and messages. Perhaps this is what people unlike us do, from time to time, but it's also what we do, when motivated by pure, unyielding hatred -- from time to time. A foreign commentator, trying to make sense of James Byrd's mangled body, kicked, beaten and dragged by the ankles behind a pickup truck in Texas in 1998, might well have called upon his knowledge of lynching and racism and said, well, this is what these people do. It's in their history, their blood, their nature. [complete article]
See also Descent into carnage in a hostile city (Washington Post)
Top focus before 9/11 wasn't on terrorism
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, April 1, 2004
On Sept. 11, 2001, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to outline a Bush administration policy that would address "the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday" -- but the focus was largely on missile defense, not terrorism from Islamic radicals.
The speech provides telling insight into the administration's thinking on the very day that the United States suffered the most devastating attack since the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. The address was designed to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and contained no mention of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups, according to former U.S. officials who have seen the text.
The speech was postponed in the chaos of the day, part of which Rice spent in a bunker. It mentioned terrorism, but did so in the context used in other Bush administration speeches in early 2001: as one of the dangers from rogue nations, such as Iraq, that might use weapons of terror, rather than from the cells of extremists now considered the main security threat to the United States.
The text also implicitly challenged the Clinton administration's policy, saying it did not do enough about the real threat -- long-range missiles. [complete article]
Excerpts from Rice's speeches scheduled for September 11, 2001 and delivered on April 29, 2002.
Comment -- If Condoleezza Rice -- or any other advocate of missile defense -- could have learnt one utterly obvious lesson on September 11, it would have been that in the post-Cold War era a missile defense system was not simply overly ambitious in its technical goals, but actually worthless in the face of the emerging national security threat posed by terrorism. Nevertheless, rather than remove their ideological blinkers, this administration has pushed ahead with missile defense and is currently planning early deployment even though the Pentagon's own office of operational test and evaluation says that the system's effectiveness has not been demonstrated.
BOOKS! Check out the bookstore (books available from Amazon).
Over 100 titles to choose from, including:
Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror by Richard Clarke,
American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush by Kevin Phillips,
The Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet by James Mann,
Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll.
Titles arranged into categories on War and Empire, Iraq/Middle East, Israel/Palestine, Afghanistan/South Asia, Militant Islam, Nuclear Proliferation, and the Big Picture. A small commission from each sale will help support this site. Thanks, Paul Woodward
Tag-team testimony from Bush, Cheney will limit divergent answers
By Ron Hutcheson, Knight Ridder, March 31, 2004
President Bush's plan to appear before the Sept. 11 commission with Vice President Dick Cheney at his side violates a fundamental rule of investigations, but the panel accepted the unusual arrangement to get the president's cooperation.
As anyone who has ever watched a cop show knows, witnesses and suspects are best grilled alone to expose any inconsistencies in their stories.
"Get 'em alone, keep 'em alone, and don't even let them talk to each other immediately after, if you can help it," former New York police detective Robert Louden said Wednesday, recalling the tactics he used during his 21 years on the force. "In an ideal world, you want them separated." [complete article]
Comment -- With memories of Bush's inept handling of his recent interview by Tim Russert on Meet the Press still fresh in their minds, White House officials clearly thought that if Bush has to face some tough questions from the 9/11 commission, it would be prudent to make sure that he is accompanied by a reliable handler. Since the meeting will take place in private we may never know the truth, but commission members themselves will surely find out who's really in charge if Bush's most frequent response turns out to be, "I'll let the Vice President answer that question."
A clash on classified documents
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, March 31, 2004
The Bush administration's uneven decision-making on which sensitive documents it declassifies has prompted criticism that the White House is selectively releasing information to justify its foreign policy decisions and respond to political pressure. Before the war, for example, the administration kept classified the intelligence community's significant dissents to the overall assessment that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It later released those dissents, however, after the CIA was criticized for failing to accurately assess Iraq's weapons -- a reversal cited by those who argue such decisions are being based on politics, not national security. [complete article]
How Clarke 'outsourced' terror intel
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, March 31, 2004
As White House counterterror czar, Richard Clarke was so frustrated by the FBI's inability to identify Islamic radicals within the United States that he turned for help to a freelance terrorism researcher whose work was deeply resented by top bureau officials.
Clarke's secret work with private researcher Steven Emerson is among a number of revealing disclosures in the ex-White House aide's new book, "Against All Enemies," that has been all but obscured by the furor over the author's politically charged allegations against President George W. Bush.
As recounted by Clarke in his book, and confirmed by documents provided to Newsweek, Emerson and his former associate Rita Katz regularly provided the White House with a stream of information about possible Al Qaeda activity inside the United States that appears to have been largely unknown to the FBI prior to the September 11 terror attacks. [complete article]
Bush counsel called 9/11 panelist before Clarke testified
By Dana Milbank and Dan Eggen, Washington Post, April 1, 2004
President Bush's top lawyer placed a telephone call to at least one of the Republican members of the Sept. 11 commission when the panel was gathered in Washington on March 24 to hear the testimony of former White House counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke, according to people with direct knowledge of the call.
White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales called commissioner Fred F. Fielding, one of five GOP members of the body, and, according to one observer, also called Republican commission member James R. Thompson. Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, wrote to Gonzales yesterday asking him to confirm and describe the conversations.
Waxman said "it would be unusual if such ex parte contacts occurred" during the hearing. Waxman did not allege that there would be anything illegal in such phone calls. But he suggested that such contacts would be improper because "the conduct of the White House is one of the key issues being investigated by the commission." [complete article]
Uzbek unrest shows Islamist rise
By Scott Peterson and Peter Boehm, Christian Science Monitor, April 1, 2004
A woman's shoe, shreds of black cloth - once the chador uniform of a female suicide bomber - and several dried pools of blood remained Wednesday in Uzbekistan after four days of militant violence that has shaken Central Asia.
"Wahhabis," spat out residents, using their term for the radical Islamists who lived for a time in their Soviet-style apartment block before a gun battle Tuesday with police. Wednesday night, militants reportedly took hostages in Tashkent after a new round of blasts. Suicide attacks and explosions have so far claimed 42 lives, and police Wednesday have arrested at least 30 people.
A key ally in the US war on terror, Uzbekistan has not seen such lethal incidents in half a decade. Experts say the bloodshed could signal the resurgence of the regional Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which has revitalized itself in the lawless Pakistan-Afghan border area, under the leadership of Tohir Yuldashev. Or it could point to a violent offshoot of the local, moderate Hizb-ut-Tahrir, fed up with years of brutal crackdowns by Uzbek President Islam Karimov on Islamic believers of all types. [complete article]
Pakistan to play a pivotal role
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, April 1, 2004
As the Pakistan military establishment's pro-United States policies continue to receive harsh criticism domestically, Washington is now pressuring Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf to undertake yet another operation against foreign militants and their proteges in Pakistan's tribal regions of South and North Waziristan near the Afghanistan border.
The most recent operation in South Waziristan kicked off two weeks ago and failed miserably, with the official figure listing about 50 of the Pakistan Army's officers and soldiers killed and no "prize targets" captured. Asia Times Online sources maintain the casualty figure is actually much higher. Now, Musharraf has been pushed back under the microscope. Through many reshuffles in the Pakistan army, Musharraf has managed to maintain his writ as chief of army staff, while holding onto his position as president of Pakistan - however this issue is reemerging as a source of contention in Pakistan. There is also intense debate in the armed forces hierarchy following the failed operation in Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan agency, that the two offices should be separated to keep the army out of politics. [complete article]
IRS request for more terrorism investigators is denied
By David Cay Johnston, New York Times, March 31, 2004
The Bush administration has scuttled a plan to increase by 50 percent the number of criminal financial investigators working to disrupt the finances of Al Qaeda, Hamas and other terrorist organizations to save $12 million, a Congressional hearing was told on Tuesday.
The Internal Revenue Service had asked for 80 more criminal investigators beginning in October to join the 160 it has already assigned to penetrate the shadowy networks that terrorist groups use to finance plots like the Sept. 11 attacks and the recent train bombings in Madrid. But the Bush administration did not include them in the president's proposed budget for the 2005 fiscal year.
The disclosure, to a House Ways and Means subcommittee, came near the end of a routine hearing into the I.R.S. budget after most of the audience, including reporters, had left the hearing room.
It comes as the White House is fighting to maintain its image as a vigorous and uncompromising foe of global terrorism in the face of questions about its commitment and competence raised by the administration's former terrorism czar, Richard A. Clarke, and its first Treasury secretary, Paul H. O'Neill. [complete article]
When goals meet reality: Bush's reversal on 9/11 testimony
By David Sanger, New York Times, March 31, 2004
When George W. Bush and Dick Cheney took office three years ago, they made no secret of their intention to restore presidential powers and prerogatives that they believed had withered under the onslaught of Washington's cycle of televised, all-consuming investigations.
But time and again, that effort by the Bush White House has fallen victim to political reality. It did so once more on Tuesday, when the president made a four-minute appearance in the White House press room to announce that he was giving in to demands from the 9/11 commission that he had resisted for months.
His decision to reverse course, dropping his claim of executive privilege preventing public, sworn testimony by his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was part of a distinct pattern that has emerged inside this highly secretive White House.
The first reaction to most demands for outside inquiries, or for details about energy policy decisions or intelligence concerning Iraqi weapons or Nigerian uranium, has been to build walls: Mr. Bush, or more often Mr. Cheney in his stead, asserts a clear, inviolate principle that the president and his advisers need the freedom to gather information, develop policy and exchange ideas in private.
But eventually other forces come into play. Gradually pressure builds until Mr. Bush's advisers -- including Ms. Rice herself in this case, several officials said -- determine that the cost is too high. [complete article]
Found notes may show Bush plan on Clarke
By Pamela Hess, UPI, March 31, 2004
The White House was worried about the damaging testimony of a former counter-terrorism chief to a commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks last week but was trying to let the issue die on its own, according to Pentagon briefing notes found at a Washington coffee shop.
"Stay inside the lines. We don't need to puff this (up). We need (to) be careful as hell about it," the handwritten notes say. "This thing will go away soon and what will keep it alive will be one of us going over the line."
The notes were written by Pentagon political appointee Eric Ruff who left them in a Starbucks coffee shop in Dupont Circle, not far from U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's home.
The notes are genuine, a Pentagon official said. They were compiled for an early morning briefing for Rumsfeld before the Sunday morning talk shows, during which administration officials conducted a flurry of interviews to counter the testimony of Richard Clarke, President George W. Bush's former terrorism czar who left the post in 2003. Rumsfeld appeared on Fox and ABC. [complete article]
Iraq after the hand-over
By Tony Karon, Time.com, March 30, 2004
Only three things are certain about the imminent U.S. hand-over of sovereignty in Iraq -- the date, June 30; the accompanying uptick in violence the Coalition had warned of; and the fact that ultimate security control in Iraq will remain in the hands of the U.S. military. The identity and nature of the government to whom the U.S. will cede formal authority on July 1 remains to be determined. So does the fate of the interim constitution brokered by U.S. viceroy Paul Bremer, in the face of a mounting mass protest movement among the majority Shiite population. [complete article]
Bush's secret storm
By E. J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, March 30, 2004
President Bush had two big things going for him in this year's election. He was seen by a majority of Americans as a straight shooter. And he was viewed as the natural leader in the war on terrorism. Now both perceptions are in jeopardy. That explains the ferocity of the White House attack on Richard Clarke.
But the attack on Clarke, the White House's former anti-terrorism expert, could prove to be the fatal mistake of the Bush campaign. Instead of undermining Clarke's credibility, the White House has called its own into question.
It is also calling new attention to the administration's standard operating procedure since Sept. 11, 2001: Do whatever is necessary to intimidate and undercut all who raise questions about the president's handling of terrorism, answer as few of those questions as possible and keep as many secrets as you can.
That is why the Clarke story just keeps getting bigger. [complete article]
The failure to keep America safe
By Robert Kuttner, Boston Globe, March 31, 2004
Two pivotal recent events should make a shambles of President Bush's contention right after 9/11 that a war on terrorism would be the defining mission of his presidency.
In late January David Kay, the president's own chief weapons inspector, admitted that no nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons were found in Iraq. That finally made it respectable to question the wisdom of the Iraq war.
Then, last week, the explosive testimony of the president's former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke invited intense discussion about whether the Bush administration had done enough to avert the 9/11 attack.
However, a third and even more important inference is seeping into public consciousness: The failure to protect the United States against terrorism is ongoing and directly related to Iraq. The Iraq detour has set back America's security in at least five mutually reinforcing ways. [complete article]
Iraqi mob mutilates foreigners' bodies
By Paul McGeough, Sydney Morning Herald, April 1, 2004
The bodies of up to six foreigners were mutilated, set alight and strung up on poles by an angry Iraqi mob yesterday after their vehicles were attacked in the troubled city of Falluja.
The grotesque images raise new fears about the ability of US forces to quell violence in Iraq ahead of the planned June 30 return of sovereignty to an Iraqi administration.
By late last night Sydney time not even the usually lurid Arab networks were prepared to run the stomach-churning footage shot at the scene - cheering crowds dancing around and on the charred four-wheel-drives, as others tied some of the bleeding bodies to a vehicle, dragging them through the streets before others savaged them with blows from what appeared to be steel bars, hanging body parts from poles in the street. [complete article]
U.S. censure of cleric may boost visibility
By Mohamad Bazzi, Newsday, March 31, 2004
The young Shia Muslim cleric, who routinely called America the "Great Satan" and demanded that U.S. troops leave Iraq immediately, had been losing ground in recent months to Iraq's more established Shia religious leaders.
The crowds at Muqtada al-Sadr's rallies and Friday sermons had thinned out, and his name barely surfaced in the news. But after American soldiers closed down al-Sadr's weekly newspaper on Sunday, his supporters appear energized and he has gained new credentials as the fiercest Shia critic of the U.S. occupation.
A few hours after U.S. troops padlocked the paper's office in central Baghdad, several thousand people poured into the streets outside the office and in the Shia slums that form the backbone of al-Sadr's support. [complete article]
The democracy lesson backfires
By Floyd Abrams, Newday, March 30, 2004
Of all the messages the United States could send to the people of Iraq, the sorriest is this: If you say things we disapprove of, we'll shut you up.
That, regrettably, is precisely the message American administrator Paul Bremer has sent to Iraq by shutting down Al Hawza, an anti-American newspaper that frequently criticizes U.S. conduct in that country. According to the media liaison for the U.S.-administered government, the "false information" in the paper "was hurting stability." [complete article]
BOOKS! Check out the bookstore (books available from Amazon).
Over 100 titles to choose from, including Richard Clarke's, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, Kevin Phillips', American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, James Mann's, The Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet, and Steve Coll's, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.
Titles arranged into categories on War and Empire, Iraq/Middle East, Israel/Palestine, Afghanistan/South Asia, Militant Islam, Nuclear Proliferation, and the Big Picture. A small commission from each sale will help support this site. Thanks
Arabs glued to TV news - but not to US-sponsored Al Hurra
By Gregory D. Johnsen, Christian Science Monitor, March 30, 2004
For the past two months in small, smoke-filled rooms carpeted with discarded khat leaves, I have been watching television.
Television usually isn't a big part of the khat chew, a daily but segregated ritual for most men and women here in which the leaves of the mildly stimulating khat plant are chewed and stored in one's cheek. Conversation is the rule at these affairs, and the talk is given over to poetry, politics, and, as the hour grows late, simply listening to the alchemic beauty of the language.
But when the US launched its new Arabic-language news channel - Al Hurra - on Feb. 14, television became politics.
I've watched the opinions of the small group of young Yemeni men that I usually chew with go from anger and disappointment to surprise and admiration and back over this latest US pitch to the Arab world. [complete article]
Army says troops killed two Iraqi journalists
By Sewell Chan, Washington Post, March 30, 2004
The U.S. Army accepted responsibility Monday for the shooting deaths of two Iraqi journalists this month near a roadblock in the capital but said the killings were accidental.
The March 18 shootings of two al-Arabiya television network employees sparked criticism from Iraqi journalists, who protested the next day by walking out of a news conference by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
Five Iraqis working for news organizations have died this month, including a translator for Voice of America who was shot to death -- along with his mother and daughter -- on March 5; a translator for Time magazine who was fatally injured in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad on Wednesday; and a cameraman for ABC News who was killed in a gun battle in the western city of Fallujah on Friday. [complete article]
U.S. weapons hunt shifts focus to 'intent' in Iraq
By Tabassum Zakaria, Reuters, March 30, 2004
The U.S. search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq will continue despite the failure so far to find them but the mission will also investigate whether Saddam Hussein intended to develop such weapons, the chief U.S. arms hunter said on Tuesday.
"Ultimately what we want is a comprehensive picture, not just simply answering questions -- were there weapons, were there not weapons?" Charles Duelfer told reporters after briefing the Senate Armed Services Committee behind closed doors.
"The hunt will go on until we're able to draw a firm and confident picture of what the programs were and where the regime was headed with respect to them. But we're looking at it from soup to nuts -- from the weapons end to the planning end and to the intentions end," he said.
The new direction of trying to determine whether the former Iraqi president was actively pursuing the development of banned arms reflects the Bush administration's evolving public rationale for the war on Iraq. [complete article]
U.N. inspection in Iraq was no sham
By Jessica Tuchman Mathews, YaleGlobal, March 26, 2004
In the months before invading Iraq, Bush administration officials dismissed UN inspections there as a "fool's errand" and a "sham." Amidst the mounting evidence that US intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was horribly wrong, one central truth is still largely unappreciated: While the world's best intelligence services were getting it wrong, United Nations inspectors were getting the picture in Iraq largely right. [complete article]
The evangelical-Israeli connection
By Bill Broadway, Washington Post, March 27, 2004
The much-publicized controversy over Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" might give the impression that Jews and evangelical Christians have little in common, theologically or otherwise. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While some evangelical and Jewish leaders sparred publicly for months over the film's depiction of Jesus's last hours, especially its potential to incite anti-Semitism, thousands of evangelicals were donating millions of dollars to support the state of Israel and its people. And Jews, most notably the Israeli government, welcomed their contributions. [complete article]
If Sharon is toppled, will his Gaza plan survive?
By Bradley Burston, Haaretz, March 31, 2004
In virtually his first act as Israel's attorney general, Menachem Mazuz faces a decision of historic significance.
If the newly installed attorney general accepts State Prosecutor Edna Arbel's recommendation to file bribery charges against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Mazuz' ruling is likely to bring Sharon's long career to an abrupt end.
But if Sharon - architect, chief proponent and tireless lobbyist for the Gaza disengagement initiative - falls from power, can the withdrawal on which he staked his legacy survive him and reach the stage of implementation? [complete article]
Jewish settlers move into East Jerusalem
By Gavin Rabinowitz, Assoicated Press (via The Guardian), March 31, 2004
Jewish settlers moved into a seven-story apartment building and a smaller house in a crowded Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem on Wednesday, setting off clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian residents. [...]
Settlers said eight families are to move into the two properties which investors bought for them. The Arab owner of the smaller house said his property was seized unlawfully.
East Jerusalem is claimed by the Palestinians as the capital of a future state, but Israel says it will never relinquish the sector it captured from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war. In recent years, hardline Jewish groups have bought several properties in east Jerusalem, including in the walled Old City, to strengthen Israel's hold there.
The groups have had backing from hardline Israeli governments and foreign investors, including U.S. businessman Irving Moskowitz who financed a Jewish enclave in the Ras al-Amud neighborhood near Silwan. [complete article]
Voices in the wilderness are turning into a chorus
By Daniel Benjamin, Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2004
In its effort to discredit Richard Clarke, the White House and its allies claim that what the former counterterrorism chief has said in his book and before the 9/11 commission is inconsistent with his past remarks. National security advisor Condoleezza Rice has said his book is "180 degrees from everything else that he said."
Perhaps. I haven't seen everything Clarke said or wrote when he was in the administration. But I do know that the judgments Clarke has offered in "Against All Enemies" and his public testimony comport precisely with what he told me in early 2002.
As director for counterterrorism on the National Security Council staff, I worked for Clarke in 1998 to 1999, and I stayed in touch with him after I left. In meetings in his Old Executive Office Building suite, at his home and over meals, he described for me his deep disappointment at the failure to stop the 9/11 attackers and his conviction that the Bush administration had not viewed the threat of jihadist terror with sufficient urgency. No amount of bureaucratic badgering, he felt, could get them to recognize Al Qaeda as the preeminent threat facing the U.S. [complete article]
Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon's book, The Age of Sacred Terror, is available here.
MI5 agents foil bomb plot
By Rosie Cowan and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, March 31, 2004
MI5 played a key role in foiling what the security forces believe could have been the most devastating bombing campaign in the UK, it emerged last night.
The domestic security service infiltrated the network of eight suspects who were arrested yesterday in one of the biggest anti-terrorist operations ever carried out on British soil. As many as 700 police took part in dawn raids, seizing the men and recovering half a tonne of ammonium nitrate fertiliser.
Security services believe it was to be used to make one or more bombs, capable of wreaking havoc on a huge scale and claiming hundreds of lives. [complete article]
See also Fears of 'home-grown' radical threat and How a telephone intercept led to MI5's biggest hunt for Islamic terror suspects (The Independent).
Will U.S. policy backfire in Central Asia?
Institute of War and Peace Reporting, March 30, 2004
If there is one thing that Central Asians see clearest of all, it is the behaviour of those who rule them. And the West does itself no favours in the eyes of these people by appearing to stand by while local governments spout empty words about democracy and flout basic rights. "The danger is that public disappointment with democratic notions will lead to resentment towards western values," said Rustem Jangushin [a Central Asia analyst based in Kiev]. "The public is reassessing the values attributed to democracy."
In Uzbekistan, said Jangushin, "The secular opposition has been persecuted and exiled, and protest voices are being channelled into Islamic radicalism."
Bahodir Musaev, an independent sociologist in Tashkent, said, "The US is not cooperating with the people of Uzbekistan, but only with the political nomenklatura. The people of Uzbekistan see nothing good out coming of this cooperation, and can only watch the Karimov regime growing stronger -- a regime that long ago lost its connection with the people and now does nothing for their benefit."
And in Tajikistan, journalist Pavel Geyvandov said western talk of human rights and democracy is "entirely for show". Saying they had brought "chaos and disorder to Iraq", he said, "Talk that they are trying to nurture democracy all over the world is utter nonsense." [complete article]
Further unrest leaves 22 dead in Uzbekistan
By Andrew Jack, Financial Times, March 30, 2004
At least 22 people were killed in the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan in a third day of violence that the authorities have been quick to link to Islamic radicals.
Sixteen alleged terrorists were killed after police laid siege to an apartment block near the official residence of President Islam Karimov in the capital, Tashkent, and three suicide bombers blew themselves up.
The latest incidents brought to 40 the death toll from incidents in Tashkent and Bukhara since Sunday night. Mr Karimov said the attacks might have been committed by Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the Party of Liberation, a group that calls for the creation of a Muslim caliphate.
However, the group denied involvement and stressed it was non-violent. International organisations expressed concern that the authorities' claims were the pretext for a more general clampdown on opposition when criticism of human rights abuses was growing. [complete article]
U.S. newspaper ban plays into cleric's hands
By Nir Rosen, Asia Times, March 31, 2004
After many American threats to arrest [Shi'ite leader] Muqtada [Sadr] in the past, the American occupying forces accused [his mouthpiece, the newspaper] al-Hawza of fomenting violence against them and closed its offices for 60 days, padlocking and chaining the doors, handing the editor a letter signed by US civilian administrator L Paul Bremer, explaining that the newspaper had violated a ban on fomenting violence. The letter cited several instances in which the paper had slandered the occupying forces, such as an article entitled "Bremer follows the steps of Saddam" and an article accusing American helicopters of firing rockets at an Iraqi police station. Buses brought protestors into the central Baghdad al-Hurriya circle, where they waved flags and shouted "No to America!" and "We don't want another Saddam!"
Though the Americans might be attempting to silence a vocal and vitriolic critic of their efforts in Iraq, the move plays directly into Muqtada's hands. Hamid Bayati, the spokesmen for the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, confirmed that the move would only "provoke Muqtada Sadr's supporters", and confirm Iraqi suspicions that Americans are hypocritical and selective in their application of democracy. The occupying forces have already punished alJazeera and al-Arabiya, two Arabic satellite news networks, for broadcasting programs the Americans found distasteful. [complete article]
U.N. envoy sent to shape plan for Iraq
By Robin Wright and Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, March 30, 2004
A U.N. special envoy heads to Baghdad this week to chart a course for forming a new Iraqi government in just six to eight weeks, amid growing signs that the pivotal players in Iraq's political drama are deeply divided over how to proceed.
With a new sense of urgency, the United Nations is dispatching envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to begin deliberations, while the Bush administration yesterday dispatched the National Security Council's Iraq troubleshooter, Robert Blackwill, to help set the stage for Brahimi's mission and pressure the Iraqi Governing Council to cooperate, U.S. officials said.
The key problem is that Iraqis are deeply split, with many on the council jockeying to hold on to power despite recent polls showing that its 25 members have limited popular backing, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. But the United Nations and the U.S.-led coalition also differ on what can realistically be achieved by the end of May, the deadline to get an interim government in place so the occupation can end on June 30, according to U.S. and U.N. officials. [complete article]
Fundamentalists rush in
By Christina Asquith, Christian Science Monitor, March 30, 2004
A rise of religious fundamentalism is terrorizing the Iraqi academic community, and threatening to roll back the gains in academic freedom made by university presidents and their advisers from the United States since the end of the war.
University staff and students say religious groups are imposing themselves on campus, dividing students and threatening professors. The newly formed Council of University Presidents voted to postpone the first-ever national student elections which had been slated for March 15, for fear of violence.
"They don't want elections because the students are worried the religious fanatics will influence how the students vote," says John Agresto, US senior adviser to the Ministry of Higher Education. "The situation has become explosive." [complete article]
U.S. fights shifting Iraqi foes
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, March 30, 2004
A month ago, suicide car-bombings appeared to be Iraq's greatest security problem. In recent weeks, there's been a sharp spike in targeted assassinations of both foreigners and locals - including a failed attempt Sunday on Iraq's minister of public works - working with the coalition. And in recent days, firefights and roadside bombs have been on the rise again.
Nothing does more to bring home the multifaceted nature of the US-led coalition's enemies in Iraq than the welter of methods, ideologies, and targets. Despite coalition successes against the insurgency - particularly fighters close to Saddam Hussein's Baath regime - attacks persist. Coalition officials expect them to only increase as June 30, the day US has set for handing over sovereignty to the Governing Council, approaches.
Analysts say one of the crucial lessons of the continued fighting is that the strongest military in the world, no matter how well-trained or well-led, cannot end the resistance in an Arab nation where the political stakes are so high and latent anger against foreign powers so great. [complete article]
Rice to testify in public under oath
By Pete Yost, Associated Press (via AJC), March 30, 2004
In a reversal, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will testify in public under oath before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In addition, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have agreed to speak with the panel privately.
To reach the compromise, the administration said it had won agreement from the commission that it would seek no further public testimony from White House officials and that Rice's appearance would not be viewed as a precedent. [complete article]
Read the letter from the White House to the 9/11 commission.
This isn't America
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, March 30, 2004
Last week an opinion piece in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz about the killing of Sheik Ahmed Yassin said, "This isn't America; the government did not invent intelligence material nor exaggerate the description of the threat to justify their attack."
So even in Israel, George Bush's America has become a byword for deception and abuse of power. And the administration's reaction to Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies" provides more evidence of something rotten in the state of our government.
The truth is that among experts, what Mr. Clarke says about Mr. Bush's terrorism policy isn't controversial. The facts that terrorism was placed on the back burner before 9/11 and that Mr. Bush blamed Iraq despite the lack of evidence are confirmed by many sources -- including "Bush at War," by Bob Woodward.
And new evidence keeps emerging for Mr. Clarke's main charge, that the Iraq obsession undermined the pursuit of Al Qaeda. From yesterday's USA Today: "In 2002, troops from the Fifth Special Forces Group who specialize in the Middle East were pulled out of the hunt for Osama bin Laden to prepare for their next assignment: Iraq. Their replacements were troops with expertise in Spanish cultures."
That's why the administration responded to Mr. Clarke the way it responds to anyone who reveals inconvenient facts: with a campaign of character assassination. [complete article]
Leaving a trail of legislative 'orders' behind in Iraq
By Nathan J. Brown, Daily Star, March 30, 2004
Despite all the obstructions frustrating American plans for political reconstruction in Iraq, officials have insisted that the June 30, 2004 deadline for a transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi authority is immovable. Insistence on this deadline leaves an enormous question unanswered: Who will exercise authority in Iraq after that date? The Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), finally signed after much delay on March 8, promises only domestic and international consultations on forming an authority by June 30, as well as elections by Jan. 31 next year.
Yet while the answer to the big question has been very slow in coming, the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has quietly begun to lay down some of the legal and institutional groundwork for the post-June 30 political order. These efforts are designed to ensure a measure of continuing influence even after the transfer of sovereignty, as well as to steer the direction of post-June Iraqi politics.
The subtle methods the Americans are using would be quite familiar to those generations of Iraqis who lived in the country from the end of the British Mandate until the 1958 revolution. However, the far more politicized context of current Iraqi politics suggests the Americans might have much less than the three decades the British had to make their influence felt. [complete article]
'A child who lives in hell will die for a chance of paradise'
By Donald Macintyre, The Independet, March 28, 2004
From 16-year-old Husam Abdo's house you can distinctly hear, as he himself must have done many times, the words of the Imam preaching at the Fatima Azara mosque a mere 100 yards or so away.
At Friday prayers last week, two days after Husam was caught and disarmed by Israeli soldiers of his suicide vest at the Hawara checkpoint at the edge of Nablus, the Imam's message of spiritual support for the armed Palestinian factions could hardly have been more uncompromising: "The mujahedin will go to Paradise. I warn Muslims that their destiny is to die and that they have to work for the day of resurrection. God has ordered us to be patient and steadfast. God doesn't like people who accept humiliation. He doesn't like cowards and humiliated people. He likes mujahedin and courageous people..." [complete article]
Defence or murder?
By Anthony Dworkin, The Guardian, March 30, 2004
The morality and legality of assassinating terrorist suspects is being argued out around the world, and is one of the hottest topics in the field of international law. Such discussions often seem merely theoretical, unlikely to have any impact on the actions of the governments involved. But in the case of Israel, there is one body whose assessment of the question could have real and immediate consequences - the country's own supreme court. Within months, the court is likely to deliver its decision in a case brought by two non-profit groups seeking a declaration that the Israeli government's policy of targeted killing is contrary to international law and should be halted.
"I believe this may be the most important case that the supreme court has yet been asked to consider," says one of the lawyers for the petitioners, Michael Sfard. In line with the significance of the moral, legal and security issues at stake, the court has not rushed to a decision. It has had the case before it for two years. Nevertheless Sfard is confident that the case is now in "the final few metres". The groups he represents and the Israeli government have been asked to submit their final briefs.
The first targeted killing in response to the violence of the current Palestinian intifada took place in November 2000, when the Fatah activist Hussein Abayat was killed in a helicopter attack near Bethlehem. Since then, well over 100 Palestinian militants have been the victims of such attacks (not counting the roughly equal number of bystanders who have also died). [complete article]
Israelis rip their own intelligence on Iraq
Report calls weapons claim conjecture
By Peter Hermann, Baltimore Sun (via SF Chronicle), March 29, 2004
Israeli officials overestimated the military threat posed by Iraq because of faulty intelligence that was derived from conjecture rather than based on fact, an investigation by Israel's parliament concluded in a report released Sunday.
A special parliamentary committee, basing its findings on eight months of closed hearings, recommended restructuring Israel's intelligence services, including the Mossad spy agency, but said there had been no deliberate attempt to falsify information about Iraq before the U.S. and British invasion of the country in March 2003. [...]
The report criticizes the intelligence agencies for repeatedly "stating as facts" both Iraq's possession of unconventional weapons and its ability to use them. "The question that really bothered us was why we relied on estimates rather than hard evidence," Steinitz said.
In many cases, Steinitz said, questionable intelligence that Israel gave other countries ended up returning to Israel in repackaged form, and officials wrongly assumed their sketchy information had been corroborated. [complete article]
9/11 commission director: Iraq war launched to protect Israel
By Emad Mekay, Inter Press Service, March 29, 2004
IPS uncovered the remarks by Philip Zelikow, who is now the executive director of the body set up to investigate the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001 -- the 9/11 commission -- in which he suggests a prime motive for the invasion just over one year ago was to eliminate a threat to Israel, a staunch U.S. ally in the Middle East.
Zelikow's casting of the attack on Iraq as one launched to protect Israel appears at odds with the public position of President George W. Bush and his administration, which has never overtly drawn the link between its war on the regime of former president Hussein and its concern for Israel's security.
The administration has instead insisted it launched the war to liberate the Iraqi people, destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and to protect the United States.
Zelikow made his statements about "the unstated threat" during his tenure on a highly knowledgeable and well-connected body known as the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), which reports directly to the president.
He served on the board between 2001 and 2003.
"Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I'll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990 -- it's the threat against Israel," Zelikow told a crowd at the University of Virginia on Sep. 10, 2002, speaking on a panel of foreign policy experts assessing the impact of 9/11 and the future of the war on the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation.
"And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don't care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell," said Zelikow. [complete article]
Gunbattle rages in Uzbek capital after bombs
By Shamil Baigin, Reuters, March 30, 2004
Several explosions and a gun battle rattled the northeast of the Uzbek capital Tashkent on Tuesday, the day after bomb blasts the government blamed on Islamic militants killed 19 people on the U.S. ally's territory.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilhom Zakirov said Uzbek Interior Ministry special forces were conducting a mopping-up operation in a mainly residential district with a large tractor factory.
"Special police forces are eliminating the remains of a terrorist group which had been detected in this area earlier," Zakirov added. He said the situation was fully under control. [complete article]
Muslim dissidents jailed and tortured
Human Rights Watch, March 30, 2004
The Uzbek government has arrested and tortured thousands of nonviolent Muslim dissidents who practice their faith outside state-controlled religion, Human Rights Watch said today in a report on this campaign of religious persecution.
The 319-page report, "Creating Enemies of the State: Religious Persecution in Uzbekistan," details the arrest and torture of detainees in an ongoing campaign that has resulted in the incarceration of an estimated 7,000 Muslim dissidents. The government's targets are independent Muslims who practice their faith outside state-run mosques and madrassas or beyond the strict controls set out by the government's laws on religion.
"The Uzbek government is conducting a merciless campaign against peaceful Muslim dissidents," said Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. "The scale and brutality of the operations against independent Muslims make it clear that these are part of a concerted and tightly-orchestrated campaign of religious persecution." [complete article]
Alternative political voices in Uzbekistan
By Josh Machleder, Foreign Policy in Focus, January 29, 2003
Over a decade of persistent repression in Uzbekistan has left the country's political life under the firm control of President Islam Karimov. No political party or movement that can be classified as in opposition to Karimov's administration is able operate openly today.
Karimov's critics assert that the government crackdown on freedom of expression and religious worship is fueling instability. Anti-government activity is currently embodied by two radical Islamic organizations, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, Uzbekistan has engaged in close strategic cooperation with the United States in prosecuting the anti-terrorism campaign in neighboring Afghanistan, while the United States has provided Tashkent with extensive economic and security assistance in return. At the same time, some U.S. officials have exerted pressure on Uzbekistan to improve its human rights record, as well as to take steps to open up the country's economic and political spheres. [complete article]
More information available at EurasiaNet Uzbekistan Resource Page and Muslim Uzbekistan.
Why nobody saw 9/11 coming
By Peter R. Neuman, New York Times, March 27, 2004
Did the Bush administration, before the 9/11 attacks, fail to take terrorism seriously enough? At first the contention seems unlikely. Isn't this the most hawkish administration in living memory? Wasn't it President Bush who coined the phrase "war on terror"?
Yet in the current hearings on the attacks -- and in the controversy surrounding the new book by Richard A. Clarke, the administration's first counterterrorism chief -- the words "neglect" and "failure" keep cropping up.
And there is something to these accusations -- although perhaps not in the sense that the people making them intend. The administration's early failures on terrorism cannot be pinned down to individual instances of "neglect." To understand what really went wrong, we need to go back to the last decades of the cold war, when people like Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, and Vice President Dick Cheney first started to make sense of terrorism. [complete article]
'Against All Enemies' and 'Ghost Wars': Connecting the dots
By James Risen, New York Times, April 11, 2004
Discounting the possibility that the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, is secretly a publicist for the Free Press, one must assume that the Bush administration really is angry at its former counterterrorism czar, and isn't simply trying to help him sell more books. But if President Bush and his advisers were hoping that their loud pre-emptive attacks on ''Against All Enemies'' would make this book go away, they were sadly mistaken. Richard A. Clarke knows too much, and ''Against All Enemies'' is too good to be ignored.
The explosive details about President Bush's obsession with Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks captured the headlines in the days after the book's release, but ''Against All Enemies'' offers more. It is a rarity among Washington-insider memoirs - it's a thumping good read. [complete article]
Richard Clarke's book, Against All Enemies, is available here.
Steve Coll's book, Ghost Wars, is available here.
All together now
By Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, March 29, 2004
After several days of violence in the Kurdish region of Syria earlier this month, the Syrian embassy in Paris issued a statement denying that the conflict had anything to do with ethnic tensions and blaming politically motivated "troublemakers" instead.
The perpetrators of these troubles, it said, would quickly discover that "total harmony" between different ethnic groups in Syria is much stronger than they believe. The Syrian government, it added, would not tolerate any challenge to national unity.
Denial of ethnic tensions is the standard response from Arab governments to communal troubles, whether the minorities involved are Kurds in Syria, Copts in Egypt or Ismailis in Saudi Arabia.
Whatever the Syrian authorities may say, there is a problem, though. Among a total population of more than 17 million, Syria is thought to have about 2 million Kurds, some 200,000 of whom are not even recognised as citizens.
The grievances that Syrian Kurds speak of - lack of recognition for the language and culture, marginalisation and attempts to suppress their identity through dispersion and "Arabisation" - are familiar ones, shared with many other ethnic groups.
Most Arab states, in the form we know them today, were created during the last century and their boundaries were determined, sometimes quite arbitrarily, by imperial powers. Subsequent Arab governments have had to grapple with the resulting problems, attempting to weld various tribal, ethnic and religious groups into nations.
Although the extent and nature of the problem varies from country to country, this historical legacy is one of the major obstacles to democratisation in the region as a whole, and the main reason why American policy in Iraq is likely to end in disaster. [complete article]
Africa: Oil, al-Qaeda and the U.S. military
By Ritt Goldstein, Asia Times, March 30, 2004
Africa's Maghreb and Sahel regions recently exploded into world view with allegations that the Madrid bombers were tied to those areas' "al Qaeda" groups. And while United States concerns about terrorism in the region have been increasingly voiced, critics of the administration of President George W Bush say that the ongoing US pursuit of energy resources lies behind them. As early as the fall of 2002, Britain's Economist magazine charged that oil "is the only American interest in Africa".
In a fall 2003 interview with Asia Times Online, noted US security analyst Michael Klare, author of Resource Wars, had warned of America's potential African involvement. When queried as to where the next oil flash point might be after Iraq, Klare replied: "I've been looking at Africa. It's heating up over there."
Illustrating the basis for such statements, in 2001 Vice President Dick Cheney's report on a US National Energy Policy declared Africa to be one of America's "fastest-growing sources of oil and gas". By February 1, 2002, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Walter Kansteiner, declared: "This [African oil] has become of national strategic interest to us." And a December 2001 report by the US National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2015, forecast that by 2015 a full quarter of US oil imports would come from Africa. [complete article]
Suicide bombings rock Uzbeckistan
By George Wright, The Guardian, March 29, 2004
Islamist terrorists were today blamed for a series of explosions in Uzbekistan - including the country's first reported suicide bombings - that left 19 dead and many more injured.
Prosecutor-general Rashid Kadyrov said the violence began last night with an explosion in an apartment block in the ancient city of Bukhara, which killed 10 people and wounded 26. He blamed the blast on a "terrorist" who was preparing an explosive device.
The bloodshed continued overnight in the capital Tashkent, where three policemen and a child were killed in two suicide bombings. Both suicide bombers also died. Another three police officers died in gun battles with "suspected terrorists", he said. [complete article]
Pakistan claims killing of al-Qa'ida chief
By Claudio Franco and Muhammad, The Independent, March 30, 2004
The Pakistani army claimed yesterday that a spy chief of al-Qa'ida was killed in the military operation to flush out Islamic militants from the Afghan border that ended at the weekend with more than 100 dead.
Major General Shaukat Sultan, a military spokesman, said that Pakistani troops had killed 63 militants, including the intelligence chief whom he identified as "Mr Abdullah". He added that Tahir Yuldashev, the Uzbek al-Qa'ida leader, was on the run. Mr Yuldashev was identified as the 10th most senior member of al-Qa'ida.
Pakistani authorities in Islamabad have declared - after 12 days of intermittent fighting, 46 soldiers dead, 82 houses destroyed and rumours of US or British special forces present in the area - that the main aim of the operation has been achieved: clearing the militants from 40 square miles of where the militants were based.
But questions about the success of the operation remain, as the army retreats, having only shifted the base of the fighters a few miles east or north, while provoking anger and resentment among the local population. The tribesmen and their families had to seek shelter in Wana and other villages, as thousands of Pakistani forces battled hundreds of foreign and local militants. [complete article]
Musharraf left counting the cost
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, March 30, 2004
Although the Pakistan army has put a brave face on its South Waziristan escapade, claiming that its job has been done, in reality it had to rely on outside help to extricate itself with a semblance of its "face" intact.
After all efforts to pacify the hostile tribals failed - the semi-autonomous regions are notoriously anti-central authority - the government persuaded leading clerics to bring pressure to bear on the tribals to negotiate a truce. The clerics, who belong to the six-party Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) religious political party that is well represented in the National Assembly as well as the provincial governments of North West Frontier Province and Balochistan, are usually perceived as anti-US, but in fact, when the chips are down, they dance to Musharraf's tune. [complete article]
Richard Clarke and the rise of the heroic bureaucrat
By Joel Achenbach, Washington Post, March 28, 2004
Clarke is cool, calm and collected to the point of being nerveless. When a plane crashes into the Pentagon during the video conference [he is leading from the West Wing], he says to everyone present: "No emotion in here. We are going to stay focused."
Only when he attends the funeral of a close friend, killed in the attacks, does he allow himself to weep.
As a bureaucratic action hero, Clarke necessarily spends a lot of time describing meetings and e-mails and phone calls ("I punched the PEOC button on the large, white secure phone that had twenty speed dial buttons"). A bureaucrat's ultimate act is simply dedication: the 18-hour workdays, the willingness to survive on the occasional sandwich from the White House mess. Clarke describes how, at one point on 9/11, his car was the only one in the parking lot outside the evacuated White House.
Not long after the attack, he had to cross from the West Wing to the East Wing. "[A]s I walked through the West Wing and the Residence, there was no one there," he writes.
Except Clarke. For a moment, he's practically the president of the United States. [complete article]
Richard Clarke's book, Against All Enemies, is available here.
President asked Clarke to explore Iraq link to 9/11 attacks
By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, March 28, 2004
The White House acknowledged Sunday that on the day after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush pressed his top counterterrorism adviser, Richard A. Clarke, to find out whether Iraq was involved.
Mr. Bush wanted to know "did Iraq have anything to do with this? Were they complicit in it?" Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, recounted in an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes."
Mr. Bush was not trying to intimidate anyone to "produce information," she said. Rather, given the United States' "actively hostile relationship" with Iraq at the time, he was asking Mr. Clarke "a perfectly logical question," Ms. Rice said.
The conversation - which the White House suggested last week had never taken place - centers on perhaps the most volatile charge that Mr. Clarke has made public in recent days: that the Bush White House became fixated on Iraq and Saddam Hussein at the expense of focusing on Al Qaeda's role in the terrorism. [complete article]
Terrorists don't need states
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, April 5, 2004
Stepping away from the partisan screaming going on these days, the 9/11 commission hearings and -- far more revealing -- the panel's staff reports paint a fascinating picture of the rise of a new phenomenon in global politics: terrorism that is not state-sponsored but society-sponsored. Few in the American government fully grasped that a group of people without a state's support could pose a mortal threat. The mistake looks obvious in hindsight, but was, sadly, understandable at the time of 9/11. What is less understandable is that this same error persists even today.
Before the mid-1990s, almost all terrorism against the United States had been backed by a state. The Soviet Union had financed and trained terror groups around the world. Syria, Iran, Iraq and Libya had all sponsored terrorism. The most dramatic attacks on Americans -- the Beirut Marine-barracks bombing in 1983, and Pan Am 103 in 1988 -- had both been encouraged if not planned by governments. Even Saudi Hizbullah, the group that bombed Khobar Towers, the American barracks in Saudi Arabia, got support from Iran.
Around 1997, members of the intelligence community -- and others, like Richard Clarke -- began focusing on a Saudi man, Osama bin Laden, who they realized was the financier and leader of a new group, Al Qaeda. Few in government shared their concern. In 1997 Al Qaeda was not confirmed to have executed a single terrorist attack against Americans. "Employees in the government told us that they felt their zeal attracted ridicule from their peers," the commission's report on intelligence says. [complete article]
Censored study on bioterror doubts U.S. preparedness
By Judith Miller, New York Times, March 29, 2004
Two years after a report on the 2001 anthrax attacks was completed, the Pentagon has released parts of the unclassified document, which concludes that the nation is woefully ill-prepared to detect and respond to a bioterrorist assault.
In a sweeping assessment, the report identifies weaknesses in "almost every aspect of U.S. biopreparedness and response." But perhaps equally significant is the two-year battle over the Pentagon's refusal to release the study. That struggle highlights the growing tension between public access to information and the government's refusal to divulge anything it says terrorists could use to attack Americans.
The dispute has pitted the Pentagon against the center that released the study, advocates of openness in government like the Federation of American Scientists, public health officials and even current and former emergency response officials of the Bush administration. [complete article]
See also, the redacted National Forum on Biodefense report, Lessons from the Anthrax Attacks (PDF format).
Defense panel faults nuclear plans
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 28, 2004
A prestigious Defense Department panel has recommended major changes to the United States' nuclear arsenal, saying the current plans to refurbish the existing weapons stockpile will not protect the nation from new threats from rogue states and terrorist groups.
A task force of the Defense Science Board said it is "most urgent" to create strong defenses against these new threats. In a report distributed inside the Pentagon last month, it said U.S. strategic forces should emphasize smaller nuclear warheads and should arm the nation's 50 giant Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missiles with conventional warheads to allow a wide variety of options for targeting hostile forces.
"The nuclear weapons program as currently conceived -- a program focused primarily on refurbishing the [current] stockpile -- will not meet the country's future needs," the DSB group said in its study, made public last week by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. "Nuclear weapons are needed that produce much lower collateral damage," the panel said, indicating the need for greater precision, reduced radioactivity and the ability to dig deep into the ground to get hard targets. [complete article]
See the complete report of the Defense Science Board Task Force, Future Strategic Strike Forces (PDF format).
Shiites organize to block U.S. plan
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, March 29, 2004
With the turban of the clergy and the talk of a politician, Hashem Awadi, a young Shiite Muslim cleric, thumbed through papers that described the latest challenge to Washington's political blueprint for Iraq.
Here, the gaunt, 38-year-old said, was a leaflet that enumerated the objections of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's most powerful cleric, to Iraq's interim constitution. This, he said, was the letter the ayatollah sent to the United Nations in protest. And here, displayed proudly, was the petition denouncing that constitution in what he said amounted to a "popular referendum."
"We want to make clear the will of the people," said Awadi, who heads the Ghadir Foundation, a religious institute in Baghdad that, by his count, has distributed as many as 10,000 of the petitions. "The people are burning."
Awadi, whose speech veers from Islamic law to Western freedoms, is one of the leaders of a vociferous grass-roots campaign unleashed by the edict published by Sistani's office March 8 questioning the legitimacy of the interim constitution.
In the weeks since, the vast network of Shiite Muslim mosques, religious centers, foundations and community organizations that make Sistani Iraq's most influential figure has led a campaign to amend the constitution or discard it. Posters have gone up at universities in Baghdad and elsewhere, leaflets have circulated among prayer-goers and Sistani's cadres -- from young clerics to devoted laymen -- have gathered tens of thousands of signatures on the petitions. Demonstrations are next, they warn. [complete article]
U.S. shutters Iraqi newspaper
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2004
The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq on Sunday closed a newspaper sponsored by a popular anti-American Shiite cleric, accusing it of creating unrest and inciting violence against occupation forces.
Within hours of the closure, hundreds of followers of the cleric, Muqtader Sadr, poured into the streets near the newspaper's offices in central Baghdad and in a slum neighborhood known as Sadr City in honor of the cleric's assassinated father. Although the demonstrations were peaceful, some observers feared that the shutdown would inflame anti-American sentiment as the planned June 30 transfer of sovereignty approaches.
"Of course it will provoke Muqtader al-Sadr's followers," said Hamid Bayati, a spokesman for the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a leading Shiite Muslim political party represented on the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council. "It will emphasize the suspicions of the Iraqi people that America says it wants democracy but is suppressing any view that is not convenient for them." [complete article]
ARAB LEAGUE SUMMIT
Summit postponement reflects regional disarray
By Nicholas Blanford and Rhonda Roumani, Daily Star, March 29, 2004
The surprise decision to abandon the Arab League summit reflects the malaise of an Arab world under pressure to reform and uncertain how to deal with the US-led occupation of Iraq and the festering Arab-Israeli conflict, analysts say.
"This is a reflection of the depth of the crisis in the Arab world, a failure of the Arab system," said Shafeeq Ghabra, president of the American University of Kuwait and a political analyst. "I think we are going to be living with such a crisis for the coming era. This is going to be a decade of changes and failures."
The summit was seen by many as a venue through which the Arab world could unite and prove its commitment to democratic reform by offering an alternative to the Greater Middle East Initiative, a US proposal that calls for greater democracy, free trade and development in the region. The US initiative was widely criticized as interference in Arab affairs when it was prematurely leaked to the media in February. Nonetheless, it has jolted several Arab countries to propose their own ideas for reform. Coming to the table with proposals were Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and Yemen. [complete article]
Cultural baggage making enemies out of friends
By Paul McGeough, Sydney Morning Herald, March 30, 2004
The goal of Arab democracy is commendable. But just as Washington stumbled blindly and unilaterally into Iraq, so it has tried to kick-start the democratisation of the Middle East in the most ham-fisted way.
Instead of going to the region, it devised its own plan late last year. Without consulting any of the affected countries it drafted the imperial sounding Greater Middle East Initiative and slotted it on the agenda for the summit of the Group of Eight industrialised nations in June.
The US rationale was that the "war on terrorism" meant that democracy in the Middle East could not remain a diplomatic nicety; it had to be hard-driven if Washington was to have democratic allies who could douse the local passions that feed terrorism.
This was the essential break-point in Tunis.
Apart from the fact that most of the leaders have never had a democratic thought in their lives, they could not agree on how to respond, which you would have thought Washington might have expected.
There is a grassroots lust for democracy in the region, and it has the potential to sweep away many of these leaders.
But just as Iraq may not become the kind of friendly democracy envisaged by the US, chances are that in strategic countries like Saudi Arabia, one-man, one-vote would install a regime far less US-friendly than the troubled House of Saud, which has been propped up by America for decades. [complete article]
Hizbullah to Hamas: We are under your command
By Karine Raad, Daily Star, March 29, 2004
Hizbullah Secretary General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah told Hamas' new leader on Saturday that the Lebanese resistance group was his to command after Sheikh Ahmed Yassin's assassination last week.
In a show of unity between the two Islamist groups, Nasrallah and Hamas' new chief, Khaled Meshaal, addressed thousands of Hizbullah supporters at a memorial service for Yassin in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Saturday evening. Meshaal, who lives in exile in Damascus, said the attack on a handicapped old man was proof of weakness and not a sign of confidence.
Meshaal urged Palestinians to have patience and faith in God, the resistance and the nation. He pledged that Hamas would remain loyal to the martyrs and restore the Palestinians' rights. Meshaal, who lives in exile in Syria, called for the coming Arab Summit to give similar support to the Palestinians' cause. [complete article]
The shape of violence to come
By Ghada Ageel, Washington Post, March 28, 2004
The assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin last Monday is an attempt by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to kill any move for peace in the Middle East.
For the past decade, Yassin had been making proposals which marked big shifts toward a pragmatic solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Since the second intifada erupted in September 2000, Yassin had proposed several cease-fires in return for Israel withdrawing from the territories it occupied in 1967 and ending military action against Palestinians. Yassin declared that Hamas accepted a two-state solution, Palestinian and Israeli states existing side by side.
Three weeks before his death, Yassin had announced a plan for Hamas, Yasser Arafat's Fatah and other factions to unite in administering Gaza in the event of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal as proposed by Sharon. This was not in Sharon's interest at all. The late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin once said he wished to see Gaza drown in the sea; Sharon wants Gaza to drown in the blood of a civil war between Hamas and Fatah. [complete article]
A sudden concern for the Palestinian child
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, March 28, 2004
Suddenly, Israelis are worried about the bitter fate of a Palestinian child. To judge by the public shock over Hussam Bilal Abdu, who was caught wearing an explosives belt at the Hawara checkpoint, it would seem that nothing of a humane nature is foreign to us, even when it pertains to an enemy and his children. But this is an infuriating show of concern. The fate of a Palestinian child only touches us when it suits us, when it serves our purposes and when our hands are not involved.
The hundreds of children who have been killed, the thousands who have been crippled, and the hundreds of thousands who live under conditions of siege and poverty, and are exposed every day to violence and humiliation - all this has failed to move the Israeli public. Just the child with the belt.
Why weren't we shocked by the killing of Christine Sa'ada, who was shot dead in an IDF ambush while traveling in a car with her parents in Bethlehem, exactly a year ago today? Why was there no public outcry following the killing of Jamil and Ahmed Abu Aziz, two brothers who were riding their bicycles in Jenin in broad daylight when a tank fired a shell at them? How is their killing, which was documented on video, less cruel? Why didn't we show pictures of Basil and Abir Abu Samra, who were killed together with their mother in their vineyard near Nablus, just as we displayed pictures of Hussam Abdu? Why have we never discussed the killing of children at the entrance to the Qalandiyah refugee camp, where a child is killed by Border Police or IDF fire every few weeks? Why is a putting an explosives belt on a child more shocking than firing a shell at him? [complete article]
Call to indict Sharon ignites political storm
By James Bennet, New York Times, March 29, 2004
Israel's state prosecutor cast a shadow over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday when, the Israeli news media reported, she recommended that the attorney general indict him on charges of taking bribes from a developer.
Officials close to Mr. Sharon said they had long expected such a recommendation, while adding that they also expected the attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, to impose a far higher standard of proof before proceeding with an indictment.
Politically, if not legally, an indictment would almost surely compel Mr. Sharon to step down, Israeli politicians said. [complete article]
At the gates of hell
By Paul McGeough, Sydney Morning Herald, March 27, 2004
As a surging, flag-waving crowd stirs the dust in Gaza City's dilapidated Yarmuk Stadium, black-hooded marshals fight them back to make room for a daring display by the outlawed military wing of Hamas - hundreds of armed fighters jog-march in, pledging their lives to the destruction of Israel.
The crowd - maybe 20,000 - goes wild. As the stadium fills with gunshots, explosions and the pounding bass drums of rousing Arab music, the fighters melt away as quickly as they came in from the night.
It is a climactic end to three days of mourning for Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the crippled spiritual leader of Hamas, the most radical of the Palestinian organisations, who was assassinated in his wheelchair in a spectacular Israeli helicopter strike after morning prayers at a mosque near his Gaza home on Monday.
More a call to arms than a funeral, men and boys, some of whom hang from the rafters, raise their right index fingers high, to be led over and over in a passionate chant: "Who is our God - Allah! Which is our party - Hamas! What is our goal - to die for God!" [complete article]
Bush is "enemy of Muslims": New Hamas chief Rantissi
Agence France Presse, March 28, 2004
US President George W. Bush is an "enemy of Muslims", the new leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Abdelaziz Rantissi, told supporters at a rally here.
"Bush is an enemy of God, an enemy of Islam, an enemy of Muslims," said Rantissi who became leader of Hamas in the Palestinian territories after the assassination of the movement's spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin last Monday.
"America has announced a war against Allah, (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon has announced a war against Allah. Allah announces a war against America, Bush and Sharon," he told a crowd of more than 5,000 who had gathered at Gaza City's Islamic University.
"I see the beginning of victory starting from here in Palestine in the hands of the Ezzedin al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas's armed wing) and the Hamas movement."
In a statement issued after Yassin's assassination, the Brigades hinted that the United States could be targeted, saying the killing could only have taken place with the green light from Washington.
Rantissi sought on Wednesday to allay fears that the US would be targeted, saying that "we will target only our enemy, the (Israeli) occupiers." [complete article]
Terror backlash hits Bush's votes
By Paul Harris, The Observer, March 28, 2004
Republicans fear the devastating revelations about their failure to see al-Qaeda as an imminent threat before the 11 September terrorist attacks have seriously dented President George Bush's election campaign.
At the end of a week of hugely damaging publicity surrounding the allegations made by Bush's former anti-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke, Bush's rating has taken a dive in key opinion polls.
Pollsters Rasmussen put Democratic challenger John Kerry three points ahead of Bush by 47 points to 44. That dramatically reversed a four per cent Bush lead just a week ago. The pollsters put the change down to the fallout from Clarke's claims. At the same time respected firm Zogby logged Bush's approval ratings as slipping to an all-time low of 46 per cent. [complete article]
Comment -- George Bush has made it clear that he is fighting this election as a wartime president and a defender of America's national security. Democrats now have an opportunity to reframe this issue and focus it on a simple question: If Bush remains as commander-in-chief will he recognize the next imminent threat to America? He thought that Iraq posed an imminent threat when it didn't and he failed to see that al Qaeda presented an imminent threat even after months of warnings. Can America risk giving Bush a third chance to get it right?
Clarke fends off White House dirty tricks
By Andrew Gumbel, The Independent, March 28, 2004
The earthquake rumbling through Washington and beyond has not been deterred by Vice-President Dick Cheney's attempts to depict him as a disgruntled bureaucrat left "out of the loop" - a peculiar description of the man in charge of the counter-terrorism effort in the immediate wake of 11 September.
It was not deterred when the White House chose to put a background press briefing of Mr Clarke's on the record, 18 months after the fact, in an effort to show he was really much more in favour of the administration's policies than he now claims. Mr Clarke explained, fairly plausibly, that at the time he was merely doing his job as an administration official, which required him to put the best possible spin on the facts.
The Republicans' latest attempt came on Friday when Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, pushed to declassify a briefing Mr Clarke gave to the congressional joint intelligence committee in July 2002, insinuating that he might be accused of lying under oath because of inconsistencies with his present account. Mr Frist accused Mr Clarke of being "consumed with the desire to dodge any blame" for the 11 September atrocities and called him "self-serving".
This new initiative seems no more promising. Bob Graham, the leading Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said he could recall no inconsistencies between the 2002 briefing and the latest testimony. He had no objections to declassifying the briefing, he said, as long as it was not done selectively. [complete article]
Comment -- If the administration's defenders are so eager to get all the facts out into the open, then along with the declassification of Clarke's briefing to the congressional joint intelligence committee, how about also making public the contents of the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief.
Clarke's critique reopens debate on Iraq war
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, March 28, 2004
John F. Lehman, a Republican member of the 9/11 commission, put it bluntly to former counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke when he testified publicly last week: Why did his earlier, private testimony to the commission not include the harsh criticism leveled at President Bush in his book?
"There's a very good reason for that," Clarke replied. "In the 15 hours of testimony, no one asked me what I thought about the president's invasion of Iraq. And the reason I am strident in my criticism of the president of the United States is because by invading Iraq . . . the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism." [complete article]
U.S. plan seeks to build civilian-run Iraqi army
By Sewell Chan, Washington Post, March 28, 2004
With the handover of sovereignty less than 100 days away, the Bush administration and Iraq's leaders have not negotiated a status-of-forces agreement spelling out the rights and responsibilities of U.S. troops in Iraq after June 30. U.S. officials have said U.N. Resolution 1511, passed on Oct. 16, and the Iraqi interim constitution adopted this month provide a legal basis for U.S. troops to remain in Iraq. But the establishment and staffing of an Iraqi Defense Ministry appear aimed at ensuring that the Iraqi military's new leaders will be responsive to U.S. interests, regardless of what kind of agreement is eventually reached.
In a nine-page executive order signed on March 21, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, established an Iraqi version of the Pentagon, replete with a chief of staff for the armed forces, an inspector general and directors for budgeting, intelligence and logistics. While the ministry has administrative control of the armed forces, the order calls for Iraqi troops to operate under the command of the U.S.-led forces. [complete article]
Britain's secret army in Iraq: thousands of armed security men who answer to nobody
By Robert Fisk and Severin Carrell, The Independent, March 28, 2004
So many British security firms are cashing in on the violence in Iraq that armed private security men now outnumber most of the national army contingents in the country.
Thousands of former soldiers and police officers from Britain, the US, Australia and South Africa are earning wages as high as £600 a day to protect Western officials, oil company executives and construction firm bosses in Iraq. The SAS is said to be suffering an unprecedented loss of personnel as its highly trained soldiers are lured by lucrative private security work.
With business of around £1bn, British companies are estimated to have the biggest share of private security contracts in Iraq. According to experts, between 1,200 and 1,500 former British soldiers and police officers, including former SAS, Marines, paratroopers and RUC officers, are working in Iraq. Some privately estimate that the total number of foreigners working for private security companies now exceeds the 8,700 British troops there. [complete article]
Iraqi defector's tales bolstered U.S. case for war
By Bob Drogin and Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2004
The Bush administration's prewar claims that Saddam Hussein had built a fleet of trucks and railroad cars to produce anthrax and other deadly germs were based chiefly on information from a now-discredited Iraqi defector code-named "Curveball," according to current and former intelligence officials.
U.S. officials never had direct access to the defector and didn't even know his real name until after the war. Instead, his story was provided by German agents, and his file was so thick with details that American officials thought it confirmed long-standing suspicions that the Iraqis had developed mobile germ factories to evade arms inspections.
Curveball's story has since crumbled under doubts raised by the Germans and the scrutiny of U.S. weapons hunters, who have come to see his code name as particularly apt, given the problems that beset much of the prewar intelligence collection and analysis. [complete article]
Air Force allowed Boeing to rewrite terms of tanker contract, documents show
By Joseph L. Galloway, Knight Ridder, March 28, 2004
The Air Force gave the Boeing Co. five months to rewrite the official specifications for 100 aerial refueling tankers so that the company's 767 aircraft would win a $23.5 billion deal, according to e-mails and documents obtained by Knight Ridder.
In the process, Boeing eliminated 19 of the 26 capabilities the Air Force originally wanted, and the Air Force acquiesced in order to keep the price down.
The Air Force then gave Boeing competitor Airbus 12 days to bid on the project and awarded the contract to Boeing even though Airbus met more than 20 of the original 26 specifications and offered a price that was $10 billion less than Boeing's.
The Boeing tanker deal has been under investigation since it became public two and a half years ago and has been suspended pending the outcome of the probes.
But the e-mails and other documents show just how intent the Air Force was on steering the deal to Boeing, even though Airbus' tankers were more capable and cost less. [complete article]
Comment -- While the GOP is waging a campaign to challenge the legitimacy of issue advertising that implicitly supports the Kerry campaign, the defense industry appears to have its own advertising campaign in full sway and it is clearly gunning for its favored paymasters, the current leadership in the Pentagon. Advertisements from Boeing and Lockheed Martin are appearing in print and on TV and though their target audience is miniscule, who can doubt that all the major defense contractors will do whatever they can to maintain current levels of defense spending. As Lockheed Martin proudly says, "We never forget who we are working for."
Afghan president says elections to be delayed to September
Agence France Presse, March 28, 2004
President Hamid Karzai announced that Afghanistan's landmark post-Taliban elections will be delayed until September, three months later than originally scheduled.
"The joint election commission with UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) came to me and informed me that they can hold presidential and parliamentary elections both at the same time," Karzai told a press briefing in Kabul.
"And that will happen late Sunbola or early Mizan," he said naming the portion of the Afghan calendar which corresponds to mid to late September.
Under the Bonn peace accords drawn up in late 2001 following the ousting of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime, war-ravaged Afghanistan was due to hold democratic elections in June 2004. [complete article]
Comment -- One assumes that the new date for elections has White House approval. The calculation is likely to be that if when he addresses the GOP convention in early September, George Bush won't be able to hail the recent success of elections in the first country he liberated, then at least he can celebrate the fact that they are just about to occur. A lot can happen between now and then, but of one thing we can be certain: If al Qaeda had an interest in affecting the elections in Spain, there seems little doubt that they have designs on the elections in Afghanistan. What is far less certain is whether come September Bush will have anything whatsoever to claim as a success.
Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:
Sudden, painful rebirth unsettles stagnant region
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, March 26, 2004
Saddam Hussein's fall unsettled Arab leaders by demonstrating that the United States is willing to do away with hostile regimes. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said it best: We must shave our beards, he warned, before others shave them for us. But behind the gestures of political change, contradictions and resentment are as thick and dark as the pools of oil under Saudi sands. One year after the campaign to oust Hussein, other regimes have lost their sense of invulnerability and appear uncertain of the new order. Pro-democracy reformists from Damascus to Dubai took strength from the disintegration of the Iraqi regime -- but also were saddled with the poisonous label of American sympathizer. The United States has paid for the war and the occupation with a profound anti-American backlash. The fires of jihad have been fueled in the hearts of a new generation of extremist recruits. Sectarian tensions are spilling from Iraq, drawing out tribal, religious and ethnic splits in neighboring countries and raising fears of instability. The United States argued that toppling Hussein would ease the path to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But another year of horrendous bloodshed in the Palestinian uprising has sunk Arabs deep into despair and intensified rage against U.S. foreign policy.
Palestine is now part of an arc of Muslim resistance
By Seumas Milne, The Guardian, March 25, 2004
Ariel Sharon's decision to incinerate a 67-year-old blind quadriplegic cleric outside his local mosque will certainly go down as one of the most spectacularly counter-productive acts of violence in the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Quite apart from the morality of assassinating Sheikh Yassin, it is the Israeli people themselves who will suffer from certain retaliation. Israel has the right to defend itself, President Bush declares, while apparently denying the Palestinians the same luxury. But the killing can have no military value at all. Whatever his authority as the founder and figurehead of Hamas, the idea that Yassin was involved in planning armed attacks is preposterous. When Israel rocketed the apartment block he was visiting last September, the ailing sheikh was reported not to have even realised that an attack had taken place. And regardless of the domestic political calculations of the Israeli government, such attempts to destroy a popular movement by decapitation are doomed to failure. From Algeria to Vietnam, the past century is littered with evidence that such strategies invariably come to nought. Where resistance has deep roots - as Hamas's undoubtedly has in the occupied territories - it will always re-emerge, however savage the repression. Yassin has been succeeded by Abd al-Aziz Rantissi, and if the Israelis incinerate him, another will take his place. What Monday's killing has done is simply widen the range of targets on each side, expanding the arena of terror.
Bush's brand new enemy is the truth
By Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, March 25, 2004
The controversy raging around Clarke's book and his testimony before the 9/11 commission that Bush ignored warnings about terrorism that might have prevented the attacks revolves around his singularly unimpeachable credibility. In response, Bush has launched an offensive against him, impugning his personal motives, saying he is a disappointed job-hunter, publicity-mad, a political partisan, ignorant, irrelevant - and a liar. Clarke's reputation in the Clinton White House was that he could be brusque and passionate, but also calm and single-minded. He was a complete professional, who was a master of the bureaucracy. He didn't suffer fools gladly, stood up to superiors and didn't care who he alienated. His flaw was his indispensable virtue: he was direct and candid in telling the unvarnished truth.
Christians must challenge American messianic nationalism:
A call to the churches
By Rosemary Radford Ruether, The Witherspoon Society, March 23, 2004
What is American messianic nationalism? This is an ideology rooted in the belief that the United States of America is uniquely an elect nation chosen by God to impose its way of life on the rest of the world by coercive economic means, and even by military force, if it deems necessary. Nations who pursue other ways of economic development than "free market capitalism" can be regarded as enemies, not only of the United States, but of God. This is particularly the case if they seek to mobilize a counter-bloc of nations against the global hegemony of the United States. The ideology that the United States is an elect nation divinely chosen to be a model and mentor to other countries has long been entertained by dominant American culture. During the Cold War the struggle against communism was typically couched as a "war against evil." The conflict between two strategies of economic development, capitalism and communism, was defined as if it were a war against demonic powers in which capitalist countries were the agents of divine goodness. This language has returned with new force under the administration of George W. Bush in its "war against terrorism.
A key force behind the 9/11 commission
By Gail Russell Chaddock, Christian Science Monitor, March 25, 2004
William Rodriguez was the last man to run out of the World Trade Center. Had he made it to work on time, he and the master key to the stairwells would have been near the top of the complex when the second plane hit. Instead, he raced up the stairwells he had maintained for 20 years to unlock doors and help people escape. "I was protected for another purpose," he says. Credited with saving many lives, he received a National Hero Award from the Senate of Puerto Rico and organized the Hispanic Victims Group. Like many others who lost family or were personally involved in Sept. 11, Mr. Rodriguez is convinced that much of what happened that day is still behind locked doors, and the only way to open them is to keep hurling questions at officials until they get answers. For such activists, the appearance of top Clinton and Bush administration officials before the 9/11 commission this week was a key moment, long awaited.
Expansion of military bases overseas fuels suspicions of U.S. motives
By Michael Kilian, Chicago Tribune (via Sun Herald), March 23, 2004
In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States has dramatically expanded its military presence in the Middle East and Central Asia, building a vast network of bases designed to counter what military officials call an "arc of instability." U.S. military installations in the region extend from Turkey to near the Chinese border, and from former Soviet republics in the north to the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. The facilities surround Iran; are situated in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and are close to Syria and Lebanon. Several were created to address the confrontation with Iraq, and continue to support operations there. "No one could have anticipated in the summer of 2001 that the United States would be basing forces at Karshi Khanabad, Uzbekistan, or conducting a major military operation in Afghanistan," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Congress last year. Experts fear the ubiquity of U.S. forces may fuel belief in radical Islamic claims that America is bent on controlling the oil and politics of the Islamic world. A poll that the nonpartisan Pew Research Center conducted in Muslim nations in the region found significant portions of their populations believed just that.
The al-Zawahiri fiasco
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, March 24, 2004
The Pakistani army is regarded as an occupation army. No wonder: it entered Waziristan for the first time in history, in the summer of 2002. These Pakistani soldiers are mostly Punjabi. They don't speak Pashto and don't know anything about the complex Pashtun tribal code. In light of all this, the presence of the Pakistani army in these tribal areas in the name of the "war on terror" cannot but be regarded as an American intervention. These tribes have never been subdued. They may even spell Musharraf's doom.
Killing of Yassin a turning point
By Ilene R. Prusher and Ben Lynfield, Christian Science Monitor, March 23, 2004
The assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin Monday as he left morning prayers marks a turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and the end rhetorically and practically to the peace process. The death of the wheelchair-bound cleric, the spiritual leader of the Palestinian Hamas movement, is also likely to lead to a dramatic upsurge in Israeli-Palestinian violence, analysts say. "The [peace] process has been dead for a long time, but talk about it continued by the Americans, Egyptians, Palestinians, Israelis, and Jordanians. Now even the talk about the peace process will be put to rest for a period of time," says Ali Jarbawi, a political scientist at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah.
What exactly does al-Qaeda want?
By Jason Burke, The Observer, March 21, 2004
In every militant statement you can see a mix of the general and the specific. Imam Samudra, the Bali bomber ..., saw the night clubs of Bali as part of a general cultural assault mounted by the West against the Islamic world. This is typical. In Kashmir, locals speak of their repression as part of a global campaign against Muslims. In Chechnya, the war with Russia is seen as a manifestation of the same push to eliminate Islam. Last week a previously unknown group threatened violence in France and listed the banning of the veil from schools alongside continuing American support for Israel, the war in Iraq and the killing of civilians in Afghanistan as evidence that the West never abandoned the Crusades. This perception that a belligerent West is set on the humiliation, division and eventual conquest of the Islamic world is at the root of Muslim violence. The militants believe they are fighting a last-ditch battle for the survival of their society, culture, religion and way of life. They are fighting in self-defence and understand, as we in the West also believe, that self-defence can justify using tactics that might be frowned on in other circumstances.
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