The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Bush runs out of options as chaos deepens
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, May 7, 2004

Iraq's deepening crisis has left the Bush administration with few options, and although the US has entrusted the United Nations with the task of finding a way towards political stability and elections, officials and analysts close to the White House admit that hopes of success are receding fast.

Insiders describe a lack of direction and a prevailing sense of gloom and desperation in the administration. This gloom has only been intensified by the exposure of torture and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

Analysts point to an absence of clearcut strategy that has seen repeated personnel changes and policy reversals resulting from continuous battles between the State Department and the Pentagon. The White House national security advisers are blamed for not resolving the interagency battles.

This "dysfunctional" administration as described by Robert Kagan, a prominent foreign policy thinker, is mirrored by an increasingly public battle of recriminations among President George W. Bush's conservative supporters. [complete article]

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I will survive
Why Bush (probably) won't dump Rumsfeld

By Fred Kaplan, Slate, May 7, 2004

The most eyebrow-raising moment at today's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing came when Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld whether the time might come when it would be useful for him to step down -- to prove how seriously Americans take the uproar over the Abu Ghraib tortures and to repair some of the damage to our reputation.

"That's possible," Rumsfeld instantly replied.

Earlier in the hearing, under questioning from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, Rumsfeld said he'd "resign in a minute" if he felt he could no longer be an "effective" secretary of defense. Rumsfeld also said, in his opening statement, that the incidents "occurred under my watch... I am accountable... I take full responsibility." In a ministerial government, these comments alone would guarantee resignation.

Yet it is exceedingly unlikely that Rummy will get the boot—and not just because we have a presidential system of government, and not just because our political language has been debased to the point where a word like "responsibility" means nothing.

Rumsfeld will almost certainly survive because President George W. Bush's political fortunes -- at least for the moment -- demand that he survive. [complete article]

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The empire strikes out
By Ben Macintyre, New York Times, May 8, 2004

This week the world learned that the United States Army has been investigating more than 30 claims of prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan since December 2002. So far, officials have found a catalog of "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses" at the hands of American captors. This horrible scandal represents the most serious crisis for the coalition since the war on terrorism began. Occupation inevitably creates resentment; but humiliation fosters outright rebellion, and winning back the moral high ground after this calamity is far more important than reasserting control in Falluja or in the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan.

Military domination is fatally undermined when occupiers, even if only a tiny minority of them, misuse their power to demean the conquered. The perils of such behavior resonate throughout history. As America finds itself ever more deeply embroiled in Central Asia and Iraq, it need only look at the experience of its coalition partner, Britain, in Afghanistan to learn about the hubris and transience of empire.

Curiously enough, the most astute witness to one of Britain's worst imperial episodes was an American -- a doctor, soldier, Quaker, Freemason and adventurer by the name of Josiah Harlan. In 1839, General Harlan (as he chose to style himself) stood on the ramparts of Kabul and watched as a foreign army marched in to "liberate" the city, with flags waving and trumpets blaring. General Harlan had spent the previous 12 years in Afghanistan, and he had a premonition of disaster: "To subdue and crush the masses of a nation by military force," he later wrote, "is to attempt the imprisonment of a whole people: all such projects must be temporary and transient, and terminate in a catastrophe." [complete article]

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Kurds flee Fallujah in fear
By Michael Howard, Washington Times, May 7, 2004

Thousands of Iraqi Kurds have fled homes in Fallujah to northern Iraq after being threatened by Arab insurgents for supporting the coalition and refusing to fight against the U.S. military.

More than 2,000 people have arrived since April 9 in the Kurdish town of Kalar near the Iranian border, according to officials of the Kurdish regional government. Others are scattered in the large Kurdish cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah. [...]

Displaced and traumatized families arriving from Fallujah in Kalar yesterday said a mixture of die-hard Saddam loyalists and foreign "mujahideen" were accusing Kurdish residents in the city of being traitors and collaborators.

Others said the insurgents had chosen to conduct their attacks on U.S. forces from the rooftops and narrow lanes of the mainly Kurdish Jolan district -- which saw the fiercest fighting between guerrillas and Marines -- knowing that any retaliatory fire would destroy Kurdish houses and civilians. [complete article]

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Fallouja's fighters trade weapons, not allegiances
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, May 8, 2004

As Yassir Harhoush sees it, the work he'll be doing for the new U.S.-sanctioned Fallouja Brigade isn't all that different from what he was doing last week -- only then, he says, he was part of the insurgency.

"I was fighting the Americans," Harhoush, a 28-year-old former soldier in Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard, said Friday afternoon. "I have not stopped. This is just a temporary truce. If the Americans attack, we will defend ourselves again."

Although it was announced only last week, the brigade already has more than 1,000 members, and men in Fallouja are flocking to sign up. Many, it seems, have merely put down their rocket-propelled grenades and picked up the spanking new black Kalashnikovs distributed by the Americans. [complete article]

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Tehran fears Ba'athist restoration in Baghdad
By Gareth Smyth, Financial Times, May 6, 2004

After months of appealing for calm in Iraq, Tehran is increasingly wary of chaos in its western neighbour and fearful that the US is looking to members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party to stabilise the situation and counter the influence of Iraq's Shia Muslims.

"This seems to be a turning point," said Abbas Maleki, a leading analyst in Tehran. "The US is bringing back Ba'athists because it is not easy for them to compromise with the Shia."

These fears were sparked by the recall of former Iraqi officers to police Falluja and by confusion over the transfer to Iraqi rule scheduled for July 1. [complete article]

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Iraq Sunnis host Sadr followers in show of support
By Joseph Logan, Reuters, May 7, 2004

Thousands of supporters of rebel Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr prayed in Sunni mosques in Iraq Friday, in what local leaders called a show of religious unity in the face of Iraq's occupiers.

The gesture was the latest display of solidarity among Iraq's Muslims since U.S. forces besieged the Sunni town of Falluja west of Baghdad and faced off with Sadr's militia in the Shi'ite holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala to the south.

Sadr's popularity among Shi'ites, who make up about 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people, seems to have soared since his uprising began a month ago, particularly among the young and the poor.

Busloads of Sadr's followers carrying portraits of the young cleric and wearing the insignia of his Mehdi Army militia trooped to the staunchly Sunni Baghdad neighborhood of Aadhamiya to pray in the Abu Hanifa mosque, named for a pre-eminent scholar and thinker of Sunni Islam. [complete article]

G.I.'s kill scores of militia forces in 3 Iraqi cities
By Edward Wong, New York Times, May 8, 2004

American soldiers battled insurgents led by a rebel Shiite cleric on Friday, killing scores of Iraqis, as the cleric delivered a defiant, derisive sermon that dismissed President Bush's expressions of regret for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

"What kind of peace could come from you or your agents when you feel pleasure at torturing prisoners?" the 31-year-old cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, said to cheering supporters at his mosque in Kufa. "How are you going to control the world when you can't control a few soldiers here and there? If anyone did this to one of your people, would you accept it?"

The Americans pursued Mr. Sadr's militia forces in the warrens and alleyways of two of the holiest Shiite cities, Karbala and Najaf, where the rebels have barricaded themselves for more than a month. Mr. Sadr's militiamen in Karbala fired rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47's at more than 100 soldiers, who moved low along walls and inched their way down a mile-long stretch of road, returning fire as roadside bombs exploded near them. [complete article]

Shia cleric attacks prison abuses in defiant sermon
By Justin Huggler, The Independent, May 8, 2004

In an act of defiance that was a direct challenge to US forces, the radical Iraqi Shia cleric, Muqtada Sadr, travelled to his stronghold of Kufa yesterday to deliver the Friday sermon, despite the presence of hundreds of US troops surrounding the city and nearby Najaf. [complete article]

Cleric calls on Mahdi militia to quit Najaf
By Oliver Poole, The Telegraph, May 8, 2004

Iraq's Shia uprising came under renewed pressure yesterday as a senior cleric called on the Mahdi army to leave the holy city of Najaf.

Sheikh Sadreddin Kubanji, who is close to the supreme Shia leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, used his sermon in Friday prayers to issue the strongest denunciation to date of Moqtada al-Sadr's insurgent forces which seized control of Najaf last month.

"Listen to the advice of the learned ones. You are our beloved youth and we care about you but go back to your home where you came from and fight the occupation and the Ba'athists there," he told thousands of worshippers at the Imam Ali Mausoleum, one of the most revered shines in Shia Islam. [complete article]

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Soldier's anonymous tip-off unleashed Iraq abuse scandal
Associated Press (via Yahoo), May 7, 2004

An anonymous note slipped under a superior's door by a part-time soldier from Pennsylvania triggered the Iraq prison abuse scandal now engulfing the US military and administration.

The act eventually catapulted the name of Joseph Darby, a 24-year-old reservist in the 372nd Military Police Company, from comfortable obscurity to the floor of Congress where he was praised Friday by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for his "honorable" conduct.

Darby's act ironically led to the deluge of Democratic calls for Rumsfeld to resign. [complete article]

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U.K. forces taught torture methods
By David Leigh, The Guardian, May 8, 2004

The sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was not an invention of maverick guards, but part of a system of ill-treatment and degradation used by special forces soldiers that is now being disseminated among ordinary troops and contractors who do not know what they are doing, according to British military sources.

The techniques devised in the system, called R2I - resistance to interrogation - match the crude exploitation and abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad.

One former British special forces officer who returned last week from Iraq, said: "It was clear from discussions with US private contractors in Iraq that the prison guards were using R2I techniques, but they didn't know what they were doing."

He said British and US military intelligence soldiers were trained in these techniques, which were taught at the joint services interrogation centre in Ashford, Kent, now transferred to the former US base at Chicksands. [complete article]

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How a British army raid for guns led to death and a growing scandal
By Cahal Milmo, The Independent, May 8, 2004

The men from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment pulled up in front of the dusty marble reception of the Ibn Al Haitham Hotel at about 6am.

Climbing from an armoured personnel carrier and several camouflaged Land Rovers, they were carrying out what the Army described as an "anti-terrorist and anti-criminal operation" in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

The more prosaic reality was that intelligence officers had received a tip-off that the tatty modern hotel, owned by three businessmen, was being used to hide a cache of weapons of unknown vintage.

Some reports suggest the troops might have been stirred up after an officer from their regiment was killed in a roadside ambush on an Army ambulance near Basra a month earlier. Others insist it was a routine raid to frustrate attacks on Allied forces. Whatever their motivation, the soldiers who arrived at the Haitham Hotel were in no mood for winning Iraqi hearts and minds. [complete article]

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An open letter to President George W. Bush on the question of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
Amnesty International, May 7, 2004

The world is watching as your administration responds to the most recent evidence of torture and degrading treatment of Iraqis at the hands of US personnel. While Amnesty International welcomes official statements that the allegations are being taken seriously, the ultimate proof of this will be in actions not words. In this regard, your government's record in the context of "war on terror" detentions gives cause for concern, as fundamental principles of law and human rights continue to be violated despite the administration's stated commitment to these principles.

Amnesty International recalls your statement on 26 June 2003, made on the occasion of the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, in which you said that "the United States is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example". The organization urges you now to ensure that the USA fully meets its international obligations, including as a state party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to investigate all allegations of torture and ill-treatment, publish all findings, prosecute all perpetrators, compensate all victims, and prevent any future torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. We call on the USA to open the doors of its detention facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and at undisclosed locations elsewhere, to independent bodies, including visits by United Nations Special Rapporteurs.

In July 2003, Amnesty International sent your government a Memorandum on Concerns Relating to Law and Order in Iraq. The Memorandum included allegations of torture and ill-treatment of Iraqi detainees by US and Coalition forces. The allegations included beatings, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, hooding, and prolonged forced standing and kneeling. We have never received a response or any indication from the administration or the Coalition Provisional Authority that an investigation took place. Likewise, we have never received a response to the Memorandum to the US Government on the rights of people in US custody in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay which we sent to you in April 2002, and which also raised concerns about questions and allegations of torture and ill-treatment. [complete article]

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U.S. faces lasting damage abroad
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, May 7, 2004

The United States faces the prospect of a severe and enduring backlash not just in the Middle East but also among strategic allies, putting in question the Bush administration's ability to make serious headway on a range of foreign policy goals for the rest of this presidential term, according to U.S. officials and foreign policy experts.

The White House damage-control campaign, including the long-awaited apology from President Bush yesterday, is likely to have only limited, if any, success in the near term, administration officials said yesterday.

The White House is so gloomy about the repercussions that senior adviser Karl Rove suggested this week that the consequences of the graphic photographs documenting the U.S. abuse of Iraqi detainees are so enormous that it will take decades for the United States to recover, according to a Bush adviser.

"It's a blinding glimpse of the obvious to say we're in a hole," conceded Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage. He said the backlash in Europe is even greater than in the 22-nation Arab world. [complete article]

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Group: Whistle-blowers have protections
By Emily Fredrix, Associated Press, May 7, 2004

A little known law protects members of the armed forces who inform about misdeeds involving others in uniform, and the Defense Department should warn potential whistle-blowers of their rights, a watchdog group says.

In a letter sent this week to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the National Whistleblower Center said it was troubled by the Pentagon's failure to tell members of the military and civilian contractors with the forces about protections the government offers.

The group asked that Rumsfeld reply by Wednesday how he plans to get the message out, said Stephen Kohn, the center's chairman of the board.

Defense spokesmen said they had not seen the letter.

The letter also asks the Pentagon to protect Spc. Joseph M. Darby, of Corriganville, Md., who tipped off Army investigators to abuse of Iraqi war prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

Most military people do not know, Kohn said, that they are protected from being discharged, demoted or intimidated if they report suspected wrongdoing to the inspector general or a member of Congress, Kohn said. [complete article]

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'Real date for Iraq handover is January now'
By Judy Dempsey and Andrew Jack, Financial Times, May 7, 2004

European foreign ministers meeting in Dublin this week said they were now resigned to a largely "symbolic" transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis at the end of June, and would be reluctant to block a United Nations resolution over the issue.

Several European Union governments now say the most important handover date in Iraq will be January 2005, the timetable set for elections which diplomats believe will be much more significant than June in terms of passing genuine legitimacy to an Iraqi government. [complete article]

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Donald Rumsfeld should go
Editorial, New York Times, May 7, 2004

There was a moment about a year ago, in the days of "Mission Accomplished," when Donald Rumsfeld looked like a brilliant tactician. American troops -- the lean, mean fighting machine Mr. Rumsfeld assembled -- swept into Baghdad with a speed that surprised even the most optimistic hawks. It was crystal clear that the Defense Department, not State and certainly not the United Nations, would control the start of nation-building. Mr. Rumsfeld, with his steely grin and tell-it-like-it-is press conferences, was the closest thing to a rock star the Bush cabinet would ever see.

That was then.

It is time now for Mr. Rumsfeld to go, and not only because he bears personal responsibility for the scandal of Abu Ghraib. That would certainly have been enough. The United States has been humiliated to a point where government officials could not release this year's international human rights report this week for fear of being scoffed at by the rest of the world. The reputation of its brave soldiers has been tarred, and the job of its diplomats made immeasurably harder because members of the American military tortured and humiliated Arab prisoners in ways guaranteed to inflame Muslim hearts everywhere. And this abuse was not an isolated event, as we know now and as Mr. Rumsfeld should have known, given the flood of complaints and reports directed to his office over the last year.

The world is waiting now for a sign that President Bush understands the seriousness of what has happened. It needs to be more than his repeated statements that he is sorry the rest of the world does not "understand the true nature and heart of America." Mr. Bush should start showing the state of his own heart by demanding the resignation of his secretary of defense. [complete article]

A president beyond the law
By Anthony Lewis, New York Times, May 7, 2004

The question tears at all of us, regardless of party or ideology: How could American men and women treat Iraqi prisoners with such cruelty -- and laugh at their humiliation? We are told that there was a failure of military leadership. Officers in the field were lax. Pentagon officials didn't care. So the worst in human nature was allowed to flourish.

But something much more profound underlies this terrible episode. It is a culture of low regard for the law, of respecting the law only when it is convenient.

Again and again, over these last years, President Bush has made clear his view that law must bend to what he regards as necessity. National security as he defines it trumps our commitments to international law. The Constitution must yield to novel infringements on American freedom. [complete article]

State Department focuses on global damage control
By Tammy Kupperman, NBC, May 6, 2004

The U.S. State Department is scrambling to limit the damage and global fallout as outrage over U.S. soldiers' abuse of Iraqi prisoners continues throughout the Arab world, and beyond.

The Bush administration has begun a media blitz to counter the growing anti-American sentiment in the Arab and Muslim world, where Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged to CNN's Larry King "we are going through a rough spot right now." [complete article]

(Comment -- Damage-control operates on the assumption that if a crisis can be riden out, sooner or later new events will move everyone's attention forward and away from the current crisis. This works in America, with its superficial fascination with novelty, but the Arab world grasps far wider spans of time. Ultimately, we will become the victims of our own inattention.)

Voice of the America that Bush claims not to know
Rush Limbaugh: MPs just 'blowing off steam'

By Dick Meyer, CBS News, May 6, 2004

There is one proud and satisfied place where the pictures and accounts of the abuse endured by some prisoners at Abu Ghraib cause no consternation and no outrage: Rush Limbaugh's America, pop. 20 million. [...]

Here's Rush's sociological evaluation of what really happened at Abu Ghraib, as quoted by The New Republic:

"This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation, and we're going to ruin people's lives over it, and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You [ever] heard of need to blow some steam off?" [complete article]

Chaos and violence at Abu Ghraib
BBC News, May 7, 2004

A picture is beginning to emerge of the chaotic conditions inside Baghdad's Abu Ghraib jail at the time photos of US soldiers abusing prisoners were taken.

Former prison commanders have told of a violent atmosphere of rioting, with guards - heavily outnumbered by inmates - showing disdain for Iraqi prisoners. [complete article]

Photos of dead may indicate graver abuse
By James Risen and David Johnston, New York Times, May 7, 2004

Grisly photographs taken at Abu Ghraib prison of two dead men may indicate that the violence at the prison went far beyond degrading treatment of detainees. The Bush administration has provided only limited information about one of the men; the other remains a mystery.

The photographs come from the same collection of pictures that show military guards humiliating other detainees. All of the photographs, including those of the dead men, were taken at Abu Ghraib, according to people who provided them to The New York Times. [complete article]

Inspector says he warned U.S. officials of Iraqi prisoner abuse
By Bob Gibson, Charlottesville Daily Progress, May 6, 2004

David Kay, the man who led the U.S. search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, says he repeatedly told people about problems with the interrogation of prisoners, but the military ignored him.

"I was there and I kept saying the interrogation process is broken. The prison process is broken. And no one wanted to deal with it," Kay said. "It was too, too distasteful. This is a known problem, and the military refuses to deal with it."

Kay said in an interview Tuesday after speaking at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs that the abuse of Iraqi inmates at an American-run prison west of Baghdad is a disaster for the United States.

Anything less than severe action, which he described as a "hanging," against a two- or three-star general in charge means "in the Middle East, they are always going to believe we did it as part of a sanctioned process," Kay said.

"I am terribly worried that if we only charge the seven or 15 reservists who were involved and condemn the contractors who were involved and maybe the one-star reserve general who was in charge of this overall military prison unit, I think we will have done a horrible mistake," Kay said. [complete article]

Iraq prisoner abuses widespread, rights groups say
By Luke Baker, Reuters, May 6, 2004

Photo images of U.S. soldiers abusing and humiliating prisoners in Iraq may be just the tip of the iceberg and only a non-military inquiry will expose the full extent of the problem, human rights groups said on Thursday.

In hundreds of interviews with former detainees over the past nine months, rights groups say a clear pattern of abuse has emerged, with the vast majority of prisoners saying they were beaten, hooded, deprived of sleep and often stripped.

In some isolated cases the abuse was much worse, they say, with detainees sodomized or sexually assaulted in ways similar to the pictures of abuse that have emerged over the past week.

One international rights group, Christian Peacemaker Teams, which has been operating in Iraq on and off since late 2002, estimated that around 80 percent of former detainees it interviewed had suffered abuse of one form or another.

The U.S. military estimates it has detained around 40,000 Iraqis since taking over the country last year, although most have been released. Around 10,000 remain in custody. [complete article]

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Act now or a civil war may hit Iraq
By Anthony H. Cordesman, Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2004

A year into the "war after the war," far too many U.S. officials are still in a state of denial.

They ignore the ABC poll conducted in February that found roughly two-thirds of Sunnis and one-third of Shiites to be opposed to the U.S. and British invasion and "humiliated" by it.

They ignore the fact that roughly one-third of Sunnis and two-thirds of Shiites support violence against the coalition and want coalition forces to leave Iraq immediately.

They talk about the insurgents as a "small minority" because only a small minority so far have been violent -- a reality in virtually every insurgent campaign and one that in no way is a measure of support for violence.

They do not see just how much the perceived U.S. tilt toward Israel and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon alienates Iraqis and Arabs in general. They do not admit the near total failure of U.S. information operations, and the fact that Iraqis watch hostile Arab satellite TV stations and rely on newspapers filled with misinformation and conspiracy theories.

They measure success in aid programs in terms of contracts signed, fiscal obligations and gross measures of performance like megawatts, not in terms of progress on the ground, the kind that can really win hearts and minds. They fail to understand that U.S. calls for liberty, democracy and reform have become coupled with images of American interference in Arab regimes, the broad resentment of careless negative U.S. references to Islam and Arab culture, and conspiracy theories about control of Iraqi oil, neoimperialism and serving "Zionist" interests.

These were among my observations during a recent trip to the region. I returned to the United States last week after finding the situation more disturbing than ever. [complete article]

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Only the U.N. can save us
By Polly Toynbee, The Guardian, May 7, 2004

Just when things could not get any worse in Iraq, they do. The Washington Post's disgusting new pictures yesterday presage as many more horror stories as there are civilians randomly killed and people imprisoned or disappeared without explanation. Desperate families outside jails, waving bits of paper with names and begging for news, have had their pleas ignored for a year by the powers that invaded on a promise to bring the rule of law and human rights.
The systematic torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere is so poisonous in its symbolism that not even America's mortal enemies could have devised such a PR coup. Sexual abuse and humiliation of naked Muslim prisoners, urinated on and sodomised, and orders from US intelligence to "soften up" victims in Saddam's old torture chamber almost defies belief.

Except it doesn't. Atrocities are entirely predictable wherever absolute power holds the utterly helpless in secret: that is a universal law of human nature. In peace, that is as true of old people, the mentally ill and children in institutions hidden from view. In war, degraded captives bring out an instinctive disgust, contempt and violence in the captors who degrade them. That is why habeas corpus was the founding principle of British justice, even before Magna Carta, banning the holding of people uncharged, unseen without trial.

"Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people," said President Bush plaintively. Indeed, but it is in the nature of the circumstances that Bush has authorised for holding 10,000 prisoners without trial, many in unknown, secret prisons. "That's not the way we do things in America," he says. Indeed, it is only the way America does things when it goes abroad; the American constitution protects its own citizens. The self-blinding American myth is that a "freedom-loving nation" built on the ideals of Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson could never do such things. [complete article]

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An empty sort of freedom
By Houzan Mahmoud, The Guardian, March 8, 2004

From the start of the occupation, rape, abduction, "honour" killings and domestic violence have became daily occurrences. The Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq (Owfi) has informally surveyed Baghdad, and now knows of 400 women who were raped in the city between April and August last year.

A lack of security and proper policing have led to chaos and to growing rates of crime against women. Women can no longer go out alone to work, or attend schools or universities. An armed male relative has to guard a woman if she wants to leave the house.

Girls and women have become a cheap commodity to be traded in post-Saddam Iraq. Owfi knows of cases where virgin girls have been sold to neighbouring countries for $200, and non-virgins for $100.

The idea that a woman represents family "honour" is becoming central to Iraqi culture, and protecting that honour has cost many women their lives in recent months. Rape is considered so shaming to the family's honour that death - by suicide or murder - is needed to expunge it. [complete article]

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The oil crunch
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, May 7, 2004

Before the start of the Iraq war his media empire did so much to promote, Rupert Murdoch explained the payoff: "The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy, if you could put it that way, would be $20 a barrel for oil." Crude oil prices in New York rose to almost $40 a barrel yesterday, a 13-year high.

Those who expected big economic benefits from the war were, of course, utterly wrong about how things would go in Iraq. But the disastrous occupation is only part of the reason that oil is getting more expensive; the other, which will last even if we somehow find a way out of the quagmire, is the intensifying competition for a limited world oil supply.

Thanks to the mess in Iraq -- including a continuing campaign of sabotage against oil pipelines -- oil exports have yet to recover to their prewar level, let alone supply the millions of extra barrels each day the optimists imagined. And the fallout from the war has spooked the markets, which now fear terrorist attacks on oil installations in Saudi Arabia, and are starting to worry about radicalization throughout the Middle East. (It has been interesting to watch people who lauded George Bush's leadership in the war on terror come to the belated realization that Mr. Bush has given Osama bin Laden exactly what he wanted.)

Even if things had gone well, however, Iraq couldn't have given us cheap oil for more than a couple of years at most, because the United States and other advanced countries are now competing for oil with the surging economies of Asia. [complete article]

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Visiting a changed Fallujah
New graves, damaged mosques, rage at U.S.

By Colin Freeman, San Francisco Chronicle, May 4, 2004

Festooning the town, from the sports club gates to the bullet-marked street corners, brightly colored posters now celebrate the resistance movement in defiant glory.

Each one depicts a burning U.S. flag bearing the date 4/9/2003 -- the day Saddam Hussein's statue was pulled down by a U.S. Army tank in Baghdad. Above, in mocking imitation, two masked fighters cheer as the Statue of Liberty, her head draped in an Iraqi flag, is toppled in similar manner.

As nervous families who fled the city during the fighting began returning through the heavily manned U.S. checkpoint outside town, the posters were not the only part of the landscape that had changed.

Six of the tall mosque towers that punctuate Fallujah's low-rise horizon were badly blasted by U.S. tanks and artillery during the fighting, while football-size holes were punched in many houses by heavy rounds. [complete article]

Gamble brings old uniforms back into style
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, May 7, 2004

The crackle of gunfire, omnipresent here just a week ago, has been replaced with the din of car horns. Shops that had been shuttered during a month-long siege by U.S. Marines, giving this city on the Euphrates River the feel of a ghost town, have begun to reopen. Attacks on the few remaining American troops in the surrounding desert have nearly ceased.

But the seeming normalcy has come with a cost. Fallujah is now caught in a time warp. Iraqi soldiers wearing their crisp, olive-green army uniforms -- a sight unseen since former president Saddam Hussein's government was toppled more than a year ago -- now man checkpoints on roads leading into the city. Stout generals, their lapels adorned with stars and crossed swords, stroll around the mayor's office with the same imperious air they projected when Hussein was president. [complete article]

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This nuclear age: Part one - U.S. neo-cons and war
By Ritt Goldstein, Asia Times, May 5, 2004

Present United States nuclear policy appears on the verge of undoing decades of nuclear weapons taboos. But for some in the administration, that's good news, and indications exist that it was the concepts embodied in a conservative think-tank report which helped frame the parameters of this transition.

Dr Keith Payne was the Bush administration's deputy assistant secretary of defense for forces and policy until June 2003. That means that he was the Pentagon's key civilian figure involved in how the US views the retention, development and use of nuclear weapons. He is also someone who believes in the efficacy of nuclear weapons and warfare. And a major push to create new nuclear weapons and substantively expand America's nuclear weapons complex is presently ongoing. [complete article]

This nuclear age: Part two - Preemption and an arms race with itself
By Ritt Goldstein, Asia Times, May 6, 2004

While it is now widely accepted that Iraq never possessed any weapons of mass destruction (WMD), FSSF [the DoD Defense Science Board's report, "Future Strategic Strike Forces"] urges a US$3 billion intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance system be funded because "we have not found the WMD we know are there, even with teams on the ground".

While such logic amply serves to deflect the true reality of circumstances, the willingness to significantly act on such misconception provides alarming potential. The report's authors perceive that: "For targets posing a time-urgent concern, low-yield, low-fission nuclear weapons may be the only choice."

Critics speculate that a "nuke them now and apologize later" policy may be evolving. [complete article]

This nuclear age: Part three - Iran, North Korea and proliferation
By Ritt Goldstein, Asia Times, May 7, 2004

In early February, the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, admitted that he was instrumental in the sale of nuclear weapons technology to Iran and Libya. America's top arms control official, John Bolton, outlined that the Pakistani network sold "technology for enriching uranium as well as warhead designs to Iran, North Korea and Libya", according to the San Francisco Chronicle. And concerns exist that the warhead blueprints may have gone considerably further.

Notably, the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports that Pakistani nuclear weapons cooperation with North Korea "accelerated in the 1990s". But in an amazing example of Bush administration spin, Bolton described the February revelations of the Pakistani operation as "a great intelligence success", arguing that the incident represented "an enormous victory", the Chronicle reported. And while the Bush administration has accepted Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf's assertions that Khan acted independently, a Washington coverup is widely understood. [complete article]

U.S. and Russia nukes: still on cold war, hair-trigger alert
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, May 7, 2004

It promised to be a quiet evening at the Soviet nuclear early warning center when Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov settled into the commander's seat on Sept. 26, 1983.

But within minutes, Colonel Petrov was locked in perhaps the most dangerous drama of the cold war. An alarm sounded, warning screens blinked. A computer map on the wall showed the hostile launch of a US nuclear warhead.

"Every second counted.... My legs were unsteady, my hands were trembling, my cozy armchair became a hot frying pan," says the former officer. It only got worse. Within five minutes the computer registered five more launches; the alarm flashed: "Missile Attack."

The decision that Petrov made in those pressure-cooked minutes - that the computer was in error, and the elaborate early warning system that he helped build was wrong - may have prevented a nuclear holocaust.

Twenty years later, there is growing concern that a similar nuclear miscue could happen again. The lone superpower and its former rival still aim thousands of missiles on hair-trigger alert at each other's major cities. As the US rushes to deploy a missile shield this summer designed to intercept North Korean warheads, Clinton-era plans that would improve both US and deteriorating Russian detection systems are stalled. [complete article]

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'Cooks and drivers were working as interrogators'
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, May 7, 2004

Many of the prisoners abused at the Abu Ghraib prison were innocent Iraqis, picked up at random by US troops and incarcerated by underqualified intelligence officers, a former US interrogator from the jail told the Guardian.

Torin Nelson, who served as a military intelligence officer at Guantanamo Bay before moving to Abu Ghraib as a private contractor last year, blamed the abuses on a failure of command in US military intelligence and an over-reliance on private firms. He alleged those companies were so anxious to meet the demand for their services, they sent "cooks and truck drivers" to work as interrogators.

"Military intelligence operations need to drastically change in order for something like this not to happen again," Mr Nelson told the Guardian.

He claimed many of the detainees are "innocent of any acts against the coalition".

"One case in point is a detainee whom I recommended for release and months later was still sitting in the same tent with no change in his status."

Mr Nelson said that the same systemic problems were also responsible for large numbers of Afghans being mistakenly swept into Guantanamo Bay. He estimated that a third or more of the inmates at the controversial prison camp had no connection to terrorism. [complete article]

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From a picture of pride to a symbol of abuse in Iraq
By James Dao, New York Times, May 7, 2004

For weeks, the Mineral County courthouse has proudly displayed the photographs of local soldiers stationed in Iraq along the stairway at its front entrance. "We're hometown proud," the banner said.

But in the last few days, one photograph was taken down, that of Pfc. Lynndie R. England, whose face has become famous for a painfully different reason.

Private England is perhaps the most prominently displayed person in a series of photographs taken in the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad that show members of the 372nd Military Police Company abusing prisoners.

In one image, Private England is clenching a cigarette between her teeth while giving a thumbs-up in front of naked Iraqi prisoners. In another that became public on Thursday, she is holding a leash attached to a naked prisoner's neck.

The photographs have left her family and friends aghast and searching for answers. They are convinced that she would never have thought up anything so cruel on her own and that she must have been following orders. [complete article]

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Good ol' girl who enjoyed cruelty
By Sharon Churcher, The Daily Telegraph (AU), May 7, 2004

Pointing crudely at the genitals of a naked, hooded Iraqi, the petite brunette with a cigarette hanging from her lips epitomised America's shame over revelations US soldiers routinely tortured inmates at Abu Ghraib jail near Baghdad.

Lynndie England, 21, a rail worker's daughter, comes from a trailer park in Fort Ashby, West Virginia, which locals proudly call "a backwoods world".

She faces a court martial, but at home she is toasted as a hero.

At the dingy Corner Club Saloon they think she has done nothing wrong.

"A lot of people here think they ought to just blow up the whole of Iraq," Colleen Kesner said.

"To the country boys here, if you're a different nationality, a different race, you're sub-human. That's the way girls like Lynndie are raised. [complete article]

See also W.Va. reservist caught up in a storm of controversy

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Torture by the book
By Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, May 6, 2004

In Britain the debate about photographs depicting abuse of Iraqi prisoners has centred on their authenticity. In the US there are no doubts about the pictures showing what American soldiers did in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. But the photos raise a larger question. Did a gang of reservists from Virginia hit on ways of mistreating Muslim prisoners to maximise their humiliation all by themselves? President Bush says the photos disgust him. However, there is growing evidence that the abuses in Abu Ghraib were no aberrant act, but a warped product of US policy and the practices of its intelligence community. [complete article]

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In Iraq, Shias turning against Kurds
By Mohamad Bazzi, Newsday, May 5, 2004

Omar Nayef swears that the Iraqi soldiers who stopped him at a checkpoint outside the besieged city of Fallujah two weeks ago were Kurdish.

"They were wearing Kurdish hats and they were speaking Kurdish with each other," said Nayef, 34, who fled to stay with relatives in Baghdad. "I know the Kurds are fighting alongside the Americans in Fallujah, no matter how much they deny it."

Nayef, a Sunni Arab, was traveling with a cousin when they were stopped and interrogated. "They told us that we were terrorists, that everyone in Fallujah was a terrorist," he said, angrily fingering his prayer beads. "They said the Americans would take care of us."

All over Baghdad, stories like Nayef's are circulating about Kurdish militiamen, known as pesh merga, having fought with U.S. Marines who cordoned off the Sunni city of Fallujah for much of April. Military officials say the Kurds were deployed in the area as part of the new Iraqi army and not as members of the militias controlled by the two largest Kurdish political parties.

Still, the rumors and sightings of Kurdish fighters around Fallujah have inflamed tensions between Arabs and Kurds in Iraq. While Sunni Arabs have long clashed with the Kurdish minority, members of the Shia Arab majority, who once empathized with the Kurds, recently began to turn against them. [complete article]

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Mr. Rumsfeld's responsibility
Editorial, Washington Post, May 6, 2004

The horrific abuses by American interrogators and guards at the Abu Ghraib prison and at other facilities maintained by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan can be traced, in part, to policy decisions and public statements of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. Beginning more than two years ago, Mr. Rumsfeld decided to overturn decades of previous practice by the U.S. military in its handling of detainees in foreign countries. His Pentagon ruled that the United States would no longer be bound by the Geneva Conventions; that Army regulations on the interrogation of prisoners would not be observed; and that many detainees would be held incommunicado and without any independent mechanism of review. Abuses will take place in any prison system. But Mr. Rumsfeld's decisions helped create a lawless regime in which prisoners in both Iraq and Afghanistan have been humiliated, beaten, tortured and murdered -- and in which, until recently, no one has been held accountable.

The lawlessness began in January 2002 when Mr. Rumsfeld publicly declared that hundreds of people detained by U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan "do not have any rights" under the Geneva Conventions. That was not the case: At a minimum, all those arrested in the war zone were entitled under the conventions to a formal hearing to determine whether they were prisoners of war or unlawful combatants. No such hearings were held, but then Mr. Rumsfeld made clear that U.S. observance of the convention was now optional. Prisoners, he said, would be treated "for the most part" in "a manner that is reasonably consistent" with the conventions -- which, the secretary breezily suggested, was outdated. [complete article]

See also Bush scolds Rumsfeld on abuse inquiry (LA Times) and New prison images emerge (Washington Post).

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Exporting America's shame
By Robert L. Bastian Jr., Los Angeles Times, May 6, 2004

President Bush has asserted that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib "does not reflect the nature of the American people."

"That's not the way we do things in America," he added.

In terms of aspirations, Bush is certainly correct: Americans generally do not regard themselves as arrogant, abusive, violent, mean, petty and ignoble. As a matter of empirical, verifiable fact, however, the best social scientific evidence suggests that the president is simply wrong on both counts. [complete article]

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Anger fuels calls for revenge
Agence France Presse (via, May 5, 2004

Islamic websites were being flooded on Wednesday with reports on the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US guards, with many people calling for revenge against the "new Crusaders."

"The Crusaders are back. Where are you Saladin?" asked Khaled Hammam from Chechnya on the site, in reference to the 12th century Iraqi Kurdish warrior who defeated Europe's Christian invaders.

Internet sites continued to reproduce graphic pictures of prisoners shown naked and in humiliating positions at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

The pictures are shown with fiery remarks calling for "cleansing the honour" of Muslims. [complete article]

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The danger of market forces
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, May 6, 2004

The repulsive pictures of Iraqi prisoners being tortured by their American captors last week marked a new low point in the sorry story of the occupation, particularly when set alongside the rapidly fading talk of liberation. But just as shocking was the revelation that the interrogation of detainees in Iraq had quietly been privatised. The very idea that the act of extracting information from prisoners might be turned into a for-profit operation would have seemed a black joke not long ago, the premise for a Monty Python sketch, perhaps.

Now it is clearly no more than the next logical step in the creeping privatisation of conflict. Security firms have an estimated 20,000 employees in Iraq, a huge private army (more than twice the size of the British contingent) that guards politicians and pipelines, and which has inevitably been drawn into direct combat in recent months. So, if there were not enough military intelligence and CIA interrogators to get around to the thousands of Iraqis picked up in the security sweeps of hostile areas, hiring freelance "intelligence specialists" must have seemed a no-brainer for cost-conscious government planners. [complete article]

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U.S. troops start major attacks on Shiite insurgents in 2 cities
By Edward Wong, New York Times, May 6, 2004

The American military has begun its first major assault against Shiite insurgents, striking at their enclaves here and in Diwaniya in an effort to regain control in southern Iraq.

The coordinated attacks began hours after powerful Shiite politicians and religious leaders met in Baghdad on Tuesday to urge a rebellious young cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, to withdraw his militia from here and from Najaf, both important religious sites for Shiites. Mr. Sadr's followers have taken up positions in mosques in the cities, stockpiling weapons and daring the Americans to come after them.

The operation began at 11 p.m. on Tuesday and took place in two waves. The first assault began late Tuesday here and in Diwaniya, and ended at dawn on Wednesday.

The second unfolded just after midnight Thursday in this city, when more than 450 soldiers in armored vehicles rumbled into a neighborhood amusement park where Mr. Sadr's militiamen, known as the Mahdi Army, were storing heavy weapons near a ferris wheel and bumper car ride. [complete article]

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The cost of the Iraq war
By Steve Schifferes, BBC News, May 6, 2004

The US Congress has so far been asked to spend $187bn (£104bn) on invading and then rebuilding Iraq. That sounds like a lot - but the real question should be whether it is anywhere near enough.

The Bush administration was very clear about the need to invade Iraq - even though some of those reasons are now looking less convincing.

But it was far less straightforward about how much the military operation to unseat Saddam Hussein would cost.

And even more questions remain about the ultimate cost of rebuilding a functioning economy and civil society in Iraq.

Recent estimates, compiled from a variety of sources, suggest that the ultimate direct costs of the war and reconstruction could easily reach $600bn. [complete article]

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Powell aides go public on rift with Bush
By Gary Younge, The Guardian, May 6, 2004

Colin Powell's key aide has described US sanctions policy against countries such as Pakistan and Cuba as "the dumbest policy on the face of the Earth".

In an article in GQ magazine Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff of the United States secretary of state, bemoans Mr Powell's firefighting role in President George Bush's cabinet.

"He has spent as much time doing damage control and, shall we say, apologising around the world for some less-than-graceful actions as he has anything else."

The article, which includes an interview with Mr Powell, is most illuminating for the comments made by his close friends and colleagues who are explicit about his distrust and disdain for the hawks in the administration. [complete article]

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Big worries about John Kerry
By John Nichols, The Nation, May 5, 2004

John Kerry is going to have to decide who he wants to be when he grows up politically. His post-primary campaign has been so dramatically unfocused and ineffectual that -- even as George Bush has taken more serious blows to his credibility than any sitting president since Richard Nixon in the first years of his second term -- Kerry has not been able to open up a lead nationally or in the essential battleground states.

Kerry is making moves to muscle up his Democratic presidential candidacy, with a $25-million let's-make-some-introductions advertising campaign, an effort to sharpen his message and a sped-up vice presidential search. The next month will be critical. If he can open a five- to eight-point lead nationally and establish leads that mirror those of Al Gore's 2000 wins in Democratic-leaning battleground states, his campaign will be sufficiently renewed to make the race. If, on the other hand, he continues to hold even nationally and trail behind Gore's showings in the states that will tip the balance in the Electoral College, there will come a round of questioning -- prior to the Democratic National Convention in July -- about whether the party is making the right choice. [complete article]

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Israel kills top Hamas man, frees another
By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters (via Yahoo), May 5, 2004

Israel released a cofounder of Hamas to the Gaza Strip but shot and killed another leader of the militant group in the West Bank on Wednesday, witnesses and a military source said.

Mohammed Taha, 68, had been the highest ranking Hamas figure from Gaza in Israeli custody. He was arrested during a military raid in Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza in March 2003.

Witnesses said Taha was freed at the Erez crossing in northern Gaza Wednesday afternoon, and then driven by supporters to Bureij, in central Gaza.

It was not immediately clear exactly why Taha was released at a time when Israel has stepped up operations against Hamas, having assassinated two leaders of the group -- Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantissi -- since March. [complete article]

Comment -- The Israeli government already has stated its intention to eliminate the whole leadership of Hamas. Mohammed Taha has apparently been released for a simple reason. If he was killed while in Israeli custody it would be murder. Now he has been released, his murder can be called a "targeted assassination." It's a new variant on the old story -- prisoner shot while attempting to escape.

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U.S. retreats from Bush remarks on Sharon plan
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, May 5, 2004

The Bush administration on Tuesday joined in a high-level diplomatic statement that stressed that the key issues dividing Israelis and Palestinians must be negotiated by both sides, just weeks after President Bush pronounced that Israel could keep some West Bank settlements and Palestinian refugees should not resettle in Israel.

U.S. officials and foreign diplomats described the statement as an effort by the Bush administration to repair the international damage from the president's remarks last month, which had drawn sharp criticism in the Arab world and from European allies.

Bush's comments, made with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his side, had alarmed diplomats overseas because some perceived that the United States and Israel had cut their own deal on Sharon's plan to unilaterally separate from the Palestinians. U.S. officials now appear eager to erase that perception, both in private negotiating sessions and in public statements afterward. [complete article]

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A West Bank town tries to protest the wall nonviolently
By Ben Lynfield, Christian Science Monitor, May 6, 2004

An all-women's demonstration against Israel's construction of a West Bank separation barrier was supposed to be a quiet, nonconfrontational affair.

Israeli participant Molly Malekar says that she and Palestinian and foreign organizers ruled out male participation to ensure that Israeli security forces would not feel threatened.

But the April 25 march of about 70 women who hoisted signs and sang was broken up by tear gas, stun grenades, and mounted police, says Ms. Malekar, the director of the Bat Shalom Israeli feminist peace group. One mounted policewoman clubbed her on the head with a baton. And in an assault that was photographed, another mounted policeman clubbed her on the back, Malekar recalls.

"Later I understood that all the conventions we thought we had about demonstrations are not relevant anymore," says Malekar. "The security forces have crossed the red lines." Police say the women were engaged in a riot. [complete article]

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Afghanistan starting to look like Iraq, say experts
By Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service, May 5, 2004

The growing instability in Afghanistan -- a country under virtual military occupation by U.S. and other western forces -- has been overshadowed by news of the escalating violence, torture and killings in U.S.-administered Iraq.

But analysts who closely monitor the region say security in Afghanistan remains ''tenuous'' and ''has shown no signs of improvement''. And they predict the explosive situation there might soon turn out to be as bad as Iraq -- but on a smaller scale.

The similarities are striking. As in Iraq, insurgents in Afghanistan have not only been attacking the multinational military force but also local police and foreign aid workers.

The Pentagon, responding to charges of torture by U.S. soldiers, said Wednesday that at least 25 prisoners have died in U.S. custody, in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

But unlike Iraq, the potential destabilisation of Afghanistan has taken added momentum following last week's announcement of possible U.S. troop withdrawals from the politically troubled country. [complete article]

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This is the new gulag
By Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, May 6, 2004

Bush has created what is in effect a gulag. It stretches from prisons in Afghanistan to Iraq, from Guantanamo to secret CIA prisons around the world. There are perhaps 10,000 people being held in Iraq, 1,000 in Afghanistan and almost 700 in Guantanamo, but no one knows the exact numbers. The law as it applies to them is whatever the executive deems necessary. There has been nothing like this system since the fall of the Soviet Union. The US military embraced the Geneva conventions after the second world war, because applying them to prisoners of war protects American soldiers. But the Bush administration, in an internal fight, trumped its argument by designating those at Guantanamo "enemy combatants". Rumsfeld extended this system - "a legal black hole", according to Human Rights Watch - to Afghanistan and then Iraq, openly rejecting the conventions.

Private contractors, according to the Toguba report, gave orders to US soldiers to torture prisoners. Their presence in Iraq is a result of the Bush military strategy of invading with a relatively light force. The gap has been filled by private contractors, who are not subject to Iraqi law or the US military code of justice. Now, there are an estimated 20,000 of them on the ground in Iraq, a larger force than the British army.

It is not surprising that recent events in Iraq centre on these contractors: the four killed in Falluja, and Abu Ghraib's interrogators. Under the Bush legal doctrine, we create a system beyond law to defend the rule of law against terrorism; we defend democracy by inhibiting democracy. Law is there to constrain "evildoers". Who doubts our love of freedom? [complete article]

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How the prison scandal sabotages the U.S. in Iraq
By Tony Karon,, May 4, 2004

Like a well-targeted attack-ad in a U.S. election campaign, the Abu Ghraib images make a visceral connection with an Arab audience, that no amount of contextualizing, apologies, reprimands or school-painting can reverse. No ad agency could have produced a more effective al-Qaeda recruitment tool: Bin Laden's movement presents its goal as the redemption of Muslim honor which has been "prostituted" before the West by "apostate" pro-U.S. regimes. Scenes of graphic humiliation of Muslims by American soldiers -- women mocking the genitalia of naked men -- will reinforce the appeal among the shamed young men of the Arab world of the extremists' message that violence against America as the path of Muslim redemption. And it's worth noting that even before the pictures -- and the fighting at Fallujah -- some 52 percent of Iraqis told Gallup's pollsters that attacks on U.S. forces could sometimes be justified.

Differing reaction to the pictures simply highlights the growing disconnect between the way Americans see themselves and their presence in Iraq, and the way it is seen by Iraqis and the wider Arab world. Most Americans see themselves as liberators in Iraq; most Iraqis -- 71 percent according to the Gallup poll -- see them as occupiers. U.S. officials and officers in Iraq are now under orders to do what they can to explain to Iraqis with whom they come in contact what has transpired. But the damage may be irreversible -- and the sharp decline in Iraqi consent for a continued U.S. presence raises difficult questions for the transition. The U.S. has been planning to keep its troops in Iraq after the June 30 transfer of symbolic sovereignty to an as-yet undetermined Iraqi authority, and to eventually negotiate an agreement with a new government on maintaining a long-term security presence there. But the events of the past month may make it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to find Iraqis willing to endorse their ongoing presence. [complete article]

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Why being right on WMD is no consolation to Iraqi scientist labelled enemy of America
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, May 5, 2004

By any measure Amer al-Saadi ought to feel vindicated. The dapper British-educated scientist who was the Iraqi government's main link to the United Nations inspectors before the US invasion repeatedly insisted that Iraq had destroyed its weapons of mass destruction years earlier.

David Kay, the American inspector who headed the Iraq Survey Group and was sure he would find such weapons when he went to Iraq after the war, now accepts Dr Saadi was right. So does Hans Blix, the chief UN inspector, who up to a month before the war still thought Iraq might have had WMD.

Yet, astonishingly, Dr Saadi does not know of their change of mind or of the political fallout their views have caused in western countries. He is like a lottery winner who is the last person to be told he has hit the jackpot.

Held in solitary confinement in an American prison at Baghdad's international airport, Dr Saadi is denied the right to read newspapers, listen to the radio, or watch television.

"In the monthly one-page letters I am allowed to send him through the Red Cross I cannot mention any of this news. I can only talk about family issues," says his wife, Helma, as she sits in the couple's home less than half a mile from US headquarters in Baghdad.

Barely three days after the statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down by US troops in central Baghdad Dr Saadi approached the Americans and became the first senior Iraqi to hand himself in. It was the last time his wife saw him. [complete article]

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Disney forbidding distribution of film that criticizes Bush
By Jim Rutenberg, New York Times, May 5, 2004

The Walt Disney Company is blocking its Miramax division from distributing a new documentary by Michael Moore that harshly criticizes President Bush, executives at both Disney and Miramax said Tuesday.

The film, "Fahrenheit 911," links Mr. Bush and prominent Saudis -- including the family of Osama bin Laden -- and criticizes Mr. Bush's actions before and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. [complete article]

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Bush's mess is Kerry's peril
By Robert Kuttner , Boston Globe, May 5, 2004

For the most part, John Kerry has a far more sensible Iraq policy than George W. Bush does, and this should serve him well in the campaign. Yet if Kerry is not careful, Bush's quagmire could turn into Kerry's.

In his speeches, Kerry has warned that we need to remove the "Made in America" label from the occupation. Kerry would give a UN high commissioner for governance and reconstruction a dominant role. And he would replace the US force with a NATO force under an American military commander.

So far, so good.

But in other remarks, Kerry has occasionally suggested that having blundered into this mess, we owe it to the Iraqis to "stay the course." He told CNN that he thought the administration's June 30 deadline for turning over authority was unrealistic, implying a longer US occupation. Kerry has even suggested that for a time we might need to put in more troops to protect the ones already there.

The trouble with this stance is that the Iraq occupation is turning out to be a disaster -- for Bush and for America's role in the world. The war stands condemned as both a practical failure and now, with revelations of something close to torture of Iraqi prisoners, a moral failure as well. [complete article]

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Kerry's Iraq choices
By Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, May 5, 2004

As in a classic fairy tale or a not-so-classic game show, John Kerry finds himself in a closed room staring at three closed doors. One is labeled "Reduce U.S. Forces in Iraq." The second door reads "Maintain Troop Levels"; the third says "Increase Them."

And here's Kerry's problem: The risk of opening any of those doors exceeds the rewards. [complete article]

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Pakistan's real bulwark
By Alfred Stepan and Aqil Shah, Washington Post, May 5, 2004

Amid the turmoil in Iraq and signs that Afghanistan still lacks a viable state, it's not surprising that doubts about the ability of the United States to support democratization are growing in the Middle East and even in the United States. This is all the more reason why the success of a homegrown democratic process anywhere in the Muslim world is so important -- especially in a strategically located nuclear state such as Pakistan. But is U.S. policy helping to achieve this end in Pakistan?

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has called Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf "the right man at the right time." President Bush wants Congress to reward the Musharraf government with a five-year, $3 billion assistance package, even as his administration turns a blind eye to the Pakistani military's possible involvement in proliferation of nuclear materials to North Korea, Iran and Libya. Indeed, the Bush administration recently proposed that Pakistan be designated "a major non-NATO ally."

Much of Musharraf's status as the "right man" stems from Pakistan's help against al Qaeda and, crucially, the belief that Pakistan's military is the best bulwark against the growth of Islamic extremism in a nuclear state. As proof of the threat in Pakistan, it is noted that two of the country's four provinces are already much under the sway of Islamic extremists in the Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA) or United Action Forum, an alliance of six Islamist parties.

But before Congress authorizes the "bulwark fee" to Musharraf, it should consider the following: In the 1993 elections, fundamentalist parties won only nine of the 217 national assembly seats. In the 1997 elections, they were reduced to two. But in October 2002, three years after Musharraf's 1999 coup, the MMA Islamist alliance secured 45 of the 272 national seats, and in the strategically crucial North-West Frontier Province, it won 48 of the 99 contested provincial assembly seats. [complete article]

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A wretched new picture of America
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, May 5, 2004

Among the corrosive lies a nation at war tells itself is that the glory -- the lofty goals announced beforehand, the victories, the liberation of the oppressed -- belongs to the country as a whole; but the failure -- the accidents, the uncounted civilian dead, the crimes and atrocities -- is always exceptional. Noble goals flow naturally from a noble people; the occasional act of barbarity is always the work of individuals, unaccountable, confusing and indigestible to the national conscience.

This kind of thinking was widely in evidence among military and political leaders after the emergence of pictures documenting American abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. These photographs do not capture the soul of America, they argued. They are aberrant.

This belief, that the photographs are distortions, despite their authenticity, is indistinguishable from propaganda. Tyrants censor; democracies self-censor. Tyrants concoct propaganda in ministries of information; democracies produce it through habits of thought so ingrained that a basic lie of war -- only the good is our doing -- becomes self-propagating. [complete article]

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Iraqi prisoner-abuse scandal widens; Pentagon investigating deaths
By Shannon McCaffrey and Sumana Chatterjee, Knight Ridder, May 4, 2004

As investigations into U.S. military abuse of Iraqi captives gathered steam, Pentagon officials revealed Tuesday that they have investigated the deaths of 25 prisoners overseas and labeled two of them homicides.

The widening scandal threatened to seriously hurt America's image abroad, especially in the Muslim and Arab world. In an effort to curb the damage, the White House announced late Tuesday evening that President Bush will address the abuse allegations on Wednesday in 10-minute interviews to two Arab television networks. [complete article]

Abuse 'makes the U.S. totally lose credibility'
By Richard C. Paddock and Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, May 5, 2004

Photographs depicting the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops prompted a wave of outrage across the Islamic world Tuesday as Muslims condemned the United States for what they perceived as cruelty and hypocrisy.

For many Muslims already angry about the invasion of Iraq and Washington's support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the photos of naked and hooded Iraqis subjected to humiliation at the hands of their American guards confirmed the widespread view that Washington has no desire to bring human rights to the occupied country.

"People are outraged," said Mona Makram-Ebeid, a professor of political science at American University in Cairo. "Even after everything else that's happened, this is the final drop that makes the U.S. totally lose credibility. Whatever they say about human rights, about democracy, nobody is listening anymore." [complete article]

In Iraq, Arab broadcasts anger U.S. authorities
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, May 4, 2004

Banned under Saddam Hussein, satellite television was introduced to Iraqis last year as yet another freedom that comes courtesy of their liberators.

These days, however, scenes of U.S. Marine airstrikes, American prison guards abusing inmates and masked guerrillas delivering videotaped invitations to join the resistance play nonstop on Arabic-language satellite stations, which broadcast right into millions of Iraqi living rooms. This tool of democracy has turned into a public relations nightmare for the U.S.-led coalition, which has begun closely monitoring broadcasts and even censuring stations that authorities believe incite terrorism against Americans at a particularly volatile time in the occupation.

The two main channels, the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya and its Qatar-based rival, Al-Jazeera, report increased pressure from the coalition to soften their often-grisly footage from Iraq. Even for many Iraqis, the coverage plays out like a reality show with a little too much reality. The most recent examples are exclusive live coverage of the Marines' bloody siege against insurgents in the flashpoint town of Fallujah and the disturbing photos of smiling American guards apparently forcing nude Iraqi detainees to perform sexual acts at Abu Ghraib prison.

"The biggest mistake the Americans made was allowing Iraqis to have satellite boxes," said Ahmed Mohamed, who owns a television production company in Baghdad. "During Saddam's time, there was no satellite, so he could do what he wanted and nobody ever knew. Now, even the little things the Americans do are played even bigger on Arabiya and Jazeera."

The coalition has tried to offer counterpoints by starting the U.S.-funded Arabic newspaper Al-Sabah and its own local TV station, Al-Iraqiyah. But Al-Sabah's editor and most of its staffers quit Monday, saying goodbye with a blistering front-page editorial "celebrating the end of a nightmare" under American control. The TV channel, run with a $96 million grant, airs just 40 minutes of news a day and is mocked for its devotion to home improvement and sports programs. [complete article]

This torture started at the very top
By Ahdaf Soueif, The Guardian, May 5, 2004

... the photographs have confirmed people's belief that the US and Britain are not in Iraq as an act of goodwill. They have strengthened the feeling that there is a deep racism underlying the occupiers' attitudes to Arabs, Muslims and the third world generally.

It was only a matter of time. In the past year the world has seen photos of many Iraqis stripped with their wrists tied behind their backs with plastic cord. At first we could look into their eyes and bear witness to what was happening. Then they were bagged. At no point was there an outcry.

We have grown used to seeing Arab men bound and hooded, in the occupied territories and Gaza. Israel advises the US on how to control civilians and interrogate them. Ariel Sharon has made the Israeli army's "rules of engagement" available to the US military. The world notes the similarity between the practices of the US army in Iraq and those of the Israeli army in Palestine. There is evidence that scenes like the ones now shocking the world have been common in "Facility 1391" (Israel's secret prison), and some say in other jails. We just haven't seen the photos. [complete article]

Troops 'have been abusing Iraqis for a year'
By Marian Wilkinson, Sydney Morning Herald, May 5, 2004

At least four Iraqi detainees have died in British custody in the past year, one as a result of torture, says the human rights group Amnesty International, while the CIA admits it is investigating the death of a prisoner under interrogation. [complete article]

U.S. Army report on Iraqi prisoner abuse
By Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, NBC News, May 4, 2004

The following is the text of the Taguba report with only the names of some witnesses removed for the sake of privacy. The report was prepared by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba on alleged abuse of prisoners by members of the 800th Military Police Brigade at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Baghdad. It was ordered by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of Joint Task Force-7, the senior U.S. military official in Iraq, following persistent allegations of human rights abuses at the prison. [complete report]

Iraqi recounts hours of abuse by U.S. troops
By Ian Fisher, New York Times, May 5, 2004

The shame is so deep that Hayder Sabbar Abd says he feels that he cannot move back to his old neighborhood. He would prefer not even to stay in Iraq. But now the entire world has seen the pictures, which Mr. Abd looked at yet again on Tuesday, pointing out the key figures, starting with three American soldiers wearing big smiles for the camera. [complete article]

CIA may have had a role in hiding Iraqi prisoners
By Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times, May 5, 2004

The CIA is seeking to determine whether its operatives had a role in the imprisonment of so-called ghost detainees, Iraqi prisoners who were held without names, charges or other documentation at U.S.-run detention facilities across their homeland, intelligence officials said Tuesday.

A little-noticed portion of the military's classified report on the abuse of prisoners in Iraq says that a number of jails operated by the 800th Military Police Brigade "routinely held" such prisoners "without accounting for them, knowing their identities, or even the reason for their detention."

In one case, the report says, U.S. military police at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad shifted six to eight undocumented prisoners "around within the facility to hide them" from a visiting delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross. [complete article]

Prisoners from Abu Ghraib prison dropped off north of Baghdad
By Robert Moran, Knight Ridder, May 4, 2004

Scores of prisoners released from the controversial Abu Ghraib prison Tuesday were forced to take a winding, nearly five-hour journey through central Iraq on three hot, rickety buses escorted by U.S. military Humvees before being deposited without explanation in the middle of a gravel quarry near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. [complete article]

Lessons from Abu Ghraib
By Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor, May 5, 2004

The physical and mental abuses allegedly meted out by US guards at the infamous prison of Abu Ghraib were highly unprofessional - and probably unproductive as well, say intelligence experts.

Stressing prisoners prior to questioning is a relatively standard military interrogation practice. Methods can include some actions that might surprise civilians, such as lying to prisoners, covering their faces, and depriving them of some physical comforts.

But standard practice should never include the sadistic and humiliating treatment recently revealed in Iraq, intelligence experts say. Such abuses are only likely to harden prisoners or produce worthless information. "You don't learn anything if you torture people," says Arthur Hulnick, a 35-year veteran of the CIA and military intelligence who supervised the questioning of North Korean defectors. [complete article]

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EARLIER: Afghanistan: Abuses by U.S. forces
Human Rights Watch, March 8, 2004

U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan have arbitrarily detained civilians, used excessive force during arrests of non-combatants, and mistreated detainees, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

The United States is setting a terrible example in Afghanistan on detention practices. Civilians are being held in a legal black hole – with no tribunals, no legal counsel, no family visits and no basic legal protections.

Human Rights Watch concludes that the U.S.-administered system of arrest and detention in Afghanistan exists outside of the rule of law. The United States is maintaining separate detention facilities at Bagram, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Asadabad military bases.

"The United States is setting a terrible example in Afghanistan on detention practices," said Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "Civilians are being held in a legal black hole – with no tribunals, no legal counsel, no family visits and no basic legal protections." [complete article]

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How Ahmed Chalabi conned the neocons
By John Dizard, Salon, May 4, 2004

When the definitive history of the current Iraq war is finally written, wealthy exile Ahmed Chalabi will be among those judged most responsible for the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. More than a decade ago Chalabi teamed up with American neoconservatives to sell the war as the cornerstone of an energetic new policy to bring democracy to the Middle East -- and after 9/11, as the crucial antidote to global terrorism. It was Chalabi who provided crucial intelligence on Iraqi weaponry to justify the invasion, almost all of which turned out to be false, and laid out a rosy scenario about the country's readiness for an American strike against Saddam that led the nation's leaders to predict -- and apparently even believe -- that they would be greeted as liberators. Chalabi also promised his neoconservative patrons that as leader of Iraq he would make peace with Israel, an issue of vital importance to them. A year ago, Chalabi was riding high, after Saddam Hussein fell with even less trouble than expected.

Now his power is slipping away, and some of his old neoconservative allies -- whose own political survival is looking increasingly shaky as the U.S. occupation turns nightmarish -- are beginning to turn on him. The U.S. reversed its policy of excluding former Baathists from the Iraqi army -- a policy devised by Chalabi -- and Marine commanders even empowered former Republican Guard officers to run the pacification of Fallujah. Last week United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi delivered a devastating blow to Chalabi's future leadership hopes, recommending that the Iraqi Governing Council, of which he is finance chair, be accorded no governance role after the June 30 transition to sovereignty. Meanwhile, administration neoconservatives, once united behind Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress he founded, are now split, as new doubts about his long-stated commitment to a secular Iraqi democracy with ties to Israel, and fears that he is cozying up to his Shiite co-religionists in Iran, begin to emerge. At least one key Pentagon neocon is said to be on his way out, a casualty of the battle over Chalabi and the increasing chaos in Iraq, and others could follow. [complete article]

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Shiites from Najaf form counter-militia to attack al-Sadr's army
By Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Knight Ridder, May 4, 2004

Armed with a 9 mm handgun and grit, Haidar is trying to do what the American military camped nearby hasn't done: Drive the gunmen of Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr from this holy city.

Since mid-April, Haidar and scores of other young men from Najaf have gathered nightly in the city's sprawling cemetery to attack members of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. Only a few gunmen are targeted each time to prevent big firefights that might injure civilians, said Haidar, who spoke with Knight Ridder on the condition that his last name not be used.

"If we capture them and they swear on the holy Quran they will leave Najaf and never come back, we let them go," the 20-year-old furniture maker said. "If they resist, they are killed." [complete article]

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As long as the plan contains the magic term 'withdrawal', it is seen as a good thing
By Ilan Pappe, London Review of Books, May 6, 2004

The day after the assassination in Gaza of the Hamas leader, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, Yuval Steinitz was interviewed on Israeli radio. Steinitz is the Likud chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee in the Knesset. Before that he taught Western philosophy at the University of Haifa, where his epistemological world-view was shaped by romantic nationalists such as Gobineau and Fichte, who stressed purity of race as a precondition for national excellence. The translation of these European notions of racial superiority to Israel became evident as soon as the interviewer asked him about the government's plans for the remaining Palestinian leaders. Interviewer and interviewee giggled and agreed that the policy will be, as it should be, the assassination or expulsion of the entire current leadership: namely, all the members of the Palestinian Authority - about forty thousand people. 'I am so happy,' Steinitz said, 'that the Americans have finally come to their senses and are fully supporting our policies.'

On television, Benny Morris of Ben Gurion University repeated his support for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, claiming this as the best means of solving the conflict in Palestine. The New York Times and the New Republic were among the many stages on which Morris was invited to rehearse his views.

Opinions that used to be considered at best marginal, at worst lunatic, are now at the heart of the Israeli Jewish consensus, and disseminated by establishment academics on prime-time television as the only truth. Israel in 2004 is a paranoid society led by a fanatical political elite, determined to bring the conflict to an end by force and destruction, whatever the price to its society or its potential victims. Often this elite is supported only by the American administration, while the rest of the world watches helpless and bewildered. [complete article]

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Disrupting the zero-sum game between Palestinians and Israelis
By Serge Schmemann, New York Times, May 4, 2004

To its combatants, the Middle East conflict is often perceived as a zero-sum game. Each side thinks, We are the victims; they are the terrorists. When they strike, it is aggression; when we strike, it is just retaliation. To suggest that the other side also has just grievances and just demands becomes a denial of one's own suffering and claims.

Those with longer memories will recall the furious attacks on William Scranton when, as President Richard Nixon's envoy to the Middle East, he called for a more "evenhanded" American approach. It was as if Mr. Scranton had proposed that the United States abandon Israel. Henry Kissinger has described how Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister, told him she expected the United States to be evenhanded, as long as that meant total agreement with Israel.

Every diplomat who has served in the Middle East, and every reporter who has covered the conflict, myself included, knows well the depth of these feelings. When I wrote about a close call with a suicide bombing, Palestinian colleagues assailed me for playing to the Israeli side; when I wrote about the agony of life under occupation, I was criticized by Israelis. [complete article]

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In Sharon defeat, birth of new settler revolution?
By Bradley Burston, Haaretz, May 4, 2004

The State of Israel is a society created in the image of a dozen or more concurrent revolutions which, to this day, jockey for hearts, minds and power in the modern version of the biblical 12 tribes.

Among the revolutions were efforts to turn pale ultra-Orthodox Jewish scholar boys from Poland into brawny farmers in pre-state Palestine, or, more recently, turning drug-addled, Sabbath-flaunting Israeli juvenile delinquents into ultra-Orthodox Sephardi scholars.

Now, it appears that two movements - both fathered by a revolutionary named Ariel Sharon, the Likud and the settlement enterprise - may come together in a new synthesis, in effect a new revolution, spurred by a joint offensive that may ultimately spell the end of Sharon's career. [complete article]

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The stand
By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, May 5, 2004

For six months last year, Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia led his squad on countless missions through one of the most treacherous parts of Iraq in which to be a US soldier: the town of Ramadi in the Sunni triangle. He survived roadside bombs and mortars, ambushes, firefights and raids.

He cannot say for certain that no Iraqis died from were killed by his bullets. After leaving Iraq on a two-week furlough last October, the soldier from the Florida National Guard decided not to return to the war and went into hiding. When he surrendered to the military authorities in March, he became the first veteran from Iraq to challenge the morality of the war and proclaim himself a conscientious objector.

It was a dangerous choice. With resources stretched thin in Iraq, the US military is less inclined to grant discharges to conscientious objectors. To the army's way of thinking, Mejia is a deserter, even after giving himself up, and he will be tried as such. He is to face a special court martial later this month, and is meanwhile confined to the army base at Fort Stewart, Georgia.

"There comes a point when you have to realise there is a difference between being a soldier and being a human being," Mejia told the Guardian. He says he has no regrets over his decision, that he regards the war in Iraq as immoral and illegal. He also accuses military commanders of sacrificing the lives of US troops for vanity, provoking clashes with Iraqis in the hopes of running up their medal tally. [complete article]

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Saudis uneasily balance desires for change and stability
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, May 5, 2004

Saudis watching the newly introduced broadcasts of their country's Consultative Council a few months back were startled to discover the royal family's handpicked legislators discussing an almost comically minor problem: the theft of wood from the desert kingdom's forests.

There are, in fact, endangered trees in Saudi Arabia, but the country faces far greater ills that the council seems to studiously avoid. They include the increasing spasms of Islamic violence that for the first time last week singled out the oil industry, coming on top of an unemployment rate rising by 100,000 men a year and a growing impatience with the extravagant lives of the royal family.

The attack on Saturday at the nation's petrochemical hub, which killed five foreign engineers and a Saudi officer, increased tensions already high after a suicide bombing in the capital and deadly shootouts between Muslim militants and the police, all in the last month. [complete article]

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Report: U.S. anti-Muslim incidents up 70 pct in 2003
By Deborah Zabarenko, Reuters, May 3, 2004

Incidents of violence, discrimination and harassment against Muslims in the United States soared 70 percent in 2003 over the previous year, an Islamic civil rights group reported on Monday.

The war in Iraq and the lingering atmosphere of fear from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks contributed to the sharp rise in anti-Muslim activity, according to a report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Other factors included an increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric by some in government and the media, implementation of the USA Patriot Act -- which has been criticized as infringing on the constitutional right to privacy -- and increased reporting and documentation by members of the Muslim community, the report said.

"The disturbing jump in reports of anti-Muslim incidents is a wake-up call to those commentators who use their public positions to spread anti-Muslim hate," said the report's author, Mohamed Nimer. [complete article]

Comment -- Violence aimed at Muslims in America -- prisoners abused in Iraq -- three years of a relentless drumbeat about the threat to America from Islamic terrorists. Will Daniel Pipes, David Frum, Richard Perle, Pastor John Hagee, Rev Tim LaHaye or any of their neoconservative or Christian Zionist friends acknowledge that they have played an essential role in stirring up the hatred?

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Against the law of war
By Anthony Dworkin, The Guardian, May 4, 2004

At the root of all the problems with military detention in Iraq is the way that interrogation and intelligence gathering have become a dominant priority for US forces. Standard military procedures for the treatment of enemy soldiers do not allow any coercion to solicit information; under the law, captured prisoners of war must reveal only their name, rank and serial number. But when armies are fighting suspected terrorists, who are not entitled to the rights of PoWs, this blanket prohibition against pressuring captives to talk does not apply. It is standard doctrine among US interrogators that people are most likely to "break" if they are kept in conditions of dependency and vulnerability. Reinforced by the overriding objective of preventing future acts of terror, this approach naturally creates a climate where restrictions on the abuse and humiliation of captives can be skirted or openly flouted. [complete article]

U.S. sent specialists to train prison units
By Bradley Graham and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, May 4, 2004

Presented with reports of abusive behavior by U.S. military guards at Baghdad's main prison, the Army two months ago quietly dispatched to Iraq a team of about 25 military police experienced in running detention facilities to shore up training and supervision, Army officials said yesterday.

It was the first group of such specialists sent to Iraq since the invasion last year, the officials said. The move followed an internal Army investigation that found military police at the Abu Ghraib prison largely unprepared for their role as guards and accused them of grossly mistreating Iraqi detainees, the officials said. [complete article]

(Comment -- The most absurd feature of the Pentagon's current efforts in damage control is to suggest that what happened in Abu Ghraib can be attributed to lack of training and lack of knowledge about the Geneva conventions. Does the Pentagon intend to imply that a US soldier can only be expected to display a certain level of humanity only after he or she has received the required training?)

CIA inquiry into death of prisoner at notorious jail
By Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, May 4, 2004

The CIA's inspection team has launched an investigation into the death of an Iraqi prisoner at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison who died after being interrogated by US agents, it was revealed yesterday.

At the same time the Pentagon announced that seven more American soldiers have been reprimanded over the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners at the jail.

The CIA insists that none of its agents were involved in the abuse of prisoners. However, a spokesman admitted that an inquiry by the agency's Inspector General was under way. "One prisoner at that prison who we were talking to did die, and so there is an ongoing IG investigation about why did that guy die. But I don't have anything to connect us to the ugliness that went on there."

The announcement adds to a growing picture of widespread abuse at the prison ­ notorious during the rule of Saddam Hussein as a location for murder and torture of political prisoners. [complete article]

What about the other secret U.S. prisons?
By Reed Brody, International Herald Tribune, May 3, 2004

We must all, like President George W. Bush, share a "deep disgust" at the pictures of U.S. military personnel subjecting Iraqi detainees to humiliating treatment. The problem, however, is that this does not appear to be an isolated incident.

Across the world, the United States is holding detainees in offshore and foreign prisons where allegations of mistreatment cannot be monitored. It has also been accused of sending terror suspects to countries where information has been beaten out of them.

The classic case, of course, has been Guantanamo, Cuba, which the Bush administration deliberately chose as a detention facility for more than 700 detainees from 44 countries in an attempt to put them beyond the reach of the U.S. courts - and of any courts, for that matter. The U.S. government has argued that U.S. courts would not have jurisdiction over these detainees even if it they were being tortured or summarily executed.

But Guantanamo may not be the worst problem; indeed, it may even be a diversion from more extreme situations. Perhaps out of concern that Guantanamo will eventually be monitored by the U.S. courts, the Bush administration does not hold its most sensitive and high-profile detainees there. Terrorism suspects like Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed are detained instead in undisclosed locations outside the United States, with no access to Red Cross or other visits. [complete article]

U.S. officer says prison guards tried to cover up abuse of Iraqi prisoners
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, May 3, 2004

US prison guards and interrogators attempted to cover up the systematic abuse of Iraqi inmates from the international Red Cross according to a US general dismissed after evidence surfaced of torture at a jail near Baghdad.

The claims add weight to a growing body of evidence that the reports of torture at Abu Ghraib prison reflect a pattern of abuse which goes far beyond the six guards now facing possible court martial.

The former head of US military prisons in Iraq, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who was relieved of her command earlier this year, yesterday alleged that military intelligence officers discouraged her from entering the cell block at Abu Ghraib where they interrogated prisoners. They also went "to great lengths to try to exclude" the International Red Cross from their prison wing. [complete article]

Pentagon examined Iraq detention centers
By Robert Burns, Associated Press (via The State), May 4, 2004

The U.S. military did a "top-level review" last fall of how its detention centers in Iraq were run, months before commanders first were told about the sexual humiliation and abuse of Iraqis that has created an international uproar, a Pentagon official said.

Larry Di Rita, the top spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said Monday the review was done at the request of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the senior American commander in Iraq.

Di Rita did not say what prompted the review. He said it "drew certain conclusions," which later were taken into account by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who began an investigation on Jan. 31 focused on an unidentified soldier's report of prisoner mistreatment at Abu Ghraib prison. [complete article]

Iron law may have to bend
By Marian Wilkinson, Sydney Morning Herald, May 4, 2004

Leading military commanders in the United States are insisting there is no need for an independent investigation into the abuses that took place at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

President George Bush and every senior officer in the US Army has condemned the repulsive behaviour of the junior US military guards. Yet, despite months of cover-up by the military, they really believe an internal investigation will be acceptable to the Iraqis and the world.

It is an iron law of the Bush White House that in the so-called war on terror no outside body has the right to question the conduct of the US military and intelligence services.

For months, when Amnesty International complained of abuses of Iraqi and Afghan detainees, the US insisted that it could not even release the names of the thousands they had detained because they were dangerous, "terrorists" and "former regime elements".

"Trust us, we're Americans" was the reply whenever questions were raised about detainees dying in custody or being tortured. As General Myers repeated on Sunday: "We don't torture people . . . We stay inside the international law." [complete article]

Pressure has place in war, some say
By Jeff Barker, Baltimore Sun, May 3, 2004

The haunting picture of a hooded Iraqi prisoner standing on a box with wires attached to his hands who was told that he would be electrocuted if he stepped off has been broadcast around the world to considerable outrage.

But some military-trained interrogators say it can be perfectly permissible to deceive and intimidate a suspect during wartime to elicit vital information. And they fear a political overreaction that could curtail methods relied upon by the U.S. military for years to extract critical information about enemy plans.

"If putting some psychological pressure on someone saves the lives of 200 U.S. soldiers, then maybe that psychological pressure is OK," said Mike Ritz, a former Army interrogator and co-owner of Team Delta, a private, Pennsylvania-based program that runs interrogation workshops for law enforcement officers, who have to follow more stringent rules.

Ritz, who was trained at Fort Huachuca, an Army installation in Arizona, said military interrogators' means may surprise civilians or offend their sensibilities, but "this is war and interrogators aren't gentlemen. We are liars. And civilians might not understand that." [complete article]

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U.S. diplomats launch Bush attack
BBC News, May 4, 2004

Around 50 retired US diplomats have written to US President George Bush to complain about America's policy towards the Middle East.

The letter is similar to one written by 52 former British diplomats to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair last week.

The former US envoys complained that President Bush's approach is losing the US "credibility, prestige and friends".

They criticised what they say is Washington's unabashed support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. [complete article]

Read the US diplomats' letter to Bush.

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Editor-in-chief of U.S.-funded Iraqi newspaper quits, complaining of American control
By Lee Keath, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), May 3, 2004

The head of a U.S.-funded Iraqi newspaper quit and said Monday he was taking almost his entire staff with him because of American interference in the publication.

On a front-page editorial of the Al-Sabah newspaper, editor-in-chief Ismail Zayer said he and his staff were ''celebrating the end of a nightmare we have suffered from for months ... We want independence. They (the Americans) refuse.''

Al-Sabah was set up by U.S. officials with funding from the Pentagon soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein last year. Since its first issue in July, many Iraqis have considered it the mouthpiece of the U.S.-led coalition, along with the U.S.-funded television station Al-Iraqiya.

Zayer said almost the entire staff left the paper along with him and that they were launching a new paper called Al-Sabah Al-Jedid (''The New Morning''), which would begin publishing Tuesday. [complete article]

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Foreigners' role in Iraq insurgency small
By Jim Krane, Associated Press (via The Guardian), May 3, 2004

U.S. officials have for months publicly promoted the notion that foreign fighters and terrorists are playing a major role in the anti-American insurgency in Fallujah and the rest of Iraq.

By blaming foreigners, U.S. authorities hope to quash the idea that Iraqis are rising up against military occupation and frame the conflict as part of the wider war on terror. However, foreigners play a tiny role in Iraq's insurgency, many military experts say.

In Fallujah, U.S. military leaders say around 90 percent of the 1,000 or more fighters battling the Marines are Iraqis. To date, there have been no confirmed U.S. captures of foreign fighters in Fallujah - although a handful of suspects have been arrested.

Those who have spent time inside Fallujah have described a city consumed with the fight - fathers and sons fighting for the local mujahedeen and wives and daughters cooking and caring for the wounded.

"The whole city supports this jihad,'' said Houssam Ali Ahmed, 53, a Fallujah resident who fled to Baghdad when his neighborhood was caught in the fighting. "The people of Fallujah are fighting to defend their homes. We are Muslim mujahedeen fighting a holy war.''

Elsewhere in Iraq, U.S. military commanders say foreigners have an even smaller role in the insurgency. [complete article]

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Battlefield of dreams
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, May 4, 2004

Last November the top economist at the Heritage Foundation was very optimistic about Iraq, saying Paul Bremer had just replaced "Saddam's soak-the-rich tax system" with a flat tax. "Few Americans would want to trade places with the people of Iraq," wrote the economist, Daniel Mitchell. "But come tax time next April, they may begin to wonder who's better off." Even when he wrote that, the insurgency in Iraq was visibly boiling over; by "tax time" last month, the situation was truly desperate.

Much has been written about the damage done by foreign policy ideologues who ignored the realities of Iraq, imagining that they could use the country to prove the truth of their military and political doctrines. Less has been said about how dreams of making Iraq a showpiece for free trade, supply-side tax policy and privatization -- dreams that were equally oblivious to the country's realities -- undermined the chances for a successful transition to democracy.

A number of people, including Jay Garner, the first U.S. administrator of Iraq, think that the Bush administration shunned early elections, which might have given legitimacy to a transitional government, so it could impose economic policies that no elected Iraqi government would have approved. Indeed, over the past year the Coalition Provisional Authority has slashed tariffs, flattened taxes and thrown Iraqi industry wide open to foreign investors -- reinforcing the sense of many Iraqis that we came as occupiers, not liberators.

But it's the reliance on private contractors to carry out tasks usually performed by government workers that has really come back to haunt us. [complete article]

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Heroin boom in Afghanistan overwhelms border nations
By Mark McDonald, Knight Ridder, May 3, 2004

Heroin producers in Afghanistan, some of the principal financiers of al-Qaida and other terrorists, have never before been so brazen or so wealthy.

With a bumper crop of opium poppies under cultivation, Afghan narco-barons have begun stamping their brand names on the 2.2-pound bags of heroin they smuggle out of Central Asia to buyers in Moscow, Amsterdam, London and New York.

Sacks of high-quality Afghan heroin seized last week in Tajikistan carried the trademarks "Super Power" and "555." Some of the sacks, which were hidden inside foil-lined containers of instant cappuccino mix, even included the addresses of the labs in Afghanistan where the heroin had been refined.

A Western-led campaign against opium-growing and heroin laboratories has been a wholesale failure, and drug-control experts say the number of processing facilities in Afghanistan has exploded over the last year. The trade and huge sums of money involved threaten to undermine vulnerable bordering states such as Tajikistan.

"There's absolutely no threat to the labs inside Afghanistan," said Maj. Avaz Yuldashov of the Tajikistan Drug Control Agency. "Our intelligence shows there are 400 labs making heroin there, and 80 of them are situated right along our border. Some of them even work outside, in the open air."

Some 200,000 acres of opium poppies have been planted in Afghanistan - opium serves as the raw material of heroin - and the country's late-summer harvest will produce three-fourths of the world's heroin. That will mean further billions for growers, smugglers, corrupt officials and Afghan warlords. [complete article]

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Former human rights minister told Bremer about Iraq detainee abuse
Agence France Presse (via Yahoo), May 3, 2004

Former Iraqi human rights minister Abdel Basset Turki said US overseer Paul Bremer knew in November that Iraqi prisoners were being abused in US detention centres.

"In November I talked to Mr Bremer about human rights violations in general and in jails in particular. He listened but there was no answer. At the first meeting, I asked to be allowed to visit the security prisoners, but I failed," Turki told AFP on Monday.

"I told him the news. He didn't take care about the information I gave him." The coalition had no immediate comment about Turki's meeting with Bremer. [complete article]

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Iraqi prisoner details abuse by Americans
By Scheherezade Faramarzi, Associated Press (via Yahoo), May 2, 2004

Dhia al-Shweiri spent several stints in Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib prison, twice under Saddam Hussein's rule and once under American. He prefers Saddam's torture to the humiliation of being stripped naked by his American guards, he said Sunday in an interview with The Associated Press.

America's top general, Gen. Richard Myers, said Sunday there was no evidence of "systematic abuse" and the actions of "just a handful" have unfairly tainted all American forces.

However, Amnesty International said it has uncovered a "pattern of torture" of Iraqi prisoners by coalition troops, and called for an independent investigation into the claims of abuse.

The 30-year-old al-Shweiri, who used to work in a fabric shop, is a die-hard fighter in the al-Mahdi Army, the fanatic militia of a Shiite Muslim cleric who has vowed to take on the Americans.

Al-Shweiri said that while jailed by Saddam's regime, he was electrocuted, beaten and hung from the ceiling with his hands tied behind his back.

"But that's better than the humiliation of being stripped naked," he said. "Shoot me here," he added, pointing between his eyes, "but don't do this to us." [complete article]

Torture commonplace, say inmates' families
By Luke Harding, The Guardian, May 3, 2004

For the families standing in the dusty car park of Abu Ghraib prison yesterday, the revelations of torture and abuse came as no surprise. Every morning, relatives of Iraqi detainees inside the US prison, just west of Baghdad, gather in the hope that their loved ones might be released. They rarely are.

The photos of US soldiers abusing and humiliating Iraqi detainees may have provoked outrage across the world. But for Hiyam Abbas they merely confirmed what she already knew - that US guards had tortured her 22-year-old son Hassan.

Breaking down in tears, Mrs Abbas said US guards had refused to let her in. She had so far only managed to see Hassan once - two months ago - following his arrest last November.

"He told me: 'Mum, they are taking our clothes off. We are nude all the time. They are getting dogs to smell our arses. They are also beating us with cables.'

"It's completely humiliating," Mrs Abbas said. "My son is sick and suffering from hypertension. During the interview the American soldiers were standing so close to us. My son was crying."

Her son had been detained in the Baghdad suburb of Al-Dora, after a gang broke into their house. What did she think of the Americans now?

"They are rubbish," she said. "Saddam Hussein may have oppressed us but he was better than the Americans. They are garbage." [complete article]

To Arabs, photos confirm brutal U.S.
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, May 3, 2004

Nour Dandash stares with pursed lips at the photograph of naked and hooded Iraqi detainees piled in a heap before two laughing American soldiers.

"It's sick, horrible, disgusting," says the 17-year-old Lebanese student.

"The Americans say they went into Iraq to stop these abuses. But now they're doing exactly the same thing as Saddam Hussein."

That is a typical reaction here to the graphic picture and several others like it taken by American soldiers guarding Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad.

But to some extent the impact of the pictures has been blunted, as many Arabs say they expect no less from the United States given the widely held view that it is running a brutal and oppressive occupation in Iraq.

"Will the pictures make a difference in the Arab world? Probably not," says Michael Young, a Lebanese political analyst. "It simply confirms what people already think about the Americans. But it will be embarrassing for the Americans in Iraq, and that's where it's going to count." [complete article]

Rough justice in Iraq
By Rod Nordland and John Barry, Newsweek, May 10, 2004

Practically everyone involved in the Abu Ghurayb investigation insists that what happened there was an aberration, the work of what Coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt calls "a very small minority of the hundreds and hundreds of guards." Nevertheless, Amnesty International reported as early as last July that former detainees in Iraq said they suffered beatings, prolonged sleep deprivation or deafening noise while in U.S. custody. Others have since told similar stories to Newsweek. Akeel Hassan, 31, was detained last June and later moved to Abu Ghurayb, where criminals freely walked from cell to cell, threatening other inmates, he says. One day a gang from Nasiriya tried to rape a detainee, and a fight erupted. U.S. guards punished everyone by making them sit naked, motionless, for six hours. When Hassan, wracked with diarrhea, tried to remove the sack covering his face, "a female soldier grabbed my head and smashed it against a wall." Detainees rioted in December to protest prison conditions. Hassan says, "The Americans opened fire on us. One person was shot dead." Hassan was freed April 7 -- without ever being questioned. [complete article]

Above law, above decency
By P.W. Singer, Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2004

The recent reports of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners during interrogations are both horrifying and depressing. Fortunately, there is a clear and proper legal response. Those accused will be court-martialed and, if found guilty, they will be punished.

But the story, sadly, does not end there. It now appears that this deeply disturbing episode -- in which Iraqi prisoners were beaten, sexually assaulted and forced to perform simulated sexual acts, among other things -- may have involved not only soldiers but also private contractors hired as interrogators.

That private contractors are interrogators in U.S. prison camps in Iraq should be stunning enough. This is incredibly sensitive work and takes our experiment with the boundaries of military outsourcing to levels never anticipated. But even more outrageous is the fact that gaps in the law may have given them a free pass so that it could be impossible to prosecute them for alleged criminal behavior. [complete article]

The U.S. has lost the battle of the photographs
By Juan Cole, TomDispatch, May 2, 2004

The problem of war images from Iraq alienating the Iraqi and Arab publics dogged the Bush administration right from the time it launched the war in March of 2003. Arab newspapers put graphic pictures of injured and maimed Iraqi children, innocent victims of the fighting, on their front pages and the enormously popular satellite television stations also displayed them. U.S. news networks and newspapers chose not to print such photographs, with the result that Arabs have been seeing a different war than Americans all along.

The Americans have never known enough about Iraqi or Arab culture to play the game in reverse, and their attempts to do so have often backfired. On April 28, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld triumphantly held up at a news conference a photograph of armed young men inside the shrine of Imam Ali in the Shiite holy city of Najaf. He wanted to prove that the shrine did not deserve to be a sanctuary, since it was being used for military purposes.

But there are no circumstances under which the Muslim world would accept a U.S. military assault on downtown Najaf that involved firefights in or damage to the shrine of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. An Iraqi public might wince at the sight of AK-47 machine guns in a holy place, but many would also see the image as one of dedicated young Muslims willing to fight a holy war to protect their sacred space against infidel encroachments. For them, Rumsfeld's photograph is not so much incriminating as it is a matter of pride. [complete article]

Report on abuse faults 2 officers in intelligence
By James Risen, New York Times, May 3, 2004

An internal Army investigation has found a virtual collapse of the command structure in a prison outside Baghdad where American enlisted personnel are accused of committing acts of abuse and humiliation against Iraqi detainees.

A report on the investigation said midlevel military intelligence officers were allowed to skirt the normal chain of command to issue questionable orders to enlisted personnel from the reserve military police unit handling guard duty there.

The Army has already begun one investigation into the abuse allegations. Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, the incoming deputy commander of Army intelligence, is examining the interrogation practices of military intelligence officers at all American-run prisons in Iraq and not just the Abu Ghraib prison.

A second review was ordered Saturday by Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, head of the Army Reserve, to assess the training of all reservists, especially military police and intelligence officers, the soldiers most likely to handle prisoners. Six members of an Army Reserve military police unit assigned to Abu Ghraib face charges of assault, cruelty, indecent acts and maltreatment of detainees. [complete article]

Excerpts from prison inquiry
Los Angeles Times, May 3, 2004

I find that the intentional abuse of detainees by military police personnel included the following acts:

-- Punching, slapping and kicking detainees; jumping on their naked feet.

-- Videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees.

-- Forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing.

-- Forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time.

-- Forcing naked male detainees to wear women's underwear.

-- Forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped.

-- Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and then jumping on them.

-- Positioning a naked detainee on a box [of meals ready to eat], with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes and penis to simulate electric torture.

-- Writing "I am a Rapest" (sic) on the leg of a detainee alleged to have forcibly raped a 15-year-old fellow detainee, and then photographing him naked.

-- Placing a dog chain or strap around a naked detainee's neck and having a female soldier pose for a picture.

-- A male MP [military police] guard having sex with a female detainee.

-- Using military working dogs (without muzzles) to intimidate and frighten detainees, and in at least one case biting and severely injuring a detainee.

-- Taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees. [complete article]

Report on Iraqi prison found 'systemic and illegal abuse'
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, May 3, 2004

In late August and early September, 2003, a team from the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, visited Iraq to see whether it could help U.S. forces there obtain better information from detainees. That team was overseen by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, commander at Guantanamo.

Among its recommendations were that military police guards act as "an enabler for interrogation," Taguba's report found. But Taguba questioned whether Iraqi detainees should be treated similarly to Al Qaeda suspects in Guantanamo.

"There is a strong argument that the intelligence value of detainees held at [Guantanamo] is different than that of the detainees/internees held at Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities in Iraq," he wrote. [complete article]

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Iraqi general refuses to give up Falluja fighters
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, May 3, 2004

The Iraqi general chosen to run a new security force in Falluja yesterday distanced himself from the US military by refusing American demands to give up foreign fighters supposedly hiding in the city.

As a flood of civilians returned home after four weeks of a ferocious assault on the city by American marines, Major General Jasim Mohammed Saleh said the US had provoked a backlash from ordinary Iraqis.

"The reasons for the resistance go back to the American provocations, the raids and abolishing the army, which made Iraqis join the resistance," he said.

American commanders say 200 foreign fighters are holed up in Falluja and have demanded that the city hands them over. But Gen Saleh, an ex-Republican Guard officer who has been mooted to run a 1,000-strong local security force, has refused. "There are no foreign fighters in Falluja and the local tribal leaders have told me the same," he said. [complete article]

On or off? Odd U.S. alliance with an ex-Hussein general
By John Kifner, New York Times, May 3, 2004

A little over a week ago, 7,000 marines backed by artillery, tanks and deadly AC-130 gunships were poised for an all-out attack to rid this city of a stubborn insurgency, including an estimated force of several hundred foreign fighters.

Instead, apparently at the behest of political leaders and top commanders concerned about the consequences of such an assault on a town of 300,000 people, the marines entered an odd alliance with a former commander of the feared Republican Guard and his somewhat amorphous army. The marines' hope is to put an Iraqi face on control over the city that has become an Arab symbol of resistance to the occupation.

But just how muddled the situation has become was underlined Sunday when the general chosen by the Americans, Jasim Muhammad Saleh, declared that no foreign fighters were in the city after all.

"There are no foreign fighters in Falluja, and the local tribal leaders have told me the same," he told the Reuters news agency.

The situation became even more confused when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, went on Sunday morning television talk shows to say that General Saleh would not be in charge of the Iraqi force. [complete article]

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Gamble on Sharon goes awry for Bush
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, May 3, 2004

President Bush took a huge diplomatic gamble two weeks ago when he forcefully embraced Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza and handed Israel key concessions on a final peace deal. The backlash in Arab and European countries was especially intense, but administration officials argued Sharon's plan carried the seeds of a breakthrough in the stalled peace process.

Now, the Likud Party's overwhelming rejection of that plan has left the administration's credibility in the Middle East in tatters. The tilt toward Israel will not soon be forgotten by the Arab world, but it will be harder for the administration to claim that Bush's support of Sharon has made a difference. Moreover, the Likud vote comes when the image of the United States is already greatly damaged by accounts of psychological and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners by some U.S. soldiers.

"The real objective of giving Sharon the blank check he left with was to shore up his political support at home," said a State Department official speaking on the condition of anonymity. "We paid a very high price and did not get a return." [complete article]

The price for peace that Israel is unwilling to pay
By Max Hastings, The Guardian, May 3, 2004

God has been misappropriated for many purposes in many lands over the centuries, but seldom in such a bad cause as that of the Jewish settlers of occupied Gaza and the West Bank. Yesterday, they enjoyed a political triumph. It was their ferocious lobbying that persuaded the ruling Israeli Likud party to reject, in its referendum, Ariel Sharon's proposal to "disengage" from Gaza.

Sharon intends to take his plan to the Knesset anyway. But the Likud vote makes it plain that the Israeli right - including the likely next prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu - remain opposed to any significant retreat from Israel's empire on Palestinian lands, which the settlers claim as theirs by biblical right.

Sharon, the arch-hawk, intends to withdraw from Gaza. Why? Because even the most ardent Israeli conservatives recognise the demographic problem their country faces. In a few years, Jews in Israel and the occupied lands will be outnumbered by Arabs.

The response of many Likud members to this problem is to create an apartheid state, in which Palestinians have no political rights. Even the Bush administration could not swallow that. Sharon's answer, instead, is to saw off the branch supporting the 1.2 million Palestinians of Gaza. Israel will then be in a position to maintain its grip on much of the West Bank and its 2 million Palestinians, and to maintain the settlement programmes there, which already provide homes for 230,000 Jews.

Likud members have now rejected this proposal, because it is not tough enough. They have bowed to the urgings of fanatics in the settlement movement, who will envision no significant withdrawal whatever from occupied territory. They have a mandate, they say, from God. [complete article]

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Foreign fighters snub Pakistan's olive branch
By Gretchen Peters, Christian Science Monitor, May 3, 2004

Suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban militants hiding out in this country's semiautonomous tribal belt have ignored an April 30 deadline for foreigners to register with the government and lay down their arms.

Pakistani authorities this weekend quietly extended the amnesty offer, expressing hope that an extra seven days would convince the militants to live in harmony with the federal government here, and to cease attacking US troops over the Afghan border. Officials also encouraged local tribal leaders to vouch for the safety of those foreigners who cooperate.

"This has been a farce from the start," says Ahmed Rashid, author of The Taliban. "I think it won't be long before we see some action from the Americans on this." [complete article]

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Ever since George Bush launched his war on terror and defined it in terms that fuse together a moral crusade and a vigilante, it was clear that he had opened that door to political oppression. Fears about human rights violations have consistently been overshadowed by the global menace of terrorism. Killings, such as those described below, are treated as an aberration - a minor detail that will do little to undermine the faith of those who are the self-appointed defenders of civilization.

Macedonia charges ex-official in staging of anti-terror killings
By Nicholas Wood, New York Times, May 1, 2004

Macedonia charged its former minister of the interior on Friday with staging the killing of seven South Asian migrants two years ago, in an attempt to show the United States that the government was actively supporting the campaign against terror.

The minister, Ljube Boskovksi, was accused with three senior police commanders of ordering the murder of six Pakistanis and an Indian close to the capital, Skopje, in March 2002. Two other police officers and a businessman have also been charged.

The killings were described recently by senior Western diplomats as a crude attempt by the government to win a free hand to deal harshly with Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority, which had won major civil rights concessions from the government after a 2001 conflict. [complete article]

New twist in "terrorist" shooting saga
By Saso Ordanoski, Institute of War and Peace Reporting, June 12, 2002

Macedonia's media have questioned official accounts of the killing of seven men shot dead by police earlier this year on the outskirts of Skopje.

Police said the men, six from Pakistan and one from India, planned attacks on Western embassies in the Macedonian capital. They said bags containing uniforms of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, and weapons were found with the "mujahedin" fighters.

Media suspicions were aroused by the fact that the interior ministry altered its version of events several times.

Initially, the ministry said police intercepted the seven men in a van. It later withdrew all mention of a van and said the group of seven opened fire on a police patrol from a two-door jeep. TV pictures showed a jeep whose windscreen had two bullet holes.

The latest official version of the March 2 incident said police knew the group was coming and ambushed them, thus explaining why none of the police sustained any injuries.

One Western diplomat who was permitted to view the corpses said they were riddled with dozens of bullets. But none of the bags containing KLA uniforms that police said they found with the men had holes in them. [complete article]

Macedonia's 'mujahideen' - immigrants or terrorists?
By Nicholas Wood, BBC News, March 20, 2002

When Macedonian police shot dead seven men earlier this month it was claimed a new front had opened up in the war on terrorism. [...]

Four policemen in a two-door jeep had come across the men on patrol. A shoot-out followed, in which all the men were killed.

"It is a coincidence that we don't have any victims on our side", said Mr Boskovski.

Factory-clean weapons and a bag of neatly pressed uniforms bearing the initials of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army, were put on display as proof of the men's terrorist connections.

The week that followed saw a flurry of interest in the United States as one newspaper reported, "a murky front in the war against terrorism" had opened up. [complete article]

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'We won': Fallujah rejoices in withdrawal
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Naseer Nouri, Washington Post, May 2, 2004

Covering their faces with checkered head scarves, militiamen loyal to a former Iraqi army general jubilantly took to the streets of this battle-scarred city Saturday to celebrate what they called a triumph over withdrawing U.S. Marines.

As the militiamen drove through Fallujah in trucks and congregated on deserted street corners, residents flashed V-for-victory signs and mosques broadcast celebratory messages proclaiming triumph over the Americans.

Although the militiamen were scheduled to take over checkpoints and patrol duties from Marine units Friday, many of those tasks appeared to go unfulfilled Saturday. Several of the militiamen, clad in street clothes and toting battered AK-47 rifles, said they were still waiting for orders from their commanders. But as they waited, many said their first priority was to rejoice.

"We won," said one of the militiamen, a former soldier who gave his name only as Abu Abdullah, meaning the father of Abdullah. "We didn't want the Americans to enter the city and we succeeded." [complete article]

'We've had a lot of experience of U.S. weapons'
By Patrick Graham, The Observer, May 2, 2004

Standing at the open slit trench, one of five in Falluja's newest cemetery, Mustafa asks: 'Would they do this in New York or California?'

A sign nearby reads 'The Olympiads, Champions of Champions', the motto of Falluja's football team. This was their stadium, rows of cinderblock seats overlooking a dusty field. Beside one of the 50-yard trenches, sit a pair of Sunshine high-top sneakers, heavy with rotting blood and flies.

Fresh red paint on slabs of cement portray the city's recent history. 'Martyr, unknown, only bones', reads one grave marker. Another 'Martyr, unknown, White Opal license 31297, Baghdad, Iraq,' and in the same grave 'Shahida [female martyr], headless, found beside Saad Mosque.'

'All these people were killed because of four dead American soldiers,' says Mustafa before ducking into a corridor to a smaller enclosure behind the field. This was the original makeshift cemetery before the dead overflowed into the football pitch - we lose count after 100. [complete article]

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Officer suggests Iraq jail abuse was encouraged
By Philip Shenon, New York Times, May 2, 2004

An Army Reserve general whose soldiers were photographed as they abused Iraqi prisoners said Saturday that she knew nothing about the abuse until weeks after it occurred and that she was "sickened" by the pictures. She said the prison cellblock where the abuse occurred was under the tight control of Army military intelligence officers who may have encouraged the abuse.

The suggestion by Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski that the reservists acted at the behest of military intelligence officers appears largely supported in a still-classified Army report on prison conditions in Iraq that documented many of the worst abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad, including the sexual humiliation of prisoners. [complete article]

Warnings of abuse in Iraq's prisons that were ignored
By Peter Beaumont, Kahall Ahmed, Edward Helmore and Jason Burke, The Observer, May 2, 2004

The vast British base at the international airport on the outskirts of Basra is a curiously quiet place. In the arrivals hall - with its little coffee bar - the desert boots of British soldiers squeak across the floor. Go up to the first floor and the officers will tell, with a slightly patronising air, how the British Army is doing things differently here in the south. They will tell you about their unique experience, about lessons learnt in Northern Ireland, compared with the ill-trained US forces in the north.

By yesterday those reassurances sounded increasingly hollow as pictures of British soldiers - allegedly members of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment - were published yesterday apparently showing them beating an Iraqi detainee and urinating on him during an eight-hour long assault last year. It was the second set of photographs to emerge in two days, after US soldiers in the north were shown abusing detainees.

Suddenly the two major Allies have been tarred with the same awful brush - charged with beating and abusing Iraqis in their care. After weeks of bad news from Iraq the pictures have threatened to explode the fragile and contentious legitimacy of UK operations in Iraq. [complete article]

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Double blow to Mideast democracy
By Shibley Telhami, Washington Post, May 1, 2004

Events in Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have dealt a fatal blow to the Bush administration's plans for Middle East reform even before they are formally unveiled. These events may come to symbolize the end of democracy as a serious policy objective in the Middle East.

Certainly the painful pictures from Iraq a year after the war -- including humiliating scenes of abused Iraqi prisoners -- have turned that country into a model to be feared and avoided in the eyes of many in the Middle East, and a tool in the hands of governments reluctant to change. It is a far cry from the anticipated model of inspiration the administration promised would spur demands for democracy in the Arab world. [complete article]

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Spy world success story
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, May 2, 2004

"INR," [the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research] ... has just 305 analysts. That's a fifth of the 1,500-plus at the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence and about a tenth of the 3,000 or so at the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency.

Many proposals for reforming the intelligence community after its failures concerning the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Iraq have argued that in the spy world, bigger is better: more people, broader responsibility, greater interagency coordination.

But INR's success story suggests that small is sometimes beautiful. Because it is little, INR tries to maintain an elite reputation. And because it is intimately connected with State Department policymakers, it never loses sight of what the consumers of intelligence actually want: sound judgment. [complete article]

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Pro-choice, pro-terrorist?
By Ellen Goodman, Washington Post, May 1, 2004

Is it possible that Karen Hughes is getting a little rusty?

When she was the full-time communications director for the White House, Hughes was regarded as the supreme spinner. Reporters actually got dizzy watching her pirouette.

But now the spin is looking more like a tailspin. On a day when nearly a million women and men filled the Mall in Washington for the March for Women's Lives, she drew a comparison between being pro-life and anti-terrorist or, conversely, pro-choice and pro-terrorist. [complete article]

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The power of a peace candidate
By Jackson Diehl, Washington Post, May 2, 2004

When Ralph Nader announced his independent candidacy for president in February, he claimed his chief target would be "the giant corporation in the White House . . . George W. Bush." Two months later, a more plausible agenda is beginning to emerge. The adversary is not Bush but John F. Kerry; the main subject is not corporate greed but Iraq. And, contrary to the conventional wisdom of win- ter, Nader may be poised for a hot summer.

In February it looked as if Iraq might not be a central issue in the fall campaign. U.S casualties hit a postwar low that month, Iraqis signed a transitional constitution, and Bush and Kerry seemed to agree on the goal of establishing a democracy. Nader, according even to old friends, seemed to have no reason for his campaign other than vanity.

By two weeks ago, when Nader met Washington political reporters at a breakfast, all that had changed. Twice as many American soldiers had died during the previous week in Iraq as during the entire month of February. Support for the war was dropping quickly in polls, but Kerry and Bush still mostly agreed on staying the course. And Nader had prepared a new pitch: The United States should pull all of its troops, civilian contractors and companies out of Iraq within six months. [complete article]

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Calculating the politics of catastrophe
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, May 2, 2004

It is the nightmarish, unpredictable event that both the Bush and Kerry campaigns obsess about in private, yet rarely discuss in public. How would another terror attack before the presidential election, even one that proves a pale shadow of Sept. 11, affect the way voters view the president or his challenger?

It is an unanswerable question, of course, which naturally makes it ripe for endless Washington dinner-party talk. It is probably too speculative for serious polling. Yet that does not mean the planning has not started. Mr. Bush has begun to talk about the possibility in public, perhaps to brace the country for the worst, perhaps to begin the political inoculation if domestic defenses fail.

Asked at a newspaper editors' convention here 10 days ago about surveys showing that two-thirds of Americans believe terror will strike the United States in the near future, he said: ''Well, I can understand why they think they're going to get hit again. They saw what happened in Madrid.'' [complete article]

Comment -- Analyses of national security threats frequently focus on the capabilities of the enemy rather than the enemy's intentions. (The article above is no exception.) Consideration of the possibility of Iran or North Korea targeting nuclear weapons at the United States is raised above a more compelling question: Why would they do that? Likewise, the possibility of a pre-election terrorist attack on America is considered more carefully than is the range of motives that could precipitate such an attack. Everyone ducks the "why?" questions because they imply the possibility of a rational relationship between what "we" do and what "they" do.

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Iraq's future: Dreams and nightmares
By Herbert Docena, Asia Times, April 30, 2004
... while anti-occupation sentiment runs deep, the Iraqis are in general unprepared for another long war. They neither have the resources to jump into a long-running confrontation with the world's only superpower; a widely accepted political leadership to lead it; nor the organizational structures to sustain it. This does not mean they won't, especially if the US keeps pushing. But the act of resistance itself will be carrying with it its own dynamic. Having emerged from three decades of repression and fragmentation, it has not been and will still not be easy building consensus among the various disconnected political forces fighting the US. Despite this, efforts to build a united front and a political leadership are expected to intensify. But still, as one former colonel who took part in an uprising against Saddam in the 1990s and who is now spearheading efforts to build a broad coalition pushing for a political process independent from the US: "We want to fight the US at a time of our choosing." That is precisely what the US wants to forestall. The idea is to catch them while they're not ready, to make them use their bullets now, throw their grenades, and fire their mortars now so that they will have nothing later. "If we do not address these elements and these individuals and these organizations now," explained Senor, "we will rue the day because these organizations, these militia will rise up again another day and it is better to deal with them now than after June 30." The aim is to draw the lines. The current uprising is now forcing Iraqi political forces to choose sides before the day of reckoning comes. On the one hand, they may be unwilling to take on the might of the US. But on the other, they wouldn't also want to totally lose legitimacy later if the resistance prevails. Unfortunately for the US, as the strength, spread and spontaneity of the resistance suggest, many Iraqis are taking a gamble on history and supporting the resistance.

Remember Falluja
By Orit Shohat, Haaretz, April 28, 2004
During the first two weeks of this month, the American army committed war crimes in Falluja on a scale unprecedented for this war. According to the relatively few media reports of what took place there, some 600 Iraqis were killed during these two weeks, among them some 450 elderly people, women and children. The sight of decapitated children, the rows of dead women and the shocking pictures of the soccer stadium that was turned into a temporary grave for hundreds of the slain - all were broadcast to the world only by the Al Jazeera network. During the operation in Falluja, according to the organization Doctors Without Borders, U.S. Marines even occupied the hospitals and prevented hundreds of the wounded from receiving medical treatment. Snipers fired from the rooftops at anyone who tried to approach. This was a retaliatory operation, carried out by the Marines, accompanied by F-16 fighter planes and assault helicopters, under the code name "Vigilant Resolve." It was revenge for the killing of four American security guards on March 31. But while the killing of the guards, whose bodies were dragged through the streets of the city and then hung from a bridge, received wide media coverage, and thus prepared hearts and minds for the military revenge, the hundreds of victims of the American retaliation were practically a military secret.

The Muslim renovatio and U.S. strategy
By Michael Vlahos, Tech Central Station, April 27, 2004
For two years and more this war has had only two definitions. Think of them as working models to explain what is going on, and thus, frameworks for strategy and policy. However each, in fundamental ways, is wrong. Most Americans, and their president, subscribe to the explanatory model of "terrorism." The terrorism model describes the enemy as small groups that are marginal in their own world - generally accepted at this point as the Muslim World. They may have political objectives but within their own societies they are considered no more than criminal. They can thus be addressed as criminals through eradication. However, their persistence suggests that broader societal ills are responsible for their emergence. Thus, encouraging democratic reform within societies that produce terrorism is indicated. Others in contrast describe a Muslim "civil war." This explanatory model says that terrorism is the expression of a broad struggle within Islam between moderates and radicals. Radicals have chosen the path of violence - hence, terrorism - while moderates, including most governments in the Muslim World, would prefer to pursue political contention peacefully. Thus the US should oppose "Radical Islam" generally and support moderate Muslim regimes. This model by implication suggests that US strategy cannot merely encourage, but must insist upon the adoption of Western civic values in order to successfully defeat the vision of Radical Islam. But there is a third explanatory model, and it exposes what is wrong with the two prevailing frameworks. This model describes neither terrorism nor civil war, but rather a "world-historical" movement of Islamic revival. Terrorism in this reality-framework is an expression neither of criminal evil nor of an evil vision. Rather, violent radical elements are only a small part of a much broader movement for Islamic restoration, or in the traditional sense inherited from Late Antiquity, of renovatio.

Dubious threat, expensive defense
By Jackson Diehl, Washington Post, April 26, 2004
By now it's common knowledge that before Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration's attention was focused not on terrorism but on other national security priorities -- most notably missile defense. The administration's more reasonable defenders argue that this was a forgivable miscalculation, and that after al Qaeda's attack on New York and Washington, President Bush utterly remade his agenda. Only he didn't -- at least not in one large respect. The president may have declared war on terrorism and launched invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. But for the past 21/2 years, his Pentagon has quietly but implacably persisted in pursuing, without alteration, the previous No. 1 mission. The result is a breakneck, hugely expensive and quite risky attempt to build and activate a national missile defense before the November election.

Sadr the agitator: like father, like son
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, April 27, 2004
Sadr enters the mosque at Kufa where he's led Friday prayers for nearly a year denouncing the authorities and warning of an "imperialist" conspiracy against Iraq's majority Shiites. The thousands fill the vast open courtyard, chanting the name of their hero when he strides through the gate, and they take up his call during the sermon. "No, no to America! No, no to Israel! No, no to imperialism!" In Baghdad, the authorities worry about how to handle this militant cleric, his rising profile and his willingness to flex the street muscle he's built up in Iraq's slums. But the Sadr in question is not Moqtada, the young cleric whose gunmen now occupy Kufa and the neighboring shrine city of Najaf. Instead, the year is 1998 and the man leading the prayers is Ayatollah Mohammed Sadek Al-Sadr, Moqtada's father. While Moqtada's religious credentials are weak, his family's political standing is as deep as the modern history of Iraq. His grandfather was the prime minister in 1932. And this young, militant cleric didn't spontaneously emerge after the fall of Saddam Hussein. US forces now entering the city of Najaf, are up against a man who has donned the well-cultivated mantle of his father, the leading Shiite thorn in the side of the Hussein regime in the 1990s.

The lasting wounds of war
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, April 27, 2004
While attention remains riveted on the rising count of Americans killed in action -- more than 100 so far in April -- doctors at the main combat support hospital in Iraq are reeling from a stream of young soldiers with wounds so devastating that they probably would have been fatal in any previous war. More and more in Iraq, combat surgeons say, the wounds involve severe damage to the head and eyes -- injuries that leave soldiers brain damaged or blind, or both, and the doctors who see them first struggling against despair. For months the gravest wounds have been caused by roadside bombs -- improvised explosives that negate the protection of Kevlar helmets by blowing shrapnel and dirt upward into the face. In addition, firefights with guerrillas have surged recently, causing a sharp rise in gunshot wounds to the only vital area not protected by body armor.

Great foreign aid puzzles
By Tim Colebatch, The Age, April 27, 2004
James Wolfensohn is puzzled. Why, he asks, do governments spend $1250 billion a year to defend themselves against potential enemies, yet just $80 billion a year in development aid so that other countries become partners, not enemies? Wolfensohn sounds not just puzzled, but a bit frazzled. In nine years as head of the World Bank he has travelled the world endlessly, cajoling, persuading, arguing and pleading with ministers to re-order priorities, to lift foreign aid, and create a world in which countries no longer need to spend $1250 billion a year to feel secure.

War in Iraq aims a bullet at the heart of the economy
By James K. Galbraith, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2004
However badly the war is going in Iraq, on the home front it is still a good thing for George Bush -- so far. A year ago, the push to Baghdad doubled the economic growth rate and got a recovery started. Now, the literally untold billions in military payrolls and equipment purchases that keep the war going also help to propel our economy along. This is normal. All wars bring cheerful economic news at first. They stimulate production. They raise capacity utilization, which helps business cover costs and improve earnings. This is good for the stock market. Wars create jobs and also usually draw young men and women away from the labor force, cutting unemployment. (So far, this war has been fought by a handful of overstretched professional soldiers, so the job effects have been small. That could change, especially if the draft is resurrected, as some would like.) But the good news doesn't last. Soon enough, profiteers see their chances. Bottlenecks happen. Prices go up. Long before unemployment disappears, wars generate inflation. Indeed, inflation -- and the depreciation of private wealth and public debt that it brings -- is the ages-old way in which governments pay for war.

Our hidden WMD program
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, April 23, 2004
The budget is busted; American soldiers need more armor; they're running out of supplies. Yet the Department of Energy is spending an astonishing $6.5 billion on nuclear weapons this year, and President Bush is requesting $6.8 billion more for next year and a total of $30 billion over the following four years. This does not include his much-cherished missile-defense program, by the way. This is simply for the maintenance, modernization, development, and production of nuclear bombs and warheads. Measured in "real dollars" (that is, adjusting for inflation), this year's spending on nuclear activities is equal to what Ronald Reagan spent at the height of the U.S.-Soviet standoff. It exceeds by over 50 percent the average annual sum ($4.2 billion) that the United States spent -- again, in real dollars -- throughout the four and a half decades of the Cold War. There is no nuclear arms race going on now. The world no longer offers many suitable nuclear targets. President Bush is trying to persuade other nations -- especially "rogue regimes" -- to forgo their nuclear ambitions. Yet he is shoveling money to U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories as if the Soviet Union still existed and the Cold War still raged.

Think again: Al Qaeda
By Jason Burke, Foreign Policy, April, 2004
Although bin Laden and his partners were able to create a structure in Afghanistan that attracted new recruits and forged links among preexisting Islamic militant groups, they never created a coherent terrorist network in the way commonly conceived. Instead, al Qaeda functioned like a venture capital firm -- providing funding, contacts, and expert advice to many different militant groups and individuals from all over the Islamic world. Today, the structure that was built in Afghanistan has been destroyed, and bin Laden and his associates have scattered or been arrested or killed. There is no longer a central hub for Islamic militancy. But the al Qaeda worldview, or "al Qaedaism," is growing stronger every day. This radical internationalist ideology -- sustained by anti-Western, anti-Zionist, and anti-Semitic rhetoric -- has adherents among many individuals and groups, few of whom are currently linked in any substantial way to bin Laden or those around him. They merely follow his precepts, models, and methods. They act in the style of al Qaeda, but they are only part of al Qaeda in the very loosest sense. That's why Israeli intelligence services now prefer the term "jihadi international" instead of "al Qaeda." [...] Islamic militancy predates bin Laden's activities. He was barely involved in the Islamic violence of the early 1990s in Algeria, Egypt, Bosnia, and Kashmir. His links to the 1993 World Trade Center attack were tangential. There were no al Qaeda training camps during the early 1990s, although camps run by other groups churned out thousands of highly trained fanatics. Even when bin Laden was based in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, it was often Islamic groups and individuals who sought him out for help in finding resources for preconceived attacks, not vice versa. These days, Islamic groups can go to other individuals, such as Jordanian activist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who set up his al Tauhid group in competition with bin Laden (rather than, as is frequently claimed, in alliance with him) to obtain funds, expertise, or other logistical assistance. Bin Laden still plays a significant role in the movement as a propagandist who effectively exploits modern mass communications. It is likely that the United States will eventually apprehend bin Laden and that this demonstration of U.S. power will demoralize many militants. However, much depends on the manner in which he is captured or killed. If, like deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, he surrenders without a fight, which is very unlikely, many followers will be deeply disillusioned. If he achieves martyrdom in a way that his cohorts can spin as heroic, he will be an inspiration for generations to come. Either way, bin Laden's removal from the scene will not stop Islamic militancy.

Suicide bombings driven more by politics than religious zeal
By Riaz Hassan, YaleGlobal, April 23, 2004
At a time when the Western world worries about weapons of mass destruction in terrorist hands, a more basic device has emerged as the weapon of choice - a life itself. This use of life as a weapon - now exercised mainly by Islamic youth - is frequently presented as the manifestation of Islamic fanaticism. But studies by serious scholars and recent surveys show that the spate of suicide attacks in the Middle East is linked more to politics than to religion. Data shows that the incidence of suicide attacks has increased from 31 in the 1980s to 98 in 2003 alone. The war in Iraq and escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have led to such an increase. Furthermore, American foreign policy may be contributing to an acceleration of this trend. In particular, suicide attacks are now plaguing the occupying forces in Iraq. They are escalating among the Iraqi resistance groups because of their lethality and media impact. Suicide attacks are also being used by Iraqi Shiite and Sunni Muslim militants in their bloody sectarian conflict. In general, suicide attacks constitute about three percent of all terrorist incidents, but they account for almost half of the deaths due to terrorism.

Writing for Godot
By Nancy Shepherdson, Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2004
In the beginning of the end, as Tim LaHaye tells it, millions of people will disappear off the face of the earth, "raptured" up to heaven. Over the following seven years, tribulations of all kinds -- demon locusts, seas of blood, nuclear war -- will claim billions more. The city of Babylon in modern-day Iraq will be rebuilt, as will the first temple in Jerusalem, on land now occupied by one of the most sacred sites in Islam, the Dome of the Rock. By then, though, all of the Muslims in the world will have been eliminated, either horrifyingly killed or converted to Christianity. Nearly all Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and other "unbelievers," even some Christians, face the same fate. Finally, after all the carnage, when the world is ready for Jesus to walk the earth again, the savior's very words will cause the last of the unfortunates to fall gruesomely dead. LaHaye, an early organizer of the Moral Majority and a longtime activist in conservative politics, has brought that vision vividly to life in an astonishingly popular series of page-turning action novels collectively known as the "Left Behind" series. Co-authored with Christian novelist Jerry B. Jenkins (Jenkins does the writing, LaHaye supplies the biblical underpinnings), the books so far have sold about 62 million copies, according to their publisher.

Political split is pervasive
By David Von Drehle, Washington Post, April 25, 2004
From Congress to the airwaves to the bestseller lists, American politics appears to be hardening into uncompromising camps, increasingly identified with the two parties. According to a growing consensus of political scientists, demographers and strategists, the near-stalemate of 2000 -- which produced a virtual tie for the White House, a 50-50 Senate and a narrow Republican edge in the House of Representatives -- was no accident. This split is nurtured by the marketing efforts of the major parties, which increasingly aim pinpoint messages to certain demographic groups, rather than seeking broadly appealing new themes. It is reinforced by technology, geography and strategy. And now it is driving the presidential campaign, and explains why many experts anticipate a particularly bitter and divisive election. Political scientists and practitioners often speak of "Red-Blue America," evoking maps of the 2000 election returns; indeed, the phrase is used so loosely that it has spawned a competing pundit class devoted to knocking down oversimplifications of the idea. In articles Monday and Tuesday, The Washington Post will publish portraits of Americans from the reddest of red zones, the home district of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), and the bluest of blues, the San Francisco neighborhood of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

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