The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     

Unmasking of Qaeda mole a security blunder
By Peter Graff, Reuters, August 7, 2004

The revelation that a mole within al Qaeda was exposed after Washington launched its "orange alert" this month has shocked security experts, who say the outing of the source may have set back the war on terror.

Reuters learned from Pakistani intelligence sources on Friday that computer expert Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, arrested secretly in July, was working under cover to help the authorities track down al Qaeda militants in Britain and the United States when his name appeared in U.S. newspapers.

"After his capture he admitted being an al Qaeda member and agreed to send e-mails to his contacts," a Pakistani intelligence source told Reuters. "He sent encoded e-mails and received encoded replies. He's a great hacker and even the U.S. agents said he was a computer whiz."

Last Sunday, U.S. officials told reporters that someone held secretly by Pakistan was the source of the bulk of the information justifying the alert. The New York Times obtained Khan's name independently, and U.S. officials confirmed it when it appeared in the paper the next morning.

None of those reports mentioned at the time that Khan had been under cover helping the authorities catch al Qaeda suspects, and that his value in that regard was destroyed by making his name public. [complete article]

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Arrested Qaeda operative: Life of degrees and aliases
By Amy Waldman, New York Times, August 6, 2004

Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, the Pakistani computer engineer now being described as an Al Qaeda facilitator or operative, was, by the account he gave his interrogators, a well-educated product of Pakistan's middle class. [...]

Mr. Khan was arrested on July 13 in Lahore, and has cooperated with investigators enough for them to paint the broad outlines of his life. Initially portrayed as a facilitator of communications for Al Qaeda who posted messages by e-mail and on Web sites, he has, in recent days, been upgraded in some news reports to a mastermind who was possibly helping to plan attacks abroad. These reports have said his computer yielded information including graphics of the designs of important buildings and computer calculations of the impact of explosions. None of this has been confirmed by senior Pakistan officials.

However important his role, his allegiance to Al Qaeda does not appear to be in dispute. He is, then, the latest example of the young, educated professionals who have been lured to the network. His profile reflects familiar elements that concern counterterrorist specialists: his technological expertise; his ability to blend unnoticed for years into Pakistani society, even as he passed on messages and traveled to meet Qaeda operatives; his contacts with similarly ideological family members in Britain.

For all the talk of the recruitment of extremists through madrassas, or religious schools, Mr. Khan was introduced to Al Qaeda in a more mundane, and less easily policed, fashion. A friendship he struck up with a Saudi he met at the wedding in 1997 in Dubai of a London-based cousin led him to another man who inspired him to go to Afghanistan for training. [complete article]

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How big Al Qaeda's footprint is in the U.S.
By Alexandra Marks, Christian Science Monitor, August 6, 2004

Anyone who can tell you how many terror cells are operating in the United States can also tell you how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

But he and other intelligence experts say it's all but necessary to assume terror cells are here. And several revelations this week suggest that far more than prudence is at play. New reports indicate that an Al Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan had contacted people in the US as recently as this year.

There are also the disturbing details about the discovered case studies of the targeted buildings in Washington, New York, and Newark that prompted last weekend's heightened terror alerts. The English was perfect, probably written by someone who had lived in the United States for a long time and was professional and meticulous, according to reports. The studies were three and four years old, which indicates that whoever wrote them could be long-term resident. [complete article]

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Bin Laden sent suspect to U.S., officials say
By Douglas Jehl and William K. Rashbaum, New York Times, August 7, 2004

American intelligence officials now believe that Issa al-Hindi, the alleged Qaeda operative now in British custody, was dispatched to the United States in early 2001 by the mastermind of the Sept. 11 plot at the direction of Osama bin Laden to case potential targets in New York City, senior government officials said Friday.

The officials said that Mr. Hindi was the same person as the figure identified in the Sept. 11 commission report as Issa al-Britani. The account of Mr. Hindi's being dispatched to New York was based on claims by the mastermind, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, while in American custody, the report said. But American officials said on Friday that it is consistent with other evidence that Mr. Hindi headed a three-man team that surveyed the New York Stock Exchange and other buildings in New York, probably in early 2001.

Senior government officials said that Mr. Hindi - the name is thought to be an alias - was believed to have visited the United States several times in 2000 and 2001, the same period in which reconnaissance of financial institutions in New York, New Jersey and Washington that was discovered last week is believed to have taken place. [complete article]

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London police hold key al-Qaida suspect
By Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington, Rosie Cowan and Hugh Muir, The Guardian, August 6, 2004

Anti-terrorist officials on both sides of the Atlantic last night claimed that one of the 12 terror suspects being questioned at a London police station was one of al-Qaida's most significant operatives.

They are convinced that Abu Musa al-Hindi, being held at Paddington Green high-security police station, had a decision-making role in the highest echelons of the global network.

"He's believed to be a leading member of an organisation which would like to inflict serious damage on the west," said a British anti-terrorism source. [complete article]

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Sadr comes out of the graveyard
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, August 7, 2004

It began at the heavily barricaded blue police station of Najaf at 1am on Thursday.

From the ancient cemetery nearby, a crowd of gunmen attacked with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

As the fighting escalated, the governor of Najaf called in the US 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based in the desert 30 miles away and just two weeks into its mission to secure one of the most politically sensitive sites in the country.

Within 48 hours, Iraq was seeing its most serious fighting for weeks, and stood on the precipice of yet another big religious revolt, with US forces claiming they had already killed 300 insurgents.

Behind the violence is the dilemma facing the new Iraqi government about how it should handle the young radical Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, who has the proven ability to gather thousands of disenchanted, well-armed young Iraqi men to fight his cause.

If the Iraqi administration - with the help of American forces - has decided that this is the time to make a final move against Mr Sadr, the country could be convulsed by violence. Leaving him be, though, may be considered a risky strategy too. [complete article]

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Deepening anti-U.S. rage casts doubt on Iraq leaders' ability to restore order
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, August 6, 2004

After the past two days of fighting in southern and central Iraq, the difference between firebrand cleric Muqtada al Sadr and Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi couldn't be any more clear: Al Sadr has an army, and Allawi does not.

In Iraq, security is politics. When Allawi took office, the self-styled strongman lost little time before declaring that his government wouldn't tolerate the insurgency that's swept the country.

But as in previous battles, when al Sadr's Mahdi Army militia began to overrun Najaf and several neighborhoods from Baghdad to Basra, the Iraqi police force and national guard fought for a little while, then ran.

And as in previous battles, Iraq's Achilles' heel was revealed: To defend their country, Allawi and the interim government must go to the American military, an institution that's widely reviled by many Iraqis as an occupational force run amok. [complete article]

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What about Iraq?
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, August 6, 2004

A funny thing happened after the United States transferred sovereignty over Iraq. On the ground, things didn't change, except for the worse.

But as Matthew Yglesias of The American Prospect puts it, the cosmetic change in regime had the effect of "Afghanizing" the media coverage of Iraq.

He's referring to the way news coverage of Afghanistan dropped off sharply after the initial military defeat of the Taliban. A nation we had gone to war to liberate and had promised to secure and rebuild -- a promise largely broken -- once again became a small, faraway country of which we knew nothing.

Incredibly, the same thing happened to Iraq after June 28. Iraq stories moved to the inside pages of newspapers, and largely off TV screens. Many people got the impression that things had improved. Even journalists were taken in: a number of newspaper stories asserted that the rate of U.S. losses there fell after the handoff. (Actual figures: 42 American soldiers died in June, and 54 in July.)

The trouble with this shift of attention is that if we don't have a clear picture of what's actually happening in Iraq, we can't have a serious discussion of the options that remain for making the best of a very bad situation. [complete article]

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U.S. troops, Sadr militants clash for second day
By Pamela Constable, Jackie Spinner and Fred Barbash, Washington Post, August 6, 2004

Fierce fighting between U.S. and Iraqi forces and Shiite rebels loyal to cleric Moqtada Sadr escalated in five cities Friday, in a second day of combat resembling the Sadr-led uprising of last Spring.

Casualties were reported to be significant among Americans and Iraqis alike, although no official totals were immediately available for Friday's fighting. The military did announce Friday that two Marines were killed Thursday during combat with the rebels in the southern Shiite city of Najaf.

Meanwhile, wire services reported that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite Muslim cleric and a relative voice of moderation, was on his way to London for treatment of a heart condition.

"The ayatollah suffered a health crisis related to his heart a few days ago," his spokesman in Beirut Sheik Hamed Khafaf told the Associated Press.

No independent confirmation was immediately available.

Sistani's absence could leave a critical vacuum of leadership in the country's minority Shiite Community. [complete article]

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U.S. planes pound Najaf
By Hassan Abdulzahrah, Middle East Online, August 6, 2003

US planes pounded the central Iraqi holy city of Najaf on Friday as intense clashes raged between US forces and Shiite Muslim militiamen in the worst fighting since a truce was agreed in June.

Nearly 50 people were killed and more than 130 wounded as the unrest fanned out across Shiite central and southern Iraq, with clashes with British troops in Basra, Italian troops in Nasiriyah and US troops in Shiite areas of Baghdad.

Columns of thick black smoke could be seen rising up from Najaf, as residents stayed at home with their doors bolted and fighters loyal to radical cleric Moqtada Sadr prowled the streets.

US planes fired rockets over the city and its cemetery, a Sadr stronghold which suffered some of the worst fighting during his Mehdi Army's first standoff with foreign troops in the spring. [complete article]

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British Muslims are bewildered and scared
By Ismail Patel, The Independent, August 5, 2004

The arrest of 13 suspects on terrorist charges on Tuesday highlights the precarious position in which the majority of British Muslims find themselves. The wider Muslim community is struggling to integrate into mainstream British life, but the public spotlight always seems to shine on the extremists. The result is a dangerous upsurge in Islamophobia. [...]

Go back 100 years and look at the disgusting abuse and hateful rhetoric heaped upon the Jewish community. It is easy for a Muslim in 2004 to relate to the pain of the Jews in early 20th-century Britain. Seeking to escape the pogroms of eastern Europe, the Jews were lambasted by the British media. Mirroring what is being said about Muslims today, the Jews were accused of being parasitic, a threat to the British way of life and a danger to the nation's security. As the East London Advertiser put it in May 1889: "People of any other nation, after being in England for only a short time, assimilate themselves with the native race, and, by and by, lose nearly all of their foreign trace. But the Jews never do. A Jew is always a Jew."

Despite such hatred, the Jewish community today boasts the Leader of the Opposition and nearly 50 Jewish MPs in Parliament. They have influence across society at all levels, and no one today would dare to repeat the race libels that persisted into the Thirties in newspapers such as the Daily Mail. If the Muslims are moving towards similar integration - and all indications are that they are, slowly but surely - then they need to take a leaf out of British Jews' history. [complete article]

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Uprooted trees, razed houses... Israel leaves its calling card in Gaza
By Eric Silver and Sa'id Ghazali, The Independent, August 6, 2004

The Palestinians of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip began to count the cost of a month-long Israeli invasion as the troops finally pulled out yesterday, leaving a trail of anger, despair and devastation behind them.

More than 42,000 olive, citrus and date trees had been uprooted, according to the local council. Altogether, 4,405 acres of orchards, vineyards and vegetable fields were flattened.

Officials accused the army of demolishing 21 houses and damaging a further 314. Five factories and 19 wells were also destroyed. They said the loss could reach as high as £70m.

The Israelis said they went in to stop Hamas militants firing rockets at Sderot, a town of 24,000 across the border inside Israel. One salvo killed a three-year-old boy and a middle-aged man there five weeks ago. A house was damaged earlier this week, and two more rockets fell on open ground yesterday.

Before pulling out, the army distributed leaflets with a cartoon showing rockets bouncing back at Beit Hanoun. "Terror," it read, "will kill you." [complete article]

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Reform presses U.S. to increase role in peace process
By Ori Nir, The Forward, August 6, 2004

America's largest synagogue movement is urging the White House to step up its peace efforts in the Middle East and criticizing Congress for passing one-sided pro-Israel resolutions.

The policy recommendations were outlined this week in a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell from Rabbi David Saperstein, the Reform movement's top representative in Washington. Citing a sweeping resolution passed last month by the Reform governing board, the letter states that the administration must "match" its public support for Sharon's unilateral withdrawal plan with a "vigorous" effort to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Saperstein's letter also criticizes Congress for passing pro-Israel resolutions that "fail to recognize the need for withdrawal to be directly linked to a return to the negotiating table" and "fail to address the troubling humanitarian conditions of the Palestinians." And the letter mentions the movement's opposition to the "Israeli government's policy of administrative home demolitions [relating to zoning violations], which is most often applied... discriminatorily against the Arabs." [complete article]

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Protect Sharon from the Right
By Jeffrey Goldberg, New York Times, August 5, 2004

Not long ago, at a West Bank settlement outpost surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by dyspeptic German shepherds, I attended a joyful event: a brit milah, the circumcision of an eight-day-old boy. This outpost was home to just a handful of families, but more than 100 people came to celebrate with the boy's parents.

Many of the visitors made the rough trek through Arab villages to get to this hill. These young settlers are the avant-garde of radical Jewish nationalism, the flannel-wearing, rifle-carrying children of their parents' mainstream settlements, which they denigrate for their bourgeois affectations -- red-tile roof chalets, swimming pools, pizzerias -- and their misplaced fealty to the dictates of the government in Jerusalem. These new pioneers set out for the Samarian mountains and the hills of Hebron, where they live in log cabins and broken-down trailers, in settings sufficiently biblical and remote to allow for the cultivation of a new variant of apocalyptic zealotry. [complete article]

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The case against George W. Bush
By Ron Reagan, Esquire (via Commondreams), September, 2004

It may have been the guy in the hood teetering on the stool, electrodes clamped to his genitals. Or smirking Lynndie England and her leash. Maybe it was the smarmy memos tapped out by soft-fingered lawyers itching to justify such barbarism. The grudging, lunatic retreat of the neocons from their long-standing assertion that Saddam was in cahoots with Osama didn't hurt. Even the Enron audiotapes and their celebration of craven sociopathy likely played a part. As a result of all these displays and countless smaller ones, you could feel, a couple of months back, as summer spread across the country, the ground shifting beneath your feet. Not unlike that scene in The Day After Tomorrow, then in theaters, in which the giant ice shelf splits asunder, this was more a paradigm shift than anything strictly tectonic. No cataclysmic ice age, admittedly, yet something was in the air, and people were inhaling deeply. I began to get calls from friends whose parents had always voted Republican, "but not this time." There was the staid Zbigniew Brzezinski on the staid NewsHour with Jim Lehrer sneering at the "Orwellian language" flowing out of the Pentagon. Word spread through the usual channels that old hands from the days of Bush the Elder were quietly (but not too quietly) appalled by his son's misadventure in Iraq. Suddenly, everywhere you went, a surprising number of folks seemed to have had just about enough of what the Bush administration was dishing out. A fresh age appeared on the horizon, accompanied by the sound of scales falling from people's eyes. It felt something like a demonstration of that highest of American prerogatives and the most deeply cherished American freedom: dissent. [complete article]

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Whistleblower explodes 9-11 Commission Report
By Ritt Goldstein, Asia Times, August 5, 2004

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation's own September 11 whistleblower has done it again, this time taking aim at the 9-11 Commission itself.

Sibel Edmonds, an FBI translator who has in effect been silenced by the bureau and the US Justice Department, said in an open letter to commission chairman Thomas Kean that the FBI had suffered from a litany of errors and cover-ups of those errors, which had been reported to the 9-11 Commission by Edmonds and others, yet the commission report "contains zero information regarding these systemic problems that led us to our failure in preventing the [September 11, 2001] terrorist attacks". [...]

But while Edmonds' letter delivered a cascade of specific allegations, perhaps the most explosive charge she makes concerns information the bureau was said to have received four months prior to September 2001, information warning of the September 11 plan. While both President Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice have repeatedly denied that there was any indication that airplanes would be used as a terror weapon, Edmonds revealed that in April 2001 the bureau had information that bin Laden was "planning a major terrorist attack in the United States targeting four to five major cities"; "the attack was going to involve airplanes"; some of those involved were already "in the United States"; and the attack would be "in a few months". Edmonds states that the information came from "a long-term FBI informant/asset" and that it was sent to the "special agent in charge of counter-terrorism" in Washington. She also charges that after September 11 "the agents and translators were told to 'keep quiet' regarding this issue".

Further to that, she writes, "The Phoenix Memo, received months prior to the [September 11] attacks, specifically warned FBI HQ of pilot training and their possible link to terrorist activities against the United States. Four months prior to the terrorist attacks the Iranian asset provided the FBI with specific information regarding the 'use of airplanes', 'major US cities as targets', and 'Osama bin Laden issuing the order' ...

"All this information went to the same place: FBI Headquarters in Washington, DC, and the FBI Washington Field Office, in Washington DC. Yet your report claims that not having a central place where all intelligence could be gathered as one of the main factors in our intelligence failure. Why did your report choose to exclude the information regarding the Iranian asset and [translator] Behrooz Sarshar from its timeline of missed opportunities? Why was this significant incident not mentioned, despite the public confirmation by the FBI, witnesses provided to your investigators, and briefings you received directly? Why did you surprise even [FBI] director [Robert] Mueller by refraining from asking him questions regarding this significant incident and lapse during your hearing ... ?" [complete article]

Read Sibel Edmunds' Open Letter to the 9/11 Panel.

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Iraq set to use martial law in terror fight
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, August 6, 2004

The interim Iraqi government last night looked increasingly prepared to impose martial law on sections of the country as coalition and Iraqi forces fought fierce battles with armed insurgents loyal to the radical Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr.

There were strong hints that Iyad Allawi, the interim Prime Minister, could for the first time apply his emergency powers when he announces plans for tackling the spreading insurgency tomorrow.

An American UH-1 helicopter crash-landed after being hit in the holy Shia city of Najaf during fighting that Falah al-Nakib, Iraq's Interior Minister, said yesterday had claimed the lives of eight insurgents. Iraqi medics said seven civilians were killed.

Mr Nakib told a swiftly convened news conference yesterday that he and Mr Allawi had taken "the necessary decisions to confront these challenges" and charged that the fresh uprising in Najaf and Wednesday's fighting in Mosul, in the north, were part of an "organised plan to dismember Iraq and kill the Iraqi people... All of these terrorists and killers are working for the same organisation regardless of which banners they carry or which hats they wear". [complete article]

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Rebel cleric declares 'revolution' in Iraq
By Jackie Spinner, Washington Post, August 5, 2004

Rebel cleric Moqtada Sadr declared a "revolution" against U.S.-led security forces in Iraq on Thursday after a fragile month-long truce in the holy city of Najaf ended with clashes that brought down a U.S. helicopter.

Sadr's Mahdi Army militia claimed control of four southern communities, including Basra, Iraq's second largest city. Iraqi officials denied the claim. There was no independent confirmation.

Sadr's call for an uprising is his first significant test of Iraq's new interim government since it took office on June 28 and signals the end to the delicate peace that had settled over Iraq's long-oppressed Shiite majority in the south.

"This is a revolution against the occupation force until we get independence and democracy," Sadr's spokesman, Ahmed Shaybani said in a telephone interview. [complete article]

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Fighting flares in Iraq's north
By David Holley, Los Angeles Times, August 5, 2004

Insurgents and Iraqi security forces battled in Mosul on Wednesday, leaving at least 22 people dead in a northern city often cited as a success story in restoring order to Iraq.

Local officials imposed a curfew in an effort to damp the deadliest violence in Mosul since sovereignty was returned to Iraq in late June. At least 14 of those killed were civilians; the others were believed to be insurgents.

Violence continued early today as a car bomb exploded at a police station south of Baghdad, killing at least five people and wounding 21, the Iraqi Health Ministry said. [complete article]

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By Mark Oliver, The Guardian, August 5, 2004

The spate of kidnappings in Iraq - more than 60 foreigners abducted since the invasion last year - is partly a result of globalisation, according to terrorism experts.

Dr Magnus Ranstorp, of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St Andrews University, says that Brian Jenkins's famous 1974 description of terrorism as "theatre" is still valid but that it is now a "more intense theatre".

He believes that Islamist terrorists in Iraq are among the first to really benefit from globalisation - the internet, improved communications, faster media.

He says: "Terrorism represents a dark underside of globalisation. Today the terrorists are very media savvy, they understand psychological warfare."

And kidnapping has become their most efficient, flexible, weapon. "Beyond massive suicide operations this is the most effective way of terrorism," says Dr Ranstorp. "It is a low cost, high yield method to exact revenge and also change foreign policy behaviour. It instils fear for foreign soldiers serving in Iraq." [complete article]

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U.S. abuse could be war crimes
By Vikram Dodd and Tania Branigan, The Guardian, August 5, 2004

Repeated abuses allegedly suffered by three British prisoners at the hands of US interrogators and guards in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba could amount to war crimes, the Red Cross said yesterday.

The organisation, which maintains a rigidly neutral stance in public, took the unusual step of voicing its concerns in uncompromising language after the former detainees, known as the Tipton Three, revealed that they had been beaten, shackled, photographed naked and in one incident questioned at gunpoint while in US custody.

Their vivid account of the harrowing conditions at the camp, as told to their lawyers and published for the first time in yesterday's Guardian, has reignited the debate about the treatment of prisoners and the British government's role in their questioning and detention. [complete article]

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In the line of fire
By John S. Burnett, New York Times, August 4, 2004

Neutrality has never been far from the surface in relief work. When I was worked for the United Nations World Food Program in Somalia, we distributed 50-kilogram sacks of grain emblazoned with the American flag and "Gift of the People of the United States of America.'' Somalis readily accepted the aid but it was clear that our professed neutrality was suspect.

James Morris, director of the World Food Program, explained, "It is important to see who cares about them, to know the genuine goodness of the United States." But at what point does the American gift to the needy in a war zone become a political weapon in the battle of influence, in the war of winning hearts and minds?

Mr. Morris told me that President Bush has told him that the United States "will never use food as a political weapon." Other friends of the president seem to differ -- to the horror of relief workers who increasingly are targets of those who think otherwise.

The demand on relief agencies to shed that protective cloak of neutrality - despite the dangers to those in the field - has never been more aggressive than it is today. Secretary of State Colin Powell, addressing nongovernmental organizations in 2001, spelled out a revised policy on relief work: that "just as surely as our diplomats and military, American NGO's s are out there serving and sacrificing on the front lines of freedom NGO's are such a force multiplier for us, such an important part of our combat team." Those remarks sent shock waves through the relief community, which would rather not be part of the combat team in the war on terrorism. [complete article]

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Musharraf steps back from the U.S.
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, August 5, 2004

"Pakistan is not sending its troops to Iraq." So reads the most recent handout from the Pakistani Foreign Office and the clearest signal yet that President General Pervez Musharraf is finally attempting to distance himself from the United States' sphere of influence, even if only for domestic expediency.

Just days ago Islamabad refused to make such a categorical statement, as demanded by hostage-takers in Iraq holding two Pakistani contract workers. The two men were subsequently beheaded.

Interim Prime Minister Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain even paid a visit to Saudi Arabia, where he announced that the countries were developing a consensus on sending Pakistani troops to Iraq. Earlier, Saudi Arabia had proposed the formation of an all-Muslim force to be sent to Iraq to help with security. Pakistan was to be a key part of this. [complete article]

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Iraqi groups warn 'all' truck drivers
Aljazeera, August 4, 2004

Iraqi resistance fighters in the city of Ramadi warned all truck drivers they faced death if they continued to deliver goods to US-led occupation forces.

"We will kill anyone, whether Arab, foreign or Iraqi, inside any truck carrying goods to the occupation forces," said a statement from the leadership of the resistance movement in Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

"We will also kill anyone providing intelligence or information to the occupation forces. We will, however, reward anyone who informs us of such traitors."

"As such, we warn Jordanians not to collaborate with the forces of the occupation in the future, and if they do, then they have only themselves to blame," said the statement.

Four Jordanians were taken hostage on 27 July by a group calling itself the "Death Squad of Iraqi Resistance".

They were released in Fallujah on Wednesday after the Shura council, a consultative religious body, negotiated their release. [complete article]

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$1.9 billion of Iraq's money goes to U.S. contractors
By Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, August 4, 2004

Halliburton Co. and other U.S. contractors are being paid at least $1.9 billion from Iraqi funds under an arrangement set by the U.S.-led occupation authority, according to a review of documents and interviews with government agencies, companies and auditors.

Most of the money is for two controversial deals that originally had been financed with money approved by the U.S. Congress, but later shifted to Iraqi funds that were governed by fewer restrictions and less rigorous oversight.

For the first 14 months of the occupation, officials of the Coalition Provisional Authority provided little detailed information about the Iraqi money, from oil sales and other sources, that it spent on reconstruction contracts. They have said that it was used for the benefit of the Iraqi people and that most of the contracts paid from Iraqi money went to Iraqi companies. But the CPA never released information about specific contracts and the identities of companies that won them, citing security concerns, so it has been impossible to know whether these promises were kept. [complete article]

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Iraq's child prisoners
By Neil Mackay, Sunday Herald, August 1, 2004

It was early last October that Kasim Mehaddi Hilas says he witnessed the rape of a boy prisoner aged about 15 in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. "The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets," he said in a statement given to investigators probing prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib. "Then, when I heard the screaming I climbed the door ... and I saw [the soldier's name is deleted] who was wearing a military uniform." Hilas, who was himself threatened with being sexually assaulted in Abu Graib, then describes in horrific detail how the soldier raped "the little kid".

In another witness statement, passed to the Sunday Herald, former prisoner Thaar Salman Dawod said: "[I saw] two boys naked and they were cuffed together face to face and [a US soldier] was beating them and a group of guards were watching and taking pictures and there was three female soldiers laughing at the prisoners. The prisoners, two of them, were young."

It's not certain exactly how many children are being held by coalition forces in Iraq, but a Sunday Herald investigation suggests there are up to 107. Their names are not known, nor is where they are being kept, how long they will be held or what has happened to them during their detention. [complete article]

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Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay - the story of three British detainees
By Tania Branigan and Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, August 4, 2004

The Britons Rhuhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul were detained in northern Afghanistan on November 28 2001 by forces loyal to the warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum. The three, from Tipton in the Midlands, were handed over to US forces before being sent to Guantanamo Bay as suspected terrorists.

The "Tipton three" were released from Guantanamo in March this year, and after being flown back to Britain they were released without charge.

Today the Guardian publishes extracts from a 115-page report based on lengthy interviews they gave about their treatment by US and UK officials and military.

When released, they took payment from the media for interviews in which they alleged ill treatment. Their accounts were dismissed in some quarters, but since the revelations about the abuses at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq, there has been renewed questioning about how far the US is willing to go in the "war on terror".

The report, Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, has been compiled by the three men's lawyers, and is being released in the US today. It makes new allegations and gives extensive details about the treatment they suffered, which led them to make false confessions about their involvement in terrorism.

The Guardian paid no money to the three men or any of their representatives to publish these extracts from the report. [complete article]

The complete report can be read here (PDF format).

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Violence in Mosul kills 14, six foreign hostages released
Agence France Presse (via Yahoo), August 4, 2004

At least 14 Iraqis were killed as violence engulfed the northern city of Mosul, bogged down in bitter clashes between police and insurgents, as six kidnappers foreigners were released in Iraq.

Fighting erupted at around midday (0800 GMT) Wednesday on the west bank of the Tigris River as loud explosions and heavy gunfire ricocheted across the city, an AFP correspondent said. At least five bridges were cut off. [complete article]

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Sadr army owns city's streets
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, August 4, 2004

Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army rarely engages US forces anymore. Hundreds of his men were killed in clashes with the US in April and by June, the militant Shiite cleric had declared an informal truce that prevails to this day.

Despite occasional clashes, including a firefight between marines and Sadr's bodyguards on Monday outside his home in the shrine city of Najaf, senior US commanders believe their April counteroffensive decisively crushed his insurgency.

But that doesn't mean Sadr and his militia have lost influence. In recent months, the Mahdi Army has consolidated its control over Sadr City - a poor sprawl of 2.5 million on Baghdad's northeastern edge - maintained control over large portions of Najaf, forced a US-backed government council in the southern city of Amara to resign, and rearmed in anticipation of further confrontation with the US.

"We're in charge here," says Sheikh Amar Saadi, a preacher in Sadr City and senior Mahdi Army commander. And he goes further:

"Our mission is to clear Iraq of evil, and that's not just about defeating the Americans." [complete article]

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Oil's relentless rise continues
BBC News, August 4, 2004

US oil prices have continued to rise, hitting record highs on fears over threats to supplies in Iraq and Russia.

The price of light, sweet crude reached $44.28 a barrel in New York, four cents up on Tuesday's high of $44.24.

The rise followed warnings from oil producers' cartel Opec that it was unable to raise output to cool prices.

Attacks on a major Iraqi oil pipeline, combined with concerns over possible breaks in supplies from Russian oil giant Yukos, fuelled fresh uncertainty. [complete article]

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Boxing in Palestinians
By David Newman, Los Angeles Times, August 4, 2004

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza has begun to seem inevitable. Settlement evacuation, including the compensation packages to be received by each family, has been meticulously worked out. The fallback lines for the army on the Israeli side of the Gaza border have been determined. As each new detail emerges, the Israeli public becomes a little more convinced that Sharon, despite fierce opposition from within his own party, means business.

Ironically, Sharon is now being branded a traitor by those who were his closest allies. The right-wing hero has turned renegade, so much so that Avi Dichter, the head of Shin Bet, the domestic security agency, recently warned that radical elements in the settler movement might do to Sharon what their compatriot, Yigal Amir, did to left-wing Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated after he signed the Oslo peace accords.

Clearly, if Sharon does withdraw all of Israel's troops in Gaza and if he does evacuate the settlements there, it will be an important first step. Credit would be due to him for taking bold, long-overdue action after his predecessors had failed. But even then, to suggest that this amounts to a true disengagement, a transfer of control and sovereignty to the local Palestinian authorities, would be far from the truth. [complete article]

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Old data, new credibility issues
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, August 4, 2004

The White House's failure to make it clear that the dramatic terrorism alert Sunday was based largely on information that predated the Sept. 11 attacks is a case study in the difficulty of managing such warnings for an administration whose credibility is a central issue in a difficult presidential campaign.

At one level, experts yesterday credited the Department of Homeland Security for narrowly targeting the warning to selected buildings in three cities, rather than raising the threat level across the nation. But they said the effort was seriously undercut by the revelation that much of the surveillance of those buildings took place three to four years ago. [complete article]

Comment -- Each time security gets cranked up -- whether locally or nationally -- aside from the questionable effectiveness of such measures in thwarting terrorism, the more insidious effect is that the teeth in the gears of our security culture have turned, perhaps irreversibly, one more notch. In as much as the measures are effective in pacifying fear they also make many people more comfortable living in a more thoroughly policed society. Nevertheless, our enhanced physical and social armor only serve to increase our sense of vulnerability.

A government that justifies its policies through a combination of sustained fear and promised security, thereby short-circuits reason and hooks into each individual's reptilian brain, the wellspring of terror. Those given the power to lead are entrusted with authority not because they are wise but because they appear strong and appeal to everyone's visceral need to feel safe.

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Critics say Bush's intelligence chief would be toothless
By Philip Shenon, New York Times, August 4, 2004

Members of the Sept. 11 commission joined with Congressional Democrats on Tuesday in criticizing President Bush's proposal for creating the job of national intelligence director, saying the plan would not grant nearly enough power to the position.

The criticism came a day after Mr. Bush announced the proposal in response to the commission's final report. It produced conciliatory statements from the White House, which suggested that Mr. Bush was open to negotiation with Congress over far broader powers for the new position.

"The national intelligence director will have the authority he or she needs to do this job," said Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman. "We're going to continue moving forward and talking in more detail about that authority as we move forward and as we work with Congress."

In its report, the bipartisan commission called for establishment of the job, saying it was necessary to end turf battles and duplication among intelligence agencies.

But while Mr. Bush agreed on Monday to create such a post, he rejected the commission's recommendation that the national intelligence director have direct control over the intelligence community's $40 billion annual budget and veto power over the people named to head intelligence agencies. Under the White House proposal, the intelligence director would have far more limited budgetary and personnel authority. [complete article]

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Pakistan produces the goods, again
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, August 4, 2004

When US Central Command commander General John Abizaid visited Islamabad last week, his first priority was not Pakistan sending troops to Iraq, but the arrest of high-value al-Qaeda targets.

Almost magically, just days later, a Tanzanian al-Qaeda operative, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, was arrested in the Punjab provincial city of Gujrat. He is wanted in the United States in connection with the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. He was one of the United States' 22 most-wanted terrorists, and had a US$5 million bounty on his head.

Security experts close to the corridors of power in Pakistan tell Asia Times Online that as the November presidential elections in the US draw closer, more such dramatic - and timely - arrests can be expected. The announcement of Ghailani's arrest coincided with the Democratic Party's convention in Boston during which John Kerry was confirmed as challenger to President George W Bush. [complete article]

See also, A clockwork orange alert? (Christopher Dickey, Newsweek)

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Pakistan 'al-Qaeda breakthrough'
BBC News, August 3, 2004

Pakistani security forces have penetrated an al-Qaeda cell in the country, the government says.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the breakthrough had led to seven or eight more suspects being detained in the last two days.

Another official said an al-Qaeda suspect with a multi-million dollar bounty on his head had been arrested.

Last month Pakistan caught key suspect Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, and a man said to be an al-Qaeda computer expert.

Interior minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat said: "In addition to ... Ghailani, whose bounty was $25m, we have captured another most wanted suspect with a bounty on him running into the millions of dollars."

He said that two other al-Qaeda suspects caught in the last 24 hours were of African origin, but did not name them. [complete article]

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Pakistan lets Taliban train, prisoner says
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, August 4, 2004

For months Afghan and American officials have complained that even while Pakistan cooperates in the fight against Al Qaeda, militant Islamic groups there are training fighters and sending them into Afghanistan to attack American and Afghan forces.

Pakistani officials have rejected the allegations, saying they are unaware of any such training camps. Now the Afghan government has produced a young Pakistani, captured fighting with the Taliban in southern Afghanistan three months ago, whose story would seem to back its complaints about Pakistan.

The prisoner, who gave his name as Muhammad Sohail, is a 17-year-old from the Pakistani port city of Karachi, held by the Afghan authorities in Kabul. In an interview in late July, in front of several prison guards, he said Pakistan was allowing militant groups to train and organize insurgents to fight in Afghanistan. Mr. Sohail said he hoped that granting the interview would increase his chances of being freed. Mr. Sohail described his recruitment through his local mosque by a group listed by the United States as having terrorist links, his military training in a camp not far from the capital, Islamabad, and his dispatch with several other Pakistanis to Afghanistan. [complete article]

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Pre-9/11 acts led to alerts
By Dan Eggen and Dana Priest, Washington Post, August 3, 2004

Most of the al Qaeda surveillance of five financial institutions that led to a new terrorism alert Sunday was conducted before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and authorities are not sure whether the casing of the buildings has continued, numerous intelligence and law enforcement officials said yesterday.

More than half a dozen government officials interviewed yesterday, who declined to be identified because classified information is involved, said that most, if not all, of the information about the buildings seized by authorities in a raid in Pakistan last week was about three years old, and possibly older.

"There is nothing right now that we're hearing that is new," said one senior law enforcement official who was briefed on the alert. "Why did we go to this level? . . . I still don't know that." [complete article]

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How the administration is obstructing the Supreme Court's terror decisions
By Phillip Carter, Slate, August 3, 2004

In the first two years after Sept. 11, whenever its terrorism or detention policies were challenged in the courts, the Bush administration waged a scorched-earth legal campaign in its own defense. Justice Department lawyers routinely deployed an arsenal of procedural motions and legal delay tactics to keep the federal courts from ever hearing a terrorism case on the merits. When the Supreme Court stepped in last June with the last word on the legality of such wartime practices, observers (including me) had a right to hope that the administration would cease its foot-dragging and finally conform its policies to the demands of the justices and the rule of law.

The Bush administration dashed that hope last month with a series of actions concerning detainees from the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. In a court filing on Friday, the administration announced its intention to deny Guantanamo Bay detainees full access to counsel to prepare their habeas corpus petitions and signaled that it would resume its relentless legal tactics to fight the detainees in the courts on a host of procedural issues. The administration also started to move forward with two sets of legal proceedings -- Combatant Status Review Tribunals and military commissions -- to adjudicate the status of Gitmo detainees. These hearings purport to benefit the detainees, but may, in fact, end up hurting more than helping them. And in a separate but related development, the Army finally released its much-awaited investigation of the Abu Ghraib abuses. Not surprisingly, it laid the blame on a few bad apples, rather than any systemic problems in the military -- and exempted the top ranks of the Army and Pentagon from any legal or moral culpability. [complete article]

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Claims in conflict: Reversing ethnic cleansing in Northern Iraq
Human Rights Watch Report, August 3, 2004

A crisis of serious proportions is brewing in northern Iraq, and may soon explode into open violence. Since 1975, the former Iraqi government forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of Kurds, Turkomans, and Assyrians from their homes, and brought in Arab settlers to replace them, under a policy known as “Arabization.” With the overthrow of that government in April 2003, the Kurds and other non-Arabs began returning to their former homes and farms. Ethnic tensions between returning Kurds and others and the Arab settlers escalated rapidly and have continued to do so, along with tensions between the different returning communities -- particularly between Kurds and Turkomans -- over control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. In the absence of a speedy implementation of plans to address the conflicting land and property claims and the needs of the different communities, ownership disputes may soon be settled through force. [complete article]

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Iraqis on tour banned from Memphis hall
Associated Press (via Yahoo), August 3, 2004

Iraqis visiting on a civil rights tour were barred from [Memphis] city hall after the city council chairman said it was too dangerous to let them in.

The seven Iraqi civic and community leaders are in the midst of a three-week American tour, sponsored by the State Department to learn more about the process of government. The trip also includes stops in Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The Iraqis were scheduled to meet with a city council member, but Joe Brown, the council chair, said he feared the group was dangerous.

"We don't know exactly what's going on. Who knows about the delegation, and has the FBI been informed?" Brown said. "We must secure and protect all the employees in that building."

Elisabeth Silverman, the group's host and head of the Memphis Council for International Visitors, said Brown told her he would "evacuate the building and bring in the bomb squads" if the group entered. [complete article]

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Pipeline blast cuts Iraq exports via Turkey as oil prices hit record high
Agence France Presse (via Yahoo), August 3, 2004

Saboteurs blasted an Iraqi oil pipeline, fueling fears that sent oil prices to a record high late, while eight people were killed in unrest around Iraq.

A bomb planted near a network of pipelines at Al-Fateha, west of Kirkuk, at dawn damaged the main pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, bringing exports to a halt, said Nasir Qassim, an official with the state-owned Northern Oil Company.

The road connecting the Kirkuk oil region with the refineries in Beiji was cut off as emergency workers battled to extinguish the raging flames and thick black smoke.

The attack helped send oil prices to record highs amid broad concerns about production capacity. [complete article]

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Iraq's Kurds are not collaborating with Israel
By Kamran Karadaghi, Daily Star, August 4, 2004

Wherever Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi went during his tour of the Middle East in the past 10 days, he was asked by Arab journalists to comment on reports regarding alleged Israeli infiltration into northern Iraq, the specific purpose of which is to conduct operations against Iran and Syria and, in exchange, help the Kurds achieve their dream of an independent state.

A week ago a Palestinian newspaper, Al-Manar, quoted unidentified sources as saying that Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, had secretly visited Israel, where he met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other senior Israeli officials and discussed with them steps to declare an independent Kurdish state.

Even some Arab officials seem to believe the allegations. Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa proposed at the last meeting of foreign ministers of countries neighboring Iraq to include in the final communique a clause expressing concern about Israeli penetration into northern Iraq. Iraq's delegate at the meeting objected, saying that his government had no evidence of such penetration. However, despite the denials and the failure of the accusers to produce any evidence, many in the Arab press continue to treat the alleged Israeli presence in Iraqi Kurdistan as a foregone conclusion. [complete article]

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Russia and Iran: Who is strong arming whom?
By Mark N. Katz, EurasiaNet, August 1, 2004

Continued Russian support for Iran's nuclear-energy program despite U.S. objections that this could help Tehran acquire nuclear weapons appears to be a source of great pride to many Russian officials and commentators. Indeed, Moscow's defiance of Washington feeds into the notion that Russia is still a great power. Moscow's continued contribution to the Iranian nuclear program may, however, ultimately serve to weaken Russia, not strengthen it.

The U.S. government has long been worried that Tehran is using its nuclear-energy program to develop nuclear weapons, and has therefore repeatedly urged Moscow to halt work on the reactor it is building for the Iranians at Bushehr. The standard Russian response has been that Iran is in compliance with all International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regulations, and thus has the right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to develop a peaceful nuclear-energy program. But with the revelation that Iran possesses hitherto secret nuclear facilities that it had not declared to the IAEA and that some of the equipment IAEA inspectors have found in Iran bore traces of weapons grade uranium, it has become increasingly clear that Iran is not in total compliance with IAEA regulations. [complete article]

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Americans want a new policy towards Israel
Findings of a report by the Council for the National Interest, Electronic Intifada, July 30, 2004

A new Zogby International poll commissioned by CNI found that half of all likely American voters agree that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry "should adopt an entirely new policy, different from the present administration, towards Israel."

The poll, conducted during the Democratic Convention, showed that 51% of likely voters somewhat or strongly agreed that a policy change was necessary. Only 34% strongly or somewhat disagreed. The number who supported Kerry adopting a new policy towards Israel was even higher among Democrats: 70% of Democrats, Kerry's voter base, supported such a change.

Experts agree that turnout by independent voters, which could make up as much as a quarter of the likely voters in November, will be a crucial determinant in the outcome of this year's presidential election. A plurality of independent voters agree (50% to 35%) that there should be a change in U.S. policy towards Israel. It appears that one of the obvious strategies for the Kerry ticket to win the election would be to demonstrate a sharp turn away from the Bush policies on the Middle East, especially with regard to Israel. [complete article]

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Israelis wonder if corruption is soiling the Zionist dream
By Joseph Berger, New York Times, August 3, 2004

The never-ending Palestinian conflict dominates the news in Israel, but the other big story has long been corruption among the country's politicians, and many experts think the two stories may not be unrelated.

The front pages of Israel's papers have been bristling with the so-called Paritzky affair, in which Joseph Paritzky, the minister for infrastructure, was heard on tape plotting with a private detective on how he might defame a rival in the Shinui Party, part of the governing coalition. The intrigue attracted more than passing interest because Mr. Paritzky, who has since resigned, had been in charge of picking the winner in a fierce battle over a $2.5 billion contract to tap natural gas in waters off the Gaza Strip.

The Paritzky scandal seemed to sneak up just as the book was closing on a bribery investigation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The inquiry showed that Mr. Sharon's son Gilad had been paid $700,000 from an Israeli developer to help promote the building of a Greek island gambling resort despite a lack of "professional skills.'' The attorney general said there was insufficient evidence to indict Mr. Sharon or his son.

In recent weeks, too, the public has been grappling with a "Sopranos"-style killing of a Tel Aviv judge. Even though investigators are looking at personal and judicial motives rather than corruption, the country's first killing of a judge seemed to be one more indication, to use Daniel Patrick Moynihan's expression, that national deviancy keeps being "defined down."

The long chain of scandal - four of the last five prime ministers have been tainted - produces chronic soul-searching here. The Jerusalem Post published a recent examination of Israel's history of scandals under the headline "The Decline of Shame." Such articles have struck a nerve here, even among those who believe that the press blows these scandals out of proportion. [complete article]

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Anger at Israeli citizenship law
By Barbara Plett, BBC news, August 2, 2004

Human rights groups have renewed petitions against a law that bars Palestinians from joining family members in Israel.

The Israeli government first passed the law one year ago and recently extended it for another six months.

It imposes a blanket ban on granting residency or citizenship status to Palestinians from the occupied territories who are married to Israeli citizens.

Israel says this is part of security measures to combat the four-year Palestinian uprising.

Palestinian and other critics say this is racist legislation that violates international law. [complete article]

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Orthodox leader: U.S. Jews have no right to criticize Israel
By Sarah Bronson, Haaretz, August 2, 2004

A prominent member of America's Orthodox community, who was also a Senate staff member for three decades, spoke out last night against American Jews who publicly criticize Israeli policies.

"An American who wants to take sides should make aliyah (immigrate to Israel)," said Rabbi Dr. David Luchins, a national associate vice president of the Orthodox Union (OU) and a national officer for the Jewish Council of Public Affairs. "Their kids should serve in the army. It's better for American Jews to stay out of Israeli politics."

Luchins carefully emphasized that "every Jew has the right to pray and pay for their side, whether it's Americans for Peace Now or Americans for Likud," and said he was not speaking on behalf of the organizations he serves. However, the former senior aide to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan added that it's "devastating" for American Jews to criticize Israeli policies in front of U.S. politicians or in ads in The New York Times. [complete article]

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Attack threats cast shadow on forecasts
By Nell Henderson, Washington Post, August 3, 2004

It wasn't a surprise that the New York Stock Exchange and other institutions that stand as symbols of capitalism are attractive targets to terrorists.

But the strategic attack plans revealed over the weekend did serve to highlight the asterisk in analysts' forecasts of a strengthening U.S. economy heading into the fall. The continued threat of terrorism contributes to an uncertain future that has made businesses reluctant to commit to long-term investments and has kept oil prices high, both serving as drags on the economy.

Such business caution has been a feature of the economy ever since al Qaeda's Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, said Richard Yamarone, director of economic research at Argus Research Corp. "You can't ignore it," he said. "It's there." [complete article]

The politics of fighting terror
By Linda Feldmann, Christian Science Monitor, August 3, 2004

The politics of terrorism have shot to the forefront, as both President Bush and his Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry, grapple with a heightened terror threat aimed at the nation's financial centers.

Both men face the challenge of addressing a potentially grave situation without appearing to take craven political advantage of it. But with just three months before the Nov. 2 presidential election, the political dimension of anything either man says or does is impossible to ignore.

For Bush, the task is easier. As president, he holds the levers of power and can show leadership by taking action and using his bully pulpit to ease the public's jitters. Bush Monday endorsed two of the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, including the appointment of a national intelligence director and a national counterterrorism center, though he would not base them at the White House, as the commission had proposed. Polls have consistently shown Bush beating Kerry by a wide margin on terrorism - the only issue where Bush is ahead in a deadlocked race. [complete article]

Comment -- Let's suppose that the next president decides he's going to launch an initiative to protect America from global warming. If the war on terrorism provides a paradigm, the solution should be obvious: As the icecaps melt, build an ocean barrier around every coastal city in America; focus public awareness on the effects but avoid talking about the causes; above all, reassure the nation that the only way to be safe is to be strong. Meanwhile, enjoy the beach but don't forget the sunscreen.

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Insurgency not anticipated
Chicago Tribune (via, August 3, 2004

According to the General in command, the U.S. went to war in Iraq without expectation of the violent insurgency that followed or a clear understanding of the psychology of the Iraqi people.

"We had a hope the Iraqis would rise up and become part of the solution," said former Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the U.S. military's Central Command until his retirement last August. "We just didn't know (about the insurgency)."

Interviewed Monday in connection with the publication of his memoir, "American Soldier," Franks also said he had expected large numbers of foreign troops to join the U.S. in its Iraq effort. Franks attributes the stresses on American forces in Iraq now, in part, to the failure of that to happen. [complete article]

Comment -- So, the military commander of the war in Iraq says he didn't anticipate the insurgency; he thought the Iraqis would support the occupation; he thought that he'd need over 100,000 extra forces to meet his objectives; he thought that there would be much more international military support; and yet, the Tribune reports, "the retired general largely supported the administration's conduct of the war, and he said he admired President Bush for his leadership in both the Afghan and Iraq conflicts." When does loyalty become pathological?

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Turkish truck firms quit Iraq
By Michael Howard, The Guardian, August 3, 2004

An important supply chain for the US forces in Iraq was disrupted yesterday when Turkish lorry owners announced that they were suspending deliveries across the border in an attempt to secure the release of two drivers being held hostage.

The decision to stop the 200 to 300 daily journeys was announced after the release of a videotape on an Islamist website that showed the murder of a Turkish worker in Iraq.

The Turkish supply route is one of three relied upon by the US military and is regarded as more secure for the convoys than the routes through Jordan and Kuwait.

Of the 2,000 lorries that cross daily from the north, about a tenth carry vital supplies such as petrol and jet fuel to American forces. [complete article]

Comment -- Over the past couple of weeks, the campaign of hostage-taking in Iraq has acquired unusual focus. Up until recently, anyone who could be labelled as a "collaborator" was at risk. Now the prime targets are foreign truck drivers and the choice represents a carefully considered military strategy. Not only are the insurgents attacking US supply lines with psychological precision; they are also exposing a fundamental weakness in the Pentagon's reliance on outsourcing. Unlike soldiers, civilians aren't trained to accept that the risk of getting killed is an occupational hazard.

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What would Machiavelli do?
By Robert Wright, New York Times, August 2, 2004

John Kerry, tough-talking war hero, cut an impressive figure at last week's convention, maybe impressive enough to threaten the Republicans' time-honored dominance of the manliness issue - that is, national security. But you can already hear the Republican reply taking shape: O.K., you've shown us your muscles, but where's the beef? What exactly is your strategy for the war on terrorism? [...]

Mr. Kerry rightly stressed how thoroughly Mr. Bush has lowered the world's opinion of the United States. In elaborating, he said that America can't fight a war on terrorism without allies. That's true, but it doesn't by itself underscore the penchant for complex thought that Mr. Kerry attributed to himself in his acceptance speech. Even Mr. Bush now seems to realize that antagonizing allies is a bad idea. In fact, since the dawn of recorded history, just about everyone has recognized this.

What is new, and uniquely challenging, about the war on terrorism is that hatred of America well beyond the bounds of its alliance now imperils national security. Fervent anti-Americanism among Muslims is the wellspring of terrorism, regardless of whether they live in countries whose governments cooperate with us. Yet this is a part of world opinion Mr. Kerry didn't talk about.

His reticence is understandable. Fretting about Muslim opinion sounds a little like worrying that your enemy may not like you (even though, of course, the Muslims you're worrying about are the ones who haven't signed on with the enemy but may be leaning that way). So when Democrats talk about Muslim hatred, they're just begging to be called wimps by all those right-wing bloggers who have Machiavelli's dictum - better to be feared than loved - tattooed across their chests. [complete article]

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All the pretty words
By Bob Herbert, New York Times, August 2, 2004

They were able to sustain the eloquence for most of the week, which had to be a surprise. Bill Clinton told us that "strength and wisdom are not opposing values." Barack Obama called America "a magical place." John Kerry said, "The high road may be harder, but it leads to a better place."

There was no shortage of pretty words and promises at the Democratic National Convention in Boston last week. But there's a big difference between the rigidly crafted reality at the heart of a political campaign and the reality of the rest of the world.

"Practical politics," said Henry Adams, "consists in ignoring facts."

The facts facing the United States as George W. Bush and John Kerry joust for the presidency are too grim to be honestly discussed on the stump. No one wants to tell cheering potential voters that the nation has sunk so deep into a hole that it will take decades to extricate it. So the candidates are trying to outdo one another in expressions of sunny optimism. [complete article]

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Washington and N.Y. put on alert
By Dan Eggen and John Mintz, Washington Post, August 2, 2004

The federal government raised the terror alert level yesterday to orange for the financial services sectors in New York City, Washington and Newark, citing the discovery of remarkably detailed intelligence showing that al Qaeda operatives have been plotting for years to blow up specific buildings with car or truck bombs.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said the newly acquired information points to five potential targets: the International Monetary Fund and World Bank headquarters in Washington; the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup Center in New York; and the Prudential Financial building in Newark.

The intelligence shows that al Qaeda has been methodically casing those buildings, and perhaps others, since well before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, and also since then, according to one senior U.S. intelligence official who briefed reporters on the alleged plot. Authorities said they do not know when the operatives were planning to carry out any of the bombings. [complete article]

Pakistani-U.S. raid uncovered terrorist cell's surveillance data
By Walter Pincus and John Mintz, Washington Post, August 2, 2004

The fresh intelligence that led to yesterday's extraordinary terror alert comes from documents discovered after Pakistani and U.S. forces broke up an al Qaeda cell in Gujrat, Pakistan, eight days ago, U.S. intelligence officials said yesterday.

One of the men arrested in that raid led authorities to the documents, which contained the startling details of al Qaeda surveillance of corporate and government targets in Washington, New York and New Jersey.

Officials from several U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies huddled virtually round-the-clock Friday, Saturday and Sunday to discuss the fast-emerging information, government sources said, assembling intelligence from the arrested al Qaeda operatives and translating and culling through the documents. [complete article]

Agencies shared intelligence that led to new alert
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, August 2, 2004

At 5 p.m. Thursday, acting CIA Director John E. McLaughlin, in his other capacity as acting director of central intelligence, conducted the daily counterterrorism meeting where the first information about the latest detailed al Qaeda threats was discussed among senior CIA, FBI and military officials. They set in motion plans for antiterrorism operations in the United States and overseas, ultimately leading to yesterday's announcement of an elevated terrorism threat more specific than any the government had ever issued.

Surrounding McLaughlin were officers who once were prohibited by law or habit from working together: CIA operatives from the clandestine service who work today at the agency's Counterterrorism Center and its Terrorist Threat Integration Center; FBI agents; representatives from the National Security Agency, which intercepts communications around the world; analysts from the Defense Intelligence Agency; and senior military officers who help the CIA execute or coordinate foreign operations.

Once considered as separate as church and state in the United States, these agencies have worked together for more than two years, meeting daily at 5 p.m. in response to the missed opportunities recognized after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. [complete article]

The rush to reorganize
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, July 30, 2004

Okay, America, here's our intelligence reform agenda: The CIA recognized six years ago that America was at war with al Qaeda, so let's demote it. . . . Pentagon officials dragged their feet on dealing with terrorism, so let's give them more power. . . . The White House politicized the intelligence process, so let's create a new intelligence czar in the White House and give him control over domestic spying, too. The intelligence community suffers from too many fiefdoms, so let's create a few more.

Maybe that's an unfair summary of the recommendations made by the Sept. 11 commission. But as President Bush and John Kerry race to endorse the commission's agenda for change, you'd think the proposals had been handed down from heaven itself, rather than offered up for public discussion.

What these recommendations should trigger -- and what the country badly needs -- is a real debate about how best to fight terrorism, not a rubber stamp. America didn't have such a national debate after Sept. 11, or before the Iraq war, and we're suffering for it. The rush to climb on board the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations suggests that politicians are still running scared. They want to be on the right side of the terrorism issue and worry about the details later. That kind of thinking is what got us into trouble in Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- In the run up to the election every "counterterrorism event" is loaded with political significance. The current warning looks more like a way of postponing rather than preventing an attack. The message to would-be attackers is, "we know what you're up to, so don't try anything." The message to the public is, "You have reason to be afraid, but also reason to feel confident that we can protect you." Fear and security work hand in hand while implicitly sending the big political message: This is not the time for Americans to contemplate a change in management at the White House. If there's one thing that should be obvious, anyone charged with responsibility for homeland security should have a level of expertise and impartiality such that his or her statements can be taken at face value without political analysis.

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Another FBI employee blows whistle on agency
By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, August 2, 2004

As a veteran agent chasing home-grown terrorist suspects for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mike German always had a knack for worming his way into places few other agents could go.

In the early 1990's, he infiltrated a group of white supremacist skinheads plotting to blow up a black church in Los Angeles. A few years later, he joined a militia in Washington State that talked of attacking government buildings. Known to his fellow militia members as Rock, he tricked them into handcuffing themselves in a supposed training exercise so the authorities could arrest them.

So in early 2002, when Mr. German got word that a group of Americans might be plotting support for an overseas Islamic terrorist group, he proposed to his bosses what he thought was an obvious plan: go undercover and infiltrate the group.

But Mr. German says F.B.I. officials sat on his request, botched the investigation, falsified documents to discredit their own sources, then froze him out and made him a "pariah." He left the bureau in mid-June after 16 years and is now going public for the first time -- the latest in a string of F.B.I. whistle-blowers who claim they were retaliated against after voicing concerns about how management problems had impeded terrorism investigations since the Sept. 11 attacks. [complete article]

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Crude oil futures trade near record on higher terrorism alert
Bloomberg, August 2, 2004

Crude oil futures traded close to a record in New York after the U.S. government said al-Qaeda may bomb financial institutions, raising concern increased geopolitical tension may threaten flows of Middle Eastern oil.

U.S. Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge on Saturday said intelligence points to plans to bomb targets in New York, Washington and New Jersey state. Saudi Arabia has committed to use its spare oil production capacity to ease any supply cuts. Attacks against westerners in the kingdom have increased, prompting the U.S. to encourage Americans to leave.

"If there is a terrorist action in any of these areas, political tension could increase to such an extent that preferential relations with Saudi Arabia could be damaged," said Shelley Mansfield, the energy manager at ADM Investor Services International in London. "Jitters and nerves may keep American traders very much on their toes." [complete article]

Comment -- It's hard not wonder, within government how much secrecy surrounds a planned announcement such as the one made yesterday by Tom Ridge? The opportunities for traders making a killing are obvious.

Why oil prices may stay sky high
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, August 2, 2004

When Russia's largest oil exporter, Yukos, was apparently ordered last week to halt production in a dispute over paying back taxes, oil prices surged to an all-time high of almost $44 per barrel.

But analysts say the fact that Yukos could jolt the global oil market underscores how several factors are making the market vulnerable to shocks, and are likely to conspire to keep prices high for the next 12 to 18 months.

They point to the doubling of the pace of global demand in the past year, little spare production capacity, continuing terrorist attacks in the Middle East, and a controversial presidential referendum on Aug. 15 in Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil producer.

"You can write a checklist of factors that are contributing to this very overheated and feverish market," says Peter Kemp, editor of the Petroleum Intelligence Weekly in London. "The [oil supply] cushion ... that can be used in an emergency is very, very thin." [complete article]

Beware calls for a military response to Sudan
By Guy Rundle, The Age, August 2, 2004

... the conflict in Darfur centres on divisions between ethnically African Muslims and Arab Muslims in the region bordering Chad, and the persecution of the former by Arab Janjaweed militias and the Sudanese military. But this was the crudest possible provisional sketch, and not to fill it out would render it essentially incorrect.

Many of the African groups are not only Muslim, but Arabic-speaking, and the division between the two has been economic as well as ethnic - the Arab groups tend to be pastoralists, while most of the Africans are small farmers. They have long existed as interdependent and intermarried groups.

What has changed their relationship is the global economy. In the 1990s, the market for cotton collapsed and the country was suspended from the IMF owing $US1.7 billion in interest arrears.

At the same time oil and gas discovery and production in the Sudan increased massively - from 12,000 barrels a day in 1998 to 146,000 barrels a day in 1999. Since the oil fields were in the south under the control of rebels, but required piping through the Government-controlled north, it became mutually advantageous for the northern Arab Sudanese and southern African Sudanese to find a solution to their 30-year year civil war. The big losers in the deal were the Muslim Arabs in the Western region - Darfur. [complete article]

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Another president who won't budge the Middle East
By Nathan Guttman, Haaretz, August 1, 2004

Even though there are still three months before the presidential elections in the United States, one fact is already clear - no matter who wins, the stance of the White House regarding the conflict in the Middle East will continue to be unequivocably pro-Israeli. George Bush supports the disengagement plan, as does John Kerry. Bush agrees to the inclusion of the settlement blocs in a permanent agreement, as does Kerry. Bush thinks there is no room for the Palestinian refugees in Israel, and Kerry agrees. The next American administration, Republican or Democrat, will continue to support, without hesitation, the policies of the government of Israel. On the matter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Bush and Kerry are identical twins. [complete article]

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West Bank verges on unprecedented chaos
Daily Star, August 2, 2004

Palestinian leaders warned the West Bank was on the verge of unprecedented chaos as thousands of demonstrators showed their support Sunday for militants who attacked the offices in Jenin of the security services and local governor.

In another sign of the unraveling security, gunmen disrupted a meeting of the mainstream Fatah movement in Nablus.

Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei said it was vital the Palestinians unite to prevent the kind of chaos seen last month in the Gaza Strip from spreading to the West Bank. [complete article]

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Iraqi group claims over 37,000 civilian toll
By Ahmed Janabi, Aljazeera, July 31, 2004

An Iraqi political group says more than 37,000 Iraqi civilians were killed between the start of the US-led invasion in March 2003 and October 2003.

The People's Kifah, or Struggle Against Hegemony, movement said in a statement that it carried out a detailed survey of Iraqi civilian fatalities during September and October 2003.

Its calculation was based on deaths among the Iraqi civilian population only, and did not count losses sustained by the Iraqi military and paramilitary forces. [complete article]

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Marine lands in film, collides with superiors
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, August 2, 2004

For most of the central figures in the documentary film "Control Room," the grisly images that emerged from last year's U.S. invasion of Iraq were no cause for a change of opinion.

Over the length of the film, director Jehane Noujaim's inside look at the war through the eyes and lenses of Al Jazeera's journalists based at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar, the chasm only widens between the U.S. military officials who speak about the "liberation" of Iraq and the Al Jazeera reporters skeptical of the invasion.

The exception is a young Marine lieutenant named Josh Rushing.

Rushing, a Central Command spokesman assigned to escort the documentary makers during their time in Qatar, is among the film's most sympathetic characters, portrayed as a thoughtful young man moved over time by the grim reality of war. [complete article]

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Insurgency turns on Iraqi Christians
By Omar Sinan, Associated Press (via Toronto Star), August 1, 2004

A series of coordinated explosions rocked five churches across Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul today, killing at least two people and injuring 38 others in the first attacks targeting the country’s Christian minority in a violent 15-month insurgency.

Two explosions just minutes apart shook separate Baghdad churches in a largely Christian neighbourhood during Sunday evening services, followed shortly by two more explosions at churches in other areas of the capital. A car bomb and grenade attack hit a church in Mosul at roughly the same time, Iraqi officials said.

Many of the country’s Christians had become increasingly concerned about the rising Islamic fundamentalism here and some had fled to neighbouring countries to wait until the security and political situation became more calm. [complete article]

See also, Iraqi Christians' long history

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Kidnappings, beheadings and defining what's news
By Jacques Steinberg, New York Times, August 1, 2004

At a time when the American military can launch a missile several thousand miles and land it on a pitcher's mound in a baseball stadium, one of the most potent weapons being deployed by insurgents in Iraq is comparatively low-tech: the hand-held video camera.

Kidnappings are becoming a tactic of choice in the Middle East, and nearly every group that has recently captured a foreigner in Iraq has produced an accompanying video. Presumably filmed by the perpetrators themselves, the tapes often follow a theatrical ritual announcing the abduction: A list of demands is outlined. Deadlines are set. Hostages plead for their lives. In several grotesque instances, the hostages are killed.

The existence of such footage, which the kidnappers have distributed to the news media by courier (or at times directly via the Internet) has drawn Arabic and American news organizations, particularly the 24-hour cable networks, into the web of modern warfare, raising a question: At what point does a media organization become a tool of war? If they broadcast such images, even in part, they run the risk of goading future kidnappers with the implicit promise that their actions, too, will be screened before a wide audience, striking fear in the enemy and possibly gaining them leverage. [complete article]

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Islamic troop plan prompts skepticism
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, August 1, 2004

A Saudi initiative to send an Islamic force to help stabilize Iraq and reduce the need for the U.S.-led military force would probably take three months or longer to deploy and might not get off the ground at all, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials. The proposal is already mired in complex military issues and political sensitivities.

The logistics and diplomacy are so daunting that, even if there is an agreement to form such a force, the first major deployment might not happen until well into the fall, and a full deployment until much later, potentially too late to make much of a difference in securing Iraq before campaigns begin for national elections due in January, the officials said.

But the pivotal issue is more likely to be whether the force, drawn from Arab and Muslim countries, would bolster the 160,000 foreign troops in Iraq or come in as a separate force and begin to replace them. The difference could make or break the Saudi idea, the officials said. [complete article]

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The secret file of Abu Ghraib
By Osha Gray Davidson, Rolling Stone, July 28, 2004

The new classified military documents offer a chilling picture of what happened at Abu Ghraib -- including detailed reports that U.S. troops and translators sodomized and raped Iraqi prisoners. The secret files -- 106 "annexes" that the Defense Department withheld from the Taguba report last spring -- include nearly 6,000 pages of internal Army memos and e-mails, reports on prison riots and escapes, and sworn statements by soldiers, officers, private contractors and detainees. The files depict a prison in complete chaos. Prisoners were fed bug-infested food and forced to live in squalid conditions; detainees and U.S. soldiers alike were killed and wounded in nightly mortar attacks; and loyalists of Saddam Hussein served as guards in the facility, apparently smuggling weapons to prisoners inside.

The files make clear that responsibility for what Taguba called "sadistic, blatant and wanton" abuses extends to several high-ranking officers still serving in command positions. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who is now in charge of all military prisons in Iraq, was dispatched to Abu Ghraib by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last August. In a report marked secret, Miller recommended that military police at the prison be "actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees." After his plan was adopted, guards began depriving prisoners of sleep and food, subjecting them to painful "stress positions" and terrorizing them with dogs. A former Army intelligence officer tells Rolling Stone that the intent of Miller's report was clear to everyone involved: "It means treat the detainees like shit until they will sell their mother for a blanket, some food without bugs in it and some sleep." [complete article]

Doctors and torture
By Robert Jay Lifton, M.D., New England Journal of Medicine, July 29, 2004

American doctors at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere have undoubtedly been aware of their medical responsibility to document injuries and raise questions about their possible source in abuse. But those doctors and other medical personnel were part of a command structure that permitted, encouraged, and sometimes orchestrated torture to a degree that it became the norm -- with which they were expected to comply -- in the immediate prison environment.

The doctors thus brought a medical component to what I call an "atrocity-producing situation" -- one so structured, psychologically and militarily, that ordinary people can readily engage in atrocities. Even without directly participating in the abuse, doctors may have become socialized to an environment of torture and by virtue of their medical authority helped sustain it. In studying various forms of medical abuse, I have found that the participation of doctors can confer an aura of legitimacy and can even create an illusion of therapy and healing. [complete article]

Comment -- The Pentagon, the White House, and some members of Congress are still pushing the line that the torture and murder of Iraqi prisoners can be attributed to a few "bad apples." Criminal proceedings have thus far focused on a handful of lower rank members of the military. But the question is, why would doctors and medics who knew what was happening not speak out if the abuses were isolated actions carried out by just a few soldiers? Corrective action at this level would simply require the application of military discipline; it would not demand the courage of a whistleblower. What this silence much more strongly suggests is that speaking out meant challenging a system that would more likely punish its critics than correct itself.

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Indians willing to risk Iraq to escape poverty
Reuters (via Arab Times), July 31, 2004

Undeterred by the kidnapping of seven foreign truck drivers, desperate Indians are still queueing to get passports, visas and jobs in Iraq.

Three Indians were among the seven hostages of a militant Islamic group, but in their home states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh plenty of men are keen to follow in their footsteps -- even pay for the privilege.

"I would go tomorrow if I had the money to pay an agent," said 22-year-old Jagtar Singh, a tall strapping Sikh with no job or prospects. [complete article]

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Warlords, drugs and votes
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, August 9, 2004

Political junkies are betting these days as to how certain events would affect the election, like a terror attack or a major crisis in Iraq. To these I would add one that is almost certain to take place: the October election in Afghanistan. How that vote takes place -- with chaos and violence or order and celebration -- will have a significant effect on President Bush's electoral fortunes. Here, as in Iraq, he must now wish he had listened to wiser voices sooner.

After the United States won its spectacular victory against the Taliban in December 2001, it assured the world that it was committed to intensive efforts to rebuild Afghanistan. But policy on the ground was largely controlled by the Defense Department, whose civilian leaders rejected nation-building. They saw the mission in Afghanistan as narrowly military -- fighting the Taliban -- and perhaps wanted to move troops out of Afghanistan to prepare for an invasion of Iraq. During 2002 the United States would not extend the reach of the international security force outside Kabul, was wary of asking NATO to get involved, provided little funding for reconstruction and, most crucially, refused to help in the demobilization of the Afghan militias. [complete article]

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A novel approach
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, August 1, 2004

The 9/11 Commission Report is a collective memoir, and the language of memoir has exorcised the cant from its pages.

"Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States," begins the report. "Millions of men and women readied themselves for work."

With those words, the report's authors invoke collective memory -- who can't remember the azure depth of that perfectly clear sky three years ago? -- and put all of America ("millions of men and women") front and center in the drama. Official boards of inquiry love details, lots of dry details; but these details capture a mood, a sense of calm vulnerability. The 1912 Senate committee report on the sinking of the Titanic began by recording who owned the boat; the 1942 presidential commission report on the Pearl Harbor bombing opened with the dry particulars of the attack and then told its readers, "The Territory of Hawaii comprises the group of islands known as the Hawaiian Islands." The 9/11 Commission Report begins like an idyll, with perhaps the exact words that many of us, were we writing our own memories of the day, would choose. [complete article]

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Secret proposals: Fighting terror by attacking ... South America?
By Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff, Newsweek, August 9, 2004

Days after 9/11, a senior Pentagon official lamented the lack of good targets in Afghanistan and proposed instead U.S. military attacks in South America or Southeast Asia as "a surprise to the terrorists," according to a footnote in the recent 9/11 Commission Report. The unsigned top-secret memo, which the panel's report said appears to have been written by Defense Under Secretary Douglas Feith, is one of several Pentagon documents uncovered by the commission which advance unorthodox ideas for the war on terror. The memo suggested "hitting targets outside the Middle East in the initial offensive" or a "non-Al Qaeda target like Iraq," the panel's report states. U.S. attacks in Latin America and Southeast Asia were portrayed as a way to catch the terrorists off guard when they were expecting an assault on Afghanistan.

The memo's content, Newsweek has learned, was in part the product of ideas from a two-man secret Pentagon intelligence unit appointed by Feith after 9/11: veteran defense analyst Michael Maloof and Mideast expert David Wurmser, now a top foreign-policy aide to Dick Cheney. Maloof and Wurmser saw links between international terror groups that the CIA and other intelligence agencies dismissed. They argued that an attack on terrorists in South America -- for example, a remote region on the border of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil where intelligence reports said Iranian-backed Hizbullah had a presence -- would have ripple effects on other terrorist operations. The proposals were floated to top foreign-policy advisers. But White House officials stress they were regarded warily and never adopted. [complete article]

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High Qaeda aide retracted claim of link with Iraq
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, July 31, 2004

A senior leader of Al Qaeda who was captured in Pakistan several months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was the main source for intelligence, since discredited, that Iraq had provided training in chemical and biological weapons to members of the organization, according to American intelligence officials.

Intelligence officials say the detainee, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a member of Osama bin Laden's inner circle, recanted the claims sometime last year, but not before they had become the basis of statements by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and others about links between Iraq and Al Qaeda that involved poisons, gases and other illicit weapons.

Mr. Libi, who was captured in Pakistan in December 2001, is still being held by the Central Intelligence Agency at a secret interrogation center, and American officials say his now-recanted claims raise new questions about the value of the information obtained from such detainees. [complete article]

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Federal Bureau of Incompetence
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, July 29, 2004

Two news reports today illustrate how far we are from getting real reforms in our methods of spotting and stopping terrorists.

The first story, on the AP wire, notes how gently the 9/11 commission treated the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Yes, the bureau screwed up as badly as any other agency prior to the attacks of Sept. 11, commission chairman Thomas Kean allowed. But the new FBI director, Robert Mueller, is moving in the right direction -- "doing exactly the right thing," as Kean put it -- so the final report came down lightly on him.

The second story, in the New York Times, notes that the FBI and the Justice Department are keeping a tight seal of secrecy around the case of Sibel Edmonds, despite the inspector general's finding that Edmonds was fired from the FBI at least in part because she'd accused the bureau of incompetence in the war on terror. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Danger zone: Iran nears point of nuclear no return
By Ed Blanche, Daily Star, July 31, 2004
The general belief is that Iran is rapidly approaching the point of no-return in its clandestine nuclear program. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi declared in June that Iran must be recognized now as a member of the nuclear club and claimed that it is now able to operate the complete nuclear cycle, although it is not at present enriching uranium.

Tehran has since said it plans to resume the enrichment process. It is impossible to verify Tehran's claims, but Ray Takeyh, professor of national security studies at the Near East and South Asian Center at the US National Defense University, says it does appear that "Iran may be able to complete their nuclear program without further external assistance" - that is from Russia, North Korea and Pakistan.

If that is the case, then external efforts to prevent Iran achieving nuclear weapon status - such as sanctions or export controls on sensitive and dual-use material - can no longer be considered viable. That leaves a dangerous vacuum in which, with diplomacy faltering, hardliners in the United States and Israel start dusting off their plans for pre-emptive strikes.

Iraq funds are focus of 27 criminal inquiries
By T. Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times, July 30, 2004
A comprehensive examination of the U.S.-led agency that oversaw the rebuilding of Iraq has triggered at least 27 criminal investigations and produced evidence of millions of dollars' worth of fraud, waste and abuse, according to a report by the Coalition Provisional Authority's inspector general.

The report is the most sweeping indication yet that some U.S. officials and private contractors repeatedly violated the law in the free-wheeling atmosphere that pervaded the multibillion-dollar effort to rebuild the war-torn country.

More than $600 million in cash from Iraqi oil money was spent with insufficient controls. Senior U.S. officials manipulated or misspent contract money. Millions of dollars' worth of equipment could not be located, the report said.

The threat of peace: Bush's war against the NGOs
The official response of the Bush administration to news of Medecins Sans Frontieres's departure from Afghanistan is "regret." State Department deputy spokesman, Adam Ereli, yesterday said, "We hope they'll reconsider. They are doing important and valuable work there."

Nevertheless, though the loss of MSF represents a public relations blow as the administration struggles to tell its "success" story in Afghanistan, this event should be understood in the context of an ideological struggle within which neoconservatives see non-governmental organizations as a threat to American sovereignty and in particular, American sovereignty as it exercises itself on foreign soil.

Kurds wonder where they fit in the new Iraq
By John Daniszewski, Los Angeles Times, July 27, 2004
Iraqi Kurdistan's leading poet, Sherko Bekas, is skeptical of Arab aspirations to democracy.

"From where will that democracy emerge?" he said. "Do you think it can be built from Ramadi or Fallouja? Do you think the Sunni man will embrace democracy when he does not even allow his women to go outside without a veil?"

Bekas led a petition drive this spring that gathered 1.8 million signatures favoring a referendum to determine whether Kurdistan should be part of Iraq or become independent. Many people signed with their blood, he said. He recalled Hussein's genocidal Anfal campaign of 1988 against the Kurds, including a chemical attack that killed 5,000 of them. After having suffered so much at the hands of Iraq's Arabs, he said, Kurds would be better off going their own way.

"Eighty-three years ago, Kurds were wronged -- annexed to this Iraq against their will after the first World War," he said. After decades of oppression, he said, "there is nothing inside us that makes us feel connected to Iraq."

The terror web
By Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker, July 26, 2004
The day of the bombings [in Madrid on March 11, 2004], analysts at the Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt, a Norwegian think tank near Oslo, retrieved a document that they had noticed on an Islamist Web site the previous December. At the time, the document had not made a big impression, but now, in light of the events in Madrid, it read like a terrorist road map. Titled "Jihadi Iraq: Hopes and Dangers," it had been prepared by a previously unknown entity called the Media Committee for the Victory of the Iraqi People (Mujahideen Services Center). [...]

The Internet document suggested that a new intelligence was at work, a rationality not seen in Al Qaeda documents before. The Mujahideen Services Center, whatever that was, appeared to operate as a kind of Islamist think tank. "The person who put together those chapters had a clear strategic vision, realistic and well thought out," Amirah says. He told Hegghammer, "This is political science applied to jihad."

How to lose the war on terror
An interview with "Anonymous"

The American Conservative, August 2, 2004
TAC: Can you give us a sense of where al-Qaeda is now in terms of popularity and resonance in the Muslim world?

ANON: We dealt al-Qaeda some serious blows in terms of its people who are designated to attack the United States, but they have been succeeded by others who were understudying before those people disappeared.

In terms of popularity, it would be difficult to underestimate the growth in popular support across the Muslim world. Bin Laden has identified six specific U.S. policies that appeal to the anger of Muslims: our unqualified support for Israel; our ability to keep oil prices within a tolerable range for consumers; our support for people who oppress Muslims, i.e., Russia in Chechnya, India in Kashmir, China in Western China; our presence on the Arabian Peninsula; our military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan; and finally our support for Muslim tyrannies from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. Bin Laden is a formidable enemy because he has recognized what are deemed by many Muslims, even those who don’t support his martial activities, as threats to Islam.

Manipulating U.S. elections is not an Al-Qaeda goal
By Shibley Telhami, Daily Star, July 26, 2004
The warning by the US Department of Homeland Security that Al-Qaeda may be preparing to disrupt the presidential election has been sounded with little assessment of the terrorist organization's aims.

Some have questioned the extent to which the Bush administration may be using such warnings for political reasons, but few have challenged the notion that Al-Qaeda seeks to replicate its Madrid attack on the eve of the Spanish election for the presumed goal of defeating President George W. Bush.

In fact, while Al-Qaeda is constantly trying to prepare massive acts of horror on US soil, replacing the Bush administration is not likely to be one of its objectives. [...]

... it is difficult to imagine that Al-Qaeda would view the record of the past three years as having been anything but successful. Public opinion today in every Muslim country is far more resentful of the United States than it was three years ago. Four years ago, over 60 percent of Saudi citizens expressed confidence in the United States. Today, less than 4 percent expressed a favorable view of the United States in a recent survey I conducted.

The hope voiced immediately after the September 11, 2001 attacks, that a country such as Turkey, a secular Islamic democracy and a long-term ally of the United States, would provide the alternative to the puritanical Taleban model in Afghanistan, has not completely died. But today, instead of pictures demonizing Osama bin Laden on Turkish walls, the streets are filled with posters aimed instead at George W. Bush.

It's different from war
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, August 2, 2004
It is increasingly clear that the conflict in Afghanistan falsely fed the idea that the war against terrorism was a real war. In fact, Afghanistan was an exception. The reality of this threat, the very reason it is so difficult to tackle, is precisely that it cannot be addressed by conventional military means. Yet the prism of war has distorted the vision of important segments of Washington, especially within the Bush administration. This has produced bad strategy. The Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis has written on the Bush administration's strategy and describes its three pillars as hegemony, preemption and unilateralism. All three approaches seem justifiable if you believe that we are in a war that can be won militarily. All are counterproductive in a struggle that seeks to modernize alien societies, win over Muslim moderates and sustain cooperation on intelligence and law enforcement across the world.

How the zealots are killing a dream
By Will Hutton, The Observer, July 25, 2004
It seems a long time ago now, but there was a time when Israel was not only the Middle East's only democracy but a source of liberal inspiration. The kibbutz movement was a living example of how to build a new society based on genuine equality of opportunity and mutuality of respect in collective democratic communes that actually worked. I remember friends who had spent their gap year working on them eulogising about the experience.

That was then.Today, Israel's kibbutz movement is in crisis as a succession of right-wing governments has redirected subsidies to support settling the West Bank, where settler numbers are now double those working on kibbutzim.

The movement is paying the price for clinging to outdated nostrums, like belief in caring, equality and collective action, building Israel within its pre-1967 borders while recognising a Palestinian state and valuing the endless possibility of human development.

Like the rest of what constituted the once noble Israeli Labour movement, it has been shattered by the cruel marriage of religious and free-market fundamentalism. There is no more room for visionary ideas about building an Israel that will be a beacon for humanity whatever their faith. Israel is engaged in a fight to the death.

Inside the Iraqi resistance
By Nir Rosen, Asia Times, July, 2004
A seven-part series by one of the few Western journalists to have spent time inside Falluja in recent weeks.

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