The War in Context
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Quran abuses verified
By Craig Gordon, Newsday, June 4, 2005

One U.S. interrogator stepped on a Quran. Guards kicked another. And in other cases at Guantanamo Bay prison, the Muslim holy book was inadvertently splashed by water balloons and a guard's urine.

The U.S. military yesterday detailed five instances of confirmed mistreatment of the Quran by U.S. personnel at the war-on-terror prison in Cuba, including a fifth somewhat ambiguous case where a two-word obscenity was scribbled in English into the front of a detainee's Quran.

Two people were disciplined but the other confirmed cases were closed without disciplinary action. [complete article]

See no evil
By Sidney Blumenthal, Salon, June 1, 2005

President Bush's press conference on Tuesday, at which he denounced Amnesty International's annual report containing allegations of torture by the United States as "absurd" and dismissed all such allegations as inspired by terrorists, was the crescendo of a concerted administration campaign to stifle the rising clamor on its torture policy.

Amnesty International released its report on human rights on May 25. Among other findings, it documents that some 500 detainees are being held at the Guantánamo military base. The Supreme Court ruled six months ago in Rasul vs. Bush that they are entitled to legal counsel and due process, but Amnesty noted that the detainees have not been provided with lawyers in secret administrative reviews to determine if they are "enemy combatants." And the more than 50,000 detainees being held in 25 prisons in Afghanistan and 17 prisons in Iraq are "routinely denied access to lawyers and families." An unknown number of people have disappeared into secret prisons -- having been "rendered" to U.S. allies like Uzbekistan, where torture is routine. The Amnesty report called this shrouded network "the gulag of our time," and concluded that the administration's methods are counterproductive: "The 'war on terror' appeared more effective in eroding international human rights principles than in countering international 'terrorism.'" [complete article]

Comment -- It's ironic that the media's focus on the stories about mistreatment of the Koran is probably serving the White House and Pentagon's interests. Abuse of a book - however sacred - will in the eyes of most Americans seem far less serious than torture, yet this is what is capturing the headlines. Perhaps when a new round of Abu Ghraib photographs and videos starts circulating around the media more Americans will be jolted into some sense of the extremes (and their scope) that are the cultural consequence of a "war on terrorism." The question is, will the TV and cable networks choose to censor themselves and thereby protect the government?

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Deep Throat's other legacy
By Colbert I. King, Washington Post, June 4, 2005

Lest there be any misunderstanding, Felt was not a passive observer as FBI agents conducted clandestine and illegal operations against innocent Americans. As The Post stated in Wednesday's editorial, Felt "was convicted of (and later pardoned for) authorizing illegal acts in pursuit of leftist radicals in the early 1970s." Here's the rest of the story.

When Felt was the No. 2 official in the FBI, he and Edward S. Miller, chief of the bureau's intelligence division, authorized burglaries at the homes of friends and relatives of members of the radical Weather Underground. The break-ins were illegal and a violation of the Fourth Amendment. [complete article]

Read more about FBI COINTELPRO operations here.

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NY judge orders Army release Abu Ghraib pictures
By Christine Kearney, Reuters, June 2, 2005

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Army to release more than 100 photographs and several videos taken by an American soldier relating to detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, according to court documents.

Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan late on Wednesday ordered the Defense Department to process 144 photographs by June 30.

The photographs and videos, to be edited so the faces of soldiers are not shown, were provided by Sgt. Joseph Darby, whose photos set off the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal more than a year ago. [complete article]

See earlier, Why we'll never see the second round of Abu Ghraib photos (Reason, April, 2005).

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Samir Kassir, R.I.P.
By Michael Young, Reason, June 2, 2005

Journalists dread the moments they have to write the obituary of a person they know, but when it's a colleague and a close friend the effort becomes a penance. This morning, Samir Kassir, whom I interviewed about a year ago for Reason, was killed by a bomb placed in or under his car. Samir was many good things to his many friends, but he was also, undeniably, the media figure who contributed the most to denouncing the hegemony over Lebanon of the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services.

Who killed Samir? Perhaps this comment from a municipal worker at the site of the explosion pointed in a general direction: "The army doesn't forgive its critics." However, it would be more accurate to say that Samir had enemies throughout the security and intelligence apparatus, largely because he was so effectively insolent in denouncing their hold on Lebanese political life. Several years ago, the head of the General Security Directorate, Jamil al-Sayyed, once the most powerful man in Lebanon after the Syrian officer tasked to manage the country, had his men tail and harass Samir for weeks because he had written an article critical of Sayyed. At the time, a number of politicians had asked Samir to ride with them as a means of expressing their solidarity. This included former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, though, as Samir later told me, the only ones who pulled out guns and threatened to shoot Sayyed's goons were the bodyguards of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. [complete article]

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Iraq puts civilian toll at 12,000
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, June 3, 2005

Violence in the course of the 18-month-long insurgency has claimed the lives of 12,000 Iraqis, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said Thursday, giving the first official count for the largest category of victims of bombings, ambushes and other increasingly deadly attacks.

At least 36 more Iraqi civilians, security force members and officials were killed Thursday in attacks that underscored the ruthlessness and growing randomness of much of the violence. The day's victims included 12 people killed when a suicide attacker drove a vehicle loaded with explosives into a restaurant near the northern city of Kirkuk.

In Baghdad, gunmen opened fire on a market area crowded with civilians, killing nine, the Defense Ministry said. [complete article]

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War-weary Americans ready to stay the course despite casualties
By Edward Alden, Financial Times, June 1, 2005

With little prospect of a pullout of US troops in the near future, the question is whether public opinion - which so far has given Mr Bush a free hand to conduct the conflict as he sees fit - might turn more sharply against the war.

Since US troops left South Vietnam in 1973, there have been two schools of thought on the public's willingness to tolerate a long conflict and heavy casualties.

The first has held that Americans would quickly tire of anything but a short, decisive war with minimal casualties; the second has countered that as long as the stakes were high and mission was clearly articulated by the president, Americans might tolerate deaths in the tens of thousands. [complete article]

Comment -- The problem with tying war support/opposition to casualty numbers is that it ignores a far more influential factor: risk. Unless the draft is brought back, this will remain a war in which only a small minority of Americans risk losing their lives. The most tangible measure of support for the war comes not from how people respond to polling questions, but in military recruitment. When Uncle Sam asks, Are you willing to risk your life in this war?, the most common response is, No!

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Growing problem for military recruiters: parents
By Damien Cave, New York Times, June 3, 2005

Rachel Rogers, a single mother of four in upstate New York, did not worry about the presence of National Guard recruiters at her son's high school until she learned that they taught students how to throw hand grenades, using baseballs as stand-ins. For the last month she has been insisting that administrators limit recruiters' access to children.

Orlando Terrazas, a former truck driver in Southern California, said he was struck when his son told him that recruiters were promising students jobs as musicians. Mr. Terrazas has been trying since September to hang posters at his son's public school to counter the military's message.

Meanwhile, Amy Hagopian, co-chairwoman of the Parent-Teacher-Student Association at Garfield High School in Seattle, has been fighting against a four-year-old federal law that requires public schools to give military recruiters the same access to students as college recruiters get, or lose federal funding. She also recently took a few hours off work to stand beside recruiters at Garfield High and display pictures of injured American soldiers from Iraq.

"We want to show the military that they are not welcome by the P.T.S.A. in this building," she said. "We hope other P.T.S.A.'s will follow."

Two years into the war in Iraq, as the Army and Marines struggle to refill their ranks, parents have become boulders of opposition that recruiters cannot move.
[complete article]

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It's the manpower, stupid
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, June 2, 2005

The invasion of Iraq at first seemed vindication [for "military transformation'] -- the blitz across the desert, the seamless interplay between airstrikes and ground maneuvers, the swift toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime by a surprisingly small assault force. But then came the shock that winning the battle did not mean winning the war; that for the next phase of fighting, old-school basics -- rifles, armor, boots on the ground and lots of them—were more important than high-tech gizmos.

The military's big challenge today, it turns out, is not developing a new generation of weapons; it's finding a new generation of soldiers. In today's Slate, Phillip Carter and Owen West detail the stunning depths of this problem—not just the serious shortfalls in recruitment and retention (some of which have been documented elsewhere) but, more troubling, the drastic lowering of standards to keep the ranks from depleting still further. [complete article]

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We won't solve the military manpower crisis by retaining our worst soldiers
By Phillip Carter and Owen West, Slate, June 2, 2005

After combat, recruiting may be the toughest duty in the military today. Both the Army and Marines -- who shoulder the casualty burden in Iraq and Afghanistan almost to the exclusion of their Navy and Air Force brethren -- have failed to meet their recruiting targets for the last few months. The Army has assigned more recruiters, pledged more money, and lowered quality standards in an effort to hit its recruiting targets. Both active-duty and reserve recruiting has suffered. For the most part, the Army and Marines continue to meet their retention targets, thanks to a labyrinth of incentives. But current operational demands make retention increasingly uncertain. Many military experts predict a manpower meltdown at some point in 2006. [complete article]

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Bases, bases everywhere
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, June 1, 2005

The last few weeks have been base-heavy ones in the news. The Pentagon's provisional Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) list, the first in a decade, was published to domestic screams of pain. It represents, according to the Washington Post, "a sweeping plan to close or reduce forces at 62 major bases and nearly 800 minor facilities" in the United States. The military is to be reorganized at home around huge, multi-force "hub bases" from which the Pentagon, in the fashion of a corporate conglomerate, hopes to "reap economies of scale." This was front page news for days as politicians and communities from Connecticut (the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton) and New Jersey (Fort Monmouth) to South Dakota (Ellsworth Air Force Base) cried bloody murder over the potential loss of jobs and threatened to fight to the death to prevent their specific base or set of bases (but not anyone else's) from closing -- after all, those workers had been the most productive and patriotic around. These closings -- and their potentially devastating after-effects on communities -- were a reminder (though seldom dealt with that way in the media) of just how deeply the Pentagon has dug itself into the infrastructure of our nation. With over 6,000 military bases in the U.S., we are in some ways a vast military camp.

But while politicians screamed locally, Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon never thinks less than globally; and, if you throw in the militarization of space, sometimes even the global has proven too small a framework for its presiding officials. For them, the BRAC plans are just one piece of a larger puzzle that involves the projection of American power into the distant lands that most concern us. [complete article]

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We killed police for revenge, Israeli soldiers confess
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, June 3, 2005

Two Israeli soldiers have come forward to describe how they took part in what they say was an officially ordered "revenge" operation to kill Palestinian police officers ­ among them several unarmed men.

In graphic testimony, one soldier has confessed that he "really enjoyed" a chase in which he shot an unarmed Palestinian in the head who was trying to escape during a series of reprisal raids ordered the day after the killing of six Israeli soldiers in an ambush by militant gunmen three years ago.

In what may be the first inside account of such an operation, the soldiers from two reconnaissance units say they were among troops ordered by their commanders to "liquidate" the police officers at a series of Palestinian West Bank checkpoints even though they were given no evidence they had been involved in the killing of the Israelis. [complete article]

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Israel plan for new settler homes
BBC News, June 3, 2005

Israel has announced plans to build 22 more homes in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

This comes a week after US President George W Bush called on Israel to stop all settlement expansion in line with commitments made under the roadmap.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the plan, announced on Thursday, undermined efforts to revive talks. [complete article]

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How to make violence inevitable in Saudi Arabia
By Mai Yamani, Daily Star, June 2, 2005

A democratic tide seems to be sweeping across the Arab world. Even the traditional Arab monarchies and emirates are changing in its wake. Kuwait now allows women to vote; Qatar has embraced an ambitious reform program; Bahrain has shown great tolerance of mass demonstrations; and the United Arab Emirates is allowing something like a free press. But Saudi Arabia continues to be deeply wary of any sort of change, and thus remains a huge and seemingly immovable obstacle to region-wide reform.

Although the Saudi ruling family, the Al-Saud, is under enormous pressure to follow the example of its neighbors, internal resistance to doing so remains very strong. So the Al-Saud have become Janus-faced: looking in one direction, the royal family encourages democratic reformers to speak out; looking in the opposite direction, it jails them when they do.

On May 15, in a closed trial without legal representation for the accused, three leading reformers - Ali Al-Dumaini, a well-known journalist and poet, and university professors Abdullah Al-Hamid and Matruk Al-Falih - were condemned and sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to nine years. Their crime was to call for a constitutional monarchy. The official verdict states that they threatened national unity, challenged those in authority, and incited public opinion against the state while using "foreign," that is, Western, terminology. [complete article]

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The Hyde factor
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, June 1, 2005

For all the controversy over John Bolton--President George W. Bush's fiery nominee to be United Nations ambassador--U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is more worried about another threat from Washington, says his chief of staff, Mark Malloch Brown. Annan is so worried, in fact, that he believes Bolton and the Bush administration could prove to be his allies in what is shaping up to be another titanic battle over U.N. finances.

In an interview with Newsweek on Wednesday, Malloch Brown said that while Bolton was not the candidate one would "ideally choose," he may be the right ambassador "to represent the U.N. to Washington." Why? Because a bill sponsored by House International Relations Committee chairman Henry Hyde, the Illinois Republican, is threatening to withhold U.S. dues to the world body if major reforms do not occur--reforms that most U.N. observers believe it will be impossible for Annan to deliver.

And Bolton, Malloch Brown said, may be the man who can persuade the Republican right wing on Capitol Hill to avoid a "nuclear" confrontation that could bankrupt the U.N. and leave the United States isolated once again on the world stage, with not even the usually loyal British behind Washington. "This is not an endorsement of Bolton," Malloch Brown said. But given Bolton's reputation as a harsh critic of the U.N., at least "he would not be pre-empted on the right." [complete article]

Comment -- Former US Ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, has described Mark Malloch Brown as "one of the few people who knows how to deal with the four p's - policy, politics, press and process." The question is, is the British Brown correct in his Nixon-goes-to-China analysis or is this more likely to become we had to destroy the UN in order to save it?

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Downing Street memo mostly ignored in U.S.
By Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, Fox News, June 1, 2005

The memo, which received sporadic reporting in major newspapers in the United States throughout May, has sparked an outcry from more than 88 Democratic members of Congress who have signed two letters to President Bush demanding a response.

Led by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the signatories are mostly representatives who opposed the war in Iraq and make up the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Conyers says the mainstream media have ignored the story and let President Bush off the hook. He noted that liberal blogs and alternative media have been keeping the story alive. "But these voices are too few and too diffuse to overcome the blatant biases of our cable channels and the negligence and neglect of our major newspapers," Conyers said in a recent statement.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan has said there is "no need" to respond to the memos, the authenticity of which has not been denied.

Dante Zappala does not agree. For Zappala, the Downing Street Memo strikes a critical and personal chord. His brother, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, 30, a soldier in the Pennsylvania National Guard, was killed in Baghdad 13 months ago on what Zappala said was a mission to find weapons there.

"My family knows the consequences of the decision they made to go to war," said Zappala, 29, of Philadelphia. He is a member of Military Families Speak Out, a group that opposes the war and, according to Zappala, now has more than 2,000 members.

"I can't speak for what the TV news decides to focus their attention on," Zappala said. "They seem to have a willful deference to all relevant information. I think they've really just dropped the ball on this." [complete article]

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Series of attacks kill 38 in Iraq
Paul Garwood, AP (via The Guardian), June 2, 2005

Three suicide car bombings struck within an hour and two parked motorcycles exploded in northern Iraq on Thursday, while gunmen in speeding cars opened fire on a crowded market in Baghdad in a series of attacks that killed at least 38 people.

Continuing violence during the past days has claimed the lives of at least four children, two U.S. soldiers and a Sunni Muslim cleric, underscoring the rampant, random nature of an insurgency that has killed at least 810 people since the April 28 announcement of Iraq's new Shiite-led government, according to an Associated Press count. [complete article]

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Bomb kills anti-Syria journalist in Beirut
Reuters (via FT), June 2, 2005

A booby-trapped car exploded killing a prominent anti-Syrian journalist in Beirut on Thursday in an attack the opposition blamed on Syria and its Lebanese allies.

The killing of columnist Samir Qaseer four days after the start of Lebanon's staggered parliamentary elections shocked the country that was just coming to terms with the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. [complete article]

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Syria blames 'criminals' for Kurdish sheikh's murder
AFP (via Daily Star), June 2, 2005

Syria's Interior Ministry has blamed the murder of an outspoken Kurdish Muslim religious leader on criminals, while Kurdish parties charged he was tortured and killed by the authorities. Tens of thousands of mourners, meanwhile, turned out for the funeral of Sheikh Mohammad Maashuq al-Khaznawi near Qamishli in northeast Syria, Kurdish officials said. The sheikh had gone missing on May 10 and was believed to have been detained by Syrian police, according to Kurdish parties.

The body was handed over to his family by the authorities early Wednesday.

The 46-year-old Khaznawi "was killed at the hands of Syrian authorities," a spokesman for the banned party Yakiti said in a statement received by AFP in Beirut.

But an Interior Ministry official in Damascus, quoted by Syria's state news agency SANA, said the sheikh was kidnapped and killed by a criminal gang. [complete article]

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Suicide attacks emerge as weapon of choice
By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2005

Suicide bombings have become the Iraqi insurgency's weapon of choice, with a staggering 90 attacks accounting for most of last month's 750 deaths at the militants' hands, according to tallies by the U.S. military and news agencies.

Suicide attacks outpaced car bombings almost 2-to-1 in May, according to those tallies. In April, there were 69 suicide attacks -- more than in the entire year preceding the June 28, 2004, hand-over of sovereignty.

The frequency of suicide bombings here is unprecedented, exceeding the practice through years of the Palestinian uprising against Israel and other militant insurgencies such as the Chechen rebellion in Russia. Baghdad alone saw five suicide bombings in a six-hour span Sunday. [complete article]

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Iraq security forces suffer fatal month
By Adrian Blomfield, The Telegraph, June 2, 2005

Iraq's security services have suffered their deadliest month since the fall of Saddam Hussein, illustrating the rise in violence in the country.

Yesterday's announcement by the interior ministry gives the lie to suggestions that better intelligence and more arrests had reduced the insurgents' capability to strike.

Officials reported that at least 220 police officers and soldiers were killed in May, mainly by suicide bombings. The figure does not include potential recruits killed while queuing up to join the forces, a favoured target. [complete article]

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What now for Europe?
By Stephen Castle and Colin Brown, The Independent, June 2, 2005

The Netherlands has delivered a crushing "no" vote on the European constitution and plunged the EU into a crisis of confidence unprecedented in almost five decades of European integration.

Dutch voters rejected the constitution last night with 62.6 per cent voting "no" and 37.4 per cent "yes" in a referendum, according to an exit poll. It was the second comprehensive rejection from a founder member of the EU in four days and has effectively killed off prospects of implementing the constitution in the near future and any hopes of a British referendum. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said that the result raises "profound" questions for Europe.

The Dutch voters delivered a dramatic rebuff to a European political leadership which had taken public support for granted. It comes after France's rejection on Sunday, the scale of which stunned Brussels and led to the French Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, resigning. [complete article]

A lesson from the voters that must be heeded
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, June 2, 2005

The depth and ferocity of French and Dutch opposition to the EU constitutional treaty undoubtedly caught Europe's political elite by surprise. Now they may be forced to piece together a Plan B, having maintained all along that no such alternative exists.

Opponents of European integration are gleefully anticipating the EU's imminent collapse. Optimists suggest a stronger Europe could emerge. The truth about what happens next probably lies somewhere in between. The EU has suffered an unprecedented blow, reflecting a massive miscalculation at the top. [complete article]

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Writing Lolita in Tehran
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, June 1, 2005

A curious query from Iran: "Has everyone noticed the spooky absence of graffiti in our public toilets since the arrival of web logs?"

I confess, this little detail of modern life in Tehran -- which tells you so much about young people desperately in need of self-expression -- might have slipped right by me if I hadn't been sent a new book called "We Are Iran: The Persian Blogs." Written by Nasrin Alavi (a pseudonym), and due for international publication this fall, it's a survey of the personal diaries that Iranians post online. Five years ago, there were none. Now there are many tens of thousands. And you won't get a better glimpse of the obsessions and frustrations that exist behind the imposed cliche of the black chador; ideas and passions that thrive despite the rule of what Alavi calls "mutant Islamists." [complete article]

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Egyptians protest at attack on women activists
By Heba Saleh, Financial Times, June 1, 2005

Hundreds of Egyptians, many of them women dressed in black, rallied in central Cairo on Wednesday to demand the resignation of Habib al-Adly, the interior minister.

Activists said they held the minister responsible for the fact that police stood by last week while supporters of the ruling National Democratic party assaulted women demonstrators, sexually harassed them and stripped them naked in the street.

The attacks took place on the day Egyptians voted on a constitutional amendment to allow the country to hold contested presidential elections for the first time. [complete article]

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Anti-Muslim bias seen in charges against man linked to Al Qaeda
By Andrea Elliot and William K. Rashbaum, New York Times, June 1, 2005

Tarik Shah, one of two men charged last weekend with conspiring to aid Al Qaeda, was ordered held without bond yesterday in Manhattan federal court, as one of his lawyers said the government had singled him out for being a Muslim.

The other defendant, Dr. Rafiq Sabir, had not yet hired a lawyer when he appeared briefly yesterday in a court in Fort Pierce, Fla..

Mr. Shah, a jazz musician, and Dr. Sabir, a physician, have not entered pleas in the case. The two men, lifelong friends, stand accused of trying to provide support to Al Qaeda, and vowing to use their knowledge in martial arts and medicine to help international terrorism.

After the arraignment, Anthony Ricco, one of Mr. Shah's two lawyers, said the arrest was typical of the government's efforts to cast suspicion on Muslims in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. [complete article]

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Is the War on Terror a bad investment?
By Daniel Gross, Slate, June 1, 2005

If you wanted to invent a bogus-sounding Washington company, the kind of ominous corporation that belongs in a subplot for next year's 24, you couldn't come up with a name -- or a business plan -- better than that of Fortress America Acquisition Corp. Fortress America is a scheme by a bipartisan group of Washington insiders, including a Rhodes scholar turned professional basketball player turned congressman, a former senator, and an offshore investment company with ties to the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, to capitalize on the nation's fear of terror. [complete article]

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The untold part of the story about the story about revealing Deep Throat

By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, June 1, 2005

As an attorney who specializes in the protection of intellectual property, John D. O'Connor must have been acutely aware that his client's intellectual property had a dangerously short shelf life. Who could doubt that as soon as W. Mark Felt died, Bob Woodward (no relation of mine) would be eager to cash in the priceless asset he had held for so many years?

O'Connor and the Felt family have portrayed this as the story of a national hero, but their motives for getting the story out are at the very least questionable. It's hard to imagine that an attorney who already serves as lead counsel for R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and who "has represented high-tech, biotech, sports, advertising and insurance industry clients, as well as high net worth individuals" would have much need for the $10-15,000 he might expect to get paid for an article this length. Nevertheless, as an expert in defending the value of intellectual property, I'm sure that O'Connor had little trouble arguing -- and the editor's of Vanity Fair agreeing -- that this amounted to a scoop of inestimable value. The owners of the magazine can ponder what the story might turn out to be worth but what was O'Connor actually paid? And what kind of deal did he strike with the Felt family in order to sell the Deep Throat story?

Writing in the Washington Post, Paul Farhi says that the "problem for Vanity Fair ... was that O'Connor wanted the magazine to pay Felt and Felt's family for the story -- a condition the magazine would not agree to." They might not have agreed to pay the Felts directly but if O'Connor was originally acting as an agent for the story, it's hard not to conclude that he succeeded in closing the sale by creating merely the appearance of propriety, packaging it in his name and getting the check made out to "O'Connor" and not "Felt".

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U.S. 'losing its grip' on Baghdad's political process
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, May 31, 2005

Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgency has reached a “kind of peak”. The Sunni now realise they erred in boycotting last January's elections “and so, as Iraqis see their interests as represented in the political process, the insurgency will lose steam”.

This sanguine view of the state of affairs in Iraq--as expressed by Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, in a recent Bloomberg interview reflects the US administration's struggle to demonstrate that it remains in control and still has an exit strategy.

In the more sombre assessment of others in the administration, however, the US has long lost its grip on Iraq's political process. “We are losing control,” said one veteran Arabist in the administration who requested anonymity.

He described the US embassy in Baghdad, without an ambassador for about six months, as “out of the loop” and not involved in significant decisions taken by the new transitional government dominated by the Shia Arab majority. [complete article]

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Governor in Iraq is found dead
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Othman Mohammed, Washington Post, June 1, 2005

The governor of the western province of Anbar apparently died when U.S. troops were drawn into a tank assault against a house where Saudis and other foreign Arab fighters were holding him captive, U.S. military and Iraqi government spokesmen said Tuesday.

Gov. Raja Nawaf Farhan Mahalawi, 51, found blindfolded and handcuffed to a gas canister with his head crushed, died as he lived, a family member said -- caught between the foreign guerrillas he was trying to fight and the American forces he was trying to help. [complete article]

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U.S. Army officers cite lack of troops in key region
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, May 31, 2005

U.S. Army officers in the badland deserts of northwest Iraq, near the Syrian border, say they don't have enough troops to hold the ground they take from insurgents in this transit point for weapons, money and foreign fighters.

From last October to the end of April, there were about 400 soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division patrolling the northwest region, which covers about 10,000 square miles.

"Resources are everything in combat ... there's no way 400 people can cover that much ground," said Maj. John Wilwerding, of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which is responsible for the northwest tract that includes Tal Afar. [complete article]

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Data Congress seeks on Bolton includes company names
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, June 1, 2005

The information that the White House has refused to provide to Congress for its review into the nomination of John R. Bolton includes the names of American companies mentioned in intelligence reports on commerce with China and other countries covered by export restrictions, according to government officials who have been briefed on the matter.

It had been reported that the White House was refusing only to hand over the names of 19 individual Americans mentioned in 10 intelligence reports by the National Security Agency.

The names of the individuals and companies, which remain highly classified, were provided to Mr. Bolton by the National Security Agency in response to requests he made as under secretary of state for arms control. The Democrats who forced the postponement last week of a vote on Mr. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations argued that the Senate should insist on access to the same information.

But the White House has said Congress has "all the information it needs" to make a decision on the nomination, and at his news conference on Tuesday, President Bush dismissed the request for more information as "just another stall tactic by his opponents in Congress." [complete article]

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North Korea, facing food shortages, mobilizes millions from the cities to help rice farmers
By James Brooke, New York Times, June 1, 2005

To combat growing food shortages, the North Korean government is sending millions of city dwellers to work on farms each weekend, largely to transplant rice, according to foreign aid workers.

"The staff that work for us, the staff that work in the ministries, are going out to help farmers," said Richard Ragan, director of World Food Program operations in Pyongyang, referring to North Koreans who work for the program. Speaking by telephone on Wednesday, he said that in terms of food supplies North Koreans "are inching back to the precipice."

"It does happen every year," he said of the mobilization of workers to the fields, "but the difference this year is that everyone is involved." [complete article]

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Epithets increase tension over Korea
By Choe Sang-Hun, International Herald Tribune, May 31, 2005

Tensions between the United States and North Korea increased Monday as both sides turned up the rhetoric after a decision in Washington to dispatch 15 Nighthawk stealth fighters to the Korean Peninsula.

Vice President Dick Cheney of the United States described Kim Jong Il, the North Korean head of state, as an "irresponsible leader."

North Korea, in turn, called the deployment of U.S. aircraft a prelude to war. On Monday, the state-run Pyongyang Radio, using a vulgar epithet, compared Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of the United States to a dog "that has no fear of a tiger and barks at it."

Washington's harsh comments and its dispatching of aircraft to South Korea, which followed a brief period of calm and conciliatory gestures, suggested to some analysts in Seoul that the United States may be preparing to take a far tougher position toward the North Korean government. [complete article]

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All eyes on Wolfowitz as he ascends at World Bank
By Paul Blustein, Washington Post, June 1, 2005

As Paul D. Wolfowitz officially takes over as president of the World Bank today, he is presenting himself as a leader who will bring gradual shifts in policy to the giant anti-poverty institution, rather than tumultuous regime change.

But not everyone is so sure that he means it.

In the two months since the former U.S. deputy defense secretary was approved by the bank's board for the job, he has strived mightily to dispel fears that he intends to use the bank's $20 billion in annual loans to advance the Bush administration's foreign policy agenda. [complete article]

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Opposition to U.S. makes Chavez a hero to many
By Juan Forero, New York Times, June 1, 2005

When President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela arrived at the World Social Forum in Brazil in January, he was greeted with thunderous cries of "Here comes the boss!"

At ceremonies in March surrounding the inauguration of Uruguay's president, Tabare Vazquez, the latest left-of-center leader elected in Latin America, throngs roared their approval as Mr. Chavez gave one of his characteristically rambling talks, full of warnings about American imperialism.

And in Buenos Aires, crowds mobbed Mr. Chavez when he showed up to inaugurate Venezuela's first state-owned gas station in the Argentine capital, part of a food-for-oil deal popular with Argentines.

It is the kind of public adoration that brings to mind another Latin American leader, Fidel Castro, who for more than 45 years has drawn accolades wherever he has gone, much to Washington's chagrin. Now, it seems, the torch is being passed, and it is Mr. Chavez who is emerging as this generation's Castro - a charismatic figure and self-styled revolutionary who bearhugs his counterparts on state visits, inspires populist left-wing movements and draws out fervent well-wishers from Havana to Buenos Aires. [complete article]

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The dangers of being Uzbekistan's best friend
By Lawrence A. Uzzell, Christian Science Monitor, May 31, 2005

The bloody suppression of an uprising in Uzbekistan dramatizes how Islam Karimov's regime is now more of a liability than an asset to Washington's long-term strategic interests. If we want to avoid a "clash of civilizations" with a billion Muslims, the United States can no longer afford to be this anti-Islamic dictator's closest ally.

In 2001, Uzbekistan was an essential staging ground for the war that toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. But today it matters more as an example of US hypocrisy about human rights. It seems that a Soviet-style police state can brutalize its own people with impunity as long as it has good relations with the Pentagon. [complete article]

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Bush's political capital spent, voices in both parties suggest
By Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, May 31, 2005

Through more than four years in the White House, the signature of Bush's leadership has been that he does not panic in the face of bad poll numbers. Yet many Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the lobbyist corridor of K Street worry about a season of drift and complain that the White House has not listened to their concerns. In recent meetings, House Republicans have discussed putting more pressure on the White House to move beyond Social Security and talk up different issues, such as health care and tax reform, according to Republican officials who asked not to be named to avoid angering Bush's team.

"There is a growing sense of frustration with the president and the White House, quite frankly," said an influential Republican member of Congress. "The term I hear most often is 'tin ear,' " especially when it comes to pushing Social Security so aggressively at a time when the public is worried more about jobs and gasoline prices. "We could not have a worse message at a worse time." [complete article]

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U.S. forces mistakenly arrest Sunni leader
By Jeffrey Fleishman and Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2005

U.S. forces aggravated sectarian tensions in Iraq on Monday by mistakenly arresting a prominent Sunni Muslim leader as suicide bombers killed at least 25 people in a southern town and soldiers continued their offensive against insurgent networks in Baghdad.

Mohsen Abdel Hamid, head of the Iraqi Islamic Party, was detained when U.S. troops raided his home shortly before dawn. He was released after Iraqi government officials, including Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, criticized the action. Hamid had been a voice of reconciliation, urging Sunnis to work with the Shiite-dominated government and condemning a surge in sectarian killings.

A statement released by U.S.-led forces said the raid, which left Hamid's house with battered doors and smashed windows, was a case of mistaken identity. "Mr. Hamid is being returned to his home," according to the statement. "Coalition forces regret any inconvenience and acknowledge Mr. Hamid's cooperation in resolving this matter." [complete article]

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Basra out of control, says chief of police
By Rory Carroll, The Guardian, May 31, 2005

The chief of police in Basra admitted yesterday that he had effectively lost control of three-quarters of his officers and that sectarian militias had infiltrated the force and were using their posts to assassinate opponents.

Speaking to the Guardian, General Hassan al-Sade said half of his 13,750-strong force was secretly working for political parties in Iraq's second city and that some officers were involved in ambushes.

Other officers were politically neutral but had no interest in policing and did not follow his orders, he told the Guardian. [complete article]

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Another anxious journey for Chalabi: across the Iraq insurgency's heartland
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, May 31, 2005

Ahmed Chalabi has had a dizzying succession of roles amid the turmoil of Iraq: initially, as the Pentagon's favorite to succeed Saddam Hussein, and when that relationship soured, as a petitioner for favors among the ruling ayatollahs of Iran. Earlier this year, he surfaced as political partner of Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric who twice staged uprisings against American troops.

But on Sunday, Mr. Chalabi offered a new dimension to his reputation. A month into a new job as a deputy prime minister in the new Shiite-led government, he set off on a nearly 400-mile road trip across northern and central Iraq. His purpose was to stamp his authority on the country's troubled northern oilfields, in his capacity as the overseer of energy in the new government.

It was a journey few Iraqi politicians would even contemplate, carrying Mr. Chalabi and his 21-vehicle convoy across the Sunni Arab heartland that has been the base for much of the insurgency that has roiled Iraq since the American invasion nearly 26 months ago. For a Shiite politician like Mr. Chalabi, still more so for a man who has repeatedly demanded the purge of Hussein loyalists from the new government, it was effectively a venture into enemy territory. [complete article]

Comment -- Whatever you might think of Chalabi there's no denying he has more guts than his neocon backers in Washington. When are Richard Perle, William Kristol, James Woolsey, et al, planning to tour the country they expressed such a passionate interest in liberating?

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Allawi plans for a secular Iraq
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, May 31, 2005

Leading Iraq's first democratic opposition in a half-century, former prime minister Ayad Allawi plans to spend the next seven months building alliances for what he says will be a secular comeback when Iraqis are due to pick their next government.

Allawi largely disappeared from sight shortly before yielding power last month to a coalition led by Shiite Muslim religious parties. He has spent much of his time since in the hotels and presidential palaces of Middle Eastern capitals, conferring with regional leaders in a capacity somewhere between self-appointed envoy for Iraqi interests and prospective political campaigner. [complete article]

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CIA expanding terror battle under guise of charter flights
By Scott Shane, Stephen Grey and Margot Williams, New York Times, May 31, 2005

The airplanes of Aero Contractors Ltd. take off from Johnston County Airport here [Smithfield, North Carolina], then disappear over the scrub pines and fields of tobacco and sweet potatoes. Nothing about the sleepy Southern setting hints of foreign intrigue. Nothing gives away the fact that Aero's pilots are the discreet bus drivers of the battle against terrorism, routinely sent on secret missions to Baghdad, Cairo, Tashkent and Kabul.

When the Central Intelligence Agency wants to grab a suspected member of Al Qaeda overseas and deliver him to interrogators in another country, an Aero Contractors plane often does the job. If agency experts need to fly overseas in a hurry after the capture of a prized prisoner, a plane will depart Johnston County and stop at Dulles Airport outside Washington to pick up the C.I.A. team on the way.

Aero Contractors' planes dropped C.I.A. paramilitary officers into Afghanistan in 2001; carried an American team to Karachi, Pakistan, right after the United States Consulate there was bombed in 2002; and flew from Libya to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the day before an American-held prisoner said he was questioned by Libyan intelligence agents last year, according to flight data and other records. [complete article]

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U.S. expands aid to Iran's democracy advocates abroad
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, May 29, 2005

The Bush administration is expanding efforts to influence Iran's internal politics with aid for opposition and pro-democracy groups abroad and longer broadcasts criticizing the Iranian government, administration officials say.

The efforts are being carried out quietly to avoid provoking Iranian leaders, officials say, adding that they reflect the administration's frustration over stalled diplomatic efforts to get Iran to dismantle what the West suspects is a nuclear weapons program and to end its support for Islamic militant groups.

So far the resources directed toward these efforts are small, including $1.5 million late last year and $3 million this year, some of which is to going to exile groups with contacts inside Iran. No money has gone directly inside Iran, the officials say, but they say that could change and note that the sums could grow. [complete article]

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War by other means
By Laura Secor, Boston Globe, May 29, 2005

A curious thing started happening in the formerly Communist world in the year 2000. One after another, hated, repressive governments gave way to mass movements of nonviolent refusal. First there was Serbia, then Georgia, then Ukraine, and now Kyrgyzstan. It was as if a virus were spreading - one that led long abused populaces to wake up to their own power, which they could withhold from authorities to stunning effect.

But it wasn't a virus. Among other things, it was an 88-page booklet by a Boston scholar named Gene Sharp, which has circulated in local translation at the site of every one of these nonviolent democratic revolutions.

Called "From Dictatorship to Democracy," Sharp's booklet lays out a theory of power that explains the mechanisms of dictatorship and their weaknesses. It also details the nuts and bolts of nonviolent resistance: which tools to use in order to undermine a regime's sources of power, how to sustain discipline in the face of violent response, and the crucial importance of entering such struggle as one would a military campaign, with a strategic plan. Tactics include demonstrations and posters, strikes and sit-ins, boycotts and campaigns of non-cooperation. Some of these techniques work to paralyze the society and thus convince rulers that they cannot govern without budging on the issues at stake - or that they cannot govern at all. [complete article]

From dictatorship to democracy (PDF)
By Gene Sharp, The Albert Einstein Institution, May , 2002

I have tried to think carefully about the most effective ways in which dictatorships could be successfully disintegrated with the least possible cost in suffering and lives. In this I have drawn on my studies over many years of dictatorships, resistance movements, revolutions, political thought, governmental systems, and especially realistic nonviolent struggle.

This publication is the result. I am certain it is far from perfect. But, perhaps, it offers some guidelines to assist thought and planning to produce movements of liberation that are more powerful and effective than might otherwise be the case.

Of necessity, and of deliberate choice, the focus of this essay is on the generic problem of how to destroy a dictatorship and to prevent the rise of a new one. I am not competent to produce a detailed analysis and prescription for a particular country. However, it is my hope that this generic analysis may be useful to people in, unfortunately, too many countries who now face the realities of dictatorial rule. They will need to examine the validity of this analysis for their situations and the extent to which its major recommendations are, or can be made to be, applicable for their liberation struggles. [complete article(PDF)]

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Israel's 'Mr. TV' faults settlements in documentary
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, May 31, 2005

For nearly 40 years, Haim Yavin has been the calm, objective face of Israeli news, the anchor of Channel 1's broadcast since the founding of Israeli television in 1968.

Now 72, Mr. Yavin, known here as "Mr. TV," is about to deliver a documentary about Israel's settlements in the West Bank that is pessimistic, angry and intensely personal.

"Since 1967, we have been brutal conquerors, occupiers, suppressing another people," he says in the documentary, "Yoman Masa,"' ("Diary of a Journey"), which he filmed by himself, with a hand-held video camera and without a crew, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the last two and a half years.

He speaks to settlers, Palestinians and soldiers. While Israel is planning to pull its 9,000 settlers out of Gaza this summer, Mr. Yavin sees no end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, where more than 230,000 Israelis live beyond the 1967 boundary lines, plus 200,000 or so in East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel after that lightning war, in which he fought.

Talking of the missed chances of many governments, both Labor and Likud, to end or reduce the steady occupation of the West Bank, Mr. Yavin says astringently: "This merrymaking will never be stopped." [complete article]

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Not a minute without an attack
By Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz, May 30, 2005

The more stable and promising Mahmoud Abbas appears on the international stage, the more his situation in the internal Palestinian arena appears bleak. The list of problems he faces is growing so long, so fast, that one can only ask how long can he last.

At the end of a trip to Washington and Canada that he and most of his colleagues in the leadership considered quite successful, he now continues on to North Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya, and from there he will return home after a brief stop in Cairo. The Palestinian street laughs that he is turning into a "flying leader" like his predecessor Yasser Arafat, who nearly all his life felt much more at home on his globetrotting travels than in his offices in Tunisia, Gaza or Ramallah. [complete article]

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Pressure on North Korea: U.S. stealth jets sent to South
By Joel Brinkley, New York Times, May 30, 2005

The deployment last week of 15 stealth fighters to South Korea, along with the severing of the American military's only official interaction with North Korea, appears to be part of a new push by the Bush administration to further isolate North Korea despite China's hesitation to join the effort.

The deployment, confirmed by the Pentagon on Friday after several news reports, came just after the Defense Department said Wednesday that it was suspending the search for soldiers missing in action since the Korean War.

The search was the Pentagon's only mission inside North Korea and its only formal contact with the country's military. The Pentagon said it acted to ensure American troops' safety in the "uncertain environment created by North Korea's unwillingness to participate in the six-party talks," as a spokesman put it, referring to the lack of negotiations on the North's nuclear arms program over 11 months. [complete article]

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House proposes commission to assess nuclear forces
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, May 29, 2005

The House Armed Services Committee has proposed appointment of a civilian commission to help the Pentagon determine how to integrate nuclear and nonnuclear weapons in planning the nation's strategic strike forces for the next 20 years.

Since the Bush administration put forward its Nuclear Posture Review in December 2001 that called for transitioning from a nuclear-dominated strategic force to one with major conventional components, the Defense Department has wrestled with how to achieve that goal. The challenge is how to modernize or replace the Cold War strategic strike triad of bombers and land- and sea-based long-range missiles and its thousands of accompanying high-yield nuclear bombs and warheads. One goal of the posture review, according to the House committee report, was to develop capabilities "that would lessen the overall United States dependence on nuclear weapons." [complete article]

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Europe's pursuit of a long-term counterterrorism strategy in the post-al-Qaeda era (PDF)
By Rik Coolsaet, Royal Institute for International Relations, May, 2005

The War on Terrorism does not provide for hope, or dignity. It only expresses anger and fear. What is most needed today is a perspective that will help neutralize the feeling of marginalization felt in "that vast and populous section of the world, stretching from the Maghreb through the Middle East and Central Asia into South and South-East Asia and beyond to the Philippines: overpopulated, underdeveloped, being dragged headlong by the West into the post-modern age before they have come to terms with modernity", as Sir Michael Howard, President-Emeritus of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, depicted it.

Since outside intervention rarely produces genuine political change within countries, the main contribution the West can make is helping to create a global environment that facilitates domestic reform and economic growth in the world, thus helping to neutralise the widespread image of a conquering or indifferent West.

Terrorism and security concerns are distracting Western policymakers in the rich countries from long-term development goals and from paying sufficient attention to the sources of insecurity which many outside the West perceive as a greater threat to their own survival than terrorism: civil wars, poverty, disease, organised crime or environmental degradation. Inequitable responses to threats further the perception that what passes for international security is the security of the rich and powerful ... [complete article (PDF)]

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The most dangerous idea on earth?
By Stephen Cave and Friederike von Tiesenhausen Cave, Financial Times, May 27, 2005

It is easy to see how you could be tempted. It might start with genetically screening your children for a lower risk of a hereditary cancer. Or perhaps with a pill that promised to keep your memory fresh and clear into old age.

But what if, while you were having your future children engineered to be cancer-free, you were offered the chance to make them musically gifted? Or, if instead of taking a memory-enhancing pill, you were offered a neural implant that would instantly make you fluent in all the world’s languages? Or cleverer by half? Wouldn’t it be difficult to say no? And what if you were offered a whole new body - one that would never decay or grow old?

A growing number of people believe these will be the fruits of the revolutions in biotechnology expected this century. And they consider it every individual’s right to take advantage of these changes. They think it will soon be within our reach to become something more than human - healthier, stronger, cleverer. All we have to do is live long enough to be around when science makes these advances. If we are, then we may just live forever. [complete article]

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In rising numbers, lawyers head for Guantanamo Bay
By Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, May 30, 2005

In the last few months, the small commercial air service to the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been carrying people the military authorities had hoped would never be allowed there: American lawyers.

And they have been arriving in increasing numbers, providing more than a third of about 530 remaining detainees with representation in federal court. Despite considerable obstacles and expenses, other lawyers are lining up to challenge the government's detention of people the military has called enemy combatants and possible terrorists.

A meeting earlier this month in New York City at the law firm Clifford Chance drew dozens of new volunteer lawyers who attended lectures from other lawyers who have been through the rigorous process of getting the government to allow them access to Guantanamo. [complete article]

What's going on at Gitmo?
By Daniel Eisenberg and Timothy J. Burger, Time, May 29, 2005

Even as allegations of Koran abuse at the U.S.'s naval base in Cuba were still making headlines, the Pentagon was bracing for a new storm as reporters last week sorted through several thousand pages of transcripts from tribunals in which detainees challenged their designation as enemy combatants. Earlier, as the government prepared to release the transcripts, as required by a Freedom of Information Act filing, military officials reviewed them, looking for "potentially controversial and embarrassing items" about which their superiors should be notified in advance, according to a Pentagon memo that TIME has seen. To make sense of the latest Gitmo controversies, here is a look at Guantanamo during the war on terrorism. [complete article]

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Justice Dept. to indict two AIPAC staffers under U.S. Espionage Act
By Nathan Guttman, Haaretz, May 30, 2005

...suspicions against [former senior American Israel Public Affairs Committee staffers] [Steve] Rosen and [Keith] Weissman focus on a meeting a year later, on July 12, 2004. [Pentagon analyst, Larry] Franklin was cooperating by then with the FBI, which had threatened him with an indictment after tracking his earlier meetings with the AIPAC men, discovering the alleged hand-over of secret information. He agreed to take part in a sting operation in which he would give the two information and the investigators would then follow them.

Franklin called Weissman and asked for a meeting to discuss an important subject. At the meeting, in a mall near the Pentagon, Franklin told Weissman that Iranian agents were trying to capture Israeli civilians working in the Kurdish area in northern Iraq. Around the same time there had been conflicting reports in Washington about an Israeli presence in Kurdish Iraq. Journalist Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker had written that Israelis were operating there, but Israel - and the Americans - denied it.

At the meeting, Franklin told Weissman that the information was classified. This is significant in terms of the investigation, since it prevents the AIPAC men from claiming in their defense that they did not know they were dealing with state secrets.

Weissman left the meeting and went straight to Rosen's AIPAC office at Capitol Hill. He said it was a matter of life or death, and that Israeli lives were in immediate danger. The two made three phone calls: to an administration official, to Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, and to Gilon, at the embassy. Rosen told Gilon about the information and the Israeli official promised he would look into it. All those calls were wiretapped by the FBI and are part of the case against Rosen and Weissman. [complete article]

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Gunmen kill Afghan cleric who condemned Taliban leaders
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, May 30, 2005

A senior pro-government cleric was shot dead in his office on Sunday in the southern city of Kandahar in a brazen attack by suspected Taliban supporters firing from a motorbike.

In Kabul, meanwhile, kidnappers of an Italian aid worker, Clementina Cantoni, released a videotape of her to a television station and demanded that the Italian authorities speed up negotiations for her release.

The cleric who was killed, Maulavi Abdullah Fayaz, leader of the Council of Clerics of Kandahar, was well known for his support for the government of President Hamid Karzai and his strong stance against the remnants of the Taliban leadership that continue to foment an insurgency in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Last year, he declared the Taliban's call for jihad against American forces and the Afghan government illegal and against Islamic precepts. Then, 10 days ago he gathered hundreds of clerics from 20 provinces to divest the Taliban chief, Mullah Muhammad Omar, of the title he was given during Taliban rule: leader of the faithful. The gathering was also called to declare anyone who followed his orders to be acting against Shariah, or Islamic law. [complete article]

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America, a symbol of ...
By Bob Herbert, New York Times, May 30, 2005

This Memorial Day is not a good one for the country that was once the world's most brilliant beacon of freedom and justice.

State Department officials know better than anyone that the image of the United States has deteriorated around the world. The U.S. is now widely viewed as a brutal, bullying nation that countenances torture and operates hideous prison camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in other parts of the world - camps where inmates have been horribly abused, gruesomely humiliated and even killed. [complete article]

Old soldiers proud of their scars, but unsure they'd join today
By Peter Applebome, New York Times, May 29, 2005

There is plastic red, white and blue bunting above the U-shaped bar at American Legion Post 1711 on North Jerusalem Road, and a 20-foot-long torpedo outside. There are dozens of Little League and softball trophies in the meeting room upstairs, a forlorn copy of an ancient record album, "Connie Francis Sings Italian Favorites," and pictures of the post commanders going back to 1952. You can set your clock by the regulars who show up every day at 2 p.m. for the three-ball game at the pool table.

They all served, mostly in Korea or World War II, some in Vietnam. They're all proud of it. They like to think they serve still. They've organized two huge food drives to collect packages of food to send to the troops in Iraq. "Support Our Troops," reads the yard sign in front of the torpedo by the front door.

"We had a few guys shot up pretty bad or who were P.O.W.'s, but no one talks about it," said Vincent Solimine, a 75-year-old Korean War veteran. "We don't have lieutenants or sergeants or privates. We're just a bunch of guys who get together to play cards, play pool, drink a beer. We don't talk politics. We talk about our wives, or kids or vacations."

Still, when asked the other day, pride mixed with doubt, support with regret. And if the military wants to know why it's having such difficulty recruiting young soldiers, it won't get much comfort from picking the brains of these old ones. Questioned whether they would choose to join the military were they young men today, six of the eight veterans sitting around the bar said no.

"I don't think it's our war to begin with," Mr. Solimine said. "I still don't know what it's supposed to be about. Oil? Is it about mass destruction weapons they had which were never found? I'm not an isolationist, but I can't see what we're doing over there." [complete article]

Failures and blame in Pat Tillman's death
By Pat Tillman Sr., Washington Post, May 28, 2005

I'd like to offer a few clarifications to the May 23 front-page story "Tillman's Parents Are Critical of Army; Family Questions Reversal on Cause of Ranger's Death."
The Army reported that information "was slow to make it back to the United States." To the contrary, the information was sent almost immediately, but there was one set of "facts" for the military and another for my family.

As to the military's claim that it kept the family informed, I was briefed three times with a sales pitch of made-up "facts" and assurances of investigative integrity.

With respect to the Army's reference to "mistakes in reporting the circumstances of [my son's] death": those "mistakes" were deliberate, calculated, ordered (repeatedly) and disgraceful -- conduct well beneath the standard to which every soldier in the field is held.

I have absolute respect and admiration for Army Rangers acting as such. As to their superior officers, the West Point-Army honor code is: "I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those that do." They should reissue the booklet. [complete article]

Unceremonious end to Army career
By Tom Bowman, Baltimore Sun, May 29, 2005

John Riggs spent 39 years in the Army, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery during the Vietnam War and working his way up to become a three-star general entrusted with creating a high-tech Army for the 21st century.

But on a spring day last year, Riggs was told by senior Army officials that he would be retired at a reduced rank, losing one of his stars because of infractions considered so minor that they were not placed in his official record.

He was given 24 hours to leave the Army. He had no parade in review, no rousing martial music, no speeches or official proclamations praising his decades in uniform, the trappings that normally herald a high-level military retirement.

Instead, Riggs went to a basement room at Fort Myer, Va., and signed some mandatory forms. Then a young sergeant mechanically presented him with a flag and a form letter of thanks from President Bush.

"That's the coldest way in the world to leave," Riggs, 58, said in a drawl that betrays his rural roots in southeast Missouri. "It's like being buried and no one attends your funeral."

So what cost Riggs his star?

His Pentagon superiors said he allowed outside contractors to perform work they were not supposed to do, creating "an adverse command climate."

But some of the general's supporters believe the motivation behind his demotion was politics. Riggs was blunt and outspoken on a number of issues and publicly contradicted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld by arguing that the Army was overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan and needed more troops. [complete article]

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Hariri makes clean sweep in Beirut polls
By Nayla Assaf, Daily Star, May 30, 2005

Lebanon's Saad Hariri, the son of the country's assassinated former Premier, made a clean sweep in the first stage of the country's elections according to preliminary results. But the start of Lebanon's first free elections in more than 30 years was marred by a very low voter turnout of just 28 percent, the smallest participation in an election 13 years.

Yesterday's voter apathy is in stark contrast to the euphoric scenes earlier this year when hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets following the murder of Rafik Hariri in a show of unity to oppose Syria and Lebanon's pro Damascus government.

The Beirut polls have still to be followed by other districts over the next four week-ends and it remains to be seen if yesterday's turnout represents a blip because Hariri was virtually assured of victory, or whether it will be repeated across the country.

In Christian areas, turnout was even less, hitting a low of 11 and 10 percent in some areas. Prior to the election Christian opposition politicians had criticized the legal framework for the polls, insisting it failed to properly represent Christian voters. [complete article]

Fault lines apparent at the polls
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, May 30, 2005

Outside a Starbucks cafe in a Christian section of Beirut, a man removed his Yankees cap to show a battle scar -- received, he said, when he was a 14-year-old carrying a Kalashnikov in Lebanon's civil war. Now 30, the man, who identified himself only as Ramy, expresses little faith in any of the politicians vying for leadership of this religiously fractured society.

"Why vote? Why vote for someone whom I don't believe?" asked Ramy, who said he feared police harassment if he gave his full name.

As Lebanese in Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods went to the polls Sunday, Ramy sat it out. He smoked Marlboros, talked of a new civil war and watched rival Christian factions shout slogans across a crowded square, bristling with soldiers, in Beirut's fashionable Ashrafieh neighborhood. [complete article]

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Public enemy
By Paul Harris, The Observer, May 29, 2005

He is an American nightmare, an Islamic mass killer who haunts the national psyche. He has masterminded a bombing campaign in Iraq that has cost hundreds of innocent lives. He has a $25 million bounty on his head and is blamed for terrorist atrocities that span the globe. He is Abu Musab Zarqawi.

No single name emerging from the war on terror, perhaps not even Osama bin Laden himself, now dominates the headlines as much as Zarqawi. Certainly not in the past week. Accounts are confused, but it seems Zarqawi has been injured in Iraq. Perhaps he is even dead. Rumours have been flying across the internet and front pages. There have been hospital sightings, stories of a dying leader being smuggled across the border and the beginnings of a fight for a successor. No one knows what is true. Zarqawi has been pronounced dead before and always come back to the fight. Perhaps this time it will be different. Perhaps not (the latest rumours have him alive and back in control).

Only two things are certain. First, the one-time street thug from a Jordanian slum town is now America's number one target. Second, if he dies, the Iraqi insurgency will carry on without him. For Zarqawi did not create the war in Iraq. Rather, Iraq's war gave him his chance. Zarqawi's story is of a man who seized an opportunity to practise mayhem, honing his dreadful talent on the killing fields of the Sunni Triangle. [complete article]

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West infiltrates al-Qa'eda message boards in the war on terror
By Aqeel Hussein, Saleh Al Jibouri and Colin Freeman, The Telegraph, May 29, 2005

Before Abu Dajeneh drove out of the world to martyrdom in an Iraqi car bomb, he prayed, read the Koran and even sent a final email.

On an internet message board for al-Qa'eda affiliates, he said farewell to his comrades and that he looked forward to their next meeting, not in cyberspace, but Paradise.

"We will ask each other: 'Are you such-and-such who used to write Allah the Almighty! in such-and-such a message board?" he wrote. "It will be a great day when we reach it."

Western terror officials have been monitoring al-Qa'eda message boards for two years, sifting postings about beheadings, suicide bombs and kidnappings. [complete article]

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First day of Iraqi push against insurgents leaves 20 dead
By John F. Burns, New York Times, May 29, 2005

The largest Iraqi-led counterinsurgency operation since the downfall of Saddam Hussein triggered a violent backlash across Baghdad today. At least 20 people were killed in the capital, 14 of them in a battle lasting several hours when insurgents launched sustained attacks on several police stations and an army barracks.

The violence, including at least four suicide car bombs, was a bloody start to an operation that Iraq's new Shiite majority government had presented as a new get-tough policy toward Sunni Arab insurgents, first in Baghdad and then countrywide. The government has said it will commit 40,000 Iraqi troops to the Baghdad operation in an effort to crush insurgents who reacted to the government's swearing-in four weeks ago with one of the war's biggest rebel upsurges.

The Baghdad toll was part of another day of bloodshed across Iraq. In total, at least 34 people were killed, including a British soldier caught by a roadside bombing near the town of Kahla in southern Iraq that broke a protracted period of calm in the Shiite-dominated south. A statement from the Second Marine Expeditionary Force said a marine had been killed Saturday when a roadside bomb hit his vehicle near Haqlaniya, about 90 miles northwest of Baghdad. [complete article]

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Once havens of tolerance, Iraq's universities are becoming battlefields in an escalating civil war
By Aparisim Ghosh, Time, June 6, 2005

On May 3, when the members of Iraq's new government were sworn in, Masar Sarhan al-Rubaiyi, 24, a pharmacy undergraduate at the University of Baghdad, decided to throw a party. As a supporter of a Shi'ite political party, al-Rubaiyi was celebrating the ascent of the country's Shi'ite majority after decades of repression under Saddam Hussein. But the revelry turned sour after officials at the college of pharmacy asked al-Rubaiyi and his friends to break up the event, saying it violated a university policy banning sectarian gatherings on campus. The students refused the request, and al-Rubaiyi scuffled with the bodyguard of the dean of the pharmacy college, Mustafa al-Hiti, before heading home. He never made it. A few hours later, he was shot and killed by unknown assailants on a street near his house.

It's what happened next that has put the school on edge -- and induced worries that al-Rubaiyi's death could spark a wider, bloodier conflagration. In the aftermath of the killing, mobs of Shi'ite students rioted at the college of pharmacy, blaming al-Hiti and his bodyguard -- both of them Sunnis -- for al-Rubaiyi's murder and vowing revenge. Al-Hiti and his bodyguard deny having anything to do with the murder. As the violence spread to a cluster of adjacent colleges, Sunni faculty members had to be evacuated by security guards, colleagues and students. When the rioters showed up, they trashed classrooms and teachers' offices. Then came the reprisals: the next day, a Shi'ite law student who was close to al-Rubaiyi was found dead, fueling suspicions of an organized attempt to silence prominent Shi'ite voices on campus. "The atmosphere is now very tense," says Meitham, a pharmacy student who, along with others, does not want his full name used. "There is a sense that anything can happen, at any time." [complete article]

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Risk of civil war spreads fear across nation
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2005

Explosions rip through marketplaces, scattering blood and vegetables and leaving women wailing in the alleys. Bodies bob in rivers and are dug up from garbage dumps and parks. Kidnappers troll the streets, sirens howl through morning prayers and mortar rounds whistle against skylines of minarets.

Iraqis awake each day to the sounds of violence. With little respite, many wonder whether strange, terrible forces are arrayed against them. They fear that weeks of sectarian and clan violence, claiming the lives of all types from imams to barefoot fishermen, are a prelude to civil war.

"I'm worried 24 hours a day," said Zainab Hassan, a university student majoring in computer science. "Whenever I hear bomb or shooting, I call my mother and husband to check if they're OK. I can see a civil war coming, it's obvious. Everybody is talking about it. We have to be more careful."

Iraqis such as Abu Mohammed, who sells books along the Tigris River, struggle to comprehend how the euphoria of January's election has withered so quickly. They find contradictions rather than answers. Life has become a vicious thrum, with boys clinging to courtyard walls and gun battles beneath the date palms appearing live on TV.

Interviews with Iraqis from Basra to Baghdad to Mosul suggest that much of the nation fears that intensifying strains between Sunni and Shiite Muslims could ignite a conflict that would overwhelm the increasingly unpopular Iraqi government and 140,000 U.S. troops. Abu Mohammed blames, among others, Saddam Hussein, who, even from his jail cell, seems to taunt the country. [complete article]

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Iraq factions act on sectarian tensions
By Patrick Quinn, AP (via Scotland on Sunday), May 29, 2005

Two of Iraq's most influential Shi'ite and Sunni organisations agreed yesterday to try to make peace as the government prepared to take its war against the insurgency to Baghdad's violent streets.

The new effort to ease sectarian tensions, which threaten to plunge Iraq into civil strife, came as attacks killed a US soldier and at least 43 Iraqis over the past two days - including three suicide bombers and three men killed when a roadside bomb they planted exploded prematurely. [complete article]

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Long jailings anger Iraqis
By Doug Smith and Raheem Salman, Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2005

A year after the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal erupted, Iraqi anger has flared anew over the growing numbers of detainees held without charge at the notorious detention center and another prison in the south.

In the battle against the insurgency, U.S. military sweeps net many guerrillas, but also thousands of people whose offenses are nonexistent, minor or impossible to prove. They are often held for months, only to be released without explanation.

The population of long-term detainees at Abu Ghraib and the larger Camp Bucca, near Basra, has nearly doubled since August and now tops 10,000. With a large operation by Iraqi security forces underway in Baghdad, that number could rise. [complete article]

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The first occupation
By Edward L Ayers, New York Times, May 29, 2005

For more than a hundred years now the United States has been one of the great agents of social transformation in the world. From the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century to Iraq at the beginning of the 21st, this country has sought to remake other nations. The reconstructions of Japan and Germany after World War II stand as the great successes, mixed among other interventions in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

As Americans try to understand our role in the world, we seldom turn for instruction to our own history of Reconstruction of the South in the 1860's and 1870's. That is partly because the South is hardly a foreign country and partly because "Gone With the Wind" and other popular stories have told us that Reconstruction was a horrible mistake, a misguided, hypocritical and deluded effort by zealots to force an unnatural order on a helpless South. Modern historians have exploded that story but agree that Reconstruction failed to deliver on its promises, abandoning African-Americans to poverty, lynching and segregation.

Despite its limitations and failures, however, Reconstruction is worth our attention -- not least because it represented America's first attempt to transform a defeated society through a sustained military occupation. As such, it would foreshadow significant parts of American foreign policy over the next century and a half. [complete article]

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Review may shift terror policies
By Susan B. Glasser, Washington Post, May 29, 2005

The Bush administration has launched a high-level internal review of its efforts to battle international terrorism, aimed at moving away from a policy that has stressed efforts to capture and kill al Qaeda leaders since Sept. 11, 2001, and toward what a senior official called a broader "strategy against violent extremism."

The shift is meant to recognize the transformation of al Qaeda over the past three years into a far more amorphous, diffuse and difficult-to-target organization than the group that struck the United States in 2001. But critics say the policy review comes only after months of delay and lost opportunities while the administration left key counterterrorism jobs unfilled and argued internally over how best to confront the rapid spread of the pro-al Qaeda global Islamic jihad. [complete article]

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The lure of opium wealth is a potent force in Afghanistan
By Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2005

Three and a half years after the United States led an invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime, the United Nations and the U.S. government warn that the country is in danger of becoming a narco-state controlled by traffickers. The State Department recently called the Afghan drug trade "an enormous threat to world stability." The United Nations estimates that Afghanistan produces 87% of the world's opium.

For decades, poor farmers trying to make a living in Afghanistan's mountain valleys have harvested the opium poppies that feed the world's drug pipeline. Now the trade is booming, partly the result of the U.S. strategy for overthrowing the Taliban and stabilizing the country after two decades of war.

U.S. troops forged alliances with warlords, who provided ground forces in the battle against the Taliban. Some of those allies are suspected of being among Afghanistan's biggest drug traffickers, controlling networks that include producers, criminal gangs and even members of the counter-narcotics police force. They are willing to make deals with remnants of the Taliban if the price is right.

The U.S.-backed Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has brought some of those warlords into his popularly elected government, a recognition of their political clout and a calculated risk that keeping them close might make it easier to control them.

"Drug money is absolutely supporting terrorist groups," said Alexandre Schmidt, deputy head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan. And regardless of their allegiance, Schmidt said, most suspects are released within 48 hours because of intervention by higher authorities. [complete article]

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Ground zero is so over
By Frank Rich, New York Times, May 29, 2005

...what has most separated America from the old exigencies of 9/11 - and therefore from the fate of ground zero - is, at long last, the decoupling of the war on terror from the war on Iraq. The myth fostered by the administration that Saddam Hussein conspired in the 9/11 attacks is finally dead and so, apparently, is the parallel myth that Iraqis were among that day's hijackers. Our initial, post-9/11 war against Al Qaeda - the swift and decisive victory over the Taliban - is now seen as both a discrete event and ancient history (as is the hope of nailing Osama bin Laden dead or alive); Afghanistan itself has fallen off the American radar screen except as a site for burgeoning poppy production and the deaths of detainees in American custody. In its place stands only the war in Iraq, which is increasingly seen as an add-on to the war provoked by 9/11 and whose unpopularity grows by the day. [complete article]

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Polarised and afraid, Christians are braced for a new Lebanon conflict
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, May 29, 2005

On the day of Lebanon's first election since the departure of Syria's occupying army, Christians are bitter, frightened and divided over what they say has been their 'betrayal' by both the Cedar Revolution - which sprang up earlier this year after the assassination of the former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri - and by their own leadership at the moment of the country's 'liberation'.

It was not supposed to be like this. After 15 years of war - from 1975 to 1990 - followed by 15 years of a poisoned peace overseen by the Syrian army, the departure of the occupiers was supposed to herald a new era. But once again Lebanon's competing factions are eyeing each other suspiciously across the religious divide. And the Christians are calling foul. [complete article]

Lebanese seek to map a future mired in past
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, May 29, 2005

It's politics as usual in Lebanon, more than two months after hundreds of thousands of flag-waving Lebanese poured into downtown Beirut this spring, furious over the assassination Feb. 14 of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, which they blamed on Syria. In what they proclaimed the Cedar Revolution, they demanded the end of a generation of Syrian dominance over their tiny, mountainous country. The Syrians have since left, but Lebanon is perhaps most remarkable for how little else has changed. [complete article]

The next prime minister?
By Lally Weymouth, Washington Post, May 29, 2005

Last February, when former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri was assassinated, his son Saad, 35, was living in Saudi Arabia and working for his father's huge business empire. Now, the younger Hariri has chosen a different path, just as his country is emerging from years of Syrian domination. Today, Lebanon goes to the polls for the first round of this landmark election. Hariri is heading a slate of parliamentary candidates that is expected to win the most votes. The question on everyone's lips here: If his slate wins, will this political novice end up as prime minister or will he choose someone else to run the country while he learns the ropes? Last week, Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth interviewed Hariri in his Beirut office. [complete article]

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Across Iran, nuclear power is a matter of pride
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, May 29, 2005

From nuclear negotiators to student dissidents, from bazaar merchants to turbaned mullahs, Iranians agree: the right to develop nuclear power is a point of national pride.

"For a country to have nuclear energy means that it has made progress in all other fields as well, so other countries have to respect its technology," said Nilufar, 29, a graduate student in energy management at the prestigious Sharif Industrial University. Nilufar, covered in black so only her face was showing, agreed to be interviewed on such a delicate topic only if her family name was not used.

Ehsan Motaghi, a 26-year-old seminary student in Isfahan, cited a parable from Imam Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law and the inspiration for the Shiite branch of Islam, which most Iranians follow. "They can offer me everything from the earth and heaven, but in exchange if they want me to so much as take the food from an ant's mouth that is his right to eat, I won't do it," he said. "Achieving the peaceful use of technology is really a matter of pride and we will not stop this for anything."

Such passions were echoed in two weeks of conversations with Iranians across all walks of life. Virtually all supported Iran's defying the West and moving ahead with its uranium enrichment program, which carries the threat of further United Nations sanctions. [complete article]

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The one-man Rafsanjani show
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, May 28, 2005

Observers of Iranian affairs have praised [Grand Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei's decision [to permit two disqualified candidates for the June 17 elections to run for presidential office] and the Guardian Council's U-turn. On the surface, it may seem democratic, but Khamenei has done it with one purpose: to impede the rise of ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani to power.

Although the two men have been friends since the Iranian revolution of 1979, they have quarreled on political matters ever since. More recently, Rafsanjani is believed to be seeking a deal with the Americans that would end Iran's nuclear program; something Khamenei curtly refuses. [complete article]

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EMAIL UPDATES -- Click here to sign up for weekly email updates -- a digest of key articles from the last seven days. (Please include your name in the message and put "subscribe" in the subject line.)
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven plus days:

Many Iraqis see sectarian roots in new killings
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, May 27, 2005
No one knows who tortured and killed Hassan al-Nuaimi, a Sunni Arab cleric whose body was found in an empty lot here last week, with a hole drilled in his head and both eyes missing. But the various theories have a distinctly sectarian tinge.

The Shiite police chief investigating the death said he suspected Sunni Arab extremists who have driven much of the insurgency in Iraq, much of it aimed at Shiites. The Sunni family mourning the cleric pointed the finger at the Badr Organization, a Shiite militia. But with Mr. Nuaimi buried, the truth, as so often with killings in Iraq, seems to be lost in rumor and allegations.

The only sure thing is that Mr. Nuaimi and another Sunni man who helped write sermons were killed within 12 hours of their disappearance from a mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood in northeast Baghdad.

Their deaths, amid violence that has taken more than 550 lives across Iraq this month, renewed concern that the bloodshed may be shifting ever more toward crudely sectarian killings.

Hard-line Sunni leaders have pressed the case. "The killing in Iraq now is according to religious identity," said Sheik Abdel Nasir al-Janabi, a religious Sunni and a hard-line member of the National Dialogue Council, a Sunni political group that claims to have ties to the insurgency. "Now you're killed because you're a Sunni Arab."

Shiite leaders, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, have responded to such talk with calls for calm and renewed appeals to Shiites that they place their trust in Iraq's fledgling democracy, not revenge killings.

But the urgency of the Shiite leaders' appeals reflects a deepening fear that the welter of allegations about Shiite death squads going after Sunni Arabs, true or false, may create a new reality, prompting still more sectarian killings and pushing the country ever closer to the brink of civil war.

Inside the wire: An interview with Erik Saar
By Onnesha Roychoudhuri, Mother Jones, May 24, 2005
Despite the Pentagon's initial insistence that Guantanamo holds the "worst of the worst," it's become common knowledge that most of the detainees held there are innocent of terrorist activities and of limited intelligence value--not least because those suspects deemed to possess critical intelligence have by and large been sent to other countries or bases for interrogation. Even so, thanks to an ineffective vetting system, in many cases it's not entirely clear, even to those working at Guantanamo, who the prisoners in the camp are and how they came to land there.

[According to Erik Saar, who worked for six months as a translator at Guantanamo], the combination of inept management, insufficient training, purposely loose interrogation guidelines, a refusal by the US government to abide by the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, and political pressure to wring intelligence, any intelligence, out of the detainees, made abuses inevitable. Saar spoke with Mother Jones about his experience working at Guantanamo and why he thinks the camp is an affront to American values and is undermining the goals of the war on terror.

Guantanamo prisoners told FBI of Koran desecration in 2002, new documents reveal
American Civil Liberties Union, May 25, 2005
New documents released by the FBI include previously undisclosed interviews in which prisoners at Guantanamo complain that guards have mistreated the Koran, the American Civil Liberties Union said today. In one 2002 summary, an FBI interrogator notes a prisoner's allegation that guards flushed a Koran down the toilet.

The disclosure comes on the heels of controversy over a Newsweek report saying that government investigators had corroborated an almost identical incident. Newsweek ultimately retracted its story because a confidential government source could not be confirmed.

"The United States government continues to turn a blind eye to mounting evidence of widespread abuse of detainees held in its custody," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "If we are to truly repair America's standing in the world, the Bush Administration must hold accountable high-ranking officials who allow the continuing abuse and torture of detainees."

Amnesty International Report 2005
By Irene Khan, Secretary General, Amnesty International, May 25, 2005
In 1973 Amnesty International published its first report on torture. It found that: "torture thrives on secrecy and impunity. Torture rears its head when the legal barriers against it are barred. Torture feeds on discrimination and fear. Torture gains ground when official condemnation of it is less than absolute." The pictures of detainees in US custody in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, show that what was true 30 years ago remains true today.

Despite the near-universal outrage generated by the photographs coming out of Abu Ghraib, and the evidence suggesting that such practices are being applied to other prisoners held by the USA in Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere, neither the US administration nor the US Congress has called for a full and independent investigation.

Instead, the US government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Conventions and to "re-define" torture. It has sought to justify the use of coercive interrogation techniques, the practice of holding "ghost detainees" (people in unacknowledged incommunicado detention) and the "rendering" or handing over of prisoners to third countries known to practise torture. The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law. Trials by military commissions have made a mockery of justice and due process.

The USA, as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power, sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide. When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity and audacity. From Israel to Uzbekistan, Egypt to Nepal, governments have openly defied human rights and international humanitarian law in the name of national security and "counter-terrorism".
See the United States of America section of the Amnesty report.

Proposal to divide Iraq into semi-autonomous states gains ground
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, May 24, 2005
As Iraq begins writing its new constitution, leaders in the country's southern regions are pushing aggressively to unite their three provinces into an oil-rich, semi-autonomous state, a plan that some worry could solidify Iraq's sectarian tensions, create fights over oil revenues and eventually split the nation.

In the southern Shiite Muslim city of Basra, where the provincial government launched the campaign, signs on the streets encourage residents to support the plan. Local leaders have held several conferences to map out their proposed state and regional government.

Muhammed Musbih al Waely, the governor of Basra province, said Shiites suffered under the last centralized government, Saddam Hussein's, and that they wanted to control the development of their region.

"The next few months are going to witness a big change in the region," al Waely said.

Al Waely's proposal would unite the contiguous southeast Shiite-dominated provinces of Maysan, Basra and Dhiqar into a single state. Basra, the country's second-largest city and the principal port city, would be the new regional government's capital.

Pipelineistan's biggest game begins
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, May 26, 2005
History may judge it as one of the capital moves of the 21st century's New Great Game: May 25, the day high-quality Caspian light crude started flowing through the Caucasus toward the Mediterranean in Turkey. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC) - conceived by the US as the ultimate Western escape route from dependence on oil from the Persian Gulf - is finally in business.

This is what Pipelineistan is all about: a supreme law unto itself - untouchable by national sovereignty, serious environmental concerns (expressed both in the Caucasus and in Europe), labor legislation, protests against the World Bank, not to mention mountains 2,700 meters high and 1,500 small rivers. BTC took 10 years of hard work and at least US$4 billion - $3 billion of which is in bank loans. BTC is not merely a pipeline: it is a sovereign state.

Theocracy meets democracy in Iran
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, May 25, 2005
The Iranian reformist newspaper Mardomsalari nailed it: "These June 17 [presidential] elections are the most important since the beginning of the Islamic republic in 1979. Iranians have the choice of handing victory to former president Ali Akbar Heshemi Rafsanjani, vote for a reformist candidate to pursue the reforms, or allow conservative radicals to take power in all branches of government."

The Iranian election campaign started this week amid major turmoil after the unelected, conservative Guardians Council rejected all but six out of more than 1,000 presidential hopefuls.
This week, though, came a bomb - or the system trying to save itself. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sent a decree to Guardians Council leader Ayatollah Ahmad Janati asking him to review the decision to disqualify popular reformist Mostafa Moin, a former higher education minister, and Vice President Mohsen Mehralizadeh. Moin is in the center of the furor. He is the leading candidate of the reformists, running for the Islamic Iran Participation Front, the largest pro-reform political party, led by Mohammad Reza Khatami, the younger brother of outgoing President Mohammad Khatami, who is barred from serving a third term. The Supreme Leader and the conservative ayatollahs around him sensed they might be defeated by a powerful weapon: absenteeism. Americans may consider a president chosen by roughly half the electorate as a legitimate one. Not the Iranians.

Pakistan: U.S. citizens tortured, held illegally
Human Rights Watch, May 24, 2005
U.S. FBI agents operating in Pakistan repeatedly interrogated and threatened two U.S. citizens of Pakistani origin who were unlawfully detained and subjected to torture by the Pakistani security services, Human Rights Watch said today.

The brothers Zain Afzal and Kashan Afzal were abducted from their home in Karachi at about 2 a.m. on August 13, 2004. They were released on April 22, 2005 without having been charged.

During eight months of illegal detention, Zain Afzal and Kashan Afzal were routinely tortured by Pakistani authorities to extract confessions of involvement in terrorist activities. During this period, FBI agents questioned the brothers on at least six occasions. The FBI agents did not intervene to end the torture, insist that the Pakistani government comply with a court order to produce the men in court, or provide consular facilities normally offered to detained U.S. citizens. Instead, they threatened the men with being sent to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay if they did not confess to involvement in terrorism.

Insurgents flourish in Iraq's wild west
By Mark Mazzetti and Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2005
The U.S. military's plan to pacify Iraq has run into trouble in a place where it urgently needs to succeed.

U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad agree that Al Anbar province -- the vast desert badlands stretching west from the cities of Fallouja and Ramadi to the lawless region abutting the Syrian border -- remains the epicenter of the country's deadly insurgency.

Yet U.S. troops and military officials in the embattled province said in recent interviews that they have neither enough combat power nor enough Iraqi military support to mount an effective counterinsurgency against an increasingly sophisticated enemy.

"You can't get all the Marines and train them on a single objective, because usually the objective is bigger than you are," said Maj. Mark Lister, a senior Marine air officer in Al Anbar province. "Basically, we've got all the toys, but not enough boys."

The Pentagon has made training Iraqi troops its top priority since Iraq's national election in late January. But in Al Anbar province, that objective is overshadowed by the more basic mission of trying to keep much of the region out of insurgent hands.

The lost Palestinians
By Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, New York Review of Books, June 9, 2005
Barring an unforeseen development, Palestinians will vote in their second post-Arafat national elections this summer. Unlike the presidential balloting, in which the election of Abu Mazen was entirely predictable, the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council are clouded in uncertainty. Fatah, the secular, nationalist organization which has thoroughly dominated Palestinian politics for decades, enjoys the advantages of incumbency, the support of state-like institutions, and the unconcealed backing of all major international actors. Hamas, the radical Islamist organization, has never before participated in national elections, lacks governmental experience, and is branded a terrorist group by both the United States and the European Union. Yet it is Fatah that is worried and Hamas that is gaining ground.

The uncertainty has generated odd reactions. With the implicit encouragement of some Israelis and Westerners who usually advocate Palestinian democracy, Fatah is seriously toying with the idea of postponing the ballot to forestall a poor showing. If elections are held several months after their scheduled date in July, it is believed, Fatah will be able to take credit for Israel's disengagement from Gaza, for the Palestinian Authority's economic recovery, and for its restoration of law and order. Meanwhile Hamas, traditionally skeptical of Western-style politics and hostile to foreign intervention, has been calling for international observers to monitor the vote.

Officers plot exit strategy
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2005
Army Capts. Dave Fulton and Geoff Heiple spent 12 months dodging roadside bombs and rounding up insurgents along Baghdad's "highway of death" -- the six miles of pavement linking downtown Baghdad to the capital city's airport. Two weeks after returning stateside to Ft. Hood, they ventured to a spartan conference room at the local Howard Johnson to find out about changing careers.

Lured by a headhunting firm that places young military officers in private-sector jobs, the pair, both 26, expected anonymity in the crowded room.

Instead, as Fulton and Heiple sipped Budweisers pulled from Styrofoam coolers next to the door, they spotted nearly a dozen familiar faces from their cavalry battalion, which had just ended a yearlong combat tour in Iraq.

The shocks of recognition came as they exchanged quick, awkward glances with others from their unit, each man clearly surprised to see someone else considering a life outside the military.

"This is a real eye-opener," said Fulton, a West Point graduate who saw a handful of cadets from his class. "It seems like everyone in the room is either from my squad or from my class."

More than three years after the Sept. 11 attacks spawned an era of unprecedented strain on the all-volunteer military, it is scenes like this that keep the Army's senior generals awake at night. With thousands of soldiers currently on their second combat deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan and some preparing for their third this fall, evidence is mounting that an exodus of young Army officers may be looming on the horizon.

Lebanon's election: Free but not fair
By Annia Ciezadlo, Washington Post, May 22, 2005
Every week, my husband and I take a rickety old taxi to Hezbollah country. The emerald city of downtown Beirut, with its glittering luxury towers, drops away behind us; ruined buildings, their shell-shocked hulks festooned with laundry, loom ahead like ghost ships.

We soon leave Beirut proper and reach the dahiya -- the dense and sprawling Shiite crescent, half suburb, half slum, that cradles the city's southern borders. In the dahiya, home to my in-laws and a large swath of Beirut's population, the recent anti-Syrian protests that became known as the Cedar Revolution seem like a fairy tale. "As an area, as dahiya, we're not concerned about what's happening in downtown," one college student told me in March while demonstrations raged in Martyrs' Square. "We regard what's happening as a joke."

Around the world, however, the candy-cane banners and multilingual college kids of the uprising caught the imagination of millions. Holding parliamentary elections on time, free of Syrian influence, became democracy's new rallying cry. President Bush cautioned against delaying the poll, scheduled to run on four consecutive Sundays beginning May 29.

But Bush and other well-meaning Americans are ignoring a fundamental problem: With Syria gone, Lebanon's elections will be free, but they won't be fair. In Lebanon, Muslim votes, especially Shiite votes, count less than those of Christians. Literally.

Karimov escapes regime change as America pursues the 'great game'
By Trevor Royle, Sunday Herald, May 22, 2005
A glance at the map confirms the strategic importance of Uzbekistan, not just in regional terms but also as it is viewed from Washington.

To the south and southwest are Afghanistan and Iran, a fact which inspired President Islam Karimov to push himself into contention as a useful ally in President Bush's war on terror.

The US operates an air base with 1000 ground troops at Khanabad outside the Uzbek capital Tashkent. The former Soviet facility is used for operations in Afghanistan, and to date the US has supplied the country with some $800 million in military and humanitarian aid.

More to the point, Uzbekistan has a key role to play in supporting Washington's wider interests. Khanabad is part of the ring of air force bases, or "lily pads" as defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls them, which are used to project US authority over the surrounding countries and keep a close watch on the oil and gas supply lines running through the Caucasus and old Soviet central Asian republics.

Dozens have alleged Koran's mishandling
By Richard A. Serrano and John Daniszewski, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2005
Senior Bush administration officials reacted with outrage to a Newsweek report that U.S. interrogators had desecrated the Koran at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility, and the magazine retracted the story last week. But allegations of disrespectful treatment of Islam's holy book are far from rare.

An examination of hearing transcripts, court records and government documents, as well as interviews with former detainees, their lawyers, civil liberties groups and U.S. military personnel, reveals dozens of accusations involving the Koran, not only at Guantanamo, but also at American-run detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The secret way to war
By Mark Danner, New York Review of Books, June 9, 2005
It was October 16, 2002, and the United States Congress had just voted to authorize the President to go to war against Iraq. When George W. Bush came before members of his Cabinet and Congress gathered in the East Room of the White House and addressed the American people, he was in a somber mood befitting a leader speaking frankly to free citizens about the gravest decision their country could make.

The 107th Congress, the President said, had just become "one of the few called by history to authorize military action to defend our country and the cause of peace." But, he hastened to add, no one should assume that war was inevitable. Though "Congress has now authorized the use of force," the President said emphatically, "I have not ordered the use of force. I hope the use of force will not become necessary." The President went on:
"Our goal is to fully and finally remove a real threat to world peace and to America. Hopefully this can be done peacefully. Hopefully we can do this without any military action. Yet, if Iraq is to avoid military action by the international community, it has the obligation to prove compliance with all the world's demands. It's the obligation of Iraq."
Iraq, the President said, still had the power to prevent war by "declaring and destroying all its weapons of mass destruction" -- but if Iraq did not declare and destroy those weapons, the President warned, the United States would "go into battle, as a last resort."

It is safe to say that, at the time, it surprised almost no one when the Iraqis answered the President's demand by repeating their claim that in fact there were no weapons of mass destruction. As we now know, the Iraqis had in fact destroyed these weapons, probably years before George W. Bush's ultimatum: "the Iraqis" -- in the words of chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kaye -- "were telling the truth."

As Americans watch their young men and women fighting in the third year of a bloody counterinsurgency war in Iraq -- a war that has now killed more than 1,600 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis -- they are left to ponder "the unanswered question" of what would have happened if the United Nations weapons inspectors had been allowed -- as all the major powers except the United Kingdom had urged they should be -- to complete their work. What would have happened if the UN weapons inspectors had been allowed to prove, before the U.S. went "into battle," what David Kaye and his colleagues finally proved afterward?

Thanks to a formerly secret memorandum published by the London Sunday Times on May 1, during the run-up to the British elections, we now have a partial answer to that question. The memo, which records the minutes of a meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair's senior foreign policy and security officials, shows that even as President Bush told Americans in October 2002 that he "hope[d] the use of force will not become necessary" -- that such a decision depended on whether or not the Iraqis complied with his demands to rid themselves of their weapons of mass destruction -- the President had in fact already definitively decided, at least three months before, to choose this "last resort" of going "into battle" with Iraq. Whatever the Iraqis chose to do or not do, the President's decision to go to war had long since been made.

'Martyrs' in Iraq mostly Saudis
By Susan B. Glasser, Washington Post, May 15, 2005
Who are the suicide bombers of Iraq? By the radicals' account, they are an internationalist brigade of Arabs, with the largest share in the online lists from Saudi Arabia and a significant minority from other countries on Iraq's borders, such as Syria and Kuwait. The roster of the dead on just one extremist Web site reviewed by The Washington Post runs to nearly 250 names, ranging from a 13-year-old Syrian boy said to have died fighting the Americans in Fallujah to the reigning kung fu champion of Jordan, who sneaked off to wage war by telling his family he was going to a tournament.

Among the dead are students of engineering and English, the son of a Moroccan restaurateur and a smattering of Europeanized Arabs. There are also long lists of names about whom nothing more is recorded than a country of origin and the word "martyr."

Some counterterrorism officials are skeptical about relying on information from publicly available Web sites, which they say may be used for disinformation. But other observers of the jihadist Web sites view the lists of the dead "for internal purposes" more than for propaganda, as British researcher Paul Eedle put it. "These are efforts on the part of jihadis to collate deaths. It's like footballers on the Net getting a buzz out of knowing somebody's transferred from Chelsea to Liverpool." Or, as Col. Thomas X. Hammes, an expert on insurgency with the National Defense University, said, "they are targeted marketing. They are not aimed at the West."

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