The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Iraq's Shiites now chafe at American presence
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, May 6, 2006

A visitor need not go far or search hard to hear and see the anti-American venom that bubbles through this ancient shrine city, which once welcomed U.S. forces as liberators.

"The American ambassador is the gate through which terrorism enters Iraq," says a banner hanging from the fence surrounding the tombs of Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas, among the most revered martyrs of the Shiite Muslim faith.

A song screeches from a boombox at a nearby CD shop: "If the occupiers come at us, we will plant a bomb underneath them."

For three years, most of Iraq's Shiites welcomed -- or at least tolerated -- the U.S. presence here. In the weeks immediately after the American-led invasion, the mothers and sisters of Saddam Hussein's Shiite victims clutched clumps of dried earth as they wept over mass graves and thanked God for ending their oppression.

The Shiite acceptance of an American presence allowed troops to concentrate on putting down the insurgency in western Iraq, which is led by Sunni Muslim Arabs. With the exception of an uprising in mid-2004 by followers of radical cleric Muqtada Sadr, the south has been relatively quiet and peaceful under the sway of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

But now the mood has shifted. Perceived American missteps, a torrent of anti-U.S. propaganda and a recently emboldened Shiite sense of political prowess have coalesced to make the south a fertile breeding ground for antagonism toward America's presence. [complete article]
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Iraq at the mercy of 'kingmaker' Muqtada
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, May 6, 2006

A short while ago, I met an Iraqi friend in Europe and greeted him with the traditional question in Arabic: "Kifak?" ("How are you?") With a weary smile he replied, "To tell you the truth, I don't really know anymore." I was taken by surprise at his response because in the Arab world, one does not really expect an answer to kifak?, which is a simple greeting that parallels "good day" in Western culture. He went on to say, "I do not think any Iraqi has an answer to this question today."

The reasons, he explained, were that everybody around him in Iraq was complaining, "There is no electricity, no security, no jobs, no clean drinking water, no state, no government, no services."

While remembering his words, I read an editorial in Thursday's edition of the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, by veteran journalist Ghassan Charbil. He wrote, "The equation is normal and simple: the Iraqi police [have] found a new task. Every morning, their patrols collect the bodies [of Iraqis] that were killed the previous night. The scene becomes traditional: the bodies have their hands tied and their eyes masked. There is one bullet in their head. Sometimes it occurs to the killer to decorate the corpse with some deformations and signs of torture."

The "killers" Charbil was talking about are the death squads of Iraq. The bodies are those of Sunnis and Shi'ites being butchered by sectarian violence. These words hit like a bombshell in the Arab world, especially when published in the region's No 1 newspaper that is read by millions. No wonder the new Iraq - the "democratic" Iraq - brings nothing but shivers to the Arab people. [complete article]
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The fix-it man leaves, but the agency's cracks remain
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, May 6, 2006

...Goss -- who did not like to travel overseas or to wine and dine foreign intelligence chiefs who visited Washington -- allowed the atrophy of relations with the foreign intelligence services that helped the CIA kill or catch nearly all the terrorists taken off the streets since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, in the view of these officials and several foreign intelligence officials.

Foreign intelligence heads, who used to spend hours with Goss's predecessor, George J. Tenet, discussing strategy and tactics, are now more likely to meet with the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, whose position was created in the overhaul of U.S. intelligence agencies.

One senior European counterterrorism official, asked recently for his assessment of Goss's leadership, responded by saying, "Who?"
While the stature and role of the CIA were greatly diminished under Goss during the congressionally ordered reorganization of the intelligence agencies, his counterpart at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, continued his aggressive efforts to develop a clandestine intelligence operation within his department. The Pentagon's human intelligence unit and its other clandestine military units are expanding in number and authority. Rumsfeld recently won the ability to sidestep U.S. ambassadors in certain circumstances when the Pentagon wants to send in clandestine teams to collect intelligence or undertake operations.

"Rumsfeld keeps pressing for autonomy for defense human intelligence and for SOF [Special Forces] operations," said retired Army Col. W. Patrick Lang, former head of Middle East affairs at the Defense Intelligence Agency. "CIA has lost the ability to control the [human intelligence] process in the community."

Now, "the real battle lies between" Negroponte and Rumsfeld, said retired Army Lt. Gen. Donald Kerrick, a former deputy national security adviser and once a senior official at the Defense Intelligence Agency. "Rumsfeld rules the roost now." [complete article]

See also, Goss forced out as CIA director; Gen. Hayden is likely successor (WP), Top CIA pick has credentials and skeptics (NYT), and Why did Goss resign? (Larry Johnson).
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Cheney, visiting Kazakhstan, wades into energy battle
By Ilan Greenberg and Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times, May 6, 2006

A day after chastising Moscow for its use of oil and natural gas as "tools for intimidation and blackmail," Vice President Dick Cheney visited Kazakhstan on Friday to promote export routes that bypass Russia and directly supply the West.

With his comments, Mr. Cheney waded into a messy geopolitical struggle for energy and influence in the countries of the former Soviet Union, rapidly becoming one of the world's largest-producing regions.

The United States backs efforts to weaken Russia's grip by building new export routes for the enormous energy reserves of Central Asia, much of which now must cross Russian territory to reach ports in the Black Sea or pipelines to Europe.

Mr. Cheney's visit to Kazakhstan, on Russia's southern rim, highlighted the balancing of United States interests, trying to counter Russian dominance in energy matters by cozying up to states like Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan that have spotty human rights records and limited democracy -- and plenty of oil. [complete article]
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U.S. explains itself to U.N. on torture charges
By Tom Wright, IHT (NYT), May 6, 2006

A delegation of American officials came before a United Nations panel on torture today to account for the conduct of the United States in the fight against terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001.

The American officials, who were part of an unusually large group sent to deliver a report on the country's compliance with the Convention Against Torture, offered a careful and familiar set of responses to questions that the panel posed.

Despite abuses in places like the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the American officials denied that the government systematically mistreated prisoners and they reiterated a commitment to a global ban on torture. [complete article]
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Chinese Guantanamo detainees released to Albania
By Pete Yost, AP (via WP), May 6, 2006

The plight of five ethnic Chinese detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has come to an end, the State Department said yesterday. Albania has agreed to take in the detainees and is considering their applications for asylum.

The five are among a number of ethnic Chinese who have languished at Guantanamo Bay for several years after being picked up during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The U.S. military concluded the Uighurs -- members of a Turkic ethnic group -- presented no terrorist threat to the United States, but they continued to be held at the prison because they faced persecution if they were returned to their home country. [complete article]
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In Afghan poppy heartland, new crops, growing danger
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, May 6, 2006

Mahmad Naim's cucumber patch is a speck of defiance in a vast landscape of opium poppy fields whose bright green bulbs, bursting with toxic sap, will bring nearly $1 billion into Helmand province this year.

Naim is one of a few thousand farmers in Helmand, the country's major opium-producing region, who have signed on to a U.S.-sponsored program aimed at proving that legal crops, such as eggplants and tomatoes, can bring a healthy income for those who switch from poppy.

"Before, we only knew how to grow poppies, but we earned a lot more," he said. "Now they say it is not allowed and we should learn about other crops. As long as they keep helping us with seeds and electricity and other things, we will continue with vegetables. But if they stop, we will all have to turn to poppy again." [complete article]
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Bush sets conditions for contact with Hamas
By Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post, May 5, 2006

President Bush vowed last night not to work with the Palestinian Authority's Hamas leadership until it disavows terrorism and recognizes Israel's right to exist, as three world leaders came together to celebrate the American Jewish Committee's centennial.

"As you know, I'm a strong believer of democracy and free elections, but that does not mean that we have to support elected officials who are not committed to peace," Bush said, flanked by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "Hamas has made it clear that they do not acknowledge the right of Israel to exist, and I've made it clear that so long as that's their policy, we'll have no contact with the leaders of Hamas." [complete article]

See also, 5 Palestinian militants die in Israeli airstrike in Gaza (WP).
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Book deal for ex-CIA officer
By Motoko Rich, New York Times, May 6, 2006

Valerie Wilson, the former Central Intelligence Agency officer whose identity was publicly disclosed three years ago, has agreed to sell her memoir for a little more than $2.5 million, according to people involved in the bidding process for the book.

The book, whose working title is "Fair Game," is scheduled to be published in the fall of 2007 by Crown Publishing, an imprint of Random House. Steve Ross, senior vice president and publisher of Crown, said the book would be Ms. Wilson's "first airing of her actual role in the American intelligence community, as well as the prominence of her role in the lead-up to the war." [complete article]
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CIA boss in surprise resignation
BBC News, May 5, 2006

US President George Bush has unexpectedly announced that the head of the CIA, Porter Goss, is stepping down.

No reason was given for the move, which was presented at a hastily arranged press call at the White House, where the two men exchanged compliments. [complete article]

Talking Points Memo
By Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo, May 5, 2006

As I said a short time ago, we don't know definitively yet that Porter Goss resigned over the Wilkes-Cunningham Hookergate story. But on the assumption that that is the case, let me give you a bit of background on what we've been following in recent weeks.

The hookers in Hookergate are, of course, the sizzle. But there's a bigger story. It stems directly from the Randy "Duke" Cunningham bribery scandal, which many had figured was over. But it's not. You may have noticed that while Duke Cunningham is already in jail and Mitchell Wade has already pled guilty to multiple charges, Brent Wilkes has never been touched. Wilkes is the ur-briber at the heart of the Cunningham scandal, you can see pretty clearly by reading the other indictments and plea agreements. Wade was Wilkes' protege. [complete article]

Sex, lies, and government contracts
The Progress Report (via AlterNet), May 5, 2006

The most extensive federal corruption scandal in a century is growing. In March, former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) was sentenced to more than eight years in federal prison (the longest sentence ever given to a member of Congress) for accepting $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for lucrative defense contracts. Yet Cunningham's crimes, the "magnitude and duration" of which are compared to the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s, may end up a mere prelude. [complete article]

Red lights on Capitol Hill?
By Ken Silverstein, Harpers, April 27, 2006

The Wall Street Journal reported today that indicted former California Congressman Randall "Duke" Cunningham may not have limited his good times to partying on a rented yacht. It turns out the FBI is currently investigating two defense contractors who allegedly provided Cunningham with free limousine service, free stays at hotel suites at the Watergate and the Westin Grand, and free prostitutes.

The two defense contractors who allegedly bribed Cunningham, said the Journal, were Brent Wilkes, the founder of ADCS Inc., and Mitchell Wade, the founder of MZM Inc.; both firms profited greatly from their connections with Cunningham. The Journal also suggested that other lawmakers might be implicated. I've learned from a well-connected source that those under intense scrutiny by the FBI are current and former lawmakers on Defense and Intelligence comittees -- including one person who now holds a powerful intelligence post. [complete article]

See also, Follow-up 1: Red lights on Capitol Hill and Follow-up 2: Red lights on Capitol Hill (Harpers).
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Bush administration refuses to talk directly with its main foes
By Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, May 5, 2006

Last month, the chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea wanted to meet privately with his North Korean counterpart, hoping he could persuade Pyongyang to return to talks on eliminating its nuclear weapons program.

But the meeting between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill and North Korean Vice Premier Kim Kye Gwan on the sidelines of a conference in Tokyo never took place.

Hill's superiors in Washington forbade him from talking directly to the North Koreans, said three U.S. officials, a conference participant and another knowledgeable expert. All requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The Bush administration also is refusing to talk directly with Iran about its nuclear program, with Syria about Middle East security and the infiltration of terrorists into Iraq, and, like Europe, with the Palestinian government led by Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organization. [complete article]
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How not to fight terrorism
By David Cole, Washington Post, May 5, 2006

The Moussaoui case is emblematic of the administration's approach to fighting terrorism. It has repeatedly overreached and sought symbolic victories, adopting tactics that have undermined its ability to achieve real security while disregarding less flashy but more effective means of protecting us. In the early days after Sept. 11, Attorney General John Ashcroft sought to reassure us with repeated announcements of the detention of large numbers of "terror suspects" -- ultimately the government admitted to detaining 5,000 foreign nationals in the first two years after Sept. 11. Yet to this day not one of them stands convicted of a terrorist offense. Similarly, the administration launched a nationwide ethnic profiling campaign, calling in 8,000 young men for FBI interviews and 80,000 more for registration, fingerprinting and photographing by immigration authorities, simply because they came from Arab and Muslim countries. Not one of those 88,000 has been convicted of terrorism.

Early on, the administration labeled the Guantanamo detainees "the worst of the worst." Yet we now know that more than 250 have been released, that they included boys as young as 13 and that of those who remain, only 8 percent are even accused of being fighters for al-Qaeda. The majority are not accused of engaging in any hostile acts against the United States. [complete article]

See also, U.N. to quiz Washington on torture (BBC).
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Strong rebuke for the Kremlin from Cheney
By Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, May 5, 2006

Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday delivered the Bush administration's strongest rebuke of Russia to date. He said the Russian government "unfairly and improperly restricted" people's rights and suggested that it sought to undermine its neighbors and to use the country's vast resources of oil and gas as "tools of intimidation or blackmail."

"In many areas of civil society -- from religion and the news media, to advocacy groups and political parties -- the government has unfairly and improperly restricted the rights of her people," Mr. Cheney said in a speech to European leaders in Lithuania's capital, Vilnius. "Other actions by the Russian government have been counterproductive, and could begin to affect relations with other countries."

Mr. Cheney's remarks, which officials in Washington said had been heavily vetted and therefore reflected the administration's current thinking on Russia, appeared to lay down new markers for a relationship that has become strained and could become significantly more so in the months ahead. [complete article]

See also, Cheney speech spurs new Cold War: Russian press (Reuters).
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Good timing for another Gore run
By Clarence Page, Baltimore Sun, May 5, 2006

If Al Gore is not planning to throw his hat in the ring for president in 2008, he's doing an excellent imitation of someone who is.

The former vice president officially has discouraged the notion that he will run for the White House again. But he is a man on a mission. And his cause is beginning to bear more than a passing resemblance to a national political crusade that, with a little tweaking here and there, could be transformed overnight into a weapons-grade presidential campaign. [complete article]

See also, An Inconvenient Truth (web site for Al Gore's new film).
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Playing to the home crowd in Iran
By Mark Bowden, New York Times, May 5, 2006

Just over a quarter-century ago, five Iranian college students hit upon the idea of seizing the American Embassy in Tehran and staging a sit-in. Among them were Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is now Iran's president, and Habibollah Bitaraf, the current energy minister. The takeover of the embassy did not play out exactly as its student planners envisioned -- indeed, Mr. Ahmadinejad himself initially opposed the move -- but as a symbolic step, it not only isolated Iran from the rest of the world, it also rallied millions of Iranians to the idea of a strictly Islamist future. The ensuing hostage crisis made a big splash internationally, but perhaps its most important and lasting consequence was local: it gave the mullahs the leverage to take full power.

It is an old political strategy: identify a foreign enemy, provoke a crisis and wrap yourself in the flag. Today's confrontation with Iran over nuclear research is an example of how, as the saying goes, history rhymes. [complete article]

See also, Fantasies of American preponderance (Tom Engelhardt).
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Is the hard line against Hamas working?
By Tony Karon, Time, May 4, 2006

If former World Bank chief James Wolfensohn's appointment by the international community to help lay the economic foundations of Palestinian statehood was an expression of optimism in the prospects for peace following Israel's withdrawal from Gaza last year, then his resignation last Sunday should sound an alarm. Trained as a banker rather than a diplomat, former World Bank chief Wolfensohn didn't mince words about his reasons for stepping down. He said the current U.S.-Israeli financial blockade of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority looks set to destroy the administrative institutions on which a two-state solution would be based, and negate 12 years and billions of dollars of investment by the international community in establishing the infrastructure of Palestinian self-rule. Moreover, he suggested, it is sure to plunge Palestinian society deeper into the vortex of poverty -- which would make it more fertile ground for just the brand of Islamist extremism that the U.S. is trying to defeat. [complete article]

Blueprint for future draws a line under 60 years of growth
By Stephen Farrell, The Times, May 5, 2006

The new Israeli Prime Minister spelt out yesterday his plan to establish the Jewish state’s final borders by annexing its largest West Bank Jewish settlements and withdrawing from smaller outlying ones.

Presenting his new Government and its programme to the Knesset, Ehud Olmert put himself on collision course with Palestinians and Israeli hawks. He told settlers that they had to abandon the right-wing dream of holding on to all biblical lands, and he advised the Palestinian Authority that he would push through his programme, with or without its agreement.

If realised, his so-called convergence plan would mark the culmination of the process by which Jewish ownership -- and later Israeli control -- has expanded from a tiny percentage of British colonial Palestine a century ago to the point where Palestinians complain that the authority controls barely 13 per cent of historic Palestine. [complete article]

Israel, South Africa and Hamas
By Benjamin Pogrund, Haaretz, May 5, 2006

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki has accepted a Palestinian invitation to visit Ramallah, and wants to use it to take up an "open invitation" to visit Israel. He is eager to come because he sees himself as a peace broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, say sources in South Africa. But it is unlikely to work out. Mbeki will go to Ramallah to reciprocate the visit to South Africa last month of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). He also wants to meet Hamas leaders.

Therein lies the problem. He will not be able to meet Hamas and also visit Israel, at least not as an official guest. That is clear from Israel's declared policy of refusing to talk to anyone who talks to Hamas. So even though Mbeki will be a mere 15-minute drive from Jerusalem, he will not be given any appointments with Israeli leaders. [complete article]
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Taleban tell British to expect a river of blood
By Tim Albone, The Times, May 5, 2006

British forces were placed on notice by the Taleban yesterday that their mission to impose security over southern Afghanistan would end in failure. On the day that Britain took command of the Nato forces that are being deployed in their thousands across the most volatile provinces of the country, the Taleban leadership sent them a chilling message. "Our activity will increase day by day. We now have the confidence to fight face-to-face and we have all the ammunition we need," said Mohammad Hanif Sherzad, the spokesman for Mullah Omar, the reclusive, one-eyed Taleban leader, who has a $10 million (£5.4 million) bounty on his head.

"We will turn Afghanistan into a river of blood for the British," he told The Times on a satellite telephone from an undisclosed location. "We have beaten them before and we will beat them again."

That threat could once have been dismissed as the rantings of a dying movement that was driven from power by the US-led invasion of 2001. But today the warning will be taken seriously. [complete article]
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Afghan rebel's pledge to al-Qaeda
BBC News, May 5, 2006

Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar says that he is ready to fight under the banner of al-Qaeda, according to a video broadcast by al-Jazeera TV.

"We hope to participate with them in a battle that they lead. They hold the banner and we stand alongside them as supporters," he said in the video. [complete article]

Brian Ulrich
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U.S. tells of Iraq insurgents' new tactics
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, May 5, 2006

The U.S. military on Thursday revealed parts of a memo attributed to Al Qaeda in Iraq that outlines plans to ignite sectarian war by targeting Shiite Muslims and to shift the battle toward the capital and religiously mixed parts of the country.

The memo, which the military said was seized during a raid last month, ordered followers to "make the struggle entirely between Shiites and the mujahedin," as the militants refer to themselves, and lambasted moderate Sunni groups. It included a call for insurgents to "displace the Shiites and displace their shops and businesses from our areas. Expel those black market sellers of gas, bread or meat or anyone that is suspected of spying against us." [complete article]

See also, U.S. military displays other side of enemy (NYT).
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Baghdad morgue struggles to cope with flow of bodies
By Oliver Poole, The Telegraph, May 5, 2006

The month after the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra was the bloodiest in Baghdad's modern history, with 1,294 bodies arriving at the city's morgue.

Ninety per cent had been shot, said the facility's deputy director, Dr Qaiss Hassan, as official figures were released of the carnage that came after the destruction of the revered Shia holy site on Feb 22.

There was a wave of tit-for-tat sectarian killings as Shia mobs rampaged through the Iraqi capital, attacking mosques and targeting Sunnis, some of whom then carried out reprisal killings.

Last month, although the numbers dropped from the record set in March, the morgue still had to deal with the arrival of 1,115 bodies. [complete article]
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Some saw Moussaoui as bit player, juror says
By Jerry Markon and Timothy Dwyer, Washington Post, May 5, 2006

A juror in the death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui said yesterday that some members of the panel decided that the al-Qaeda conspirator should not be executed because he was a bit player in the Sept. 11 attacks and did not kill anyone that day.

"He wasn't necessarily part of the 9/11 operation," said the juror, who spoke about the panel's deliberations on condition of anonymity. "His role in 9/11 was actually minor," said the juror, who voted for a life prison sentence even though he considered Moussaoui "a despicable character" and someone who "mocks and taunts family members whose loved ones died."

Moussaoui did just that one last time yesterday, when he was formally sentenced to life in prison -- a day after the jury rejected the death penalty. In a final display of vitriol, the only person convicted in the United States in the 2001 attacks confronted the families of the victims and the judge he has spent years insulting. [complete article]
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No trials for key players
By David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times, May 4, 2006

Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person prosecuted in connection with the worst terrorist attack in American history, did not get the death penalty because some jurors concluded that he had little to do with Sept. 11.

Yet two presumed key planners of the Al Qaeda plot, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, have not been charged, though they have been in U.S. custody for more than three years.

A central contradiction in the Bush administration's fight against terrorism is that bit players often have been put on trial, while those thought to have orchestrated the plots have been held in secret for questioning.

The difference in treatment, government officials say, stems from the view that gathering intelligence from suspected terrorists is more important than publicly punishing them. [complete article]

See also, Jury decides against execution for Moussaoui (NYT) and The first and last 9/11 trial(The Telegraph).

Comment -- Soon after 9/11, President Bush reduced a complex political issue to a crudely simple question: should America's response to the attacks rely on law or war? Having opted for war, a trial of the attacks' masterminds would definitely entail the risk of bringing premature closure to a military enterprise that was designed to be open-ended. Closing the case but continuing the war would have been a hard sell. On the other hand, if there had been no trials, this would seriously limit the government's opportunities to satisfy the public's appetite for vengeance through ritual slaying.

In the Moussaoui case, the government's miscalculation seems to have been in overestimating the public's appetite for vengeance five years after the attacks and in underestimating this jury's interest in applying the law. Commentators such as the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan don't hesitate to now stoop so low as to accuse the Moussaoui jury of "a dizzy failure of nerve," yet, on the contrary, I'd say they showed a remarkable display of courage. After all, had they reached the opposite verdict, how many people within these borders would today have been questioning their decision? Zacarias Moussaoui may well have questioned the notion that he was being tried in front of a jury of his peers, but anyone who takes pride in living in a democracy should be pleased to witness the result of deliberations within a jury that showed no signs of having been victim to a herd mentality.
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Cut and run? You bet
By Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, Foreign Policy, May/June, 2006

Withdraw immediately or stay the present course? That is the key question about the war in Iraq today. American public opinion is now decidedly against the war. From liberal New England, where citizens pass town-hall resolutions calling for withdrawal, to the conservative South and West, where more than half of "red state" citizens oppose the war, Americans want out. That sentiment is understandable.

The prewar dream of a liberal Iraqi democracy friendly to the United States is no longer credible. No Iraqi leader with enough power and legitimacy to control the country will be pro-American. Still, U.S. President George W. Bush says the United States must stay the course. Why? Let's consider his administration's most popular arguments for not leaving Iraq.

If we leave, there will be a civil war. In reality, a civil war in Iraq began just weeks after U.S. forces toppled Saddam. Any close observer could see that then; today, only the blind deny it. Even President Bush, who is normally impervious to uncomfortable facts, recently admitted that Iraq has peered into the abyss of civil war. He ought to look a little closer. Iraqis are fighting Iraqis. Insurgents have killed far more Iraqis than Americans. That's civil war. [complete article]
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It's showdown time in Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, May 5, 2006

Across the jihadi world, there is a strong conviction that by the end of this year Taliban leader Mullah Omar will be back in power in Afghanistan, from where he was driven by US-led forces in 2001.

Realistically, eight months is likely to be too ambitious a time frame for a Taliban victory, if victory is achievable at all.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the Taliban movement is poised to enhance its nuisance level significantly in the United States' strategic back yards in the region - notably Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Acutely aware of this, the US is leaning heavily on Pakistan, its key ally in the "war on terror" in the region, to go on the offensive
against the strong Taliban foothold in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan. [complete article]

New frontline in the war on terror
By Declan Walsh, The Guardian, May 4, 2006

A vicious mini-war has erupted between the Pakistani army and the "Pakistani Taliban" in North Waziristan, a turbulent tribal area that has moved to the front line of the Pakistani and US "war on terror". Every day sees fresh violence between the army and militants - a loose coalition of radical clerics, tribal leaders and al-Qaida fighters. [complete article]

Iran, U.S. share Afghan goals
By David Montero, Christian Science Monitor, May 4, 2006

The smooth blacktop roads and 24-hour electricity of Herat set this Afghan commercial capital apart as a model of stability in a country still struggling to get on its feet. Much of the wealth in this western city, with its tree-lined streets and handsome shops, is credited to the largesse of Iran.

The Shiite republic, one of Afghanistan's greatest trading partners, has a visible hand here, building roads and schools, and keeping shops afloat with electricity and goods. What's more, these projects represent only a fraction of the $204 million Iran has spent in aid, ranking it among the top donors to post-conflict Afghanistan.

Even though the US and Iran are locked in an international struggle over Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons, the long-time foes have worked together well in Afghanistan, a place where they have common ground. Pushing Iran against the wall through sanctions or war could deal a setback to the recovery here, the first battlefield in the war on terror, some observers say. [complete article]
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New push for direct talks between U.S. and Iran
By Carol Giacomo, Reuters (via WP), May 4, 2006

As major powers struggle to curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions, the United States is coming under fresh pressure to engage in direct talks with the Islamic republic and avoid an Iraq-like path to war.

The Bush administration has so far resisted, partly because of the bitter legacy of U.S.-Iranian relations dating to the 1979 Islamic revolution, when radical students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

But a lack of viable alternatives may make negotiations -- with Tehran alone or together with Britain, France, Germany and others -- more and more appealing. [complete article]

What's behind Iran's nuclear bluster
By Tony Karon, Time, May 2, 2006

As representatives of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members, plus Germany, met Tuesday in Paris to discuss a response to Iran's failure to heed the council's nuclear demands, Iran was up to its usual saber-rattling. Echoing the recent defiant statements of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of the country's top military leaders, Rear Admiral Mohammed Ibrahim Dehqani, said that Israel would be the first target of military retaliation if the U.S. chose to attack. But despite such fiery rhetoric, Iran may well have a craftier diplomatic strategy up its sleeve. [complete article]

Russian bridge to Iran has twists
By Alissa J. Rubin and Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, May 4, 2006

As the U.N. Security Council meets this week to discuss how best to stop Iran's march toward nuclear weapons capability, Russia has the potential to serve as a bridge between the West and the Islamic Republic. But Moscow's complex motives may make it a difficult partner.

Russia, a permanent member of the council and one that has had close ties to Middle Eastern countries since the Soviet era, now views the volatile, oil-rich region as the key to regaining its position as a world leader, diplomats and analysts say. Moscow also has strong economic ties to Tehran: Two-way trade topped $2 billion in 2004, and Iranian officials predicted recently that it would double in coming years.

This is "a moment of truth for Russia," when the nation will choose whether to throw its lot with the West or keep the U.S. and its allies at arm's length, said Radzhab Safarov, director of the Iranian Studies Center in Moscow. [complete article]

See also, Cheney criticizes Russia on human rights (NYT).

U.S. threats make their mark on Iranians
Financial Times, May 3, 2006

Talk of US attacks is not restricted to the political class. Reports over many months of the US considering military strikes have left their mark on many Iranians. [complete article]

Adventures of Mr. Behi
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The country that wouldn't grow up
By Tony Judt, Haaretz, May 4, 2006

Today only a tiny minority of outsiders see Israelis as victims. The true victims, it is now widely accepted, are the Palestinians. Indeed, Palestinians have now displaced Jews as the emblematic persecuted minority: vulnerable, humiliated and stateless. This unsought distinction does little to advance the Palestinian case any more than it ever helped Jews, but it has redefined Israel forever. It has become commonplace to compare Israel at best to an occupying colonizer, at worst to the South Africa of race laws and Bantustans. In this capacity Israel elicits scant sympathy even when its own citizens suffer: Dead Israelis - like the occasional assassinated white South African in the apartheid era, or British colonists hacked to death by native insurgents - are typically perceived abroad not as the victims of terrorism but as the collateral damage of their own government's mistaken policies.

Such comparisons are lethal to Israel's moral credibility. They strike at what was once its strongest suit: the claim of being a vulnerable island of democracy and decency in a sea of authoritarianism and cruelty; an oasis of rights and freedoms surrounded by a desert of repression. But democrats don't fence into Bantustans helpless people whose land they have conquered, and free men don't ignore international law and steal other men's homes. The contradictions of Israeli self-presentation - "we are very strong/we are very vulnerable"; "we are in control of our fate/we are the victims"; "we are a normal state/we demand special treatment" - are not new: they have been part of the country's peculiar identity almost from the outset. And Israel's insistent emphasis upon its isolation and uniqueness, its claim to be both victim and hero, were once part of its David versus Goliath appeal.

But today the country's national narrative of macho victimhood appears to the rest of the world as simply bizarre: evidence of a sort of collective cognitive dysfunction that has gripped Israel's political culture. And the long cultivated persecution mania - "everyone's out to get us" - no longer elicits sympathy. [complete article]

Olmert: Settler blocs to be part of Israel forever
Haaretz, May 4, 2006

Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, setting out government policy guidelines as he presented his new government for Knesset approval on Thursday, said that major settlenent blocs in the West Bank will be part of the sovereign state of Israel forever.

Olmert said the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank was a prelude to the core plan, his convergence proposal, which would move tens of thousands of settlers from enclaves scattered throughout the West Bank, to settlement blocs located closer to the pre-1967 war Green Line border. [complete article]

'Intifada Law' has barred compensation to Palestinian victims almost entirely
By Yuval Yoaz, Haaretz, May 4, 2006

Outgoing Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz took advantage of his authority under the so-called "Intifada Law" to exempt the Israel Defense Forces almost entirely from liability for casualties or property damage in the territories since September 2000.

Haaretz reached this conclusion after examining the "declarations about conflict zones" that Mofaz issued in recent months, following the passage of an amendment nine months ago to the Torts Law (Liability of the State), dubbed the "Intifada Law."

Human rights organizations have asked the High Court of Justice to annul the law, arguing that it violates basic rights and international law. Defense Ministry officials counter that "the declarations are proportionate to the greatest possible extent and are not general and sweeping." A hearing is scheduled for two months from now. [complete article]

In new problem for Palestinians, banks reject transfers
By Greg Myre, New York Times, May 4, 2006

As the Hamas-led government struggles to raise cash after the suspension of Western aid to the Palestinian Authority, it faces a new and unexpected obstacle: banks here are refusing to accept its money transfers from abroad.

The United States Treasury last month barred almost all financial dealings with the Palestinian Authority in response to Hamas's rise to power, under a federal law that makes it a crime to provide funds to terrorist groups.

That has rattled local banks, which are tied to the American banking system. The banks abruptly stopped handling even basic wire transfers needed for the authority to receive money donated by foreign countries. [complete article]

Welcoming upheaval on wrong assumptions
By Michael Jansen, Jordan Times, May 4, 2006

Stepping down as Quartet envoy this week, James Wolfensohn warned that the current policies adopted by Israel and the international community towards the Palestinian Authority could cause its collapse and create a major economic and social crisis in Gaza and the West Bank.

In a report he submitted to the Quartet before his resignation, he said that Israel's refusal to meet its commitments regarding the operation of Gaza Strip border crossings and freedom of movement has caused great damage to the Palestinian economy. He said that in recent years, the international community has given the authority $1 billion a year to build institutions and the economy and that achievements would be lost if the flow of funds is cut.

Wolfensohn predicts that if the authority does not receive the tax money collected on its behalf by Israel, if Israel continues its restrictions on Palestinian goods and movement, and if the US and other foreign donors carry on with their boycott, the GDP could drop by 27 per cent this year. (It has already declined by more than 30 per cent since 2000). The collapse of the authority would mean an end to its provision of 60 per cent of health and educational services. [complete article]
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Under fire: U.S.'s misguided defense budget
By Jim Lobe, IPS (via Asia Times), May 5, 2006

With Congress on the verge of approving yet another record Pentagon budget, a task force of nearly two dozen progressive policy analysts is calling for major changes in the way the United States allocates money for its common defense.

Noting that Washington currently spends $6 on its military for every dollar it spends on homeland security, diplomacy, foreign aid and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the group argues that a three-to-one ratio is more reasonable and well within reach.

The Task Force on a Unified Security Budget for the United States, 2007, calls in particular for shaving US$62 billion from the pending 2007 defense budget of nearly $440 billion, with most of the cuts coming from advanced weapons systems that have little relevance to threats faced by Washington today.
[complete article]

See also, Administration researches laser weapon (NYT), U.S. to step up disassembly of older nuclear warheads (WP), and Overstretched American special forces hit the language barrier (The Telegraph).
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If this is the cost of victory in Iraq, is America willing to pay it?
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, May 3, 2006

Good news and bad news on the war in Iraq: The good news is that victory is possible, our troops are the best ever, the Iraqi army is getting bigger and better, and most Iraqi people want a pluralistic government. The bad news is that it will take 10 more years to accomplish these successes -- at least three years just to get the Iraqi military into shape.

This is the prognosis of a private seven-page memo that retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey wrote to the heads of the social science department at West Point, where he now teaches international relations. He wrote the memo -- which has started to circulate on the Internet -- after a weeklong fact-finding tour of Iraq and Kuwait, where he talked with more than a dozen top generals and received two dozen briefings at all levels, from ambassadors and commanders to grunts. [complete article]

See also, In the chaos of Iraq, one project is on target: a giant U.S. embassy (The Times).
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Iraqi president says Sunni insurgents see Iran as threat
By Nelson Hernandez and Saad al-Izzi, Washington Post, May 3, 2006

Iraq's president appealed for national unity and the renunciation of sectarian violence ahead of a parliament meeting set for Wednesday, saying he had met with Sunni Arab insurgent leaders and observed a "great change" in their war aims.

The insurgents "do not think that the Americans are the main enemy," President Jalal Talabani said in an interview on al-Hurra television Tuesday night. "They feel threatened by what they call the 'Iranian threat.' "

He referred to the insurgents' fear of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, which many Sunnis believe is dominated by the neighboring Shiite theocracy in Iran. Despite their worries about Iran, Talabani said, he found them "reasonable and ready for the peaceful political process," and he appealed to Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to participate together in a government. [complete article]

See also, Suicide bomber kills 17; 37 bodies found in Baghdad (WP).
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Iranian cries in the wilderness
By Gareth Porter, Asia Times, May 2, 2006

Iranian leaders have been signaling to Washington since late last year that Iran wanted direct negotiations with the United States on Tehran's nuclear program and other outstanding issues between the two countries.

The campaign began with private talks between Iranian officials and foreign visitors in the country, and has included public suggestions by members of the Iranian parliament for US-Iranian talks. But last week, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad indicated for the first time that he was open to talks with Washington.

In an hour-long press conference on April 24, Ahmadinejad said Iran "is ready to talk to all world countries, but negotiation with anybody has its own conditions", and then specifically named the United States. "If these conditions are met, we will negotiate." [complete article]

Western nations offer new draft of resolution on Iran
Reuters/AP (via IHT), May 4, 2006

Western nations circulated a proposed new UN Security Council resolution Wednesday that could trigger sanctions against Iran unless it abandons uranium enrichment, despite objections from Russia and China.

The West hopes the Security Council will adopt the resolution before foreign ministers convene in New York next Monday, the ambassadors of France and the United States said before a Security Council meeting to discuss the issue. [complete article]

The case against sanctions on Iran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, May 2, 2006

s expected, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, has issued a report citing Iran's non-compliance with the requests of both the IAEA's board of governors and the United Nations Security Council, and this has been widely interpreted as paving the way to UN sanctions on Iran in the near future. But has it?

Sanctions can be resorted to under Chapter VII of the UN Charter when considered by the Security Council to be absolutely necessary. To do so, the council would have to determine, under Article 39 of Chapter VII, the existence of any "threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" caused by Iran's nuclear activities.

Yet, per the admission of ElBaradei in his report, all of Iran's nuclear activities "are covered by Agency Safeguard containment and surveillance measures". This, together with the important finding that all nuclear material has been accounted for, raises a serious questions from the prism of international law: On what basis can the Security Council invoke Chapter VII against Iran? [complete article]
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Report blames top U.S. officials for alleged torture of detainees
By Matthew Schofield, Knight Ridder, May 3, 2006

Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees by U.S. forces is widespread and, in many cases, sanctioned by top government officials, Amnesty International charged Wednesday.

The allegations, contained in a 32,000-word report released in New York and London and posted on the human rights organization's Web site, are likely to influence a U.N. hearing on U.S. compliance with international torture agreements that begins Friday in Geneva. Amnesty International sent a copy of the report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture, which is holding the hearings. [complete article]

See also, Amnesty's briefing to the U.N. Committee Against Torture (USA Amnesty International).
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Most young Americans can't find Iraq on map - study
By Deborah Zabarenko, Reuters, May 2, 2006

Most American young people can't find Iraq on a map, even though U.S. troops have been there for more than three years, according to a new geographic literacy study released on Tuesday.

Fewer than 4 in 10 Americans aged 18-24 in a survey could place Iraq on an unlabeled map of the Middle East, a study conducted for National Geographic found. Only about one-quarter of respondents could find Iran and Israel on the same map. [complete article]
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Taliban threat is said to grow in Afghan south
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, May 3, 2006

Building on a winter campaign of suicide bombings and assassinations and the knowledge that American troops are leaving, the Taliban appear to be moving their insurgency into a new phase, flooding the rural areas of southern Afghanistan with weapons and men.

Each spring with the arrival of warmer weather, the fighting season here starts up, but the scale of the militants' presence and their sheer brazenness have alarmed Afghans and foreign officials far more than in previous years.

"The Taliban and Al Qaeda are everywhere," a shopkeeper, Haji Saifullah, told the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, as the general strolled through the bazaar of this town to talk to people. "It is all right in the city, but if you go outside the city, they are everywhere, and the people have to support them. They have no choice." [complete article]
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Pakistan's power shift
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, May 3, 2006

Inside Peshawar's cloistered mosques, high in the rugged passes of the North-West Frontier, and deep in the upholstered opposition salons of Lahore, there is growing consensus it is time for Pervez Musharraf to go. But who will replace the general-president, Pakistan's unelected leader since 1999, and how his departure can be achieved are questions so far lacking answers - meaning that, as often in the past, an eventual shift in power is likely to be messy.

As the country moves cautiously towards promised elections next year, the two main political parties, currently in opposition, doubt whether free and fair polls are possible under the present leadership. They are demanding a pre-election caretaker government and a truly independent electoral commission. Some activists claim the fix is already in. [complete article]
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That old-time geopolitics is back
By Jim Lobe, Asia Times, May 3, 2006

However much President George W Bush's "Freedom Agenda" asserted itself into US foreign policy in the wake of the Iraq invasion three years ago, traditional geopolitics - and the realpolitik that goes with it - is making a remarkably strong comeback.

From the energy-rich Gulf of Guinea, across the Islamic Middle East to Central Asia, the Bush administration has pretty much dropped its democratic pretenses in favor of stability - and the "friendly" autocrats who can provide it, especially those with plentiful oil and gas resources and strategically placed real estate with regard to emerging foes, be they Russia, Iran or China.

The latest evidence took the form of the appearance last Friday at the White House by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev, whose party's sweeping victory in November's parliamentary elections was widely denounced by Western observers as fraudulent. [complete article]

Exporting the American model
By Chalmers Johnson, TomDispatch, May 3, 2006

There is something absurd and inherently false about one country trying to impose its system of government or its economic institutions on another. Such an enterprise amounts to a dictionary definition of imperialism. When what's at issue is "democracy," you have the fallacy of using the end to justify the means (making war on those to be democratized), and in the process the leaders of the missionary country are invariably infected with the sins of hubris, racism, and arrogance. [complete article]
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Quartet to hold key talks on fate of its Mideast peacemaking role
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, May 3, 2006

Heads of the international Quartet will convene at the office of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday to discuss the future role of the U.S.-UN-EU-Russian grouping in the Middle East conflict, with the talks centering on the possibility of backing away from the road map peace plan and ending Quartet mediation in the Mideast conflict.

A main issue in the talks will be whether to appoint a replacement for James Wolfensohn, the Quartet's former envoy for the Disengagement, or to refrain from further involvement in mediation between Israel and the Palestinians.

According to senior European sources, the Quartet officials will also weigh the degree to which the road map peace plan is relevant, discussing whether to update the plan or to withdraw from it altogether. [complete article]

See also, Former Mideast envoy criticizes aid cut to Palestinians (Reuters).
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Merits of partitioning Iraq or allowing civil war weighed
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, April 30, 2006

As the U.S. military struggles against persistent sectarian violence in Iraq, military officers and security experts find themselves in a vigorous debate over an idea that just months ago was largely dismissed as a fringe thought: that the surest -- and perhaps now the only -- way to bring stability to Iraq is to divide the country into three pieces.

Those who see the partitioning of Iraq as increasingly attractive argue that separating the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds may be the only solution to the violence that many experts believe verges on civil war. Others contend that it would simply lead to new and dangerous challenges for the United States, not least the possibility that al-Qaeda would find it easier to build a new base of operations in a partitioned Iraq.

One specialist on the Iraqi insurgency, Ahmed S. Hashim, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College who has served two tours in Iraq as a reservist, contends in a new book that the U.S. government's options in Iraq are closing to just two: Let a civil war occur, or avoid that wrenching outcome through some sort of partition. Such a division of the country "is the option that can allow us to leave with honor intact," he concludes in "Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq." [complete article]

See also, U.S.'s cultural ignorance fuels Iraq insurgency (NPR).

The untold story of Israel's bomb
By Avner Cohen and William Burr, Washington Post, April 30, 2006

On Sept. 9, 1969, a big brown envelope was delivered to the Oval Office on behalf of CIA Director Richard M. Helms. On it he had written, "For and to be opened only by: The President, The White House." The precise contents of the envelope are still unknown, but it was the latest intelligence on one of Washington's most secretive foreign policy matters: Israel's nuclear program. The material was so sensitive that the nation's spymaster was unwilling to share it with anybody but President Richard M. Nixon himself.

The now-empty envelope is inside a two-folder set labeled "NSSM 40," held by the Nixon Presidential Materials Project at the National Archives. (NSSM is the acronym for National Security Study Memorandum, a series of policy studies produced by the national security bureaucracy for the Nixon White House.) The NSSM 40 files are almost bare because most of their documents remain classified.

With the aid of recently declassified documents, we now know that NSSM 40 was the Nixon administration's effort to grapple with the policy implications of a nuclear-armed Israel. These documents offer unprecedented insight into the tense deliberations in the White House in 1969 -- a crucial time in which international ratification of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was uncertain and U.S. policymakers feared that a Middle Eastern conflagration could lead to superpower conflict. Nearly four decades later, as the world struggles with nuclear ambitions in Iran, India and elsewhere, the ramifications of this hidden history are still felt.
[complete article]

See also, Israel crosses the threshold (National Security Archive).

After the nuclear non-proliferation treaty
By Richard Falk and David Krieger, Open Democracy, April 27, 2006

For several decades now, the world has been living with the illusion that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) established a functioning treaty regime that has spared the world from nuclear danger. It is an illusion partly because three nuclear-weapons aspirants (Israel, India and Pakistan) have kept clear of the treaty and yet suffered no adverse consequences when they developed nuclear arsenals.

On the contrary, United States president George W Bush's proposed nuclear deal with India – under which the US would share reactors, fuel and expertise – must be understood as a major diplomatic reward in spite of India's crossing the nuclear-weapons threshold. And Israel has been allowed to develop a formidable nuclear arsenal while the West kept completely silent.

But this is not the only concern. The NPT – which was signed in 1968, and came into force in 1970 – has generated a new set of pretexts for launching aggressive war. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was mainly vindicated, in public at least, because of Baghdad's stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and its covert nuclear-weapons programme. The reality that such a stockpile did not exist, nor the programme, conveys the perverse message that a country hostile to the US might be better off with the weapons than without. [complete article]

Iran is Bush's bogeyman
By Firas Al-Atraqchi, Al-Ahram Weekly, April 27, 2006

In February 2003, several thousand members of a Shia militia infiltrated Iraq from Iran and took up positions in anticipation of an imminent United States invasion.

Once US forces penetrated Iraqi defenses, the militia vanguard were joined by a heavily armed and fully mechanised Badr Brigade, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), ideologically and financially supported by their host country Iran.

The infiltration of the Badr Brigade effectively breached an agreement between its late leader Ayatollah Mohamed Baqir Al-Hakim and the US military that his militia would not enter Iraq until well after Saddam Hussein had been deposed. But there was no complaint from Washington. [complete article]

Ferment over 'The Israel Lobby'
By Philip Weiss, The Nation, May 15, 2006

The Atlantic had long hoped to assign a piece that would look systematically at where Israel and America shared interests and where those interests conflicted, so as to examine the lobby's impact. The magazine duly commissioned an article in late 2002 by Mearsheimer and Walt, whom Mearsheimer had brought in. "No way I would have done it alone," Mearsheimer says. "You needed two people of significant stature to withstand the firestorm that would invariably come with the publication of the piece."

Mearsheimer and Walt had plenty of ideological company. After 9/11, many other realists were questioning American policy in the Mideast. Stephen Van Evera, an international relations professor at MIT, began writing papers showing that the American failure to deal fairly with the Israel/Palestine conflict was fostering support for Al Qaeda across the Muslim world. Robert Pape, a professor down the hall from Mearsheimer at Chicago, published a book, Dying to Win, showing that suicide bombers were not religiously motivated but were acting pragmatically against occupiers.

The writer Anatol Lieven says he reluctantly took on the issue after 9/11 as a matter of "duty"--when the Carnegie Endowment, where he was a senior associate, asked him to. "I knew bloody well it would bring horrible unpopularity.... All my personal loyalties are the other way. I've literally dozens of Jewish friends; I have no Palestinian friends." Lieven says he was a regular at the Aspen Institute till he brought up the issue. "I got kicked out of Aspen.... In early 2002 they held a conference on relations with the Muslim world. For two days nobody mentioned Israel. Finally, I said, 'Look, this is a Soviet-style debate. Whatever you think about this issue, the entire Muslim world is shouting about it.' I have never been asked back." In 2004 Lieven published a book, America Right or Wrong, in which he argued that the United States had subordinated its interests to a tiny militarized state, Israel. Attacked as an anti-Semite, Lieven says he became a pariah among many colleagues at the Carnegie Endowment, which he left for the fledgling New America Foundation. [complete article]

How to think about terrorism
By Richard K. Betts, Wilson Quarterly, Winter, 2006

In the aftermath of September 11, many Americans have embraced the belief, or at least the hope, that acts of terror can be prevented in the future. More-advanced technologies, better-trained people, and better-organized bureaucracies, it is thought, will shield us from danger by revealing the future more clearly than America’s intelligence agencies were able to do before the Al Qaeda attacks. This hope goes naturally with the traditional "can-do" ethos of American culture. A little hard thinking shows the expectation to be futile, but a great deal more thought is required if we are to understand what we can reasonably hope to accomplish in combating future terrorism.

If we are ever to turn a clear eye on the threat of terrorism, we must begin by shedding three popular misconceptions: first, that the threat can be ended if we apply more energy, innovation, resources, and talent to counterterrorism, and that the reason for past failures was incompetence or insufficient effort; second, that the maximum effort against all potential attacks that might be mounted inside the United States is either required or possible; and third, that the global war on terror is against terrorism -- a tactic -- rather than against particular political groups that use the tactic. [complete article]

The outlaw world
By Brian Urquhart, New York Review of Books, May 11, 2006

"A rule-based international society" may seem a lackluster phrase, but it describes, for those who wish organized life on this planet to survive in a decent form, the most important of all the long-term international objectives mankind can have. That international law has already been formulated to deal with a wide range of human activities is one of the great, if often unappreciated, achievements of the years since World War II. Yet the obstacles to its being effective are enormous. We all know that international law is often challenged by the caprices and diverging interests of national politics and that it still lacks the authority of national law. With a few important exceptions, international law remains unenforceable; when it collides with the sovereign interests or the ambitions of states, it is often ignored or rejected. It is still far from being the respected foundation of a reliable international system.

In the first years of the new millennium, and especially after the terrorist attacks of September 11, the development of international law has encountered an unexpected and formidable obstacle -- the ideological opposition of the Bush administration, both to vital treaties and to international institutions. [complete article]

Face to face with the war on terrorism
By Mahvish Khan, Washington Post, April 30, 2006

Mousovi is a physician from the Afghan city of Gardez, where he was arrested by U.S. troops 2 1/2 years ago. He tells us that he had returned to Afghanistan in August 2003, after 12 years of exile in Iran, to help rebuild his wathan , his homeland. He believes that someone turned him in to U.S. forces just to collect up to $25,000 being offered to anyone who gave up a Talib or al-Qaeda member.

As I translate from Pashto, Mousovi hesitantly describes life since his arrest. Transported to Bagram air base near Kabul in eastern Afghanistan, he was thrown -- blindfolded, hooded and gagged -- into a 3 1/2 -by-7-foot shed. He says he was beaten regularly by Americans in civilian clothing, deprived of sleep by tape-recordings of sirens that blared day and night. He describes being dragged around by a rope, subjected to extremes of heat and cold. He says he barely slept for an entire month.

He doesn't know why he was brought to Guantanamo Bay. He had hoped he would be freed at his military hearing in December 2004. Instead, he was accused of associating with the Taliban and of funneling money to anti-coalition insurgents. When he asked for evidence, he was told it was classified. And so he sits in prison, far from his wife and three children. More than anyone, he misses his 11-year-old daughter, Hajar. When he talks about her, his eyes fill with tears and his head droops. [complete article]

Afghanistan: The night fairies
By Sarah Chayes, Bulltein of the Atomic Scientists, March/April, 2006

Last fall, an elderly gentleman came by my house, located on a dirt street near the Kandahar bazaar. His eyes were a little rheumier than I remembered, his white beard wispier. A shawl was draped across the top of his turban and around his shoulders to protect against the autumn chill.

He is the village elder of a hamlet I used to visit regularly, located in a tangle of pomegranate orchards just beyond a line of rocky hills that looks like the crenelated back of a dinosaur. The dairy cooperative I was running then used to collect milk there every morning, two liters from one family, five from another, carried to our truck by children and oldsters in a riot of receptacles. Now, in fulfillment of a year-old promise, I wanted to buy pomegranates from this village.

I apologized to the old man for sending my staff to fetch him. "I didn't want to come see you myself," I said, "for fear of causing you trouble."

"No, no," he answered with a frank smile. "I wouldn't have given you permission to come."

This is the second Kandahar-area farmer who has broken with the deep-rooted local tradition of hospitality--as well as the lure of a higher price for his produce--and asked me not to approach his village, for fear of retaliation once I leave. Even more than the frequent explosions aimed at U.S. or Canadian military convoys, the ambushes, and the murders in mosques, these polite refusals of concrete assistance by struggling villagers signal how far the security situation has deteriorated in the past year. [complete article]

The stringers
By Paul McLeary, Columbia Journalism Review, March/April, 2006

Just days before I met Salih in Iraq this past January, he became a wanted man. A stringer for The Washington Post in Tikrit, he had helped report a story that ran on January 13, fingering local Tikriti officials who the story said had looted a complex of palaces built by Saddam Hussein.

The story, like so much else that has gone wrong in Iraq, has its roots in what was supposed to be a sign of progress. Last November, the American military in Tikrit made a big show of handing the palaces over to the Iraqis. Some time later, after hearing that the palaces had been looted, Salih was one of several Post stringers assigned to cover the story. After seeing the destruction firsthand he sent word back to the Post, which ran a piece that named local Iraqi forces and the head of the local security force, Jassam Jabara, as the culprits. Jabara, who had a history with Salih from an earlier story, was not pleased. As a result, according to Salih's sources, Jabara placed a $50,000 bounty on his head. Salih fled Tikrit and has yet to return. [complete article]

Out of reach
By Sherry Ricchiardi, American Journalism Review, April/May, 2006

For Deborah Amos, checking her appearance before she ventures outside the protective walls of her living quarters into the wilds of Baghdad has become a ritual: Are the glasses she's wearing too foreign-looking? Maybe it's best to take them off. Could the Western-style shoes give her away? Better to change into something more "Iraqi." Do the scarf hiding her hair and the long, traditional black robe provide enough cover?

Once she is satisfied the look is right, the veteran National Public Radio reporter slips into the backseat of the car, reminding herself that a conservative Muslim woman stares straight ahead, avoiding eye contact with drivers on the road or passersby. The demeanor is part of the disguise as she heads to an assignment in the heavily guarded Green Zone, home of the United States Embassy and the Iraqi government. [complete article]
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Iran strategy: Cold War echo
By David E. Sanger and Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, April 30, 2006

Iran and the United States have begun to reveal new strategies in their nuclear dispute that seem bound to escalate their confrontation, as both nations seek to turn to their advantage a highly critical report that portrays a nuclear program proceeding at full tilt, in growing secrecy.

In many ways, what has unfolded in the past three days resembles cold-war deception and brinkmanship, but with some decidedly new twists for a very different nuclear age. And, much like the early days of the cold war, both sides have been trying to rewrite the rules on the fly, using every tool available -- from American threats of sanctions to Iranian threats of oil cutoffs -- to maneuver. [complete article]
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Tehran's known unknowns
By Christopher Dickey and John Barry, Newsweek, May 8, 2006

Back in June 2002, as the Bush administration started pushing hard for war with Iraq by focusing on fears of the unknown—terrorists and weapons of mass destruction—Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld explained that when it came to gathering intelligence on such threats, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Elaborating, Rumsfeld told a news conference: "There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know."

Now there's a crisis brewing with Iran. And the same basic problem applies: what is known, what is suspected, what can be only guessed or imagined? Is danger clear and present or vague and distant? Washington is abuzz now, as it was four years ago, with "sources" talking of sanctions, war, regime change. In 2002, despite a paucity of hard evidence, Iraq was made to seem an urgent threat demanding immediate action. "We don't want 'the smoking gun' to be a mushroom cloud" is the memorable phrase used by the then national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice. [complete article]
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Iran's psychopath in chief, by Israel
By Uzi Mahnaimi, Marie Colvin and Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times, April 30, 2006

Israel's prime minister designate, Ehud Olmert, yesterday denounced the president of Iran as a "psychopath" and likened him to Adolf Hitler, in a growing confrontation over the Iranian nuclear programme.

The attack on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map", came as it emerged that the head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, secretly discussed the nuclear programme with officials in Washington last week.

Meir Dagan, the Mossad chief, is believed to have passed on the latest Israeli intelligence on covert Iranian plans for enriching uranium, with a warning that Tehran may be nearer to acquiring nuclear weapons than widely believed.

The Israeli leader's comments, his most forceful condemnation of Ahmadinejad, came in an interview with the German newspaper Bild.

"Ahmadinejad speaks today like Hitler before taking power," Olmert said of the president, who has questioned the Holocaust and suggested the Jewish state be moved to Europe or North America. "So you see, we are dealing with a psychopath of the worst kind -- with an anti-semite. God forbid that this man ever gets his hands on nuclear weapons, to carry out his threats." [complete article]

Comment -- If Olmert -- or anyone else currently making the Ahmadinejad-is-another-Hitler claim -- is really serious, he needs to explain how the Iranian people are ripe to fall in line behind this supposedly psychopathic dictator. Curiously, the very same people who liken Ahmadinejad to Hitler, admit that he is not hugely popular and his is only one voice in a regime riven with internal conflicts.
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Ah, where are those Arabs?
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, April 30, 2006

Hamas may now be experiencing the schism that the PLO and other organizations in the world underwent when they found themselves faced with the difficult choice between two types of legitimacy: that which is derived from an armed struggle and sacrifice versus that which demands responsibility and providing for needs. This dilemma, of course, does not interest decision makers in Israel, who are now beguiled by the charms of convergence: The slightest shadow of a partner threatens their pattern of thinking. It also perturbs those who "really know who those Arabs are." [complete article]
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Bush challenges hundreds of laws
By Charlie Savage, Boston Globe (IHT), April 30, 2006

President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, "whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to "execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional. [complete article]
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Cheney won't tell how much he keeps secret
By Mark Silva, Chicago Tribune (via Seattle Times), April 30, 2006

As the Bush administration has dramatically accelerated the classification of information as "top secret" or "confidential," one office is refusing to report on its annual activity in classifying documents: the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

A standing executive order, strengthened by President Bush in 2003, requires all agencies and "any other entity within the executive branch" to provide an annual accounting of their classification of documents. More than 80 agencies have collectively reported to the National Archives that they made 15.6 million decisions in 2004 to classify information, nearly double the number in 2001, but Cheney insists he is exempt.

Explaining why the vice president has withheld even a tally of his office's secrecy when offices such as the National Security Council routinely report theirs, a spokeswoman said Cheney is "not under any duty" to provide it. [complete article]
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Gore redux
By Eleanor Clift, Newsweek, April 28, 2006

By not playing the overt political game, Gore may be putting in place the first issue-driven campaign of the 21st century, one that is premised on a big moral challenge that is becoming more real with soaring gas prices and uncertain oil supplies. A senior Democrat who once ran for the White House himself but harbors no illusions the party will turn to him in 2008 looks at Gore and marvels, "This guy is running the best campaign I've seen for president."

Whether he is or isn't running almost doesn't matter. Gore has the luxury of waiting until late in the political season to announce. He has universal name recognition, a proven ability to raise money, and he can tap into the machinery to launch a grass-roots campaign. Unlike front runner Hillary Clinton, there is no doubt about where Gore stands and what he believes in. He opposed the Iraq war, he was against the Patriot Act and he spoke out forcefully against President Bush's torture policies and warrantless eavesdropping. [complete article]
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100,000 families are fleeing violence, Iraq official says
By Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, April 30, 2006

A new estimate by one of Iraq's vice presidents has put the number of Iraqi families fleeing sectarian violence at 100,000, far outstripping previous projections and raising the possibility that a total of a half-million people could be displaced.

The estimate, made Friday by Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shiite leader selected as one of two vice presidents, is much higher than other recent estimates. For example, the national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said in an interview last week that 13,750 families had been displaced, which could mean about 70,000 people.

Yet both statements go far beyond estimates by American military leaders, who have said there is no "widespread movement" of Iraqis fleeing from sectarian fighting. [complete article]
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'I demand a timetable'
By Scott Johnson, Newsweek, May 8, 2006

Variously described as a populist Shia cleric, a violent militia leader and a political kingmaker, Moqtada al-Sadr is all of the above. His growing power—and his stance against the American occupation—helped impede the formation of an Iraqi government for four and a half months. Now that a government is finally coming together, Sadr is still a wild card. Will he fuel further violence or help to mend sectarian wounds? NEWSWEEK requested an interview with Sadr several weeks ago and gave him a list of questions. Last week he provided an eight-page response, typed in Arabic. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: In 2003, the Americans and various Iraqi parties described you and your followers as a minor force. Clearly no one would say that now.
SADR: Time elapsed; things became clear and resulted in the Sadr trend—a powerful, loyal political and military force. At the same time, I reach out my hand to cooperate [and] to make peace in Iraq, to drive away the shadow of the armies of darkness. The occupation is the creator of all problems. I pray to Allah to take away the problems and their creator. [complete article]
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Al-Qaeda leader plans an Iraq army
By Michael Smith, The Sunday Times, April 30, 2006

The leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is attempting to set up his own mini-army and move away from individual suicide attacks to a more organised resistance movement, according to US intelligence sources.

Faced with a shortage of foreign fighters willing to undertake suicide missions, Zarqawi wants to turn his group into a more traditional force mounting co-ordinated guerrilla raids on coalition targets.

Al-Qaeda is sending training and planning experts to help to set up the force and infiltrate members into Iraq with the assistance of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the sources said. [complete article]
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Self-sufficiency still eludes Iraqi Army
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, April 30, 2006

Few Americans are greeted as warmly by Iraqi soldiers serving in the western desert of Al Anbar province as Maj. John Bilas, a Marine from Camp Pendleton.

He pays them.

Tall and sturdily built, with spiky blond hair under his helmet, Bilas recently climbed aboard a Black Hawk helicopter in Baghdad and headed for Al Asad, a military base in Al Anbar, the heartland of Iraq's Sunni Arab-led insurgency.

He carried more than $2 million in cash stuffed in heavy sacks. Over the next several days, riding in Humvee convoys, he made the dangerous journey across Al Anbar to outposts and fortified military bases to deliver the payroll for Iraq's 7th Army Division.

Without an effective disbursement system in the Iraqi Defense Ministry, Iraqi soldiers here are routinely paid late -- sometimes waiting as long as six months, Marine officials said. The lag fuels desertion, with rates running as high as 40% among some Iraqi units in Al Anbar, Marine and Iraqi commanders said. [complete article]
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Death toll for Americans in Iraq is highest in 5 months
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, April 29, 2006

The military on Friday announced the death of one American soldier, bringing the death toll so far in April to 69, the highest in five months. The monthly figure disrupted a trend of steadily falling American fatalities that had begun in November.

The bulk of American deaths in April occurred in Baghdad and in the insurgent-controlled western province of Anbar, according to Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, an independent group that compiles casualty figures based on information provided by the American military. [complete article]
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U.S. pays for 150 Iraqi clinics, and manages to build 20
By James Glanz, New York Times, April 30, 2006

A $243 million program led by the United States Army Corps of Engineers to build 150 health care clinics in Iraq has in some cases produced little more than empty shells of crumbling concrete and shattered bricks cemented together into uneven walls, two reports by a federal oversight office have found.

The reports, released yesterday, detail a close inspection of five of the clinics in the northern city of Kirkuk as well as a sweeping audit of the entire program, which began in March 2004 as a heavily promoted effort to improve health care for ordinary Iraqis. The reports say that none of the five clinics in Kirkuk and only 20 of the original 150 across the country will be completed without new financing. [complete article]
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Rift grows between al-Qaida, Muslim groups
By Alfred de Montesquiou, AP (via Yahoo), April 29, 2006

When terrorists blew themselves up in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula this week, the radical Palestinian group Hamas quickly joined Arab governments and Western leaders in condemning a "criminal attack against all human values."

Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood called the bombings "aggression on human souls created by God."

The denunciations were unexpectedly harsh from the Islamic fundamentalist groups -- Hamas has killed hundreds of Israeli civilians in suicide bombings, and the Brotherhood is determined to impose an Islamic government -- but experts agree that radical Muslim organizations want to distance themselves from al-Qaida.

The widening rift largely has not been acknowledged among Western powers, who tend to lump Islamic radicals together. The U.S. list of "Foreign Terrorist Organizations," for example, puts al-Qaida with Hamas and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah. [complete article]

Once again, for Muslims, it's 'us versus us'
By Mona Eltahawy, International Herald Tribune, April 28, 2006

Look no further than the triple bombing this week at the Sinai resort of Dahab, where most of those killed and wounded were Egyptians, to fully appreciate the lie behind Osama bin Laden's latest message that the West is on a crusade against Islam.

If anyone is on a crusade against Muslims it is Al Qaeda itself, whose sympathizers most likely carried out the attack in Dahab, the third in Sinai in 18 months. [complete article]
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Why the CIA's secret flights irk Europeans
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, April 28, 2006

Stoking the smoldering international controversy over America's conduct of its war on terror, a European Parliament inquiry has found that the CIA carried out as many as 1,000 secret flights through Europe since the 9/11 attacks.

With details that might conjure up movie scripts, an interim report by a committee investigating such activity alleges that the CIA occasionally snatched suspects from city streets and whisked them away to far countries or to the US detention facility in Guantanamo, Cuba.

The allegations have so far created few official waves, coming as they do as European governments mull their own responses to international terrorism - and after reports late last year had already prompted a round of transatlantic diplomacy. But the response does indicate that the US has a black eye not so much with European governments, but with European publics. And it also hints - as the report alleges - that at least some European governments not only knew of the flights and transfers of suspected terrorists, but also cooperated with them. [complete article]
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'United 93': The real picture
By John Farmer, Washington Post, April 30, 2006

How accurate is "United 93," Universal Pictures' new movie depicting the drama and heroism aboard the fourth plane hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001? The answer tells us a lot about Hollywood and government in the age of terrorism: The film is closer to the truth than every account the government put out before the 9/11 commission's investigation. Its release marks our passage through the post-9/11 looking glass, with our wildest fairy tales now spun not in Hollywood, but in Washington. [complete article]
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U.S. says it fears detainee abuse in repatriation
By Tim Golden, New York Times, April 30, 2006

"The Pentagon has no plans to release any detainees in the immediate future," said a Defense Department spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon of the Navy. He said the negotiations with foreign governments "have proven to be a complex, time-consuming and difficult process."

The military has so far sent home 267 detainees from Guantanamo after finding that they had no further intelligence value and either posed no long-term security threat or would reliably be imprisoned or monitored by their own governments. Most of those who remain are considered more dangerous militants; many also come from nations with poor human rights records and ineffective justice systems.

But Washington's insistence on humane treatment for the detainees in their native countries comes after years in which Guantanamo has been assailed as a symbol of American abuse and hypocrisy -- a fact not lost on the governments with which the United States is now negotiating. [complete article]
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In leak cases, new pressure on journalists
By Adam Liptak, New York Times, April 30, 2006

Earlier administrations have fired and prosecuted government officials who provided classified information to the press. They have also tried to force reporters to identify their sources.

But the Bush administration is exploring a more radical measure to protect information it says is vital to national security: the criminal prosecution of reporters under the espionage laws.

Such an approach would signal a thorough revision of the informal rules of engagement that have governed the relationship between the press and the government for many decades. Leaking in Washington is commonplace and typically entails tolerable risks for government officials and, at worst, the possibility of subpoenas to journalists seeking the identities of sources.

But the Bush administration is putting pressure on the press as never before, and it is operating in a judicial climate that seems increasingly receptive to constraints on journalists. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Time runs out for Iran at the U.N. Now what?
By Tony Karon, Time, April 27, 2006

Do not attack Iran
By Zbigniew Brzezinski, IHT, April 26, 2006

The Long War posture
By Gregory D. Foster, Baltimore Sun, April 26, 2006

The moral logic and growth of suicide terrorism
By Scott Atran, Washington Quarterly, Spring, 2006

New plans foresee fighting terrorism beyond war zones
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, April 23, 2006

U.S.: More than 600 implicated in detainee abuse
Human Rights Watch, April 26, 2006

U.S. strategic foothold in Central Asia at risk
By Patrick Goodenough,, April 27, 2006

Sistani calls for end to militias
By Borzou Daragahi and Bruce Wallace, Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2006

Shiite militias move into oil-rich Kirkuk, even as Kurds dig in
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, April 25, 2006

The end of the Jews intimate disregard for the Arabs
By Meron Benvenisti, Haaretz, April 20, 2006
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