The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Hizb Allah, Party of God
By Nir Rosen, Truthdig, October 3, 2006

[Beirut, September 22:] Stuck in the crowds with my seven-months-pregnant American wife, we opted for a better view from the balcony of an apartment building above the crowds. When the singing of Hizballah songs and the Lebanese and Hizballah anthems had ended and Nasrallah began his speech, the women on the balcony with us shrieked as though at a rock concert and ran into the living room to confirm on the television screen that it was indeed him. They waved their arms and started to cry, and a frisson of emotion ran through the men in the room.

Nasrallah not only spoke to his natural constituents, the Lebanese Shia, but he also singled out the inhabitants of Palestine, Syria, Iran, Kuwait and Bahrain. He told his audience that they were sending a political and moral message to the world that Lebanon’s resistance was stronger than ever. Their victory was a victory for every oppressed, aggrieved and free person in the world, he said, and an inspiration for all who rejected subjugation or degradation by the United States. He mocked Arab leaders for not using their oil resources as a strategic weapon, for prohibiting demonstrations, for not supporting the Palestinians and for kowtowing to Condoleezza Rice. He extended his people’s hearts, grief and empathy for the Palestinians who were being bombed and killed daily, and whose homes were being destroyed while the world, and in particular the Arab world, was silent.

Surveying this massive crowd of boisterous people -- the men and women, the teenagers and the small children, celebrating their identity and their steadfastness together with music -- I knew this was not the stuff of religious fundamentalism or terrorism. I was struck by how the reality of Hizballah differed from its distorted image in the West. For although Hizb Allah, the Party of God, is undoubtedly of Shia origin, it is in fact a secular movement, addressing real temporal issues, its leaders speaking in a nationalist discourse, avoiding sectarianism and religious metaphors. They participate in politics, compromising and negotiating, and do not seek to impose Islamic law on others. Proof of this is readily available in Hizballah strongholds, where many of their followers are secular, supporting Hizballah because it represents their political interests and defends them. [complete article]
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The West, served by Arab "moderates", is attempting to take the Arab world back to the Stone Age
By Azmi Bishara, Al-Ahram Weekly, October 5, 2006

Demonstrations by security forces in Gaza demanding back pay owed to them erupted into violence. On the surface this seems like a syndicate action gone sour. But beneath it lurks something more sinisterly political. Of course, civil servants want their pay, like other workers; especially now that it's Ramadan and purchasing demands are up. And, civil servants, like other workers, are subject to the same economic blockade, which, however, was imposed for political purposes. The division, here, is not a horizontal one between civil servants and other classes of workers, but a vertical one tearing through society on the basis of political affiliations. On one side are those who are the object of the blockade, because of their collective stance against the conditions of the Quartet. On the other are those who see the blockade as an attack against their political adversaries and, therefore, a form of support for their own positions.

The Palestinians have yet to win liberation and a nation state. But they have established an identity, a national movement and a will to fight for liberation. To side with a colonialist blockade is to lend oneself to jettisoning even this small accomplishment, which was achieved through such enormous sacrifices. [complete article]

See also, Hamas accused of assassinating Fatah rivals (FT).
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Israel is creating Mogadishu next to its Silicon Valley
By Zahi Khouri, Daily Star, October 6, 2006

In 1995, I moved from a comfortable life in the United States to Ramallah, Palestine, to invest in the most American of businesses there. I was instrumental in bringing Coca-Cola to the Middle East in the early 1980s; after the Oslo Accords were signed I decided to launch the Coke franchise in the West Bank and Gaza. Over the last decade, the business has grown. Today, Coca-Cola employs hundreds of Palestinians and sells 10 million cases of Coke a year.

As a Palestinian-American, this was more than a moneymaking venture. Each gleaming bottle, with that red Coca-Cola swirl in both Arabic and English, would be a miniature ambassador from America. And each potential investor who saw that Coke was successful might decide to invest as well. It seemed the perfect strategy: to promote American interests while helping to build an economy that could serve as the foundation of a viable, independent Palestinian state.

Following the peace accords, scores of other Palestinian-Americans moved to the West Bank and Gaza. Professors came to teach at universities. Doctors came to help modernize the healthcare system and treat patients. Artists came to exhibit and perform. Other business professionals came to invest, modernize the economy and create jobs. Each, in their way, wanted to help build an independent Palestine. Each served as the real ambassadors of America, so different from the American-made Apache helicopters and F-16 fighter jets Israel uses to rain destruction on the Palestinian economy, cities and villages.

But Israel has decided that we Americans are not welcome. Many, like me, have lived in the West Bank for more than a decade. Unlike American Jews - or Jews from anywhere - who can receive instant citizenship upon arrival, we are unable to obtain residency. Instead, we Christian and Muslim Palestinians must rely on our American passports, renewing our tourist visas every three months. A hassle, yes, but the only way to stay in Palestine, often in homes our families have inhabited for generations. [complete article]
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Israeli bomblets plague Lebanon
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, October 6, 2006

Since the war between Israel and Hezbollah ended in August, nearly three people have been wounded or killed each day by cluster bombs Israel dropped in the waning days of the war, and officials now say it will take more than a year to clear the region of them.

United Nations officials estimate that southern Lebanon is littered with one million unexploded bomblets, far outnumbering the 650,000 people living in the region. They are stuck in the branches of olive trees and the broad leaves of banana trees. They are on rooftops, mixed in with rubble and littered across fields, farms, driveways, roads and outside schools.

As of Sept. 28, officials here said cluster bombs had severely wounded 109 people -- and killed 18 others. [complete article]

See also, Rebuilding Lebanon: the human dimension (Hashim Sarkis).

Comment -- Imagine the reaction if Hezbollah had carpeted northern Israel with explosive devices as its "parting shot" in the war. This would have been cited as irrefutable evidence of the organization's terrorist nature (the use of indiscriminate violence against civilians) and it would also have seen as a demonstration of the "existential threat" to Israel (an attempt to make the region uninhabitable).
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How Al Qaeda views a long Iraq war
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, October 6, 2006

In appearances across the US, President Bush has been campaigning against withdrawing troops from Iraq, arguing that to leave now would hand a historic victory to Al Qaeda and inspire new generations of jihadists to attack the US.

But a letter that has been translated and released by the US military indicates that Al Qaeda itself sees the continued American presence in Iraq as a boon for the terror network, which has recently shown signs of expanding into the Palestinian territories and North Africa.

"The most important thing is that the jihad continues with steadfastness ... indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest," says the writer, who goes by the name Atiyah. The letter, released last week, was recovered in the rubble of the Iraqi house where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, former leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed by a US bomb in June. [complete article]

Comment -- I guess it might just be a coincidence, but Dan Murphy's article strongly echoes Marc Lynch's posting at Abu Aardvark three days ago:
Does al-Qaeda really want the United States to withdraw from Iraq, as current administration arguments would have it? Not according to the letter captured during the raid which killed Abu Musab Zarqawi, allegedly from a member of al-Qaeda's inner circle identified only as 'Atiyah, recently translated and released by Counterterrorism Center at West Point. 'Atiyah writes:
The most important thing is that you continue in your jihad in Iraq, and that you be patient and forbearing, even in weakness, and even with fewer operations... Do not be hasty. The most important thing is that the jihad continues with steadfastness and firm rooting, and that it grows in terms of supporters, strength, clarity of justification, and visible proof each day. Indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest, with God's permission.
I'm not sure why this statement doesn't seem to have made it into any of the press coverage of the letter which I've seen.
Did Murphy forget to give Lynch a credit?
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Bordering on insanity
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, October 5, 2006

One of the many infamous bits of collective memory that linger from the Vietnam War is the remark by an American officer trying to explain the utter devastation of Ben Tre, a provincial capital, in 1968: "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it," said the unnamed major.

Now, it would seem, some American military analysts think the same reasoning should apply to the whole Middle East. In June, retired lieutenant colonel Ralph Peters, an essayist and thriller writer, published a provocative column in the Armed Forces Journal -- with an even more provocative map attached -- and it has been cropping up in policy debates ever since like a bomb in a Three Stooges movie. [complete article]
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Rice makes visit to Kurdish north
AP, October 6, 2006

Convinced oil revenue is the long-term key to economic independence for a unified Iraq, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appealed Friday for cooperation from the autonomous and oil rich Kurdish north.

Rice visited the region's powerful president, Massoud Barzani, less than two weeks after the regional government threatened to break away from Iraq in a dispute over oil.

After a session with their staff, followed by a lengthy one-on-one meeting at the Kurdish government offices in Irbil, Rice and Barzani stood in front of U.S. and Kurdish flags and spoke to reporters.

Barzani, speaking in Kurdish through an interpreter, said Kurdistan, "like any other nation, has the right to self-determination." However, he said he is committed to a "federal democratic and pluralistic Iraq."

For her part, Rice thanked Barzani for the Kurds' long cooperation with the United States, adding, "and I appreciate also your important participation in the process of national reconciliation. Thank you." [complete article]

Comment -- Rice's willingness to speak to reporters with the Kurdish flag behind her will surely fuel fears of Kurdish secession. Is she playing a game of secession brinkmanship with Baghdad - in effect saying, show us some improvement or we won't object to Kurdistan breaking away?

CBS: Death squads in Iraqi hospitals
By Lara Logan, CBS News, October 4, 2006

An assembly line of rotting corpses lined up for burial at Sandy Desert Cemetery is what civil war in Iraq looks like close up.

The bodies are only a fraction of the unidentified bodies sent from Baghdad every few days for mass burial in the southern Shiite city of Kerbala, CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan reports.

They come from the main morgue that's overflowing, relatives too terrified to claim their dead because most are from Iraq's Sunni minority, murdered by Shiite death squads.

And the morgue itself is believed to be controlled by the same Shiite militia blamed for many of the killings: the Mahdi Army, founded and led by anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. [complete article]

Senator says U.S. should rethink Iraq strategy
By David S. Cloud, New York Times, October 6, 2006

The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee warned Thursday that the situation in Iraq was "drifting sideways" and said that the United States should consider a "change of course" if violence did not diminish soon.

The chairman, Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, expressed particular concern that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had not moved decisively against sectarian militias.

"In two or three months if this thing hasn't come to fruition and this level of violence is not under control, I think it's a responsibility of our government to determine: Is there a change of course we should take?" Senator Warner said.

He did not specify what shift might be necessary in Iraq, but he said that the American military had done what it could to stabilize Iraq and that no policy options should be taken "off the table." He was speaking at a Capitol Hill news conference after returning from a Middle East trip that included a one-day visit to Baghdad. [complete article]

White House defends Bush 'comma' on Iraq war
AFP, October 5, 2006

The White House defended US President George W. Bush's description of the 10 months of bloody violence in Iraq since December 2005 elections as "just a comma."

"He is not talking about the war as a comma," spokesman Tony Snow told reporters after critics pounced on Bush's repeated use of the expression as a sign of callous disregard for the war's death toll.

"What the president's making the point is, when you look at a history book, the ten-month period is a comma," he said. [complete article]

Comment -- We all know President Bush gets mixed up over words. I'm sure he suffers from similar problems with punctuation. The president said "comma" but he probably meant "ellipsis." Thus, with press secretary Snow's clarification, the meaning becomes obvious: the last ten months is a period we'd all rather forget about... No?
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Afghan terror training comes home to roost
AFP, October 6, 2006

Five years after the destruction of Afghanistan's Islamist training camps, a campaign of attacks that uses the very techniques they taught has been unleashed in Afghanistan.

On October 7, 2001 the first bombs of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom pounded Taleban positions and jihadist camps in reprisal for the September 11 attacks blamed on the Al Qaeda terror network.

Ironically the methods taught in those camps are now appearing in attacks in Afghanistan and across the world, whereas the Taleban of the time engaged in conventional warfare.

'They did not need training in terror operations and Al Qaeda did not want to draw attention to the Taleban, so it could use them as a base,' said Afghan defence ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi, a former mujahedin commander.

According to Olivier Roy, a French specialist on Afghanistan, 'until 2001 there was a division between the Afghans and internationals.'

'They were connected only by Mullah (Mohammad) Omar at the head' of the Taleban regime, he said.

But the American-led operation closed the gap between the Taleban and the foreign jihadists. [complete article]

Nato's top brass accuse Pakistan over Taliban aid
By Ahmed Rashid, The Daily Telegraph, October 6, 2006

Commanders from five Nato countries whose troops have just fought the bloodiest battle with the Taliban in five years, are demanding their governments get tough with Pakistan over the support and sanctuary its security services provide to the Taliban.

Nato's report on Operation Medusa, an intense battle that lasted from September 4-17 in the Panjwai district, demonstrates the extent of the Taliban's military capability and states clearly that Pakistan's Interservices Intelligence (ISI) is involved in supplying it.

Commanders from Britain, the US, Denmark, Canada and Holland are frustrated that even after Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf met George W Bush and Tony Blair last week, Western leaders are declining to call Mr Musharraf's bluff.

"It is time for an 'either you are with us or against us' delivered bluntly to Musharraf at the highest political level," said one Nato commander. [complete article]

Taliban put Pakistan on notice
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, October 7, 2006

With trouble on the battlefield, US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has recommended, for the first time since September 11, 2001, the need to bring the Taliban into the Afghan government. At the same time, Pakistan is secretly playing its own game of carrot and stick in Afghanistan to influence events to its liking.

However, two quick warning signals to Islamabad this week convey the unmistakable message that regardless of what Washington or Islamabad might desire, the Taliban are the ones who will decide which carrots and which sticks to play. [complete article]
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Meet the "whack Iran" lobby
By Daniel Schulman, Mother Jones, October 6, 2006

Exiles peddling back-channel intelligence, upstart advocacy groups pressing for regime change, administration hawks intent on remaking the Middle East -- the scene in Washington is looking eerily familiar as the Iran standoff grows more tense. Instead of Ahmad Chalabi, we have the likes of Iran-Contra arms-dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar. A new Iran directorate inside the Pentagon features some of the same people who brought you the Iraq intel-cherrypicking operation at the Office of Special Plans. Whether calling for outright regime change or pushing "democracy promotion" initiatives to undermine the Iranian government, an expanding cast of characters has emerged to promote confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. What follows is an abridged list of the individuals and organizations agitating to bring down the mullahs. [complete article]
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Qaeda leader may have been held in Germany: lawyers
By Mark Trevelyan, Reuters, October 6, 2006

New evidence has emerged that high-profile al Qaeda prisoners may have been secretly held at a U.S. base in Germany, a British legal charity representing U.S. detainees said on Friday.

The charity Reprieve said the information came from detainees it represents at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

It said a British-based prisoner there, Binyam Mohamed, said he was told by Moroccan interrogators in 2003 or early 2004 that senior al Qaeda figure Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been held for interrogation at a U.S. prison at an airforce base in Germany.

Mohammed, known as KSM, is the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

Another Guantanamo detainee, Hassan bin Attash, said he was told by Jordanian interrogators that his brother Waleed Tawfiq bin Attash was also being held at a U.S. base in Germany. [complete article]

See also, German lawmakers fault abduction probe (WP).
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In 30-year-old terror case, a test for the U.S.
By Manuel Roig-Franzia, Washington Post, October 5, 2006

A quarter-century before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a bomb ripped a gash in a civilian jetliner in the skies off Barbados.

The Cubana Airlines plane plummeted into the Caribbean Sea just before noon on Oct. 6, 1976. All 73 people on board died, including teenage members of Cuba's national fencing team who were returning to Havana after winning gold and silver medals at a tournament in Venezuela.

The attack marked a new era of fear. It was the first act of midair airline terrorism in the Western Hemisphere.

The 30th anniversary of the bombing is Friday, and it coincides with a critical juncture in the case of Luis Posada Carriles, a main suspect in the bombing who has been held on immigration charges in the United States for the past 16 months.

Posada Carriles's legal odyssey has turned into a diplomatic quandary for the Bush administration and a test of the president's post-Sept. 11 credo that nations that harbor terrorists are guilty of terrorism. While the United States does not want to free a terrorism suspect, it is also reluctant to send him to Cuba or Venezuela, countries that not only remain hostile to the Bush administration but that, according to court testimony of a Posada Carriles ally, also might torture him.

Attorneys for the Justice Department must respond by Thursday to a Texas magistrate's recommendation that Posada Carriles be freed by a federal judge because he has not been officially designated a terrorist in the United States and cannot be held indefinitely on immigration charges.

"This is the moment of truth for the Bush administration," said Peter Kornbluh, a senior Cuba analyst with the National Security Archive, a nonprofit research library at George Washington University.

The prospect of freeing Posada Carriles, who is also a suspect in a series of 1997 hotel bombings in Havana that left one Italian tourist dead, has outraged Cuban leaders. Havana is papered with Cuban government posters and billboards invoking President Bush's position on harboring terrorists. [complete article]
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Waterboarding historically controversial
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, October 5, 2006

On Jan. 21, 1968, The Washington Post published a front-page photograph of a U.S. soldier supervising the questioning of a captured North Vietnamese soldier who is being held down as water was poured on his face while his nose and mouth were covered by a cloth. The picture, taken four days earlier near Da Nang, had a caption that said the technique induced "a flooding sense of suffocation and drowning, meant to make him talk."

The article said the practice was "fairly common" in part because "those who practice it say it combines the advantages of being unpleasant enough to make people talk while still not causing permanent injury."

The picture reportedly led to an Army investigation.

Twenty-one years earlier, in 1947, the United States charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for carrying out another form of waterboarding on a U.S. civilian. The subject was strapped on a stretcher that was tilted so that his feet were in the air and head near the floor, and small amounts of water were poured over his face, leaving him gasping for air until he agreed to talk.

"Asano was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) told his colleagues last Thursday during the debate on military commissions legislation. "We punished people with 15 years of hard labor when waterboarding was used against Americans in World War II," he said. [complete article]
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Taliban lay plans for Islamic intifada
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, October 5, 2006

With the snows approaching, the Taliban's spring offensive has fallen short of its primary objective of reviving the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan, as the country was known under Taliban rule from 1996-2001.

Both foreign forces and the Taliban will bunker down until next spring, although the Taliban are expected to continue with suicide missions and some hit-and-run guerrilla activities. The Taliban will take refuge in the mountains that cross the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where they will have plenty of time to plan the next stage
of their struggle: a countrywide "Islamic Intifada of Afghanistan" calling on all former mujahideen to join the movement to boot out foreign forces from Afghanistan.

The intifada will be both national and international. On the one hand it aims to organize a national uprising, and on the other it will attempt to make Afghanistan the hub of the worldwide Islamic resistance movement, as it was previously under the Taliban when Osama bin Laden and his training camps were guests of the country. [complete article]

See also, Al-Qaeda's far-reaching new partner (WP) and Blast and rocket find spark fears of plot to kill Musharraf (The Times).

Comment -- As the U.S. Army and Marines refine their new counterinsurgency doctrine, there is one fundamental issue that no such doctrine can resolve: If the insurgents are native and the counterinsurgents are not, the insurgency will have an inherent claim of legitimacy with which the counterinsurgency can never compete.
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Jerusalem's Damascus conundrum raises wartime memories of Yom Kippur past
By Gershom Gorenberg, The Forward, October 5, 2006

Bashar Assad says he wants peace -- but failing that, he'll take war. The Syrian president has made a point of intoning that message repeatedly of late. In Israel, the question of how to respond -- indeed, whether to respond at all -- has created a ragged political division that cuts across the usual lines of left, right and center. The deciding factor, so far, seems to be the Bush administration's opposition to any diplomatic contact with Damascus.

Assad's latest call for renewing talks came in an interview with the Spanish paper El Pais this past Monday, in which he said that Syria and Israel could reach peace in six months if they resumed negotiations now. A few days earlier, speaking to Germany's Der Spiegel newsweekly, he said, "We want to make peace -- peace with Israel." Then he added threateningly that "when the hope [for peace] disappears, then maybe war really is the only solution." [complete article]

After war in Lebanon, Israeli settlements growing again
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, October 5, 2006

At this time last year, many people in this settlement started eyeing their future with increased doubt.

Some 8,000 Jewish settlers had just been forcibly removed from Gaza, and people here learned that Karnei Shomron was going to be outside the separation barrier - a high-security network of walls and fencing that Israel is building inside the West Bank.

Today, things look much different, underscoring just how the turmoil in Gaza and the war with Lebanon has affected Israeli politics.

The route of the controversial barrier, yet to be built here, is now promised to encompass - rather than exclude - Karnei Shomron. Israel's Office of Building and Construction just issued permits for 20 new houses, along with 56 for the neighboring Alfei Menashe settlement and another 88 for Ariel, one of the largest West Bank settlements. [complete article]

See also, Israel fires war critic general (BBC).
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North Korea and Iran expose the Bush administration's bankruptcy
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, October 5, 2006

The European Union's talks with Tehran over getting it to suspend uranium before negotiations that would be joined by the U.S. have failed. Now, the U.S. is saying to the Europeans, it's time to leave the talking behind and move on to sanctions. That's something the Europeans are deeply reluctant to do, because they know that sanctions would be unlikely to change Iran's nuclear attitude; Iran if it does feel squeezed will respond by tightening world oil supplies; and the fact that sanctions won't work will make military confrontation more likely. All along, the Europeans have joined with the U.S. in pressing for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, but they've had a different agenda when it comes to resolving the standoff -- just as the other parties to the six-party process over North Korea have insisted that the only way to resolve the conflict is in direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang in which the regime is offered security guarantees; so will the Europeans reiterate their longstanding demand that Washington hold direct talks with Tehran.

Right now, the Administration is mired in infantile neocon posturing on the matter. But even if the Europeans go mildly along with some milquetoast sanctions whose value would be largely symbolic, expect Russia and China to block even those. The Administration has never seriously entertained the limits on the U.S. ability to change global realities or shape an international consensus, which have been dramatically eroded on the watch of Condi Rice. The extent of the diminution of U.S. influence is going to become obvious in the weeks ahead. [complete article]
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Peretz: In Israel's interests to ease conditions in Palestine
By Aluf Benn, Yoav Stern and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, October 5, 2006

Defense Minister Amir Peretz told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday that it is in Israel's security interests to make allowances to the Palestinians on humanitarian grounds.

He said, however that the key to accelerating negotiations was the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, who was snatched by Hamas-linked militants in June.

Peretz was responding to a request by Rice for Israel to ease restrictions at Gaza Strip border crossings. The two agreed that Israel would install X-ray machines at Israel-Gaza border crossings in order to ease the flow of commercial goods in and out of the Strip. [complete article]

Comment -- The degeneration of conscience is an incremental process that can extend for a lifetime, but in some individuals it becomes complete and irreversible at a relatively early age. Condoleezza Rice appears to have attained that state. Yesterday, she goes to Ramallah and says she's "very concerned" about the humanitarian conditions in which Palestinians are being forced to live (thanks to the U.S.-led boycott). She said the U.S. will "redouble" its efforts to help them. Of course, nothing times nothing, equals nothing! Today Rice meets with Israel's foreign minister and assures her that the boycott is effective and will be continued.
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The Arab-Israeli conflict: to reach a lasting peace
International Crisis Group, October 5, 2006

American and Israeli reluctance to move, coupled with the extreme fragility of the situation, means that others – the UN, EU and Arab world – must now step forward with fresh ideas and initiatives, optimally to persuade Washington to act, at a minimum not to be held fully hostage to its passivity. The challenge is to devise an initiative or series of initiatives bold enough to alter regional perceptions and realities, yet not so audacious as to provoke U.S. or Israeli obstruction. Many have advanced the notion of an international peace conference; the Arab League has called on the UN Security Council to take the lead in shepherding a comprehensive settlement. Both ideas have merit; at this point, however, neither is likely to materialise due to opposition from Washington and Israel. A conference coinciding with the fifteenth anniversary of the Madrid peace conference and attended by all relevant current players could well be the most visible launching pad for renewed negotiations. The idea is worth pursuing but it could take months to organise and reach agreement on invitees and terms of reference; substantive progress, not a procedural battle, is what the region desperately needs. [complete article]

Comment -- There is a sound foundation to the idea that America has an indispensable role as an agent of change in the world, but it has nothing to do with some intrinsic virtue in the American identity. The reason is initiative invariably requires an initiator -- an individual whose vision, commitment, and powers of persuasion can serve as the driving force behind a plan of action.

The office of the U.S. president lends itself to that role. Its current occupant, however, has demonstrated again and again that he not only lacks the persuasive skills of a world leader but he is ideologically opposed to the art of compromise. George Bush has nothing to offer.

To suggest that the current impasse in the so-called peace process is partly the result of Washington's "passivity" seems far too charitable an interpretation of the Bush administration's actions and inaction. American support of Israeli unilateralism over the past five years has very effectively undermined any possibility for any real progress towards Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.

In the absence of the possibility that for the foreseeable future an American president can play a constructive role in the Middle East conflict, it's time for the other parties to sideline the United States. ICG fears an initiative "so audacious as to provoke U.S. or Israeli obstruction," yet it's hard to see how much more obstructive they could become than they already are.

"European leadership" is an idea that has yet to acquire a tangible form, but there was at least a hint of that possibility recently at the U.N.. The Forward reported that "several sources privy to the talks around the General Assembly noted that the Europeans were willing to give the [Hamas-Fatah] unity government a chance to prove itself, creating some serious tensions between Washington and the other members of the quartet."

What if these diplomatic rumblings were to grow into a full-blown act of defiance? What if the EU withdrew from the Quartet, unilaterally offered a would-be unity government recognition and the full restoration of funding? How exactly is the U.S. going to retaliate? Threaten Europe with economic sanctions? I don't think so.

There would no doubt be some very strong public expressions of Washington's "disappointment" and plenty of behind-the-scenes cursing, but Europeans might for once be able to step out of their obsequious relationship with the United States and rediscover some self-respect. Israel, no longer able to act out like a brash teenager who knows he can always hide behind his powerful parents, would discover that its unilateralism can effectively be challenged.
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Condi Rice tries to look busy
By Tony Karon,, October 4, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in the Middle East, hoping to bolster Arab moderates -- foremost among them beleaguered Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas -- and revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The unstated objectives include helping to topple the Hamas-led government elected by the Palestinians in January, and seeking to rally moderate Arab regimes against Iran. So what are her chances of success? Let's just say it's probably easier finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq than finding any Arabs or Israelis optimistic over Rice's prospects. [complete article]
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Rice: U.S. wants to help Palestinians
By Anne Gearan, AP, October 4, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday the United States wants to help improve the daily lives of Palestinians as violence, deprivation and political chaos reach threatening levels in the Palestinian territories.

After meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the top U.S. diplomat said she is looking for ways to revitalize and expand agreements made last year to allow freer movement of people and goods across the Palestinians' borders with Israel and Egypt.

"Those are the kinds of on-the-ground things that make it easier for the Palestinian people," Rice said after her session with Abbas. He is trying to resolve a nine-month political stalemate with Hamas radicals who control part of the Palestinian government. [complete article]

Comment -- On NPR, one commentator said that there is a "disconnect" between Rice's expression of concern about the welfare of Palestinians and the fact that the hardships they are suffering are a direct result of the sanctions imposed on the Hamas-controlled Palestinian government by the United States, Israel and their allies.

Disconnect? That suggests the possibility that Rice might not be fully aware of the cause and the effect.

When Rice says, "We are very concerned, of course, about the humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian territories, about the economic situation," she is expressing her undiluted contempt for the Palestinian people. Why? Because she must surely be aware that her "concern" has not one ounce of credibility. Indeed, I seriously doubt that she can have any illusions about whether she's believed by a single Palestinian. She wants to create the impression that the Bush administration takes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seriously (even when it takes not a single practical step towards finding a resolution), and she wants to portray the Palestinian plight as though it was a humanitarian issue in relation to which America is merely a concerned bystander. Her words are nothing more than a palliative to those in desperate need of denying their own callousness.
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Not an internal Palestinian matter
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, October 4, 2006

The experiment was a success: The Palestinians are killing each other. They are behaving as expected at the end of the extended experiment called "what happens when you imprison 1.3 million human beings in an enclosed space like battery hens."

These are the steps in the experiment: Imprison (since 1991); remove the prisoners' usual means of livelihood; seal off all outlets to the outside world, nearly hermetically; destroy existing means of livelihood by preventing the entry of raw materials and the marketing of goods and produce; prevent the regular entry of medicines and hospital supplies; do not bring in fresh food for weeks on end; prevent, for years, the entry of relatives, professionals, friends and others, and allow thousands of people - the sick, heads of families, professionals, children - to be stuck for weeks at the locked gates of the Gaza Strip's only entry/exit.

Steal hundreds of millions of dollars (customs and tax revenues collected by Israel that belong to the Palestinian treasury), so as to force the nonpayment of the already low salaries of most government employees for months; present the firing of homemade Qassam rockets as a strategic threat that can only be stopped by harming women, children and the old; fire on crowded residential neighborhoods from the air and the ground; destroy orchards, groves and fields. [complete article]

What is Condoleezza Rice trying to do in the Middle East?
By Patrick Seale, Middle East Online, October 4, 2006

Before she left Washington, a State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, spelled out her vision of things. Contrary to popular belief, he explained, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was not at the heart of the Middle East crisis. The defining issue today was the struggle between "moderates" and "extremists." Dr Rice saw her main task as urging the moderates to unite against the extremists.

In plain language, this means that the US Secretary of State's mission is to attempt to mobilise Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States against Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas. This may be what Israel and its friends are demanding, but it is not what the United States should do. It will not resolve the region's old conflicts. It will only create new ones. [complete article]

Masked gunmen kill Hamas member
BBC News, October 4, 2006

Masked men have shot dead a local leader of the Palestinian governing movement Hamas, according to reports from the West Bank.

Witnesses said the gunmen shot Muhammad Odeh shortly after he left home in the village of Hableh, near Qalqilya, to pray at a nearby mosque. [complete article]

The troubling Green Zones of the U.S. mind
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, October 4, 2006

There is a new regional cold war taking place in the Middle East, pitting pro-Western leaderships against those forces who defy and resist US- and Israeli-led Western aims in the area. The ideological polarization that has taken place in recent years, however, is partly, perhaps largely, a consequence of Washington's use of its army, diplomacy and economy to push for Israeli strategic aims and to go against majority sentiment in most Arab countries. The US speaks about promoting democracy, but largely supports non-democratic Arab regimes. It has actively isolated and tried to bring down the democratically elected Hamas government in Palestine, instead of engaging it and nudging it and Israel toward mutually rewarding peace talks.

Washington looks very foolish or very naive talking about a plan to work with Arab moderate governments to check extremists. Its own policies have helped promote the extremism it now fears, and have weakened the impact and credibility of the so-called moderate Arabs it now seeks to bolster. The GCC, Egypt and Jordan do not have the collective credibility or clout to have much impact beyond their own Green Zones in their own capitals; for they - like the US in Baghdad - often tend to be out of touch and out of step with public opinion in their own societies. [complete article]

See also, Can Rice rally Mideast against Iran? (CSM), Global leaders call for action on Arab-Israeli (ICG), and Arabs pressure Rice On U.S. peace efforts (WP).
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Abbas: 'No indication' of fresh unity government talks with Hamas
AP, October 4, 2006

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday that there is "no indication" of fresh dialogue with Hamas, after talks on forming a more moderate unity government broke down several days ago.

Speaking a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Abbas said any new Palestinian government must honor signed agreements with Israel.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas on Wednesday accused the U.S. of trying to "rearrange" the Middle East to suit American and Israeli interests. [complete article]

Abbas accepts Qatari plan on Palestinian unity government
By Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, Haaretz, October 4, 2006

Qatar has come up with a plan to end the infighting between Fatah and Hamas, establish a Palestinian unity government and release captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to the plan, which was presented to him by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Al-Thani. The foreign minister also presented the plan to Khaled Meshal, the Damascus-based head of Hamas' political bureau, but Hamas' position on the matter is not yet clear. [complete article]
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Hezbollah listened in on IDF beepers and cell phones
By Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz, October 4, 2006

Hezbollah intelligence listened to cell phone conversations by Israelis, including Israel Defense Forces officers, as part of its extensive intelligence gathering operation during the recent Lebanon war.

The organization also eavesdropped electronically on messages sent to pagers; some of these messages were transferred through satellite uplinks. [complete article]

Syria, Iran intelligence services aided Hezbollah during war
By Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz, October 3, 2006

During the fighting in Lebanon Hezbollah received direct intelligence support from Syria, using data collected by listening posts jointly manned by Russian and Syrian crews. Hezbollah was also fed intelligence from new listening posts built on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, which are operated jointly with Iran.

This information was confirmed in recent reports by the defense journal Jane's.

Syria's centrality to the collection and transfer of intelligence to Hezbollah is based on separate agreements Damascus signed with Moscow and Tehran on intelligence cooperation. [complete article]
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Hezbollah's battle with Israel a rallying cry in Palestinian refugee camp
By Hannah Allam, McClatchy, October 3, 2006

Twenty young men from Ain el-Hilweh, Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, have died fighting U.S. forces in Iraq. Their portraits hang in honor here, plastered to filthy walls, taped to store windows and hung from the crisscrossed electrical wires that form a ceiling above narrow alleyways.

Now the image of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has joined them, and - to the consternation of Lebanese officials - many of the camp's residents find both inspiration and shame in his face.

"I wish all the Palestinian groups were like Hezbollah," said Abu Adnan Sayegh, his voice angry and loud as he spoke from a plastic lawn chair in front of his rundown home in the camp. "Unless they do what Hezbollah did here, we'll never win. The Jews took Palestine by force and it's never going back to us except by force!" [complete article]
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North Korea raises the stakes
By Tony Karon,, October 3, 2006

We'll see your financial sanctions and raise you a nuclear bomb test. So, in essence, went North Korea's latest bid in the high-stakes poker game with the U.S. over its nuclear program.

North Korea's foreign ministry made the unprecedented announcement Tuesday that the regime would test a nuclear weapon at an unspecified point in the future. The statement cited among Pyongyang's reasons for considering the step the "vicious sanctions and pressure" it said the U.S. was using to "isolate and stifle" North Korea. Those sanctions, intensified in the wake of North Korea's test firing of a long-range missile in July and confirmed in a U.N. Security Council resolution last month, were part of a U.S.- and Japan-led drive to squeeze the regime in Pyongyang to reverse course on its nuclear program. Instead, North Korea is threatening to raise the ante by testing a nuclear weapon -- a step that would finally confirm Pyongyang's February 2005 claim to have built such weapons. (Although U.S. intelligence has concluded that North Korea has sufficient fissile material to build six devices, the actual extent of its technological progress in transforming that material into working nuclear warheads remains a matter of speculation.)

The threat to test a weapon certainly fits with the traditional North Korean game of provocative threats and actions aimed at securing concessions. It hasn't yet named a date, of course, and its statement makes clear that it wants a negotiated settlement with the U.S. at the end of the day. But testing a weapon would mark the crossing of a threshold over which retreat may be difficult. Only one country has ever dismantled an arsenal of actual nuclear weapons, and that was South Africa during the early 1990s, in one of the final acts of the outgoing apartheid regime. [complete article]
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Iran opens nuke plants to tourists
CNN, October 4, 2006

Iran's hard-line president has ordered nuclear facilities opened to foreign tourists to prove that the nation's disputed atomic program is peaceful, state-run television reported on Wednesday.

"After an order by the president ... foreign tourists can visit Iran's nuclear facilities," the head of Iran's tourism division, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, was quoted as saying.

Mashai said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued the order to show that Iran's nuclear program it aims to generate fuel, not weapons. [complete article]

Iran: Khomeini's 'killer poison' returns
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, October 4, 2006

Former Iranian president Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has published a confidential letter by the late ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which has stirred a great deal of controversy in Iran, in part because the letter refers to a military commander's call to pursue nuclear weapons to be deployed against Iran's hostile neighbor, Iraq.

The letter's significance, and the critical timing of its disclosure, cannot be overstated. Until now, there had been no official voices in favor of nuclear proliferation and plenty of opposite declarations led by Khomeini's successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has issued a religious decree, a fatwa, against it. [complete article]

Waiting for Ahmadinejad to deliver
By Kimia Sanati, IPS, October 2, 2006

While President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is busy running a high voltage campaign against the United States and its policies, back home citizens are wondering if he will ever make good on an election promise to crack down on the corrupt and distribute Iran's vast oil revenues more equitably.

"My whole family voted for Ahmadinejad because he promised to improve our lives. He said he was going to fight corruption and create jobs. He said oil money belonged to the people. I haven't seen any of the oil money in my house yet, but I have to deal with the ever increasing prices anyway," says Ahmad (second name suppressed), a 67-year-old pensioner. "I'm running a family of three on Rls. 2,000,000 (less than 220 US dollars) a month and the price of the cheapest cut of meat is six dollars per kg. Thank god I'm not paying rent or we wouldn't have anything to eat." [complete article]
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Lawyers for detainees challenge Bush plan
By Matt Apuzzo, AP, October 4, 2006

Attorneys for 25 men being held in Afghanistan have launched the first legal challenge of President Bush's plan for prosecuting and interrogating terrorism suspects.

Documents filed yesterday in federal district court here demand that the men be released or be charged and allowed to meet with attorneys. Such a filing, known as a habeas corpus petition, is prohibited under the legislation approved by Congress last week.

That bill says the military may detain enemy combatants indefinitely and, if officials choose to bring charges, the cases will be heard before a military commission, not a civilian judge. [complete article]
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What al-Qaeda wants in Iraq
By Marc Lynch, Abu Aardvark, October 3, 2006

Does al-Qaeda really want the United States to withdraw from Iraq, as current administration arguments would have it? Not according to the letter captured during the raid which killed Abu Musab Zarqawi, allegedly from a member of al-Qaeda's inner circle identified only as 'Atiyah, recently translated and released by Counterterrorism Center at West Point. 'Atiyah writes:
The most important thing is that you continue in your jihad in Iraq, and that you be patient and forbearing, even in weakness, and even with fewer operations... Do not be hasty. The most important thing is that the jihad continues with steadfastness and firm rooting, and that it grows in terms of supporters, strength, clarity of justification, and visible proof each day. Indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest, with God's permission.
I'm not sure why this statement doesn't seem to have made it into any of the press coverage of the letter which I've seen. It seems to be fairly unambiguous. What's more, it was an internal communication, not a public proclamation aimed at influencing American policy. It also makes sense. Al-Qaeda wants American troops in Iraq, not an American withdrawal. It wants a protracted war which allows it to drain American blood and treasure while producing an endless stream of the images of jihadi heroism and American brutality on which its narrative thrives. Al-Qaeda knows it would have no chance of actually seizing power after an American withdrawal (the latest public opinion surveys show 94% of Iraqis opposed to them, and the Shia would fight them even more than they already are) and bloodshed without Americans would do nothing for their global strategy. [complete article]

Iraqi police unit linked to militias
By David Rising, AP, October 4, 2006

Iraqi authorities have taken a police brigade [650-700 policemen] out of service and returned them to training because of "complicity" with death squads in the wake of a mass kidnapping in Baghdad this week, a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday. [complete article]

British find no evidence of arms traffic from Iran
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, October 4, 2006

Since late August, British commandos in the deserts of far southeastern Iraq have been testing one of the most serious charges leveled by the United States against Iran: that Iran is secretly supplying weapons, parts, funding and training for attacks on U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

A few hundred British troops living out of nothing more than their cut-down Land Rovers and light armored vehicles have taken to the desert in the start of what British officers said would be months of patrols aimed at finding the illicit weapons trafficking from Iran, or any sign of it.

There's just one thing.

"I suspect there's nothing out there," the commander, Lt. Col. David Labouchere, said last month, speaking at an overnight camp near the border. "And I intend to prove it."

Other senior British military leaders spoke as explicitly in interviews over the previous two months. Britain, whose forces have had responsibility for security in southeastern Iraq since the war began, has found nothing to support the Americans' contention that Iran is providing weapons and training in Iraq, several senior military officials said. [complete article]

Iraq violence leaves at least 51 dead
AP, October 4, 2006

A suicide bomber unleashed a blast in a Baghdad fish market Tuesday and two Shiite families were found slain north of the capital as violence across Iraq claimed at least 51 lives.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, announced the deaths of nine Soldiers and two Marines in what has been a deadly period for American forces in Iraq. The announcement brought to at least 15 the number of servicemembers killed in fighting since Saturday. [complete article]

See also, U.S. fatalities in Iraq rise amid crackdown (LAT).
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Sex scandal, Iraq book take toll on Bush, GOP
By Mark Murray, MSNBC, October 4, 2006

After what they have seen and heard over the past few weeks -- events including the news of a Republican congressman's improper correspondence with a teenage page and the recent release of journalist Bob Woodward's unfavorable portrayal of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq - respondents to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, by more than a 2-to-1 ratio, say they have a less favorable impression of the Republicans maintaining control of Congress.

What's more, a strong plurality believes the Iraq war is hurting the country's ability to win the war on terrorism, a significant shift from a month ago.

Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with the Republican Bill McInturff, says that there is the point in every election when it becomes crystallized for voters. And the events from the past week, he notes, could very well be that point for the upcoming midterms. [complete article]

Comment -- There's an issue at the core of the Foley scandal that stands out as the signature of the Bush presidency. One value reigns supreme: loyalty.

When House Speaker Dennis Hastert first learned about Rep. Mark Foley's transgressions, he had a simple choice: act on what he perceived to be the interests of the GOP, or the interests of the Congressional pages. He put his party first.

Republicans now have a harder call to make. They can either defend Hastert because they imagine that doing otherwise is capitulating to Democrats, they can call for Hastert's resignation because it's the right thing to do -- electoral consequences be damned. Or, they can call for his resignation because they realize that placing loyalty above principle will only do more damage to the party's reputation.

At the same time, Bush, as a loyalty-first man, has already made his position clear. Why? Because loyalty is the glue that holds his presidency together. Allow one hairline fracture to appear and the whole edifice is in jeopardy of crumbling to dust. Bush has nothing greater to fear from his enemies than what he surely fears the day his friends and allies discover that their loyalty to him can no longer deliver power. When Bush contemplates his descent from power, he knows he's staring into a precipice.
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It's about self-determination, not war or ideology
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, October 4, 2006

Refreshing moments in politics -- rare as they are -- often come when politicians stumble off message and say what they think. The most depressing moments predictably come immediately afterwards when their opponents jump on a target of opportunity.

Not surprisingly, Democrats are now jumping all over Senator Frist for suggesting that Taliban sympathizers should be included in the political process in Afghanistan.

"Senator Frist now suggests that the best way forward in Afghanistan is to coddle the Taliban by welcoming Taliban members into a coalition government, as if 9/11 had never happened," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday in a statement.

"Doctors are supposed to wear the white coat, not wave the white flag. Dr. Frist's proposal to surrender to the Taliban ignores the fact that they enabled the 9/11 hijackers, give safe haven to al-Qaida and remain hell-bent on destroying Western civilization," said Phil Singer, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

As has happened several times before, when Democrats are handed an opportunity to raise political discourse onto a more sophisticated level than that in which it was originally framed by their opponents, they opt to stick with the simplistic analysis that was first presented. Of course this is the run-up to an election and everyone is eager to score cheap points wherever they can, but if a Democratic Congress or a Democratic White House is supposed to have a more nuanced perspective on international affairs, they seem intent on making sure we won't get a preview of what that perspective might be.

Meanwhile, Frist's spokeswoman, Amy Call, offered this clarification: "While touring Afghanistan, Senator Frist made the observation that Afghan tribesman should be brought into the government or risk losing them to the Taliban. Giving the native tribes, often targeted by Taliban recruitment, a voice in the government will promote peace and prosperity in the region. Sen. Frist does not believe Taliban fighters -- often foreign fighters who come to Afghanistan to further conflict -- should be brought into the reconciliation process."

Frist himself was quoted as saying that "the Taliban is everywhere."

Observers, much better informed than Frist, have similarly concluded that it is a mistake to imagine that the Taliban can be excluded from Afghani politics.

Last month, Lakhdar Brahimi, the Algerian U.N. diplomat who had a key role in attempting to steer Afghanistan's post-Taliban political development, had this to say:
One of my own biggest mistakes was not to speak to the Taliban in 2002 and 2003. It was not possible to get them in the tent at the Bonn conference because of 9/11 and they themselves were not eager. But immediately after that, we should've spoken to those who were willing to speak to us. That I consider to be my mistake -- a very, very big mistake.
If Afghanistan is ever to have an effective government, every major constituency in the country will need to feel that they have some form of representation. For as long as there is a weak central government that depends for its survival on the presence of foreign troops, the Taliban will be able to present itself as an expression of popular resistance. The more ruthless the counter-insurgency becomes, the more the Taliban will grow in strength.

It is the nature of the conditions that provoke resistance that that which is being resisted will always refuse to acknowledge resistance as resistance. To refer to the Taliban as a resistance movement is to confer them a level of legitimacy that cannot be admitted. The counter-resistance wants to portray itself as a defender rather than aggressor. It wants to appear irresistible. At the same time, soldiers on the front line know otherwise. British soldiers in Helmand province who have fired over 400,000 rounds of ammunition in the past few months know all too well that they are meeting extremely stiff resistance. Ultimately, as they always do, the ideological issues will take second place. The real fight will be about land; a fight between those who regard it as their own and those who don't. The home team usually, eventually, wins.
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Good Muslim, bad Muslim, moderate Muslim?
By Mark LeVine, Tikkun, October 2, 2006

America has to choose: either we continue supporting corrupt, authoritarian and often brutal governments, or we support democracy and justice for the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa. There can be no middle ground.

Two years ago, I organized a forum of leading younger Muslim activists at the Central European University in Budapest. Among those present were the Swiss-born scholar Tariq Ramadan and the Moroccan political and social activist Nadia Yassine. Both, in very different ways, are at the center of the Bush Administration's confusing policy of labeling certain Muslim religious leaders and organizations as "moderate" and others as "extremists" and attempting to isolate or support them based on this determination.

Last year the State Department revoked a visa granted to Dr. Ramadan, preventing him from accepting a prestigious professorship at Notre Dame. Last week it offered some support for Yassine, who is under indictment in Morocco for daring to suggest at a conference at UC Berkeley we both attended that a republican form of government would better serve Morocco's citizens than its monarchy.

The divergent treatment of Yassine and Ramadan demonstrate why this latest attempt to rein in growing antipathy towards the US across the Muslim world is doomed to fail: the support for moderate figures is inconsistently given, not backed up by changes in American policy, and easily subverted by the larger strategic and ideological agenda of Bush Administration officials. [complete article]

Moderate Arab states form united front to win Rice's support for relaunching peace talks
AP, October 3, 2006

Eight U.S.-allied Arab countries are banding together to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her trip here, in hopes of reviving the deadlocked Arab-Israeli peace process and making headway on other regional issues.

During their meeting Tuesday with Rice, the ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt and Jordan are expected coordinate efforts to buttress the stature of the moderate Palestinian leader and stem Iran's growing influence.

The trip comes as Arab countries have in recent weeks halted dealings with the Palestinian militant group Hamas. They want it to join a unity government that supports a 2002 Arab League plan that would offer peace to Israel in exchange for land and they've even started funneling aid through Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Arab diplomats say. [complete article]

Comment -- If there's any coherence to U.S. Middle East policy, it is through its adherence to a classic strategy of divide and rule. All across the spectrum it foments conflict: between Hamas and Fatah; between Arabs and Iranians; between "moderates" and Islamists; between Israelis and everyone else. From a Middle Eastern perspective it's not hard to see why it would appear that the United States, far from regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict as festering wound that desperately needs to be healed, sees it as an essential tool for preventing the people of the region acquiring political power and thus, heaven forbid, control over their own resources.
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U.S. Senate majority leader calls for efforts to bring Taliban into Afghan government
AP, October 2, 2006

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Monday that the Afghan guerrilla war can never be won militarily and called for efforts to bring the Taliban and their supporters into the Afghan government.

The Tennessee Republican said he had learned from briefings that Taliban fighters were too numerous and had too much popular support to be defeated by military means.

"You need to bring them into a more transparent type of government," Frist said during a brief visit to a U.S. and Romanian military base in the southern Taliban stronghold of Qalat. "And if that's accomplished we'll be successful."

Frist said asking the Taliban to join the government was a decision to be made by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican from Florida accompanying Frist, said negotiating with the Taliban was not "out of the question" but that fighters who refused to join the political process would have to be defeated. [complete article]

Comment -- It seems a long time since anyone in the Bush administration or Congress stood up in defense of "moral clarity." But before Democrats start responding to Senator Frist's comments by accusing him of wanting to "appease" the Taliban, it's worth noting that moral clarity cannot be applied where conceptual clarity is lacking.

After this AP story came out, Senator Frist was quick to claim that he had been quoted out of context and that he does in fact regard the Taliban as "a murderous band of terrorists." He went on to say that:
Our counter-insurgency strategy must win hearts and minds and persuade moderate Islamists potentially sympathetic to the Taliban to accept the legitimacy of the Afghan national government and democratic political processes.

National reconciliation is a necessary and an urgent priority ... but America will never negotiate with terrorists or support their entry into Afghanistan's government.
This is a statement straight off Frist's blog that exemplifies the degree to which he is a faithful student of the administration's approach to foreign policy, an approach that could be described as cafeteria-style policy-making. Let's enumerate the ingredients:
  1. The Taliban are a murderous band of terrorists
  2. They have a hateful ideology
  3. By overthrowing the Taliban, America has established democratic governance in Afghanistan
  4. In spite of this great accomplishment, the country has yet to be stabilized and this cannot be done through purely military means
  5. A counter-insurgency strategy needs to be based on winning hearts and minds
  6. Moderate Islamists potentially sympathetic to the Taliban need to be persuaded of the legitimacy of the Afghan government and to support democratic processes
  7. National reconciliation is an urgent priority
  8. America will never negotiate with terrorists or support their entry into Afghanistan's government.
What's not to like? Hearts and minds, don't talk to terrorists, stabilization, democracy -- all the ingredients of success, so long as you don't think too much about what it's all supposed to mean.

If the uncommitted moderate Islamists are weighing up the choice -- to join the murderous band of terrorists with a hateful ideology, or support the democratic government -- what's the persuasive argument that's going to win over these wavering hearts and minds? Of course that's almost certainly not the choice they see. More likely, it's a question of taking sides with the ferocious local boys, or backing the AC/DC blasting foreigners. Chances are that most people will want to stay on friendly terms with whichever armed combatants happen to be nearby right now. Beyond that, the larger question is: who's going to be around five years from now? Time is the Taliban's closest ally and the foreigners' most implacable foe.
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Iranian official proposes France enrich uranium for Iran
AP, October 3, 2006

A top Iranian nuclear official proposed Tuesday that France create a consortium to enrich Iran's uranium, in a bid to satisfy the international community's demands for outside oversight of Tehran's nuclear program.

"To be able to arrive at a solution, we have just had an idea. We propose that France create a consortium for the production in Iran of enriched uranium," Mohammad Saeedi, deputy chief of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, told France-Info radio.

"That way France, through the companies Eurodif and Areva, could control in a tangible way our enrichment activities," he added. [complete article]

See also, EU official pushes Iran on nuclear plans (AP), Iran escalates its nuclear rhetoric (AP), U.S. to banks: "Be very, very careful with Iran" (Der Spiegel), How experts view a strike against Iran (San Francisco Chronicle), How an attack would unfold (San Francisco Chronicle), and U.S. may accept Iranian nuclear bomb (The Sunday Times).
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Britain to U.S.: we don't want Guantanamo nine back
By Ian Cobain and Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, October 3, 2006

The United States has offered to return nearly all British residents held at Guantanamo Bay after months of secret talks in Washington, the Guardian has learned.

The British government has refused to accept the men, however, with senior officials saying they have no legal right to return. Documents obtained by the Guardian show US authorities are demanding that the detainees be kept under 24-hour surveillance if set free - restrictions that are dismissed by the British as unnecessary and unworkable.

Although all are accused of terrorist involvement, Britain says there is no intelligence to warrant the measures Washington wants, and it lacks the resources to implement them. "They do not pose a sufficient threat," said the head of counter-terrorism at the Home Office.

The possible security arrangements appear to have caused months of wrangling, but senior UK sources have told the Guardian the government is interested in accepting only one man - Bisher al-Rawi - who is now known to have helped MI5 keep watch on Abu Qatada, the London-based Muslim cleric and al-Qaida suspect who was subsequently arrested.

At least nine former British residents have been detained without trial at Guantanamo for more than four years after being taken prisoner in the so-called war on terror. Their lawyers say some have suffered appalling mistreatment. [complete article]

'I thought Britain stood for justice, but the British government has abandoned us' (The Guardian) and Lawyer: officer at Guantanamo threatened me (The Guardian).

A closer look at torture
By David Corn, The Guardian, October 2, 2006

The crux of the issue before Congress can be boiled down to a simple question: Is waterboarding torture? Anybody who considers this practice to be "torture lite" or merely a "tough technique" might want to take a trip to Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge were adept at torture, and there was nothing "lite" about their methods. [complete article]
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Assad: Peace possible in 6 months
Ynet, October 3, 2006

Syrian President Bashar Assad believes that only six months were needed in order to complete a peace settlement with Israel, if the negotiations are resumed from the same stage they were suspended.

In an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais, the Syrian president said: "Our vision regarding peace stated that no more than two years should pass since we set out for the Madrid conference (and until the negotiations are completed)… if we want to renew talks from the same point we stopped, then the talks need six months."
[complete article]
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Al-Aqsa issues threat to kill Hamas chief Meshal
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, October 3, 2006

Fatah gunmen threatened on Tuesday to kill leaders of the governing Hamas group, escalating a power struggle marked by the worst internal Palestinian violence since the Palestinian Authority was created in 1994.

Twelve Palestinians have been killed and more than 100 wounded in two days of fighting between rival forces from Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.

Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed wing of Fatah, said it held Hamas's Damascus-based political chief Khaled Meshaal, Interior Minister Saeed Seyam and senior Interior Ministry official Youssef al-Zahar responsible for the deaths.

"We in al-Aqsa announce, with all might and frankness, the ruling of the people in the homeland and in the diaspora, to execute the head of the sedition, Khaled Meshaal, Saeed Seyam and Youssef al-Zahar, and we will execute this ruling so those filthy people can be made an example," a statement said. [complete article]
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Southern commander says Hizbullah's arms are intact, hidden near frontier
Daily Star, October 3, 2006

Hizbullah's commander in South Lebanon said Monday that the resistance's weapons "are still present in the South and along the border but are simply out of sight." "Nothing changed after July 12 ... Hizbullah still has weapons in the Southern villages and along the border, but they are hidden," Sheikh Nabil Qaouk said during a ceremony held in the Bint Jbeil region of Aitaroun in honor of the fallen during the latest month-long Israeli offensive against Lebanon.

Qaouk added that the United Nations Interim Force in South Lebanon (UNIFIL) "is not entitled to disarm Hizbullah or to spy on the party."

"Hizbullah clings to all the elements of power necessary to defy the Israeli enemy ... The resistance's arms are on top of those elements," the sheikh said. [complete article]
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Afghan suicide attacks are no longer exceptions
AFP, October 3, 2006

Afghanistan has seen a dramatic rise in suicide bombings - unheard of here before 2001 and rare before 2005.

There have been 91 such attacks this year, according to the UN, in which around 170 civilians and dozens of foreign and Afghan troops have died.

In the southern province of Kandahar alone there has been a fourfold increase this year to more than 40 attacks to August, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has said. [complete article]
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Kurdish rebels are stirring up Turkey and Iran, and threatening the one calm part of Iraq
By Michael Hastings, Newsweek, October 9, 2006

Murat Karayilan prefers to travel in darkness. Under cover of a starry night, the Kurdish guerrilla chief's white Nissan Pathfinder crawls up a narrow gravel road in Iraq's mountainous far north, only the headlights giving his presence away. Karayilan—his last name translates to "blacksnake"—is a hunted man. Across the eastern border, Iran's anti-U.S. leaders would like nothing better than to see him jailed or dead. To the west, America's longtime allies in the Turkish government likewise hate and fear him. The U.S. State Department and the European Union both list his group, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), as a terrorist organization. "We are not terrorists," says Karayilan, ensconced in a sparsely furnished dwelling with a stone floor. "The U.S. has seen us through the eyes of our enemies. We want you to see us as friends. We are not attacking, we are defending ourselves."

The invasion of Iraq opened a whole Pandora's box of destabilizing forces—among them, a surge of nationalism among the estimated 36 million Kurds who hail from the land that stretches from Turkey and Syria in the west, to Iraq and Armenia in the east. The PKK, which fought Turkey in a vicious war that cost 37,000 lives from 1987 to 1999, abandoned its truce two years ago, after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The rebels still see themselves as standing up against centuries of often brutal repression. This year the Kurdish group has staged more than 250 attacks on Turkish security forces, in one bloody week killing 14 Turkish soldiers, a toll unmatched since the worst of the fighting in the '90s. In recent weeks the violence has escalated, as everyone tries to inflict as much damage as possible before winter snows interrupt the war. Last week Turkey shelled three Iraqi villages near the border town of Zaho, according to the government of Iraqi Kurdistan. Iran's artillery was busy as well, killing a villager near the town of Hakurk. For its part, the PKK and its allies have been blamed for at least eight bombings across Turkey and for the kidnapping of a local official's son. [complete article]
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Letter gives glimpse of Al-Qaeda's leadership
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, October 2, 2006

Six months before the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June, a senior al-Qaeda figure warned him in a letter that he risked removal as al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq if he continued to alienate Sunni tribal and religious leaders and rival insurgent groups.

The author of the Dec. 11 letter, who said he was writing from al-Qaeda headquarters in the Waziristan region of Pakistan, was a member of Osama bin Laden's high command who signed himself "Atiyah." The military's Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, which last week released a 15-page English translation of the Arabic document made public in Iraq, said his real identity was "unknown."

But counterterrorism officials said they believe he is Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, a 37-year-old Libyan who joined bin Laden in Afghanistan as a teenager during the 1980s. He has since gained considerable stature in al-Qaeda as an explosives expert and Islamic scholar. After becoming acquainted with Zarqawi in the western Afghan city of Herat in the late 1990s, he became al-Qaeda's main interlocutor with the fiery Jordanian. [complete article]
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Sadr political bloc calls for overhaul of Iraqi cabinet
By Amit R. Paley and K.I. Ibrahim, Washington Post, October 2, 2006

The political bloc of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demanded a shake-up of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's cabinet on Sunday, the latest challenge to the country's increasingly beleaguered unity government.

"Some of those who are in this government have direct or indirect relationships with terrorists," said Bahaa al-Araji, a senior legislator with Sadr's Shiite Muslim party. "The democracy that the occupation brought to Iraq is being exploited by the Sunni insurgents and the terrorists to kill our sons and our men."

Araji's remarks appeared aimed at Adnan al-Dulaimi, the leader of the largest Sunni Arab coalition in parliament, whose bodyguard was arrested Friday on suspicion of planning suicide bombings inside the fortified Green Zone.

The demands of the Sadr movement -- a major bloc in the United Iraqi Alliance, the dominant Shiite coalition that has 130 seats in the 275-member parliament -- exposed deep rifts in the government, as well as mounting frustration with its perceived failure to stanch the horrific sectarian bloodshed here. [complete article]

Iraq civilian deaths hit record in Sept - ministry
By Alastair Macdonald, Reuters, October 1, 2006

The number of Iraqi civilians killed in violence may have jumped to a record high in September, data from the Iraqi government indicated on Sunday.

Partial statistics compiled by the Health Ministry and issued by the Interior Ministry put civilian deaths last month at 1,089, a 42 percent increase from 769 in August and more than the previous record in this series of data -- 1,065 in July. [complete article]

See also, At least 50 bodies found in Baghdad (AFP).

UK troops in Iraq working for 'below minimum wage'
By Alison Steed, The Telegraph, October 2, 2006

Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are risking their lives for less than the national minimum wage, which rose for other employees to £5.35 an hour yesterday.

Service personnel overseas are being paid less than £3 an hour as their basic salary, even when "bonuses" are taken into account.

The Ministry of Defence is exempt from paying its forces personnel the minimum wage, putting soldiers, sailors and airmen in the same league as prisoners, one of the few other groups denied the basic right. [complete article]
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Report cites bid by Sunnis in Bahrain to rig elections
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, October 2, 2006

Just months before Bahrain is to hold parliamentary and municipal elections, a former government adviser has set off a political firestorm with a report describing what he says is a vast conspiracy to rig the elections, manipulate the country's sectarian balance and ensure Sunni domination over the country's majority Shiites.

The scandal, which is being called "Bandargate" after the author of the report, Salah al-Bandar, reaches to the core of this tiny island kingdom's simmering tensions.

The report includes hundreds of pages of supporting material, apparently authentic, including canceled checks, hotel bills, accounting sheets and notes. The material suggests that at the very least, unusual business dealings were occurring between government officials, Mr. Bandar says, and that it may have amounted to an effort to set off ethnic conflict. [complete article]

See also, Bandargate (Blake Hounshell).
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What a terrorist incident in ancient Rome can teach us
By Robert Harris, New York Times, October 1, 2006

In the autumn of 68 B.C. the world's only military superpower was dealt a profound psychological blow by a daring terrorist attack on its very heart. Rome's port at Ostia was set on fire, the consular war fleet destroyed, and two prominent senators, together with their bodyguards and staff, kidnapped.

The incident, dramatic though it was, has not attracted much attention from modern historians. But history is mutable. An event that was merely a footnote five years ago has now, in our post-9/11 world, assumed a fresh and ominous significance. For in the panicky aftermath of the attack, the Roman people made decisions that set them on the path to the destruction of their Constitution, their democracy and their liberty. One cannot help wondering if history is repeating itself.

Consider the parallels. The perpetrators of this spectacular assault were not in the pay of any foreign power: no nation would have dared to attack Rome so provocatively. They were, rather, the disaffected of the earth: "The ruined men of all nations," in the words of the great 19th-century German historian Theodor Mommsen, "a piratical state with a peculiar esprit de corps."

Like Al Qaeda, these pirates were loosely organized, but able to spread a disproportionate amount of fear among citizens who had believed themselves immune from attack. To quote Mommsen again: "The Latin husbandman, the traveler on the Appian highway, the genteel bathing visitor at the terrestrial paradise of Baiae were no longer secure of their property or their life for a single moment."

What was to be done? Over the preceding centuries, the Constitution of ancient Rome had developed an intricate series of checks and balances intended to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a single individual. The consulship, elected annually, was jointly held by two men. Military commands were of limited duration and subject to regular renewal. Ordinary citizens were accustomed to a remarkable degree of liberty: the cry of "Civis Romanus sum" — "I am a Roman citizen" — was a guarantee of safety throughout the world.

But such was the panic that ensued after Ostia that the people were willing to compromise these rights. The greatest soldier in Rome, the 38-year-old Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (better known to posterity as Pompey the Great) arranged for a lieutenant of his, the tribune Aulus Gabinius, to rise in the Roman Forum and propose an astonishing new law.

"Pompey was to be given not only the supreme naval command but what amounted in fact to an absolute authority and uncontrolled power over everyone," the Greek historian Plutarch wrote. "There were not many places in the Roman world that were not included within these limits."

Pompey eventually received almost the entire contents of the Roman Treasury -- 144 million sesterces -- to pay for his "war on terror," which included building a fleet of 500 ships and raising an army of 120,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. Such an accumulation of power was unprecedented, and there was literally a riot in the Senate when the bill was debated. [complete article]
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'The more subtle kind of torment'
By Joseph Margulies, Washington Post, October 2, 2006

In these uncertain times, it's worth recalling that the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction in the hands of madmen is not new. Nearly 50 years before Sept. 11, 2001, the American public learned that a group of prisoners in military custody confessed to being part of an elaborate conspiracy to bomb civilian targets with bacteriological weapons.

The first prisoner to crack said the goal was "the mass annihilation of the civilian population." As often happens, his confession led to others, and before long, three dozen prisoners had coughed up page after page of chilling, meticulously detailed admissions.

But it was all a lie. Thirty-six American airmen, shot from the sky during the Korean War, falsely confessed to a vast plot to bomb civilian targets. How did this happen? With Congress having approved a "compromise" that gives the president authority to determine the meaning of the Geneva Conventions and redefines the War Crimes Act to protect CIA interrogators, we should revisit this all-but-forgotten moment in U.S. history.

During the Korean War, thousands of American POWs were forced to endure grotesque and sadistic physical torture. But the downed airmen were treated differently. The senior officer among them was Col. Frank Schwable, the highest-ranking Marine captured in the conflict. "I want to emphasize," Schwable said later, "that I did not undergo physical torture. Perhaps I would have been more fortunate if I had, because people nowadays seem to understand that better. Mine was the more subtle kind of torment."

The airmen were subjected to something new: touchless torture. They were kept isolated from all human contact, apart from their interrogators. One prisoner spent 10 months in solitary confinement, another 13. Schwable did not learn of the armistice until after he confessed.

They were made to stand or sit in awkward and painful positions for hours at a time. One prisoner had to sit at attention on the edge of a stool for 15 hours per day for 33 days. Another time he had to stand for 30 consecutive hours, until he collapsed. Schwable was required to sit at attention every day for almost 10 weeks.

They were demeaned, taunted and treated like animals. Schwable said the guards "growled" or "barked" at him, slopped food at him, and made him defecate in public. "Every effort was made to degrade and humiliate me," he said.

And of course they were interrogated. Grueling interrogations that lasted hours and hours, repeating the same material they had gone over the day before, and the day before that, until the past became a confusing whirl of fact and fantasy suggested to them by their relentless interlocutors. At last, exhausted and demoralized, their resistance overcome, they confessed. They all confessed in the end. And they all lied. [complete article]

Why Churchill opposed torture
By Niall Ferguson, Los Angeles Times, October 2, 2006

Last week, both houses of Congress approved a bill -- the Military Commissions Act -- that would permit the indefinite, extrajudicial incarceration of terrorist suspects and their interrogation using torture in all but name. Does that sound shocking? What's really shocking is that this was a compromise measure.

When President Bush signs this bill into law, a category of detainees will come into existence: "unlawful enemy combatants" who, regardless of their nationality, will be liable to summary arrest.

Those detained will not have the right to challenge their imprisonment by filing an application for a writ of habeas corpus. When -- or rather if -- they are tried, it will be by military tribunals. Classified evidence may be withheld from the accused if the tribunal judges see fit.

My old friend Andrew Sullivan -- who used to think he was a conservative until President Bush came along -- calls it a bill to "legalize tyranny." [complete article]

Inmates detail U.S. prison near Kabul
AP, October 2, 2006

Capt. Amanullah, a former mujahedeen commander, smooths his black beard with his palm and gives a deep and ironic laugh as he recounts his 14 miserable months in Bagram, the U.S. prison for terror suspects in Afghanistan.

"There were lots of stupid questions and accusations with no proof," said the 56-year-old veteran of combat against the Soviet occupation. He insists he was there only because Afghan rivals lied about him to the U.S. Army.

He's far from alone in his assertion of innocence - or his inability to make that heard for so long. Like many who have passed through the secretive jail set up after the fall of the Taliban regime, Amanullah found himself entangled in a system where he had no protection and no rights, and not even the pressure of public scrutiny that helped inmates at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or Abu Ghraib, Iraq.

"There's been a silence about Bagram, and much less political discussion about it," said Richard Bennett, the chief U.N. human rights officer in Afghanistan.

Originally intended as a short-term holding pen for al-Qaida and Taliban suspects later shipped to Guantanamo, Bagram has expanded and acquired its own notoriety over abuse allegations though attracting much less international attention than the U.S. detention facility in Cuba. [complete article]

Comment -- The irony about the U.S.-operated Bagram prison is that its existence is a reflection of the weakness of the Afghan government's sovereignty. In order to engage in the war on terrorism without legal constraints, the Bush administration is in effect exploiting the fact that Afghanistan is a failed state!
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Hamas closes government offices
BBC News, October 2, 2006

The Palestinian government says work will cease in all government offices a day after its headquarters in Ramallah were stormed by protesters.

The Hamas-led administration said the suspension also followed "attempts to kidnap officials". [complete article]

Rice to propose 'creative means' to bolster Abbas, weaken Hamas
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, October 2, 2006

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will discuss steps for strengthening Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on her visit to Israel this week. According to an Israeli diplomatic source, the U.S. administration wants to shore up Abbas' position and weaken Hamas by "creative" means, one of which would be the moving of funds to the PA through Abbas.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet with President Bush at the White House during his visit to the U.S. next month to take part in the annual convention of the United Jewish Communities (UJC) in Los Angeles.

The U.S. administration wants to advance the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians, but understands that the two governments are too weak at this point to seriously discuss the core issues of a permanent settlement. Washington is therefore looking for interim ways of improving the economic situation in the PA and giving Abbas the credit. [complete article]
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Rice: No memory of CIA warning of attack
By Anne Gearan, AP, October 2, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she cannot recall then-CIA chief George Tenet warning her of an impending al-Qaida attack in the United States, as a new book claims he did two months before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

"What I am quite certain of is that I would remember if I was told, as this account apparently says, that there was about to be an attack in the United States, and the idea that I would somehow have ignored that I find incomprehensible," Rice said. [complete article]

See also, 9/11 panel members weren't told of meeting (NYT).
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Two months before 9/11, an urgent warning to Rice
By Bob Woodward, Washington Post, October 1, 2006

On July 10, 2001, two months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet met with his counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black, at CIA headquarters to review the latest on Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist organization. Black laid out the case, consisting of communications intercepts and other top-secret intelligence showing the increasing likelihood that al-Qaeda would soon attack the United States. It was a mass of fragments and dots that nonetheless made a compelling case, so compelling to Tenet that he decided he and Black should go to the White House immediately.

Tenet called Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser, from the car and said he needed to see her right away. There was no practical way she could refuse such a request from the CIA director.

For months, Tenet had been pressing Rice to set a clear counterterrorism policy, including specific presidential orders called "findings" that would give the CIA stronger authority to conduct covert action against bin Laden. Perhaps a dramatic appearance -- Black called it an "out of cycle" session, beyond Tenet's regular weekly meeting with Rice -- would get her attention.

Tenet had been losing sleep over the recent intelligence he'd seen. There was no conclusive, smoking-gun intelligence, but there was such a huge volume of data that an intelligence officer's instinct strongly suggested that something was coming. He and Black hoped to convey the depth of their anxiety and get Rice to kick-start the government into immediate action. [complete article]

Bush officials may have covered up Rice-Tenet meeting from 9/11 Commission
By Peter Rundlet, ThinkProgress, September 30, 2006

Most of the world has now seen the infamous picture of President Bush tending to his ranch on August 6, 2001, the day he received the ultra-classified Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) that included a report entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US." And most Americans have also heard of the so-called "Phoenix Memo" that an FBI agent in Phoenix sent to FBI headquarters on July 10, 2001, which advised of the "possibility of a coordinated effort" by bin Laden to send students to the United States to attend civil aviation schools.

As a Counsel to the 9/11 Commission, I became very familiar with both the PDB and the Phoenix Memo, as well as the tragic consequences of the failure to detect and stop the plot. A mixture of shock, anger, and sadness overcame me when I read about revelations in Bob Woodward's new book about a special surprise visit that George Tenet and his counterterrorism chief Cofer Black made to Condi Rice, also on July 10, 2001:
They went over top-secret intelligence pointing to an impending attack and "sounded the loudest warning" to the White House of a likely attack on the U.S. by Bin Laden.
Woodward writes that Rice was polite, but, "They felt the brushoff."

If true, it is shocking that the administration failed to heed such an overwhelming alert from the two officials in the best position to know. Many, many questions need to be asked and answered about this revelation -- questions that the 9/11 Commission would have asked, had the Commission been told about this significant meeting. Suspiciously, the Commissioners and the staff investigating the administration's actions prior to 9/11 were never informed of the meeting. As Commissioner Jamie Gorelick pointed out, "We didn't know about the meeting itself. I can assure you it would have been in our report if we had known to ask about it." [complete article]
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State of Denial
By Bob Woodward, Washington Post, October 1, 2006

On May 22, 2006, President Bush spoke in Chicago and gave a characteristically upbeat forecast: "Years from now, people will look back on the formation of a unity government in Iraq as a decisive moment in the story of liberty, a moment when freedom gained a firm foothold in the Middle East and the forces of terror began their long retreat."

Two days later, the intelligence division of the Joint Chiefs of Staff circulated a secret intelligence assessment to the White House that contradicted the president's forecast.

Instead of a "long retreat," the report forecast a more violent 2007: "Insurgents and terrorists retain the resources and capabilities to sustain and even increase current level of violence through the next year." [complete article]

See also, Bush's men snarled like wild animals (New York Daily News) and Colin Powell's most significant moment turned out to be his lowest (Bob Woodward).
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Why I'm banned in the USA
By Tariq Ramadan, Washington Post, October 1, 2006

For more than two years now, the U.S. government has barred me from entering the United States to pursue an academic career. The reasons have changed over time, and have evolved from defamatory to absurd, but the effect has remained the same: I've been kept out.

First, I was told that I could not enter the country because I had endorsed terrorism and violated the USA Patriot Act. It took a lawsuit for the government eventually to abandon this baseless accusation. Later, I reapplied for a visa, twice, only to hear nothing for more than a year. Finally, just 10 days ago, after a federal judge forced the State Department to reconsider my application, U.S. authorities offered a new rationale for turning me away: Between 1998 and 2002, I had contributed small sums of money to a French charity supporting humanitarian work in the Palestinian territories.

I am increasingly convinced that the Bush administration has barred me for a much simpler reason: It doesn't care for my political views. In recent years, I have publicly criticized U.S. policy in the Middle East, the war in Iraq, the use of torture, secret CIA prisons and other government actions that undermine fundamental civil liberties. And for many years, through my research and writing and speeches, I have called upon Muslims to better understand the principles of their own faith, and have sought to show that one can be Muslim and Western at the same time.

My experience reveals how U.S. authorities seek to suppress dissenting voices and -- by excluding people such as me from their country -- manipulate political debate in America. Unfortunately, the U.S. government's paranoia has evolved far beyond a fear of particular individuals and taken on a much more insidious form: the fear of ideas. [complete article]
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Jordan's king risks Shah's fate, critics warn
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, October 1, 2006

A politically inexperienced king takes control of a Middle Eastern monarchy from his powerful father, surrounds himself with U.S. military hardware and spies, loses touch with his people and is finally ejected in a popular uprising.

That was the tale of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, the pro-American ruler of Iran whose ouster ushered in the reign of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and three decades of Islamic rule.

Now many in this Arab country of more than 5 million people fear that a similar fate could befall King Abdullah II, the Jordanian monarch who assumed power after his charismatic father died in 1999.

"Until now in Amman we don't have a Khomeini," said one mid-ranking official serving the Jordanian Cabinet. "If there was a Khomeini, then this family would be in trouble." [complete article]
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U.S. pushed MI5 into airport terror swoop
By Jamie Doward and Mark Townsend, The Observer, October 1, 2006

The US warned Britain that it was prepared to seize the key suspect in the UK's biggest ever anti-terrorism operation and fly him to a secret detention centre for interrogation by American agents, even if this meant riding roughshod over its closest ally, The Observer can reveal.

American intelligence agents told their British counterparts they were ready to 'render' Rashid Rauf, a British citizen allegedly linked to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and who was under surveillance in Pakistan, unless he was picked up immediately. Rauf is the key suspect in the alleged plot to detonate explosives on up to 10 transatlantic planes that was exposed in August and, according to the police, would have brought 'mass murder on an unimaginable scale'.

The Americans' demand for Rauf's quick arrest dismayed the British intelligence services, which were worried that it could prompt terrorist cells in the UK working on separate plots to bring forward their plans or go underground. In the weeks preceding his arrest it is understood that MI5 and MI6 discussed with their US counterparts the best way to dismantle the alleged plot. Britain wanted more time to monitor Rauf, but the US was adamant that Rauf should be arrested immediately.

The revelation casts new light on the nature of America's relationship with Britain in the war on terrorism and provides further evidence of its suspicions that Pakistan was not fully committed in the war against al-Qaeda. [complete article]
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Pakistan is accused of Mumbai train bombs
By Gethin Chamberlain and Massoud Ansari, The Sunday Telegraph, October 1, 2006

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan was under fresh pressure last night after India accused his intelligence agency of masterminding the Mumbai train bombings that killed 186 people.

Hours after the broadcast of an interview in which Gen Musharraf claimed that the US and its allies would fail in their "war on terror" without the support of Pakistan and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the senior police officer in charge of the investigation into the bombings dropped a diplomatic bombshell.

Mumbai police commissioner AN Roy said the ISI began planning the July attack in March and later provided training to the Islamic militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, that carried it out. [complete article]

Bush cites progress in Pakistan, Afghanistan
By Michael A. Fletcher, Washington Post, September 30, 2006

President Bush highlighted anti-terrorism efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan yesterday, calling the nations invaluable allies despite a surge of violence in southern Afghanistan that has provoked deep suspicions about their ability -- and appetite -- to battle extremists.

Speaking before a Washington audience that included members of the Reserve Officers Association and both countries' ambassadors to the United States, Bush said that 41,000 American and NATO troops in Afghanistan are making progress toward securing and rebuilding the war-torn nation, although significant hurdles remain. [complete article]

British troops in secret truce with the Taliban
By Michael Smith, The Sunday Times, October 1, 2006

British troops battling the Taliban are to withdraw from one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan after agreeing a secret deal with the local people.

Over the past two months British soldiers have come under sustained attack defending a remote mud-walled government outpost in the town of Musa Qala in southern Afghanistan. Eight have been killed there.

It has now been agreed the troops will quietly pull out of Musa Qala in return for the Taliban doing the same. The compound is one of four district government offices in the Helmand province that are being guarded by British troops. [complete article]
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Ruined towns look to Beirut, mostly in vain
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, October 1, 2006

A ride through the south of Lebanon, across rutted and bombed-out roads, past a landscape of twisted metal and crumbled concrete, reveals little progress toward rebuilding tens of thousands of homes devastated by the 34 days of Israeli bombing that ended more than six weeks ago.

Money has begun flowing in, from foreign governments and nongovernmental organizations. But nearly $900 million in international pledges remains untapped by the Lebanese government, whose presence is barely visible in the south. In contrast, Hezbollah, with money from Iran, continues to give cash payments to individual Lebanese for damaged homes. And the central government has allowed, and indeed encouraged, some foreign countries to begin giving similar grants.

Those villages lucky enough to have been adopted by foreign donors are preparing to rebuild. In those less fortunate, villagers sit staring into ruins, and waiting.

"There is nothing from the government, not even a phone call," said Muhammad Azzam, mayor of Siddiqin, a small village that has reported 449 homes destroyed by Israel's military. Such comments are repeated, nearly verbatim, across the south, although an arm of the Lebanese government has cleared rubble from many towns. [complete article]

See also, Israel withdraws last troops from Lebanon (AP).

Building nowhereland
By Gershom Gorenberg, Washington Post, October 1, 2006

Out on Highway 60, the bulldozers are at work.

Next to the road that leads south from Jerusalem to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the big yellow machines are scraping the earth, carving a flat, white, dusty shoulder. Along that strip, a high concrete wall is already being built, part of the newest segment of Israel's "separation fence." The planned route loops around the cluster of settlements known as the Etzion Bloc, putting them on the Israeli side of the de facto border.

Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy is stalled. The bulldozers are not. Once again they are changing the face of the land in a way that makes life far more difficult for Palestinians while damaging Israel's own long-term interests.

As described by Israel's Defense Ministry, the fence is purely a security measure intended to protect Israelis from Palestinian terrorists. Instead of running along the Green Line, the Israel-West Bank border, the route has been drawn to place major "settlement blocs" on the Israeli side -- supposedly only to defend them as well.

Yet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has publicly stated that the settlement blocs will remain part of Israel after a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. He reiterated that point in February while on a working tour of the fence route in the Etzion area. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has said, a bit coyly, that the fence "will have implications for the future border." The Defense Ministry official in charge of planning the fence told me much the same three years ago. Cut past obfuscations, and the fence is the government's assertion, drawn in concrete and barbed wire, of what land it seeks to keep. [complete article]

Israel does not want peace with Syria
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, October 1, 2006

What do you call a rejection of peace that is liable to lead to war? What is the term for a state that is not even willing to sit at the negotiating table with the head of a state who publicly issues an explicit peace proposal? If there is a positive angle to the Israeli refusal to consider the Syrian president's proposals, it is the exposure of the bitter truth: Israel does not want peace with Syria - period. No linguistic trick or diplomatic contortion can change this unequivocal fact. We will no longer be able to declare that we are seeking peace with our neighbors; we are not turning toward them for peace. In the Middle East, a new rejectionist axis has formed: Israel and the United States, which is saying "no" to Syria. Not only is Iran endangering peace in the region, Israel is too. It would be best for us to admit this.

Common sense makes it difficult to understand and the heart refuses to accept how it happened that an important Arab state offered to forge a peace accord with us and we arrogantly rebuffed it. "It's not the right time," the statesmen in Jerusalem say. With Syria, it is not the right time. With the Palestinians, it is not the right partner. And when is the right time? Only after the next war. This type of refusal, which is liable to lead to another cycle of bloodshed, is a crime. [complete article]

Is Israel a partner?
By Uzi Benziman, Haaretz, October 1, 2006

In the 1967 war, Jordan's King Hussein was considered an enemy of the state of Israel. In the 1973 war, Hussein refrained from joining the combined assault of Egypt and Syria, and there are those who say that he even warned Israel about it. Twenty-one years later, Jordan signed a peace agreement with Israel: The enemy of 1967 and covert ally of 1973 became an overt friend.

When official Israel claims to have no partners with which to establish peace, the development of the relationship with King Hussein should be placed in the public eye. The "no partner" status is reversible, and Israel can have a significant influence on its expiration date. Egypt's President Anwar Sadat was not considered a partner in '73, and earned the status of very desired guest in '77.

Government spokesmen in Jerusalem explain in retrospect why Sadat does not resemble Hafez or Bashar Assad, why Hussein does not resemble Yasser Arafat, why the hostile situation that Israel had with Egypt and with Jordan had the potential to change while the relationship with the Palestinians is fated to be eternally drenched in blood and Syria will remain an enemy forever. These explanations, however, ignore the Israeli side of the equation: The desire to hold onto the West Bank and the Golan Heights has a critical impact on the development of the conflict. [complete article]
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Abbas: Renew unity gov't talks, civil war is 'red line'
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, October 1, 2006

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday appealed for calm
after gunbattles between a Hamas militia and members of the security forces loyal to his Fatah movement left eight people dead in Gaza.

Abbas also said Sunday he was ready renew stalled negotiations with Hamas over a unity government.

"These confrontations have crossed the red line, which we have avoided crossing for four decades," he said in a speech broadcast on Palestine TV. [complete article]

Bad faith and the destruction of Palestine
By Jonathan Cook,, September 30 , 2006

A mistake too often made by those examining Israel's behavior in the occupied territories – or when analyzing its treatment of Arabs in general, or interpreting its view of Iran – is to assume that Israel is acting in good faith. Even its most trenchant critics can fall into this trap.

Such a reluctance to attribute bad faith was demonstrated this week by Israel's foremost human rights group, B'Tselem, when it published a report into the bombing by the Israeli air force of Gaza's power plant in late June. The horrifying consequences of this act of collective punishment – a war crime, as B'Tselem rightly notes – are clearly laid out in the report. [complete article]
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Detainee bill shifts power to president
By Scott Shane and Adam Liptak, New York Times, October 1, 2006

With the final passage through Congress of the detainee treatment bill, President Bush on Friday achieved a signal victory, shoring up with legislation his determined conduct of the campaign against terrorism in the face of challenges from critics and the courts.

Rather than reining in the formidable presidential powers Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have asserted since Sept. 11, 2001, the law gives some of those powers a solid statutory foundation. In effect it allows the president to identify enemies, imprison them indefinitely and interrogate them -- albeit with a ban on the harshest treatment -- beyond the reach of the full court reviews traditionally afforded criminal defendants and ordinary prisoners.

Taken as a whole, the law will give the president more power over terrorism suspects than he had before the Supreme Court decision this summer in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that undercut more than four years of White House policy. It does, however, grant detainees brought before military commissions limited protections initially opposed by the White House. The bill, which cleared a final procedural hurdle in the House on Friday and is likely to be signed into law next week by Mr. Bush, does not just allow the president to determine the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions; it also strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges to his interpretation. [complete article]

Why torture is still an option
By Michael Duffy, Time, October 1, 2006

A few days after terrorists toppled the World Trade Center in 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney said the U.S. would have to "work...the dark side" in order to destroy Osama bin Laden's network. Just what the dark side could mean became clearer last month when George Bush suddenly announced that 14 suspected al-Qaeda terrorists had been shipped from mysterious overseas locations to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It was the first White House confirmation of a secret CIA-operated network of overseas prisons, places where unorthodox methods of interrogation were not unknown. "Were it not for this program," Bush said, referring to the secret prisons and the things done there, "al-Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland."

When Congress adopted legislation last week to establish military commissions to try terrorist suspects, it also gave approval to that program and then some. By allowing coerced testimony to be entered as evidence in trials, Congress potentially legitimized torture as a means of obtaining information. It left the President in charge of filling in the details of what the allowable methods should be. The clearest limit to what might be done was actually not so clear. The new methods could not constitute "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions. But after all the huffing and puffing from Republican Senators John McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham, the Executive Branch kept control over what exactly could happen to an "enemy combatant." It was allowed to decide who an enemy combatant might be. The package of measures widened the definition to include any person determined to be one under criteria defined by the President or the Secretary of Defense. [complete article]

I never saw Rumsfeld's volleyball courts during my two years in America's gulag
By Moazzam Begg, Los Angeles Times, October 1, 2006

Because I'm in my 30s, I am too young to remember the Vietnam War. But there was a time in my teens when I was fascinated with the subject. Perhaps it was the powerful depictions of the war in the movies "Platoon" and "Full Metal Jacket" that stirred my interest in a conflict that I otherwise believed was unjust. But I remember feeling a strange empathy toward some of the soldiers portrayed in these movies. I read several books about the Vietnam War and always hoped to meet a bona fide vet of 'Nam someday, but there weren't too many in Birmingham, England, and I wasn't planning any trips to the United States.

Ten years later, the U.S. came to me. In January 2002, I was abducted from my home in Islamabad, Pakistan, in front of my wife and children. It had been months since we'd evacuated Kabul, Afghanistan, where we had helped establish a girls' school and dig water wells. I was held captive for three years, one in two prisons in Afghanistan, two at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

It was there, inside an 8-by-6 cell in a maximum-security isolation block, that my teenage desire to meet a Vietnam War veteran was realized. Although I never learned his true age, Sgt. Foshee must have been in his 60s. His job, like the other guards, was to simply watch detainees. He often sat in a chair reading his Bible. Foshee, an Alabaman, spoke with a Southern drawl I'd only heard in shows such as "The Dukes of Hazzard." He was a good ol' boy.

He told me about his volunteer tour in Vietnam, often fighting North Vietnamese units in the north of the country. Listening to Foshee from inside my cage, I soaked in his tales of losing comrades during enemy assaults and ambushes and when crossing minefields. He told me how he'd felt when called a "baby-killer" back in the U.S., less than 24 hours after seeing his friends shot or blown to pieces on the battlefield. He told me about how some of his buddies had survived imprisonment in notorious torture camps like the Hanoi Hilton. [complete article]

Detainee law may not provide total immunity for CIA interrogators
By Greg Gordon and Marisa Taylor, McClatchy, October 1, 2006

Congress has eased the worries of CIA interrogators and senior administration officials by granting them immunity from U.S. criminal prosecutions for all but "grave" abuses of terrorism detainees.

But legislation passed Friday may not leave them entirely in the clear.

International legal experts said the measure is meaningless overseas, where international courts theoretically could still prosecute alleged violations of anti-torture treaties.

The same experts concede such prosecutions are highly unlikely - but not because there's no evidence of wrongdoing. Instead, they predict American economic, military and political power will deter any country from allowing the cases to proceed. [complete article]

Detainee memo created divide in White House
By Tim Golden, New York Times, October 1, 2006

In June 2005, two senior national security officials in the Bush administration came together to propose a sweeping new approach to the growing problems the United States was facing with the detention, interrogation and prosecution of terrorism suspects.

In a nine-page memorandum, the two officials, Gordon R. England, the acting deputy secretary of defense, and Philip D. Zelikow, the counselor of the State Department, urged the administration to seek Congressional approval for its detention policies.

They called for a return to the minimum standards of treatment in the Geneva Conventions and for eventually closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The time had come, they said, for suspects in the 9/11 plot to be taken out of their secret prison cells and tried before military tribunals. [complete article]

British senior official critical of going 'beyond the law' to fight terror
By Mary Jordan, Washington Post, September 30, 2006

Charles Falconer, one of the highest-ranking justice officials in Britain, said Friday that there is a "great divergence" in how Britain and the United States are handling the fight against terrorists, describing the U.S. approach as a willingness "to do things beyond the law."

Falconer said in an interview that the practices of holding terrorism suspects without charge at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and interrogating them in secret CIA prisons have made it "harder to identify to the world what your values are."

Holding the posts of lord chancellor and secretary of state for constitutional affairs, Falconer is widely seen as a spokesman for the British government, the closest U.S. ally in the war in Iraq. He is scheduled to visit Washington next week, where he will meet with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and deliver a speech at Georgetown University. [complete article]
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The laughing 9/11 bombers
By Yosri Fouda, The Sunday Times, October 1, 2006

Film of the ringleader of the September 11 hijackers reading his "martyrdom" will inside Afghanistan at Osama Bin Laden's headquarters has emerged five years after the Al-Qaeda outrage.

It is the first time that a videotape has appeared of Mohammed Atta -- who flew an American Airlines plane into the north tower of the World Trade Center -- at a training camp in Afghanistan. It fills in a significant gap in the timing of the build-up to the attacks on the United States.

Dates on the tape show Atta was filmed on January 18, 2000, together with Ziad Jarrah, the pilot of United Airlines flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania after the passengers apparently stormed the flight deck. [complete article]

Comment -- Have you ever failed to look your best when posing for a passport photo or some other official record of your likeness? If so, it turns out you (we) have at least one thing in common with Mohammed Atta.

One of the iconic images from 9/11, as evocative in some ways as the image of the collapsing Twin Towers, was the stark, merciless image of Atta, whose face at that time became -- in the eyes of most Americans -- the personification of evil.

Five years later we see Atta and his friend Ziad Jarrah, relaxed, in good-humored conversation [video] -- about what, we'll probably never know. Yet whatever one might feel about what they did a year and a half after these videos were made, we now witness young men whose intentions seem all the more mysterious precisely because Atta and Jarrah are so clearly not other, not foreign, not visibly deranged.

If nothing else, these videos should lay to rest the conspiracy theorizing about how Jarrah could not have been one of the hijackers -- a theory that was almost certainly fueled by the notion that he was much too "normal" to have done something so terrible.
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Al Qaeda increasingly reliant on media
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, September 30, 2006

On the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Abu Omar received the call to jihad. Literally.

"There's a present for you," a voice on the other end of the phone said that morning, he recalled. It was a common code whenever his friends and colleagues wanted to share a new broadcast or communiqué from Al Qaeda over the Internet, he said.

Abu Omar, speaking on the condition that only his nickname be used, said he soon went to one of the Internet cafes he frequents in Amman and began distributing the latest video by Al Qaeda, alerting friends and occasionally adding commentary.

"We are the energy behind the path to jihad," Abu Omar said proudly. "Just like the jihadis reached their target on Sept. 11, we will reach ours through the Internet."

Abu Omar, 28, is part of an increasingly sophisticated network of contributors and discussion leaders helping to wage Al Qaeda's battle for Muslim hearts and minds. A self-described Qaeda sympathizer who defends the Sept. 11 attacks and continues to find inspiration in Osama bin Laden's call for jihad, Abu Omar is part of a growing army of young men who may not seek to take violent action, but who help spread jihadist philosophy, shape its message and hope to inspire others to their cause. [complete article]
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U.S. military is still waiting for Iraqi forces to 'stand up'
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, October 1, 2006

The strategy in Iraq, President Bush has said often over the past year, is to stand down the U.S. military as Iraq's security forces stand up.

By strict numbers, the Iraqi side of that equation is almost complete. Training programs have developed more than 300,000 members of the Iraqi army and national police, close to the desired number of homegrown forces. Yet as that number has grown, so, too, has violence in Iraq. The summer was worse than ever, with July the deadliest month in three years, according to U.S. military data.

With the insurgency undiminished and Iraqi forces seemingly unable to counter it, U.S. commanders say they expect to stay at the current level of U.S. troops -- about 140,000 -- until at least next spring. That requirement is placing new strains on service members who leave Iraq and then must prepare to return a few months later. Tours of duty have been extended for two brigades in Iraq to boost troop levels.

So is the "stand down as they stand up" policy defunct? Not according to the Bush administration. But the meaning of the phrase appears to have changed, as leaders have begun shifting the blame for Iraq's problems away from the U.S. military and onto the country's own social and governmental institutions. [complete article]

Muqtada al Sadr orders followers to put down their weapons
By Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy, September 29, 2006

Muqtada al Sadr, the firebrand Shiite Muslim cleric whose Mahdi Army is arguably Iraq's most powerful armed group, has ordered his followers to put down their weapons temporarily, three of his aides told McClatchy Newspapers on Friday.

Analysts differed on the significance of the directive, which Sadr delivered in secret to his commanders two weeks ago in the southern city of Kufa. Some saw it as Sadr's way of distancing himself from rising sectarian violence, most of which has been blamed on his followers.

Others said the order was little more than an effort by Sadr to head off an offensive by American and Iraqi forces against his militia, which increasingly is seen as a shadow sectarian security force. Controlling many of Iraq's larger cities, the Mahdi Army uses its political hold on several government ministries to win new supporters. [complete article]

Baghdad under curfew after upturn in attacks
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, October 1, 2006

The streets of Baghdad were mostly quiet Saturday, with the capital under total lockdown a day after U.S. troops arrested a bodyguard of a Sunni Arab political leader on suspicion of planning suicide bombings inside the fortified Green Zone.

The day-long curfew in this city of 7 million people was the first to ban both pedestrian and vehicle traffic since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, underscoring the security concerns enveloping Baghdad. It was requested by U.S. military officials concerned about the surge in suicide bombings and other violence since the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began last weekend. [complete article]

Saudis build 550-mile fence to shut out Iraq
By Harry de Quetteville, The Telegraph, October 1, 2006

Security in Iraq has collapsed so dramatically that Saudi Arabia has ordered the construction of a 550-mile high-tech fence to seal off its troubled northern neighbour.

The huge project to build the barrier, which will be equipped with ultraviolet night-vision cameras, buried sensor cables and thousands of miles of barbed wire, will snake across the vast and remote desert frontier between the countries.

The fence will be built despite the hundreds of millions of pounds that the Saudi kingdom has spent in the past two years to beef up patrols on its border with Iraq, with officials saying the crisis in Iraq is now so dangerous it must be physically shut out. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Most Iraqis want U.S. troops out within a year
World Public Opinion, September 27, 2006

Iraq at the gates of hell
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, September 28, 2006

Cost of Iraq war nearly $2b a week
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, September 28, 2006

How Bush wrecked the Army
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, September 25, 2006

Army warns Rumsfeld it's billions short
By Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times, September 25, 2006

Of course Iraq made it worse
By Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, Washington Post, September 29, 2006
See also, Declassified key judgements of the NIE (PDF).

How the Abu Ghraib photos morphed from scandal to law
By Dahlia Lithwick, Slate, September 28, 2006

Thoughts on the "Bringing Terrorists to Justice Act of 2006"
By John Dean, FindLaw, September 22, 2006

Gagging the detainees
By Joanne Mariner, FindLaw, September 26, 2006

Many rights in U.S. legal system absent in new bill
By R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, September 29, 2006

Inventing an Iran 'crisis'
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, September 29, 2006

A conversation with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
By Lally Weymouth, Washington Post, September 24, 2006

Afghanistan, 5 years later: U.S. confront Taliban's return
By Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy, September 26, 2006

In tribal Pakistan, an uneasy quiet
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, September 28, 2006

The rise of Jihadistan
By Ron Moreau, Sami Yousafzai and Michael Hirsh, October 2, 2006

Why Hamas resists recognizing Israel
By Tony Karon,, September 26, 2006

War turns the tide for Israeli settlers
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, September 25, 2006

Why recognize Israel?
By Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz, September 26, 2006

In Lebanon, a war's lethal harvest
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, September 26, 2006

War with Hezbollah has left Jewish, Arab Israelis more divided than ever
By Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy, September 22, 2006

The Jihad and the West - part I
By Riaz Hassan, YaleGlobal, September 21, 2006

The Jihad and the West – part II
By Mohammed Ayoob, YaleGlobal, September 26, 2006

* * *

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