Saturday, January 28, 2006

Iran-US: Regarding Referral and Reporting

We know that John Bolton, the unconfirmed-but-serving American ambassador to the United Nations, has no respect for the institution and generally despises diplomatic language. But given the fact that the whole confrontation with Iran hinges, at the moment, on the rather arcane question of whether the board of governors of the IAEA will "refer" Iran to the UN Security Council, the following exchange seems cavalier, to say the least:

QUESTION: Can you help me understand something on Iran I think a lot of us don't really understand? A week ago we had a briefing with Mr. Solana, who tried to explain the difference between reporting Iran to the Security Council and referring Iran to the Security Council. He basically summarized by saying that referring has more guts, it's more significant, and I think Mr. McCormack today said a referral is a referral is a referral. (Laughter.)

Now you've just used the word "report" twice, I think "refer" once. But in your eyes, sitting on the Security Council, does it make any difference to you how it gets to you over there?

AMBASSADOR BOLTON: The lawyers have been cogitating about the nature of the language and I am confident that when the lawyers finish cogitating they will come up with the right language and when it gets to the Security Council we will know what to do with it.

QUESTION: My question is on Oil-for-Food. Are you done, Guy?

QUESTION: Well, so they haven't come up with the right language yet, then?

AMBASSADOR BOLTON: No, I think the word is probably "report" and that's fine. It's the same thing.

QUESTION: It's the same thing?

STAFF: It's the same thing.

QUESTION: Okay, that's what I wanted to know --

AMBASSADOR BOLTON: It's the difference between what some in Vienna are saying, which to inform the Security Council, but a report is tantamount to a referral.

QUESTION: On Oil-for-Food --

AMBASSADOR BOLTON: That's my opinion, not as a lawyer but as a policy thinker.

Davos: Happiness, Hamas, Egypt, Ayman

I couldn't resist playing with my tiny Philips Key019 camera at Davos, and posted several little clips on the Newsweek site. I was at the annual World Economic Forum get-together at the little Swiss ski resort from Tuesday to Saturday. The first 48 hours were relatively light-hearted, and I had a pleasant drive up the mountain with the extraordinary French Buddhist-monk-photographer-author Matthieu Ricard. But on Thursday, news of the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections hit Davos like an avalanche, shaking confident judgments and burying conventional wisdom. Of course, there were some upbeat distractions, like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, but the mood generally was somber. On Friday I had an an off-the-cuff dialogue with readers about what was happening in Davos and around the world.
One of the more interesting interviews I recorded was with Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, whom I'd gotten to know a little bit over the years, starting when he was telecoms minister. A technocrat, Nazif is a great deal more candid than most Arab politicians. He made several interesting points about Hamas, the Egyptian economy, the Egyptian elections, and the persecution -- I use the word advisedly -- of my old friend Ayman Nour, who dared to challenge Hosni Mubarak in the presidential elections last year and is now serving a five-year jail sentence. Nazif said he wishes the Nour case had never happened. I wish Nazif and the president he serves would make it end right now by releasing Ayman from jail. The move would be good for Ayman, and good for Egypt. In any case, the special pleading about Egypt's independent courts is completely unconvincing. Egyptian authorities regularly gather dirt on their rivals -- and sometimes manufacture it. They then keep the dossiers at hand, ready to toss them to the courts like garbage to a Nile crocodile, whenever they want to make a point.
The WEF people asked me to moderate a panel on Islam and extremism, which was on the record (the WEF minutes of the session are on the Web). The other session I moderated was a dinner to examine the challenges of Palestinian statehood. It filled up fast once the news broke about Hamas, and the discussion offered a fascinating overview of first takes on the situation. Unfortunately, the dinner was off the record, but you can get a sense of the debate's parameters from the Islam session, the Nazif interview, and a video clip of Tel Aviv University president Itamar Rabinovich.

Iran: Mail about the "Countdown" pieces

Newsweek's Online Mail Call published a good sampling of readers' comments on the two "Countdown to a Showdown" articles:

David from New York likes the idea of a gasoline embargo. “But if things get bad, and bombing will be ineffective,” he writes, “I have a better military alternative: a large-scale raid in which a regiment or brigade-sized unit with engineers is airlifted to Natanz, prepared to fend off attacks for a week, supported by all the aircraft we have. We take everything we can, and destroy everything else. This way, we can be sure the site is destroyed.”

Debby from Cincinnati has another idea: “This absolutely confirms my belief that the world must get off the petroleum ‘habit’ and start developing solar, geothermal, wind and nuclear sources of fuel.”

Teddy, who didn’t give her hometown, writes, “Very well written, thoughtful and insightful article. A gas ‘quarantine’ will have some risks, but any action we take will have some consequences. It's just a question of how much we're willing to suffer to achieve our objective.”

Craig from Spokane, Wash., disagrees: “[United Nations] sanctions are words in the wind. Sanctions did not result in regime change in Iraq or North Korea and they certainly won't affect Iran. Who is the [International Atomic Energy Agency] and U.N. kidding other than themselves?”

Will from Covington, Ga., writes: “The article raises more questions than answers. What will sanctions accomplish? Is war inevitable since sanctions will not come from the Chinese or the Russians? Where does Iran's oil go? How forceful will ElBaradei's words be to convince the world of possible danger? When or where will Israel act?”

John from Collinsville, Ill., asks: “Why would we sell and or ship anything to a known enemy? Iran has been a bad guy since the Jimmy Carter days and hates the United States. Even food should not be shipped to the enemy. I am not a hawk, however we have to quit being the supplier of goods and aid to countries that use it against us. This includes food and medical supplies.”

Becka, who didn’t give her hometown, says Dickey’s column is “filled with eerie paranoia.”

But Ed from Bethel, Ala., says the threat may be all too real: “My common sense tells me that here we go again. We will be haunted with threats of nuclear weapons from Iran, until, unfortunately, there is military action taken. I think that what is forgotten in the Iraqi situation is that President Bush announced to the world that Saddam and his sons had … to step down from power, or the U.S. was coming in, all because they weren't in compliance. Iran is going down the same path.”

Iran: Countdown to a Showdown - Part II

Two American congressmen have proposed a 'quarantine' they think could stop Iran’s mullahs from building nukes. It’s a high-risk strategy.

Web-Exclusive Commentary
By Christopher Dickey
Newsweek
Updated: 11:21 a.m. ET Jan. 25, 2006

Jan. 25, 2006 - Congressman Robert Andrews, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Mark Steven Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, made a proposal on the floor of the House last June that, as far as I can tell, sank without a trace. We’ve heard nothing about it from the administration since, and when I’ve raised it with several experts on Iran they say it’s potentially counterproductive, possibly very dangerous. But with tensions between the mullahs and the rest of the world continuing to grow because of Iran’s nuclear research, maybe it’s time to take another look at what these congressmen described as a “surgical sanction.”

“I find the current U.S. policy debate on Iran is too simplistic,” Kirk, who still serves in the U.S. Navy Reserves, told the House. “It is just two-dimensional: either let Iran have the bomb, putting the Middle East under a nuclear hair trigger, or let Israel do it”—that is, try to blow the hell out of Iran’s installations—“and have another war.” (For the record, Iran says its intentions are entirely peaceful.) Is there another way to stop the spiral toward Armageddon? Kirk and Andrews think so. “Iran has a unique vulnerability,” Kirk told the House, “one that opens a new window of diplomacy that could help us achieve all of our objectives without a shot being fired.”

That “Achilles’ heel of the Iranian autocrats,” said Andrews, picking up the theme across the aisle, is gasoline. The mullahs “have presided over such a dysfunctional country that they are in a situation where they sell crude oil in huge amounts to the rest of the world but import gasoline.” ...
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11021326/site/newsweek/

Iran: Countdown to a Showdown - Part I

The next few weeks of diplomacy on Iran’s nukes may be too fast and too furious. What we really need to avoid Armageddon.

Web-Exclusive Commentary
By Christopher Dickey
Newsweek
Updated: 12:16 p.m. ET Jan. 23, 2006

Jan. 23, 2006 - If Armageddon happens, those who survive will look back and see the warnings—so many of them—that were somehow lost from view in the numbing rush of 24/7 news. They will remember that Iran pushed ahead with a nuclear program it claimed was peaceful, although no one (not even some of those who defended its right to do so) really believed that was the case. People will recall the growing sense of urgency as threats were leveled against the mullahs, sometimes from unexpected quarters. Who had thought the French would be the first to say publicly they’d use limited nuclear strikes to retaliate against terror attacks and protect access to vital natural resources? Who could have mistaken Israel’s seriousness when Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told a conference in Herzliya that his country "must have the capability to defend itself, with all that that implies, and this we are preparing”?

The Iranian leadership, certainly, will be seen as having misread the signs. Great hostage-takers that they were, the mullahs figured the whole world was shackled by its dependence on relatively cheap oil. Any sanctions brought against Iran would mean skyrocketing prices, the ayatollahs’ minions smugly declared. SUVs would go the way of the dinosaur; the global economy would enter its ice age. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dared the West to take that risk. And then …

If all this sounds alarmist, well, it should. The risk of fatal errors grows every day. Add the influence of messianic fanaticism in Tehran, Jerusalem and, yes, Washington—an apparent desire for apocalypse in some quarters—and it’s hard to have confidence in common-sense solutions defusing this nuclear crisis. (Might the Vanished Imam figure in negotiations? Or the Second Coming? One shudders to think.) It seems we can’t even trust the self-consciously secular rationalists of France. When President Jacques Chirac, 73, said last week that the alternatives of “inaction or annihilation” were unsatisfactory, and a third way could be limited nuclear strikes, he may have been playing to a domestic audience. Or he may have been dreaming about his legacy. He might have been just an old man trying to prove he’s still got some juice. But Chirac is a commander-in-chief with the authority to launch some 300 warheads, and you shouldn’t wave those kinds of things around unless you’re ready to use them....
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10991253/site/newsweek/

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Al Qaeda: Predator & Prey contd. ...

The apparent Predator raid in Pakistan continues to make confusing news:

Pakistan PM: CIA attack reports 'bizarre'
No evidence that top al Qaeda leaders were at target, he says


Monday, January 23, 2006; Posted: 8:34 a.m. EST (13:34 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Sunday ridiculed as "bizarre" a U.S. report that senior al Qaeda leaders were killed in a CIA attack on a home along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

"There is no evidence, as of half an hour ago, that there were any other people there," Aziz said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

"The area does see movement of people from across the border. But we have not found one body or one shred of evidence that these people were there." (Watch Pakistan official call CIA strike reports "bizarre" -- 6:20) ...

Before that item appeared in the news I got about 120 e-mails commenting on the column, many of them obscene and abusive ones from illiterate right-wingers who seem not to have read beyond the first couple of sentences. The general tone was "Aha! You stupid jerk. The attack was a resounding success," but with four-letter words thrown in. What follows is a somewhat more civilized collection of comments as published in Newsweek's "Mail Call" column:

Remote-Control Assassination
In his latest Web-exclusive Shadowland column, “Target Practice,” Christopher Dickey examines what he sees as the “dismal” U.S. record on political assassinations. “Murdering someone with a missile or a bomb is a little like surgery with a chain-saw,” he writes. “You can target the operation very precisely, but once you let it rip the thing’s going to make a mess, it’ll take a while to figure out if the procedure was a success, and almost always it isn’t.”

Some readers disagreed with Dickey’s assertion that a U.S. attack on a Pakistani village had killed innocent civilians or that it failed because it did not kill its intended target, Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Arthur from Boston writes: “Gee, all those 'innocents' in a remote village were involved with Al Qaeda up to their eyeballs inviting Zawahiri to dinner, helping militants to remove the bodies of Al Qaeda operatives to score propaganda points. The media is being manipulated in a transparent way and because of their inherent bias seems blind to the obvious.”

Another reader, who doesn’t give a hometown, writes: “You appear to be completely void of any logical analysis. The criticism you leveled at the drone attack in Pakistan shows to me that the United States can not do anything correctly in your mind. The bottom line is that unmanned drones are used to decrease the danger to our fine men and women in the military. As an American, this is my priority concern. I further think that the strike was a success, it sends a clear message, if you have Al Qaeda over for dinner, then you and your family will pay the price … I am going to assume, based on your flawed judgment, that you are a liberal in political philosophy.”

Melody, from Homestead, Fla., writes: “We just need to improve our intelligence before we pull triggers, but we are not going to place blame on sophisticated missiles or bombs due to bad intelligence.”

Other readers agreed with Dickey’s arguments. Rick of Marietta, Ohio, writes that he doesn’t understand “why it's considered 'illegal' to send a trained assassin in to take out someone, yet it's 'legal', or at least on some level acceptable, to target someone from the sky.”

Says Mike: “We have the audacity to talk about the random and senseless killing of innocents as we use our technology to kill thousands of innocents ourselves. Innocent American lives should be no more important than innocent Pakistani lives ... If we Americans don't get it, you can rest assured the rest of the world recognizes our hypocrisy, and that explains why we continue to lose our place in the world as a nation of law.”

Adds another reader who doesn’t give a name or hometown: “I would suggest this is another example of how we compromise our principles for the sake of expediency,”

Mike, of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., writes: “Our justice system says it is better to let 100 guilty go free rather than wrongly convict one innocent person. It appears the same reasoning does not apply when killing terrorists. In other words, our twisted logic says it is a OK to kill 10, 15 or 20 innocent people so long as we can get that terrorist. My common sense tells me whoever authorized the missile attack was absolutely wrong.”

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Osama Bin Laden and Bill Blum

Browsing the Web, I see there's now a site devoted to "the book recommended by Osama bin Laden." This piece from The Washington Post just about sums up the man -- Blum -- his work, and his strange, momentary fame:

The Author Who Got A Big Boost From bin Laden
Historian 'Glad' of Mention As Sales of Book Skyrocket

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer

Twenty-four hours after Osama bin Laden told the world that the American people should read the work of a little-known Washington historian, William Blum was still adjusting.

Blum, who at 72 is accustomed to laboring in relative left-wing obscurity, checked his emotions and pronounced himself shocked and, well, pleased.

"This is almost as good as being an Oprah book," he said yesterday between telephone calls from the world media and bites of a bagel. "I'm glad." Overnight, his 2000 work, "Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower," had become an Osama book.

In gray slacks, plaid shirt and black slippers, Blum padded around his one-bedroom apartment on Connecticut Avenue. A portrait of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the '50s hung on his kitchen wall. Bookshelves bowed under the weight of secret histories of the CIA. The cord on his prehistoric phone let him roam across the living room. He'd already done CNN and MSNBC. A guy from the New York Post knocked on the door to take pictures. The BBC rang, then Reuters and Pacifica Radio stations on both coasts....

Friday, January 20, 2006

Iran: Ebadi, Democracy and Nukes

From the Los Angeles Time. Shirin Ebadi is, of course, a human rights advocate who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. Muhammad Sahimi is a professor of chemical engineering at USC:

Defusing Iran with democracy
By Shirin Ebadi and Muhammad Sahimi
January 19, 2006

LOST IN THE international fury over Iran's partial restart of its nuclear energy program, and the deplorable statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regarding Israel, has been the fact that respect for human rights and a democratic political system are the most effective deterrent against the threat that any aspiring nuclear power, including Iran, may pose to the world.

When the U.S. and its allies encouraged the shah in the 1970s to start Iran's nuclear energy program, they helped create the Frankenstein that has become so controversial today. If, instead, they had pressed the shah to undertake political reforms, respect human rights and release Iran's political prisoners, history could have been very different.

In the three decades since then, India, South Africa, North Korea, Israel and Pakistan have joined the nuclear club — and most people would acknowledge that the democracies among them are viewed today as the least threatening. In the 1980s, South Africa's apartheid regime made several nuclear bombs, but the democratic government of Nelson Mandela dismantled them. India has a nuclear arsenal, but few perceive the world's largest democracy as a global threat. Nor is Israel considered likely to be the first in the Middle East to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.

But North Korea's nuclear program is a threat because its regime is secretive, its leader a recluse. The nuclear arsenal of Pakistan is dangerous because the military, which runs the country and is populated by Islamic extremists, helped create the Taliban and allowed Abdul Qadeer Khan to freely operate a nuclear supermarket.

Iran's nuclear program began accelerating around 1997 when the reform-minded Mohammad Khatami was elected president — just as Iran was developing an independent press, and just before a reformist parliament was elected in 2000. The reformists supported the nuclear program but wanted it to be fully transparent and in compliance with Iran's international obligations. These were reassuring signs that it would not get out of control.

But instead of backing Iran's fledgling democratic movement, which would have led to nuclear transparency, the U.S. undercut it by demonizing Iran.

While Khatami proposed people-to-people dialogue between Americans and Iranians, Washington chose to block Iranian scholars, artists and authors from visiting the U.S. Although Khatami helped the U.S. in Afghanistan, President Bush designated Iran a member of the "axis of evil."

By 2003, when it became clear that Khatami's reforms had stalled, the world started paying closer attention to Iran's nuclear program. So, what had demonizing Iran achieved?...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Shadowland Update: Predators and Prey

Shortly after we published the most recent Shadowland column, "Target Practice," wire services quoted three unnamed Pakistani security officials who were not authorized to divulge information as saying that four members of Al-Qaeda were killed in the attack on the Pakistani village of Damadola, although none of their bodies had been recovered. One of these phantom victims was said to be the son-in-law of Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri. (Nobody is saying, anymore, that Zawahiri himself was killed.) The other figure of note named by the anonymous Pakistani officials is one Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, listed on the Justice Department's "Rewards for Justice" Web page with a $5 million bounty on his head.
The Rewards site describes him as "an explosives expert and poisons trainer working on behalf of al Qaeda." It says "he operated a terrorist training camp at Derunta, Afghanistan where he provided hundreds of mujahidin with hands on poisons and explosives training. Since 1999, he has proliferated training manuals that contain recipes for crude chemical and biological weapons. Some of these training manuals were recovered by U.S. forces in Afghanistan." Although this character, also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri, would be a good trophy for the CIA, a positive identification may remain hard to come by.
Not only is there no body as yet, so no DNA, but apart from a fuzzy picture of a fat-faced, bearded, Egyptian-looking man and his birth date, the Justice Department description of Abu Khabab is what you might call minimal: "Height: Unknown; Weight: Unknown; Build: Unknown; Hair: Unknown; Eyes: Unknown; Complexion: Unknown; Sex: Male; Nationality: Unknown; Occupation: Unknown; Characterisitics: none." A true denizen of Shadowland.

Counter-terror: Do the French do it better?

Marc Perelman of The Forward has a useful and provocative piece in the current issue of Foreign Policy:

How the French Fight Terror
By Marc Perelman

In 1988, the FBI invited Alain Marsaud, then France’s top antiterrorist magistrate, to speak about terrorism to the bureau’s new recruits at its academy in Quantico, Virginia.

Marsaud, now a conservative lawmaker, told the audience of would-be feds of the deadly threat that radical Islamist terrorist networks posed to Western societies. His talk was an unmitigated flop. “They thought we were Martians,” recalls Marsaud, who chairs the French Parliament’s domestic security commission. “They were interested in neo-Nazis and green activists, and that was it.”

Marsaud’s experience goes to show just how far Washington has come. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has moved swiftly to overhaul its counterterrorism policy, and has hit some bumps in the road. The recent revelation that President George W. Bush mandated domestic spying has caused a political uproar, even among Republicans. Yet questions of spying, security, civil liberties, and privacy are not new to France, which found itself in the cross hairs of Middle Eastern terrorists well before the United States did. France was the first to uncover a plot to crash a jetliner into a landmark building (the Eiffel Tower)—a chilling preview of the 9/11 attacks. It was the first to face the reality that its own citizens could become assets of Islamist terrorist groups, long before British nationals bombed the London Underground last July. As a result, it has continuously adapted its judicial system and intelligence services to the terrorist threat that it faces.
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=3353

Torture: HRW Fingers Bush

Human Rights Watch has issued its annual World Report, which is very tough on Washington, and with reason. Excerpts from the HRW press release:

The evidence showed that abusive interrogation cannot be reduced to the misdeeds of a few low-ranking soldiers, but was a conscious policy choice by senior U.S. government officials. The policy has hampered Washington’s ability to cajole or pressure other states into respecting international law. ...

“Fighting terrorism is central to the human rights cause,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “But using illegal tactics against alleged terrorists is both wrong and counterproductive.”

Roth said the illegal tactics were fueling terrorist recruitment, discouraging public assistance of counterterrorism efforts and creating a pool of unprosecutable detainees.

U.S. partners such as Britain and Canada compounded the lack of human rights leadership by trying to undermine critical international protections. Britain sought to send suspects to governments likely to torture them based on meaningless assurances of good treatment. Canada sought to dilute a new treaty outlawing enforced disappearances. The European Union continued to subordinate human rights in its relationships with others deemed useful in fighting terrorism, such as Russia, China and Saudi Arabia.

Many countries – Uzbekistan, Russia and China among them – used the “war on terrorism” to attack their political opponents, branding them as “Islamic terrorists.”...

In his introductory essay to the World Report, Roth writes that it became clear in 2005 that U.S. mistreatment of detainees could not be reduced to a failure of training, discipline or oversight, or reduced to “a few bad apples,” but reflected a deliberate policy choice embraced by the top leadership.

Evidence of that deliberate policy included the threat by President George W. Bush to veto a bill opposing “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” Roth writes, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s attempt to exempt the Central Intelligence Agency from the law. In addition, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales claimed that the United States can mistreat detainees so long as they are non-Americans held abroad, while CIA Director Porter Goss asserted that “waterboarding,” a torture method dating back to the Spanish Inquisition, was simply a “professional interrogation technique.”

“Responsibility for the use of torture and mistreatment can no longer credibly be passed off to misadventures by low-ranking soldiers on the nightshift,” said Roth. “The Bush administration must appoint a special prosecutor to examine these abuses, and Congress should set up an independent, bipartisan panel to investigate.”

Human Rights Watch World Report 2006 (Human Rights Watch, 18-1-2006)

Iraq: Letter from Baghdad

My friend Richard Galustian has sent out a long letter from Baghdad reflecting the hopes that exist there, and also the frustrations, as the new year begins. Like many Iraqis, he would like to see the Arab League and the Organization for Islamic Conference take a more active role in resolving the conflict there. Following are a couple of brief excerpts:

In May 2003 I began managing a security company in Iraq. I am not embedded in the Green Zone so can live and work amongst Iraqis. I have a strong empathy for the people and have come to think of Iraq as my adopted country.  A recent trip to England gave me space and time to reflect on the past years in Iraq and to consider what could be done to promote peace in 2006.

Iraq’s greatest barrier to peace stems from the occupying powers' failure to provide a firm political and civil infrastructure in the wake of Saddam. Wrongly, they assumed Westernised democracy would be embraced by a religiously, ethnically and tribally diverse Iraqi people. This incorrect assumption created a climate where extremism could flourish with new recruits bound by a common resentment of the occupying forces.Attacks have been carried out by Anti-Coalition Forces (ACF) made up of hard-core Suuni Baathists, foreign extremists and nationalist resistance fighters - mostly disillusioned Iraqis of all denominations.

A move towards peace will be difficult, but I believe the priority must be to let democracy evolve organically; religious and ethnic bonds have more influence on the electorate than democratic measures. Once a strong social and economic liberalism has taken shape, it will only be a matter of time before a strong political liberalism starts to formulate. ...

[But] what is likely to happen is the U.S will support the Iraqi government and claim credit for any successes, so as to bolster flagging home support for a U.S presence in Iraq. Meanwhile, the new government will be seen as a U.S puppet and battle to prove its legitimacy to its own people. The backdrop to this scenario will be insurgency, at the same or a higher level. MNFI will face threat and Washington will be haunted by a constant drumbeat of casualties from Iraq.

Iraq is a better place than 12 months ago. It has the basic political tools crucial to its independent existence. However, this political potential must be nurtured not undermined by Western self-interest. I have noticed the Iraqi people are becoming eager to move on, they are developing confidence and this gives me great hope. Let us be sure to assist them in any way we can so the possibility of peace in Iraq becomes ever stronger as we move through 2006.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Shadowland: Target Practice


Washington’s enthusiasm for remote-control assassination is partly about boys with toys. But after the failed attempt on Zawahiri, we need to take a closer look at the tactic.

By Christopher Dickey
Newsweek
Updated: 3:07 p.m. ET Jan. 18, 2006

Jan. 18, 2006 - Murdering someone with a missile or a bomb is a little like surgery with a chain-saw. You can target the operation very precisely, but once you let it rip the thing’s going to make a mess, it’ll take a while to figure out if the procedure was a success, and almost always it isn’t.

The American record on killing ostensible enemies with precision-guided munitions, whether JDAMs dropped from planes or Hellfire missiles from Predator drones, is absolutely dismal. During the Iraq invasion in 2003, the campaign to blow up Saddam Hussein and his cronies resulted in nothing but collateral damage. “All of the 50 acknowledged attacks targeting Iraqi leadership failed,” Human Rights Watch concluded in a study reported immediately after the fall of Baghdad. But what the bombs did do was kill dozens of innocent bystanders. In one particularly disastrous incident, the United States slaughtered its most important tribal ally in Anbar province, Malik al-Kharbit, along with 21 members of his family. Apparently the Americans had faulty information about who was in that particular home. To paraphrase an old adage: garbage in, carnage out. ...
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10910410/site/newsweek/

Some background links:

Human Rights Watch: "Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq," 2003

B’Tselem statistics on targeted assassinations.


Stephen R. David paper on targeted killings [PDF]

FAS data on Predator drones.

Iran-U.S.: Behind the Crystal Ball

Our friend E.P. passed this along from Atrios, a blog I don’t usually visit. It’s a plausible scenario, alas, although I think the conclusion is na├»ve. The Iranian threat will be grist for American politicians for many more elections to come. - CD

How It Goes

Winter/Spring - The clone army of foreign policy "experts" from conservative foreign policy outfits nobody ever heard of before suddenly appear on all the cable news programs all the time, frowning furiously and expressing concerns about the "grave threat" that Iran poses. Never before heard of Iranian exile group members start appearing regularly, talking about their
role in the nuclear program and talking up Iran's human rights violations.

Spring/Summer - "Liberal hawks" point out that all serious people understand the serious threat posed by serious Iran, and while they acknowledge grudgingly that the Bush administration has fucked up everything it touches, they stress, and I mean stress, that we really must support the Bush administration's serious efforts to deal with the serious problem and that criticisms of such serious approaches to a serious problem are highly irresponsible and come only from irrational very unserious Bush haters who would rather live in Iran than the U.S.

Late Summer - Rumsfeld denies having an Iran war plan "on his desk." He refuses to answer if he has one "in his file cabinet." Andy Card explains that you don't roll out new product until after labor day.

Early Fall - Bush suddenly demands Congress give him the authority to attack Iran to ensure they "disarm." Some Democrats have the temerity to ask "with what army?" Marshall Wittman and Peter Beinart explain that courageous Democrats will have the courageous courage to be serious and to confront the "grave threat" with seriousness and vote to send other peoples' kids off to war, otherwise they'll be seen as highly unserious on national security. Neither enlists.

Late October - Despite the fact that all but 30 Democrats vote for the resolution, Republicans run a national ad campaign telling voters that Democrats are objectively pro-Ahmadinejad. Glenn Reynolds muses, sadly, that Democrats aren't just anti-war, but "on the other side." Nick Kristof writes that liberals must support the war due to Ahmadinejad's opposition to gay
rights in Iran.

Election Day - Democrats lose 5 seats in the Senate, 30 in the House. Marshall Wittman blames it on the "pro-Iranian caucus."

The Day After Election Day - Miraculously we never hear another word about the grave Iranian threat. Peter Beinart writes a book about how serious Democrats must support the liberation of Venezuela and Bolivia.

-Atrios 12:57 PM
http://atrios.blogspot.com/2006_01_08_atrios_archive.html

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Iran: Can Democracy Achieve What War Cannot?

The indefatigable Hossein Derakshan has posted a plea to the United States and its allies, suggesting they support the Iranian people through the country's existing democratic processes, however flawed those may be:

...Use your resources (funding, media, education, etc.) to reach ordinary Iranians and the vast number of young people who already have different social values. Show them how Iran ideally could be and convince them they could easily change it, by engaging more. This time, instead of promoting inaction and boycott, encourage everyone to participate in the coming elections. The way you did and still do in Iraq...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

ElBaradei: Diplomacy and Force


Exclusive Interview: The United Nations' top inspector is prepared to issue a report on Iran's nuclear program that will 'reverberate around the world.'

Jan. 23, 2006 issue - The man in the middle of the escalating tensions between Iran, Europe and the United States is Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency. ElBaradei and the IAEA, recipients of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, are charged with verifying Iran's compliance—or lack thereof—with international safeguards against nuclear-weapons proliferation. In his first interview since Iran broke the seals on nuclear research equipment last week, ElBaradei spoke bluntly at his Vienna headquarters with NEWSWEEK's Christopher Dickey about his frustrations with Tehran, and his ideas on how to avoid further escalation. ...

...Newsweek: What if the Iranians are just buying time for their bomb building?
ElBaradei: That's why I said we are coming to the litmus test in the next few weeks. Diplomacy is not just talking. Diplomacy has to be backed by pressure and, in extreme cases, by force. We have rules. We have to do everything possible to uphold the rules through conviction. If not, then you impose them. Of course, this has to be the last resort, but sometimes you have to do it.

You're angry.
No, I'm not angry, but I'd like to make sure the process will not be abused. There's a difference. I still would like to be able to avoid escalation, but at the same time I do not want the agency to be cheated; I do not want the process to be abused. I think that is clear. I have a responsibility, and I would like to fulfill it with as good a conscience as I can...

Iran: Rogue Rage


Nukes: Iranians want nuclear know-how—and seem to be daring the West to stop them.

By Christopher Dickey, Maziar Bahari and Babak Dehghanpisheh
Newsweek

Jan. 23, 2006 issue - On the ski slopes of Dizin in north Tehran, boys and girls mingle freely, listening to Madonna, Shakira and Persian pop diva Googoosh. Headscarves are reduced to hair bands, and Mahsid Sajadi, a 25-year-old graphic designer, is sporting a Star-Spangled Banner bandanna her cousin sent her from Orange County, Calif. Sajadi, modern and cosmopolitan, has almost no opinions in common with Iran's rabble-rousing ultraconservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—except when it comes to nukes. "We have a right to have nuclear technology," says Sajadi. "We are a nation with an ancient civilization and rich culture. I think it's really hypocritical of Mr. Bush to criticize Iran for having nuclear technology while Pakistan, India and Israel have nuclear bombs.

Atomic research, atomic power, even the atomic weapons the Iranian government officially says it doesn't want are issues of ferocious nationalistic pride throughout the country, and Ahmadinejad knows it. Last week he provoked an international crisis by removing the seals from nuclear-processing equipment, ending a voluntary moratorium on research. After a firestorm of outrage from the United States and Europe, with vows to isolate Iran and haul the regime before the United Nations Security Council, Ahmadinejad gave a rare press conference. He was relaxed, folksy, cracking jokes. "If they want to destroy the Iranian nation's rights by that course," he said, "they will not succeed."

He could be right. The complex, contradictory game of secrecy and revelation, cooperation and provocation that the mullahs have played since some of their hidden nuclear facilities were discovered in 2002 has revealed just how little leverage Washington and its allies really have....

Bush: Germans? What Germans?

The story of German agents staying in Baghdad through the 2003 invasion and helping the U.S. military decide targets has mushroomed into a crisis of conscience, if not confidence, for the new government in Berlin, but President Bush was completely unaware of the issue when Angela Merkel paid a visit to the White House the other day. He made a few affable asides to lighten the burden of ignorance, as is his wont, including one about the way he confuses Iran and Iraq, then went on to the well-rehearsed line of the day. Shucks, no wonder the world loves him …

From www.whitehouse.gov:

Q -- Are you in favor of sanctions against Iran in the Security Council, and what kind of sanctions should that be? And another question is, in Germany, there's a discussion about intelligence, secret service people working in Baghdad during the Iraq war. From your knowledge, did the German intelligence help the U.S. before and during the Iraq war in Baghdad?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I have no idea about the latter. (Laughter.) You did say, secret intelligence, right? (Laughter.) I understand. I really -- the truth of the matter is, the Chancellor brought this up this morning. I had no idea what she was talking about. The first I heard of it was this morning, truthfully.

Secondly, the first part of your question was Iran.

Q Iran, sir.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Okay, good. Sometimes when you mix them up, it throws us off balance, you know? …

For more on the matter, a good place to watch is Der Spiegel's English-languate site: http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international .

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Axis of Weasels? France, Germany and the GWOT

There is a public world of politicking and posturing, and a whole other world of intelligence cooperation, competition and trade-offs, as a couple of recent news items indicate. We’ve known for some time that French input has been vital to the “global war on terror” declared by President Bush, notwithstanding the vilification of those “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” in the right-wing press. Now we see the Germans not only offered good advice, trying to steer the Americans clear of a dubious Iraqi source known as “Curveball,” but once the war began, two German spies stayed behind in Baghdad to help the allies target air strikes:

BERLIN (Reuters) - German spies in Baghdad helped U.S. warplanes strike at least one target during the 2003 Iraq war despite Berlin's statements it was not involved in the conflict, German media reported on Thursday.
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and NDR television said two agents of Germany's BND foreign intelligence agency remained in Iraq throughout the war, supplying U.S. counterparts with information.
"They gave us direct support. They gave us information for targeting," NDR quoted a former U.S. military official as saying in a preview of a programme to be broadcast later on Thursday.
He cited a April 7, 2003 air raid on a Baghdad suburb where Saddam Hussein was thought to be staying that had been conducted after a BND officer confirmed limousines were parked outside a building. At least 12 civilians were killed in the attack.
The allegation, if confirmed, would be an embarrassment to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who as chief of staff to then Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had oversight of the security services at the time.
Sueddeutsche Zeitung quoted unnamed security sources as saying approval of the BND's cooperation was a "political decision" taken by Schroeder's government after talks between the BND and the chancellery.
NDR said Steinmeier declined to be interviewed for the programme. It said the BND confirmed two agents remained in Iraq but denied they had been involved in helping to establish targets for bombing raids.
But the reports could help Chancellor Angela Merkel, who makes her first official visit to Washington later on Thursday on a mission to mend ties strained by Schroeder's opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Sueddeutsche Zeitung said the BND spies had been based in French diplomatic quarters because Germany's embassy was closed on March 17, 2003 -- three days before the war started. France supported Germany's opposition to the war.
The newspaper said one of the tasks of the BND spies was to follow up a request by the United States to locate hospitals and embassies that should not be bombed.

Interestingly, some of the footage of Baghdad in the German television report was filmed by Michael Tucker, who made the stunning documentary "Gunner Palace," released last year and now available on DVD. --CD

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Those Plans to Attack Iran?

Thanks to J.S., who reminded me that this specific item, and the Turkish newspaper reports that prompted it, caused quite a stir last month. Since then, what Cumhuriyet “reported that Goss allegedly asked” of the Turks – “warning Ankara to be ready for a possible U.S. aerial operation against Iran and Syria” – has been accepted in some circles as straightforward fact:

UPI Intelligence Watch
By JOHN C.K. DALY
UPI International Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- The heads of both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have recently visited Turkey, leading to intense speculation in the Turkish media about the topics discussed with Turkish officials.

On Monday CIA Director Porter Goss met with Milli Istihbarat Teskilati, or MIT, intelligence service officials for four-and-a-half hours in Ankara. Goss reportedly brought three dossiers on Iran with him. Accompanied by a large delegation Goss met with MIT Undersecretary Emre Taner and General Staff Intelligence Director Lt. Gen. Arslan Guner. Goss also visited Turkish Security Director General Gokhan Aydiner and Security Intelligence Director Sabri Uzun.

Topics discussed at the meetings included the fight against the Kurdish Worker's Party, or PKK in northern Iraq, al-Qaida and possibilities for exchanging intelligence on Iraqi insurgents. Cumhuriyet reported that Goss allegedly asked for Turkish support for the Bush administration's policies on Iran's nuclear activities, telling Turkish officials that Iran has nuclear weapons, a situation that created a huge threat to Turkey and other countries in the region.

Goss said that Iran sees Turkey as an enemy and will "export its regime,"

warning Ankara to be ready for a possible U.S. aerial operation against Iran and Syria.

On Tuesday Goss was driven in his armored BMW escorted by vehicles equipped with electronic jamming equipment to a meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish officials reportedly told Goss of three topics of concern. First, that European tolerance for terrorist groups linked to Turkey must be stopped. The officials also requested that the United States pressure Belgium to extradite Fehriye Erdal, suspected of the 1996 assassination of Ozdemir Sabanci and two colleagues. The final Turkish request was U.S. assistance in halting broadcasts of the Kurdish Roj TV station from Europe.

Accepted in some circles, as I say, but not in mine. I think the closer we look at the Bush administration policy toward Iran, the more we see the shadows of a rather more complicated initiative including covert action and disinformation – of which the Turkish reports might well be an element. On the other hand, this is something to follow closely. The Der Spiegel version is useful for that. -- CD

Shadowland: Confidence Game, 10 Jan 2006


The above photograph and much more about Iranain nukes at www.isis-online.org.

Iraq has taught us that 'unknown unknowns' make lousy targets. Will Washington heed that lesson when it responds to Tehran breaking its nuclear seals?

By Christopher Dickey
Newsweek
Updated: 4:40 p.m. ET Jan. 10, 2006

Jan. 10, 2006 - Lest we forget amid all the second-guessed accusations and explanations in the air these days, the Bush administration did not launch its invasion of Iraq some 2,200 dead Americans ago because it knew Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It invaded because it did not know. We went to war—and remain mired in that war—because of a hunch.

Remember Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s famous little discourse on "unknown unknowns" in the summer of 2002, just as Washington and London were secretly committing themselves to invasion? He'd been asked about claims that Saddam's WMD arsenal and links to terrorists were worse than many analysts thought. Undeterred, Rumsfeld explained that lots of intelligence only comes to light years after the fact, and that proves you just can't know everything. "There are no knowns," he said. "There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know."

Rumsfeld insisted on this point, because it was central to the arguments, public and private, for going to war. If we couldn't trust Saddam—and based on his track record, no one could—then we couldn't live with a situation after September 11, 2001, in which we just didn't know what he had. "Simply because you do not have evidence that something exists does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn't exist," said Rumsfeld. "And yet, almost always, when we make our threat assessments, when we look at the world, we end up basing it on the first two pieces of that puzzle rather than all." That is to say, we should make judgments that factor in what we do not know. (Yes, I've published this extended quote before but the lyrical lunacy of it bears repeating, I think.)

That such recitations could pass for leadership, and that the American people would reinstate such a government in 2004 when the extent of the Iraq debacle already was apparent, frankly baffles most of the rest of the world and, belatedly, a growing number of Americans. But that's the past. What worries me now is that hints of the same logic are applied to the Iranians and their off-again-on-again nuclear program.

Do they just want to generate electricity, as they claim? Or are they building The Bomb? "This is a matter of trust," said White House spokesman Scott McLellan earlier this week. "They have shown in the past they cannot be trusted." And if that's the case, then what? McClellan added "that's why these negotiations are so important," with a nod to Europe's diplomatic efforts. But leaks seeping into the press suggesting the United States or Israel—or both—might be planning military action could be testing public opinion, or preparing it. When the Bush administration concluded it just couldn't trust Saddam with those unknown unknowns, the invasion scenario came to seem inevitable....
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10792967/site/newsweek/

The early mail about this column is largely negative. Some who didn't read it all the way through seem to think I'm buying the Iranian arguments. Others think I'm too easy on the Bush administration about Iraq. They remain convinced that it knew there were no weapons of mass destruction, and therefore flat-out lied to get us into war. I think that's a hard case to make. I think in the end they just didn't care if there was evidence undermining the case for WMD -- and no hard evidence to support it. They believed what they wanted to believe, as do many readers.

I've visited the Iranian nuclear issue several times in the last few years. Some links to earlier articles:

Article: Iran's Nuclear Lies, 2 July 2005

Interview: Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 2 July 2005

Shadowland: Writing Lolita in Tehran, 31 May 2005
Iranian bloggers have harnessed the subversive power of the Web to express themselves politically--and also to find dates in a society that curtails public courting.

Article: The Spying Game, 14 Feb 2005
Washington calls the MEK a terrorist group. But some administration hawks think its members could help provide intelligence on Iran's quest to develop nuclear weapons.

Shadowland: Sandbagged in Baghdad, 21 Jan 2005
As bad as things are in Iraq, the Americans can thank Iranian influences for preventing a total collapse. Why, for better or worse, Iraq's elections have to be held on time.

Shadowland: Countdown Iran.16 Oct 2003
The United States finally won a diplomatic victory in the United Nations. But Washington and Tehran are moving toward war. How far will they go?


Syria: Khaddam on the "Mafia State"

In one of his first public interviews since going into exile, a Syrian strongman discusses Ariel Sharon, the assassination of Rafik Hariri and Bashar Assad’s tight control over Damascus.

By Christopher Dickey

Jan. 5, 2006 - The cold blue eyes of Abdel Halim Khaddam shed no tears for Ariel Sharon this afternoon. For more three decades, Khaddam was the right-hand man of Syrian dictator Hafez Assad in open wars and diplomatic showdowns with Israel, often turning Lebanon into the main battleground. Sharon’s drive on Beirut in 1982 handed the Syrians a stunning defeat. But Syria slowly won its vengeance, supporting Hizbullah’s relentless campaign of terror and attrition—a war that has never really ended. “As far as Sharon is concerned, his death or disappearance will not change anything,” Khaddam told NEWSWEEK after the Israeli prime minister suffered a major stroke. “The difference between the Israeli factions is less one of substance than of degree. There will [at most] be a change in the map of Israeli political alliances.” He sees no chance of negotiations or peace agreements any time soon.

Yet this same Abdel Halim Khaddam, who continued to serve as Syria’s vice president after Bashar Assad inherited the top job from his father in June 2000, is now presenting himself as the man who might help replace the much-hated and increasingly isolated regime in Damascus. Last summer Khaddam left Syria for exile in France. Until last week, he said nothing in public. But in the last few days, from a luxurious townhouse in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods of Paris, Khaddam has gone public with vague plans to bring democracy to Syria and with specific accusations against the regime he once served.

For almost two hours this afternoon, Khaddam sketched a portrait of life at the top in what he freely discusses as “the mafia state” run out of Damascus. “There is a gathering of several levels of mafia,” he said, “The family mafia. The security mafia. The friends’ mafia.” And he presented a stunning narrative of the growing hatred Bashar Assad felt toward Lebanon’s billionaire former prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was blown up on the Beirut waterfront by a massive explosion last February.

In the aftermath of that killing, Lebanon erupted in protests against Syria’s long occupation. Under pressure from hundreds of thousands of people in the streets as well as from the governments of the United States, France and Saudi Arabia, Damascus was at last forced to withdraw all its troops from Lebanese territory under the terms of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, which Hariri had quietly supported. Some of the Lebanese security chiefs who served the Syrian occupation were jailed. A special U.N. investigation was launched, and two interim reports thus far have pointed the blame for the assassination at the Syrian regime. Yet Syria’s client president of Lebanon, Emile Lahoud, remains in office. (It was Bashar Assad’s insistence that Lahoud’s term be extended that first provoked the falling out with Prime Minister Hariri that led to his resignation in October 2004.) The voices of protest have been muted by the murder and maiming of prominent critics. The Syrian occupation has ended, but a reign of fear continues.

Following, with a few explanatory footnotes, are some excerpts from this afternoon’s conversation with Khaddam:

NEWSWEEK: Let’s go directly to the question of threats against Rafik Hariri. What did you hear exactly and when did you hear it and who did you hear it from?
Abdel Halim Khaddam: The threats started from several people. From President Bashar Assad. From Rustom Ghazaleh [the Syrian general who served as proconsul in Lebanon until the withdrawal]. And from other Lebanese officials who are closely connected to the Syrian government. These threats created a general atmosphere in Lebanon....
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10728635/site/newsweek/

The interview was a long one and gives a pretty good sense of what Khaddam thinks he's doing these days, although there were no quotes quite as blunt as he was with Asharq Al-Awsat after all the predictable calumny heaped on him by the Assad clan:

Q: What are you current priorities? Do you want to reform the regime, reform it, or topple it?

A: This regime cannot be reformed so there is nothing left but to oust it.

Q: But how will you oust it?

A: The Syrian people will topple the regime. There is a rapidly growing current in the country. Opposition is growing fast. I do not want to oust the regime by military coup. A coup is the most dangerous type of reform. I am working to create the right atmosphere for the Syrian people to topple the regime. ...

This saga will continue, of course. But most of the people I talk to are betting with Assad, not Khaddam. They tell me that before Sharon fell ill, Bashar was thinking of making a peace play with Israel to shore up his international image. I believe my sources were told this at the highest levels in Damascus. I don't think such an initiative would have gone anywhere even if Bashar was serious, but it shows how much he's willing to maneuver. Meanwhile, it's hard to see what kind of constituency Khaddam thinks he has for his glorious return to a democratic Syria. The last response in my interview, about the Muslim Brothers, may be interesting in that regard. - CD

Shadowland: Power vs. Justice, 4 Jan 2006

Washington understands that a truth commission won’t work in Iraq. But after five years of White House deception and intimidation, perhaps it’s time for Americans to hold their own panel on reconciliation.

By Christopher Dickey

Jan. 5, 2006 - We ended 2005 in a time of trials--show trials, in fact. Saddam Hussein was in the dock for allegedly ordering massacres in an Iraqi Shiite village. Libya (our new friend) expediently ordered the “retrial” of six foreign medical workers sentenced to death by firing squad for plotting to infect patients with AIDS from bad blood; this in a country where bad hygiene is pervasive and so is paranoia. Turkey (the great example of a pro-U.S. Muslim democracy) hauled a novelist into court for talking about the Armenian genocide of a century ago. An Egyptian judge sentenced my old friend Ayman Nour to five years of hard labor, ostensibly for forgery but in fact for offering a liberal alternative to the country’s U.S.-funded one-party, one-family political machine. And in Washington, speculation about the impeachment of President George W. Bush hung in the air like mist over the Potomac.

Show trials are about raw power, of course, not blind justice. They’re spectacles put on by winners to humiliate losers, cover up other crimes and intimidate the opposition. Nobody understands that fact better than Saddam. In 1979 he conducted one of the most horrifying bits of political puppetry ever recorded on videotape. After years as the power behind the throne in Baghdad, he had seized the top slot for himself. Then he convened a congress of the Baath Party to reveal what he said was a plot against the regime. A terrified aide to the former president stood for hours in front of the Baathist delegates recounting details of his own supposed crimes. Occasionally, plaintively, he turned to Saddam, who sat behind a table onstage, handsome as Dracula in a bespoke business suit, smoking a Churchill cigar and sipping from a glass of water. “Was that right?” the accused would ask. Saddam would nod, or correct him. The recitation continued.

Every time the confessor named someone in the audience as a fellow conspirator, that man was forced to stand up and leave the hall, to be shot outside. More than a dozen were named, and no one knew who might be next. Even in the front row, where Tariq Aziz was taking notes flanked by other men who had risen to the top with Saddam (and sit in the dock with him now) it was hard to tell whether some of them were wiping away sweat or tears. Then the repentant plotter was led off stage to be killed and Saddam got up to speak. The remaining delegates at that 1979 conference went wild, shouting Saddam’s praises, cheering, thinking they had been spared. But no. Saddam reached into the pocket of his suit and pulled out a list of more names. He called them out one by one, and they were led away, too, to be killed....
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10722764/site/newsweek/

This column provoked hundreds of e-mails, which made me wish I'd elaborated more on the idea. Following are some picked up by Newsweek's Online Mail Call:

Jan. 6, 2005 - In his Web-exclusive column, “Power vs. Justice,” Christopher Dickey writes that the “most exalted form of show trial in the United States is impeachment.” But he suggests that, “better than show trials are the `truth and reconciliation commissions’ we saw in several Latin American countries and post-apartheid South Africa”—an option Dickey says Americans might consider. “After five years of deception and intimidation [by the White House],” he writes. “I’m afraid we Americans are now the ones who need truth and reconciliation. The process couldn’t start too soon.” Readers who wrote to us, for the most part, seem to agree:

Bruce from South Bloomingville, Ohio, writes: “I am all for a commission that exposes behavior that is truly un-American and helps bring these policies to an end.”

An anonymous reader adds: “You hit this one on the head. This country does not need another impeachment. This country needs the truth.”

But Marcia from Las Vegas writes: “George W. Bush and Dick Cheney should be impeached or put on trial for high crimes and misdemeanors. Impeached and then tried in the World Court for crimes against humanity.”

Tim from Olympia, Wash., believes the current administration isn’t the only one at fault: “The American people have not heard the truth from the White House and the U.S. capital for the last 75 years, not [just] the past five years.”

John, who doesn’t give his hometown, agrees: “I think impeaching Bush would be a fair thing given the amount of lies and the number of dead he is responsible for. But I think the American people just aren't paying enough attention to care.”

Elizabeth from Oregon laments: “Never have we been so divided as a country and from the world. The deceptive practices of this current administration should not be tolerated.”

Sydney from Boca Raton, Fla., adds: “Until serious scrutiny is leveled against all persons in government and their connections with not only lobbyists and PACs, but, most importantly, corporations, and until these people are punished to the highest extent possibly allowed by law, we shall have no real truth or reconciliation.”

Robert from Protem, Mo., adds: “It's time to hold the Bush administration accountable for their disregard of our basic values that has been the basis of our country's leadership in the world. The Constitution seems to mean little to those currently in power. Some may be right when they refer to Bush as a dictator. We must stop our government from becoming a police state.”

But Markus from Palm City, Fla., writes: “Every nation has the government it deserves.”

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Iran: CIA drops the ball, and The Bomb

Now here is an interesting story from today’s L.A. Times. The revelation that the CIA may actually have helped Iran to build a bomb is, of course pretty stunning. But there’s a subplot in the piece as well. The implication is that The New York Times was sitting on this scoop, and on the NSA revelations, as well, while it waited for Risen to publish all this in his new book. There’s an obvious echo of Bob Woodward’s reticence to reveal what he knew about the Plame case. But this is more problematic still. Did the NYT have all this stuff, perhaps, even before the elections last year? Not a happy thought for the Times, if that’s true. Nor for the country. Or did the NYT sit on this material at the request of the president, even before the meetings my colleague Jon Alter wrote about (see below)? That’s not a very appealing prospect either. - CD

CIA Gave Iran Bomb Plans, Book Says

The nuclear designs were intentionally flawed, but Tehran was tipped off and could have made use of them, the writer contends.

By Josh Meyer
Times Staff Writer
January 4, 2006
WASHINGTON — In a clumsy effort to sabotage Iran's nuclear program, the CIA in 2004 intentionally handed Tehran some top-secret bomb designs laced with a hidden flaw that U.S. officials hoped would doom any weapon made from them, according to a new book about the U.S. intelligence agency.

But the Iranians were tipped to the scheme by the Russian defector hired by the CIA to deliver the plans and may have gleaned scientific information useful for designing a bomb, writes New York Times reporter James Risen in "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration." …

Continued in the L.A. Times



Saddam: What would Churchill do?

Should the Americans have shot Saddam Hussein? Or turned him over to some international tribunal? It’s hard to believe the result would be worse than the farce of a trial that’s set to resume on January 24.
One suspects the debate within the administration back in 2003 was not unlike that revealed in the minutes of Winston Churchill’s war cabinet from 1942 to 1945, which were just made public this week by the British National Archives. “If Hitler falls into our hands we shall certainly put him to death,” Churchill told the cabinet in the summer of 1942. Hitler was not some figurehead manipulated by others, “this man is the mainspring of evil.” Churchill, perhaps joking, suggested an electric chair might be used to finish him off, something appropriate “for gangsters” that could be borrowed from the Americans. In 1945, as the war was coming to an end, Churchill said a trial for the top Nazis would be “a farce,” agreeing with his home secretary, who said, “This mock trial is objectionable. It is really a political act.” After Adolf Hitler’s suicide, however, the British bowed to the pressure of their allies. The Americans wanted a semblance of law; Stalin wanted a show trial. At Nuremberg, both got their wishes.
The National Archives, Kew, U.K.: Cabinet Secretaries' Notebooks from WWII