Would you like "a fascinating insight into the mind of our most gifted contemporary songwriter"? Ahem. (Directly inspired by the Mirror's coverage of the War on Terror. "That's why I'm always getting stoned, yeah...")
Who is Steven Hatfill? This American Prospect article about the shadowy bio-weapons scientist whose apartment was recently searched in the anthrax investigation raises as many questions as it answers. Many of these details are intriguing, particularly the Rhodesian paramilitary connection-- but I really don't know what to make of it.
The Quick and the Dead
How dead is Osama? Quite dead, says Mark Steyn. But what's the read-out on Washington's perennial coddling of the House of Saud? :
But the real story here is not 11 September, or the attack on the USS Cole, or the embassy bombings in Africa, or even Oklahoma City, which seems more and more likely to have had a radical Islamic component. These events are separated by months, years, but in-between the splashy headline-grabbers the real work goes on day after day in the Saudi-funded madrasahs radicalising Muslims in South Asia, Pakistan, the Balkans, Western Europe and America. The President’s speech on Monday was, among other things, a colossal rebuff to ‘Crown Prince’ Abdullah’s fictional Saudi peace plan and may or may not signal a full-scale re-evaluation of America’s long-turned blind eye to Saudi misdeeds.
Is Osama dead? Yes. Is American cosseting of the House of Saud dead? That’s far harder to say.
The Smoking Gun has posted parts of the transcript of Zacarias Moussaoui's courtroom rant (the one where he prayed for the "destruction of the Jewish people and the United States of America.") This line was new to me: "so, America, America, I'm ready to fight in your Don King fight, even both hands tied behind the back in court."
"You Americans really love a lawsuit, don't you?" said my young British wife, as we watched the feeble-minded fellow who brought the pledge of allegiance case making the rounds on TV last night. "What a waste of time." Especially since, as everybody keeps saying, there's a war on.
I see why she was so puzzled. After all, England is probably the least religious society on earth, yet people seem to handle the fact that every other building is a church and that references to God abound: hardly anyone feels oppressed by history itself, as many of us appear to be. They don't shy away from words the way we do, nor do they seem to have our faith that complex problems can be dispensed with simply by devising the proper euphemism. Ironically, I think it is partly our Puritan past that accounts for the fact that we are capable of turning just about anything, even the lack of something, into a focus of passionate belief and a basis for a distinctly American type of persecution mania.
Listening to this man, who seems to have devoted a pretty big chunk of his life to the anti-God cause, preach his passionate belief in lack of belief, and the need to protect the tender sensibilities of atheist children, I realized something else: his cause is yet another variety of identity politics. Atheology is the new victimology. Fortunately, it is perhaps the form of identity politics (atheist rights?) that stands the least chance of doing any damage. But it sure is silly.
My favorite statement on this subject is from the first edition (1768-1771) of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which has the following entry for "Atheist":
a person who does not believe the existence of a Deity. Many people, both ancient and modern, have pretended to atheism, or have been reckoned atheists by the world; but it is justly questioned whether any man seriously adopted such a principle. These pretensions, therefore, must be founded on pride or affectation.
Jeff Jacoby has the right idea on Israel-Palestine: peace requires a drastic reform of Palestinian culture which, unfortunately, cannot begin without a crushing military defeat. He seems to think that this is Bush's idea as well, which is strange given the fact that "the speech," disingenuously or not, got the main point wrong. (Jacoby says Bush "fudged" when he said ''the hatred of a few holds the hopes of many hostage.'') I guess that depends on the level of disingenuousness. We'll see. Good column, though:
The nearly nine years of Arafat's misrule have poisoned Palestinian society, and in such toxic soil peace cannot take root. Palestinians have been steeped in hatred and bloodlust; great numbers of them are convinced that it is only a matter of time until the Jews are expelled and all of ''Palestine'' is theirs. It is folly to think that they could abruptly change course and extend to Israel the hand of neighborly goodwill.
As a prerequisite to peace, Palestinian culture must be drastically reformed. The venom of the Arafat era must be drained. Persons implicated in terrorism must be punished and ostracized; democratic norms must be instilled; the virtue of tolerance must be learned. There is only one way to effect such wholesale changes: The Palestinian Authority has to be dealt a devastating military defeat, one that will crush Arafat and his junta and shatter forever the Palestinian fantasy of ''liberating'' Israel and driving the Jews into the sea.
Then the Palestinian territories must be reoccupied, the terror chieftains executed, and the putrescence of Arafat and Hamas flushed away. That will make it possible to rebuild the structures of civil society - the legislature, the courts, the police, the media, and, above all, the schools - from the ground up. The Palestinian polity can become a true liberal democracy, one committed to pluralism, civil rights, competitive elections, and the marketplace of ideas. When that happens, peace with Israel will be a given, and no one will fear a Palestinian state.
We've still got an appeasement problem...
This ideology of death is not then the product of hope denied, but hope fed. Fed not just by money and arms from neighbours, but fed, above all, by the folly of the West. The hope that terror will bring concessions, the hope that the West is weakening, the hope that fanaticism will prevail, is daily reinforced. That hope is nurtured by movement towards a Palestinian state which is accelerated, not delayed, by bombing. It is encouraged by news that decisive action against one sponsor of terror, Iraq, has been delayed. It is supported by news that the world’s most energetic sponsor of terror, Iran, is to be appeased by the granting of EU trade privileges.
It is also advanced by the moral confusion which suicide bombing has produced among Western elites. The campaign has been designed to obscure the wickedness of ethnic mass murder by seeking to place the killer on the same moral plain as his targets — both are to be seen as “victims”.
But that is only true in the sense that a Khmer Rouge, Waffen SS or Interahamwe footsoldier and those he slaughters are “equally” victims of totalitarianism. One is implementing an ideology of death, the others are that ideology’s necessary sacrifices. To contextualise the acts of the killers by arguing that they have no hope, to see “nobility” in their blitheness about the consequences as they take others’ lives, is to locate moral reasoning in individuals who wish to erase the most fundamental moral principle — respect for life itself.
It is difficult for the civilised man or woman to admit that barbarism can take possession of a soul, or a society. But unless we do, we cannot stop its advance.
How piercingly you parse the claims of those
Who craft the shallow, sentimental prose
Proclaiming cause with claim on our devotion:
How splendid to rebuff such rude emotion.
How thrilling to extend your hands pristine
(Attended by those consciences serene)
To all who seek your countrymen’s demise:
Was ever there such selfless enterprise?
If only generations past had done
What you now do, the peace would long be won.
And if it were a peace of thuggish sway,
Your names would say, “A modest price to pay.”
"A student movement is not just a student movement," writes Todd Gitlin in Mother Jones. "It's a student movement."
Glad you cleared that up, Todd.
Seriously, though, this is yet another good treatment of the campus anti-Semitism phenomenon by a scion of the old new left, an appropriate complement to Paul Berman's brilliant recent essay in Forward. Echoing the formulation of several other commentators, Gitlin notes that the "socialism of fools" has become "the progressivism of fools," which he casts as a "recrudescence of everything that costs the left its moral edge":
Wicked anti-Semitism is back. The worst crackpot notions that circulate through the violent Middle East are also roaming around America, and if that wasn't bad enough, students are spreading the gibberish. Students! As if the bloc to which we have long looked for intelligent dissent has decided to junk any pretense of standards...
This is no incidental issue, no negligible distraction. A Left that cares for the rights of humanity cannot cavalierly tolerate the systematic abuse of any people -- whatever you think of Israel's or any other country's foreign policy. Any student movement worthy of the name must face the ugly history that long made anti-Semitism the acceptable racism, face it and break from it.
If fighting it unremittingly is not a "progressive" cause, then what kind of progress does progressivism have in mind?
UPDATE: InstaPundit says Alterman is becoming a warblogger: "Eric, you are being assimilated into the blogosphere." True enough. Has anyone else noticed that when you filter out the gratuitous Sullivan-bashing, Alterman's blog is quite a bit better than his formal articles?
It's tough being a Marxist
The always-provocative Brendan O'Neill explains why he is against just about everything.
Down with human rights!
You can do anything, but lay off of my pork chop shoes...
Stephen Pollard makes an excellent comment on "Cherie-gate":
The real point about Cherie Booth is what her comment reveals about the left-liberal, chattering class mindset. They have opinions which are, to them, so deep-seated that they don't even think they are controversial.
To the liberal-left, it’s a given that Israel is some kind of terrorist state and that the Palestinians are entirely victims. That she should have made her remarks at a Medical Aid for Palestinians do says it all.
There are a host of other unstated assumptions which the likes of Ms Booth make about life and which they consider above argument: the view that somehow they do things better in Europe; that anyone who opposes greater european integration is a xenophobe; that it is our role to 'civilise' the hick Americans; that selective education is somehow morally inferior to comprehensive education (even if they have to resort to it for their own kids); and that the NHS is the only morally respectable form of healthcare provision.
(I found out about Pollard's excellent blog from Iain Murray, by the way. Pollard has little numbers by his posts, but they're not hot links and if there's a way to link to these individual posts, I can't figure it out. Just go to the top and search for "Cherie Blair." Then search for "Welcome to planet Europe, Jacques." Then go back to the top and read the rest: good stuff.)
Scientists have concluded that anthrax sent through the mail last year was less than two years old, leading investigators to believe that whoever sent the germs could make more, according to a published report.
``It's modern,'' a government official told The New York Times in a story to be published Sunday. ``It was grown, and therefore it can be grown again and again.''
But did they use a mail truck?
Have you heard about Mohamed Hammoud and his brother Chawki?
(Yeah, that's right: Chawki.)
These guys established permanent resident status through sham marriages, and set up a "scheme" which involved buying cigarettes in North Carolina and selling them in Michigan "without paying Michigan's higher taxes." They then sent the profits to Hezbollah.
So how much money can you actually make from "cigarette smuggling" anyway? How much did Chawki score for his terrorist support cell? How much would Kramer and Newman have got from their Michigan bottle-return scam? This war, like Seinfeld, often presents more questions than answers.
Desperation is the mother of...
Saddam may hand power to his son to avoid attack, according to the Times:
SADDAM HUSSEIN is considering stepping down as the Iraqi head of state in favour of his younger son in an attempt to counter the growing threat to his regime from the Bush Administration.
Arab diplomats in Baghdad said that the Iraqi leader may not seek re-election in the presidential vote due later this year but instead allow Qusay Hussein, his heir apparent, to become the country’s leader.
The Iraqi dictator, who has ruled unopposed for three decades, would remain in de facto control, much as the late Chinese leader Deng Xaioping. But the tactic may satisfy the Americans, or at least to delay their planned military action aimed at a change of regime in Baghdad by next year. “The word in the diplomatic community is that when the elections are being prepared this autumn, Saddam will not put his name forward but instead allow Qusay to go forward,” one diplomat said. “The aim would be to deflate the American threat.”
More Padilla weirdness
According to this Times of London report, some FBI officials believe Jose Padilla was aware that he was going to be apprehended when he landed in Chicago and may even have deliberately contrived his own arrest:
Padilla, who also used the name Abdullah al-Mujahir, walked knowingly into the hands of the federal authorities at Chicago’s international airport five weeks ago.
The FBI strongly suspects that Padilla knew he was being tailed before his arrest. Many seats around him on the Swiss International Air Lines flight from Zurich to Chicago were taken by agents from the FBI and Swiss intelligence. But even before that, officials believe Padilla was tipped off that he was being followed after agents approached a travel agent he had visited.
The FBI remains puzzled why Padilla should have declared $8,000 on his customs form, rather than the full $10,000 he picked up in Zurich. The discrepancy allowed the authorities to detain him on a currency violation which he could easily have avoided.
(via Junkyard Blog.)
"Dont leave your your child's musical taste to chance - indoctrinate now" is the motto of this compilation of punk rock for babies, billed as "a collection of punk classics in a lullaby style."
I don't know about the "lullaby style" part. Judging from the samples provided, they're more like your standard low-fi bedroom-electronica-cocktail-muzak instrumental arrangements, but they're fun nonetheless. They've put up mp3s of songs by the Sex Pistols, Stranglers and Buzzcocks. (Unfortunately, they don't provide the mp3 of "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll" which has, perhaps, the greatest potential for pedagogical weirdness...)
"You didn't fight the punk wars for nothing," they write, which, for many of us, may be a bit of an exaggeration. "Make sure they have a riot of their own."
Most amusing. (And maybe a little disturbing-- my wife was so charmed by "No More Heroes" that she remarked "let's get a baby just so we can play this for him." "Get" a baby? It's a plot, I tell you...)
"When I hear the word Iraq, I hear a tortured child screaming..."
That's the final line of this gut-wrenching BBC story on Iraq's Tortured Children (via LGF.) It's based on an interview with Ali, an exiled former "employee" of Saddam's psychotic son Uday. Ali's own daughter was crippled by torture by Saddam's secret police after he had fallen from favor. He's not the only one, of course:
In northern Iraq - the only part of the country where people can speak freely - we met six other witnesses who had direct experience of child torture, including another of Saddam's enforcers - now in a Kurdish prison - who told us that an interrogator could do anything:
"We could make a kebab out of the child if we wanted to." And then he chuckled.
Ali talked about the paranoid frenzy that rules Baghdad - the tortures, the killings, the corruption, the crazy gangster violence of Saddam and his two sons.
And the faking of the mass baby funerals.
You may have seen them on TV. Small white coffins parading through the streets of Baghdad on the roofs of taxis, an angry crowd of mourners, condemning Western sanctions for killing the children of Iraq.
Usefully, the ages of the dead babies - "three days old", "four days old" - are written in English on the coffins. I wonder who did that.
Ali gave us the inside track on the racket. There aren't enough dead babies around. So the regime stores them for a mass funeral... They used to collect children's bodies and put them in freezers for two, three or even six or seven months - God knows - until the smell got unbearable.
Then, they arrange the mass funerals. The logic being, the more dead babies, the better for Saddam. That way, he can weaken public support in the West for sanctions.
That means that parents who have lost a baby can't bury it until the regime says so.
Does poverty and poor education cause terrorism? Of course not. But here's an interesting exploration of the "economics and education of suicide bombers" and of various ways that survey research and other statistical data can be used to examine terrorism's "root causes." The conclusion:
a careful review of the evidence provides little reason for optimism that a reduction in poverty or an increase in educational attainment would, by themselves, meaningfully reduce international terrorism. Any connection between poverty, education, and terrorism is indirect, complicated, and probably quite weak.
One important aspect of the question, raised almost in passing in this article, is that problems arise not simply from lack of education but also from the wrong sort of education:
Jessica Stern has observed many madrasahs, or religious schools, in Pakistan are funded by wealthy industrialists, and that those schools deliberately educate students to become foot soldiers and elite operatives in various extremist movements around the world. She further reported that "most madrasahs offer only religious instruction, ignoring math, science, and other secular subjects important for functioning in modern society." These observations suggest that, in order to use education as part of a strategy to reduce terrorism, the international community should not limit itself to increasing years of schooling, but should consider very carefully the content of education.
Inmates of whatever faith, or of no faith, are entitled to visits by lay or professional ministers. But Supreme Court rulings grant the prison system the right to determine who might undermine order and who best preserves it. Wardens in state prisons and officials in the Federal Bureau of Prisons should issue new guidelines and bar radical Islamists.
While the government is at it, a serious investigation should be conducted into the proliferation of Islamic front groups in this country. Influential American political activists are rumored to be taking money from Islamic states and seeking to shape U.S. foreign and domestic policies that may not be in the best interests of their own country. They should also be the focus of journalistic concern.
Having it Both Ways
There were many good reasons for the reforms introduced back then on intelligence & law enforcement agencies. If some of those restrictions no longer make sense while obstructing legitimate policing & defense, well, that’s worth talking about (preferably, with a Volokh-level of seriousness). But those who pre-emptively ridicule others who are worried right now about the Bill of Rights are performing an insulting disservice.
Yet it's not the only important part. The civil-rights-abuse-focused citizens among us perform a valuable service, but at times some of them seem to display signs of having lost touch with reality. Much as I admire Nat Hentoff, and even though I'm sympathetic to his general point, I cringe a little when I read a line like this: "I'd appreciate hearing from resisters who are working to restore the Bill of Rights." "Restore" the Bill of Rights? Last I checked, the Bill of Rights was still in effect, no Restoration required. (What he's really talking about, of course, is preserving the procedural rules and restrictions introduced in the aftermath of the Church commission hearings-- a worthy subject for debate, but hardly the same thing.) That kind of rhetorical overkill invites the "pre-emptive" ridicule Matt mentions. Not only that, but the same sort of inflammatory rhetoric is often used to warn against the apocalyptic dangers of things like allowing high schools to post "God Bless America" signs or failing to ensure proportional representation of ethnic groups on network situation comedies. No wonder people tend to tune (or lash) out, even when, as now, there are important, legitimate issues at stake.
Many perpetual "resisters" appear to value resistance for its own sake under all circumstances, regardless of how frivolous, inapt, or even nonsensical it may be. Each and every situation that raises the ghost of a concern about civil liberties is presented as proof of an incipient conspiracy to establish a Police State. I've been hearing about this impending American police state since I was a small child, and I've always noted that those who issue such dire predictions often seem downright eager for them to come to pass, relishing the "proof" of "what they've been saying all along," since the '60s. They've been jumping the gun ever since then, filling the alternative weeklies and radio airwaves (public- and talk-) with periodic premature announcements that this or that president or cabinet member has finally realized the long-cherished dream of abolishing the Bill of Rights. I hate to disappoint you guys, but it's not going to happen. And part of the reason it won't happen is, indeed, that people like Nat Hentoff will continue to raise holy hell each time there's the slightest chance of any infringement of anyone's civil liberties, trivial or not. About which I can only say: don't ever change, keep up the good work, and let me know if you need any help.
But preserving the Bill of Rights, as important as that is, isn't the only thing we need to demand of the government right now. We also need them to identify and apprehend the people who are planning to blow us up, preferably before detonation. Contrary to the claims of some, this danger is not imaginary. (Nor was the danger from radical groups entirely imaginary in the days of COINTELPRO, though there certainly was a great deal of abuse of power, and it is justly condemned.) Get it through your thick, lovable, authority-questioning, "alternative" skulls: John Ashcroft may be a bad guy, but that doesn't change the fact that there are people out there who are trying to kill you. It is inevitable that some innocent people and benign organizations will have to be investigated in aid of identifying the ones who are building the bombs or cooking up the anthrax. How much leeway the government should be allowed in such investigations, what constitutes an abuse of power under these circumstances, who is accountable, how decisions are made, etc.-- these and many other issues must be considered and debated, "resisted" and protested if necessary. But if you want to engage in a serious debate on the subject of civil liberties, a good place to start would be to learn to avoid speaking as though you believe you live in an imaginary alternative universe where, unbeknownst to everyone else, the Bill of Rights has been abolished.
For my part, I'm of two minds. On the one hand, monitoring and investigating groups and individuals who pose a threat to the lives of innocent citizens and the security of the nation is the most important of the responsibilities we entrust to the government, even if we run the risk of compromising civil liberties. On the other, preserving the rights of innocent individual citizens, protecting them from unwarranted molestation by agents of state power, is the most important of the responsibilities we must insist upon from the government, even if it means a compromise of security. I know that technically they can't both be the "most important." Call me schizophrenic, but that's how I see it, contradictions and all. In a way, it is insisting on one of these positions to the absolute exclusion of the other which reflects a kind of mental derangement.
Matthew Engel (of "Olive Garden" infamy) recently wrote, in a typically snide and pedestrian column about Jose Padilla and government "spin doctoring," that "it is difficult for the critics to have it both ways: accusing the government simultaneously of lack of vigilance and over-zealousness." On reading this, I realized that, in fact, I do want to have it both ways. It may be difficult, but it also may be the only appropriate attitude to strike in this matter. The government should be raked over the coals for failing to track down more would-be terrorists; when such activities improperly compromise the rights of innocent citizens, rake 'em over the coals for that, too. Make them jump through a certain number of hoops in order to do their job, and vilify them mercilessly for allowing the hoops to get in their way. It sounds a little crazy, but it's better than allowing the extremists on either "side" to get everything they want. Extremists are scary.
Ask and Receive
Yesterday I asked which Middle Eastern country, and which shadowy "targeted organization," were being referred to in this report on the allegations of espionage by former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds.
HD "Travelling Shoes" Miller responds:
Regarding Sibel Edmonds, FBI whistle-blower: She's Turkish. Sibel is a popular female Turkish name.
Also, under the heading of "open source intelligence" check out this website. A Sibel Edmonds appears on a list of donors to a charity that gives relief to victims of the latest Turkish earthquake. 99% of the other names on the list are Turkish.
As for my guess about the shadowy organization: it's the Turkish Mafia, which has ties to the Albania Mafia. Both are under serious investigation by the FBI. The Turkish mafia is big in Germany, and the Albanians are big in the US, trafficking in the usual stuff--women, drugs, guns, stolen computers, and various white collar stockmarket crimes.
Also, who else other than the Mafia is going to enable you to "retire early" in the words of the unnamed spy's military husband?
(By the way, check out Miller's great post on the Beach Boys, rock and roll and teen culture.)
Zacarias Moussaoui admits that he is "indeed a Muslim fundamentalist openly hostile to the Jews and the United States of America".
You don't say.
Moussaoui's defense strategy appears to aspire to maximum loopiness:
In court papers filled with passages from the Koran and barbed insults aimed at Jews and Christians, Moussaoui attacked the trial judge in the case, as well as the court-appointed defence team that he has since been allowed to fire.
Describing himself repeatedly as a "slave of Allah", Moussaoui referred to three lawyers involved in the defence team as "Jewish zealots" and said he would not undergo a psychiatric examination because he would "not participate in an obscene Jewish `science"'.
He said he had stopped shaking the hands of defence lawyers on his "blood-sucking death team" because "I find them so repulsive as unbelievers".
How'd they miss Tim?
The Sydney Morning Herald discovers warblogs. Well, four of them, anyway.
Moles in the FBI?
It certainly seems that way.
According to the Washington Post, a former FBI wire-tap translator named Sibel Edmonds "raised suspicions about a co-worker's connections to a group under surveillance." At the time, these suspicions appear to have been dismissed by the FBI. So was Edmonds, on the grounds that she was being "disruptive."
Perhaps we need a little more of such disruptiveness:
Under pressure, FBI officials have investigated and verified the veracity of parts of Edmonds's story, according to documents and people familiar with an FBI briefing of congressional staff... The FBI confirmed that Edmonds's co-worker had been part of an organization that was a target of top-secret surveillance and that the same co-worker had "unreported contacts" with a foreign government official subject to the surveillance... In addition, the linguist failed to translate two communications from the targeted foreign government official...
The FBI said it was unable to corroborate an allegation by Edmonds that she was approached to join the targeted group. Edmonds said she told Dennis Saccher, a special agent in the Washington field office who was conducting the surveillance, about the co-worker's actions and Saccher replied, "It looks like espionage to me."
Edmonds said that on several occasions, the translator tried to recruit her to join the targeted foreign group. "This person told us she worked for our target organization," Edmonds said in an interview. "These are the people we are targeting, monitoring."
Edmonds would not identify the other translator, but The Post has learned from other sources that she is a 33-year-old U.S. citizen whose native country is home to the target group. Both Edmonds and the other translator are U.S. citizens who trace their ethnicity to the same Middle Eastern country.
Later, Edmonds said, the woman approached her with a list dividing up individuals whose phone lines were being secretly tapped: Under the plan, the woman would translate conversations of her former co-workers in the target organization, and Edmonds would handle other phone calls. Edmonds said she refused and that the woman told her that her lack of cooperation could put her family in danger.
Edmonds said she also brought her concerns to her supervisor and other FBI officials in the Washington field office. When no action was taken, she said, she reported her concerns to the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility, then to Justice's inspector general.
"Investigations are being compromised," Edmonds wrote to the inspector general's office in March. "Incorrect or misleading translations are being sent to agents in the field. Translations are being blocked and circumvented."
OK: what Middle Eastern country? What "targeted organization"? What do you think, Fred?
Jeez, they'll put just about anyone on FoxNews.com.
One of the two Americans who were being held by Pakistani security authorities has now been deported to the US.
Mohammad al-Ghoul, the aptly-named maniac responsible for the latest Jerusalem bus bombing, was a two-time self-detonation failure before he finally managed to get his act together as a mass murderer. We know this because he said so in a suicide note. "This time," he added, "I hope I will be able to do it."
Here's another charming excerpt from the note:
How beautiful it is to make my bomb shrapnel kill the enemy. How beautiful it is to kill and to be killed - not to love death, but to struggle for life, to kill and be killed for the lives of the coming generation.
UPDATE: Perhaps al-Ghoul failed at those first two suicide bombing attempts because he lacked the proper instructional video. Here's a description of a Hamas "how to build a bomb" video recently found in a terrorist house in Nablus. There are striking similarities between these instructions and the al-Ghoul bus bombing:
The tape begins with a lecture, complete with a diagram of a bus in Egged's red-and-white colors, on the best place for would-be suicide bombers to stand inside the vehicle to kill the largest number of people...
This is the area where we can get them with shrapnel," the instructor said, pointing to the bus's seating area, which he referred to as the "death zone."
He then gave a mathematical formula for spraying the shrapnel -- usually nails and bolts -- over the length of the bus to inflict the greatest damage.
Ken Adelman says that Bush has indeed "gone wobbly":
Around all the Washington harrumphing, I detect no serious actions to liberate Iraq and rid us of the number one threat poised against the American people.
Why not? I can’t imagine.
Every day he delays, President Bush unnecessarily damages his presidency and gravely endangers it. He also risks the type of catastrophic attack his vice president and defense secretary have considered probable, if not inevitable. Should — God forbid! — that attack happen and be traced back to an Iraqi hand-off of weapons of mass destruction, then this Bush presidency will be relegated to the ash heap of history.
Criticism is being heaped now for government inaction against terrorism before Sept. 11 — when few of us could ever conceive of a major attack on America. Just imagine what will be hurled against George W. Bush when all of us could — and did — imagine such an attack marked by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction given to some terrorist group like Al-Qaeda. And yet his administration did not act.
Why risk this? Why risk us?
Mick Hume of spiked has an excellent essay (in the New Statesman, of all places) on how yesterday's "socialism of fools" (anti-Semitism) has given way to today's "anti-Imperialism of fools" (anti-Israel-ism.) I don't agree with his peremptory dismissal of the existence of "old fashioned" anti-Semitism on the Left-- that's a complex problem that, unfortunately, can't be dispensed with so easily and which has never been satisfactorily explored, that I have seen, at any rate. I think he's right about the psychology, though:
For many activists, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to have become a convenient outlet for the morbid emotionalism and victim-centred culture of our age. A solidarity meeting in London begins with people being searched and asked for "passes" (tickets), so that they can "experience" what life is like under Israeli occupation. Writing in the NS, one "international" announced that, having seen a warning shot fired and been woken up by the noisy Israeli air force, "I'm beginning to understand what it must be like to be a Palestinian." I am beginning to think that this might be the point of the exercise for some of these people...
Western society is infected by a powerful sense of self-loathing and a rejection of its political, social and economic achievements. It was this spirit of self-loathing that led some, of the left and right alike, to suggest that America got what it deserved on 11 September. Those sentiments are no more progressive when aimed against Israel as a symbol of the west than when they are directed in irrational campaigns against GM crops and the literature of Dead White Males.
(via Brendan O'Neill.)
New Labour wants to promote equality, but at the same time cannot see that equality is not achieved by trying to impose the same standards on everyone. Instead it is achieved by placing similar value on different talents and qualities.
Stop coddling Pakistan, says Lawrence Kaplan of The New Republic:
The Bush team needs a new road map for South Asia. U.S. officials readily concede that if war breaks out on the subcontinent it will be because India invades to counter Pakistani provocations in Kashmir. The obvious administration strategy, then, would simply be to address the source of India's complaint. After all, the Bush team knows the charge has merit: "Musharraf," says an official directly involved in managing U.S.-Pakistani relations, "could clamp down on infiltration in a minute if he wanted to. He's certainly done so before." Even the Clinton team, which generally made a hash of South Asia policy, understood the proximate cause of Kashmir's woes. In a recent paper published by the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, Bruce Riedel, a special assistant to the president, recounts Bill Clinton's response when faced with the possibility of a nuclear exchange over Kashmir in 1999. Reasoning that to do otherwise would reward Pakistani aggression in Kashmir, Clinton placed the blame squarely where it belonged--publicly demanding a Pakistani withdrawal from Indian-controlled Kashmir...
Rather than coddle Pakistan, then, the administration might take New Delhi's warnings a bit more seriously.
Federal authorities have been searching for a merchant ship carrying a group of al Qaeda terrorists and a large cache of weapons that is believed to be headed for Los Angeles, The Washington Times has learned. Top Stories The FBI has been investigating an intelligence report about the ship and a group of up to 40 al Qaeda terrorists on board for the past several weeks, but it has been unable to find the vessel or any similar plot, according to law enforcement and intelligence officials.The terrorist personnel and their weapons set off from an unnamed Middle Eastern port and were to be unloaded on Catalina Island, according to the report.
This story via Ken Layne, who uses it as a springboard to yet another brilliant al-Qaeda-scary-monster/James-Bond-supercreep free-associatin' 3-D House of Hotlinks extravaganza in his FoxNews.com column.
Another high-intensity bus bombing. This time the bus was full of school children and office workers. 19 of them are dead, and over 50 injured. The bomber, the rather appropriately-named Mohmmad al Ghoul, boarded the bus with a large suitcase and detonated it soon after the bus pulled away from the stop. The blast was strong enough to lift the bus off the ground.
"Many of of the wounded are aged 10-12."
Palestinian Authority spokesman Saeb Erekat, apparently with a straight face, blamed Israel for the "deteriorating security situation."
I know what you're thinking: give these guys their own state.
Here's a report (via Rantburg) claiming that Egyptian authorities "foiled an attempt by Al Qaida to forge cooperation between Islamic insurgents in Egypt and the United States." The al Qaeda agent? Jose Padilla.
Arab diplomatic sources said the attempt was conducted by Jose Padilla, a suspected Al Qaida agent arrested in Islamabad and now in U.S. custody. The sources said Egyptian officials have relayed to Washington information that Padilla tried to negotiate a cooperation accord with the Jihad organization.
Padilla, the sources said, was believed to have been an envoy of Jihad leader Ayman Zawahari, the chief deputy of Saudi fugitive Osama Bin Laden. Zawahari has been seeking to renew the Islamic insurgency against the Egyptian regime.
The London-based Al Hayat daily reported on Thursday that Padilla arrived in Cairo in March to meet Jihad representatives. The newspaper said Egyptian authorities were informed of the meeting and forced Padilla to leave the country.
That would seem to promote Padilla/al-Muhajir out of the "cog" category and into greater things — maybe even into the lower rungs of the Big Shot category. The fact that he screwed it up is beside the point...
Castro Acts to Crush Reform Move, according to the Telegraph:
Fidel Castro, Cuba's leader, marshalled the island's communist machine at the weekend to crush an unprecedented pro-democracy petition campaign, which called for a national referendum on political and economic freedoms.
Ignoring the dissident petition, which had more than 11,000 signatures despite police harassment and death threats, Mr Castro threw open 120,000 "petition stations" across the country and invited the seven million registered voters to approve his own constitutional measure, which declares the socialist system "untouchable".
Mr Castro's campaign is being co-ordinated by the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, small offices in each city block and neighbourhood which monitor the population for political loyalty and control access to good jobs, education and items such as telephone lines, televisions and rationed goods.
Most Cubans are expected to sign Mr Castro's petition.
(Of course, in the grand tradition of totalitarian referenda, "no" wasn't on the ballot. Overwhelming indeed.)
Fred "Rantburg" Pruitt and I are still working on the psychic network project-- details to follow. Meanwhile, he has assembled a convenient set of hotlinks to fill in the background of this report on the arrest of Adham A. Hassoun and his alleged connections to "charitable" front organizations with ties to al Qaeda.
Speaking of Gary Farber, he's "back," with a vengeance. Lots of great posts over the last few days.
He has some excellent comments on "one way the "hard left" has a large thread of evil running through it." (This is by way of reflecting on this New Republic article by Karen Alexander on Bay Area campus anti-Semitism.)
As for the article itself, it's a good re-cap and well worth reading in its entirety, though nothing in it will be news to newsblog readers. I'm glad someone is still paying attention to this issue-- it's the sort of thing that often gets dropped by the national media.
ProPalestinian activism certainly isn't confined to SFSU and UC Berkeley. But on most campuses the protesters--while often hyperbolic--have been careful to avoid explicit anti-Semitism and threats of violence.... But in the Bay Area anti-Israel activism has a far more militant and far less liberal flavor. That's not because UC Berkeley and SFSU have unusually large or radical Arab populations; it's because they are home to a deep wellspring of free-floating, hard-left authoritarianism. And unfortunately... today's left-wing authoritarians have set their sights on Israel.
The Jewish students here are absolutely people who stand in the peace camp. These are students who have steadfastly called for a two-state solution and tried desperately to work with the pro-Palestinian groups.... But at San Francisco State to say that I believe in a two-state solution and the right of Israel to exist becomes a right-wing position.
I don't know if the Bay Area is in fact worse with regard to thinly-veiled campus anti-Semitism or "hard-left authoritarianism" than similar university environs on the east coast. But I haven't heard about any eastern seaboard "death to the Jews" demonstrations.
Check out Nick Denton's Blogallery, a collection of photos of a broad selection of webloggers. (It's a "small part of a broader weblog directory project.")
Jose Padilla may not have been a major player in al Qaeda's war on America, but one thing seems certain: the south Florida environment that "produced" him is a hotbed of Islamist extremism, as this Washington Post piece on Padilla's background reveals.
We're not talking about a network of evil geniuses here, but rather a widespread subculture that attracts disaffected converts and steers them towards anti-American Islamist radicalism. Some of it is scary, while some of it appears to be quite innocuous. Some of it is simply pathetic. You've got firebrand agitators with ties to international terror funding (like Adham A. Hassoun of Sunrise, Florida, arrested Wednesday); fundraisers for "charity" front organizations that funnel money to terrorist groups (Raed Awad, for example, former imam of the mosque attended by Padilla and Hassoun); and most of the September 11 hijackers spent at least some time living and training there before the attacks. But the shadowy "infrastructure" in Sunrise, FL also seems to have included the local Taco Bell, where recent converts Padilla and his wife Cherie and their manager Mohammed Javed all worked together.
For some reason, the anecdote about Padilla's Taco Bell name tag still makes me giggle:
In early 1993, after about six months on the job, Padilla told Javed that he had taken the name Ibrahim. Javed, the founder of a Muslim school in Sunrise, knew his employee had taken the shahadah oath, a declaration of faith that marks a conversion to Islam. But Javed refused to change Padilla's name tag because the name change was not yet official, and Padilla accepted the decision without argument.
Since 1995, at least 27 Americans have attended four Pakistani religious schools, called madrassas, that preach a radical form of Islam calling for the destruction of the United States, say U.S. and Pakistani officials and clerics at the schools. Most of those students are Arab-Americans or African-Americans who joined and, in some cases, fought for Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, the Taliban militia or Islamic guerrillas in Kashmir. At least three of the Americans are believed to have been killed in battle. The whereabouts of the others are unknown.
(via InstaPundit, who says these guys should be locked up. He's right of course; he's also right to note the irony that "locking them up" might be have been a factor in their conversion to radical Islamism in the first place.)
I think it's safe to say that Midwest Express Airlines has managed to avoid even the appearance of profiling in its security screening procedures. Feel safer?
(via DailyPundit-- welcome back, Bill!)
Here's more on the "some half a dozen" captured Taliban who are claiming US citizenship; apparently there are also an unknown number of British and French jihadis as well, according to "Pakistani security officials."
This article indicates one connection between Richard Reid and John Walker Lindh: both studied at Madrasah Arabia Hassani, a Muslim seminary near the Afghanistan border run by one Mufti Muhammad Iltimas.
"[Western] converts are more eager to participate in the jihad than their Pakistani and Arab comrades and are not reluctant to join dangerous operations," said the cleric in a recent interview to a group of Pakistani journalists...
The cleric said converts were "the best students" who had "an unquenchable desire for knowledge" and often studied "late into the night."
By this account, such Western converts have travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan as innocent seekers of knowledge and instruction, only to be lured into extremism and militancy once they get there.
Coming to Pakistan and Afghanistan in search of Islamic education, most converts are unfortunately exposed to such a militant form of Islam soon after their conversion. "Young and impressionable, they are easily lured into joining the holy war," said a Pakistani intelligence officer who monitors the madrasas for his agency.
Ms. Bryant has come forward now because she thinks "it's very vital that the Americans realize that when these people come to the United States, they don't have a big 'T' on their forehead." No, indeed. In some cases, they have a big "T-E-R-R-O-R-I-S-T" flashing in neon off the end of their nose. Ten days ago, I pointed out that these fellows made virtually no effort to blend in. They weren't in "deep cover," they were barely covered at all. Atta was the brains of the operation, and he did a marginally better job of it than Leslie Nielsen would have. His one great insight into Western culture was his assumption that he could get a government grant to take out the Pentagon. Yet no matter how dumb he was, officialdom was always dumber...
The good news is we're up against idiots. The bad news is we're also up against the suppler idiocies of current Western orthodoxy. Thus, the U.S. government's new plans to photograph and fingerprint visitors from countries "believed to harbour terrorists" have already been attacked by Mary Robinson, the UN Human Rights honcho who's never met an Arab dictator she didn't like. Islamists want to kill us in the name of Islam. Regrettable, but there it is. If we pretend otherwise, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Canadian Islamic Congress and the Islamic Society of Britain might be nice to us. But, speaking personally, I can't say I care. If Islamic lobby groups throughout the Western world really want to hitch their star to a bunch of psychopathic morons, good luck to them. It's a free country. Hey, we'll even give you a government grant to tell us how racist we are.
It's tough being a Prominent American.
French police detained five people for questioning in the Paris area Wednesday as part of the investigation into suspected shoe-bomber Richard C. Reid.
Two of those being held are Pakistani and the other three are French of North African origin, police said. The arrests were made in the town of Mantes-la-Jolie, west of the capital, and Evry to the south.
Police searching their homes and other buildings in a sweep early Wednesday also seized three riot-control weapons, computers, mobile telephones and documents which they described as "Islamist propaganda."
Anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere is heading the French investigation into Reid's alleged support network among Islamic militants.
The Washington Post's second editorial on the civil liberties implications of indefinite detention of American citizens like Padilla is right on the money:
International law permits the detention of captured enemy soldiers, even those who have committed no crimes, and it would be reckless of the government simply to release people bent on detonating dirty bombs. The question is not whether the government can detain an enemy combatant bent on doing America great harm but whether it can designate anyone it chooses as such a person without meaningful review.
The government's position would be easier to swallow were it not actively seeking to frustrate judicial review of the president's designations. When the government detains a citizen as an enemy combatant, that person must be permitted to consult with counsel and challenge the lawfulness of the detention in court. Without that, every citizen is at the mercy of presidential whim. Formally, the government recognizes that federal courts have jurisdiction to consider the legality of detentions -- including military detentions -- in this country. Yet in Mr. Padilla's case -- as in that of Yaser Esam Hamdi, another detainee with likely citizenship -- it has thrown procedural obstacles in the way of efforts to adjudicate detentions. After whisking Mr. Padilla to military custody in South Carolina from civilian custody in New York, it has prevented him from consulting with the lawyer who had been appointed to represent him. Similarly, the government refused to let Mr. Hamdi meet with a federal public defender interested in representing him. And when that lawyer sought to file a case on his behalf anyway, the government then contended in a Kafkaesque twist that, having had no prior relationship with Mr. Hamdi, the lawyer could not do so.
The idea of indefinite detentions of Americans who have not been convicted of any crime is alarming under any circumstances. Without the meaningful supervision of the courts, it is a dangerous overreach of presidential power. If such a thing were happening in any other country, Americans would know exactly what to call it.
More on Padilla.
Al Muhajir's journey to the Middle East may have begun at two mosques in Florida's Broward County. Darul Uloom Institute was one of the places where he attended Saturday morning courses in 1995.
"He used to dress with a shawl over his head. He always had his head covered," said Maulana Shafayat Mohamed, leader of the institute. "It is very unique. It is one out of a million who would do that...."
The institute is known for its liberal approach to Islam. It is more inclusive of women than mainstream Islam and encourages more interaction with the community at large.
(By the way, Glenn Reynolds and others have raised the question of why so many commentators persist in calling this fellow by his pre-Islamic name: speaking for myself, it's mostly because I can't always remember how to spell "Muhajir." "Padilla" is easier.)
Dirty Bomb Backlash!
There has been some backtracking by administration honchos about the seriousness of the Jose Padilla's "dirty bomb" threat. Ashcroft "overstated" the dirty bomb danger, as this USA Today report puts it, quoting Paul Wolfowitz: "I don't think there was actually a plot beyond some fairly loose talk and (Al Muhajir's) coming in here obviously to plan further deeds." And of course commentators of a certain persuasion have joined in triumphant chorus to accuse the administration of shameless cynicism and perfidy.
"Forget the dirty bomb," says Brendan O'Neill; "this looks more like dirty tactics from the Bush administration." Tapped happily delivers a "told you so" homily, calling the whole affair "the dirty bomber scam." Maureen Dowd doubts a "street punk" like Padilla was the "big fish" he was initially cracked up to be, and questions, with some justification, whether such a lowly character would have "had the brains, know-how and materials to build a dirty bomb from scratch." O'Neill takes this line of thinking still further:
This looks like a slightly more serious version of arresting and detaining children for writing stories about shooting their teachers-- the likelihood of either happening is slim to non-existent. Padilla seemed to be engaged in little more than a fantasy, which the rest of us are only too happy to treat as a potential reality that the great guys at the FBI and the CIA managed to foil.
The questions about political maneuvering are legitimate, of course, as are questions about the substance of the accusation against Padilla and about what kind of danger he represents. The weird thing is how observations on these matters somehow lead, in some quarters, to the conclusion that Padilla posed no real threat at all and even that he ought not to have been detained. Brendan O'Neill is surely wrong in saying that he is no more dangerous than a kid who fantasizes about killing his teacher: most such children are not members of international terrorist organizations which have launched attacks that have killed thousands.
How dangerous is Padilla? Curiously, some (Dowd, for example) have pointed to his rap sheet and record as a small-time violent criminal as an indication of a lack of capability as a bomber. A guy like this, the reasoning goes, is obviously too stupid and unsophisticated to build and detonate a radiological device. As Dack puts it: "he couldn't even spell bomb, let alone make one." Most amusing, but I'm not convinced. He may or may not be stupid, but I don't see how Dack knows one way or the other. Anyhow, it's not that difficult to build a bomb. Idiots build them all the time. Radioactive material isn't that hard to come by either, apparently. Whether or not any radiological element of a bomb made by a widely-recognized idiot would "work" is another question: but I'd prefer not to be blown up at all, radiation or not.
Stupid people can do a lot of damage. The fact that Richard Reid was a pretty dim bulb would have been small comfort to his fellow passengers if he had somehow managed to set his shoes alight. Not every Islamikaze who blows himself up in a public place is an Einstein; I'd wager that few of them are geniuses. That doesn't stop the IDF from trying to get them before they strike. Nor should it. ( And don't forget that many of them have help. Did Padilla have associates like that?)
The question of whether or not Padilla's bomb would have been sufficiently "dirty" isn't the most important thing here. I'm more interested in the fact that this might be an indication of bin Ladenite networks and structures in the US. We always hear about "terrorist cells" and so forth, but very little of it comes to surface. Why haven't the FBI managed to root out and identify more people like Padilla? Is al Qaeda's continuing presence in the US a scare-mongering fabrication as well (as some have charged)? Padilla is one example to the contrary, at least. You want an angle from which to attack Bush's management of "homeland security?" Don't complain about Ashcroft's timing or downplay Padilla's significance or speculate about his low IQ. Focus on why they haven't nabbed more like him.
Answers are trickling in to some of the questions I was wondering about yesterday concerning Jose "Abdullah" Padilla. There's still some confusion about the timeline of his association with radical Islamism and al Qaeda. According to this article, he converted to Islam in Broward County Jail in the early '90s. He travelled to the Middle East for the first time (presumably) in 1998, and began training at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in 2000.
It's still not clear when he was recruited to serve as an al Qaeda jihadi, though the article implies that it happened in the Middle East after 1998. It's possible, though, that the recruitment could have occurred in prison, or in the US after his release.
By some accounts, the conversion to Islam did not occur in jail at all. According to Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne "there were no records of Padilla requesting to meet with an imam, attending Islamic classes or requesting a name change while incarcerated." He did, however, legally change his name to "Ibrahim" (one word) in July 1994, and married a Muslim woman under that name; divorce papers identify him as "Jose Ibrahim Padilla." (No mention, in this account, of when or how he acquired the name Abdullah al Muhajir. We are talking about the same guy here, aren't we?) A "family friend" is quoted as saying that the conversion came "after he married a Muslim woman and moved to the Middle East."
No one seems to know very much about the specific recruitment procedures, how it happens, where it happens, who is in charge, etc. Does al Qaeda in fact actively recruit disaffected criminals in US prisons and in the prisons of other Western countries like Britain? Do they or their representatives or sympathizers recruit at mosques and "Islamic centers?" Do they recruit in any systematic way at all? Or do guys like Padilla, Richard Reid, and John Walker Lindh "fall in with" the radical element by accident, through chance meetings with extremists at various Islamic meeting places? How much of this kind of terrorist "networking" occurs in this country? Did Padilla make that first trip to the Middle East intending to volunteer for terrorist training, or was he persuaded to join the cause once he got there?
How many of these recruits ("dissidents" the AP article calls them) are there?
Joe Katzman has put together a thorough run-down of the implications of the Padilla-Muhajir dirty bomb plot with regard to the al Qaeda situation.
As for the civil liberties situation, I agree with this Washington Post editorial that there is cause for concern:
The government's dilemma here is real. People bent on bringing terrorism to the United States, even U.S. citizens, must be stopped. Prevention may require acting before a suspect has actually committed a crime, or while the evidence is highly classified. It seems suicidal to argue that the government should have to release people bent on detonating dirty bombs.
Yet the government's actions in this latest case cut against basic elements of life under the rule of law. If its positions are correct, nothing would prevent the president -- even in the absence of a formal declaration of war -- from designating any American as an enemy combatant. Without proving the correctness of the charge before a court, the military could then detain that person forever. And having done so, it could prevent that detainee from hiring a lawyer to argue that the government, in fact, has it all wrong. If that's the case, nobody's constitutional rights are safe. The administration owes the country a more thoughtful balance; Congress's role -- the patriotic thing to do -- is to help find it.
In a way, there's a kind of symmetry between this dilemma and the question of "preemption" in the military-strategic arena. The logic of taking pre-emptive action against regimes like Iraq is unassailable, as is the logic of detaining guys like Padilla. Al Qaeda agents, whether or not they are American citizens, must be prevented from detonating bombs in American cities, just as Saddam must be denied the means to threaten us and our allies with nuclear blackmail. Such measures against such enemies, obviously, must be taken before their plans can be executed, rather than after. But "prevention" is a much broader and trickier idea than retaliation or deterrence. It relies, in a sense, on predicting the future. It's not too difficult to make a good guess as to what the guy with the dirty-bomb plans in his duffel bag is intending to do, nor is it difficult to predict Saddam's intentions. But what about the less straightforward cases? In the hands of unscrupulous leaders, or in the absence of solid and reliable intelligence, or without appropriate over-sight and accountability, an unquestioned doctrine of prevention/pre-emption could be extremely worrisome. The dilemma is not whether pre-emptive action is necessary (for it assuredly is-- in the case of rogue states with weapons of mass destruction or terrorist bombers, anything less than pre-emptive would be too late.) Rather it is how to guard against over-reach and inappropriate application of such a tricky policy criterion. It is by no means an easy question.
This Fox News report on the dirty bomb plot has more details, plus a photo of Jose "Abdullah al Muhajir" Padilla, a 31-year old New York native raised in Chicago. Two other conspirators are in custody in Pakistan in connection with the plot: one Benjamin Ahmed Mohammed and another, unnamed person. The information about Padilla and the plot came from Abu Zubayda, which isn't much of a surprise.
Tapped has a couple of posts expressing suspicion about the timing of the announcement and skepticism about the seriousness of the "dirty bomb" angle. "This whole thing stinks," they write, alleging that authorities are "hyping the threat this man posed" solely to deflect attention from their own failings. Tapped may indeed have a point about the timing, though it shouldn't be surprising that the embattled intelligence and law enforcement agencies would try to make the most of a notable success in the midst of so much attention on their failures. But the connection of this guy to al Qaeda isn't trumped up, and al Qaeda's aspirations to use "radiological dispersion devices" in terror attacks are well-documented. There's no question that Padilla and his ilk are dangerous. According to Fox News, he was carrying plans for a dirty bomb when he was arrested at the airport in Chicago. "How close he was to actually making a dirty bomb" isn't the most important factor here; I'm just glad they caught this guy at the airport, before he could get any closer. Aren't you?
My God, man, they uncover a plot to build a radiological bomb for the purposes of attacking an American target; they capture an enemy agent and two associates before the plan could be executed; and all you can say about it is that it "stinks" because it slightly undermines the contention that the Bushies are a bunch of incompetent bums and because it might "put the Democrats on the defensive." I'm sorry, but that's carrying partisanship a bit too far.
There's very little detail available on Abdullah al Mujahir (a.k.a. Jose Padilla), the American citizen who is accused of being the operative behind a foiled al Qaeda dirty-bomb plot. Like the British "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid, he apparently converted to Islam while in prison, and received his terrorist training in Afghanistan and Pakistan after his release.
Lots of questions here: What prison? Who was the "mullah in charge?" Was he recruited for al Qaeda membership in the prison, or did that happen at some Islamic Center after his release? In Reid's case, it appears that the conversion to Islam happened in prison, while the recruitment occurred through people he met at the Brixton mosque in Gresham Road, South London after his release. Did Padilla's conversion-recruitment-training follow a similar pattern? How many others were recruited through these particular channels? John Walker Lindh, of course, skipped the prison phase, going straight to recruitment at the Mill Valley Islamic Center, followed by overseas terrorist training, but it's still the basic pattern.
How many home-grown American converts to radical Islamism do you suppose there are in this country? John Walker and Jose Padilla can't be the only ones. They would seem to be the most valuable (to the enemy) and dangerous kind of operative, not simply because they possess US passports but because they would have a much better chance of successfully "walking among us" than outlandish freaks like Mohamed Atta. I haven't seen any attempts to discuss the extent of this problem lately, and it seems pretty important.
I assume the authorities have been investigating and keeping an eye on the mosques and the prisons for some time now. Ashcroft and co. deserve credit for catching this guy, of course. But I'm kind of surprised that they haven't nabbed more of them.
For the time being, Mao’s punitive law is still in effect for those families that decide to have more than one child. Maybe this is the reason why miracles happen in China sometimes. For example, one Chinese guy can make love with two women at once. He has two penises, believe it or not. One of them is where it is supposed to be, and the other one is instead one of his fingers on the right hand. This finger-penis has a bone inside, which is a very great help. But the most interesting thing is that this finger-penis reacts to women the same way as it generally happens. This “magic finger” is nine centimeters long and two centimeters in diameter, which is twice as much as the size of this guy’s real penis. Go figure.
Here's Matt Welch's great essay on Chomsky and company, in The National Post of all places.
We hates Imperialism! We hates it!
Brendan O'Neill has made it quite clear that he would like to see an end to "Imperialism," by which he means all "Western interference in other states' affairs." Bit of a lost cause, but fair enough.
He correctly points out that anti-globo spokesmodel George Monbiot, in calling for US-British action to avert a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, is failing rather spectacularly to live up to his full anti-Western potential. It's true: there's something rich and ironic about the spectacle of the scion of anti-Everythingism urging a massive international intervention through the exercise of power politics, politically correct euphemisms notwithstanding. If you're dead set on being an anti-Western nihilist, you might as well go all the way, and Monbiot fails to get the gold star here, "showing his true colors" as an inconsistent anti-American. Bless my soul. Hypocrisy among anti-war leftists? No way!
O'Neill is right about the hypocrisy of the "neo-White-man's-burdenism" (Steven Chapman's phrase) that seems to animate many of those with anti-war pretensions. He's also right that the contours of the current crisis were substantially determined long ago by the often short-sighted plans of British statesmen and that the US's Afghanistan campaign has contributed by further destabilizing the region. Is it fair to say that the West "caused" the current crisis? Perhaps, in a manner of speaking (though you could just as easily say that the Cold War was "caused" by the defeat of Germany in WWII.) His general axiom doesn't necessarily follow, however: "western interference causes conflicts and further intervention always makes them worse." Always? Wouldn't attempting (insofar as it's possible) to avert a nuclear war on the subcontinent be one of those situations where the interests of Our Evil Imperium and those of the world in general might happen to coincide? In O'Neill's view, the West is irrevocably tainted by its past crimes, and supporting Western "interference" in this matter is akin to putting the killers in charge of a murdered mother's orphaned child. The "murderers" are in charge whether he likes it or not, of course. But what non-Western, untainted entity does he have in mind for the job? The Arab League? I suppose O'Neill would like to see no "interference" of any kind by any state in the internal affairs of any other state. (And while we're at it, let's try to do something about all this bad weather, too...)
It's a (mildly) interesting thought experiment to try to imagine what kinds of international conflicts we'd have if the West were somehow to be subtracted from the geo-political equation and all historical events that have arisen through its influence were somehow to be undone; or to imagine what kind of world we'd have if global superpowers never attempted to use their power and influence to advance their interests. There's no way of knowing. Nor is there any way of knowing how things would stand between India and Pakistan had the US failed to act in response to the 9/11 attacks: there's simply no chance that such a scenario would ever have come to pass.
It's often difficult to draw a firm line between "internal affairs" and international ones. Sometimes it's easy, though: to adapt an aphorism, Afghanistan's internal affairs ended where our World Trade Center began. Is it a good idea for the world's superpower to attempt to use its power and influence to induce India and Pakistan to pull back from the brink of nuclear war? I don't know if it'll work, but that doesn't seem like a tough call either. In any case, interference is here to stay.
The corrosive sub-culture within New Labour is probably not all that different from that of any political party in power (though I'm sure they have their own distinct style.) This op-ed in the Scotsman runs down the British government's latest email snafu, or, in other words, "the virus that infects the Labour machine." You'd think by now they'd have learned to lay off the widows and orphans at least...
Here's an update on the Bethlehem exiles; and here's what's up with the Green Line fence situation: construction is to begin "within days" (via Tal G.)
Meanwhile, Steven den Beste proposes a dual-fence mine-field arrangement.
Dangerous Maniac Alert
Have you seen the piece about how Mohamed Atta and three of the other jihadi-jackers applied for a government loan to finance a "crop dusting business?" It's unbelievable.
"He wanted to finance a twin-engine six-passenger aircraft … and remove the seats," said [government loan officer Johnelle] Bryant. "He said he was an engineer, and he wanted to build a chemical tank that would fit inside the aircraft and take up every available square inch of the aircraft except for where the pilot would be sitting."
You really have to read the whole thing to believe it.
No would-be Islamist terrorist will ever be able to get away with being this clumsy and obtrusive again. He seems to have been the best they could do as far as that operation was concerned, and the chances of such a massive improvement in "blending in" skills are pretty slim. Had there been more public awareness of the threat posed by Arab terrorists at the time (as there is now) the operation probably wouldn't have survived this extreme case of "blowing their cover," even accounting for the ineptitude of the FBI. ("Public" awareness includes the FBI: they may have been clueless then, which is an outrage, but no one is clueless now when it comes to guys like Atta.)
Still, even accounting for the cluelessness of the time (May 2000-- most of us were blissfully unaware of the need to be vigilant against terrorism) it's amazing that Bryant never thought to report such over-the-top behavior. Leave aside the terrorism. What would you do if someone came in to your workplace and threatened to cut your throat and take all the money in the safe behind your desk?
There's a hint of multi-culturalist claptrap in her explanation:
Bryant never thought to report her strange encounter because she thought she was just helping a new immigrant learn about the country.
"I felt that he was trying to make the cultural leap from the country that he came from, with all the violence, as compared to the United States," she says. "I was attempting, in every manner I could, to help him make his relocation into our country as easy for him as I could make it."
Joshua Micah Marshall, "though not a great supporter of the President," says that Bush's proposed security and intelligence reforms sound like a step in the right direction. He really has a point here:
Would this be happening without the political heat being generated because of the embarrassing intelligence failure revelations? Of course not.
And how willingly did the administration leap forward to get these investigations underway? Enough said on that count.
The point is clear. Do politicians try to reap political gain through aggressive investigations? Of course, they do. Get used to it.
But they also help the nation. In Smithian fashion, impure motives nonetheless create a public good. Especially when a recalcitrant administration puts secrecy -- which is too often the hand-maiden of &$@-covering -- above all else.
I Remember You, Oo Oo Oo Oo
Dee Dee Ramone is finally all the way dead. And so is a little bit of every one of us.
Trolls and juvenilia in a barrel
Megan McArdle takes the Warbloggerwatch kids' troll bait, with predictably devastating results: she can write circles around practically anybody, of course, and these guys don't stand a chance.
The reason that we're worried about terror attacks, my little red smurf, is that we live smack dab in the middle of the biggest terror target outside of Israel. If there's a suicide bomber, it will go off within five miles of me, and I could easily be in its way. If it's a dirty bomb, I -- like five million others -- am a dead woman. That's cause for a little worry. When there are demonstrably people in the world with the interest and determination to blow your fat ass off the map, the insouciant "can't happen to me" approach isn't sophisticated, it's stupid.
As Richard Tofel points out, there's a lot in the idea that the most effective way for the Democrats to challenge GWB would be to "become the true War Party, the clear-eyed hawks--in essence, to outflank Mr. Bush on the right." If Bush continues to wobble (or even merely to appear to wobble) a truly hawkish Democratic contender would have a bright political future indeed. Judging from recent statements by Dick Gephardt, the Democratic leadership is clearly aware of the possibilities.
Whether such a shift could actually happen is a pretty big question, though, as Tofel is aware:
Which brings us to the politics of such a policy. Seen in the light of today's events, Democratic leaders view a War Party policy as unthinkable. What of our "allies"? they wonder. What of academia? The Washington press corps? The State Department? The United Nations? Jimmy Carter? Jesse Jackson?
But this was precisely the sort of thinking that paralyzed the Republican Party before Pearl Harbor (and even after the Anschluss, the fall of France and the Battle of Britain). It is why virtually an entire generation of Republican leaders became ineligible to lead the country after Dec. 7, 1941--and why no one in the pre-Pearl Harbor leadership of the party was ever nominated for president, much less elected.
That is the choice for Democrats today, I believe. The Pearl Harbor of our time--the moment that truly changes everything--was not last Sept. 11, I fear. It lies ahead. And that looming threat requires us to choose between becoming the America Firsters of the 21st Century and returning to being the party of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy.
UPDATE: Eric Alterman comments. Eric, it is a real war.
Matt Welch delivers a spirited defense of the International Herald Tribune, which was recently trashed in Slate by James Ledbetter. I agree with Matt: the IHT is a great paper, and a godsend for an American travelling through Europe. Outside of England, newspapers in English are actually often pretty hard to come by in Europe: the only one other than the IHT that I've ever seen consistently available is USA Today (which will do in a pinch, but it's hardly the same kind of thing.) Ledbetter is probably right that an international New York Times would kill it off, but that would be a shame. The IHT is one of the things that makes touring Europe bearable. I've often wished it was available here: but then, I live in SF Chronicle-land.
That was the bottom-of-the-screen caption for the story on Yasir Arafat's future on CNN's Newsnight with Aaron Miller tonight.
I'm pretty sure they meant "whither."
This Wobbly Stuff
Pejman Yousefzahda runs through all the reasons why taking on Saddam is a "no brainer." It's a good summary. Some have hailed the column as a response to those who worry that a "wobbly" Bush administration won't back up the tough talk with tough effective action (VodkaPundit took it that way, and so did Glenn Reynolds-- "forget this wobbly stuff: we're getting ready for war with Iraq.") They may well be right about this. But those who are concerned about "wobbling" generally agree with this reasoning: the fear is that the Bush people don't have enough of their act together to follow through effectively and to take decisive action before it's too late. Is all the administration's dithering and apparent confusion merely "disinformation to keep the Iraqis off guard?" Maybe, but it seems a bit dubious. If so, we've been brilliantly lulling Saddam into a false sense of security for the last ten years. The argument for action is, as Pejman demonstrates, as compelling as it has ever been. But compelling arguments are often ignored; decisions to act upon them are often avoided, or put off till another day, or undercut and weakened by faint-heartedness, particularly when they involve major risks. If Bush fails to deliver on the tough talk, he won't be the first. There is a lot of glib talk about "taking out Saddam," but it's not a trivial matter. There are serious risks involved (though it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the risks of failing to act are greater.)
"American power and purpose," writes Pejman, "are uniquely poised to effect a positive global change of momentous proportions. The time to bring that change about is now." It's too late for "now." How about "soon?" Or ever?
U.S. intelligence overheard al-Qaeda operatives discussing a major pending terrorist attack in the weeks prior to Sept. 11 and had agents inside the terror group, but the intercepts and field reports didn't specify where or when a strike might occur, according to U.S. officials...
Electronic intercepts as late as Sept. 10 of al-Qaeda members speaking cryptically of a major attack. Two U.S. intelligence officials, paraphrasing highly classified intercepts, say they include such remarks as, "Good things are coming," "Watch the news" and "Tomorrow will be a great day for us."
The US constitution is a uniquely powerful document, but whether it has really done anything for the cause of freedom is open to debate. It accommodated slavery for longer than European states, turned a blind eye to the Jim Crow segregation laws for decades, and did nothing to stop McCarthyism. Nowadays it is being used as a vehicle for the proliferation of guns and a shelter for racists. It clearly takes more than a document to negotiate the treacherous currents and eddies of human liberty.
Brendan O'Neill has a point that quibbling over the precise number of Afghan civilian casualties has little to do with "principled, political argument." Whether or not the US campaign in Afghanistan was justified does not turn on whether Marc Herold's figures were inflated, or whether the numbers have been cynically undercounted by "the right" (as O'Neill quite inaccurately characterizes each and every person who supported the campaign.) The differences are not significant enough to raise the issue of "disproportionality" with regard to just war theory, nor indeed by any standard. Herold did deliberately inflate his figures, of course. He appears to have been motivated by a belief that slightly greater numbers of civilian deaths would bolster his ideologically-determined conclusion that the US intentionally targeted civilians because of its inherent "racism." It is entirely appropriate for his critics to expose the faulty stats, as well as to point out the perverse ideological motivation. But, in fact, Herold is wrong in a more general way: the inflated numbers, even if accurate, do not make his case about American evil. Innocent people die in wars-- that's tragic, but it's not exactly news. If the true motivation for US action had been a secret desire to kill "non-whites," as Herold intimated, we wouldn't just be talking thousands here. The most interesting angle on the Marc Herold study is the eagerness with which it was uncritically snapped up and trumpeted by the left wing British press, the zNet crowd, the Pilgerites, et al. Clearly, the study, despite its obvious flaws, filled some deep psychological need among determined proponents of anti-Americanism.
O'Neill is absolutely right that focusing on the casualty figures is a red herring that has been occasionally adopted by both opponents and, to a lesser extent, supporters of US action. His reasons for bringing the whole thing up are a little odd, though. "What ever happened to principled, political argument?" he asks. And here's what he means by that phrase:
What ever happened to the left opposing wars like the one in Afghanistan on the grounds that they are imperialist, that they deny people their self-determination, and that they are kneejerk attempts by America's leaders to solve their problems at home by intervening abroad? And what ever happened to the right defending wars like the one in Afghanistan on the grounds that America has the right to intervene in others' affairs, that the US military should police less democratic nations, and the might America is responsible for installing world peace?"
"What happened" to the sort of purely ideological argument for which he evinces such nostalgia is that the traditional left-wing grounds for opposition, on principle, to US policy are extremely hard to sustain when it comes to the 9/11 attacks and the war on al Qaeda. It's certainly a stretch to apply any of O'Neill's three criteria for "principled" left wing opposition to the war in Afghanistan. The first and third can't even get off the ground unless you adopt a sort of Oliver Stone, conspiracy-theory worldview as a starting point. As for "denying people their self-determination," he's got to be kidding. Or does O'Neill in fact see the Taliban regime as some kind of noble embodiment of the people's will?
I'd agree with O'Neill's implied position that America doesn't always necessarily have the right to "intervene in others' affairs": but when those "affairs" involve planning and executing attacks on US civilian targets resulting in thousands of American deaths, those involved had better be prepared for a bit of intervention. The fairly quirky contention that this particular intervention has been "an unmitigated failure since day one" is a common one among British lefties. That's largely a matter of definition: even though it failed to solve every single one of the world's problems, most would agree that, in deposing the Taliban and disrupting al Qaeda activity in Afghanistan, the "failure" has had a considerable measure of success. (And given the dire predictions of cataclysmic disaster that issued from many of the same sources before and during the campaign, it looks like a case of "defining failure down.") At any rate, the vast majority of Americans (and in fact, I believe, a substantial majority of Britons as well) supported the war in Afghanistan; this majority included a great many people who tend to lean left when it comes to practically everything else. The moral and practical imperative for a military response was, in this case, so clear and overwhelming that it (temporarily at least) demolished the crude, reliable scheme of left/anti-war vs. right/pro-war that O'Neill apparently would like to see a bit more of. The crackpot fringe, the diehard doctrinaire Leftists who feel that US military action ought to be opposed under any and all circumstances as a matter of principle and as an expression of identity, have had a hard time coming to terms with this fact. I imagine that this anxiety is partly what's behind attempts like Herold's to gin up "evidence" of moral equivalence between the 9/11 attacks and the US response to them; it may also explain the reluctance of the Chomsky-ite crowd to let go of it despite its manifest falsity. In future phases of the war on terror, O'Neill may indeed get his wish for a more predictable split where all right-thinking left-leaning souls unequivocally oppose American interests and action like they're supposed to. But all the statistics in the world, genuine or bogus, won't rewrite the history of public opinion on Afghanistan.
(O'Neill ends his post with a curious request: "now, how about some of those who hide behind the numbers come out as being either for the war, or against it?" Who is he talking about here? None of those he mentions (Glenn Reynolds, Matt Welch, Ted Rall) has made any secret of their position, nor has anyone I know of.)
UPDATE: Steven Chapman has some characteristically sharp reflections on O'Neill's post and the difference between criminal acts and acts of war. Here's his intriguing post-script:
Another rich vein for pondering: what does it tell us about ourselves when we 'criminalise' acts of war? Does the notion of living in a world of nation-states, free agents jockeying for position in pursuit of their own interests frighten us? Why? It never used to! But then, what conviction we may have once had regarding our own interests has been eroded, and in our fearfulness we pass over responsibility for the world's affairs to supranational - and, one might say given the reverence these heavenly congregations attract, supernatural - collectives in pursuit of some foolish utopian dream in which individual or local human decisions are abolished in favour of some new species of quasi-mechanical ratiocination. How feeble and frightened we have become of the world we live in!
The Smoking Spam
Of course Slobodan Milosevic knew about Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. But wouldn't you think that they'd be able to come up with more solid evidence than the fact that Human Rights Watch sent spam to his email address?
President Bush is still capable of talking a good game on the need for aggressive pre-emptive action against Iraq, but I have to say that at this point I'll believe it when I see it and not before. Wars are not won by saber-rattling commencement addresses alone. Most of the signals coming from the administration in recent months seem to indicate a lack of seriousness and determination on the matter, if not utter confusion. Yesterday's address follows the usual pattern of tough words at the podium accompanied by simultaneous, furious back-pedaling by nameless "administration officials."
The logic supporting the necessity of taking on Saddam Hussein is unassailable, for doves as well as hawks. The dangers of allowing him to remain in power outweigh the risks of launching such an attack. There can be no doubt that the administration, like any sane person, has reached this unavoidable conclusion. There can also be little doubt that some sort of action will indeed be taken, if only because failure to act would pretty much automatically rule out a second Bush term (and quite rightly so.) What is missing is a decision on what Henry James called "the dear little deadly question of how to do it." Contrary to the assurances of "administration officials," this business about there being "no plan" is clearly nonsense. They've been working up plans and counter-plans and contingency plans and scenarios and counter-scenarios for attacks on Iraq for years: the shelves of innumerable Pentagon offices are, I imagine, stuffed to overflowing with row upon row of thick black binders devoted to the subject, in effect anyway. Opinion in the administration is divided on how to proceed. There's probably something in the idea that the traditionally risk-averse military brass may be exaggerating the risks and the amount of force that would be sufficiently "overwhelming" in order to discourage such a campaign: they appear to have opposed every major military action in recent memory and their pessimism has often proven unjustified. But that doesn't automatically mean that the neo-cons are right when they assert that it would be a snap, even though, as Joshua Micah Marshall observed, "the last few times, the ideologues have turned out to be right." Even in the face of such division, the decision to act appears to have been taken. The questions of "how" and "when" remain, and they're not easy ones.
My hunch has always been that the mixed messages on Iraq have been deliberate: not, as the "rope-a-dopers" would have it, to disguise an agreed-upon, secret, perfect, yet-to-be-revealed strategy of dazzling brilliance, but rather to allow them to appear busy while putting off the decision for just a little longer, hoping, perhaps, to take advantage of whatever lucky opportunities may arise in the meantime. The dithering cannot continue forever. Tough decisions will have to be made, and the President will have to make them. It's too early to say definitively that Bush has failed in this test of leadership, but the signs aren't encouraging, aggressive commencement addresses notwithstanding.
Plans for massive airlift of British citizens out of Pakistan and India...
'Jack Straw's remarks completely freaked me out,' Barbara McKinlay, who was leaving behind a home in Delhi, said before boarding a Virgin Atlantic flight back to Britain yesterday, with her children Christian, nine, and Amelia, seven.British Airways, directed by the Foreign Office, is planning to fly a fleet of 747s to the region to evacuate over 20,000 UK passport holders.
Ken Layne delivers a "come on you knuckleheads" message to the leaders of India and Pakistan in yesterday's FoxNews column. As always, you'll enjoy it more if you follow the links (and not just the hot bikini models one.)
Get Out of Delhi, Baby, Go
"Diplomatic sources" say that the looming India-PAK conflict could very well lead to a nuclear exchange. Well, duh.
Diplomatic sources insisted that such a doomsday scenario was "very real". Neither the Indian nor Pakistani government had grasped the seriousness of the situation and the leaders of both countries would find it very difficult for domestic political reasons to back down, the sources said...
Diplomatic sources said last night that, unlike the sides in the cold war, India and Pakistan did not appreciate the dangers of a conflict escalating into a nuclear exchange and their leaders had no experience of personal "hotline" communications.
Out of the Mouths of Belgians
"For us, defending Israel is a matter of principle," says Belgium's Olivier Dupuis, a lawmaker inside the European Parliament's centrist Radical Party. "We are not just pro-Israel. More significantly, we view ourselves as pro-democracy activists...
"The real source of instability in the Middle East is not Israeli citizens trying to defend themselves against suicide bombers," Dupuis continues. "Rather, it's the widespread lack of due democratic process in the Arab states that is the real source of instability and injustice."
Dupuis notes that one of the most striking features of the EU parliament's resolution on Israel was an explicit demand that Israel agree to accept the EU as a mediator.
"The secret to unlocking the EU's foreign policy is that there is no EU foreign policy," he insists. "Rather, many in Europe don't understand how it is a small country like Israel won't stand to attention when the EU issues instructions. The EU wants Israel to recognize its superpower status, but Israel won't oblige by letting the Europeans act as mediators in the peace process. This unsettles the pride of European policy bigwigs who long for the days when Europe ruled the world."
In conclusion, a massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Israel was widely alleged, reported and condemned, but did not in fact occur. The tendency of groups and governments to speak prematurely - and of the media to report those comments uncritically - reminds us that, in reporting the news, freedom from bias, seeking context and examining all sides is essential for everyone, especially those with voices that carry weight internationally.
Finally, while the report remains largely silent on the question of whether some of the zealously anti-Israel reaction to the events in Jenin reflected anti-Semitic attitudes, prejudice undoubtedly informed some of the remarks quoted. Mere criticism of Israel is not bigotry, but the vehemence and reflexiveness displayed by some of those considered here seems indicative of a larger set of beliefs about Jews.