Freed Italian flies out of Kabul
BBC News / Friday, 10 June, 2005
Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni has flown out of the Afghan capital Kabul for home after nearly a month of being held hostage.
The Afghan government says 32-year-old Ms Cantoni is well despite her 24 days detention at the hands of kidnappers described as "a criminal gang".
Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali has said that no concessions had been made to the kidnappers.
The abduction of Ms Cantoni increased fears over security in Kabul.
Heading for Rome
Ms Cantoni flew out of Kabul on an Italian jet at 1245 local time (0815 GMT) airport officials say, accompanied by members of her family.
"They took off for Rome," airport director Mohammad Qasim Jarar told the AFP news agency.
Ms Cantoni has been in Afghanistan since September 2003 working for the aid agency Care International.
She was in charge of a programme supporting more than 10,000 widows and their children.
Widows helped by her project had staged repeated demonstrations in the capital calling for her release.
President Hamid Karzai has welcomed the release.
"The president recognises that the outpouring of support for Clementina among Afghans, Italians and people in the rest of the world has played a role in securing her freedom," a statement from the president's office said.
Security forces on Friday continued their search for the kidnappers. Ms Cantoni was abducted by gunmen in Kabul on 16 May who forced her out of her car.
Announcing her release late on Thursday, an interior ministry spokesman said he was "happy to say that Clementina is well".
"She is in good health given the 24 day ordeal she went through," Lutfulla Mashal told reporters.
He said the aid worker had spoken to her mother on the phone.
Shortly after that announcement, Ms Cantoni's father appeared on the balcony of his Milan flat to say: "My daughter, I greet you", Italian news agency Ansa reported. And in Luxembourg Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said it was an "enormous relief".
Afghan officials had said a criminal gang was responsible rather than Islamic militants.
In a hastily arranged news conference, Minister Jalali said Ms Cantoni's release was "a result of the hard work of the police and the nation".
"The policy of the Afghan government is not to deal with the hostage-takers. We did not pay any ransom," he said.
The Afghan government had criticised the Italian embassy in Kabul for trying to negotiate Ms Cantoni's release with her kidnappers.
Diverse Afghan groups behind unrest
By Halima Kazem / The Christian Science Monitor / June 10, 2005
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - Afghan officials are concerned that a spate of recent attacks shows renewed vigor from Islamic militants in the region, as well as a convergence of disparate groups interested in destabilizing the country in the run-up to parliamentary elections.
Though blame is often laid at the feet of Al Qaeda and the Taliban for most of the unrest here, security officials say that drug profiteers, warlords reluctant to disarm, rival politicians, and ordinary Afghans with personal vendettas are behind many violent incidents.
While there are no indications that these disparate groups have joined forces with insurgents, many share a common desire to disrupt September's vote, say officials. A freely elected parliament would bolster the US-backed government in Kabul, and could strengthen the rule of law - a direct threat to warlords and drug traders who rule by gun.
"Most people don't realize how many layers of terrorists and criminals the government of Afghanistan is trying to fight," says Latfullah Mashal, the Ministry of Interior spokesman. "What goes out in the press is mostly about Al qaeda and the Taliban, but there is much more."
Mr. Mashal says last month's kidnapping of CARE worker Clementina Cantoni was the work of a local criminal gang whose leader is suspected of killing a wealthy businessman last year. The government said Thursday that Afghan negotiators are in regular contact with the kidnappers and are hopeful Ms. Cantoni would soon be released.
Investigations concluded that criminal gangs were also to blame for the kidnapping of three United Nations workers last November. The three were held hostage for about a month.
"These gangs kidnap internationals purely for economic reasons, they want ransom," says Nick Downie, who heads an independent body that advises aid organizations on security in Afghanistan. "Their motive isn't to kill, but they think internationals equal big money."
Kidnappings have been a tactics to extort money from reconstruction projects. According to security experts, dozens of Turkish and Chinese road workers and engineers have been kidnapped or killed because their employers have refused to pay bribes to local commanders. However, immediate news reports of such events often suggest these to be acts of terror by rebels.
To be sure, insurgents linked to the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and renegade warlord Gulbudin Hekmatyar are to blame for much violence. Mashal estimates that 70 percent of the incidents are planned and carried out by these three rebel groups.
On Wednesday, two US service members were killed in a rocket attack on a base near the Pakistan border. American planes failed to locate the attackers, who are believed to be insurgents.
Analysts in Pakistan say that a recent string of suicide attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan that killed 50 people are an attempt to show Washington that Al Qaeda remains a credible force in the region, despite recent blows.
The three major suicide attacks in a fortnight, all seen as tied to Al Qaeda, came after the arrest of what some consider the No. 3 in Al Qaeda, Abu Faraj-al Libbi.
"It seems to be in retaliation to operations against Al Qaeda," says Lahore-based analyst Khalid Ahmed. "With suicide bombings, Al Qaeda wants to divert attention of the security agencies from the hunt and also send warnings to President Bush and his key allies."
But in Afghanistan, where warlords have become politicians, personal vendettas and political killings have taken place under the guises of the Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgency. "A lot of the country is still in the hands of warlords and local commanders and when the central government tries to replace or rearrange them, there is some sort of violent backlash," says a high-ranking Afghan security official.
One of the recent suicide bombings in Afghanistan may have more to do with political rivalry than international terrorism. Among the 19 people killed in the June 1 bombing of a mosque in Kandahar was Kabul's newly appointed police chief, Akram Khakreezwal.
Contradicting government assertions that the attack was planned by Al Qaeda, Mr. Khakreezwal's brothers have said the attack targeted Khakreezwal, who was originally from Kandahar. They say he was very supportive of a strong central government and was rapidly moving up the security ranks.
Zaher Azimy, a Defense Ministry spokesman, says there are many groups that don't want to see the central government gain any more power - making the September poll a focal point. "The parliamentary elections will be the final step in legitimizing the Karzai government and giving us representatives from all over the country," he says.
Although the Afghan government has promised a full investigation into the mosque attack, most of these incidents are in the end deemed random acts of violence by "the enemies of Afghanistan."
• Owais Tohid contributed to this report from Karachi, Pakistan.
Chinese Woman Converts to Islam
Iranian Quran News Agency
Tehran, IQNA: June 10, 2005-- A Chinese woman embraced Islam at the hands of Supreme Court Chief Justice Fazl-I-Hadi Shinwari in Kabul, Afghanistan, reported Pak Tribune.
A former Buddhist, 33-year-old Jiaoxiang from the Harbin city in China said she had been mulling converting to Islam over the last six months. "Finally, I have become a Muslim today," she added.
After embracing Islam, the Chinese was renamed as Fatima, who also received a copy of the Holy Quran. She has been working at a confectionary shop owned by an Afghan. She termed Islam as a religion of peace, brotherhood and amity.
In addition to Fatima, two Indians, an Italian and a British national in Kabul have embraced Islam during the last one year.
Iran helped overthrow Taliban, candidate says
By Barbara Slavin, USA TODAY / June 10, 2005
Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards fought alongside and advised the Afghan rebels who helped U.S. forces topple Afghanistan's Taliban regime in the months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the guards' former leader says.
In an interview by e-mail, Mohsen Rezaie, a candidate in Iran's presidential elections next week, says the United States has not given Iran enough credit. He says Iran played an "important role in the overthrow of the Taliban" in 2001.
Even before U.S. forces entered Afghanistan, Iran backed the Northern Alliance, a loose coalition of warlords and militias from the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minorities. The alliance fought the ruling Taliban, a regime dominated by majority Pashtuns that imposed a harsh Sunni Islamic government.
Current and former U.S. troops and officials confirm Iranians were present with the Northern Alliance as U.S. forces organized the rebels in 2001. They say U.S. forces had no interaction with the Iranians. They deny the Iranians made meaningful contributions on the battlefield.
Rezaie is the first to claim that Iran played a key role in capturing the Afghan capital, Kabul, at the climax of the war.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says he has "no knowledge of (Iranian) assistance." The CIA refused to comment.
Former CIA Afghan team leader Gary Schroen says there were two Iranian guard colonels attached to a Northern Alliance commander, Bismullah Khan, outside Kabul when U.S. Special Forces arrived in September 2001.
Schroen, author of First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan, says, "There was never any (U.S.) interaction (with the Iranians), but we saw them." He downplayed the Iranian role.
"We knew they were on the ground," says John McLaughlin, former deputy director of the CIA.
Two officers who served with Task Force Dagger, the Special Forces group that conducted the first U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, say they knew Iranian agents or troops were present.
One, an Army Special Forces officer, says Iranians in the Northern Alliance stronghold of Mazar-e-Sharif were sabotaging U.S. efforts by competing for the loyalty of local warlords. An Army Special Forces battalion commander says he encountered an Iranian intelligence agent in Kunduz, scene of one of the war's biggest battles. A third Army officer says U.S. forces reported the presence of Iranians in the city of Herat with alliance leader and warlord Ismail Khan. All three spoke on condition they not be named.
Predominantly Shiite Iran nearly went to war against the Taliban after the massacre of Afghan Shiites and nine Iranians in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998.
The Bush administration became the prime backer of the Northern Alliance after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told CBS' Face the Nation on Nov. 11, 2001, two days before the fall of Kabul, that there were places in Afghanistan "where there are some Iranian liaison people, as well as some American liaison people" working with the same Afghan forces.
James Dobbins, a former State Department official who worked with diplomats from Iran and other Afghan neighbors to create the first post-Taliban government, says the Iranians "were equipping and paying the Northern Alliance. Russia and India were also helping, but at the time, Iran was the most active."
It is unclear how many Iranians were present at the fall of Kabul. Rezaie says "some" guard commanders were there. "They were special forces for urban warfare (with) experience ... during the Iran- Iraq War (1980-88). They were very effective and active ... but American Army propaganda quickly claimed most of these achievements in its own name."
The Bush administration would have been loath to praise the Iranians, in particular the Revolutionary Guards. The guards are Iran's main vehicle for supporting groups the United States regards as terrorists, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, says Kenneth Katzman, an Iran expert at the Congressional Research Service in Washington.
In 2002, President Bush labeled Iran a member of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq and North Korea.
After the fall of the Taliban, Iran offered to help train and equip a new Afghan army, Dobbins says. The offer was rebuffed by the Bush administration, which accused Tehran of giving safe passage to fleeing members of al-Qaeda, backing Palestinian militants and trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Rezaie, 50, one of eight candidates permitted to run by Iran's clerical regime, appeared to be underlining Iran's role to draw attention to his candidacy and show a desire to improve relations with the United States. Other candidates in the election, including the front-runner, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, promise they would improve ties broken 25 years ago while Iran was holding U.S. diplomats hostage.
Rezaie says that "everything is possible" to restore relations. He praised the late Ronald Reagan and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for reaching out to Iran and says, "If they (the Americans) make us a rational offer," he will push for closer cooperation.
Rezaie sees president as 'supporter,' seeks warmer relations with U.S.
USA TODAY / June 9, 2005
USA TODAY diplomatic reporter Barbara Slavin conducted an email interview with Mohsen Rezaie, former commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and one of eight candidates in Iran's June 17 presidential elections. The text follows:
- Why do you believe you are qualified to be president?
After the end of the Iran Iraq war in 1988, I asked myself what will be the next crisis facing Iran. At first, I thought it would be a direct attack by America on Iran. After some months I concluded that that the most critical problem facing Iran relates to management and the economy: meaning that in the management of the country and especially in managing the affairs of the people, it will face defeat. Therefore, since that time, I have been preparing myself to tackle these issues. I have already helped our two previous governments. I am completely familiar with politics and national security issues and the military forces. I have studied economics (for 12 years), I have an economic plan which will transform the Iranian economy.
- What's your plan?
My main policy in the economic field is a new definition of government. In this definition the government acts only as supervisor, guide, and supporter, but hasn't the right to interfere; i.e., the government will not (be) a merchant or factory owner. The people — whether the private sector, or through cooperatives, or as families in partnership (with one another) — are the principal basis of economic activity. Capital markets will be at the service of all entrepreneurs and the people. On this same basis, we will consolidate the free universities into 10 separate universities who will compete with one another. The government factories will be privatized. We will decrease the share of the government in the economy to under 50%. With this in mind I will divide the country into 10 federal economic, industrial and commercial regions. On political, security, and defense issues, we will operate in a centralized way; but in the economy (in a) decentralized way.
- What would you do about the nuclear issue? Would you resume efforts to make nuclear fuel or trade that for an agreement with the Europeans and the United States?
I believe that Iran must have a peaceful nuclear power and also nuclear technology under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and under the supervision of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). We want to sell our nuclear fuel to Europe and the USA and also use the nuclear fuel in our nuclear power plants. Of course, if America gives us a better price for our nuclear fuel, we prefer to sell this fuel to them instead of European countries.
- Should Iran reopen talks with the United States with a view toward re-establishing diplomatic relations?
Everything is possible. The American authorities didn't give Iran a clear proposal, except for Mr. Reagan, who was a brave man, and Mrs. Albright who praised Iran. Other American presidents and American secretaries of State didn't make make a courageous proposal to Iran. If they make a rational offer to Iran, I believe a real transformation will take place in the relations between Iran and America. I believe that the political-security environment that currently exists between Iran and the West must change into a political-economic environment.
- What has Iran done to support U.S. security goals in the region, in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Iran's supporters and allies in Afghanistan and Iraq played an important role in the fall of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein and Iran extended to them the necessary assistance. Some Revolutionary Guard commanders which advised the Northern Alliance had a key role in the capture of Kabul. They were special forces for urban warfare and had experience in this field during the Iran-Iraq war. They were very effective and active in giving advice to this group. But American army propaganda quickly claimed most of these achievements in its own name.
- What should be Iran's role in Iraq and in Lebanon?
The future government must pursue a plan for regional cooperation on the basis of peace, security and development with the help of its neighbors, and move towards a new economic-political entity.
- What is your view on the Arab-Israeli conflict?
I have a plan for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of one country for all the people based on cooperation between Palestinians, Muslims, Jews, Christians and all those living there. It would have a new constitution agreed to by all the people with a federalist system. If America would accept this proposal, in my view, Iran would too.
- Should Iran change its constitution to limit the powers of the Supreme Leader?
The power of the spiritual leader in the constitution isn't a barrier to the president, but the president's powers in the constitution and in laws passed by the Majlis (parliament) are ambiguous. An increase in the power of the president will allow us to create a strong and powerful government in Iran.
- What should be the role of the Revolutionary Guards?
The role of the Revolutionary Guards is defending the country and its independence and the system of the Islamic Republic. There are such institutions in all (the countries of) the world. I believe that the military forces must not interfere in politics. For this very reason, eight years ago I resigned so that I could enter politics.
- Should nonreligious parties be allowed to compete in elections?
I believe that internal conditions in Iran must be advanced in a direction so that all schools of thought and opinions can participate in elections, both directly and in coalition with others.
- Should women be forced to continue to wear the veil?
The government has no right to interfere in the private lives of the people. People have different tastes, but these different tastes must not intensify different ethnic and religious sentiments, leading to insecurity in the country. The government must maintain peace in the society.
Iran: New tripartite agreement on repatriation of Afghans agreed in principle
TEHRAN, 9 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - A new tripartite agreement between Iran, Afghanistan and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been agreed in principle. The agreement has yet to be signed by Iran, the UNHCR's newly appointed Representative in Tehran, Sten Bronee, told IRIN in the Iranian capital, Tehran, on Thursday.
UNHCR, Afghanistan and Iran's Bureau of Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs (BAFIA) negotiated changes to the agreement, which expired at the end of the Iranian calendar year, on 21 March.
"We were in negotiations with BAFIA on elements of the agreement to make sure it strengthens the voluntary character of the repatriation of Afghans," Bronee said.
The repatriation process in Iran takes place within the framework of the tripartite agreement, known as the Joint Programme. The main aims of the Joint Programme are to ensure that repatriation of all Afghan refugees who are registered with the Iranian authorities is voluntary, takes place with dignity and is bolstered by assistance towards reintegration once in Afghanistan.
Iran has been host to one of the largest refugee populations in the world. At its peak, over 3 million Afghans were living in the country. Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 there has been a steady exodus of Afghans returning to their homeland. For many of the young, it is a journey to a country they have never seen.
UNHCR has been working with the Iranian government on a voluntary repatriation programme. As part of the process, Afghans are interviewed to ensure repatriation is voluntary, they are given basic provisions for when they arrive in Afghanistan and they are provided with transport to the border, where they also have access to medical facilities.
Since the first tripartite agreement in April 2002, 1.2 million Afghans have voluntarily returned to their homeland and today some 900,000 Afghan refugees still remain in Iran.
However, recently the Iranian government has stepped up efforts to ensure Afghans go home. Many of them now have to pay for education and are also experiencing a reduction in government services.
"We don't believe these measures are in keeping with the spirit of the tripartite agreement," Bronee told IRIN. "Part of the negotiation of the renewal of the tripartite agreement was to try to address in a positive spirit some of the difficulties that were encountered last year," he said.
Some positive measures have been introduced by Tehran recently, including courts especially set up to help Afghans solve disputes, which are delaying their departure. These disputes are often over money owed to them, either by employers or private landlords.
Many schools are sympathetic to the plight of Afghans and do not charge full rates. There is even a school for street children, many of whom are Afghans, which has been set up by an Iranian charity.
However, director general of BAFIA, Ahmad Hosseini, reportedly said the government intended to introduce a municipal tax of up to US $164 on Afghans in the country.
"We haven't been approached by the government on this and have learned about it through the media," Bronee said. "I assume it does not cover Afghans who are registered as refugees. I do not believe they will impose taxes on registered refugees without prior consultation and it would be a strong and unreasonable move to introduce," he added.
Hosseini was also reported as saying that UNHCR had cut medical aid to Afghans. Bronee confirmed that UNHCR had indeed reduced medical assistance but that the cuts were confined to Afghans living in only one of Iran's seven refugee camps.
"The Afghan camp population is some 33,000 out of some 900,000 registered Afghans, so the reduction of medical facilities to those in camps has only affected a very small proportion of Afghans," Bronee explained.
Bronee said that despite the cuts, which were initially imposed to encourage repatriation, the majority of returnees were not currently from the refugee camps. He also said that as Afghans living in refugee camps came under the administration of the Iranian government and they were assisted accordingly.
The government has recently banned Afghans from settling in certain provinces, for security reasons. UNHCR has temporarily curtailed assistance to returning refugees in one such area, Zabol, in the southeastern province of Zahedan. Here Afghans are not allowed to reside near the border and police have the power to arrest those who do so. UNHCR is in negotiation with BAFIA to offer Afghans in this predicament the opportunity to move elsewhere.
"UNHCR wants a relocation option for those Afghans who do not yet feel ready to go back. The modalities for the relocation option have not yet been fully discussed, hence it is better to suspend repatriation here until refugees have full knowledge of both options," said Bronee.
Alliance to deploy extra troops for Afghan elections
Source: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) / June 9, 2005
NATO Ministers of Defence have reiterated their commitment to Afghanistan, saying the Alliance will continue to expand its presence in the country and assist in providing security for the upcoming elections.
Speaking after a meeting of the Ministers in Brussels on 9 June, Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the current expansion of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the West of Afghanistan is on track.
Once this phase is completed this July, NATO will be providing security assistance in about 50% of Afghanistan’s territory.
In addition, the Ministers have demonstrated a clear commitment to further expand ISAF, to the South of the country, with a number of countries already pledging resources for the expansion.
The Secretary General also said that NATO would assist in providing security for upcoming parliamentary and provincial elections in September. The Alliance will deploy an additional three battalions, a quick reaction force, and an ‘over-the-horizon’ force to boost its presence on the ground.
This will be similar to the support that NATO successfully provided to the historic presidential poll in October 2004.
The Ministers also discussed long-term support to Afghanistan after the elections, including in the fight against narcotics.
Briton's Killers in Afghanistan 'At Large'
By Martin Halfpenny, PA (The Press Association) / June 10, 2005
The killers of a British development worker gunned down in Afghanistan have not been brought to justice, an inquest heard today.
Father-to-be Steven MacQueen, 41, originally from Selkirk in Scotland, was shot dead in a “cold and calculated” attack while driving home from a night out in Kabul on March 7 this year, the hearing in Southampton was told.
Despite assistance from British detectives and forensic experts, Afghan authorities have not found the killers who peppered Mr MacQueen’s car with fire from an automatic AK47.
Metropolitan Police officer Mick Hunter said that the investigation into the murder had been hampered by the Afghan Police’s lack of skills and ability and from threats against Western aid workers continue from Taliban activists.
The inquest was told that Mr MacQueen, who was estranged from his Cuban wife and in a relationship with US diplomat Kay McGowan who was carrying his child, had been out with his friend Stephen Vardigans at a bar and restaurant called The Elbow Rooms.
In a statement read out to the hearing Mr Vardigans said Mr MacQueen, who worked under contract to the Afghan Ministry of Rural Reconstruction helping peasant farmers, was in a good mood and talked for the first time about his future life with Ms McGowan and their child.
His friend said: “Steven was relaxed, humorous, happy and looking forward to his future.”
He said that he was hoping to spend time in Washington DC with his new child in the coming weeks.
Mr Vardigans said that his friend had been detained by the Afghan authorities shortly before his death but he did not know what the reason was. “I personally do not know of any reason why someone would want to shoot Steve,” he said.
Detective Constable Hunter said that Mr MacQueen left The Elbow Rooms and offered Mr Vardigans a lift home which he refused and he drove off alone in a company owned white Ford Ranger 4x4 vehicle.
“At approximately 10pm Mr MacQueen was driving in the Ford Ranger travelling along a main road in Kabul between the UN guesthouse and the Dutch Embassy.
“A dark vehicle believed to be a Mercedes overtook Mr MacQueen at speed and forced him to stop. A second vehicle, a Landcruiser, pulled up alongside him and fired a number of shots through the driver’s window. Both vehicles made good their escape from the location,” the detective said.
A post mortem examination found Mr MacQueen died from multiple gunshot wounds caused by a 7.62 millimetre automatic round.
Det Con Hunter told the hearing that many Afghan people and Western aid workers considered the local police as corrupt and they were not able to carry out even simple investigations and were incapable of investigating major crime such as murder and rape.
He said that co-operation between different police groups was poor and there was no forensic structure in place.
“Our line of inquiries do continue and I hope in future we will be able to assist more,” he told the inquest.
Recording a verdict of unlawful killing Southampton and New Forest Deputy Coroner Gordon Denson said: “I cannot give the family any reason for the mindless killing of Mr MacQueen. The instant that culminated in his death was a cold and calculated act.”
via The Scotsman (UK)
Danish military secures fair treatment for Afghan prisoners
STOCKHOLM, June 9 (Xinhua) -- Denmark and the Afghan government recently inked a deal that ensures that prisoners turned over to local authorities will not be subject to the death penalty, Ritzau news bureau reported on Thursday.
Denmark has become the first country with troops in Afghanistan to strike such a deal with that country's government.
The agreement also ensures that prisoners will be treated according to the international conventions that Denmark is a partyto.
The deal comes after negotiations in which Defense Minister Soeren Gade met with his Afghan counterpart General Abdul Raheem Wardag and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The agreement states that prisoners transferred from Danish forces to Afghan officials may not be executed if found guilty of a capital crime and that inspections may be made of prisoners' conditions. The Danish forces also stated that they would report prisoner transfers to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent.
According to the Danish Ministry of Defense, Danish forces have not arrested an Afghan suspect since 2002, but given recent developments, the possibility had become more likely.
Denmark currently has 105 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. The majority are located in and around Kabul, while 39 are participating in the German Provincial Reconstruction Team in north-west Afghanistan, and six are attached to a British observation team in Mazar-i-Sharif. Enditem
The Gitmo Shuffle
By Howard Kurtz / Washington Post / Friday, June 10, 2005; 6:32 AM
President Bush is changing the subject to the Patriot Act, and the Beltway buzz is still about Howard Dean, but I think the most fascinating debate out there involves Gitmo.
A campaign to shutter the detention facility that critics say has become a symbol of American abuse started in the press and spread to key Democrats. And I expected it to go nowhere fast. The Bush administration, which doesn't like to admit error, taking advice like that? The Bush administration, which fervently believes that the examples of abusive treatment at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib are aberrational exceptions, following the liberal agenda? The Bush administration, which above all wants to project strength in the war on terror, taking a step that could be viewed as backing off in the face of "gulag" accusations? Not bloody likely.
So when Bush was asked about Gitmo in a Fox News interview, I figured he wouldn't give an inch. Instead, he said, "We're exploring all alternatives as to how best to do the main objective, which is to protect America." Exploring all alternatives ? The White House had to know that would be played as leaving-the-door-open to a Gitmo phaseout. That doesn't mean it will happen -- Rummy is knocking it down and McClellan is in nothing-really-new mode -- but it does suggest that the dialogue has shifted.
The botched Newsweek story, after all, was followed by official confirmation of several instances of Koran abuse, including the suspicious whizzing-on-the-holy-book incident that was supposed to be an accident.
The campaign began nearly two weeks ago with this Tom Friedman column (no link because it will cost you $49.95 to check out NYT columnists):
"Shut it down. Just shut it down. I am talking about the war-on-terrorism P.O.W. camp at Guantanamo Bay.
"Just shut it down and then plow it under. It has become worse than an embarrassment. I am convinced that more Americans are dying and will die if we keep the Gitmo prison open than if we shut it down. So, please, Mr. President, just shut it down. If you want to appreciate how corrosive Guantanamo has become for America's standing abroad, don't read the Arab press. Don't read the Pakistani press. Don't read the Afghan press. Hop over here to London or go online and just read the British press! See what our closest allies are saying about Gitmo. And when you get done with that, read the Australian press and the Canadian press and the German press."
A rebuttal here, from Heather MacDonald in National Review:
"You gotta admire the liberal media's modesty. For the last three years, it has been promoting the story that the Bush administration has a policy of torturing terror detainees. Now, such mouthpieces of the anti-administration Left as the New York Times are calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on the ground that its reputation for prisoner abuse is jeopardizing the war on terror. Take some credit, guys! It may be true that Guantanamo Bay has become synonymous with lawlessness throughout vast swathes of the Western and Muslim worlds. But no one is more responsible for that reputation than the New York Times, Newsweek, the Washington Post, and other mainstream media outlets, which have never encountered a prisoner-abuse story that they didn't find credible and worthy of broadcast.
"This recent campaign for shuttering Guantanamo, which has been joined by former president Jimmy Carter and Senator Joe Biden, began with a column by New York Times pundit Thomas Friedman on May 27, 'Just Shut It Down.' Friedman claimed that it was 'obvious' that the 'abuse at Guantanamo and with the whole U.S. military prison system . . . is out of control.' His evidence? Headlines in Western newspapers about abuse and the claim that 'over 100 detainees have died in U.S. custody.' 'How is it that" such deaths occurred? he asks sarcastically. 'Heart attacks?'
"Well, no, most of those deaths were in military self-defense or were accidental, and most occurred at the point of capture -- razor close to the heat of battle, if technically considered 'in detention.' I don't know where Friedman comes up with his "over 100" number. As of March 16, the Army was reporting 68 detainee deaths. Of those, 24 were confirmed or suspected criminal homicides, but again, a full 15 of those homicides occurred at point of capture in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do 24 criminal homicides out of the over 50,000 detainees taken as of September 2004 represent a criminal abuse of power? How many enemy soldiers died at the hands of their captors in previous wars? What proportion of al Qaeda captives survive detention? Friedman doesn't bother to ask."
Max Boot also fires back in the LAT:
"All the headlines about 'Abuse of the Koran at Gitmo' are absolutely accurate. Brig. Gen. Jay Hood's internal investigation has uncovered some shocking incidents. On at least six occasions, Korans were ripped up. They were urinated on three times, and attempts were made to flush them down the toilet at least three other times.Why aren't millions of Muslims rioting in response to these defilements? Because the perpetrators were prisoners, not guards. As John Hinderaker notes on weeklystandard.com, the most serious desecrations of the Koran at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility were committed by the Muslim inmates themselves.
"You'd never know this from the news coverage, which pounced on Hood's finding of five confirmed incidents of Koran abuse as proof that Newsweek was on to something with its phony-baloney report about guards flushing a Koran down the toilet."
Andrew Sullivan by the way, doesn't think much of the Fox sitdown:
"Neil Cavuto seems to have conducted this interview with knee-pads on. But my favorite piece of slobbering sycophancy is the following attempt to get at why the president's campaign for social security reform has not won much public support. Over to the man who makes Larry King look like an interrogator at Bagram:
"CAVUTO: But in the meantime, the news channels then hear what you're saying, and then later on, we have this Michael Jackson update. I mean, his trial and his ongoing saga has gripped the nation for the past four-and-a-half, five months as you've been on this campaign.
"CAVUTO: I know this is a little outlandish, Mr. President...
"BUSH: No, that's all right, Neil.
"CAVUTO: Do you think that the focus on Michael Jackson has hurt you?
Turning now to the screaming over Dean, the New York Times sets the scene as the doctor paid a house call to the Hill:
"Just four months into his tenure as chairman of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean has found himself on unforgiving - if familiar - terrain. As he visited Capitol Hill on Thursday, he faced a growing number of critics and received a private scolding from leading members of his party for several derogatory remarks he has made about Republicans in recent weeks.
"Republicans have attacked him with glee for those remarks, which they have described as 'below the belt,' while Democrats have struggled to defend him yet have quietly acknowledged that Dr. Dean was showing signs of being as polarizing as they once feared. . . .
"Besieged by a scrum of reporters crammed into a tiny room with him and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic minority leader, Dr. Dean dismissed the consternation. 'You know, I think a lot of this is exactly what the Republicans want, and that's a diversion,' Dr. Dean said. 'We haven't had any discussions about what's going on in the media circus and all that stuff in the last two weeks,' he said."
At least one New Republic staffer, Keelin McDonell, isn't standing by the ex-Vermont governor:
"Barney Frank, Joe Biden, and John Edwards have all criticized Dean's overblown rhetoric. They're right, of course. But they still shouldn't have said anything. It's bad enough that Dean spouts off a never-ending stream of inappropriate comments. When Democrats whine to the media about it, though, they only draw attention to fractures and weaknesses in the party. Dean's screams alone are not sustainable news; it's the party's public wincing afterward that makes them interesting.
"There's no doubt Dean needs a serious talking-to about his behavior, but let's hope that happens behind closed doors. He can do all the impressions he wants there."
Hugh Hewitt is a very provocative conservative blogger and radio host, but I think he's a bit overcaffeinated in this Weekly Standard post. One sentence from my recent column on Dean got his motor going:
"On the other hand, journalists should thank their lucky stars that they have a colorful chairman [Dean] to cover, as opposed to another strictly-on-message Ken Mehlman type."
Now I could spoil the fun here by explaining what I meant, but let's let Hugh get in his licks:
"This is a give-away, a truly candid aside that tells us a great deal about mainstream media. That the media love an easy story is no big surprise, but that they love a loudmouth, vulgar, and easily excitable small-state pol is interesting. But what is really revealing is Kurtz's contempt for Mehlman, who along with Karl Rove is one of the few political geniuses to come along in the past generation.
"I have interviewed Mehlman perhaps a hundred times, and have rarely known how he would answer a question. Just last week we tangled over whether Lincoln Chafee ought to be reelected--I don't think so, but Mehlman does--and he marshaled surprisingly convincing arguments on Chafee's behalf....
"Mehlman is never not full of facts, and facts of the sort that political reporters ought to love, like the number of total contributors to Bush-Cheney in 2004, and the average dollar contribution of those donors. Mehlman can quickly and accurately summarize every key race in 2006, and update you as well about the state demographics of the battlegrounds. He's a volcano of facts, just not the sort of facts that interest many in the mainstream media. In short, Mehlman's a great source, but Howard Kurtz thinks journalists are better served by Dean because he's 'colorful.'"
Where to start? First, I have no "contempt" for Ken Mehlman. I interviewed him a number of times during the campaign and found him to be a straight shooter. He is a very disciplined man who answers questions the way he wants to answer them, which in politics is usually considered a compliment.
Second, my line was meant to be tongue in cheek. News flash: Journalists like controversy! Look how many stories and columns (not to mention blog posts) have been written about Dean in the last few days. They particularly like dissension within a party about an outspoken figure (see McCain, John, Republican of Arizona).
Third, Dean has actually had quite a contentious relationship with the press because he generally refuses to play their game and doesn't waste much time schmoozing reporters (I just saw him on the tube saying he's not going to let the Republicans or the press set the agenda). The press built up Dean in 2003 and helped tear him down in early 2004, with an intensity I thought was unfair (although Dean provided some of the ammunition). So I'm not saying reporters are "better served" by Dean, just explaining how such political figures are covered.
Fourth . . . well, that's enough.
New York's WINS radio found a Republican who likes something about Dean enough to, well, steal it:
"For a week, Bret Schundler's campaign Web site showed the fiery Republican primary candidate in a suit with a crowd of cheering supporters behind him.
"The problem? They actually were rallying behind fiery Democratic candidate Howard Dean.
"Schundler's image was used to digitally replace that of a smiling Dean in the picture, and the former Jersey City mayor's name was superimposed over both a 'Howard Dean for America' sign and a Dean cap worn by one of his supporters at a Great Falls, Va., rally last year."
Hey, why get grass-roots support when you can import someone else's grass?
Jann Wenner is the latest big name on the Huffington Post, and he likes Dean:
"Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman, and Tom DeLay don't even have to bother attacking Howard Dean anymore; their work is being done for them by the stalwarts of what's left of the Democratic Party establishment.
"Dean says that the Republicans are essentially a party that is by, for, and of the white Christians, which we all know is fundamentally true -- though clearly not the most nuanced description of the long-standing economic, racial, and social divisions that the GOP draws its strength from -- and all of a sudden we have Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi chiding him for one reason or another. And today it's reported that Hillary Clinton's spokesman also thinks Dean is speaking too boldly.
"However they choose to phrase it, the bottom line effect of all this sniping is to marginalize and shame Dean for speaking a truth that the Republicans do not wish spoken or given credence. Our guys are doing the work of the so-called GOP Echo Machine.
"And it's not like this is the first time this has happened. The party elite jumped on Dean when he said white guys who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flags should be voting Democrat because voting Republican was against their own interests. But Dean was right. We were letting Bush and company fool these good folk, and we turned our backs on a voting bloc that helped cost us the election.
"Dean also said the US wasn't any safer for the capture of Saddam. And he was criticized instead of supported. But he was right. Again."
Peggy Noonan is truly appalled by Dean and a certain former first lady:
"Hillary Clinton is likely the next Democratic nominee for president. Mr. Dean is the head of the Democratic Party. They are important and powerful. They may one day run the country. It is disturbing that they speak as they do.
"How do people who are not part of the Democratic base react to their statements? I think something like this: What's wrong with these people? Don't they understand they lower things with their name calling and bitter language? If this is how they feel free to present themselves in public, what will they do and say in private if they ever run the country ?
"If Mr. Bush ever spoke this way, most Republicans would feel embarrassment. I would be among the legions who would denounce his statement. Democrats are half the country; it is offensive to label them as hateful, it's wrong. Even though we're torn by disagreements, there is an old and unspoken tradition that we're all in this together, we're all citizens together. It is destructive to act against this tradition.
"One assumes all the media, especially the MSM, would treat the speech as if it were an epochal event in the Bush presidency, and the beginning of the end. They would say he was unleashing the dark forces of division; they would label his statement as manipulative, malevolent, immature. And they'd be right."
Liberal bloggers appear to be split, according to my unscientific survey. Atrios passes the hat:
"I've been resisting the idea of encouraging people to donate to party orgs for various reasons. But, the Democrat insider attacks on Howard Dean are, frankly, an attack on all of us . . . So, if you're a wee bit unhappy with the way the spoiled brat Dem insiders are behaving, go give Howard Dean a few bucks."
But Billmon at Whiskey Bar uses a baseball analogy, casting the pitcher as Dizzy Dean:
"Unfortunately -- or maybe fortunately, considering the team -- the Democratic Party doesn't have a manager with the power to decide whether to yank Howard Dean out of the game. I don't even know how the party would go about firing a DNC chairman, but I imagine it's a pretty painful process.
"Still, the question still has to be asked: Is it time for the Dems to get something going in the bullpen? As much as I hate to say it, unless Dean can settle down and get off his gaffe-a-day treadmill, maybe it would be best if he hit the showers."
But who's in the bullpen? Dean blew away all his rivals when he won the job.
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