Three days ago, Iran’s dictator, Supreme Leader Ayatollah ali Khamenei, was rushed to the vast medical facility traditionally known as “Vanak” hospital (it now has an Arabic name that means “the 12th Imam Hospital”), a 1,200-room facility that saves half of its beds for the leadership.
Khamenei is known to be suffering from cancer, and taking considerable quantities of an opium-based pain killer. He has lost more than 17 pounds in the past ten months, and was told last spring that he was unlikely to see another New Year (In the Iranian calendar, the New Year begins at the end of March).
Khamenei first complained of chills, and then broke out in a cold sweat. He lay down to rest, and began to lose feeling in his feet, at which point his aides got him to the hospital.
Amidst maximum security, and under orders that the event be kept secret at all costs, the theocrat was placed in one of the luxurious suites reserved for the country’s most important figures. Khamenei’s blood pressure and pulse were alarmingly low, and his physicians at
first feared some sort of hemorrhage. But they could find no trace of internal bleeding, and concluded that he had had some sort of cardiac crisis.
Khamenei is still undergoing tests and receiving maximum attention. It is clearly a serious problem because he wanted to leave the hospital, only to be talked out of it by the doctors. The precise gravity of his condition is not known, but the argument over the wisdom of moving him to his own home suggests it may be quite serious.
My sources for this information are a very knowledgeable Iranian cleric plus another Iranian who has previously provided strikingly accurate stories from the highest levels of the regime in Tehran, suggesting that a major crisis may be underway in Iran.
The Power Struggle
The Supreme Leader has good reason to keep his condition secret, and to seek to demonstrate he retains his ability to rule the country. Khamenei knows that his regime is riven by intense conflict, some of which has been dramatically exposed in recent weeks in the run-up to the election of a new Assembly of Experts (the clerical body whose main responsibility is the selection of the Supreme Leader).
News of Khamenei’s heart problems, especially if they turn out to be life-threatening, would undoubtedly catalyze the battle at the highest levels of the regime to control the choice of his successor. Recent events document both the intensity and the violence of the power struggle.
On November 27th, a military aircraft–an Antonov 74—headed for a military site near Tabriz crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran. Nearly forty deaths were reported, including several top leaders of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, the country’s elite military organization. The dead included some of Khamenei’s closest allies and advisers, and their loss was a serious blow for him.
Most Iranians–who are in any case reluctant to believe in accidents when the mighty are killed–are convinced the plane was sabotaged, especially as this is the latest in a sequence of spectacular airplane disasters, producing high-level military casualties.
About a week earlier, a military helicopter came down, killing all six people on board. Last January, Ahmad Kazemi, the Revolutionary Guards’ ground commander, and seven other senior officers, were killed in the crash of a French-made Falcon, a small executive jet, near the Turkish border. Barely a month before, yet another military aircraft, a C-130, came down near Tehran airport, hit a ten-story building, and killed 115 people (mostly journalists).
A week ago, the Majlis (the national assembly) passed a law effectively reducing the presidential term of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nezhad by a full year. This was universally seen as an attack in favor of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, Ahmadi-Nezhad’s most visible political rival, and a candidate to succeed Khamenei.
Meanwhile, as reported in Iran Press News, the ongoing public challenge to the regime itself continues unabated.
On Wednesday, thousands of students demonstrated on the campus of Tehran University, chanting “death to despotism,” and “death to the dictator.” And in Mazandaran Province, up by the Caspian Sea, thousands of angry workers protested in front of Ahmadi-Nezhad himself, announcing they were starving and demanding the government honor its promise to improve the lot of the poor.
As yet, news of the Supreme Leader’s medical problems has remained a secret, known only to a handful of trusted aides and colleagues. But it is only a matter of time before Khamenei’s condition becomes public knowledge. With unknown ramifications to the stability of Iran and the region at large.
The agency’s deputy administrator, Shana Dale, said the United States would develop rockets and spacecraft to get people to the Moon and establish a rudimentary base. There, other countries and commercial enterprises could expand the outpost to develop scientific and other interests, Ms. Dale said.
Ms. Dale and other officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the agency envisioned a base at one of the lunar poles, to take advantage of the near-constant sunlight for solar power generation. It would have an “open architecture” design to which others could add the capabilities they want.
Scott Horowitz, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration, said crews of four astronauts would make weeklong missions to the Moon starting around 2020.
As more equipment was set up, human stays would eventually grow to 180 days, and become permanent by 2024. By 2027, officials said, a pressurized roving vehicle on the surface would take people on expeditions far from the base.
NASA gave no cost estimate for the program and no design details for the base. Ms. Dale said all plans assumed that the agency would continue operating from a fixed budget of about $17 billion a year.
The space shuttle fleet is to be retired by 2010, and the United States plans to scale back its involvement in the International Space Station. The station is still under construction, with a mission by the shuttle Discovery to lift off on Thursday. Ms. Dale said money would be shifted to the lunar exploration program from the shuttle and the station.
While the Bush administration and NASA have spoken in general terms about plans for a return to the Moon, followed by human spaceflight to Mars, the lunar outpost plan is the first time officials have proposed a permanent presence.
”We’re going for a base on the Moon,” Mr. Horowitz said. “It’s a very, very big decision.”
Many gaps in the plan remain to be filled in. NASA called Monday’s announcement a baseline concept.
In a televised news conference from the Johnson Space Center in Houston on the eve of an international conference there on space exploration, Ms. Dale said the plan was developed after consultation with space agencies representing 14 countries and more than 1,000 experts in space science and commerce.
“The door is open for international and commercial interests,” she said.
The lunar base plan is part of a larger effort to develop an international exploration strategy, one that explains why and how humans are returning to the Moon and what they plan to do when they get there, NASA officials said.
The planning includes an international conference early next year on setting scientific goals for returning to the Moon, including those that private interests might want to pursue.
Doug Cooke, the agency official who led the lunar study group, said the plan called for putting a lander craft down near a polar crater and later adding solar-power generating units and living quarters to establish a base.
A site near the lunar South Pole, like the Shackleton Crater, would provide enough sunlight for power generation. It is also near possible deposits of valuable minerals.
From this site, Mr. Cooke said, other nations could add scientific laboratories or observatories, and commercial concerns might want to process rocket fuel and other products from water and other materials that might be found in the ground nearby.
Mr. Horowitz said having a base did not mean that humans would go there after every lunar landing. The option remains open for some missions to go to equatorial regions, as the Apollo project landers did in the 1970s, or even to the other side of the Moon.
Getting to the Moon and establishing a base will require a versatile, general-purpose lander that could land anywhere and be the core of an outpost, he said.
“The nickname I use for the lander is, it’s a pickup truck,” Mr. Horowitz said. “You can put whatever you want in the back. You can take it to wherever you want. So you can deliver cargo, crew, do it robotically, do it with humans on board. These are the types of things we’re looking for in this system.”
Four months have passed since Castro underwent intestinal surgery and then relinquished power temporarily to his brother and defense minister, Raul Castro. Cuba postponed Fidel’s birthday celebrations from August 13 to December 2, hoping his recovery might be well along.
But Cuban authorities, who do not comment in detail on Castro’s health, have stopped saying Fidel will be back on the job full-time.
The celebrations have something of a farewell tone for many Cubans.
“I think he looks like he has the will to live, and he has been leading the country from his bed but at the same time preparing people for when he is no longer with us,” said marcher Silvia Loperon, 53.
Since Fidel Castro’s July 26 operation, he has only been seen on television and in still photographs.
Monday, activity was at a fever pitch and the volume was on high at Revolution Square. Military cadets turned out in formation, MiG fighters zoomed beneath the clouds and Soviet-era troop transport helicopters clattered by.
Young workers from several state industries were out marching with their co-workers, waving huge red, white and blue Cuban flags in the cool breeze.
The military parade Saturday at which Fidel Castro is widely expected — though his attendance is not officially confirmed — is the climax of almost a week of festivities.
Some 300,000 people are expected to march, and 2,000 guests from 80 countries, including presidents, ex-presidents and Nobel laureates are due on hand. Allies President Evo Morales of Bolivia and president-elect Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua are to attend, as is Haitian President Rene Preval.
Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, a staunch critic of the United States and Castro’s key ally in keeping his regime alive economically, has not confirmed and is up for reelection this Sunday. But organizers in Havana said they would not rule out a quick visit by Castro’s close friend.
All eyes will be on the podium to see if the grey-bearded leader is present and, if he is, hazard a guess at whether he might be strong enough ever to retake the helm of Latin America’s only one-party communist regime.
For dissident Elizardo Sanchez, the birthday extravaganza “is something unprecedented; it is a pharaonic celebration that seems more like a good-bye.”
Supporters were hopeful and nostalgic.
“We expect to see our commander in his military uniform. On Saturday we are going to show that the Revolution is still on its feet and more solid than ever,” said Laura Cuadra, 52, a worker at an epidemiology center out marching.
Within a month of the operation, Castro said he had lost 18.6 kilograms (41 pounds). His usual proud frame of a statesman faded in pictures to a gaunt, elderly hospital patient.
Whether or not he returns to work full time, over the past four months Cuba has grown used to the idea of life without Fidel, the only leader most Cubans have known. He took power in January 1959.
For years, Castro’s visage was not seen on billboards bearing government slogans, as if to give it more weight elsewhere. Now, Fidel’s face, no longer everyday currency in state media, is on billboards reassuring “Vamos bien” — things are going well.
And with the baton passed to Raul Castro, 75, the public profiles of other communist leaders, such as Vice President Carlos Lage, 55, have been raised on state television. Raul Castro has kept a low profile.
Loly, a 63-year-old nurse in Havana, said privately that Fidel Castro was unlikely to return to power. “Fidel is not coming back. When he is no longer alive, the political line is going to be the same, but let’s hope the economy improves.
The pope told Turkish diplomats in the capital Ankara at the start of his four-day visit that “recent developments in terrorism and in certain regional conflicts” underscore the need for international peacekeeping efforts in violence-wracked areas such as Lebanon, reported the Associated Press.
He called for dialogue and “brotherhood” between faiths and urged religious leaders to reject attempts to wield political power.
Benedict also told Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan that he backed Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, according to Reuters. Before becoming pope in 2005, Benedict had opposed Turkey’s entry.
Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Vatican takes no political stand but supported Turkey’s entry into the EU “on the basis of common values and principles,” Reuters reported.
In addition, Benedict is expected to call for greater rights and protections for the Christian minority — there are only about 30,000 Roman Catholics in the nation of about 72 million Muslims.
The pope visited the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, and wrote in a guest book that Turkey is “a meeting point of different religions and cultures and a bridge between Asia and Europe,” reported the AP.
Security for Benedict’s visit included 3,000 police and sharpshooters. His visit had spurred protests based on remarks he made in a speech in September that quoted a 14th century Christian emperor who characterized the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings as “evil and inhuman.”
The remarks triggered a wave of anger in the Islamic world. Benedict later expressed regret for the violent Muslim backlash.
Gen. Lejeune’s order summarized the history, mission, and tradition of the Corps. It further directed that the order be read to all Marines on 10 November of each year to honor the founding of the Marine Corps. Thereafter, 10 November became a unique day for U.S. Marines throughout the world.
Soon, some Marine commands began to not only honor the birthday, but celebrate it. In 1923 the Marine Barracks at Ft. Mifflin, Pennsylvania, staged a formal dance. The Marines at the Washington Navy Yard arranged a mock battle on the parade ground. At Quantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Marine baseball team played a Cuban team and won, 9 to 8.
The first “formal” Birthday Ball took place on Philadelphia in 1925. First class Marine Corps style, all the way! Guests included the Commandant, the Secretary of War (in 1925 the term “politically correct” didn’t exist; it was Secretary of War, not Secretary of Defense), and a host of statesmen and elected officials. Prior to the Ball, Gen. Lejeune unveiled a memorial plaque at Tun Tavern. Then the entourage headed for the Benjamin Franklin Hotel and an evening of festivities and frolicking.
Over the years the annual Birthday Ball grew and grew, taking on a life of its own. In 1952 the Commandant, Gen. Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr., formalized the cake-cutting ceremony and other traditional observances. For example, Marine Corps policy now mandates that the first piece of cake must be presented to the oldest U.S. Marine present. The second piece goes to the youngest Marine. Among the many such mandates is a solemn reading of the Commandant’s birthday message to the Corps.
Like the U.S. Marine Corps itself, the annual Birthday Ball has evolved from simple origins to the polished and professional functions of today. Nonetheless, one thing remains constant, the tenth day of November! This unique holiday for warriors is a day of camaraderie, a day to honor Corps and Country. Throughout the world on 10 November, U.S. Marines celebrate the birth of their Corps — the most loyal, most feared, most revered, and most professional fighting force the world has ever known.
Some believe that certain controversial interrogation techniques are acceptable. But after nine years in the Soviet Gulag, and 400 days in punishment cells, I know that sleep deprivation, exposure to cold, and enforced hunger are forms of torture.
Maintaining our principles in the face of terror is sometimes dangerous. Abandoning those principles would be even more dangerous.
Still, I am deeply concerned that some of those who insist that America not cede the moral high ground do not recognize that America stands on the moral high ground.
Those who would use abuses at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay to accuse America of being no different than the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, or Sadaam’s regime have lost all sense of moral clarity.
America is different because your citizens can protest without going to prison. America is different because your courts can defend rights and your press can expose injustice. America is different because your Congress can hold hearings and because your people can hold your leaders accountable. America is different because America is free.
In standing up against torture, I hope that all Americans will remember the profound moral divide that separates the free world from the world of fear and work to advance abroad the very principles you so rightly cherish at home.
Natan Sharansky, born Anatoly Sharansky in 1948, personified the desperate plight of many Soviet Jews. Caught in the vise of great power politics, Sharansky suffered a prolonged and difficult imprisonment because of his wish to emigrate to Israel and his prominence in the Helsinki Watch Group. Following his release, he was welcomed in Israel as a conquering hero.
After the Helsinki declaration guaranteeing human rights was signed in 1975, Sharansky helped organize the Helsinki Watch Group in Moscow, which was designed to monitor Soviet violations of the accord where he became the group’s leading spokesman.
Shcharansky soon fell victim to a classic entrapment. His roommate, secretly working for the KGB, made contact with U.S. Central Intelligence Agency agents in Moscow and apparently began passing information on the Helsinki Watch Group. American suspicions soon caused the ties to be broken, but the damage was done.
On March 15, 1977, surrounded by a crowd of Western reporters who Shcharansky had invited to walk with him to see what it’s like to be constantly shadowed,” he was arrested. In July 1977 the 30-year-old dissident went on trial for high treason, accused of passing information to an unnamed Western intelligence agency.
In late 1985, after the historic first meeting between Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan in Geneva, the new Soviet leader decided to make a gesture in the direction of improved relations. Still officially insisting that Shcharansky was a spy, the Soviets agreed to his release as part of an exchange of convicted espionage agents on both sides. He was released early on the morning of February 11, 1986
The chessboard cartoon—captioned “The Alternative Rules of the Game”—showed a white knight facing off against a black donkey encircled in a halo of light. The light seemed to refer to a speech by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his reported comments that his audience saw him surrounded by a divine light during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last year. Iran’s government found the allusion so disrespectful that they closed down Shargh, the reformist daily newspaper that had printed the drawing.
Shargh was one of four publications shut down on Sept. 11 by the Press Supervisory Board, a conservative government watchdog group that monitors Iran’s media. In addition to the cartoon, the board said the newspaper was also guilty of such misdemeanors as interviewing the British and German ambassadors to Tehran; citing the BBC as a reliable source of information; propagating Marxist ideas; publishing an interview with former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, and carrying reports about premarital sex and children born out of wedlock.
For Shargh’s 300 employees, the closure was not a new experience. Most had previously worked on one of the more than 100 newspapers that were shut down by the government during the last eight years; some have lost their jobs several times. “Shargh was the only truly independent newspaper in the country with a large circulation [of 100,000],” city reporter Samaneh Ghadarkhan told NEWSWEEK. “The closure shows that the government of Mr. Ahmadinejad cannot take any criticism. The fact that the closure has happened on the eve of two important elections [for city councils and the Assembly of Experts, which supervises the actions of Iran's supreme leader] is a sign that they don’t want any voice except for theirs in the country.” There was also concern about the economic effects of the ban on the paper’s 2,000 distribution and sales workers. “The government has a primitive approach to solving its problems vis-à-vis the press,” says Emaddedin Baghi, a human-rights activist whose son-in-law, Mohammad Ghoochani, is the editor of Shargh. “Even if there has been a mistake, why should they punish everyone collectively? It’s like shutting down a factory for the mistake of a worker. What should the rest of the people do? Should they die of hunger?”
Still, for many the talk was less about the fate of the unemployed staffers than the grist that the shutdown provided for their rumor mill. Iranians have always loved conspiracy theories, and the government’s latest crackdown on the media and human-rights activists has fostered plenty of those in recent weeks. The conspiracy theory du jour? That the Islamic regime has reached a convenient agreement with the West whereby Tehran will compromise on its nuclear program in exchange for silence on human-rights abuses and the suppression of freedom of expression. Like most Iranian conspiracy theories, this one speculates that foreigners are behind the events. And like most, it springs up from a hodgepodge of information gleaned by speculators in a country that lacks open forums for debate and analysis. But true or not, the mere fact that the theories exist has an impact all its own. “I don’t have any facts about whether a deal was made or not,” says Emaddedin Baghi, a human-rights activist. “But this is something that you and I can hear on the street everyday. That in itself is important.”
Iranian theories about a deal appear to be based on two recent developments. Last week, for the first time in months, both Iranian and European negotiators expressed satisfaction about the progress made during their nuclear talks. Iranians have allegedly agreed to suspend uranium enrichment for a period of two months, and the Europeans agreed to further discussions rather than carrying out threats to impose sanctions on Tehran. At the same time, both Washington and the West have been uncharacteristically silent on the subject of Tehran’s latest moves against dissenting voices. Just six weeks ago, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that Washington condemned the Iranian government’s severe repression of dissidents after an imprisoned student activist, Akbar Mohammadi, died during a hunger strike in jail. Yet when after another prisoner, Valiollah Feyz Mahdavi, hung himself in prison on Sept. 6, there was no public statement about human-rights abuses in Iran.
That didn’t surprise Iranians, who have long considered Western comments on civil liberties to be hypocritical and counterproductive. “I usually don’t like to connect different events to each other,” says Shadi Sadr, an Iranian women’s rights activist. “But a deal between the Iranian government and the West is not unprecedented. Human rights in Iran have always been the victim of lucrative trade deals between Iran and the Western governments.” Nor are the rumormongers likely to be convinced by the European diplomat who told NEWSWEEK emphatically that no deal had been made. In their circles, denials are just another part of the conspiracy.
Tomlinson ran for 131 yards and one touchdown and the Chargers shut out Oakland for the first time since 1961 to take pressure off Philip Rivers in his first NFL start, a 27-0 victory over the Raiders on Monday night.
With much of the focus on Rivers as he replaces Drew Brees, Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer put the game in the hands of Tomlinson and his defense, spoiling Art Shell’s first game back as Raiders coach.
San Diego beat the Raiders for the sixth straight time and shut them out for the first time in their last 90 regular-season games. When the Chargers won 44-0 in 1961, Al Davis was still an assistant with San Diego.
Tomlinson showed little sign of rust after sitting out the entire preseason, topping 100 yards rushing in the second quarter – his sixth 100-yard game in 11 tries against Oakland. Tomlinson carried the ball 31 times and has 837 yards rushing in his last six meetings with Oakland.
The Chargers ran the ball on 48 of 59 plays, and Rivers threw only two passes to wide receivers all game.
Acquired on draft day in 2004, Rivers spent the past two seasons watching, but the Chargers had enough confidence in him to cut ties with Brees in the offseason. Rivers went 8-for-11 for 108 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gates in the fourth quarter that made it 20-0.
“It was exciting,” Rivers said. “I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. … I’ve said before, I don’t care if I have to hand it off 50 times or throw it 50 times, as long as we win.”
The Chargers’ win capped an opening weekend in the NFL in which 11 games were won by visiting teams, the most on opening weekend since 1983, when 12 teams won their openers on the road. The Raiders joined Green Bay and Tampa Bay as home teams who failed to score in their openers as they had no answer for Merriman and the Chargers defense.
Merriman, last year’s top defensive rookie, had three of San Diego’s nine sacks and the Chargers held the Raiders to only 129 yards in Brooks’ first game as quarterback. Brooks was replaced in the fourth quarter by Andrew Walter, who wasn’t much better.
Shell was brought back to Oakland to turn the Raiders around after the worst three-year stretch in Davis’ more than four decades with the franchise. But after one game it looked like the same old Raiders, who won just 13 games the last three seasons.
Oakland was shut out for the first time since a 30-0 loss to Kansas City on Dec. 7, 1997, ending its final drive at the San Diego 4.
Rivers led the Chargers to scores on the first three drives, although he did little more than hand off.
The Chargers ran the ball eight of nine times on the opening drive, with the only pass going to Tomlinson, as the Chargers moved 51 yards to set up Nate Kaeding’s 47-yard field goal.
Tomlinson ran 58 yards on the first play of the second drive and capped it with a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal.
Rivers didn’t throw a ball to a receiver until the third drive when he connected with Keenan McCardell on an 18-yard pass on third-and-8.
Kaeding missed wide on a 42-yard field goal attempt on the drive, but Nnamdi Asomugha was called for running into the kicker and Kaeding made good on his second chance from 29 yards to make it 13-0.
The Raiders offense sputtered all game, drawing boos from the sellout crowd just 12 minutes into the season. The revamped offensive line failed to create any running lanes for LaMont Jordan, who had 20 yards on 10 carries, or to protect Brooks.
Last year’s leading receiver for Oakland, Jerry Porter, was inactive for the game as his standing on the team has dropped after demanding a trade at the start of training camp. He joked on the sidelines as the Raiders struggled to move the ball.
Brooks didn’t even attempt a pass to Randy Moss until about 5 minutes left in the half, connecting on two straight quick passes off one-step drops. Oakland had its deepest penetration of the half on that drive, moving to San Diego’s 33 before two sacks knocked the Raiders back near midfield.
In the five years since Sept. 11, the tactics and strategy of Islamic extremists fighting U.S. or NATO forces have improved dramatically. To a degree they could not approach five years ago, the extremists are successfully facing off against the overwhelming technological apparatus that modern armies can bring to bear against guerrillas. Islamic extremists are winning the war by not losing, and they are steadily expanding to create new battlefronts.
Imagine an Arab guerrilla army that is never seen by Israeli forces, never publicly celebrates victories or mourns defeats, and merges so successfully into the local population that Western TV networks can’t interview its commanders or fighters. Such was the achievement of Hezbollah’s 33-day war against Israeli troops, who admitted that they rarely saw the enemy until they were shot at.
Israel’s high-tech surveillance and weaponry were no match for Hezbollah’s low-tech network of underground tunnels. Hezbollah’s success in stealth and total battlefield secrecy is an example of what extremists are trying to do worldwide.
In southern Afghanistan, the Taliban have learned to avoid U.S. and NATO surveillance satellites and drones in order to gather up to 400 guerrillas at a time for attacks on Afghan police stations and army posts. They have also learned to disperse before U.S. airpower is unleashed on them, to hide their weapons and merge into the local population.
In North and South Waziristan, the tribal regions along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, an alliance of extremist groups that includes al-Qaeda, Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, Central Asians, and Chechens has won a significant victory against the army of Pakistan. The army, which has lost some 800 soldiers in the past three years, has retreated, dismantled its checkpoints, released al-Qaeda prisoners and is now paying large “compensation” sums to the extremists.
This region, considered “terrorism central” by U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, is now a fully operational al-Qaeda base area offering a wide range of services, facilities, and military and explosives training for extremists around the world planning attacks. Waziristan is now a regional magnet. In the past six months up to 1,000 Uzbeks, escaping the crackdown in Uzbekistan after last year’s massacre by government security forces in the town of Andijan, have found sanctuary with al-Qaeda in Waziristan.
In Iraq, according to a recent Pentagon study, attacks by insurgents jumped to 800 per week in the second quarter of this year — double the number in the first quarter. Iraqi casualties have increased by 50 percent. The organization al-Qaeda in Iraq has spawned an array of new guerrilla tactics, weapons and explosive devices that it is conveying to the Taliban and other groups.
Moreover, efforts by armies to win the local citizens’ hearts and minds and carry out reconstruction projects are also failing as extremists attack “soft” targets, such as teachers, civil servants and police officers, decapitating the local administration and terrorizing the people.
No doubt on all these battlefields Islamic extremists are taking massive casualties — at least a thousand Taliban have been killed by NATO forces in the past six months. But on many fronts there is an inexhaustible supply of recruits for suicide-style warfare.
Western armies, with their Vietnam-era obsession with body counts, are not lessening the number of potential extremists every time they kill them but are actually encouraging more to join, because they have no political strategy to close adjacent borders and put pressure on the neighbors.
Militants from around the Arab world and even Europe are arriving in Iraq to kill Americans. Yet the United States refuses to speak to neighbors Syria and Iran, which facilitate their arrival.
Hundreds of Pakistani Pashtuns are joining the Taliban in their fight against NATO. Yet NATO has adopted a head-in-the-sand attitude, pretending that Afghanistan is a self-contained operational theater without neighbors and so declining to put pressure on Pakistan to close down Taliban bases in Baluchistan and Waziristan.
If this is indeed a long war, as the Bush administration says, then the United States has almost certainly lost the first phase. Guerrillas are learning faster than Western armies, and the West makes appalling strategic mistakes while the extremists make brilliant tactical moves.
As al-Qaeda and its allies prepare to spread their global jihad to Central Asia, the Caucasus and other parts of the Middle East, they will carry with them the accumulated experience and lessons of the past five years. The West and its regional allies are not prepared to match them.
[/caption]President Bush announced that 14 “high-value” detainees, who were held at secret CIA prisons, were transferred to the Department of Defense at Guantanamo Bay and granted protection under the 1949 Geneva Conventions. It is the first time the administration publicly acknowledged the existence of the prisons.
“These are dangerous men, with unparalleled knowledge about terrorist networks and their plans of new attacks,” Bush said. “The security of our nation and the lives of our citizens depend on our ability to learn what these terrorists know.”
The protections apply to all prisoners now being held by the CIA, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept.11 attacks, Abu Zubaydah, and senior al Qaeda leader Ramzi Binalshibh. While the detainees may not be household names, they were top aides to Osama bin Laden, and the veritable “crown jewels” of the military operations that have been conducted in Afghanistan.
Many detainees were given the legal status of “enemy combatant,” which includes both lawful enemy combatants and unlawful enemy combatants.
Until now, the U.S. government has not officially acknowledged the existence of CIA prisons. The Bush administration has come under harsh criticism for the way it has handled detainees captured in the U.S.-led military campaign to root out al Qaeda terror cells abroad.
In an afternoon address, Bush defended the aim of the secret program without specifically addressing the controversial interrogation techniques that were first reported in November 2005 by ABC News’ chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross. The administration has come under criticism not only for the secret detentions but for the alleged psychological and physical stress they put on prisoners during interrogations.
“I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world: The United States does not torture. It’s against our laws and it’s against our values. I have not authorized it, and I will not authorize it,” Bush said in his afternoon address.
“The CIA program has been, and remains, one of the most vital tools in our war against the terrorists,” Bush said.
The statement leaves open the possibility that while the 14 detainees have been moved from CIA to Department of Defense custody, the CIA program to hold and interrogate detainees is still active. “Black sites,” or secret prisons, may still hold high-value al Qaeda prisoners.
Today’s announcement provides a mechanism to move detainees out of CIA custody once interrogators have obtained any “time-sensitive, threat related” information, according to one intelligence source.
Bush said torture is not condoned, but he said that as it became clear that Zubaydah had been trained on how to resist interrogation, the CIA “used an alternative set of procedures,” which he said were “designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution and our treaty obligations.”
Bush did not explain what the “safe and lawful and necessary” procedures were. But “enhanced interrogation techniques” instituted in mid March 2002 were used on the 14 top al Qaeda targets incarcerated in isolation at secret locations on military bases in regions from Asia to eastern Europe. According to intelligence sources, only a handful of CIA interrogators are trained and authorized to use the techniques, which include slapping and scare tactics.
One of the techniques, “water-boarding,” entails pouring water over victims to make them feel as if they were drowning, a maneuver that often results in a confession within a few seconds.
“The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law,” said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.
In December 2005, the CIA closed prisons in Poland and Romania because of what was in Human Rights Watch reports. Since then, the locations of the prisons, or “black sites,” have been secret and the government has all but denied their existence.
A Call to Congress
Bush called on Congress to “list the specific recognizable offenses that would be considered crimes under the War Crimes Act so our personnel can know clearly what is prohibited in the handling of terrorist enemies.”
He also asked that Congress “make explicit that by following the standards of the Detainee Treatment Act, our personnel fulfill America’s obligations under Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions.”
Last, he requested that Congress “make it clear that captured terrorists cannot use the Geneva Conventions as grounds to sue our personnel in courts — in U.S. courts.”
The president also criticized the decision of the Supreme Court that hindered previous attempts to prosecute the prisoners. In late June, the Supreme Court decided to block military tribunals for detainees, stating the prisoners were subject to international law and the Geneva Conventions.
“We have a right under the laws of war, and an obligation to the American people, to detain these enemies and stop them,” Bush said in his afternoon address.
The Supreme Court decision was a major rebuke to the Bush administration, as it required the president to first seek the approval of Congress before ordering prisoners to be tried for war crimes.
The decision forced the administration to reconsider the legal battle against the prisoners, and made their future uncertain.
Bush urged Congress to make the legislation a top priority in the next session as the issues are “urgent” and “time is of the essence.”