the Rational Radical  

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The Daily Diatribe
October 16-31, 2001

What Does It Take to Get Us to Expend Adequate Funds on Airline Security?

October 31, 2001

After Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21st, 1988, you would have thought that any nation that could afford it would spare no expense in ensuring that such an event could never occur again.

If any nation could afford anything, it's the United States.

Yet as has come to light in the aftermath of September 11, thirteen years after Lockerbie, checked baggage was still not being adequately screened for explosives in the United States.

Nor, apparently, were the airlines making sure that there was a passenger on board to account for each piece of checked luggage. (Of course, a suicide bomber could check his baggage and board the plane, but such a procedure would still eliminate the risk from the presumably much larger number of people who would like to blow up a plane but wouldn't want to go down with it.)

Isn't this mind-boggling?  Think of all the ridiculous things the government spends money on.  Think of all the ridiculous things each of us spends money on.

If after Lockerbie the airlines couldn't afford this extra screening, why didn't all the airlines -- or the government by fiat -- take the total cost, divide by the number of passengers, and impose a surcharge?  Who in their right mind would have said "I don't want to pay these extra few dollars to ensure I don't get blown up in mid-air?"

Even beyond my amazement that such steps weren't taken after Lockerbie, how could these procedures not have been implemented immediately after the World Trade Center attack?  Emergency legislation could have imposed a temporary ticket surcharge, and federal troops could have been utilized at the beginning to screen all the baggage and ensure a positive passenger-luggage matchup.

I hear talk that machines able to detect plastic explosives which x-rays miss are "very" expensive.  So what?!!  Buy the damn things and use them.

And of course, how expensive could it be to match luggage to boarded passengers?

In the last weeks, Congress has been squabbling over the airline security bill, primarily over Republican opposition to making government employees of 28,000 baggage screeners.  A vote is expected tomorrow in the House, and it's unclear whether that body will pass its own version, or adopt the bill the Senate has already passed.

Hopefully some bill will be passed, signed into law and implemented with all due haste.

Unfortunately, in light of our past disinclination to invest anywhere near an adequate amount of our vast wealth on airline security, I'm just wondering what kinds of additional security measures we could be taking, but still won't be, because they may cost too much.

Jeb Bush Attacks Sandinista Ortega, Threatens Nicaragua in Full-Page Ad

Even Worse, the Ad in the Nicaraguan Newspaper La Prensa Is Designed to Make It Appear to Be From George Bush

October 30, 2001

In a full-page ad October 29 in the Nicaraguan national newspaper La Prensa, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida harshly attacked Sandinista candidate Daniel Ortega, endorsed his main opponent Enrique Bolaņos, and made thinly veiled threats against Nicaragua should Ortega win.

According to the latest polls, Ortega and Bolaņos are in a statistical dead heat, with the election less than a week away.

Here are some of the choice parts of the ad:

As I look at Latin America today, I'm reminded of the motto which is written above the entrance to the US National Archives: "The Past Is Prologue." The past is without doubt the key indicator of the future...

The past and present of Daniel Ortega clearly indicate that he neither understands nor accepts the basic principles of freedom, democracy and the free market...

Daniel Ortega is an enemy of everything the United States represents. Further, he is a friend of our enemies. Ortega has a relationship of more than 30 years with states and individuals who shelter and condone international terrorism.

By contrast Enrique Bolaņos is a man whose past promises a future of freedom...

Latin America needs leaders like Enrique Bolaņos, people whose history shows a commitment to the construction of prosperous economies and solid democracies which are the necessary base for reinforcing bonds of brotherhood with Florida, just as with the whole United States of America. [more of the text]

The layout of the ad is as devious as the words.  Small blue letters above the headline read "The Brother of the President of the United States."  The massive headline, in blaring read, is "GEORGE W. BUSH SUPPORTS ENRIQUE BOLAŅOS."  All of this appears on a white background, and the whole page is bordered in red, white and blue.  The effect is to give the impression that the ad is an endorsement of Ortega's opponent by George Bush himself. 

Of course, even if seen as coming from the President's brother, that the warning is really from the U.S. government would by now be quite clear to Nicaraguan voters, given the repeated instances of U.S. interference in the Nicaraguan presidential election process.  Such an ad, coming from a country which organized, financed and directed a terrorist contra army against Nicaragua in the late 1980's, is designed to -- and may well indeed -- instill fear in Nicaraguan voters that if they elect Ortega, the United States will again attack Nicaragua, or at least make things very difficult for it.

How outrageous!  Remember when the Washington establishment went ballistic because the Chinese government made political contributions in our presidential election?  What would have happened had the brother of the Chinese president taken out a full page ad in The New York Times and stated that one candidate is an enemy of everything China represents, and then made not-so-subtle threats of dire consequences should that candidate be elected!

That the Bush administration would place this anti-Ortega, threatening ad shows the incredibly paternalistic -- indeed, downright racist -- attitude it has toward Latin America.  To the Bush administration, the countries "down there" are still seen as a bunch of banana republics "in our backyard" that need to be kept totally under U.S. control.

[Click here for information on how to protest this outrage]

Incomprehensible Incompetence: U.S. Bombs the Same Clearly-Marked Red Cross Warehouse A Second Time

October 29, 2001

You may have heard something about this incident, but the details are what make it really outrageous.

About two weeks ago, U.S. warplanes bombed a Red Cross warehouse in Kabul, despite the fact that the warehouse roof was painted with a big red cross inside a white circle.

After expressing the customary hollow "regrets" for U.S. bombs going astray, officials said they hadn't known the buildings were used to store food and relief supplies.

To avoid a similar occurrence, the Red Cross met with the Pentagon to give them details concerning where that organization has facilities in Afghanistan.

So what happens?

Shortly thereafter, two Navy fighter bombers and two B-52's drop eight 2,000-pound, laser-guided bombs onto that same Red Cross installation.

Thankfully there were no casualties, but for 55,000 disabled Afghans in Kabul, it was a disaster: this was the Red Cross's sole facility for their food and blankets, and these supplies were all but destroyed.

Heads should roll for this unbelievable level of incompetence.  The official U.S. excuse is that there was "a human error in the targeting process," that somewhere in the decision chain, someone forgot to take the Red Cross warehouse off the target list.

"Someone forgot?"  This isn't an error where a food item is left off a banquet table.  This is a life-and-death type of decision.

Lest anyone try to make the "heated conditions of combat" excuse, such is decidedly not the case here: an officer at an air operations center in Saudi Arabia, and then officials at Central Command in Tampa, Florida are the ones involved in drawing up the target lists.

Haven't these military personnel ever heard of double-checking things?  Especially after the warehouse was hit the first time, you would think that those involved in the "targeting process" would be triple- and quadruple-checking to make sure no more Red Cross targets are hit.  And no one entering the coordinates for the laser-guided bombs noticed they were the same numbers as were in error before?

But wait, it gets better.

On one of the first days of bombing, U.S. warplanes mistakenly hit a UN-associated mine-clearing organization, killing four people.  It turns that out that late last week, another U.N. office for removing land mines was hit, destroying two vehicles there.

Why do our bombs keep "accidentally" hitting U.N. facilities?

Finally, the topper: even when the military royally screwed up by targeting that Red Cross warehouse a second time, they couldn't even screw up accurately: some of the bombs missed the Red Cross installation and hit a residential neighborhood instead.

Is this Keystone Kops type stuff, or what?

But I shouldn't be flippant.  Targeting errors and errant bombs have killed -- at the least -- dozens of innocent civilians, possibly many times that. 

What's really almost too horrible to contemplate is what must be happening all the rest of the time when the military is not even trying as "hard" to be accurate as they supposedly were when they bombed the Red Cross warehouse a second time.

A good indication is provided by this Reuters report of a bombing atrocity yesterday:

A U.S. bomb flattened a flimsy mud-brick home in Kabul Sunday blowing apart seven children as they ate breakfast with their father

The blast shattered a neighbor's house killing another two children in one of the most gruesome scenes of Washington's three-week-old bombing of the Afghan capital.

Why doesn't our military concentrate on attacking Taliban troops in the field, so this war can be more rapidly concluded?

Or are they just trying to drag things out in order to squeeze in some more "live-fire," "live-target" training?

The Abdul Haq Fiasco: The Story Gets Worse

U.S. Continues Its History of Not Supporting Those It Encourages to Revolt

October 28, 2001

As most followers of the increasingly benighted U.S. war effort in Afghanistan now know, Abdul Haq, a former guerrilla commander who was seen by some American officials as the potential leader of an anti-Taliban uprising, was just caught by the Taliban inside Afghanistan and executed.

At first it was reported that the only assistance Haq had received from the United States was a satellite phone.  That's pathetic.  The guy is trying to foment a revolt against the Taliban from inside Afghanistan, and all we give him is a satellite phone?!

Well, that would mean that at least if he were in danger, he could call supporting aircraft and our forces would rescue him, right?

Well, no.

When Haq realized he was surrounded by Taliban troops, he apparently called Robert McFarlane, Ronald Reagan's national security advisor, who in turn called the CIA, which passed on Haq's coordinates to the military. 

Stories have differed as to whether any U.S. warplanes attempted a rescue.  The latest account, in The Washington Post, is that an unmanned CIA drone aircraft armed with antitank missiles attempted to prevent Haq's capture by the Taliban.

Why didn't Haq have direct link to a manned aircraft that could have rescued him?  He had to play the game of telephone while his life was in danger?  Fomenting an anti-Taliban revolt is not worth allocating some live Special Ops support to?

What makes the story even more galling is that now Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld confirms that Haq did receive some additional kind of U.S. intelligence assistance.  So even in an assisted operation, this is how we protect our allies?

The topper is Rumsfeld's explanation:

The assistance, unfortunately, was from the air, and he was on the ground.

And regrettably, he was killed.

A statement of more incoherent banality would be hard to imagine.

The Abdul Haq fiasco fits in with past U.S. instances of failing to help those we encourage to revolt.

For example, at the last minute, President John F. Kennedy withdrew air support from the Cuban exiles in the Bay of Pigs invasion, and they were slaughtered.  More recently, the U.S. encouraged the Kurds to revolt against Saddam Hussein, and then abandoned the Kurds to Hussein's revenge.

How easy is it going to be now for the U.S. to convince any Afghan that our support will be there if they undertake anti-Taliban action?

One final note: even though he was strongly anti-Taliban, Abdul Haq opposed the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan:

He said that the bombing was a terrible mistake, that it was rallying Afghans around the besieged Taliban.

Could it be that Haq wasn't a compliant enough anti-Taliban leader for the Bush administration, that the U.S. deliberately let Haq be killed in order to silence a potentially powerful voice against the U.S. bombing?

If Anti-Taliban Afghans Can't Unite, Let Them Form Separate Nations

October 27, 2001

Much has been made in the past few days of the difficulties involved in putting together a broad-based coalition to govern post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Some observers feel that the inability so far to create this governing scheme has led the United States to delay seriously attacking Taliban forces defending Kabul, because the U.S. wants to first have the new rulers chosen before toppling the Taliban.

Perhaps creating a viable coalition to rule all of Afghanistan is not, at least in the short term, a feasible goal.

The boundaries of modern Afghanistan were set in the late 19th century by British-ruled India and czarist Russia.  Unlike the thirteen American colonies, the ancestors of the inhabitants of present-day Afghanistan never at one point got together and decided to form a discrete political entity.

Just as in many other colonized areas of the world, boundaries created by colonial powers cut across and through ethnic regions.  The result is a crazy-quilt of tribes and ethic groups, each of which are dispersed among different nations.  Each individual nation contains a mixture of two or more tribes or ethnic groups who often have very little use for each other.

Indeed, as we know, vicious infighting in Afghanistan among the various ethnic groups, after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union in the late 1980's, destroyed much of the country that hadn't already been destroyed by the Russians, and led to the rise of the Taliban, whom the people of Afghanistan at the time actually welcomed as being the only force able to restore order to their country.

The U.S. delay in prosecuting the war has led to an increasing rate of civilian casualties, and imperils millions with starvation this winter.  Accordingly, this war must be vigorously prosecuted and ended as soon as possible.

So why not let the Pashtuns rule the southern area where they predominate, and each of the other major ethnic groups individually, or together as the Northern Alliance, in their areas?  This can be a temporary arrangement, if the parties wish, pending further negotiations after the war to unify the country once again.

Waiting to vigorously prosecute the war for an arrangement that may be virtually impossible to achieve can only lead to disaster.

Toppling the Taliban and bringing this war to a more rapid conclusion can only be a good thing for the beleaguered people of Afghanistan.

UPDATE DECEMBER 4: Here's a link to a New York Times article along similar lines.

U.S. Bombing Strategy Is Ass Backwards: Heavy Near Civilians, Light Against Taliban Troops

Result: Afghan Civilians' Anger at U.S. Rises, Taliban Morale Goes Up

October 26, 2001

Three days ago I criticized U.S. military policy for improperly focusing our bombing more on buildings near civilians than on Taliban troops in the field.

Exactly what you might expect from such misguided efforts is coming to pass.

Civilian casualties from U.S. bombs and missiles are angering the population and causing them to rally to the Taliban.

According to one report, there are

signs that the duration and the sharpness of the American bombing campaign was beginning to shore up support for the Taliban inside Afghanistan, where their popularity was clearly on the wane before Sept. 11.

Repeated reports by the Taliban of American bombs' killing civilians appear to have intensified the feeling among Afghans that the United States has attacked Afghanistan, not just its rulers.

A similar analysis was made by

Abdul Haq, a former guerrilla commander who was seen by some American officials as the potential leader of an anti-Taliban uprising.

...after Oct. 7, the day air attacks on Afghanistan began, his confidence seemed to erode. He said that the bombing was a terrible mistake, that it was rallying Afghans around the besieged Taliban.

You may have read that Haq was just caught by the Taliban inside Afghanistan and executed.

Yet another account of changing Afghan sentiment:

The heavy bombing over Herat, which resulted in deaths of civilians at a home for the elderly and in a nearby village, angered ordinary people but appeared to embolden the Taliban fighters."

This leads to the related point:

Light U.S. airstrikes directly on Taliban troops are actually increasing their morale.

Heavy airstrikes that focus on structures and supplies mean that

"After two or three days, the Taliban get used to it and their morale gets better and better," a visitor from Herat said.

And when the bombing is directed at Taliban troops, it's so light as to also be counterproductive.

Under the headline "Anti-Taliban Forces Say Light U.S. Strikes Lift Foes' Morale," the New York Times, in a story worth quoting at some length, reports that

The American plane roared overhead at 1:30 p.m. today, and Shir Muhammad and his soldiers in the Northern Alliance paid little attention.

Four days ago, the sound of jet engines sent these men scrambling to the roof of their command post to watch American planes bomb front-line Taliban positions here, some 35 miles north of Kabul, for the first time.

Today, however, Mr. Muhammad became one of several alliance commanders in the slice of the territory they control who are complaining about the pace and scale of American airstrikes. In their current form, he said, the strikes are doing more to bolster Taliban morale than to erode it...

On open radio channels, Taliban forces are mocking the American attacks, according to troops from the Northern Alliance. "They make a lot of jokes," Mr. Muhammad said. "They say, `The American bombs do nothing.' "

Mr. Muhammad said the light initial bombing has set back negotiations with potential Taliban defectors..."They were very afraid and had low morale," he said, referring to the period before the bombing. "After a few attacks, their morale was better."

I actually had to re-read this story several times in order to believe that such a devastating indictment of U.S. military policy was really being reported in the mainstream U.S. press.

Several thousand elite Taliban troops are defending Kabul, dug in on a flat plain north of that city.  Since we long ago achieved total air superiority, we should have been carpet bombing the Taliban forces with B-2's and B-52's, following up with AC-130 gunships, and then advancing on Kabul under cover of helicopter gunships.  Indications are we may have started that process just today, but even if so, why the interminable delay?

What on earth is the Bush administration thinking with their bombing policy?

Unfortunately, given the horrific fumbling by Bush administration officials with the anthrax attack inside our own country, it's hard to imagine that they would know more about what they're doing in far away Afghanistan.

Against all odds, I sure hope they do.

Bill Maher Fails His History Test

October 25, 2001

Bill Maher of Politically Incorrect has been making some statements lately that show he needs to study his history a bit more carefully.

Here's one assertion of Maher:

Bill: The Persians, the Iranians had a secular Western government.  They overthrew it for the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Huh?  The Iranians last had a "secular Western government," a freely elected democracy, in 1954, which the CIA overthrew.  The U.S. then installed in power the Shah. 

Maher calls the Shah's government  "a secular Western government."  The Shah was a monarch and the government was a dictatorship, notable for its corruption and cruelty.  It was the Shah whom the Iranians overthrew for the Ayatollah.

Then there are Maher's contradictions.

On the one hand, Maher remarks favorably on our role in overthrowing many governments:

Bill: I think we need the CIA to get back into business. I think we need Muslim-Americans to join the CIA in big numbers, become spies and foment revolutions in those countries.

That's how we used to do it, and it worked pretty well before we got scared of doing it that way.

On the other hand, Maher denies we ever did so:

Bill: You know what? We are hardly an oppressive, imperialist force.

Beyond his inconsistent assertions, is the sheer lunacy of Maher's claim that "it worked pretty well" when we fomented revolutions in other countries in the Middle East.

Let's see:

  • Syria, 1948 - The U.S. overthrows the regime; Syria turns anti-U.S.
  • Iran, 1954 - The U.S. overthrows nationalist Mossadegh, puts the Shah in power. Result: Ayatollah Khomeini's 1979 Islamic revolution.
  • Egypt, 1955 - The U.S. tried to kill nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser. He turns to the Soviets.
  • Iraq, 1958 - The U.S. puts Col. Kassem in power. He turns into an anti-American lunatic.
  • Indonesia, 1967 - The U.S. overthrows Sukarno. The army and mobs then kill 500,000 Sukarno supporters.
  • Libya, 1969 - The U.S. helps a young officer, Moammar Khadafy, seize power in Libya, then tries to kill him in 1986.
  • Iraq, 1975 - The U.S. helps young Saddam Hussein seize power. In 1979, the U.S. encourages Saddam to invade Iran in an effort to crush Iran's Islamic revolution. Some 700,000 die in the war.
  • Lebanon, 1983 - U.S. forces intervene in the civil war to prop up the Christian government, 240 U.S. Marines die.

If that's working "pretty well," I'd hate to see what failure is like.

Bill Maher has admirable positions on many issues, but he really should learn a bit more about Middle Eastern history so as to avoid putting his foot in his mouth again and misleading his many viewers.

[more on Bill Maher]

Another Vanished Story: The Plastic Explosives in the Philadelphia Bus Terminal

October 24, 2001

In case you missed the story, five days ago police in Philadelphia found about 1/2 pound of C-4 plastic military explosive in an unclaimed suitcase which had been removed from a downtown bus terminal baggage locker.

The police said there was enough explosive to destroy that building.  There was also 1000 feet of blasting cord in the suitcase, but no detonator.

C-4 explosive was used by Osama bin Laden's organization al Qaeda to blow up the USS Cole on October 12, 2000 in the port city of Aden, Yemen, killing 17 sailors.

The Philadelphia suitcase had been placed in the locker on September 29, about two weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center.  Officials said they were going to review the terminal's security tapes to try to identify who put the suitcase in the locker.

Well, what happened?  It's five days later.  Not a word in the national media have I seen.

I searched the Philadelphia Inquirer web site and the only more recent information they reported was that the plastic explosive in the suitcase was a type made exclusively for the military, and that it was not of recent manufacture.

The investigating authorities must by now know more than they are letting on, especially if they possess video surveillance tapes of whoever put the suitcase in the locker.

Of course, the situation could be innocuous: perhaps a construction worker delivering some supplies forget about his errand and the suitcase?  Well, no... Such a scenario would be about as believable as the authorities' initial assurances that the first Florida anthrax case had just coincidentally come on the heels of September 11, and was most likely a case of "naturally occurring" anthrax.

To speculate a bit, the military origin of the explosive might point toward U.S. right-wing fanatics who were in the military and could have had the opportunity to pilfer such explosives.  A more high-tech Timothy McVeigh?

On the other hand, we have the example of Ali Mohamed, a former U.S. army sergeant who was a "high-ranking follower" of Osama bin Laden, and pleaded guilty to conspiring "to kill Americans abroad and to destroy U.S. government buildings and military installations," including the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.  Among other things, Mohamed helped "secretly move bin Laden from Pakistan to Sudan," and trained bin Laden's bodyguards and other high-ranking al Qaeda soldiers.

Mohamed did his dirty work after he left the Army, but while there he could have stolen C-4 explosives.  More frightening is the possibility that there are right now other al Qaeda members in the U.S. military, who could have stolen the C-4 found in Philadelphia.  And who knows what other weaponry such undercover agents could steal.

In any event, the silence of the authorities on this story is highly suspicious.  Keep tuned.

U.S. Is Deliberately Stalling in Afghan War and Unnecessarily Causing Increased Civilian Casualties: Because of Pakistani Double-cross?

October 23, 2001

There are 35 miles of open plain between Northern Alliance forces and Kabul.  Thousands of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are dug into this land mass north of Kabul, awaiting a Northern Alliance assault.  Haven't you been wondering since Day 1 of the bombing campaign why on earth we weren't bombing the enemy forces on that plain?

Our Deal with Pakistan

The reason is, Pakistan, our new best friend in the region, is an enemy of the Northern Alliance, and doesn't want the Northern Alliance to run Afghanistan.  The U.S. told Pakistan okay, you gather all the other Afghan opposition leaders and, together with the Northern Alliance, come up with a power-sharing arrangement.  Until then, the U.S. agreed not to bomb those troops defending Kabul.  And as part of the deal, the U.S. instructed the Northern Alliance not to mount a full-scale offensive until Pakistan was done creating a viable government which could take over after the Taliban fell.

The Pakistan-brokered power-sharing talks have bogged down, and officials suspect that is because Pakistan is trying to ensure that Taliban elements of the coalition government will remain in control.

The U.S., growing impatient, has in the last few days started bombing the Taliban/al Qaeda forces north of Kabul.  But jet fighters are being used.  If we were serious, we would be carpet-bombing with B-52's and otherwise conducting a much more intensive bombing campaign focusing on those troops.

The Delay is Killing Innocent Civilians

This delay in our prosecution of the war is having a deadly, adverse effect on our efforts to avoid civilian casualties.

At the beginning of the war, military specialists lamented that there were not enough fixed targets in Afghanistan to last more than a few days.  As the war unnecessarily drags on, we want to seem busy, so we're continuing to bomb fixed targets that were apparently not deemed important enough to hit in the first two weeks of bombing.

In the first days of bombing, there were barely any civilian casualties.  But in the last few days, the number of civilians killed and injured has soared, with the U.S. acknowledging two "mistakes" over the weekend: a 1000 lb. bomb hit what has been described as either a home for the elderly or a military hospital,  and two 500 lb. bombs were dropped on a residential area northwest of Kabul.

The initial airstrikes hit military targets with a precision that refugees said today was somehow reassuring. A steady flow of people continued to seek refuge by slipping into Pakistan through the routes used by smugglers, but the numbers... were small.

In recent days, however, the number of people seeking safety has soared again amid reports of widespread civilian casualties...

"So many people have been killed, and the others are coming out," said Major Aftab, the commander of the border post. "Previously the bombing was targeted, but now people are being killed."

My guess is that the increased civilian casualties are occurring because these recent fixed targets are closer to civilians and otherwise more difficult to destroy without "collateral damage," which is why these targets were not hit in the early days.

If we weren't being held up by the Pakistan-created political deadlock, we wouldn't be having to hit these second-level-type fixed targets, and would instead be using all our airpower to hit the Taliban/al Qaeda troops outside Kabul, as well as providing air cover for advancing Northern Alliance forces.

The more we have to unnaturally drag out this war, the more civilian casualties there will be, and at an accelerating rate, as more secondary, and even third-rate targets are hit to give the appearance of conducting a war.

Pakistani Double-cross?

Is Pakistan, which after all prior to September 11 was the Taliban's main sponsor, double-crossing us?  Perhaps Pakistan believes that if it can stall until the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, we will stop bombing with the Taliban still in power in Kabul, after that the winter snows will make any further ground war untenable, and then by spring, we will have lost our stomach to rev up the war machine again.

On the other hand, it is not in Pakistan's interest for there to be increasing numbers of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, because that will stir up the Muslim fundamentalists in Pakistan and could pose a real risk to the stability of the present Pakistani military dictatorship.

Whatever the reason, we are prolonging the war unnecessarily, bombing targets in a manner increasingly deadly to innocent civilians, and eroding our moral high ground but not doing what we need to do and finishing it.

We need to give Pakistan an ultimatum: come up with a governing formula within 48 hours, or we and the Northern Alliance will take Kabul on our own.

The U.S. Should Offer Far Higher Rewards in the Anthrax and Osama bin Laden Cases:  How About $1 Billion for bin Laden?

October 22, 2001

The reward for information leading to the capture of whoever is spreading anthrax through the U.S. mail system is $1 million.  The reward for information leading to the capture of Al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden is $5 million.  But a million dollars -- or even five million dollars -- "ain't what it used to be," as the saying goes.

Basically, if we want an insider to turn in the anthrax terrorists, I don't think a million dollars is enough of an inducement.  I suggest a figure of $100 million, PLUS U.S. citizenships for the person claiming the reward and up to 20 of his or her family members, PLUS guaranteed participation in the U.S. government's witness protection program for all these individuals, including plastic surgery if desired.

Anyone turning in the anthrax terrorists will know they and their immediate family and even their extended family will be marked for death.  So in addition to the need to assure them that they and all their relatives will receive the complete protection of the U.S. government, the financial inducement has to be overwhelming.  A million dollars is a lot of money, to be sure, but for many people that amount would not be enough to risk themselves and large numbers of their loved ones being killed.

Moreover, if the potential turncoat is steeped in the ideology of the terrorists, the financial reward must be so mind-blowing as to override his or her religious/ideological brainwashing.

All of the foregoing applies exponentially to anyone who would turn in Osama bin Laden.  In addition, more than one individual would probably have to be involved to snare bin Laden in a trap.  Hence for bin Laden I would suggest a total reward of $1 billion, plus the other benefits -- U.S. citizenship, witness protection program, plastic surgery -- for an even larger circle of relatives, given how deep and far al Qaeda's vengeance will seek to reach against anyone who betrays bin Laden. 

Remember, anyone who would be able to lead the authorities to bin Laden is probably fairly close to him and thus strongly committed to bin Laden's cause, so the reward must be completely irresistible to be effective. 

Some might worry that with such huge rewards, the terrorists themselves, especially in the anthrax case, could designate a few of them to be caught, and then turn these individuals in, with the goal of using the reward money to foment further terrorist activities.  This eventuality could be avoided by making the reward money available solely for consumer purchases, and not in the form of cash or any other liquid asset.

Compared to the costs of contending with the present  anthrax scare, or of continuing to wage war in Afghanistan -- let alone recovering from a future terrorist act involving weapons of mass destruction -- $100 million and even $1 billion should be viewed as bargains.

Since we don't pay either reward until we have the anthrax terrorists or bin Laden in custody, the money's not at risk until the deed is done.  Again, how could achieving either result not be worth the suggested rewards?

Some "out-of-the-box" thinking -- such as my unprecedented reward levels -- may well be necessary to be successful against bin Laden and his cohorts.  Why not give it a shot?

Will U.S. Rejection of Request for Pause in Bombing Cause 7.5 Million Afghans to Starve to Death?

October 21, 2001

The latest estimates are that up to 7.5 million -- yes, that's right, seven and one-half million -- Afghans could starve to death this winter unless truck convoys of food are able to resume deliveries to Afghanistan.

U.S. bombing has effectively halted these deliveries.  Current U.S. airdrops of food would meet less than 1% of the need, even if the supplies were assured of getting to the people who need them, which is unlikely.

Already, the British charity Christian Aid says that 600 people have died in northern Afghanistan from starvation, malnutrition and related diseases.

There are other reports of deaths in refugee camps around the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

While there was an earlier story that "the Pentagon and British Defense Ministry have agreed to coordinate the air strikes so that they will not hit relief convoys," such does not appear to be the case.

Given this backdrop, the United Nations itself apparently plans to make an unprecedented appeal for the bombing to at least temporarily stop so that a huge aid operation can be undertaken.

Such an appeal has already been made by Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, who explained:

We've run out of food, the borders are closed, we can't reach our staffs and time is running out.


American officials rejected the request for a bombing halt, asserting that the Taliban, not American air raids, were blocking food distribution.

While there have been reports of Taliban troops levying "taxes" on food convoys, the American response is disingenuous at best, since without the food entering the country in the first place, there is absolutely no hope to feed the starving people.

The winter snows have already come to part of Afghanistan.  Once the winter fully settles in, getting food to remote villages will be near impossible.

The war can be resumed after a short period of time, but once the opportunity passes to deliver the food before the winter, that will be an irrevocable death sentence for millions of men, women and children.

What a humanitarian disaster it would be, and what a geopolitical nightmare, if a continued U.S. refusal to temporarily halt the bombing were to cause millions of Afghans to starve to death.

The media silence on this impending disaster is scandalous.  The New York Times, for example, buried the Oxfam call for a bombing halt, and the U.S. rejection of that request, way down in an inside story that was focused on the crew of one of the planes making the U.S. airdrops.

If such a disaster does, God forbid, occur, I can already see the solemn front-page stories in the New York Times and other U.S. publications, as well as the editorials lamenting that not enough was done to prevent such a tragedy, that a bombing halt should have been undertaken.

The New York Times will not, of course, explain that its own failure to adequately report on the disaster-in-the-making when there was still time to prevent it was one of the causes of its occurring.

Vietnamization and Other Strange Echoes of the Past in the War Against Terrorism

October 20, 2001

During the Vietnam War, President Nixon instituted the policy of Vietnamization, which turned the fighting over to South Vietnamese troops, allowing U.S. military forces to withdraw.  This policy came to mind as I began to read about our current military operations in Afghanistan.

U.S. Special Operations troops just completed a mission inside Afghanistan and quickly left.  U.S. officials are openly speaking about providing arms and air cover to the Northern Alliance and other Afghan troops fighting the Taliban, so that these opposition forces can advance on the ground.  U.S. bombing continues.

Will this be a lasting pattern: aid the indigenous forces on the ground, provide air cover, and execute quick in-and-out operations by U.S. forces?  In other words, no masses of U.S. troops fighting a ground war, no triumphant U.S. soldiers entering Kabul or any other Afghan city?

It would seem that the U.S. is intent on avoiding the necessity for a later "Afghanistanization" of the war, by  keeping the war against the Taliban a mostly Afghan affair from the beginning.

Vietnamization didn't work because the South Vietnamese government was not supported by the people of that country, and the South Vietnamese soldiers didn't want to fight.

The U.S. policy now of avoiding the need for later Afghanistanization, however, may very well work.

Indeed, in a strange echo of the past, the Taliban can be seen as a latter day South Vietnamese regime, ruling by brutality and not supported by anywhere near a majority of the population.  A large part of their enforcement mechanism is in the form of foreign troops imported into the country by Osama bin Laden.

The Northern Alliance can be likened to the Vietcong, fighting to rid their country of a foreign presence -- bin Laden's Al Qaeda organization -- and the government it helps prop up -- the Taliban.

And the United States plays the role of the former Soviet Union, supporting the Northern Alliance and other rebels, albeit far more actively than the Soviet Union supported the Vietcong.  The Soviet Union didn't conduct a massive bombing campaign against South Vietnam, nor strike inside that country with commandos.  But in neither case would the outside power be utilizing large number of its own ground troops to win the war on the ground.

So while the historical reverse analogy is not totally congruent, it's applicable enough to give pause for thought.

Especially so in the unfamiliarly pleasant fact that, unlike in Vietnam and a host of other countries in the Third World since World War II, in Afghanistan the United States is on the "right" side.

More Evidence of FBI/CIA Bumbling Prior to September 11 Attacks

October 19, 2001

It gets more and more unbelievable.

According to German authorities investigating the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, a suspect arrested in the United States in mid-August who had apparently intended to be the 20th hijacker, on Flight 93, received $15,000 in mysterious money transfers from Germany shortly before his arrest.

The money was transferred through Western Union.  Why didn't the FBI/CIA uncover this in August when the suspect was arrested?

This transfer was probably made by a known terrorist cell in Germany which has been linked to the September 11 attack.

In case you're not familiar with the amazing bumbling of the FBI/CIA in connection with Zacarias Moussaoui, of which this failure to discover the money transfer is just a part, here is a brief summary:

Mr. Moussaoui was arrested on Aug. 17 on immigration charges after a Minnesota flight school contacted the F.B.I. to report that he had been acting suspiciously. Instructors were especially alarmed by his request to learn how to fly large jet aircraft but not how to take off or land.

American law enforcement officials say they suspect that the man, Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, was meant to be the 20th hijacker in the attacks...

Federal investigators wonder whether a closer look at Mr. Moussaoui before Sept. 11 might have prevented the attacks.

For more details of the FBI/CIA failure to discover the September 11 plot when they very well could have, see my timeline summary.

How Much Oppression of Women Might the U.S. Be Obligated to Support  in Post-war Afghanistan?

October 18, 2001

Commenting on Colin Powell's visit to Pakistan, a New York Times reporter dryly noted that

The high praise heaped on Pakistan provided a curious sight: an American secretary [of] state standing next to a general in uniform who seized power in a military coup, and lauding his achievements.

You sometimes can't choose your allies in a war, and must hold your nose until the fighting's over.

But what about after the hostilities end?  I'm particularly thinking about women's rights in Afghanistan.

I'm sure women could not be worse off in any post-Taliban regime than they were under the Taliban.  The question is, how much better off will they be, and will their status be such that the U.S. could stomach aiding the government establishing those rules?

If a new government says okay, women, you can now go out of your homes without a male escort, but you still cannot drive a car, nor vote, nor hold any professional position other than a teacher, would that be acceptable?  By acceptable, I mean a situation where the U.S. would be willing to be a key player in establishing such a regime and providing it with critical financial and other support in the early going.

Obviously, a million different permutations and combinations can be hypothesized about the less than equal gender relations that might exist under the "broad-based" government that the U.S. government envisions being established in Afghanistan. 

The bottom line is, given our commitment to equal rights for men and women, to what degree would we be willing to violate that basic human rights standard in order to be able to establish and foster a functioning, and friendly, government in Kabul?

Maybe we can just say "The women are better off than under the Taliban, and that's good enough," but somehow I don't feel quite right with that approach.

It seems to be a problem with no easy solution.

Bill O'Reilly Properly Invokes Geneva Convention in Condemning Terrorists, But Needs to Apply It to His Own Ideas

October 17, 2001

No one can fault Bill O'Reilly, star of the Fox News talk show The O'Reilly Factor, for his condemnation tonight of the recent assaults against the United States:

Attacking innocent civilians with germs and jetliners is against every civilized rule of warfare ever designed.  These terrorists have made a mockery out of the Geneva Convention.

But doesn't O'Reilly realize that one of his own proposals for fighting the terrorists also clearly violates the Geneva Convention?

As discussed previously, back in September O'Reilly advocated completely destroying the civilian infrastructure of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, as well as mining the harbors of Tripoli, Libya.

Then, O'Reilly said, those populations will have two choices: starve, or overthrow their governments. 

"Knock their food supply out and their water supply out and those people will have to overthrow the Taliban.  It's either that or they die."

"The population must be made to endure another round of intense pain" O'Reilly said of Iraqi civilians.

Regarding Libya, O'Reilly says, "Let them eat sand."

Besides the appalling cruelty of O'Reilly's proposal, which even a military counter-terrorism expert on the show balked at endorsing, O'Reilly's proposal directly violates the Geneva Convention, which provides:

Article 54: Protection of Objects Indispensable to the Survival of the Civilian Population  

1. Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited

2. It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive.
[Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions]

So here we have yet one more example of Bill O'Reilly making a fool of himself, this time by blithely invoking against the terrorists the very international law he himself elsewhere proposes violating.

If O'Reilly does this consciously, he's a hypocrite.  If he does it unawares, he's ignorant.

Either way, Bill O'Reilly's foot is in his mouth once again.

Anthrax Attacks: Does the Media Think We're Idiots?

October 16, 2001

When the first case of anthrax was discovered in Florida, pundits informed us that it was likely just a coincidence that a short time after the World Trade Center attacks, an American contracted this disease.  Even though this was the first anthrax case since the 1970's.  And even though it happened in an area where some of the September 11 hijackers lived.

The media explained to us that the victim, who worked at a tabloid newspaper, had engaged in outdoor activities where he could have contracted "natural" anthrax.

These denials of reality sounded as ridiculous then as they do now.

When the second Florida anthrax case was discovered, the media said that it was "unlikely" two such cases would pop up "naturally" like that.  Gee, brilliant reasoning!

But, we were assured, these were probably not terrorist attacks, but the work of "criminals."  Well of course, as we all know, criminals often use anthrax in their endeavors, especially mailing it to people.

Seeking to bolster their claims, the media told us that prior incidents of biological/chemical attacks had also been "criminal" in nature, like the time in 1984 when food in an Oregon town was deliberately contaminated with salmonella, and the instance in 1992 where sarin gas was let loose in the Tokyo subway.

But of course, those acts, while being in violation of the law and therefore "criminal," were also terroristic.  The Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult and the cult in Oregon were trying to kill and terrorize the civilians in those areas for political purposes, precisely the definition of terrorism.

When anthrax was discovered in other locations -- the offices of NBC in New York and Senator Tom Daschle's (D-SD) office in Washington, D.C. -- the media continued their Alfred E. Neuman level of discourse by wondering out loud whether these and the prior Florida instances were "related."  No, there just happen to be a bunch of unconnected individuals in all three areas who possess anthrax and have personal grudges against the media and the U.S. government.

Finally, after all this, government officials and the media seem to be acknowledging these events for what they are: bioterrorism.

But their newest claim is to have no direct evidence that Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda group were the responsible terrorists.  Yup, there's some previously unknown group of terrorists with the financial wherewithal and scientific acumen to acquire, develop and spread anthrax. 

A friend suggested that perhaps the media and government officials were trying to downplay the terrorism angle and bin Laden connection from the very beginning to minimize fear and panic.  Perhaps.

But I'd personally feel a lot more secure if the media and government didn't try to deny reality for our sake, because it means they think we're stupid enough to buy their feeble denials.  And if they think we're that stupid, what other kind of dissembling will they think they can get away with?


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