Heroes of the post-9/11 era

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Quote of the day:The USA Patriot Act is homage to George Orwell. The Department of Homeland Security is Franz Kafka’s newest castle. The Department of Justice is run by a dangerously sober Elmer Gantry. Guantanamo Bay is a tropical one-stop of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Siberian gulag. And whatever goes on in the White House is a cross between Dr. Strangelove and ‘Groundhog Day.’ ” (Pierre Tristam, Daytona Beach News-Journal, quoted in John Dean essay [see below])

Economic freedom or fire sale? — the newspapers of two countries cover a story: Just the other day, the Iraqi advisory body handpicked by the American occupation authority in Baghdad, the “Governing Council” — now somehow subsumed with “Iraq,” the country, in American news reports — announced new “laws” that amount to the wholesale privatization of the country (minus, for now, the oil industry). Foreign companies are not only allowed free access to whatever but instant and full remittance of all profits to the home country (not Iraq). It might perhaps seem a tad strange that the Governing Council should propose a series of laws that bear no relation to anything previously experienced in Iraq, but are a blueprint of inside-the-Beltway neocon dreams of economic “liberation” abroad (and on which L. Paul Bremer is a hundred percenter).

No less interesting to me was the coverage of this I found in the three major American papers, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, and the two papers I regularly check in England, the Guardian and the Independent. Below I offer the headlines and first paragraph of essentially the same story in each of the papers. Here’s a tough quiz: Do you note any similarities? Any differences? Hmmm.

* “Iraq Offering Laws to Spur Investment From Abroad

“Iraq, in an effort to jump-start its economy and override security concerns, will announce new laws here on Sunday that remove most hurdles to foreign investment in the struggling country and offer very low tax rates for corporations and individuals, a senior Iraqi official said tonight.”
(Timothy L. O’Brien, the New York Times)

* “Economic Overhaul for Iraq

“The U.S.-led occupation authority here has ordered the overhaul of fundamental elements of Iraq’s socialist economy and instituted wide-ranging free-market reforms that will allow full foreign ownership in every sector except oil, U.S. and Iraqi officials said today.”
(Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Washington Post)

* “A Free Iraq Economy Is Outlined

“Iraq lurched toward the global free-market economy Sunday, announcing a program to establish an era of investment-friendly capitalism that would tell the world that the occupied country is building ‘a strong foundation for the future,’ Finance Minister Kamel Keylani said.”
(Josh Meyer, the Los Angeles Times)

* “America puts Iraq up for sale

“Iraq was in effect put up for sale yesterday when the American-appointed administration announced it was opening up all sectors of the economy to foreign investors in a desperate attempt to deliver much-needed reconstruction against a daily backdrop of kidnappings, looting and violent death.” (Andrew Gumbel and Philip Thornton, the Independent)

* “Foreign firms to bid in huge Iraqi sale

“Iraq was effectively put up for sale yesterday, when the US-backed administration unveiled a sweeping overhaul of the economy, giving foreign companies unprecedented access to Iraqi firms which are to be sold off in a privatisation windfall.” (Rory McCarthy, the Guardian)

Here, by the way, is historian and Middle Eastern expert Juan Cole’s comment on these events at his interesting “Informed Comment” website ( — you need to scroll down to get to the piece which is titled “U.S. Opens Iraq’s Economy, but to what”):

“The new rules allow foreign corporations potentially to dominate important sectors of the economy. Especially worrisome is foreign ownership of banks and deregulation of currency transfers, since it was the proliferation of such approaches in the 1990s that led to the 1997 meltdown in East and Southeast Asia. (Malaysia spared itself by clamping on currency controls, in defiance of the Washington Consensus, and it was spared the worst of the burst bubble that plagued Thailand and South Korea).

“The new law allows foreign corporations to buy 100% of Iraqi firms, which is highly unusual in that part of the world. There is no provision for the state to license this activity or to screen the investors, according to the NYT. Worse, any profits can be immediately repatriated abroad, in full. So Iraq becomes an ideal place to launder money; this is the way to fight a war on terror? Don’t these people remember the Savings and Loan Scandal of the Reagan Administration, which cost us all billions? Wait, maybe the same people designed these regulations.

“Note that the level of import tariffs, 5%, is exactly the level imposed by Great Britain on the Ottoman Empire in the Treaty of 1838 and on a defeated Egypt at the Treaty of London in 1840.”

From the President’s mouth — “I mean they’re good at that”

“‘I do think it would be helpful to get the United Nations in to help write a constitution. I mean, they’re good at that,’ Bush told Fox News in an Oval Office interview to be aired tonight. ‘Or, perhaps when an election starts, they’ll oversee the election. That would be deemed a larger role.'”
(Mike Allen, Bush Open To U.N. Oversight of Iraq Election, the Washington Post)

He means, of course, it’s the sort of thing a failed, “League of Nations” type organization might do, along with maybe cleaning up Saddam’s palaces and giving immunizations to someone or other. In the meantime, he plans to stick to our “schedule,” according to a preview of his UN speech offered on today’s New York Times front page (David E. Sanger, Bush Plans Unyielding Stance on Iraq War in Address to U.N.):

“President Bush will tell the United Nations on Tuesday that he was right to order the invasion of Iraq even without the organization’s explicit approval, and he will urge a new focus on countering nuclear proliferation, arguing that it is the only way to avoid similar confrontations.

“Mr. Bush’s unyielding presentation, described over the weekend by officials involved in drafting it, will come in a 22-minute speech to the United Nations General Assembly. According to the officials involved in drafting the speech, for an audience they know will range from the skeptical to the angry, Mr. Bush will acknowledge no mistakes in planning for postwar security and reconstruction in Iraq.”

I love this, actually. The logic is delicious in a mad sort of way — a way that makes sense if you deny all those “mistakes” ever happened. So now the administration which created the idea of “proliferation wars” and loosed a new round of nuclear proliferation on the world wants the UN to confront the issue of “proliferation” to stop future wars like the recent Iraqi one where, as it happens, we know now there were no such weapons. I see it all, clear as day, and tomorrow I’m sure the rest of the world will, too.

Mon semblable, mon frere:

Independent reporter Robert Fisk in his latest piece from Iraq, American’s draw a veil of secrecy as casualties grow (truthout), offers quite a different take from any you could read in our press on “one of the more extraordinary episodes” of recent days in which former Saddamist General Sultan Ahmed

“handed himself over to Major General David Petraeus after the American commander had sent him a letter describing him as “a man of honor and integrity.” In return for his surrender the Americans had promised to remove his name from the list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis.

“I last saw the portly General Ahmed in April, brandishing a gold-painted Kalashnikov in the Ministry of Information and vowing eternal war against the American invaders. It was General Ahmed who persuaded Norman Schwarzkopf to allow the defeated Iraqi forces to use military helicopters on “official business” after the 1991 US-Iraqi ceasefire These helicopters were then used in the brutal repression of the Shia Muslim and Kurdish rebellions Afterwards, there was much talk of indicting General Ahmed as a war criminal, but General Petraeus seems to have thrown that idea into the waste bin.Thus far have the Americans now gone in appeasing the men who may have influence over the Iraqi guerrillas now killing US soldiers.”

Heroes of the post-9/11 era:

All honors in our world should go to those who exist “within” — the government, the intelligence bureaucracy, and especially the military — and still decide to speak out. Two recent cases of this, one from the U.S. military and one — prospective at least — from the Israeli Air Force are especially worthy of note. Tim Predmore, no kid but a 36 year-old American soldier on active duty with the 101st Airborne Division, based near Mosul in northern Iraq, wrote a startling and brave piece, We are facing death in Iraq for no reason for the Peoria Journal Star (picked up by the Guardian). He says in part,

“For the past six months, I have been participating in what I believe to be the great modern lie: Operation Iraqi Freedom Thankfully, I have not personally been a witness to atrocities – unless, of course, you consider, as I do, that this war in Iraq is the ultimate atrocity This looks like a modern-day crusade not to free an oppressed people or to rid the world of a demonic dictator relentless in his pursuit of conquest and domination, but a crusade to control another nation’s natural resource. Oil – at least to me – seems to be the reason for our presence.

“I once believed that I was serving for a cause – ‘to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States.’ Now I no longer believe that; I have lost my conviction, as well as my determination. I can no longer justify my service on the basis of what I believe to be half-truths and bold lies.”

According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, other on-duty military men are considering an even braver act — but as a group. The admirable Jewish Peace News (, in one of its regular reports, introduced Ha’aretz‘s piece this way:

“In a stunning and promising development, Ha’aretz is reporting that a group of Israel Air Force pilots are about to issue a statement announcing their refusal to participate in assassination operations directed against ‘wanted men of the Palestinian Authority.’ One result of the sad militarization of Israeli society is the special place the soldier holds in Israel. But even more honored is the pilot, as the Israeli Air Force has been the key portion of the military that has so thoroughly dominated the region. While there have been occasional pilots who have refused to take certain actions, this organized statement is without precedent. It has the potential to have a major impact on the discourse in Israel surrounding not only assassination operations, but possibly even the occupation itself.”

The article itself by Lily Galilli was entitled Reserve pilots to refuse liquidations and said in part:


“The various refusal movements view the pilots’ planned declaration as a big boost for their cause, due to the special status enjoyed by pilots in Israeli society, and hope that it will shake up Israelis in a way that “ordinary” refusals have not. Though one pilot joined the refusal movement at the start of the intifada, and though there were a few incidents during the Lebanon War of pilots refusing to bomb specific targets, a declaration by an organized group of pilots would be something new.”

To grasp the context within which such an act would take place, consider a column by Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Levy (One Nation, No Voice), who has himself been a strikingly forthright and critical voice in a country being stripped of them:

“Today, hawk and dove are archaic – perhaps even prehistoric – terms there is almost no significant public debate in Israeli society. When was the last time you heard a debate on the future of the territories?… One nation, one voice – subdued and dispirited. Is it possible that on such vital, basic issues, there are no longer two opposing opinions in Israel?…

“With the exception of the fringes, the peace camp has folded up its flag, the settlers are becoming more firmly established Israelis no longer meet Palestinians (apart from those who may see one through the sight finder of their rifle during army reserve duty) and the same can be said for most settlers. The only argument that is still being discussed here is sickening: should Israel kill Yasser Arafat, or merely expel him?… As long as politicians, commentators and experts speak in a uniform, brainwashing, chorus, there is nothing to argue about. A society once considered split and politicized has turned dumb.”

Or check out below the fine piece on this Sunday’s Los Angeles Times Opinion page by the Israeli novelist David Grossman, a singular voice that refuses to silence itself, on Ariel Sharon and the “debate” in Israel about what should be done with Arafat.

Critical voices in America — Too old to be intimidated?

Here’s my geriatric test question for today — who wrote the following op-ed entitled The New Inquisition that appeared in the Denver Post and other mainstream papers:

“In his 2 1/2 years in office, Attorney General John Ashcroft has earned himself a remarkable distinction as the Torquemada of American law.

“Tomas de Torquemada, you might recall, was the 15th-century Dominican friarlargely responsible for [the Inquisition’s] methods, including torture and the burning of heretics — Muslims in particular.

“Now, of course, I am not accusing the attorney general of pulling out anyone’s fingernails or burning people at the stake (at least I don’t know of any such cases). But one does get the sense these days that the old Spaniard’s spirit is comfortably at home in Ashcroft’s Department of Justice.

“Nothing so clearly evokes Torquemada’s spirit as Ashcroft’s penchant for overruling U.S. attorneys who have sought lesser penalties in capital cases Ashcroft is not alone in this. His boss, while governor of Texas, seemed never to have met a death sentence he didn’t like What makes this administration’s legal bloodthirstiness particularly alarming is the almost religious zeal that seems to drive it.”

The author is former CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, the man who, when he declared the Vietnam War a “stalemate” on TV during the Tet Offensive in 1968, reputedly drove Lyndon Johnson from the presidential race.

And who wrote the following, which appeared in equally mainstream venues under the headline, Bush wants more terror laws?

“Administration officials are loath to refer to this legislative wish list as Patriot Act II. But that’s what it adds up to, even as the White House tries to win approval of the odious proposals one at a time, attaching each separately to an appropriations bill or some other ‘must-pass’ legislation. The White House bundle could be worse — and it almost was.

“Earlier this summer, word leaked that the administration was drafting a Patriot Act II that would allow secret arrests, police spying, unchecked power to deport foreign nationals, creation of a DNA database for suspected terrorists and new death penalties for certain terrorist offenses.

“The leak caused public consternation and the package was put on hold I’m happy to see that the American people are waking up and becoming concerned that their government is seeking to encroach more on their lives and to breach constitutional guarantees.”

I’ve been calling Robert Byrd, the Last Roman Senator, for his remarkable speeches of the last year. What then is Helen Thomas, whose column this was — the Empress Dowager of the press?

Perhaps she and Cronkite like Byrd are simply too old not to see the world for what it is and old enough not to worry about the consequences of then describing it as such in public. But what, then are we to make of best-selling detective novelist Sara Paretsky, who wrote a stirring op-ed for the Chicago Tribune, For those who wish to dissent: Speech, Silence and Patriotism, which says in part:

“A cloud of unknowing surrounds St. Johns College in Santa Fe, Andrew O’Connor and his long interrogation by Albuquerque police and the Secret Service in February 2003. O’Connor was removed from the college library by police after he made negative comments about President Bush in an online chat room. But since he was ultimately released without being charged, he clearly had not threatened the president’s life. What he said, how the police and Secret Service knew he said it, and the gag order on the college to keep people from talking about his arrest, are all shrouded in silence.

“Similarly, we don’t know what a New Jersey library user was reading the day another patron called the police to report that the man was looking at a foreign-language Web page. But the man was hauled off for questioningI am a frightened citizen right now, more scared than I’ve been since the first few weeks after Sept. 11, 2001.”

But not too frightened, it seems, to speak out. Nor has John Dean, former counsel to Richard Nixon, been too frightened to do so. Of course, he well remembers the dangers to us all of a constitution-busting president. This weekend in the Los Angeles Times Book Review (see below), the best and most provocative of our review sections, he considered a series of books on the Ashcroftian attack on our liberties and eloquently warned that, if it’s not yet nightfall in America, it looks very much like twilight.

But perhaps that’s too gloomy. I feel a weight of voices slowly building and a weight of another sort slowly pressing down on the Bush administration. Jim Lobe (An Administration in disarray, Inter Press News Service,) suggests that only Hurricane Isabel gave George W a “brief respite” from another terrible week, but he predicts that a different kind of storm is brewing, and reads the omens leaves this way:

“Particularly striking were signs of growing disarray at the highest levels of the administration, such as Bush’s assertion that there was ‘no evidence’ linking Iraq to the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, a statement that appeared at odds both with what Vice President Dick Cheney claimed as recently as last Sunday and what he and some Pentagon officials had been advocating months before the war.

“Similarly, the assertion by the US commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, that the popular resistance to the US occupation might be broader than radical Islamists, foreign infiltrators and Baathist ‘dead-enders’ appeared to contradict repeated assurances by top administration officials in recent weeks.

“Other developments of the past week-including the seemingly total collapse of the US-led road map for Israel and the Palestinians, and the tepid response to US appeals for more international support for its efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan-suggest that the administration, already reeling from unexpected setbacks in postwar Iraq, is in for a very stormy autumn.”

In this context, Eric Margolis’ Sunday column in the Toronto Sun on the woeful party-line performance of the American media until recently (“I do not exaggerate when I say that much of the U.S. media from 9/11 to the present closely resembled the old Soviet media I knew and disrespected during my stays in the USSR during the 1980s.”) seems apt — especially since he concludes, quite correctly, “The muzzles may soon be coming off.” We are now about to enter a louder, more critical, and possibly far more dangerous environment. Tom

Bush’s tame U.S. media may yet have teeth
By Eric Margolis, Contributing Foreign Editor
The Toronto Sun
September 21, 2003

I’ve long considered CNN’s Christiane Amanpour an outstanding journalist. Last week, my opinion of her rose further when she ignited a storm of controversy when asked by a TV interviewer about the U.S. media’s coverage of the Iraq war.

Breaking a taboo of silence in the mainstream media, Amanpour courageously replied, “I think the press was muzzled and I think the press self-muzzled. Television … was intimidated by the (Bush) administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News.”

Right on cue, faithful to Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering’s advice to attack all dissenting views as treason, Fox accused Amanpour of being a “spokeswoman for al-Qaida”

To read more Margolis click here

Should He Go?
The Palestinian leader has blood on his hands, but so does Sharon. His ouster would destroy hope.
By David Grossman
The Los Angeles Times
September 21, 2003

If Yasser Arafat were expelled from the West Bank, if he were exiled to Gaza or somewhere else – or taken out with a bullet, as has been proposed by senior Israeli Cabinet ministers – would the chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians be improved? Would terror suddenly cease? Would a new leader emerge who could unite the Palestinians and lead them toward peace, with all the painful concessions that peace would require?

Of course not. Arafat is certainly a problematic leader, inconstant and unreliable. He brought disaster on his people by missing, in July 2000, the opportunity to turn then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s proposals into a country for the Palestinians

David Grossman’s most recent book is “Death as a Way of Life: Israel Ten Years After Oslo.”

Translated by Haim Watzman

To read more Grossman click here

Liberties disappearing before our eyes
By John W. Dean
The Los Angeles Times Book Review
September 21, 2003

If you don’t believe that America’s war on terrorism threatens your freedoms, delving into any one of these books will change your mind as well as advise you of the rights and liberties that are in true jeopardy. This collection of new works, which address the effect of the war on terrorism on civil liberties, contains one remarkably consistent theme: The federal government has overreacted to the terrorism threat and, in doing so, has traded freedoms of all Americans for an illusion of security. This reality is supported by overwhelming evidence. My hope is to provide at least a whiff of what will be found in each work while winnowing the list for those who want to better understand the situation.

John W. Dean is a former Nixon White House counsel, a columnist and the author of several books, including a forthcoming biography of Warren G. Harding.

To read more Dean click here