August 26, 2007
ETA and the Roots of Terrorism
There is no country in Europe that interests me more than Spain. There is no ongoing issue in Spain that frustrates me more than ETA, one hopes the last homegrown terrorist organization in Western Europe.
I've been reading Giles Tremlett's excellent book, Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Secret Past and recommend it heartily, especially if you have an interest in Spain. His chapter on ETA is especially compelling.
Why does ETA want independence, especially for what appears to be only the Spanish portion of the historic region? Granted, there is no question that much of the region suffered greatly under the dictatorship of Franco, who referred to the region as the "rebellious provinces" and who banned the language from being spoken, while rewarding the communities of Alava and Navarre for supporting his uprising. Times have certainly changed, however:
- Basque is acknowledged as an official language in Spain, despite the fact that it is not spoken by a majority of the population within the Basque country and barely has one million speakers and even fewer who speak it as a first language. . Here is the website for the Basque language verson of Spain's national rail system called RENFE. It's also available in Gallego and Catalan in addition to Castellano.
- The Basque Region has at least as much autonomy as any other region in Spain, if not more.
- The Basque Region has far and away the best economy in Spain, including the most disposable income in the country.
Granted that the government of former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez committed acts that probably spurred younger people into supporting ETA, but that was years ago. So, why the desire for independence that leads to such horrid violence? Why the obsession among some with the fact that the Basque population has a higher percentage of RH- in its population or the claims that the Basques have unusual crania? Why the insistence that a referendum be held for independence when recent polls show only 38% of the population would vote for independence?
I wish I knew.
Spare Me the Ravers, But...
By Deborah Newell Tornello a.k.a. litbrit
Damn. Just...damn. Go read this (I've linked to Common Dreams,
since the source article in Britain's The Independent seems to be, er, not available; the article was first published in The Independent, now with a working link):
My final argument - a clincher, in my view - is that the Bush administration has screwed up everything - militarily, politically diplomatically - it has tried to do in the Middle East; so how on earth could it successfully bring off the international crimes against humanity in the United States on 11 September 2001?
Well, I still hold to that view. Any military which can claim - as the Americans did two days ago - that al-Qa’ida is on the run is not capable of carrying out anything on the scale of 9/11. “We disrupted al-Qa’ida, causing them to run,” Colonel David Sutherland said of the preposterously code-named “Operation Lightning Hammer” in Iraq’s Diyala province. “Their fear of facing our forces proves the terrorists know there is no safe haven for them.” And more of the same, all of it untrue.
Within hours, al-Qa’ida attacked Baquba in battalion strength and slaughtered all the local sheikhs who had thrown in their hand with the Americans. It reminds me of Vietnam, the war which George Bush watched from the skies over Texas - which may account for why he this week mixed up the end of the Vietnam war with the genocide in a different country called Cambodia, whose population was eventually rescued by the same Vietnamese whom Mr Bush’s more courageous colleagues had been fighting all along.
But - here we go. I am increasingly troubled at the inconsistencies in the official narrative of 9/11. It’s not just the obvious non sequiturs: where are the aircraft parts (engines, etc) from the attack on the Pentagon? Why have the officials involved in the United 93 flight (which crashed in Pennsylvania) been muzzled? Why did flight 93’s debris spread over miles when it was supposed to have crashed in one piece in a field? Again, I’m not talking about the crazed “research” of David Icke’s Alice in Wonderland and the World Trade Center Disaster - which should send any sane man back to reading the telephone directory.
I am talking about scientific issues. If it is true, for example, that kerosene burns at 820C under optimum conditions, how come the steel beams of the twin towers - whose melting point is supposed to be about 1,480C - would snap through at the same time? (They collapsed in 8.1 and 10 seconds.) What about the third tower - the so-called World Trade Centre Building 7 (or the Salmon [sic] Brothers Building) - which collapsed in 6.6 seconds in its own footprint at 5.20pm on 11 September? Why did it so neatly fall to the ground when no aircraft had hit it? The American National Institute of Standards and Technology was instructed to analyse the cause of the destruction of all three buildings. They have not yet reported on WTC 7. Two prominent American professors of mechanical engineering - very definitely not in the “raver” bracket - are now legally challenging the terms of reference of this final report on the grounds that it could be “fraudulent or deceptive”.
Journalistically, there were many odd things about 9/11.
August 23, 2007
I Feel Safer
Knowing that Fiorella Maza is back in Peru certainly makes me feel safer. This Peruvian track star, college student and ballet dancer was clearly a threat to our values:
Fiorella Maza, a standout student, ballet dancer and track star, had just started her freshman year at Miami Dade College when immigration agents knocked on her door.
Instantly, her middle-class American life was turned upside down.
Maza now spends most of her time inside a drafty old home in Peru's capital city. She's dislodged from her circle of friends, socially disoriented. She speaks only rudimentary Spanish.
''I never thought I could be sent to Peru,'' said Maza, 19, who was brought to West Kendall illegally as a toddler and was deported in March. ``It's like a foreign country to me.''
Don't get outraged just yet. Save your anger for this:
A federal judge dropped charges against former CIA operative and anti-Castro Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles on Tuesday, blasting what she called government "fraud, deceit and trickery" in an interview with Posada that led to the charges.
Posada, 79, was charged with seven counts of immigration fraud. He was arrested in Miami in May 2005 after entering the country illegally.
U.S. district judge Kathleen Cardone ordered Posada's electronic bracelet cut off in the courtroom Tuesday and cleared the way for him to return to Miami a free man.
Posada's attorney, Arturo Hernandez, told CNN the ruling was "an incredible legal victory."
The Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security said they were reviewing Cardone's decision.
On October 6th, 1976 Cubana Flight 455 was destroyed after takeoff by a bomb detonation that had been placed in the aircraft toilets in which all seventy-three people on board were killed, including many young members of a Cuban fencing team. Five people from North Korea were also killed on board the flight. This bombing would have been plotted at the same meeting, attended by Luis Posada Carriles and DINA agent Michael Townley, where Chilean former minister Orlando Letelier's assassination, in Washington, D.C. in 1976, was decided. Bosch was jailed in Venezuela awaiting trial for his role concerning the Cubana Flight 455 bombing, but he was never convicted of these charges.
In 1968 Bosch was arrested in Florida for an attack on a Polish freighter with a 57 mm recoilless rifle and was as a result sent to prison for a ten year term. In 1987, almost a decade after the Flight 455 incident, Bosch was freed from Venezuelan charges and went to the United States, assisted by US Ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich; there, he was ultimately arrested for a parole violation. Bosch was pardoned of all American charges by President George H.W. Bush on July 18, 1990 at the request of his son Jeb Bush, who later became Governor of Florida; this pardon was despite objections by the then President's own defense department, that Bosch was one of the most deadly terrorists working "within the hemisphere." Although many countries seek Bosch's extradition he remains free in the United States. The political pressure to grant Bosch a pardon was begun during the congressional campaign run by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, herself a Cuban American, and overseen by her campaign manager Jeb Bush. The resultant pardon reputedly saw huge celebrations in Miami, in what was then called 'Free Orlando Day.'"
Like father, like son.
George Bush's America: protecting us against Peruvian teenagers, providing refuge for a terrorist. The mind reels.
November 06, 2005
The Non-Problems With Not Torturing
Kevin Drum and Mark Kleiman point out that oft-cited pieces of false information about Iraq training al-Qaeda operatives to use WMD were extracted under torture. Examples like this are important for the pragmatic case against torture. People being tortured don't try to say true things; they say whatever they think will make their suffering stop. Using torture will bring us lots of false information, and relying heavily on it may lead our foreign policy into catastrophic errors.
Defenders of torture often bring up movie-perfect ticking-time-bomb scenarios where the information received under torture can be tested quickly and there is no great threat of damage from false information. (It takes some effort to even come up with a good case where torture would be useful. If you were torturing a terrorist for information about where a bomb was in New York City, the terrorist could falsely claim that the bomb was in some obscure and hard-to-search location. By the time the location was thoroughly searched, the bomb might well go off, and the terrorist would get both the end of the torture and the success of his plan.) Situations like this, however, are very different from the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo or any of our foreign prisons, where false information is costly and hard to weed out. It's here where the arguments against torture as a policy are most relevant.
It's not clear to me that a policy opposing torture would actually prevent torture from being applied in the extreme cases that the torture supporters like to bring up. I'm guessing that antiterrorism personnel in extreme situations where torture is clearly the only way to prevent a city from being annihilated will resort to torture whether or not it's permitted. I'd also guess that politicians would be forthcoming with pardons for anyone whose acts of torture were successful in saving thousands of lives. So using a no-torture policy in the usual cases won't weaken us in the unusual and spectacular cases.
October 07, 2005
Yesterday, the President said:
Some observers also claim that America would be better off by cutting our losses and leaving Iraq now. This is a dangerous illusion, refuted with a simple question: Would the United States and other free nations be more safe, or less safe, with Zarqawi and bin Laden in control of Iraq, its people, and its resources?
Today, Justin Logan answers:
Can the president point to one serious analyst who thinks - whether we leave next year or not - that there is a serious prospect of OBL and Zarqawi setting up a national government in Iraq? I mean, seriously, if the above suggestion isn't intellectually insulting to you, you may want to get that checked out.
Moreover, if you want to be really Machiavellian, wouldn't it be better if you could make the terrorists think they had won, and that they could set up a central government? And then, you know, bomb their first meeting of the minds into the stone age? I mean, really, THAT'D be a flypaper strategy--get 'em all to congregate in one place and then introduce them to our little friend JDAM?
How do they let him say stuff like this? It's embarrassing.
August 29, 2005
Politics of Terrorism, Comparative Edition
Tony Blair's unending cycle of Bush-related problems gained a new twist this week with a leaked document from the head of the Foreign Service warning Blair that British policy in Iraq and the Middle East was feeding Islamic radicalism and doing wonders for recruitment. That's not necessarily surprising, one needs only the barest flicker of sentience to intuit that every time we blow up an Iraqi wedding or refuse to disavow permanent bases we give some Islamic extremist that last push towards violence. What is interesting, though, is the cultural difference between the politics of terrorism across the Atlantic and the way it plays out here. To wit:
Blair has consistently denied a link between Britain's participation in the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the July 7 bombings, which killed 52 people, along with the four presumed bombers, and injured 700 others on three London subways and a bus. Blair has said the accused bombers -- all young Muslim men, several of them British citizens -- were motivated by a "perverse" interpretation of Islam and that similar attacks had been happening since long before the Iraq war began.
In America, Bush's whole rationale for war is based on a terrorist attack from four years ago. Instead of trying to lessen our footprint to calm tensions in the region that cultivated our attackers, the current administration has relied on a rhetoric of revenge: they struck, so we'll hit harder. Were we hit again, the Bush administration would likely institute a draft and flood the Middle East with American troops in service of a wholesale destruction and regeneration of the current order.
England, by contrast, seems basically resigned to the reality of terrorism and don't want to do anything that will make it worse. A history of dealing with its illogic and persistence (in the form of the IRA) is probably causal in that. So rather than using the bombings as proof for his involvement in Bush's Middle East project, Blair has to convince the British that they were an unconnected, inevitable act that would've occurred whether or not British boots had landed in Mesopotamia. That, of course, is absurd. At the same time, Bush's connections to 9/11 are boldfaced, smirking lies. And that's what the Iraq War has come to; a losing conflict justified by one participant's revenge fantasy's and the other's feigned naivete.
July 15, 2005
Thinking About, Speaking About, Acting On Terror
Sherle Schwenniger's expansive article on a foreign policy for the Democrats is certainly the best thing I've read in the genre. I'll be saying a lot about it in the next few days (there is, unfortunately for all of you, lots to be said), but today let's do terrorism.
With regard to the Middle East in general, we must extract ourselves from what could escalate into what many Arabs see as a civilizational war with the Islamic world. This, however, does not mean disengaging, but rather repositioning the United States to be less of an overbearing dominant power. Our strategy toward Islamic jihadism ought to consist of lowering America's profile in the region and patiently containing bin Ladenism as it slowly loses its allure by being denied the foreign imperial enemy it needs in order to succeed. And the best way to lower our profile, without sacrificing any legitimate American interests, is to internationalize as much as possible US policy toward the Middle East--to reduce America's dominant, in-your-face presence in the region by withdrawing forces from Iraq and by sharing responsibility with the three other members of the "Quartet," the EU, Russia and the UN.
On a policy level, this really is how Democrats should think about these issues (aside from the quartet part: the EU, Russia, and the UN are not going to replace our endangered bodies and large checks with their own). Problem is, on a political level, it probably isn't how Democrats should talk about these issues. But as a way to conceptualize terror, the article gets most of it right. Terrorism should be viewed as the armed outlet of fringe movements that happens to be dangerous because of an unlucky combination of money, easily obtained weaponry, terrible conditions in the Arab world, and a heavy American presence around issues that breeds resentment in the Middle East. It's just that America -- and Democrats -- can't really say, "oh, good point, we're going to leave now."
Aside from the foreign policy problem of creating a precedent for terror to succeed, the political consequences of backing away from our perceived confrontation with al Qaeda are scores of Republicans gleefully tarring us "appeasers". It so happens that most everything we do spurs them to that reaction, but this would help it stick better than ever before (I never understand those who argue that we should ignore how our actions will look because Republicans will attack anyway. Boxers know the other guy'll punch, but it doesn't make them stop blocking).
It's a very weird position to be in: Americans have a narrative about terror. They want to kill it. Fine, fine, so do I. But because we've jammed it into a war formulation, there's a perception that we just need to find the right battlefields, point guns, and shoot. Anything else is weakness, fear, therapy. Even if it works better. So Democrats, while they should be thinking about how to do this right, need to talk about how to do it wrong.
That was on pretty good display at the conference. Thomas Frank, reprising his general theme, seems to think national security issues don't exist, or at least shouldn't be mentioned in polite society. But Katrina vanden Huevel, who does think seriously about this stuff, made a variety of perfectly good policy arguments that'd nevertheless prove disastrous electorally. Soft power is much stronger than hard power. We need a foreign policy focused on diplomacy. Etc.
This stuff isn't necessarily wrong (though nor is it always right), but Democrats hardly need to play into stereotype by emphasizing how much more talking they'd do in an attempt to defeat terror. The Democratic appeal has to focus on fighting smarter and better in order to convince voters that, if the need came up, we'd fight at all. Because we would. We just wouldn't fly off half-cocked at countries that don't pose a threat until we invade them.
Clinton, when he ran in a mostly foreign policy free election, moved to George H.W Bush's right on foreign policy, blasting him for coddling the Butchers of Beijing and letting Bosnia spin out of hand. Democrats now need to move above the son, blasting him not for a lack of aggression, but a lack of intelligence, strategy, forethought. During an election, the duty is to get elected. Once elected, the duty is to lead correctly. Schwenniger's piece is good on the second part, but it shouldn't be mistaken for advice on the first.
July 11, 2005
The War on Terror (Michael Ledeen Mental Remix)
As of 9/11, the terror masters were five: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Today they are three, which is certainly good work on our part. But it isn’t nearly good enough. We cannot possibly have decent security in Iraq unless we end the murderous tyrannies in Tehran and Damascus, and convince or compel the Saudi royal family to shut down the global network of terrorist brainwashing centers they spend billions of dollars to operate.
All this should convince us that it is a mistake to microanalyze the London operation. It is just another event in the terror war, one of many, with many more to come. Its real significance should be seen as a further wake-up call to us and our allies. Our enemies know they are at war, and they are attacking us everywhere they can, in every way they can. Do we really know we are at war, and that we cannot win it within the parameters we have set for ourselves?
This sort of lunacy fascinates me. Ledeen says that our enemies are seized with bloodlust, attacking us wherever and whenever they can. Yeah? Really? So far as I know, the post-9/11 list of terror attacks reads: Indonesia, Madrid, London. Not to minimize their seriousness, but the monstrous "masters of terror" could only pull off three bombings in radically different portions of the globe? We're talking five countries that have or had standing armies trying to attack us anywhere that they can, yet the US (thankfully) hasn't suffered a second attack, London just absorbed their first, Americans safely travel around the globe, Israel still stands...
Ledeen likes the rhetoric of total war (in no small part because he'd like us to declare it), but it's ill-fitting for the situation. America, happily, has not seen any suicide bombings, car bombs, truck explosions, missiles shot at airplanes, nor anything else since 9/11. Why we've gotten such a pass is unclear, but we have. And what that proves, if nothing else, is that they're not attacking us whenever and wherever they can. Indeed, they're doing quite the opposite, hitting us wherever and whenever they want, and doing so rarely.
July 08, 2005
Fox vs. France
The bombings in London: This is why I thought the Brits should let the French have the Olympics (search) — let somebody else be worried about guys with backpack bombs for a while.
But, all Thursday proved is that they come to get you anyway. And, by the way, they come and get their own too:
So here's John Gibson's mental timeline of the bombings:
July 6th: London gets the games. Yay London!
July 6th, afternoon: A terrorist cell puts into action their plan to bomb whoever got the Olympic Games. They import materials, download train schedules, case drop-off points, and plan the attack. In 8 hours.
July 7th, 8am: Bombs go off.
Idiot. The bombs were timed to disrupt the G8 conference, not the Olympic announcement. Terrorist attacks can't change locale on a dime -- they need to be planned and rehearsed, the materials acquired and assembled, the terrorists trained and briefed. It's not like popping to the kitchen to make a sandwich. (Update: some don't think Gibson was connecting the announcement and the attacks. I'm not so sure, but I see the interpretation that puts it in doubt. All other points about Gibson's total ignorance on French/English counterterrorism and Muslim relations stand).
But inability to conceive how a terrorist attack works aside, only someone wholly ignorant in Euro-Muslim relations would think France hasn't been dealing with Islamists. Indeed, it's actually been Britain who decided they'd better just open the gates and try to curry favor with extremists by offering them a near no-questions-asked sanctuary. France, on the other hand, closed their borders to radical Islamists and quickly earned the undying enmity of the jihad movement. I quoted yesterday from Gilles Kepel's Jihad to make this point, and if John Gibson is reading, he should go absorb that graf. But today, let's go to the Washington Post:
Armed with some of the strictest anti-terrorism laws and policies in Europe, the French government has aggressively targeted Islamic radicals and other people deemed a potential terrorist threat. While other Western countries debate the proper balance between security and individual rights, France has experienced scant public dissent over tactics that would be controversial, if not illegal, in the United States and some other countries.
French counterterrorism officials say their preemptive approach has paid off, enabling them to disrupt plots before they are carried out and to prevent radical cells from forming in the first place. They said tips from informants and close cooperation with other intelligence services led them to thwart planned attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Paris, French tourist sites on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean and other targets.
France has embraced a law enforcement strategy that relies heavily on preemptive arrests, ethnic profiling and an efficient domestic intelligence-gathering network. French anti-terrorism prosecutors and investigators are among the most powerful in Europe, backed by laws that allow them to interrogate suspects for days without interference from defense attorneys.
France was dealing with this before London, before America, before the neocons. That's why France's operational intelligence is more valuable to us than just about anyone else's. And they've been serious enough about counterterrorism to pursue security with a zeal that'd make Americans -- both civil libertarians and their critics -- blush. Gibson's article ends with a plea to preserve the PATRIOT ACT. France, in their anti-terror efforts, has gone much further. What a shame that a nationally televised newsman, someone thousands go to for their information, not only doesn't know that, but is ignorant enough to think the opposite. If the media worked rationally, Gibson would be fired and replaced with someone who reads the paper.
July 07, 2005
London, No More "Stan"
London mayor Ken Livingstone:
"I want to say one thing, specifically to the world today — this was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful, it was not aimed at presidents or prime ministers, it was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian ... young and old … that isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted fate, it is an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder."
"They seek to divide London, they seek Londoners to turn against each other ... this city of London is the greatest in the world because everybody lives side by side in harmony. Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack."
London is a particularly symbolic ground for al Qaeda to attack. No other society on earth has been as open to Islamic immigration as England. Indeed, it was so willing to tolerate all manner of extremists that it earned the name "Londonistan". This, from Gilles Kepel's Jihad, makes the point well:
On the issue of asylum, London and Paris took positions dimatreically opposed to each other. London, still traumatized by the Salman Rushdie affair, freely gave safe haven to militants from all over the world. Paris, on the other hand, whose political landscape had for some time been distrubed by controversy over the wearing of the veil in state schools, kept its frontiers firmly closed to militants. Thus, in the final years of the twentieth century, Great Britain became the axis around with the small world that had coalesced at Peshawar in the 1980'revolved. In return for this hospitality, them ilitants declared Britain a sanctuary: no act of terrorism was committed there, and the refugee activists made no attempt to stir up the young Indo-Pakistanis".
That truce, it's safe to say, is long over.