Thursday, May 31, 2007

... and then they played a rousing game of Dodgetank

Fun and games in Tiananmen Square:

BEIJING (AFP) - Thousands of children took over Beijing's Tiananmen Square Thursday, staging a mass sports and games demonstration as part of the city's effort to drum up enthusiasm for next year's Olympics.

Under the banner of "Harmonious China awaiting the Olympics," organisers said 10,000 children, some as young as four, had been called in for the morning festivities on the eve of the annual world Children's Day.

Games included football, badminton and gymnastics, while dance troops, cheers squads and around 2,000 practitioners of the ancient wushu martial art, including students from the famous Shaolin Monastery, gave performances.

A group of around 2,000 youngsters also gathered in formation in the shapes of the five Olympic rings and the year 2008.

Boy, you'd think the Chinese Communist Party would pick some other location for these sorts of activities, given that the Western media will always tack on something like this to any story about mass gatherings in Tiananmen Square:

Mass rallies on the central square are considered sensitive for national security reasons as the anniversary of the June 4, 1989 massacre approaches.

After weeks of pro-democracy rallies 18 years ago, Chinese troops moved in to crush the protests, killing hundreds and possibly thousands of people.

Gee, crush one pro-democracy rally with the loss of hundreds and possibly thousands of innocent lives, and no one ever lets you live it down. Life is so unfair.

The Sicilians may just move the mattanza to Brussels

The EU is threatening to mess up salade niçoise in a big way:

The European Commission is preparing to ban fishing for bluefin tuna within EU waters to save the species from extinction.

The failure of France, Italy and Spain to observe EU limits on tuna catches and to prevent illegal fishing has finally exhausted the patience of officials across Europe.

Just this week, French boats were filmed by conservationists illegally drift-netting for tuna in the Mediterranean.

Irony number one: the biggest violators are fishermen whose governments are the most vocally in favor of EU regulation in practically every other aspect of European life. The one government most trying to comply with the quotas is Britain, whose people are among the least enthusiastic for EU regulation.

Ben Bradshaw, Britain's fisheries minister, was infuriated by the EU's failure last month to enforce Common Fisheries Policy rules.

He said that British fishermen who cheated and fished over their limit had the numbers deducted from quotas in future years.

But, to date, French, Italian and Spanish bluefin tuna fleets had simply been carrying on regardless.

French fishermen, the worst culprits according to environmental campaigners, are said to have exceeded quotas by 30 per cent last year, sparking calls from Mr Bradshaw for France to be excluded until it has reached "payback".

I wonder, if the ban passes, whether a flotilla of Sicilian fishermen will sail up to Belgium and set up a mattanza in Brussels, letting EU bureaucrats stand in for the bluefin tuna.

Which brings up irony number two: the Europeans continually carp at the USA for not doing things like signing up to the Kyoto Protocols on carbon caps. Yet here they are, flouting their own laws to exploit a natural resource past the point of sustainability. I guess it's easy to sign up to feel-good measures if you never intend to enforce them.

Iraq Residents Rise Up Against al-Qaida

That's the actual headline on the AP story:

BAGHDAD (AP) -- A battle raged Thursday in west Baghdad after residents rose up against al-Qaida and called for U.S. military help to end random gunfire that forced people to huddle indoors and threats that kept students from final exams, a member of the district council said.

U.S. forces backed by helicopter gunships clashed with suspected al-Qaida gunmen in western Baghdad's primarily Sunni Muslim Amariyah neighborhood in an engagement that lasted several hours, said the district councilman, who would not allow use of his name for fear of al-Qaida retribution.

Casualty figures were not immediately available and there was not immediate word from the U.S. military on the engagement.

But the councilman said the al-Qaida leader in the Amariyah district, known as Haji Hameed, was killed and 45 other fighters were detained.

Members of al-Qaida, who consider the district part of their so-called Islamic State of Iraq, were preventing students from attending final exams, shooting randomly and forcing residents to stay in their homes, the councilman said.

Speaking of final exams, look at the photo:

A young Iraqi seeks shelter behind a U.S. soldier following a suicide blast.

Question: In Iraq, who are the terrorists, and who are the true freedom fighters?


David Blair in the Daily Telegraph points out that al-Qaeda isn't going away, though it isn't conquering at will either.

If international terrorism has a global headquarters, it is probably to be found in the barren mountains of Waziristan lining the ungovernable north-west frontier of Pakistan.

Here, British officials believe al-Qa'eda's core leadership, headed by Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has regrouped and found refuge.

North and South Waziristan are two of Pakistan's seven "federally administered Tribal Areas". These barren enclaves on the frontier with Afghanistan are beyond the control of any government, including Gen Pervez Musharraf's embattled regime in Islamabad.

Under agreements first negotiated by the British, the Tribal Areas are run by local chiefs from the Pashtun people and no one else. Pakistani law does not apply to them and no police or security forces are allowed to enter. By tradition, even the army is confined to main roads and agreed outposts. Pakistan has vetoed requests for US troops to enter these areas, where criminals and smugglers have found refuge for centuries.

No better sanctuary for "core al-Qa'eda" could be imagined than this ungoverned expanse of territory covering more than 10,000 square miles of some of the world's most rugged terrain. Moreover, the Tribal Areas have been strongholds of Islamist extremism for decades. Many of the chiefs are natural supporters of bin Laden - perhaps explaining why the American reward of £12.5 million has failed to yield any result so far.

In addition, the chiefs live by the traditional Pashtun code known as "Pashtunwali". Once you accept a guest into your house - and bin Laden has clearly been accepted by somebody - he must be offered absolute protection.

Under American pressure, Gen Musharraf broke with tradition and sent Pakistan's army into the Tribal Areas last year. The only result was fierce fighting and the deaths of at least 600 Pakistani soldiers.

What Blair calls "core al-Qaeda" remains a potent force for evil:

For several years after the terrorist attacks on September 11, they were engaged in little else than avoiding capture and fleeing the American-led offensive in Afghanistan.

Today, by contrast, they are probably secure enough to give strategic direction to al-Qa'eda cells across the world. Once, al-Qa'eda was best thought of as a "franchise" operation: a brand name adopted by numerous terrorist groups operating independently of the key leaders around bin Laden, who British counter-terrorism officials call "core al-Qa'eda".

But this assessment is probably outdated. "Core al-Qa'eda" is believed to have reasserted itself and decided on several key objectives....

While "core al-Qa'eda" gives strategic direction to its followers, it does not exert day to day operational control over them. Bin Laden does not sit in a cave in Waziristan and issue orders for specific attacks on given targets. There is no centralised command structure with bin Laden at its apex.

Al-Qa'eda does not possess an equivalent of the IRA's Army Council where the formal leadership assembles. Instead, "core al-Qa'eda" is a moving circle of people, possibly numbering in the dozens, who give general direction to cells across the globe. In particular, they decide which regions of the world to target for expansion or for attack. So bin Laden and Zawahiri were sporadically in touch with Abu s al-Zarqawi, the terrorist leader who created "al-Qa'eda in Iraq". Until his death last year, Zarqawi seized the chance offered by the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq to open a new front against the western allies.

The spread of al-Qaeda - click here for interactive map

However, it's not all rosy for core al-Qaeda either:

Bin Laden and Zawahiri appear to have spent two or three years after 2001 doing little but evading capture. Western observers often assume that striking America or Europe is their only ambition. In fact, they view toppling Gen Musharraf in Pakistan and overthrowing the Saudi royal family as equally important. Bin Laden sees both these regimes as despicable western puppets. But British officials say al-Qa'eda's decision to attack Saudi Arabia was a major strategic error. After the network carried out a series of attacks on foreign and economic targets in 2003 and 2004, the Kingdom's security forces responded with ruthless efficiency.

At least 2,000 suspects have been arrested - 172 were rounded up in a single operation last month. In Pakistan, Gen Musharraf clings to power, despite al-Qa'eda's best efforts to assassinate him. The general, who claims to have cheated death 11 times, had his narrowest escape on Boxing Day 2004 when a suicide car bomber came within an ace of detonating alongside his limousine. So the "apostate" general is still in office and the Saudi royal family, who have been bin Laden's sworn enemies since they invited US troops into the Kingdom in 1990 and stripped him of his Saudi citizenship, are probably more secure today than they were in 2001.

Elsewhere, al-Qa'eda's efforts to subvert Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in the world, have been successfully countered. Jemaah Islamiyah, the Indonesian group responsible for the bombing of a nightclub in Bali in 2002, has been crippled by hundreds of arrests and its spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, is now behind bars.

Neither America nor Western Europe has suffered a mass-casualty terrorist attack since the London bombings almost two years ago. Financing terrorism has become harder and cooperation between the world's intelligence agencies is closer than ever.

Where does that leave us on one side and al-Qaeda on the other?

The key question is whether a new leadership of al-Qa'eda will emerge from the furnace of Iraq. If so, they will probably be more capable than bin Laden's generation, having survived close combat against the most advanced armies in the world. Yet bin Laden is probably as far away from achieving his strategic aims as he was before September 11.

However, America, Britain and all of bin Laden's countless other enemies seem no closer to hunting him down, still less to crushing al-Qa'eda.

The probable truth is that what President George W Bush called the "war on terror" has reached a stalemate. Neither side is close to achieving their goals.

With due respect to David Blair, a hint towards ending the stalemate comes in his description of Musharraf's woes in Pakistan:

Gen Musharraf withdrew his troops from all but a few outposts last September in return for a vague agreement that chiefs would hand over al-Qa'eda suspects and stop the flow of Taliban fighters over the border into Afghanistan. But this deal has yielded little. Some Tribal Areas would be less welcoming than others for "core al-Qa'eda". One, Kurram, has a large population of Shia Muslims with little obvious affinity for al-Qa'eda's brand of Sunni zealotry. Another, Khyber Agency, allows the army to control a chain of border outposts and the main road running through the Khyber Pass linking Pakistan with Afghanistan.

So bin Laden is thought to have headed towards the stronghold of the Waziri tribe in North Waziristan. Safely beyond the reach of both Pakistani and American forces, "core al-Qa'eda" has staged something of a recovery.

It may be necessary for Pakistan's central government to destabilize the balance of power between the Waziri tribe and the other tribes in the Tribal Areas. Perhaps the Waziri tribal leaders must be given a stark choice: expel al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban elements from your area, or see the other tribes be given the means and the permission to invade Waziristan with the explicit goal of conquest.

UPDATE: Certainly allowing the status quo to continue is not a tenable position for the Pakistani government.

About 100 suspected pro-Taliban militants attacked the house of a government official in northwestern Pakistan before dawn Thursday, killing 13 people, police said.

The house belonged to Ameerud Din, the top administrator of the Khyber Tribal region in North West Frontier Province, bordering Afghanistan.

Din was not home at the time, but his brother, who also is a government servant, was among those killed. Authorities said the dead included six members of the same family and seven guests.

"The attackers fired rockets, threw hand grenades and used guns" for about 30 minutes before fleeing, said Sanaullah Khan, an area police chief.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The family that prays together...

... goes on trial for terrorist conspiracy together:

A young mother encouraged her husband to die as a terrorist martyr, the Old Bailey has been told.

Bouchra El Hor, 24, urged on Yassin Nassari, 28, in a letter which was discovered among their luggage at Luton airport, said Aftab Jafferjee, prosecuting.

He alleged that the true significance of the letter became more apparent when police found instructions on how to make missiles on Nassari's hard drive.

Mr Jafferjee said: "It is the prosecution case that they are not merely radicalised Muslims, but that Nassari was going to engage in what he and others like him would call a jihad - but what the law describes as terrorism.

"He held both the ideology and the technology with which that could be achieved.

"His wife was not only aware of his intention, but positively encouraged it - despite the fact that his actions would almost certainly result in his death in some form of combat and would also result in their son being without a father."

Mr Jafferjee said these were "mindsets" which were beyond ordinary understanding and which possessed "chilling resilience".

All this as The Police finally begin their reunion tour. Someone should ask Sting, apropos of his old Cold War hit "Russians": does he really think the Islamic radicals love their children too, in a way that involves wanting to see them grow up and raise families of their own (as opposed to the way that would be ecstatic to see them guaranteed of a place in Paradise by dying as martyrs or jihadists)?

They can't be that hard to recognize

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Prof. John Dugard, issued the following statement on May 29, 2007:

Peace and respect for human rights cannot be brought to the region unless the international community intervenes to persuade, and if necessary, to compel both Israelis and Palestinians to seriously address the issues that stand in the way of an independent Palestinian state. The Quartet is the body chosen by the Security Council of the United Nations for this task. It cannot achieve anything unless it approaches both parties in a fair and even-handed manner. This requires it to treat both parties equally and to accord equal recognition and standing to both parties. The full recognition of the Palestinian Government of National Unity is therefore an indispensable requirement to further peace. This means the recognition of both Hamas and non-Hamas members of the Palestinian Government of National Unity. In order to prevent another season of violence and to protect human rights in the region, the Quartet must intervene immediately in a fair and even-handed manner.

I couldn't agree more. And to help the Quartet recognize Hamas for what it is and what it intends, here's a helpful hint from its supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal:

Khaled Mashal, the influential political leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, insists attacks on Israel will continue despite overwhelming Israeli retaliation that has cost scores of lives in the Gaza Strip in the past two weeks.

Speaking in Damascus yesterday he asserted it was the right of the Palestinians to resist "Zionist aggression" regardless of whether their actions were effective.

The continuing siege of the Palestinians would lead to an explosion that would affect the entire Middle East, he predicted.

"Under occupation people don't ask whether their means are effective in hurting the enemy," he told the Guardian in a rare interview at his heavily guarded offices, plastered with images of Jerusalem and "martyrs" killed by the Israelis.

"The occupiers always have the means to hurt the people they control. The Palestinians have only modest means, so they defend themselves however they can."

Good luck with that "persuasion and compulsion" thing, Prof. Dugard:

Problems have been compounded by the siege imposed on the Palestinian Authority by the US and EU after Hamas won democratic elections in 2005, Mr Mashal said.

"The siege is collective punishment, and a crime. And the crime is even worse after the Mecca agreement because Palestinians had expected the siege would be lifted.

"Now the international community is trying to undermine Hamas. That will lead to an explosion that will be in the face of the Israeli occupation. The damage will affect the stability of the entire region."

Mr Mashal rejected demands by the Quartet (the US, the EU, the UN and Russia) that Hamas accept three conditions - recognition of Israel, an end to violence and acceptance of previous peace agreements with Israel. These terms had been accepted by Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader and president of the Palestinian Authority, but that had not forced Israel to withdraw.

It was the Palestinians who needed recognition, not Israel, he said. It was a "pretext" to demand the amendment of the Hamas Charter, which says: "Israel will ... remain until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors." The charter calls the whole of Palestine an Islamic trust which cannot be given away to non-Muslims.

"What caused Sharon to leave Gaza, Barak to leave Lebanon in 2000? And look what's going on in Iraq where the greatest power in the world is facing confusion because of Iraqi resistance. Time is on the side of the Palestinian people. We are right, and our cause is just, despite the appeasement of Israel by most powerful members of the international community."

On the other hand, compare the statements of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who doesn't live under Syrian protection in Damascus but rather under Israeli pressure in Gaza:

In another development, Abbas met in Gaza City on Wednesday with Ismail Haniyeh and discussed with him the possibility of declaring a unilateral truce with Israel. The two also discussed ways of defusing tensions between Fatah and Hamas and preventing the collapse of the Hamas-led unity government.

This was Haniyeh's first appearance in public after reports that Israel was planning to liquidate Hamas leaders in response to the continued rocket attacks on Israel. Earlier this week Haniyeh stayed away from the weekly meeting of his cabinet out of fear for his life. A previous meeting between Abbas and Haniyeh was held at an undisclosed location and journalists were not invited for "security reasons."

Also Wednesday, Haniyeh met with members of the Egyptian security delegation who are based in the Gaza Strip. They discussed the proposed truce with Israel and the situation inside the Gaza Strip.

Haniyeh said after the meeting that his government was close to announcing a series of security measures to impose law and order in the Gaza Strip. He added that the measures include the appointment of new security commanders in the Gaza Strip.

Asked about the possibility of halting the Kassam rocket attacks, Haniyeh said: "We support a simultaneous, mutual and comprehensive cease-fire to protect the interests of the Palestinian people. The ball is now in the Israeli court."

By the way, it's pretty clear that Hamas recognizes Fatah, too:

The Hamas official, Said Siyam, also blamed "outside forces" of arming Fatah units, including the influential Presidential Guard, and of training its members to fight Hamas. He did not elaborate.

"They want to strengthen the presidential guard and the militias at the expense of Hamas ... They want to obliterate Hamas," said Siyam, a former Hamas interior minister.

Well, they say it takes one to know one.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Iran's President has some important news for the rest of the world!

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday extolled what he described as Iran's self-sufficiency in producing army equipment and said Iran was so powerful now, no other country would dare launch a military strike against it.

"We have passed our point of vulnerability," Ahmadinejad told state television during a visit to an Iranian defensive equipment exhibition. "This means nobody would dare stage a military assault against our nation."

Ahmadinejad said possible adversaries were aware of Tehran's defense capabilities and said that Iranian national unity was also a key factor as to why no other country would attack Iran.

Where have we heard that before? Oh, yeah:

"The Ruhr will not be subjected to a single bomb. If an enemy bomber reaches the Ruhr, my name is not Hermann Goering: you can call me Meier!" - Reich Marshal Hermann Goering

Given his propensity to surreal flights of fancy, I propose that, if an enemy bomber reaches (say) Natanz, we should be able to call Iran's President "Aronofsky."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A confederacy of cowards

These two deserve each other

'Haniyeh is scared of being assassinated by Israel.' What about the resistance, Mr. Prime Minister?

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has limited his public appearances because he fears being targeted for assassination by Israel, his spokesman said Tuesday.

"He is frightened by the Israeli forces," Ghazi Hamad told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "He's scared of being assassinated ... so he is taking precautions."

Haniyeh has kept a low profile in recent weeks since Israel resumed a campaign of airstrikes against Palestinian rocket squads and other Hamas targets in Gaza.

Over the weekend an IAF missile landed close to Haniyeh's home. Israel denied he was a target.

But Hamad, on a visit to Britain before heading to Cairo to take part in talks between Hamas and its moderate rival Fatah, said the Hamas leadership felt unsafe after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's comments on Sunday that "no one is immune."

"We don't trust Israel," he said.

Hamad said Hamas was open to agreeing a "comprehensive" cease-fire with Israel if it stops military operations in Gaza and the West Bank.

"If Israel accepted a comprehensive cease-fire, people will stop firing rockets," he said.

Mr. Haniyeh bravely accepts that the civilians he governs will be killed in collateral damage when Israel retaliates against Qassam rocket fire (not to mention how bravely he allows the Qassam crews to target Israeli civilians). How is it possible that he shies away from unstinting resistance when his own life is in the balance? Did he not declare just last week that, "We will keep to the same path until we win one of two goals: victory or martyrdom"?

At the same time, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas behaves with equal cowardice.

Many Palestinians, among them Fatah officials, blame Abbas for what they describe as the disintegration of the PA. They say that his failure to display the qualities of a charismatic leader has turned the PA into a "joke" in the eyes of most of his constituents. They point out that Abbas's real problem is not the lack of money and soldiers, but his failure to make controversial decisions.

Abbas and his aides in Ramallah have lost much of their influence over the PA security forces, not to mention the scores of Fatah-controlled militias that are responsible, among other things, for the ongoing state of anarchy and lawlessness.

Under the current circumstances, the millions of dollars that the US is investing in training and arming Abbas's "Presidential Guard" are likely to go down the drain. A security force that can't arrest a car thief will never stand up against Hamas.

It's becoming increasingly clear that the Israelis and the Palestinians have no hope of a peaceful future together unless both Hamas and Fatah are scoured out of Gaza and the West Bank. Perhaps Fatah can be sent back to Tunisia and Hamas to Damascus, where they can each plot their eventual reconquest of Palestine and Israel over endless cups of tea and puffs on the hookah. That is, if they aren't sent instead to their respective eternal rewards.

Heart of Darkness

Stanley's travels, 1876-77

Daily Telegraph correspondent Tim Butcher has done what few Europeans would dare do: retraced the footsteps of his predecessor Stanley up the Congo River. He's lived to tell about it in Blood River: A Journey ot Africa's Broken Heart, which goes on sale June 7, 2007.

The journey began on the western shore of Lake Tanganyika. The town of Kalemie was once a fully functioning, international port well-connected to the outside world. It was in Kalemie that the myth of The African Queen was born during the First World War, when the Royal Navy delivered two attack boats by railway to surprise German warships on the lake. The Belgians even based seaplanes here.

But today, Kalemie is a remote, cholera-ridden ruin. Georges Mbuyu, leader of a local pygmy rights group, agreed to act as a guide for my overland journey, helped by Benoit Bangana, an aid worker from Care International, who, crucially, had access to two functioning motorbikes. There was a large contingent of United Nations peace keepers in Kalemie but they came and went by air and never ventured far into the bush.

"We will have to take everything that we need with us because out there, there is nothing,'' Benoit said with a flick of his head towards the forest as we made final preparations for the trip.

Within a few miles of Kalemie, we found why the UN does not venture here. It has a strict security policy of only going down tracks passable by jeeps and the road simply disappeared, made impassable by potholes and choked by jungle. "We must go as quickly as we can to avoid the rebels,'' Georges had warned before heading off down a narrow track snaking through the undergrowth.

Government troops from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, gave up on northern Katanga more than 10 years ago and the area now swarms with rebel militia, referred to commonly as the mai-mai.

He reminds us that the civil war (though that includes the spillover war from places like Rwanda and Burundi) kills 1,200 people a day in the Democratic Republic of Congo (some estimates of the cumulative death toll in recent years exceed 4 million people). The chaos reverberates far beyond the region:

Violence has plunged the vast country – from one side to the other is the distance from London to Moscow - back into the Dark Ages, with almost no functioning roads, electricity, medical supplies or transport links. Not only does cross-border smuggling partly fund the genocide in the Darfur region of neighbouring Sudan, there are worries about its connection to the war on terror.

Congolese uranium mines – source of the fissile material used in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks of 1945 – are once again being mined. But with state control all but collapsed in the Congo, the final destination of the uranium is worryingly unclear. North Korean agents tried to acquire Congolese uranium in the 1990s and there are worries it might now have become a target of al-Qa’eda.

One might be forgiven for not knowing any of this, as it's remained almost completely below the world's threshold of attention (probably due to the lack of live TV coverage from the area -- after all, there are no Western-style hotels there in which to live off the network expense account).

British university professors decry anti-Islamic "witch hunt"

An organization representing 120,000 university lecturers in Britain is speaking out against a "witch hunt" by the British government meant to root out Islamic extremism from Britain's universities:

Academics are threatening to derail a Government drive to root out Islamic extremists on university campuses.

The University and College Union, will ask its 120,000 members to refuse to take part in the Government-led "witch hunt".

It insists that Muslims are being "demonised" because of new guidance that asks staff to look out for students falling under the influence of radical preachers.

The Department for Education and Skills has warned university staff to log suspicious behaviour amid fears that campuses are being infiltrated by fanatics recruiting for so-called jihad. In a 20-page report published in December, ministers warned of "serious, but not widespread, Islamic extremist activity in higher education institutions".

It asks lecturers to vet Islamic preachers who have been invited to campuses, ensure that "hate literature" is not distributed among students and report suspicious behaviour to police.

But at the UCU annual conference in Bournemouth, lecturers will warn of a "recent rise" in racism and its "apparent promotion by Government policies".

Academics at the union's London Metropolitan University branch will say that "increasingly restrictive measures and the xenophobic language surrounding them" has led to an increase in racist attacks on Muslims.

"Islamophobia and the attempts at increased surveillance on Muslim communities are not only encouraging racist and xenophobic tendencies in Britain but are also leading to measures that threaten civil liberties," they will warn.

A motion to the conference will condemn Government attempts to use "members of staff for such witch hunts".

Good for them. Why support a weak imitation of witch hunts promoted by the British Government? After all, under sha'ria law in the UK, they'll get the real thing -- and it won't only be witches being stoned, beheaded and burned, but also atheists, alcohol drinkers, homosexuals....

Sorry, Gerry -- the Irish Republic isn't buying what you're selling

Peace in Northern Ireland doesn't excite the voters in the Irish Republic - not nearly as much as economic growth.

Gerry Adams was yesterday under attack from within the Republican movement as he surveyed the wreckage of an election campaign that has proved to be disastrous.

The fall in Sinn Fein support in the Irish Republic was a setback for Mr Adams's long-term strategy to unify Ireland by gaining power in Dublin as well as Belfast.

In last week's elections, Sinn Fein's representation in the Irish parliament fell from five seats to four.

Chris Gaskin, who writes on Balrog, a Republican blog, put the blame "directly at the foot of the leadership". The problem, according to Mr Gaskin, a trainee solicitor who supports Sinn Fein, was down to "pub talk" policies and a manifesto that was "watery, airy fairy" and "head in the clouds".

Sinn Fein strategists had hoped that the political settlement that has seen Martin McGuinness appointed Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland would play well south of the border.

That proved to be a misjudgement with the Republic's electorate more interested in domestic economic performance, health, education and transport than constitutional issues in Northern Ireland.

Having experienced the benefits of the Celtic Tiger, voters were also unimpressed by Sinn Fein's left-wing approach and uncertain economic principles, which saw policies jettisoned in the search for votes.

But Dean Godson, the research director of the independent British think tank Policy Exchange, sees the failure of Gerry Adams south of the border as a warning sign to Britain and the Northern Ireland peace agreement:

Mr Adams had hoped to have Sinn Fein ministers on both sides of the border, putting the squeeze on for gradual harmonisation of services, and thus leading to reunification. He only has ministers in a northern executive working with southern ministers from Fianna Fail - who now have a mandate to be tougher than ever on republicans.

The likeliest outcome is that Mr Adams, as so often before, will play "the ethnic card" - winding up the Unionists through some sectarian gambit that will polarise opinion North and South.

The period of good behaviour, imposed on Sinn Fein by the need to appeal to a non-ideological southern electorate, is now over. Renewed instability is in the offing in Northern Ireland.

One hopes that someone will warn Sinn Fein in the strongest possible terms that there is no turning back in Ulster.

Let a thousand flowers bloom

Iron Flowers, that is:

As hawt as they are deadly

Along with heart-shaped earrings and a golden bracelet, Napassanan Muensawat accessorises her black uniform with an M16-A1 assault rifle.

The weapon, with a shorter stock and barrel than the standard model, is easier to use for the "iron flowers", 130 female paramilitary rangers newly deployed to tackle an increasingly brutal insurgency in Muslim majority southern Thailand.

In the dangerously potent mix, the women rangers' presence is part of a growing female role on both sides - a bomber was identified as a woman for the first time earlier this year.

As well as "hearts and minds" type patrols, the "iron flowers" have been called in to defuse possibly explosive demonstrations of women and children demanding the release of arrested militant suspects — and sometimes to go in, unarmed and in plain clothes, to spy on them.

"I'm not scared because I go with goodwill and good intentions," said Miss Napassanan, 33, at her base with the 41st infantry regiment in Raman. "I want to serve the province and the country.

"I say things like, 'Why are you bringing all your children here in the hot weather? Your children will get sick'."

The rangers say that their sex is a defence in itself — it would be wrong to attack a woman — but one male officer said: "They are very brave, even the male rangers are not as brave as them."

Unfortunately, the rest of the article doesn't offer much hope for an end to the conflict.

But perhaps we can hope for the Thai versions of these images:

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Is it true pagans have more fun?

Edinburgh University has invited the Pagan Society of Scotland to hold its annual festival on the University campus, but the decision irritates students of the University's Christian Union, who say they were denied equal treatment:

The University of Edinburgh has granted permission to the Pagan Society to hold its annual conference - involving talks on witchcraft, pagan weddings and tribal dancing - on campus next month. Druids, heathens, shamans and witches are expected to attend what is a major event in the pagan calendar.

But the move has enraged the Christian Union, which accuses the university of double standards after banning one of its events on the "dangers" of homosexuality.

Matthew Tindale, an Edinburgh-based Christian Union staff worker, claimed some faiths and beliefs appeared to be more equal than others on campus....

The row has its roots in last year's decision by university officials to ban the Christian Union from using campus premises to run a course which claimed that gay sex was morally wrong.

The course was deemed to be in breach of university anti-discrimination guidelines although a compromise measure was later offered to allow the course to take place if posters offering differing views were prominently displayed. Much to the displeasure of some campus Christians and the Catholic Church, no such conditions will be attached to the pagan gathering.

But the pagans point out that, unlike the Christian Union, their followers fully support the university's equality policies and condemn homophobic attitudes as "deplorable".

The Christian students at Edinburgh University can protest this until they're blue in the face (which might be a good idea, because then they might be taken for Picts and get the University to consider their views seriously). I wonder whether the Islamic Society of Edinburgh University will weigh in on this controversy -- and on which side?

Sorry, Red Cross inspectors -- US military beat you to it

This is good news. U.S. Frees 42 al-Qaida Captives in Raid

BAGHDAD (AP) -- U.S. forces raided an al-Qaida hide-out northeast of Baghdad on Sunday and freed 42 Iraqis imprisoned inside, including some who had been tortured and suffered broken bones, a senior U.S. military official said Sunday.

So the International Committee of the Red Cross sent its inspectors into the al-Qaeda prison and found evidence of torture, right?

Oh, wait, I forgot. While US Armed Forces are required by law to give al-Qaeda terrorists the courtesies of the Geneva Conventions (thanks, Senator McCain!), al-Qaeda feels no obligation to reciprocate such niceties. So who ratted out the location of this "prison"? Did Amnesty International avert its gaze from Israel and the US long enough to notice this atrocity and let the US military know about it? Not quite:

The raid was part of a 3-month-old security crackdown that included the deployment of 3,000 more U.S. troops to Diyala, a violent province north of the capital that has seen heavy fighting in recent weeks, said Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.

Caldwell said Iraqis told U.S. forces about the hide-out: "The people in Diyala are speaking up against al-Qaida."

Whoa -- you mean, the troop surge, combined with Iraqi citizens providing intelligence on al-Qaeda operations, is resulting in things like torture victims being freed? Whatever you do, don't tell Nancy Pelosi. She likes to think of Syria as the only force for good in the Middle East.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Something with poison in it, I think.... Poppies...

The Afghan government has tumbled to the notion that allowing billions of narco-dollars to flood into a restive region isn't the best way to counter the insurgency there:

The Afghan government has demanded that British troops destroy the opium trade in the country after a record poppy harvest that threatens to flood Europe with cheap, high-purity heroin.

Officials are so concerned that they want the British to abandon their policy of non-intervention in the drugs war.

Counter-narcotics officials argue that the insurgency faced by the British in southern Afghanistan and the trade that centres on the province of Helmand are now indistinguishable and must be dealt with as such.

Billions? Not an exaggeration. In 2004, Afghanistan was estimated to produce 4,200 tons of opium with a value of US$600 million. And now:

Figures for this year's opium harvest show that Helmand is producing more than half of the world's heroin, even with British troops present, and that production has soared by 30 per cent in a year to a record 6,100 tons.

The Afghan government realizes it can't defeat the insurgency without taking on the opium trade.

"The drug dealers, the Taliban and the warlords are the same network," said Gen Khodaidad, Afghanistan's deputy minister of counter-narcotics.

"Nato should destroy these people. They should hit their headquarters, their convoys, the drugs labs and factories.

"Drugs are the main source of income for the Taliban."

The Afghan government has figured out that drug money pays for the Taliban to hire the warlords to protect the poppy farmers to generate the drug money to... you get the idea.

"This may be the place where the military has to get involved. There is an increasing relationship between the Taliban and the drugs trade. Drugs feed corruption and a lack of governance. Any security is an illusion unless the drugs issue is tackled."

The Taliban are estimated to earn tens of millions of dollars by charging a tithe for protecting poppy fields, where farmers benefited this year from good weather and corruption among officials.

However, the British, whose military forces operate in Helmand province, are slow to get this. For them, the operative theory up till now has been not to do anything to upset the local population.

Officials in Kabul were incensed when British psychological operations teams put out radio broadcasts in April that announced that British soldiers would not destroy poppy crops because they knew people had a livelihood to earn.

A senior Western diplomat in Kabul said: "Nato is adamant that it will not become a poppy eradication force, but there is a need for them to provide much more active support on interdiction and trafficking, even security for (Afghan) eradication teams."

It makes sense. The Taliban and warlords cannot defend the poppy fields from aerial attack. If the NATO forces (or Afghan forces with NATO support) destroy the crop this year and make a credible promise to destroy it next year as well, the opium industry in Afghanistan will collapse, and opium buyers will abandon Afghanistan for more secure sources of supply. The Taliban and the warlords will no longer be able to extract their livelihoods from the sweat of the local population, and will have nothing to offer except the certainty that they will bring war, death and destruction to the locals.

Burn the poppy fields -- using napalm if necessary -- and let the poppy farmers know that NATO will not let another poppy crop mature in Afghanistan. Tell them that the days of allowing opium cultivation so that the farmers can feed their families are over -- that it's time for the farmers to find other crops (perhaps with outside aid) or starve.

Is the British government capable of understanding this imperative? If not, will they rearrange their deployment to let American forces do the job?

This just in: Bush knew Iraq reconstruction would be hard

Okay, so the AP is reporting this:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Intelligence analysts predicted, in secret papers circulated within the government before the Iraq invasion, that al-Qaida would see U.S. military action as an opportunity to increase its operations and that Iran would try to shape a post-Saddam Iraq.

The top analysts in government also said that establishing a stable democracy in Iraq would be a "long, difficult and probably turbulent process."

Democrats said the newly declassified documents, part of a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation released Friday, make clear that the Bush administration was warned about the very challenges it now faces as it tries to stabilize Iraq.

"Sadly, the administration's refusal to heed these dire warnings - and worse, to plan for them - has led to tragic consequences for which our nation is paying a terrible price," said Senate Intelligence Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.


How is this super-secret, only-just-now-revealed information any different -- any different, in any meaningful sense -- than the following?

We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We are bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous. We are pursuing and finding leaders of the old regime, who will be held to account for their crimes. We have begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated. We are helping to rebuild Iraq, where the dictator built palaces for himself, instead of hospitals and schools. And we will stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people. The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done. And then we will leave — and we will leave behind a free Iraq....

Our mission continues. Al-Qaida is wounded, not destroyed. The scattered cells of the terrorist network still operate in many nations, and we know from daily intelligence that they continue to plot against free people. The proliferation of deadly weapons remains a serious danger. The enemies of freedom are not idle, and neither are we. Our government has taken unprecedented measures to defend the homeland — and we will continue to hunt down the enemy before he can strike.

The war on terror is not over, yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide. No act of the terrorists will change our purpose, or weaken our resolve, or alter their fate. Their cause is lost. Free nations will press on to victory.

I guess Bush ought to be impeached for blabbing classified intelligence data on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, huh?

Not to worry, it's in the manual

On The Smoking Gun's website, we have this interesting news item:

MAY 24--In a recent raid on an al-Qaeda safe house in Iraq, U.S. military officials recovered an assortment of crude drawings depicting torture methods like "blowtorch to the skin" and "eye removal." Along with the images, which you'll find on the following pages, soldiers seized various torture implements, like meat cleavers, whips, and wire cutters. Photos of those items can be seen here. The images, which were just declassified by the Department of Defense, also include a picture of a ramshackle Baghdad safe house described as an "al-Qaeda torture chamber." It was there, during an April 24 raid, that soldiers found a man suspended from the ceiling by a chain. According to the military, he had been abducted from his job and was being beaten daily by his captors. In a raid earlier this week, Coalition Forces freed five Iraqis who were found in a padlocked room in Karmah. The group, which included a boy, were reportedly beaten with chains, cables, and hoses. Photos showing injuries sustained by those captives can be found here. (12 pages)

(By the way, sorry if you clicked on these links and were shocked or sickened by the images. I would have warned you, but life sometimes comes upon you without warning -- and without editing.)

Should we in the West be outraged by this discovery? Why isn't it front-page news in all of the mainstream newspapers, or the lead story on all the nightly newscasts?

Could it be that members of the mainstream media don't expect any better from Arabs? It's possible -- they expect the United States Armed Forces to perform their jobs impeccably and above any moral reproach, and boy, do they dish out the moral reproach when they detect anything less than perfection on the part of United States personnel. But perhaps Muslim terrorists yanking out eyeballs is too much of a dog-bites-man story to rate much interest in Western newsrooms.

Maybe it doesn't fit the template of noble freedom fighters battling Western imperialist oppression. After all, The Minutemen hid behind rocks and trees instead of fighting in orderly ranks, but at least they didn't routinely dismember the British troops they took prisoner, or detonate wagonloads of gunpowder in the middle of crowded markets in Philadelphia or Boston.

Or maybe it's because the al-Qaeda folks are following the standard that Sen. John McCain says American military personnel should follow -- namely, the manual:

MR. McCAIN. Mr. President, I rise to offer an amendment that would (1) establish the Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for the interrogation of Department of Defense detainees and (2) prohibit cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of persons in the detention of the U.S. government....

The first part of this amendment would establish the Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for the interrogation of Department of Defense detainees. The Army Field Manual and its various editions have served America well, through wars against both regular and irregular foes. It embodies the values Americans have embraced for generations, while preserving the ability of our interrogators to extract critical intelligence from ruthless foes. Never has this been more important than today, in the midst of the war on terror.

This amendment would establish the Army Field Manual as the standard for interrogation of all detainees held in DOD custody. The Manual has been developed by the Executive Branch for its own uses, and a new edition, written to take into account the needs of the war on terror and with a new classified annex, is due to be issued soon. My amendment would not set the Field Manual in stone – it could be changed at any time.

The advantage of setting a standard for interrogation based on the Field Manual is to cut down on the significant level of confusion that still exists with respect to which interrogation techniques are allowed. Confusion about the rules results in abuses in the field. We need a clear, simple, and consistent standard, and we have it in the Army Field Manual on Interrogation. That’s not just my opinion, but that of many more distinguished military minds than mine, including General Colin Powell, General Joseph Hoar, General John Shalikashvili, RADM John Hutson, and RADM Don Guter.

These and other distinguished officers believe that the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere took place in part because our soldiers received ambiguous instructions, which in some cases authorized treatment that went beyond what the Field Manual allows, and that, had the Manual been followed across the board, we could have avoided the prisoner abuse scandal. Mr. President, wouldn’t any of us do whatever we could to have prevented that? By enacting this amendment, our service members can follow the Manual consistently from now on. Our troops deserve no less.

So there's the McCain standard, you see: it's okay if it's in the manual. And of course, if that's the standard for US forces, it should be the standard for al-Qaeda in Iraq.

May I offer one suggestion? Can't we agree to have both sides operate from the same manual? If al-Qaeda doesn't want to adopt ours, then we should adopt theirs.

Just to make it fair, you know.

Life Imitates Star Trek

Gene Roddenberry was an amazing guy, right up there with Rod Serling: a keen sense of social issues and a willingness to hire the best sci-fi and fantasy writers to create allegories for his audience. One such writer was Jerome Bixby, whose short story "It's a Good Life" is still the most frightening piece of short fiction I've ever read. ("It's a Good Life" became a fair episode of the original The Twilight Zone and a poor episode in The Twilight Zone: The Movie.)

Bixby wrote "Day of the Dove," an episode of the original Star Trek series. A synopsis:

A U.S.S. Enterprise landing party beams to a human-colonized planet in answer to a distress call. A Klingon ship, apparently damaged, is detected and a group of Klingons accuse Kirk of having damaged their ship. Kang, their leader, claims the U.S.S. Enterprise as a prize and Kirk beams the Klingons on board, reluctantly. However, Spock is warned by Kirk and quickly takes the Klingons prisoner. Both ships seem to have received the same, false, distress call.

A malevolent entity has entered into the U.S.S. Enterprise computer and excites both sides to aggressive behavior. It forces the ship out of control, rushing toward the galactic rim, while isolating a number of Klingons and U.S.S. Enterprise crew, heightening their sense of paranoia and violence turning them against each other. Phasers become swords and the battle begins.

Spock finally realizes that the entity feeds off hatred and emotional excitation and has acted as a catalyst to provoke combat, keeping the numbers on both sides even. Kirk is able, in the end, to make a common-cause truce with the Klingons and they drive the creature out of the ship with their laughter.

Today, in Iraq, as reported by Joe Klein in Time magazine: "Is al-Qaeda on the Run in Iraq?"

There is good news from Iraq, believe it or not. It comes from the most unlikely place: Anbar province, home of the Sunni insurgency. The level of violence has plummeted in recent weeks. An alliance of U.S. troops and local tribes has been very effective in moving against the al-Qaeda foreign fighters. A senior U.S. military official told me—confirming reports from several other sources—that there have been "a couple of days recently during which there were zero effective attacks and less than 10 attacks overall in the province (keep in mind that an attack can be as little as one round fired). This is a result of sheiks stepping up and opposing AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] and volunteering their young men to serve in the police and army units there." The success in Anbar has led sheiks in at least two other Sunni-dominated provinces, Nineveh and Salahaddin, to ask for similar alliances against the foreign fighters. And, as TIME's Bobby Ghosh has reported, an influential leader of the Sunni insurgency, Harith al-Dari, has turned against al-Qaeda as well. It is possible that al-Qaeda is being rejected like a mismatched liver transplant by the body of the Iraqi insurgency.

The Sunnis, Shi'ites and coalition troops may not yet be laughing together and slapping one another's backs as the humans and Klingons did in the face of their common alien enemy, but the Sunni elders seem to be realizing the truth of Kang's aphorism, "only a fool fights in a burning house."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

How to End 'Islamophobia' - WSJ opinion article

Brave man, this Tawfik Hamid:

It may seem bizarre, but Islamic reformers are not immune to the charge of "Islamophobia" either. For 20 years, I have preached a reformed interpretation of Islam that teaches peace and respects human rights. I have consistently spoken out -- with dozens of other Muslim and Arab reformers -- against the mistreatment of women, gays and religious minorities in the Islamic world. We have pointed out the violent teachings of Salafism and the imperative of Westerners to protect themselves against it.

Yet according to CAIR's Michigan spokeswoman, Zeinab Chami, I am "the latest weapon in the Islamophobe arsenal." If standing against the violent edicts of Shariah law is "Islamophobic," then I will treat her accusation as a badge of honor.

Muslims must ask what prompts this "phobia" in the first place. When we in the West examine the worldwide atrocities perpetrated daily in the name of Islam, it is vital to question if we -- Muslims -- should lay the blame on others for Islamophobia or if we should first look hard at ourselves.

He knows well that merely raising such questions is a very parlous enterprise.

But one question: would Dr. Hamid's "reformed interpretation of Islam," if put into practice, still be recognizable as Islam? Or would it fail to attract adherents from the current Muslim ummah because it was too far removed from Muslim tradition?

Speaking of evolution...

New research at the University of Chicago suggests that fish possessed the genes necessary to develop legs and feet well before environmental conditions caused those genes to be expressed:

A long-held theory of the development of limbs is overturned by a study that shows the molecular wherewithal to make hands and feet was present long before the first fish took the momentous step on to land.

Animals with limbs - tetrapods - first came onto the scene about 365 million years ago. However, fish already possessed the pattern of gene activity associated with helping to grow hands and feet which was present in them at least 400 million years ago, according to research at the University of Chicago.

“We found that the genetic capability seen in tetrapods to build limbs is present in even more primitive fish,” said lead author Marcus Davis, a postdoctoral fellow in Prof Neil Shubin’s lab at the University of Chicago.

This suggests a very interesting thought. The traditional theory of evolution by mutation filtered by natural selection implies that genetic variations take hold in populations in response to selection pressures, where the mutations accord individuals with advantages in survival and/or reproduction. Why would fish need a genetic predisposition to form legs and feet if they had no environmental selection pressure to do so?


... what if an Intelligent Designer decided to "salt in" some interesting genes -- you know, to sort of guide the path of evolution in a particular direction?

Not sayin' it was Jehovah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or any particular deity or entity. I'm just sayin', is all.

Care to comment, Mr Dawkins?

Girlfriend, please!

It doesn't take much to impress some people. Calvin Tucker of The Guardian (UK) positively gushes over Cuba's newfound respect for gay rights:

Cuba, being a secular country, avoided the anti-homosexual religious overtones of its neighbours. However, repression of homosexuals continued after the 1959 revolution under the umbrella of a dogmatic interpretation of Marxism. It is a tribute to the humanistic essence of the Cuban Revolution that its leadership was able to face up to its mistakes and change course. Cuba is now set to become the most socially liberal country in the Americas.

It's going to take a lot more than gay marriage to make Cuba liberal in any meaningful sense of the word. Put another way, henceforth Cuban gays and lesbians will be free to starve and fear the secret police on an equal footing with their heterosexual compatriots.

A clue to Tucker's bias is in this gem:

The national assembly is also currently debating a proposal which will give transsexuals the right to have sex change operations. Like all medical procedures performed on the island, they will be carried out free of charge by the world class Cuban health service.

"World class Cuban health service" -- is that the one that pays its doctors so little that some of them supplement their income through prostitution? Come to think of it, perhaps the new tolerance of homosexuality in Cuba is driven by the desire to capture hard currency (no pun intended) through gay sex tourism. (And we won't even speculate on whether some of the free sex change operations will be given on a mandatory basis to straight political prisoners....)

I guess some people see what they want to see, even if (perhaps especially if) it completely inverts objective reality. It reminds me of QUIT:

Since mid-2001, QUIT! has been working, along with other Bay Area Palestine solidarity groups, to support the international Palestinian-led campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.

Some of the actions and campaigns we have initiated include:

April 2007, Israeli government money out of the LGBT Film Festival. For at least five years, the Israeli consulate has been a major sponsor of the San Francisco LGBT Film Festival, probably the largest LGBT cultural event in the world. In addition to accepting money from the consulate, Frameline, presenter of the Film Festival, cosponsors film showings with the consulate during the year, and in 2005 was listed as a sponsor of "Israel in the Park," an annual event in support of Israel. In late March, over 100 members of the San Francisco Bay Area LGBT/queer community sent a letter to Frameline, presenter of the annual asking them to honor the cultural boycott of Israel by discontinuing Israeli consulate sponsorship of the film festival and not cosponsoring events with the Israeli consulate.

Funny, the Palestinian Authority (much less Hamas) doesn't pony up sponsorship dollars for LGBT causes. In fact, when a group of Arab lesbians recently held a conference, the only safe place they could find to meet was in Israel.

That's the wonderful thing about True Believers on the Left. They will voluntarily walk as livestock into the slaughterhouse to prove what nice guys the Stalinist butchers are.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The best immigration bill that can pass (this) Congress

On Tuesday in Texas, John McCain spoke again of his comprehensive immigration reform bill:

"I think it's a matter of national security," McCain said, "and to do nothing — to leave the status quo — would be an abrogation of our responsibilities to the American people."

McCain, speaking amid a series of fundraisers in Houston, added, "If they've got another proposal that will pass the Congress of the United States, then let's hear that."

Let's detour to Monday in Oklahoma, where McCain expanded on the national security theme:

"We have 12 million people. We don't know where they are or what they're doing," McCain said to reporters after speaking to members of the Oklahoma House. "We've got to secure our borders."

McCain said he met with Oklahoma lawmakers who supported sweeping state immigration legislation that Gov. Brad Henry signed into law on May 8. Among other things, the measure would deny most public benefits to illegal aliens, target employers who hire illegal aliens and provide protections to citizens and legal immigrants who lose their jobs to illegal immigrants.

"They passed that legislation because they were frustrated, understandably. The federal government did not carry out its responsibilities," McCain said.

He said border control is a federal responsibility. "That means fences, that means walls," McCain said.

If our national security is at stake (and it is), then that's what ought to be fixed first and foremost, before anyone worries about "normalizing" illegal aliens. McCain's grand compromise pretends to put border security -- "fences and walls," along with electronic employment eligibility verification and other measures -- ahead of normalization by making the vaunted Z-visa contingent on the "trigger" of implementation of these security measures.

However, between the time the bill becomes law and the time the trigger measures are in place, illegal aliens will have a provisional authorization to work and travel -- so who needs a Z-visa? Moreover, the provisional status becomes valid if a background check doesn't show up anything unusual -- by the end of the next business day. Doesn't allow for much time to turn up anything on the applicant, does it? Of course, the more extensive background check that follows the "instant read" will be more reliable and no doubt won't take too much longer to complete, right?

`(1) IN GENERAL- An alien who files an application under subsection (a)(1)(A) for adjustment of status, including a spouse or child who files for adjustment of status under subsection (b)--

`(A) shall be granted employment authorization pending final adjudication of the alien's application for adjustment of status;

`(B) shall be granted permission to travel abroad pursuant to regulation pending final adjudication of the alien's application for adjustment of status;

`(C) shall not be detained, determined inadmissible or deportable, or removed pending final adjudication of the alien's application for adjustment of status, unless the alien commits an act which renders the alien ineligible for such adjustment of status; and

`(D) shall not be considered an unauthorized alien as defined in section 274A(i) until such time as employment authorization under subparagraph (A) is denied.

All of which applies, of course, only to those aliens who come forward to apply. What of those who don't meet the requirements for application, or who have good reasons -- say, a criminal background or terrorist connections -- not to apply? There seems to be no provision in this bill for those folks.

McCain is right that allowing the status quo to continue is an abrogation of Congress's duties. He is also right that this bill is probably the best that can pass the current Congress. But what he fails to see is that the appropriate action is not to pass this bill, but to change the composition of Congress to get one that can pass a real border security bill on its own merits.

If Senators like Ted Kennedy are willing to hold border security hostage as a bargaining chip to get benefits for illegal aliens, they should be required to make that strategy clear to the American electorate. Not all of them would get turfed out in 2008, but it's likely enough of them would that we might finally get a Congress able and willing to implement border security. Then, and only then, should we deal with the question of absorption of the most anodyne of the illegal aliens currently in the US -- as well as the identification and disposition of all of the other illegal aliens currently here.

Israelis not good at this apartheid/genocide stuff

Wow, no wonder Jimmy Carter is saying things he doesn't really mean. Here he has a book about the apartheid regime of Israel, and then the Palestinians go and start doing things to each other that the Israelis wouldn't even dream of doing.

In fact, I'm beginning to think that the Israelis don't really have their hearts in this "annihilate the Palestinians" stuff. Look at these eyewitness accounts by actual Gazan Palestinians:

"May God burn all of them," cursed Amar Hamada, 27, a young Fatah security service agent who was pulled out of a car by Hamas gunmen.

After whipping him with the butt of a Kalashnikov, they took him prisoner overnight, broke his arms with a hammer and fired multiple shots at his legs from point-blank range.

He is now being treated under special permit in Ashkelon's Barzalai Hospital, where patients too seriously injured for Gaza's Shifa Hospital can be transferred with Israeli security clearance.

Crying with pain, one of his arms is in a heavy plaster cast while the other is swathed in bandages. His legs, too, are bandaged from hip to toe and blood oozes from under the gauze.

Down the hall, Mohammed Bazat waits anxiously outside an operating theatre for news of his son. He was working for Mr Abbas's security chief, Rashid Abu Shbak, when the chief's home was attacked by Hamas fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades. Five guards were killed in the raid.

"All of them will make a deal, God willing - Hamas and Fatah, and also Israel," said Mr Bazhat, whose wife and 10 other children wait in Gaza as he sits by his son's bed during the day and is escorted by Israeli security to a hotel at night.

"If they all continue to act the same way, there will never be peace," he said. "I am worried to return to Gaza - but I must. There is nowhere else to go, so we will stay there. There is no nation that will rescue us."

What the hell? Treating them in Israeli hospitals? Sounds like the Hamas folks are much better at oppressing Palestinians than the Israelis are.

And the Israelis might also take some lessons from the Lebanese Army on how to deal with Palestinian militants operating in dense urban areas. The Israelis were accused of a massacre in their 2002 battle against Palestinian militants in Jenin, but the Israelis actually sent soldiers and armor into the Jenin refugee camps to fight at close range -- more dangerous to Israeli forces but less dangerous to civilian non-combatants. No such concerns slow down the Lebanese Army in its operations against Fatah al-Islam in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in northern Lebanon:

Some of the 11,000 refugees who escaped from Nahr al-Bared reported that the militants had threatened to shoot those who left, effectively using the camp’s civilians as a human shield to prevent an all-out assault.

But Elias Murr, the Lebanese defence minister, insisted that the militant group, which has been linked to al-Qa’eda, must surrender or face an army onslaught.

“We won’t negotiate with terrorists,” he said. This afternoon, a stream of ambulances which had been helping Nahr al-Bared’s under-resourced clinics and evacuating the most seriously injured withdrew.

“I have put more than 20 people in the back of the ambulance to evacuate them,” said Mazen Fakih, who described increasingly desperate scenes inside the camp.

“One of the women I brought out said that Fatah al-Islam had promised to shoot anyone who leaves.”

He said that “tens” of bodies from the first days of fighting between the militants and the army, which started at the weekend, still littered the streets and scrubland within the camp.

Last night the military standoff continued at the camp, about 60 miles north of capital Beirut. But doctors fear that if it descends into all-out fighting, as is widely expected, trapped civilians will bear the brunt of the violence.

The Lebanese army has already faced accusations of indiscriminately using tank shells and artillery in the first days of combat.

“Most injured civilians who have made it out have shrapnel wounds,” said Dr Abdel Aziz Bekai, at the nearby Safad hospital.

“Those wounds are from the Lebanese army bombs and artillery. “But many others have bullet wounds. They were hit by snipers. We don’t know which side the snipers were fighting for,” he said.

“Even the victims don’t know. They are just stuck in the middle.”

Maybe Jimmy Carter needs to have a word with the Israelis. Their refusal to live down to his characterization of their behavior is really making him look bad.

Someone tell John McCain

Senator John McCain pushed through last year's amendment bearing his name granting certain protections to persons detained by the United States and especially under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense. Still, he claims he has no tender spot in his heart for such persons, but that our values require us to treat them tenderly:
Let me close by noting that I hold no brief for the prisoners. I do hold a brief for the reputation of the United States of America. We are Americans. We hold ourselves to humane standards of treatment of people, no matter how evil or terrible they may be. To do otherwise undermines our security, but it also undermines our greatness as a nation. We are not simply any other country. We stand for something more in the world, a moral mission, one of freedom and democracy and human rights at home and abroad. We are better than these terrorists, and we will win. The enemy we fight has no respect for human life or human rights. They don't deserve our sympathy. But this isn't about who they are; this is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies.

He also believes that our treatment of enemy combatants will affect the enemy's treatment of our captured soldiers:

I would like to believe that this is the last war in which the United States will ever be involved. I would like to believe that from now on, after we win this war on terror, we will have peace and the United States will never send its men and women in harm's way again. History shows me otherwise. What happens in the next conflict when American military personnel are held captive by the enemy and they make the argument, with some validity, that we have violated the rules of war? What happens to our men and women in the military then? There are some who will say they wouldn't respect the rules of war, anyway. If they are not sure they are going to win, as the Germans weren't in World War II, they might treat our prisoners according to certain standards if we insist upon those standards.

Well, someone tell John McCain that the enemy we face in this war, today, cares not whether it is subjected to accountability at any future war crimes trials. They will do what they feel will most terrify and demoralize their enemy, that is, our troops: Iraqi police: Body found in U.S. uniform

Iraqi police found the body of a man who was wearing what appeared to be a U.S. military uniform and had a tattoo on his left hand floating in the Euphrates River south of Baghdad on Wednesday morning. One Iraqi official said the body was that of an American soldier.

The man had been shot in the head and chest, Babil police Capt. Muthana Khalid said. He said Iraqi police turned the body over the U.S. forces.

Where was the Geneva Convention for this soldier? Which representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross spoke to him? What was the nature of the due process he was given, the opportunity he had to present a defense? By what authority did his captors impose the death penalty on him?

Foregoing "inhumane" treatment -- intensive and aggressive interrogation -- will not earn our troops humane treatment by our enemy.

Nor will it earn us the respect of the rest of the world. Those who hate America hate us not for what we do but for who we are -- and they need no excuse to elevate the idiot pranks at Abu Ghraib to the level of torture. For them, generic soap and shampoo are sufficient evidence of US torture.

But if renouncing torture doesn't earn the US any benefit, does its use -- or at least the use of aggressive and intensive interrogation techniques -- obtain the intelligence we need from detainees?

Not according to John McCain, as he expressed in the South Carolina Republican debate (registration required) -- even as our armed forces in Iraq were engaged in a desperate hunt for three of our captured soldiers:

First question to you, Senator McCain. How aggressively would you interrogate those being held at Guantanamo Bay for information about where the next attack might be?

SEN. MCCAIN: If I knew for sure that they had that kind of information, I, as the president of the United States, would take that responsibility. That is a million-to-one scenario. But only I would take that responsibility.

The use of torture -- we could never gain as much we would gain from that torture as we lose in world opinion. We do not torture people.

When I was in Vietnam, one of the things that sustained us, as we went -- underwent torture ourselves, is the knowledge that if we had our positions reversed and we were the captors, we would not impose that kind of treatment on them.

It's not about the terrorists, it's about us. It's about what kind of country we are. And a fact: The more physical pain you inflict on someone, the more they're going to tell you what they think you want to know.

It's about us as a nation. We have procedures for interrogation in the Army Field Manual. Those, I think, would be adequate in 999,999 of cases, and I think that if we agree to torture people, we will do ourselves great harm in the world.

McCain is trapped in the paradigm he learned at great personal cost in the Hanoi Hilton. But the conditions of that time and place were very different from Gitmo today. The Viet Cong wanted McCain to denounce the United States as a propaganda tool; while torture might get a prisoner to make statements denouncing his country or cause, that doesn't prove that the prisoner has internalized that denunciation and truly turned. However, interrogators at Gitmo aren't seeking to convert detainees, but only to extract factual information about their organization, methods and operational plans. Even John McCain (according to his autobiography, "Faith of My Fathers," broke under torture and revealed factual information:

"Demands for military information were accompanied by threats to terminate my medical treatment if I did not cooperate," he wrote.

"I thought they were bluffing and refused to provide any information beyond my name, rank and serial number, and date of birth. They knocked me around a little to force my cooperation."

The punishment finally worked, McCain said. "Eventually, I gave them my ship's name and squadron number, and confirmed that my target had been the power plant."

The interrogation techniques used at Gitmo pale in comparison to McCain's treatment at the hands of the Viet Cong. Still, they worked wonders in extracting valuable information from detainees like Khalid Sheikh Muhammad:

Captured al-Qaeda planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has given U.S. interrogators the names and descriptions of about a dozen key al-Qaeda operatives believed to be plotting terrorist attacks on American and other Western interests, according to federal officials. Other high-level al-Qaeda detainees previously disclosed some of the names, but Mohammed, until recently al-Qaeda's chief operating officer and the brains behind the 9/11 attacks, has volunteered new ones. He has also added crucial details to the descriptions of other suspects and filled in important gaps in what U.S. intelligence knows about al-Qaeda's practices.

McCain's view is that the efficacy of our interrogation techniques is completely irrelevant to our conduct of the current war against our current enemy, and that only the reputation of the United States in the world's eyes matters. That way lies the destruction of our civilization, and when the world is under the rule of the Caliphate that al-Qaeda seeks, the values McCain holds so dear will be consigned to the dustbin of history.