Monday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
July 19, 2004 5:51PM (UTC)

Iran: Stronger ties to al-Qaida than Iraq
The 9/11 commission's findings will be released in book-length form later this week, and among the most "surprising findings," Newsweek reports, is the strongest evidence to date of a relationship between al-Qaida and Iran.

"U.S. intelligence believes that in faraway Tehran, the hard-line Islamist clerics who now exercise near total control over Iran directed their border guards to help jihadists coming from Afghanistan. And sometime between October 2000 and February 2001, according to the forthcoming final report of the 9-11 Commission, eight to 10 of the "muscle" hijackers of the September 11 plot were among those who benefited from this Iranian good-fellowship."

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"According to a December 2001 memo buried in the files of the National Security Agency, obtained by the commission, Iranian officials instructed their border inspectors not to place Iranian or Afghan stamps in the passports of Saudi terrorists traveling from Osama bin Laden's training camps through Iran. Such "clean" passports undoubtedly helped the 9/11 terrorists pass into the United States without raising alarms among U.S. Customs and visa officials, sources familiar with the report told NEWSWEEK."

"The 9-11 Commission report emphasizes there is no evidence suggesting that Iranian officials had advance knowledge of the September 11 plot. Still, the report raises new, sharper questions about whether the Bush administration was focused on the right enemy when it decided to remove Saddam Hussein. The NSA memo adds to a large accumulation of intelligence indicating that Iran has had more suspicious ties to Al Qaeda than Iraq did. Among those who once had a base in Iran: Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, allegedly the No. 1 terrorist in Iraq today. Meanwhile the commission found there was no "collaborative, operational" relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda."

On Sunday, the Washington Post previewed the 9/11 commission report and its recommendation of a Cabinet-level office and director to oversee the CIA, the FBI and other intelligence agencies. The Post also reported Sunday on a President's Daily Brief prepared for Bill Clinton in 1998 that revealed details of a suspected plot by Osama bin Laden to hijack a U.S. airliner and attempt to force the U.S. to release imprisoned conspirators in the 1993 World Trade Center attacks. "The PDB shows that the intelligence community and the White House had been aware of al Qaeda's interest in hijacking U.S. airliners long before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. On the day the PDB was prepared, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet said in a memo to the intelligence community that 'we are at war' and that no resources should be spared to defeat the terrorists."

"When it is released this week, a report by the presidential commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks will include the newly declassified document and a previously declassified PDB dated Aug. 6, 2001. It will also contain details of what Philip D. Zelikow, the commission's executive director, described yesterday as an "energetic response" to the hijack threat information by the Clinton administration, including its efforts to determine whether the plot reports were true."

Recount fights start now
The Kerry campaign is taking an aggressive approach to potential vote recounts, the New York Times reports, setting up a legal network to monitor elections nationwide.

"Lawyers for the campaign are gathering intelligence and preparing litigation over the ballot machines being used and the rules concerning how voters will be registered or their votes disqualified. In some cases, the lawyers are compiling dossiers on the people involved and their track records on enforcing voting rights. The disputed 2000 presidential election remains a fresh wound for Democrats, and Mr. Kerry has been referring to it on the stump while assuring his audiences that he will not let this year's election be a repeat of the 2000 vote."

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"[The campaign's] plans include setting up SWAT teams of specially trained lawyers, spokesmen and political experts to swoop into any state where a recount could be needed. 'The U.S. has had a policy of being able to fight two regional conflicts and still defend the homeland,' said Marc E. Elias, the Kerry campaign's general counsel. 'We want to be able to fight five statewide recounts and still have resources available to the campaign.'"

Watching the convention -- on surveillance cam
The TV networks are only broadcasting a few hours of the Democrats' convention next week, but surveillance cameras will record comings and goings in Boston round the clock, the Boston Globe reports.

"An unprecedented number of video cameras will be trained on Boston during the Democratic National Convention, with Boston police installing some 30 cameras near the FleetCenter, the Coast Guard using infrared devices and night-vision cameras in the harbor, and dozens of pieces of surveillance equipment mounted on downtown buildings to monitor crowds for terrorists, unruly demonstrators, and ordinary street crime."

"For the first time, 75 high-tech video cameras operated by the federal government will be linked into a surveillance network to monitor the Central Artery, City Hall Plaza, the FleetCenter, and other sensitive sites. Their feeds from cameras mounted on various downtown buildings will be piped to monitoring stations in the Boston area and in Washington, D.C., and officials will be able to zoom in from their work stations to gather details of facial descriptions or read license plates."

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"Civil libertarians warn that the latest technology will be used to scare away protesters and others exercising their rights under the First Amendment. The critics complain that there are few state and federal laws regulating the use of video surveillance in public places. 'What this demonstrates is that '1984' is now technologically possible,' said Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Technology and Liberty Program, referring to George Orwell's vision of an all-seeing totalitarian state. 'This is really a situation where we are really being asked to blindly trust the government. There is no oversight of this. There are no safeguards.'"

Ron Reagan: "Cute little story"
The Los Angeles Times reports on Ron Reagan's speech to the Democratic convention, considered by Democrats to be a "triumph" as "affronted Republicans moved to discredit the famously renegade son."

"'I think his speech is a cute little story for convention coverage, but I don't think it's the sort of thing that will influence any voters,' said Gary Bauer, a conservative activist and domestic policy advisor to President Reagan. Summing up a sentiment widely held among conservative groups, Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America called the planned public appearance 'sad.'"

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"Ron Reagan's decision to deliver an address at the Democrats' showcase event has left Republican loyalists wondering: Is he an astute activist seizing the moment to promote a cause, or a traitor to his father's legacy? ... This time, though, the maverick son has his mother's blessing."

"'She's OK with it,' Reagan said last week on MSNBC, where he is a political commentator. 'She supports the issue. She's aware, as I am, that there is a political aspect to this, and we need to be careful about that.'"

Kay: Bush and Blair should have known
David Kay, the former U.S. chief weapons inspector, says George W. Bush and Tony Blair should have realized before going to war that intelligence on Iraqi weapons was weak and did not indicate Saddam Hussein posed a danger to the West, the AP reports.

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"David Kay resigned from the CIA in January and his conclusion then that Iraq did not have stockpiles of forbidden weapons caused serious problems for both Bush and Blair, undercutting their main justification for war. He told Britain's ITV network that Bush and Blair 'should have been able to tell before the war that the evidence did not exist for drawing the conclusion that Iraq presented a clear, present and imminent threat on the basis of existing weapons of mass destruction. That was not something that required a war,' he said."

Sanchez approved use of dogs at Abu Ghraib
Contradicting his testimony before a Senate committee, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, then the U.S. commander in Iraq, allowed dogs to be present during interrogations [at Abu Ghraib] beginning Sept. 14, 2003, USA Today reports.

"In an update of his order a month later, Sanchez allowed dogs to be used at the discretion of interrogators without his specific approval, according to classified documents obtained by USA TODAY. It was in the next two months that abuses at Abu Ghraib were documented, including use of dogs to terrify naked prisoners. In April 2003, Rumsfeld had issued an order banning the use of dogs during interrogations at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a technique he had allowed there previously. But Rumsfeld's order applied only to Guantanamo, so commanders in Iraq were not told about the restriction."

"As commander in a war zone, Sanchez had the authority to establish interrogation rules in Iraq without consulting Rumsfeld. Pentagon officials say they did not know that rules for Abu Ghraib differed from Rumsfeld's order for Guantanamo until photographs were leaked to the news media that showed naked Iraqi prisoners cowering before snarling dogs. ... Sanchez has testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that he never approved a request for permission to use dogs in an interrogation. But his rule said his permission was not required."

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What Kerry must do, Iraq version
The New Yorker's Philip Gourevitch looks at what John Kerry, known to finish as a strong "closer" of campaigns, must do to win in November, especially on the Iraq question -- his more nuanced approach differs from Bush's stark pronouncements and is often more difficult to communicate to voters.

"Kerry has a habit of phoning around among a far-flung network of counsellors to gather conflicting opinions before reaching a decision. One result of this spongelike method is that it can be very hard for the person on the other end of a conversation with him to know just where he is heading as he circumnavigates an issue. It is not always obvious that Kerry knows, either, and his disinclination to codify his thinking on international relations, beyond a broad internationalist critique of the Bush doctrine, is generally seen as a political handicap."

"'If youre an extremist, everything's clear,' Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was Jimmy Carter's national-security adviser, said to me. "You're fighting terror, period, wherever it isit's evil. Or you love everybody and foreign policy consists of being sweet to others, period. Whereas if you're in the middle you have to sort of say, Well, we have to use power, but we have to be sensitive to principle, and you have to sometimes deal with dictators, yet promote democracy, and sometimes you have to use force, but generally speaking you have to be careful not to be excessive. You know, that kind of stuff. And that's always much more difficult to explain." "Kerry, however, makes no apologies for viewing foreign policy as a balancing act. After all, our chief enemies abroad, whether they be jihadi terrorists or North Korean Communists, are radical fundamentalists for whom dogma is impervious to reality. 'Steady leadership in times of change' is a slogan that could apply equally to Kim Jong Il and Osama bin Laden. But Kerry contends that the slogan does not properly describe George Bush, and his objection is as much to the word 'steady' as it is to the claim of 'leadership.' ... In contrast to Bushs dogmatic rigidity, Kerry's flexibilitya difficult selling point for a candidate in any other contextcan seem reassuring. His objection to ideology appears to be both visceral and intellectual, and in advocating what might be called a return from a faith-based foreign policy to a reality-based approach, his greatest challenge in running against Bush without an opposing doctrine is to make the case for being nonideological without seeming unprincipled."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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