‘News’- I don’t believe it

– I don’t believe it — given the third-hand source of the story — but the Frontier Post in Pakistan says 65 U.S. Marines have been killed by Taliban suicide bombers.

– Reported breakthrough in Bonn talks: An aide to the king as prime minister.

– Scumsucking loon: Bobby Fischer, chess nerd, applauds 9/11 attacks on us. [via Rotten]

Bleep of the year
– In our little meaningless poll (to the right), Rudy Guiliani is winning as person of the year. The Guardian reports on the deliberation going on inside Time and the story argues it will be as hard not to pick bin Laden as it is hard to pick him. “But a Time reporter put the magazine’s dilemma starkly: ‘To call bin Laden Person of the Year devalues the word “person”. We would need to have a separate “m*****f***** of the year” category – I think the staff would buy into that.’ ”

Civilian rights
– The Guardian has started a special section — Libertywatch — worrying about the civil rights they fear are being trampled, squashed, pancaked, and stomped upon in this war. In a long and thoughtful piece, Columbia Prof. Patricia Williams catalogues the concerns:

…the disregard for international treaties and conventions; strict controls on media reports about the war; secret surveillance and searches of citizens* computers; widespread ethnic profiling; indefinite detention of non-citizens; offers of expedited American citizenship to those who provide evidence about terrorists; and military tribunals with the power to try enemies in secret, without application of the usual laws of evidence, without right of appeal, yet with the ability to impose the death penalty. Opportunity for legislative or other public discussion of these measures has been largely eclipsed by the rapidity with which most of them have been pushed into effect.

She proceeds to call this “one of the more dramatic Constitutional crises in United States history.” But we also face one of the more dramatic military threats on our homefront in United States history. I am sure I will regret not being more worried about what’s happening to civil rights now — but I know that it is because I am much more worried about the military threat. The professor goes on to caution:

It is worrisome, too, when the highest prosecutor in the land declares that war criminals do not “deserve” basic constitutional protections. We confer due process not because putative criminals are “deserving” recipients of rights-as-reward. Rights are not “earned” in this way. What makes rights rights is that they ritualize the importance of solid, impartial and public consensus before we take life or liberty from anyone, particularly those whom we fear. We ritualize this process to make sure we don’t allow the grief of great tragedies to blind us with mob fury, inflamed judgments and uninformed reasoning.

When it comes to permanently changing our deliberative, ritualized way of civil rights, she is quite right. That should not be done hastily. But at the same time, when it comes to protecting us from obvious threat, this must be done with haste. So where is the balance? In timing. The answer, I believe, is to make sure that these changes are temporary, exercisable in a state of war and to counter acts of war. The test is to make sure that we do what we do not out of revenge but out of protection. I headlined an earlier post on this topic, “Civil rights? Maybe later.” And Thomas Nephew quite properly scolded me for including the word “maybe.” He’s right. There’s no maybe about our precious civil rights; I concede that to the libertywatchers. But right now, there has to be a later.

– The NY Times’ take:

The inconvenient thing about the American system of justice is that we are usually challenged to protect it at the most inopportune moments. Right now the country wants very much to be supportive of the war on terrorism, and is finding it hard to summon up much outrage over military tribunals, secret detentions or the possible mistreatment of immigrants from the Mideast. There is a strong temptation not to notice. That makes it even more important to speak up.

Terror in Israel
– The Independent: “Even by the calculatedly bloodsoaked standards of the Middle East, last night’s attacks in Jerusalem were callously planned to cause maximum loss of life.”

Remote-control war
– The Washington Post argues that we’re fighting a new kind of war — with drone spies, precision bombs and missiles, remote control, and the ability to fight at long-range: war fought with a mouse. And that this alters the equation when calculating whether to go to war:

In terms of foreign policy, the shift could have a subtly belligerent effect. Some analysts worry that the new American capabilities, by minimizing the casualties suffered not only by the U.S. military but also by civilians in the war zone, have lowered the bar for the use of force, making the military option seductively easy for policymakers to select.

But those conclusions are hugely controversial. In a unusual joint interview, the chiefs of the Air Force and Navy rejected the notion that the apparent success of the Afghan war amounted to a prescription for military reform, arguing that every conflict is different.

True enough. But I do not think this leads to an era of Easy War. War is still war. It is not something a civilized society (as opposed to a bin Laden) ever enters into willingly. And that factor is amplifed with the new world order. Now we are the only superpower and that brings not only obligations, as supercop, it also puts a target right onto us — each of us — and with all that it brings new diplomatic and public-relations and thus strategic complications. In that sense, war is more difficult. Remote-control war looks easy. But politically correct war is hard.

The Muslim revolt that never came: The Muslim Times argues that support for bin Laden and the Taleban was minimal in the Muslim world. I’m not sure how cynical I should be: Was this the opinion before the Taliban’s defeat as well? The Times argues: “The reasons are that, in effect, most Arab and Muslim governments ñ with the possible exception of Sudan – would very much like to see the Islamist threat disappear, just as much as the West would, because it threatens their security as much as anyone else’s. The reason much of the Islamic and Arab world remained so quiet in the weeks of intense bombing of Taliban and Al Qaeda positions in Afghanistan is because not only the leadership, but the vast majority of the people in those countries realize that the extremism of the Taliban is not for them, no matter how corrupt their own leaders might be.”

Evil stinks- They’re going to

Evil stinks
– They’re going to use a special sensor that can smell bin Laden in his cave, says the Times of London:

The sensor is said to be so sensitive that it can ìdistinguish between the smells of different ethnic groups caused by the different foods they eatî, according to John Shroder, a professor of geology at Nebraska University and a leading expert on the Afghan mountains.

Shroder has advised the Americans on Bin Ladenís likely location, judging by the mountain background to one of the Al-Qaeda leaderís propaganda videos.

The remote-sensing gas detection device is part of the array of technology being employed in the hunt for Bin Laden. Other equipment includes airborne gravimeters that can locate tunnels by small variations in the Earthís gravitational pull around them, and infrared heat sensors that pick up movement around the entrances of caves.

Once a target area has been identified by air reconnaissance, ground troops can plant microphones to detect noises below. They can also push miniature cameras into ventilation shafts to watch the insides of caves before mounting an attack; or they can lower foot-high remote-controlled buggies with searchlights and cameras into tunnels.

– At least six dead, 160 wounded in suicide bombing in Israeli pedestrian mall. Enough, damnit, enough.

– Brit SAS troops to lead assault on Tora Bora.

Waging politically correct war
David Aaronovitch illustrates the difficulty of waging the politically correct war, following the ruckus over the prison battle: “So, as of this week, we have become war criminals. Events at the Qalai Janghi fort, in northern Afghanistan, are to be set alongside the Srebrenica massacre or My Lai. And those in any way implicated ñ the Northern Alliance, the SAS, the United States Air Force ñ are to be compared with Ratko Mladic and Lieutenant Calley. All this without an enquiry. Some people emit outrage like elephants’ piss. The sheer quantity of it soon covers the psychological landscape.” There are complaints that the other side was outgunned — as if war is fair. “The ex-prisoners had the fort and a lot of weapons, their enemies had tanks, American planes and SAS spotters. As a reporter in [one] paper commented: ‘The fighters had wanted martyrdom, and, after a four-day battle, almost all of them had got it.’ At which point, allow me to void my own elephant’s bladder a little by pointing out that their choice was far greater than that of the victims of 11 September, who looked back at the flames in the World Trade Centre, and then decided to fall to their deaths.” Amen. And then he plays the WWII card effectively: “Even so what, so far, we know of Qalai Janghi does not sound like a war crime. Had, in 1944, a chateau full of captured SS men killed their captors and then holed up inside shooting at anything that moved, I doubt whether anyone now would have called their extinction a ‘war crime.’ ” [via Time’s weblog]

– Time’s hour-by-hour version of events at the prison.

– The Washington Post says it: Gunga Dan is back. Rather has returned to Afghanistan. Rather’s report.

Ken Layne votes in the unscientific, meaningless Person of the Year poll: “I voted for filthy bin Laden, because he started all this horror (Sontag, start your engines). Rudy is great, Bush has done all right, and the people who stormed the cockpit of Flight 93 were True Heroes — as were the firefighters, cops, paramedics, military, rescue teams and random volunteers who either died or risked their lives at the WTC and Pentagon. But Sammy bin Laden, he’s the man. He’s the Target. Why? Because he was the Very Annoying Alarm Clock. We learned some rotten stuff on Sept. 11. Those nuts were serious….”

– And Layne, again, on the UN Afghan talks: “Don’t want to be rude, but can the United Nations solve anything? I mean, I’m glad the body exists, but what exactly can it do? I would be far happier with a U.S./U.K. handling of this meeting. Would like to see a Rumsfeld saying: ‘Get it together, and remember why you have the chance.’ ” Couldn’t’ve said it better myself.

Times of London: “Talks in jeopardy as goodwill evaporates”

The poll- Some write-ins so

The poll
– Some write-ins so far for the utterly meaningless poll (to the right) about the Time Person of the Year (see yesterday):

“To me it’s a shoo-in: the passengers of Flight 93. –Thomas Nephew” … New York City police and fire fighters … Richard Gere …

Memo to journalists: Get the hell out of there
– MSNBC says in a crawl on its screen that the Taleban is trying to kidnap foreign journalists to use as bargaining chips. At the same time, US News reports that a car loaded with explosives was stopped outside the hotel used by journalists in Kabul. [via Drudge] Add to this yesterday’s report that Mullah Omar offered a $50,000 bounty on the heads of journalists shot in Afghanistan. And a death toll of eight journalists so far. And a Canadian journalist kidnapped and still not found yet. A bad scene all around.

Now, add this conspiracy twist: The media connection. The Taleban’s going after journalists there. The anthrax attacker went after them here. I’d call that a pattern, eh?

– British TV correspondent wounded while reporting at “the most dangerous place on earth” tells her story.

Mid-life mope:
– So the Beatles are half-dead. I have white hair. I live in the suburbs. I have serious conversations about accounting methods. And worst of all, I suddenly find I’m a hawk. I’m no longer a child of the ’60s. I’m the remains of the ’60s. And now, to add insult to insult, the economy is a mess so I have to choose between a convertible and a shrink.

– Rest in peace, George Harrison. You brought enough of it to the world when you lived.

The Portland ruckus
– Here’s complete coverage on Portland’s refusal to interview foreigners from Oregonlive.com.

– Portland takes it on the chin — as well it should — for it stance. The LA Times quotes some email scolds sent to the city:

“I am appalled and embarrassed to be an Oregonian,” wrote one local man. “You . . . have completely lost perspective and what appears to be any remnant of common sense.”

And another: “We are disgusted and saddened. . . . We consider the city of Portland and the state of Oregon to be a haven for terrorists. We will discontinue traveling there as a company.”

Ready, aim…
– OK, anti-anti-war bloggers, have at ‘im. I missed this from the Boston Globe but found it via Victory Coffee: Columnist James Carrol argues that the war is not just and that we’re basically a bunch of ignorant sluts for supporting it because we don’t really know what’s going on inside Afghansitan and we don’t understand the true context and besides: “This war is not ‘just’ because it was not necessary. It may be the only kind of force the behemoth Pentagon knows to exercise, but that doesn’t make it ‘just’ either. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 could have been defined not as acts of war, but as crimes.” He doesn’t stop there, arguing that the government decided to blame anthrax on foreign terrorists (how about blaming logic, bub?) only so we’d get all fired up, a la Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution:

For a crucial moment, they effectively played the role in this war that the Gulf of Tonkin ”assault” played in the Vietnam War, as sources of a war hysteria that ”united” the nation around a mistake. In such a context, the more doubt is labeled disloyal, the more it grows. The more this war is deemed ”just,” the more it seems wrong.

A plot to poison people in France with gas is broken up with arrests in Italy. Authorities also got a bin Laden code book:

Turkey, or chicken = bomb

To be tired = to be under police surveillance

The town hall = prison

Get married = to escape or flee

Trousers = false identity papers

Open a shop, or restaurant = commit a terrorist attack

Couscous = nails (used in a bomb)

Poison = identity control

A book = false passport

– Something to keep you up at night: The CIA Chemical/Biological/Radiological Incident Handbook. A few tips:

> If inside, and the incident is outside, stay inside. Turn off air conditioning, seal windows and doors with plastic tape….

> If radiological material is suspected, remember to minimize exposure by minimizing time around suspected site, maximizing distance from the site, and trying to place some shielding (e.g. buildings, vehicle, land feature such as a hill, etc.) between yourself and the site….

> Proceed to a shower and thoroughly wash your body with soap and water. This needs to be accomplished within minutes. Simply flushing water over the body is not enough. You need to aggressively scrub your skin and irrigate your eyes with water. In the case of biologicals, this is often sufficient to avert contact infection. If available, for suspected biological and chemical contamination the contaminated areas should then be washed with a 0.5-percent sodium hypochlorite solution, allowing a contact time of 10 to 15 minutes. To make a 0.5-percent sodium hypochlorite solution, take one part household bleach such as Clorox, and 10 parts water. Do not let this solution contact your eyes….

> Physical symptoms: Numerous individuals experiencing unexplained water-like blisters, wheals (like bee stings), pinpointed pupils, choking, respiratory ailments and/or rashes….

> Unexplained odors: Smells may range from fruity to flowery to sharp/pungent to garlic/horseradish-like to bitter almonds/peach kernels to new mown hay. It is important to note that the particular odor is completely out of character with its surroundings….

Franzen follies
Ken Layne on almost (almost) finishing his novel: “The book is so spectacular, I’m already working on my ‘refuse to go on Oprah’ speech.”

– Speaking of Jonathan Franzen’s hyperhyped book, I made mention of it in a post long ago. I was carrying my copy in my briefcase the day I escaped the black cloud of terrorism at the World Trade Center. It was not just covered in concrete dust; it was infused with concrete dust; every page opened and coated. I threw it away. I bought another. I have tried and tried to pick it up and finish it and finally decided I can’t. It seems so self-indulgent and irrelevant now. Think I’ll sell it on Amazon.

And more…
PakNews says that Pakistani law-enforcement officials are delighted that the deadly prison riot and other fighting in Afghanistan is cleaning up their list of most wanted Pakistani terrorists.

Debka says Arafat thumbs his nose at America’s peace efforts: “Arafat has a long and cynical history of making American diplomats laughing-stocks at the expense of Israeli lives. The better he succeeds, the closer he comes to attaining his ambition of challenging Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar as hero of the Arab and Muslim world. His way of bidding for popularity in the Arab arena is to escalate his anti-Israeli terror war in time with the US anti-terror battles in Kandahar. Even the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the extremist Lebanese Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah are wary about directly affronting America, but not Arafat.”

– Washington Post has the story of a top-level Taleban defector who says he spied for us: “There wasn’t anybody who had power over Osama,” Khaksar said. “He did whatever he wanted.”

Person of the Year, this

Person of the Year, this year, of all years…
– So who will Time’s Person of the Year be? You can expect the usual controversy: Will the bad guy be the guy? Would they consider bin Laden? Yes, they’ll consider him. Time’s managing editor said so today. Sometimes, Time does pick the bad guy for impact: because that guy had the most impact on the year and because the story has impact itself. But they’ve played that card before. So I’ll bet they won’t do that this year. Back when I worked at the company, I remember that they really did take great care to consider all the candidates and the reasons for each one; it’s quite a deliberative process. I was at People then and when we picked the 25 Most Intriguing, it was less deliberative and more of a long, loud lunch. (If I were there this year, I’d be arguing to break the formula and pick 25 American Heroes!) Anyway, you know that Christmas is coming when it’s time to speculate with your friends on the Person of the Year and so we provide that service here on this interactive Internet: the unscientific, meaningless, but fun poll: Vote at the right.

CIA death
– The Times of India says our first battlefield casualty, the CIA’s Mike Spann, may have inadvertantly caused the prison uprising that cost him his life:

Even as the CIA saluted its slain colleague, the first American fatality in Afghanistan, “American hero” Johnny ëMikeí Spann, who died in the prison revolt, British journalists in Mazar-i-Sharif have begun reporting that Spann was less an innocent victim than the one who allegedly provoked the riot….
On Wednesday night, the BBCís authoritative domestic television programme Newsnight interviewed Oliver August, correspondent for The Times, London, in Mazar-i-Sharif, who said that Spann and his CIA colleague, Dave, were thought to have set off the violence by aggressively interrogating foreign Taliban prisoners and asking, “Why did you come to Afghanistan?”. August said their questions were answered by one prisoner jumping forward and announcing, “Weíre here to kill you”.
The Guardianís Mazar-i-Sharif correspondent said the CIA “operatives had apparently failed on entering the fort to observe the first rule of espionage: keep a low profile”.
The Timesís August said Spann subsequently pulled his gun and his CIA colleague shot three prisoners dead in cold blood before losing control over the situation.
Spann was then “kicked, beaten and bitten to death,” the journalists said, in an account of the ferocity of the violence that lasted four days, leaving more than 500 people dead and the fort littered with “bodies, shrapnel and shell casings”.

How the buildings collapsed
CBS says a miracle saved people at the Pentagon: “Even though 125 people were killed in the Pentagon on Sept.11, there was something miraculous about that day. The plane obliterated the first and part of the second floor, but the third, fourth and fifth floors remained suspended in midair for 35 minutes. Hundreds of people escaped. How is that possible?… In an astonishing stroke of luck, the terrorists had hit the only section of the Pentagon designed to resist a terrorist attack.”

– And engineers find what made 7 World Trade Center collapse hours after 1 and 2: diesel fuel stored for emergency generators: “Experts said no building like it, a modern, steel-reinforced high-rise, had ever collapsed because of an uncontrolled fire, and engineers have been trying to figure out exactly what happened and whether they should be worried about other buildings like it around the country.”

Civil rights? Maybe later
– I keep worrying that I should be worried about civil rights — but I’m not. Same for most Americans. A Post/ABC poll says: “Six in 10 agree with President Bush that suspected terrorists should be tried in special military tribunals and not in U.S. criminal courts… Seven in 10 Americans believe the government is doing enough to protect the civil rights of suspected terrorists. An equally large majority believe the government is sufficiently guarding the rights of Arab Americans and American Muslims as well as noncitizens from Arab and Muslim countries.”

– Via Lake Effect, the official presidential order on military tribunals for terrorists: “Having fully considered the magnitude of the potential deaths, injuries, and property destruction that would result from potential acts of terrorism against the United States, and the probability that such acts will occur, I have determined that an extraordinary emergency exists for national defense purposes, that this emergency constitutes an urgent and compelling government interest, and that issuance of this order is necessary to meet the emergency.”

– Bin Laden on trial tonight (on Court TV): Times story.

And more…
Pesky anthrax spores won’t sit still for investigators — they keep floating into the air.

Afghan woman killed when airlifted humanitarian supplies drop on her house. [via Rantburg]

Turkey would consider backing Iraq strikes under the right circumstances.

– Geraldo in Kunduz: video.

Charlotte Church, the kid singer with the eerie voice (but no soul, I’ve always said) complains that New Yorkers are self-absorbed about 9/11. Harumph.

– Times of London says

– Times of London says bin Laden is in Tora Bora caves: “Defence sources are increasingly sure that bin Laden is in the Tora Bora complex. ‘Weíre now convinced this is where he is and where the 1,000 or so al-Qaeda fighters with him will make their last stand,’ said one.”

– A Times graphic of the Tora Bora complex.

– A Times visit to Tora Bora: “In their ten-year war against the Mujahidin in Afghanistan, the Russians never did strike a serious blow at Tora Bora. The place seemed as enduring as the rock from which it was carved. It is hardly surprising that it should endure as a warrior headquarters.”

– The Telegraph’s Tora Bora tale.

– Just looked to register ToraBora.com. I was three days too late. Could have made a fortune when the movie’s made.

– 13 bin Laden fighters reportedly flown to Wake Island, ready for tribunal.

– Scarey story (or scare story — not sure) from Janes: “Ominous news from Pakistan and Iran indicate that at best a viral pandemic may be brewing among Afghan refugees, at worst that former Soviet biological weapons have possibly made their first appearance. In Pakistan, at least 75 people have been diagnosed … with Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever in the largest outbreak of the disease ever recorded. Eight have already died. All the infected are refugees recently arrived from Afghanistan or people living close to the border.”

– Piece of drek column by Robert Fisk in the Independent: “We are the war criminals now.” He says that the Afghans killing each other is our fault. It would be nice if we were ready with a sane government and an international terrorist babysitting force but we’re not and they’re murdering each other and we can’t stop them. So tough. Our goal is to stop them from killing us. If we can stop them from killing each other, that’s merely a fringe benefit. He says we’ve gone mad. No, we’re trying to stop the madmen. And in the final analysis, it is their country: They either can or cannot be civilized.

– Fisk should at least concede that getting rid of the Taleban is moral progress: Horrors from the BBC.

– The government’s buying enough smallpox vaccine to protect 286 million — all of us … but not until the end of next year. Keep fingers crossed. Inhale now and hold it.

– You don’t hate us, you really don’t hate us: A new Pew survey says the public is thinking a lot higher of the media post 9/11: “Almost two-thirds now say those in the news business stand up for America and help protect democracy, says the poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. These are the highest levels on those measures in the center’s 15 years of polling on the news industry. Fewer than half felt that way before the attacks.”

– Our first American battlefield casualty: CIA agent and ex-Marine Michael Spann from Alabama. From his home-state newspaper (before his death was confirmed).

– I was just justly scolded in email: There is no such thing as an ex-Marine. Yes, sir! Semper fi.

– Arrest of a suspect in Germany; he’s said to have funded the flight training of one of the hijackers. German version at Netzeitung. English at BBC [via Layne].

– News organizations — BBC, AP, Reuters, Washington Post — pulling out of Afghanistan following death of Swedish cameraman. Can’t blame them. The news is vital but right now it’s not worth more lives.

– God Bless America: Below, I wrote a screed on fundamentalism vs. modernity (read: inflexibility vs. flexibility). Now comes a survey of American religious behavior that finds — to the research firm’s surprise, but not mine — that after 9/11, American are less — less — likely to believe that “there are moral truths that are absolute, meaning that those moral truths or principles do not change according to the circumstances.” That is, Americans recognize the dangers of fundamentalism; Americans are flexible and open and tolerant and civilized. Americans are also, I think, ready to kick bin Laden’s ass and willing to give up a few absolute moral truths along the way… [via Relapsed Catholic]

– The tale of a secular Muslim in England, Sarfraz Manzoor:

“Bruce Springsteen gave me the promise of America. With it came the civil rights movement, the speeches of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Emmett Till and Public Enemy. I felt that I was on the same side as those who marched in Selma and Montgomery. I found it easier to be a black American by empathy than to be British…. [America] represented a broader sense of identity. To my father, this adoration of Americana was confirmation of his worst fears. The Faustian pact of coming to Britain had played out: the souls of his children had been robbed by the west. Even years later he would express regret he had ever come.”

After 9/11, he returns to his British hometown to meet young Muslim students, who are appalled at his secular life: “Just because I listened to Bruce Springsteen and read Philip Roth and watched Woody Allen did not mean I was ‘denying’ anything,” he tells them. “I just chose to expose myself to a broader set of influences than some of the people I grew up with. I told my class that they couldn’t box people up so neatly. Islam is about tolerance, I added weakly.”

– The Christian Science Monitor says Congress is getting ready to fight Bush about the license he has taken regarding civil rights and war tribunals and such. But the Monitor also starts with the important caveat: “If history is any guide, wartime Congresses are usually irrelevant. They may thunder and roar, but in the end, the president decides the conduct of a war – including curtailing cherished liberties when deemed necessary.”

– An Afghan woman general says education, not burkas, are the real issue for Afghan women.