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Recruiting for al Qaeda

Another attack by militants

All together now, quagmire!

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An Open Letter to Nina Totenberg

Date: 5/6/03
Show: All Things Considered (NPR)

In an update of the Moussaoui case, NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg talks about the legal wrangling that goes on between Judge Brinkema and the prosecution team. The dispute arises from a decision of the judge to allow the defendant to represent himself. Since Moussaoui does not have the necessary security clearance, prosecutors want to limit his access to evidence gathered against him.

Zacarias Moussaoui   The 20th hijacker? [unattributed]

Listening to Totenberg, one gets the impression that all of this wrangling is the fault of an incompetent, overly zealous prosecution ("watch what you pray for because you may get it") which prompted me to send this letter to NPR:

Dear Ms. Totenberg:

In the above report about the Zacarias Moussaoui case you mentioned that prosecutors "went nuts again" and that they were screaming "bloody murder" in response to decisions made by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema.

I don't want to pry, but how can you possibly know this? Did you attend meetings of the prosecution, did you see them thrash office furniture, throw books at each other, paper clips, perhaps? Or do you have a mole inside the Justice Department that keeps you informed about such things?

I ask this because you did not make derogatory remarks about others in the case, not the judge, not the appeals court, not the defense team, not even the accused, who — at least in the opinion of his court appointed lawyers — is mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Could it be that you are holding a grudge against someone on the prosecution team, in the Justice Department, maybe against the Attorney General himself? If so, please leave the Moussaoui case to someone else on NPR's legal team. You should recuse yourself.

Sincerely, Roger Rick

Almost instantaneously, I received a reply from a very friendly computer. I don't know whether Ms. Totenberg will find the time to answer my letter, but if she does, I will post it here.


Another attack by militants

Recruiting for al Qaeda

Date: 5/21/03
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

Before the war in Iraq, critics of the Bush administration warned that toppling Saddam would ignite a firestorm of terrorist attacks on American interests. Strangely, some of the same critics were arguing that Saddam had no ties with terrorists, at least not with militant Islamists who supposedly hated him because he is a secular socialist. So, why should they care?

Nevertheless, the threat of terrorism was all too real — perhaps the strongest argument against going to war. I was relieved to see that neither during the war, nor in its immediate aftermath, the firestorm materialized.

Palestinian suicide bombers   Palestinian suicide bombers [© MRN]

But, then, there was Riyadh and Casablanca and the Cassandras were back in force with the perennial admonition of "I told you so."

A close look at the attacks fails to show a compelling link with Iraq. Both were carried out simultaneously against multiple targets, requiring a high degree of coordination, large numbers of participants, and substantial cashes of weapons and explosives. Undoubtedly, these attacks were planned well in advance — maybe accelerated because of the war, but certainly not caused by it. The bombing in Riyadh was presumably precipitated by the fact that Saudi police had stumbled across a large cash of explosives just days before.

Needless to say that NPR sided with the critics of the war. In an interview with Jessica Stern, Malkin professor of public policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Morning Edition's host Bob Edwards nudged her gently to say just the right things:

And al Qaeda is tied to this [the bombings]?

The most frightening thing about what is going on with al Qaeda is that it's not only using the war in Iraq to attract new recruits who seem to be younger, more menacing, more converts, and actually more women for secondary roles, but it keeps evolving and is incorporating new groups that are not just the ones that are formerly part of the international Islamic front, but regional groups that are prepared to pursuit a similar mission, anti-Western, anti-New World Order mission.

With al Qaeda still a threat, how effective has the war on terrorism been?

Well, I think the war on terrorism has been very effective considering how difficult it is. But I do think the war in Iraq has made things, at least for the moment, much, much worse for us in this war.

You mean in terms of attracting new recruits or extending resources, or what?

Yes. Yes.
The longer the chaos in Iraq continues the harder it will be for us. It's not that just Iraq itself will become a source of recruits, but it's a kind of symbol that is used all over the world to attract recruits and there is, I think, at least the possibility that even lone wolves will be motivated to join this fight against the new world order. The presence of the U.S. in Iraq is a very, very exiting thing for recruiters.

The link between the attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco and the recruitment of al Qaeda terrorists remains somewhat of a mystery. There is no evidence, of course, that the attackers were new converts, so how does Stern know that there is an upsurge in recruiting? Was she visiting the al Qaeda recruitment office? Did she talk to new recruits and asked them about their reason for joining? Not very likely.

An update

I know Stern from appearances on the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer. She has a good head on her shoulders, is well-spoken, certainly a very fine lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Nevertheless, she knows little about militant Islam, at least when compared to Steven Emerson and Daniel Pipes, who almost single-handedly brought the threat posed by radical Islamists to the attention of the American public. But you won't hear from Emerson on NPR; he was black-listed because he is too conservative, too much pro-Israel. When the Bush administration nominated Pipes as member of the U.S. Institute of Peace, NPR slandered him as "the nation's leading Islamophobe."

More than a month went by since the Riyadh and Casablanca bombings, without a single sighting of the projected firestorm. Of course, I am not counting the dozens of attacks that occur almost daily in Israel, Kashmir, Northern Ireland, and the usual murder and mayhem in various places in Africa. In a video-taped statement on the satellite news channel Al Jazeerah, an al Qaeda spokesperson claimed responsibility for both attacks. The Riyadh terrorist group apparently had planned another large attack in Mecca [Makkah]. Luckily, the Saudi police managed to kill and arrest many of them before they had a chance to carry out the plot.


All together now, quagmire!

Another Attack by Militants

Date: 6/9/03
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

Introducing a report from Linda Gradstein, Morning Edition host Bob Edwards described an attack carried out the day before by three Palestinian terrorist organizations, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, in the following way:

In one of the bloodiest days in the Middle East in recent weeks, five Israeli soldiers and five Israeli gunmen were killed in gun battles in Gaza and in the West Bank. It happened yesterday when three militant Palestinian groups staged a coordinated attack on Israeli troops at a checkpoint between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Four Israelis were killed, a fifth died in a gun battle in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Of course, what Edwards calls militant groups are terrorist organizations, designated as such by the U.S. government. The gun battle in reality was an ambush by Palestinian terrorists wearing uniforms of the Israeli Defense Forces. The checkpoint was set up to allow Palestinian workers to cross into Israel — one of the measures to ease the living conditions of Palestinians that Sharon had agreed to just days ago as part of the Road Map To Peace.

Abdel Aziz Rantisi   Hamas spokesperson Rantisi

When the IDF tries to kill a terrorist leader for planning and ordering such an attack, NPR predictably condemns this as a "targeted assassination" or "extra-judicial killing," as if the killing of a terrorist requires approval of the International Criminal Court. And when the next suicide bomber blows up a bus filled with Israeli school children, the network is sure to bemoan this as another "cycle of violence."


How to ambush the Speaker

All Together Now, Quagmire!

Date: 6/19/03
Show: All Things Considered (NPR)

In his book "Bush at War," Bob Woodward described a Pentagon press briefing in which Secretary Rumsfeld, annoyed by persistent questions about the lack of progress in Afghanistan, asked the press to join him in the refrain: "all together now, quagmire!" According to Woodward, reporters chuckled softly.

Well, the talk about a quagmire is back. Each day that goes by without a new, democratic government in Iraq is portrayed as another failure of the Bush administration. How quickly do we forget! After the second World War, it took more than four years for Germany to elect her first Bundestag, 10 years before West Germany was accepted as member of NATO, and nearly half a century before the re-united Germany achieved full sovereignty.

Bronce sculpture   Sculpture from the Baghdad museum

The looting of 170,000 artifacts from the Iraqi National Museum was called a cultural holocaust perpetrated by Americans. At the end of the day, 32 major pieces from the museum gallery are still missing; the rest has been recovered from safe storage places, homes of employees, some pieces were returned by remorseful looters. If you are listening to NPR, you won't hear the good news, however. Everything that spoils the specter of the quagmire is verboten.

Sometimes I wonder on which side they're on: the casualties from sniper shootings, attacks with RPGs, are almost gleefully portrayed as signs of an ever-increasing resistance by the Iraqi people. Statistics are fudged too. While other news organizations are careful to point out that the casualty figures reported by the Pentagon include accidents, NPR refuses to make such a distinction. For Morning Edition and All Things Considered they are killed in combat. According to a press release from the Department of Defense today, only 12 of the 50 casualties suffered since the President pronounced an end to major war operations in Iraq on May 1 have been the result of hostile fire.

When, a day earlier, two Iraqi protesters were killed at the entrance to the U.S. civilian administration in Baghdad, NPR's Deborah Amos said on the morning newscast that the Iraqis started throwing rocks only after soldiers opened fire on them. A little later [there is no archive of the NPR news broadcasts, so the exact time remains uncertain] a correspondent from the BBC provided an entirely different version of the event: that an American soldier entering the compound shot in self defense when protesters started hurling large rocks at his Humvee. On ATC, Amos changed her story, this time agreeing with the American version of the event.

  • 1955: West Germany accepted into NATO [On this day, BBC]
  • audio file Many Iraqi antiquities passed over by looters [All Things Considered, 5/19/03]
    NPR's Christopher Joyce not only blames the US for the looting of the Iraqi National museum, but also for the looting of museums after the first Gulf war and the rampant trade in antiquities during the years of UN-imposed sanctions.
  • What really happened at the Baghdad museum? [Dan Cruickshank, The Guardian]
  • audio file Another Iraq Attack Leaves U.S. Soldier Dead [All Things Considered, 6/18/03]
  • audio file U.S. Soldier Dies as Resistance to U.S. Troops Grows [All Things Considered, 6/19/03]
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Revised 4/29/06