Wednesday, July 31, 2002

The questions being debated now, officials said, are whether to move against Hussein with overt military action and, if so, when and how.

The lack of answers to those questions is producing new stresses within the administration, some defense experts said. Two people involved in the debate -- one inside the Pentagon, one outside it -- said Cheney and others at the White House are growing concerned that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other military leaders have fought Rumsfeld and other civilian hawks to a standstill. "I'm picking up a concern that people at the top of the Pentagon are overwhelmed," said one Republican foreign policy expert.

::Thomas Ricks, Washington Post: Timing, Tactics on Iraq War Disputed
My favorite bald-faced bullshit denial of the day:

While Bush served on Harken Energy's board of directors in 1989, the company set up an offshore subsidiary in the Cayman Islands, the White House acknowledged. But spokesman Ari Fleischer denied it was a scheme to avoid paying taxes in the United States. Bush, Cheney under fire over offshore subsidiaries - July 31, 2002
The family of nations resolves a squabble. Everybody is happy.

Lakhdar Brahimi, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative to Afghanistan, said that avoiding civilian casualties must be "paramount" and that the Pentagon must conduct the war so "that protection of civilian lives becomes a primary concern in the fight against terrorism."

[Note Brahimi's use of the future tense.]

Meanwhile, the world body scrapped plans to make public its assessment of the attack, in which an AC-130 gunship called in by U.S. ground forces killed 48 revelers and wounded at least 100 more. A final version of the report was given only to U.S. and Afghanistan officials, who are conducting their own formal investigation into the attack.

A draft version of the report that was leaked on the weekend casts doubts about U.S. claims of anti-aircraft fire and suggested an even higher death toll, but UN officials quickly disowned it as incomplete and "unsubstantiated."

::Paul Koring, Globe and Mail: U.S. warned about civilian casualties

Rolf Ekeus, head of United Nations weapons inspections in Iraq from 1991-97, on the politics of weapons inspections:

... the US and other members of the Security Council pressed the teams to inspect sensitive areas, such as Iraq's ministry of defence when it was politically favourable for them to create a crisis situation. "They, [Security Council members] pressed the inspection leadership to carry out inspections which were controversial from the Iraqis' view, and thereby created a blockage that could be used as a justification for a direct military action," he said.

In a separate interview with Svenska Dagbladet, the Swedish newspaper, Mr Ekeus said that he had learnt after he left his position that the US had placed two of its own agents in the group of inspectors.

With the US determined to topple the Iraqi regime, officials in Baghdad argue that the return of inspectors at this time is certain to lead to intelligence gathering and to deliberate provocation on their part, thus giving legitimacy to a US attack.

::Carola Hoyos, et al, Financial Times: Weapons inspections were 'manipulated' via Cursor

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Friedman's megalomania is getting out of hand -- now he's talking like a James Bond supervillain...

. . . give me sustained $10-a-barrel oil and I'll give you revolutions from Iran to Saudi Arabia, and throw in Venezuela.

::Thomas Friedman, New York Times: $6 or $60
Alexander Cockburn takes a few kicks at the New York Times:

The pertinent question is whether the Times is a good newspaper, and the answer there is, all too often it isn't. Part of the reason the prose of Paul Krugman and Frank Rich seems so lively is that they shine amid darkness. The news pages are clogged with prose that is either pedestrian or arch, the latter being the besetting vice of journalists trying to turn in quality writing.

...The Times spent so many years through the 1990s printing stupid stories about the triumph of neoliberalism and of the free market that even if its foreign and economic correspondents had suspicions that all might be well, they prudently suppressed their doubts. So the Times missed what was actually happening in the former Soviet Union, or in Argentina, Brazil and the other kleptocracies of Latin America. The only reason more isn't made of the stupidity of the Times' editorial pages is that The Wall Street Journal's opinion pages are so violently demented that almost any other editorial voice sounds sane by comparison.

But by and large our opinion-writing classes are even stupider than they were 20 years ago. Take The New York Times' initial reaction to the attempted coup against President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. If there was ever a coup urgently and publicly demanded by Washington, this was it. Chavez was up there on the Wanted List, just under Saddam. When the attempt on Chavez finally came in mid-April, the Times swiftly editorialized that Chavez's "resignation" meant that "Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator." Eschewing the word "coup," the Times explained that Chavez "stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader." The editorial called Chavez "a ruinous demagogue," and proclaimed that "Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate," subsequently undercutting the majesty of this statement by having conceded that Chavez himself actually had a democratic mandate, having been "elected president in 1998."

Three days later, Chavez was back in power and the Times ran a second editorial half-apologizing for its earlier triumphalism. "In his three years in office, Mr. Chavez has been such a divisive and demagogic leader that his forced departure last week drew applause at home and in Washington. That reaction, which we shared, overlooked the undemocratic manner in which he was removed. Forcibly unseating a democratically elected leader, no matter how badly he has performed, is never something to cheer." Which of course is exactly what the Times had initially done, without raising any unpleasant questions as to what role the CIA had in the attempted coup.

::Alexander Cockburn, NY Press: Wild Justice
In the wake of a barrage of contradictory reports, Brendan O'Neill makes an admirable attempt at the impossible -- to decipher the Bush administration's intentions in Iraq:

What's going on? Is the USA planning a massive military conquest, or does it need to build more bombs first? Does the Bush administration have the backing of the 'civilised world' (as one US Senator calls it), or is it increasingly isolated in its plans to attack Iraq? According to one US journalist: 'The Bush administration knows it wants to bomb Iraq and it knows it wants to get rid of Saddam - it just doesn't know when, how or why to do it.'

::Brendan O'Neill, Spiked: Bush's Gulf War syndrome

... the main moral failure of CEOs - and US presidents - does not consist in the conscious venality of thinking one thing while saying another. The disorder is deeper than that, for it is far more likely that such leaders are convinced of the false justifications they offer. That the justifications are profoundly self-serving, of course, is part of why the leaders are convinced. When George W. Bush recently broke America's promise on the ABM treaty, that did not make us a nation of liars, he told us, but of realists. And, incidentally, his sole-power agenda was advanced.

The pattern is wide. Executives who want only to put the numbers ''in a better light'' end by cooking the books. Politicians who harmlessly aim to tell voters what they want to hear wind up having no core grasp of what is true. Religious leaders who maintain the appearance of virtue as an absolute value lose the capacity to recognize their own fallibility. But in all of this, such figures are behaving only like members of the human species, for the tendency toward grievous self-deception is universal.

Thus, lifetime partners can go years without realizing they have no intimacy. The overweight can fool themselves about their health problem. Drinkers can deny what their lives have become. Compulsive workers can enslave themselves to a false dream of success. Life-wrecking depression can pass itself off as selfless worry. Greed can seem like ambition. The pursuit of happiness is killing us. The most damaging lies are the ones we tell ourselves.

::James Carroll, Boston Globe via Common Dreams: The Culture of Self-Deception

Monday, July 29, 2002

George W.'s foreign policy touchstone?

What are nutbar bookworms reading at the beach this summer? According to the New York Times bestseller list the most popular novel in the country is the tenth installment of the "Left Behind" series. The books dramatise evangelical prophecy, depicting a post-Rapture world in which war in the Middle East sets in motion events that lead to the return of Christ.

It's disturbing enough that millions of Americans are devouring such paranoiac fantasies, but what is terrifying is how smoothly the worldview dovetails with the policies and rhetoric of the most powerful men on the planet. The American administration is either cynically playing footsie with twisted theology, or they actually believe in this stuff. If it's the latter, they have the option of speeding the process along. (When is a Washington press hack going to work up the courage to ask Bush, Ashcroft, et al if the Book of Revelations serves as an intelligence brief?)

Salon Books' Michelle Goldberg on the man behind Left Behind:

Tim LaHaye isn't merely a fringe figure like Hal Lindsey, the former king of the genre, whose 1970 Christian end-times book "The Late Great Planet Earth" was the bestseller of that decade. The former co-chairman of Jack Kemp's presidential campaign, LaHaye was a member of the original board of directors of the Moral Majority and an organizer of the Council for National Policy, which has called "the most powerful conservative organization in America you've never heard of" and whose membership has included John Ashcroft, Tommy Thompson and Oliver North. George W. Bush is still refusing to release a tape of a speech he gave to the group in 1999.

The point isn't that all these leaders are part of some kind of right-wing Illuminati. It's simply that the seemingly wacky ideology promulgated in the Left Behind books is one that important people in America are quite comfortable with. The Left Behind series provides a narrative and a theological rationale for a whole host of perplexing conservative policies, from the White House's craven decision to cut off aid to the United Nations Family Planning Fund to America's surreally casual mobilization for an invasion of Baghdad -- a city that is, in the Left Behind books, Satan's headquarters.

Political attitudes and actions that make no practical or moral sense to secularists become comprehensible when viewed through Christian pop culture's eschatological looking glass. At a time when America is flagrantly flouting international law, spurning the U.N. and tacitly supporting the land grabs of Israeli maximalists, surely it's significant that the most popular fiction in the country creates a gripping narrative that pits American Christians against a conspiracy of Satan-worshipping, abortion-promoting, gun-controlling globalists -- all of it revolving around the sovereignty of Israel.

If the Rapture is to instantly take right-wing evangelical Christians from the planet and transport them to their reward, I wish it would hurry up a little. Some of us are interested in a decent life on this world.

::Michelle Goldberg, Salon: Fundamentally unsound

Sunday, July 28, 2002

"Hi! I think civilian deaths are neat!"

Oh yes, cute and cuddly conservative columnist Ben Shapiro easily wins this week's Ann Coulter Award for sheer hateful idiocy:

I am getting really sick of people who whine about "civilian casualties." Maybe I'm a hard-hearted guy, but when I see in the newspapers that civilians in Afghanistan or the West Bank were killed by American or Israeli troops, I don't really care. In fact, I would rather that the good guys use the Air Force to kill the bad guys, even if that means some civilians get killed along the way. One American soldier is worth far more than an Afghan civilian.

It's a monstrous thing to say, of course, but it's likely a sentiment shared by a lot of Americans, if more discretely so among faux-liberal weenies. How different is Shapiro's statement than this shrugging off of a one ton bomb that killed 14, from progressive corporate-blogger Eric Alterman?:

I don’t know if killing the military chief of Hamas, together with his family, is an effective military measure -- as surely someone will rise to replace him and it will make a lot more people angry, perhaps even angry enough to become suicide bombers. It may not bring Israel and the Palestinians any closer to peace or mutual security. But I don’t have a moral problem with it.
Hamas is clearly at war with Israel. Hamas feels empowered to strike Israeli civilians inside Israel proper and not just on the war zone of West Bank. Sheik Salah Shehada could have protected his family by keeping away from them. He didn’t and owing to his clear legitimacy as a military target, they are dead too.
So tough luck, fella.
War is hell.

This consensus of conscience across the political spectrum illustrates why Bush's approval ratings stay so high despite an administrative philosophy that blends theocracy and kleptocracy -- impervious to scandal, evident ineptitude and innumerable policy meltdowns. So long as the President keeps bombing dark-skinned Muslims to redeem the WTC martyrs, he's unbeatable in 2004.
Is this story more defeatist Euro-alarmism, or storm clouds that are being pointedly ignored on this side of the Atlantic?

Saudi Arabia is teetering on the brink of collapse, fuelling Foreign Office fears of an extremist takeover of one of the West's key allies in the war on terror.

Anti-government demonstrations have swept the desert kingdom in the past months in protest at the pro-American stance of the de facto ruler, Prince Abdullah.

At the same time, Whitehall officials are concerned that Abdullah could face a palace coup from elements within the royal family sympathetic to al-Qaeda.

Saudi sources said the Pentagon had recently sponsored a secret conference to look at options if the royal family fell.

Nationwide protests, Prince Abdullah humiliated by the failure of his Middle East peace plan (one more demonstration why it's best to avoid Thomas Friedman), secret factional war within the Saudi royal family, and this intriguing nugget:

Anti-Abdullah elements within the Saudi government are also thought to have colluded in a wave of bomb attacks on Western targets by Islamic terrorists.

These bombings have made expat living in Saudi Arabia rather perilous:

The Western community is living in fear. It has become the target of a series of bomb attacks, carried out by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists who want to drive all non-Muslims out of the Arabian peninsula. But the terrified Westerners have received little help from the Saudi authorities. The secret police instead blame the Westerners for the attacks, locking up the innocent and forcing them to confess. Three have died. Seven are in jail. Others have been arrested, interrogated, tortured and released.

The Observer quite boldly reports events that seem almost impossible to imagine, and warns of an impending backlash that may further inflame the region:

If Saudi Arabia is hit by revolution, then history will say that it started in a girls' school. On 11 March at Girls' Intermediate School No 31 in Mecca at just after 8am an accidental fire took hold. It quickly spread and the teenagers fled outside. But within minutes the religious police, or mutawwa'in, had also arrived. Incredibly, as some girls fled out of one gate the police forced them back in through another. Fourteen girls died in the blaze. Dozens more suffered horrific burns. Their mistake had been to flee the fire without first putting on their black robes and headscarves. Some were still in nightdresses. That was enough for the police effectively to condemn them to death. Some even beat rescue workers trying to save the children. 'Instead of extending a helping hand, they were using their hands to beat us,' one rescue worker said.

The deaths prompted an unprecedented wave of anti-government protest across the country that was hailed by some dissident elements as 'Saudi Arabia's Prague Spring'. Until now details of those protests have been kept secret. But The Observer has interviewed some of the marchers and seen photographs of the demonstrations. Thousands of people, the majority of them women, gathered in streets across the kingdom. Some women even cast off their veils.

The women were joined by a variety of groups, including reformists, pro-Palestinian demonstrators and those belonging to the minority Shia community. Protests swept across the Shia strongholds of the Eastern Province, including the towns of Safwa, Al Qarif, Sayhat and Al Awjam. From the coastal port of Jeddah in the west to the Gulf City of Dhahran in the east, people took to the streets.

The crackdown was brutal. Four days after the demonstrations, police made mass arrests. They picked up the ringleaders and beat female protesters. 'They attacked us with sticks and fired rubber bullets,' said a civil servant. 'They even beat women and the six-year-old child of my neighbour. They concentrated their attack on women.' In Jeddah police locked female students in their compounds and sealed off an area around the US Consulate in Dharan to prevent demonstrators gathering there.

Saudi Arabia is now being pulled violently in two directions. As King Fahd lies dying in a Swiss hospital, the government of the de facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, is being split apart as it seeks to hold a middle ground. In the wake of the fire, Abdullah removed the running of girls' schools from the hands of religious scholars and gave it to the Ministry of Education. It was a bold move and it prompted outrage from Islamists, including those of his main rivals, the conservatives Prince Naif and Prince Sultan. Abdullah's status with the powerful Islamic clerics is already at a record low following the demise of his peace proposals between Israel and Palestinians. He is seen as a sell-out. 'His credibility is completely destroyed,' said Saad al-Fagih, a leading London-based Saudi opposition figure.

Observers believe the Islamists are preparing to strike.

::Martin Bright, Nick Pelham and Paul Harris, London Observer: Britons left in jail amid fears that Saudi Arabia could fall to al-Qaeda
::Paul Harris, Nick Pelham and Martin Bright, London Observer: Expat Brits live in fear as Saudis turn on the West
::Guardian Special Reports: Saudi Arabia

Friday, July 26, 2002

The U.S. has staked its hopes on one man figure-heading a theoretical government in Kabul. The propaganda value of this good news story is waning...

The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has dismissed his bodyguards and is being protected by 46 American soldiers, in an extraordinary - and politically explosive - demonstration of how little he trusts his own government.

The Americans, who are believed to include members of the special forces, took up their new duties at the weekend.

The decision is likely to cause anger among Mr Karzai's nominal Afghan allies, many of whom already regard him as a tool of the US and other "infidel" nations.

Evidence that yet another Great Power Afghan debacle is being cooked up continues to mount (and is being reliably catalogued by Dack, Brendan O'Neill, and others). Americans are widely perceived as a murderous occupying entity by many locals, an "American soldier was shot in the southern city of Kandahar while on patrol only days after the air attack and now the few troops who venture into the streets are insulted by passers-by." Yet conventional wisdom clings to the notion that the regime change represents a 'success' in the Eternal War on All Bad Things Everywhere. If anyone out there can point to substantive reasons for confidence in this shimmering illusion of a government, please forward them to me. (But please don't peddle feminist crusader Laura Bush's suggestion that this is about the protection of women's rights

And if this shell does indeed collapse under the weight of its own absurdity, and Afghanistan descends deeper into chaos, and American belligerence continues to alienate the international community, and Al-Qaeda is merely dispersed and barely diminished, and if Bin Laden is still lurking in the shadows somewhere... a question comes to mind: "what exactly has been accomplished?"

::David Rennie, Sydney Morning Herald: Afghan leader risks revolt as US troops replace local guards -
::Shyam Bhatta, London Times: Rivalry Revived in Afghanistan: Karzai Takes On Secret Service Led by Defense Minister
::Robyn Dixon, LA Times: For Afghan Women, Taliban-Era Law Survives in a Nebulous Legal System
::Jonathan Steele, Guardian: Arms and the warlords
::Times of India: Laden's terrorist network may be regrouping: Rumsfeld
::Reuters: We don't know if Laden is alive: Rumsfeld
::New York Times: A Legacy of Misery
::Image from Ministry of Homeland Security

All links from Dack, of course.
The New York Times is talking a pretty good game these days on the irrational and unsound nature of the economy at the end of the 20th century. But as Douglas Rushkoff reminds us, the elite media was active in perpetuating the collective delusion...

When AOL bought Time Warner, the New York Times asked me to write a comment piece. "What does it all mean?" my assigning editor asked.

What I wrote was that AOL's purchase of Time Warner heralded the end of the dotcom bubble. AOL was cashing in its casino chips. And just like the gambler who trades in his coloured plastic disks for real cash, AOL's Steve Case understood that his run was over and that it was time to trade in his stock certificates for those of a company that had genuine assets.

The New York Times refused to run the piece. They told me I was misreading the landscape to such an extent that for them to publish such a view would be irresponsible.

::Douglas Rushkoff, Guardian: Signs of the times via Cursor
The inquiry into the U.S. bombing of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan has predictably laid sole responsibility on the F-16 pilot who dropped the bomb on a training exercise. Portions of the report concerning inadequate pre-flight briefings and the overall breakdown of coordinated command-and-control (*FYI, 60 Minutes notwithstanding, Canada is a U.S. ally*) have apparently been excised.

At first, military headquarters in Ottawa gave three reasons for blanking out key passages, including the entire section of conclusions about "the nature and quality of the co-ordination between ground and air forces": privacy, operational security, and "so as not to prejudice any possible future activity the U.S. government might choose to take." On questioning, a military spokesman acknowledged that possible U.S. military justice issues were "only incidental."

Neither operational security (the Canadian battalion group has left Afghanistan) nor privacy (the Canadian inquiry, after all, fingered the pilots without naming them) make much more sense.

It was clear that the Pentagon wanted the pilots to bear most, if not, all of the blame. That finding was deliberately leaked to major U.S. newspapers just before President George W. Bush headed off to Kananaskis. In doing so, the whole issue of command and control and the supposedly seamless integration of Canadian and U.S. forces disappeared in the glare of publicity about errant pilots.

Any hint that the U.S. was putting less of a premium on safeguarding soldiers from other nations than its own would be hugely damaging as Washington struggles to hold together a military coalition in Afghanistan. Almost as bad would be an embarrassing revelation that senior commanders had dropped the ball on what is supposed to be their first priority -- safeguarding their own soldiers -- by failing to ensure that pilots knew where their own ground troops were located.

::Paul Koring, Globe and Mail: We deserve better
::A Couple of Nutbars, Some Nutty Right-Wing Outfit: Our Canadian Friends

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Just on the off-chance you're wondering why I'm not posting so much lately...

I'm profoundly grateful to report baby and Mom are both healthy and happy.

Papa's wish: that by the time his son grows up, 'war' is just a history lesson that his old man goes on about.

Harry's First Day

Saturday, July 20, 2002

Another angle in Smilin' Dick's grand corporate adventure...

[Halliburton] under Cheney benefited from $3.8bn in government contracts or insured loans. Although Bill Clinton was in the White House, Capitol Hill - where the Appropriations Committee handles government contracts - was controlled by Cheney's Republican Party, to which Halliburton doubled its contributions to $1,212,000 after his arrival.

The most eye-catching contract was for the refurbishment of a Siberian oilfield, Samotlor, for the Tyumen oil company of Russia. The company was loaned $489m in credits by the US Export-Import Bank after lobbying by Halliburton; it was in return to receive $292m for the refurbishments.

The White House and State Department tried to veto the Russian deal. But after intense lobbying by Halliburton the objections were overruled on Capitol Hill. One of Halliburton's top lobbyists was David Gribben, who had been Cheney's chief of staff at the Pentagon.

The State Department's concerns were based on the fact that Tyumen was controlled by a holding conglomerate, the Alfa Group, that had been investigated in Russia for mafia connections.

::Ed Vulliamy and Nick Paton Walsh, London Observer: Cheney firm won $3.8bn contracts from government
Now that operations are winding down, the New York Times seems to think that news of Afghan civilian casualties is finally fit to print. Too bad they couldn't be bothered to report on it back when air raids were being carried out across the country on a daily basis.

The raid on July 1 was the sixth since January that the United States had carried out to hunt Taliban leaders in Southern Afghanistan. So far, they have not detained even a single important Taliban leader but have killed more than 80 people.

In Kakrak, five men were arrested. Among the homes hit there was that of Abdul Malik, who fought with Hamid Karzai, now Afghanistan's president, last fall when he launched a local campaign to oust the Taliban. Mr. Malik lost 25 family members.

"Every time they say that they will coordinate more," Mr. Muhammad said. "They killed my people in Oruzgan and they said they would not make a mistake again and that they would contact us first. Then they did it again."

What angered Afghans like Mr. Muhammad, and Westerners working in the area, is what they described as a trigger-happy American approach. No Americans entered the village before the planes opened fire. Once called in, the American AC-130 gunship, which employs heavy-caliber machine guns, and cannons, strafed four villages.

"Two questions remain," said a Western aid official working in southern Afghanistan. "Why they attacked with such force, and what precautionary moves do they take to differentiate between civilians and Al Qaeda and Taliban. They attacked quite a big area, four villages, and you cannot just assume that everyone there is the enemy."

The pattern of striking with maximum force on questionable targets began months before, when American planes attacked an ammunition dump in the village of Niazi Qala, 50 miles south of Kabul, and wiped out the entire village. A United Nations spokeswoman said 52 people died there.

::Dexter Filkins, NY Times, Flaws in U.S. Air War Left Hundreds of Civilians Dead

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Diego Rivera's Night of the Rich

Across Latin America, millions of others are also letting their voices be heard. A popular and political ground swell is building from the Andes to Argentina against the decade-old experiment with free-market capitalism. The reforms that have shrunk the state and opened markets to foreign competition, many believe, have enriched corrupt officials and faceless multinationals, and failed to better their lives.

What we really need are some macroeconomists and pundits to go down there to explain it only seems as if standards of living have tanked since their nations embraced neo-liberalism. These people need to be taught that enriching a tiny elite at the expense of everyone else, while giving the appearance of social injustice, does some wonderful things for key economic indicators. Most important, they need to understand that when they gripe about hunger, land theft, environmental degradation, police repression and kleptocracy they undermine the interests of international investors here in el Norte.

::Juan Forero, NY Times: Still Poor, Latin Americans Protest Push for Open Markets
I recognise that a disturbing proportion of my postings lately have been columns by Nicholas Kristof. But I'm going to keep posting his stuff until others start reporting on the FBI's non-investigation into last fall's anthrax attacks.

This time Kristof focuses not on the culprit himself, but on the conditions in which he was able to function. He describes one inventory of a U.S. biodefense lab in which 62 samples had gone missing, including Ebola, hantavirus, anthrax, S.I.V. (the monkey version of the virus that causes AIDS), and others described only as "unknown."

Usamriid says that it rechecked this year and was able to account for virtually all of the missing specimens except one set that would have been irradiated to render it harmless. But a decade's delay in bothering to look for missing Ebola seems a bit much, and conversations with scientists who have worked at Usamriid do not inspire confidence (although, in fairness, many who talk publicly have lawsuits pending against the lab).

"When I was laid off, I walked out for three days in a row with boxes, and no one looked inside them," recalled Richard Crosland, who worked at Usamriid from 1986 to 1997. "I was there for 11 years, and never once did anyone ask, `Where is the substance you ordered?'

::Nicholas Kristof, NY Times: Case of the Missing Anthrax

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Drip, drip, drip...

Air Force Brig. Gen. John W. Rosa Jr., the deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters it was not clear to him that the AC-130 gunship that attacked the Afghan village had been fired upon first.

"I can't say unequivocally that the AC-130 was fired on. That will come out, hopefully, in the investigation," Rosa said.

. . . Asked about Rosa's comments, Air Force Col. Ray Shepherd, a spokesman at Central Command headquarters that is overseeing the war in Afghanistan, said there is no change in the U.S. version of events.

::Robert Burns, AP: Pentagon Stands Behind Attack Story via Dack

Friday, July 12, 2002

I'm receiving a few pokes in the comments field over at Warblogger Watch. I predicted in a recent posting that the Warmongerers would be sniggering over a column noting that racist anti-Islamic sentiment was being perpetuated in the United States. The complaint is that I ought to have subjected myself to the arguments of the desktop warriors before I dismissed them out of hand...

Fair enough. Against my better judgement I descended into the Purgatorio anew, with neither Virgil nor Menlo to guide me. Having learned my lesson, this time I took the precaution of stripping naked before I began.

Casting about in this nebulous, hateful netherworld, I learned that the piece did indeed raise some hackles. The most common complaint, such as with The Corner, is that Kristof "suggests that America is just as bad." Some version of this refrain popped up in almost every objection.

My own reading is that Kristof argues Islam has no monopoly on racism, that we should examine our own prejudices before condemning those of others, and that we do ourselves no favours by radically oversimplifying a complex and historically rich religion. But this is a pissing contest to the Killbloggers, isn't it? Right vs. Wrong. Good vs. Evil. Freedom vs. Oppression. And if these defenders of the faith pronounce another major global faith to be inherently evil, well, so be it.

Interestingly, while making claims for the essential bigotry of dark-skinned others, these accomplished religious scholars make a few intemperate remarks of their own:

Andrew Sullivan:

"there is simply no equivalence between anti-Muslim bigotry in the U.S. and anti-Western and anti-Semitic terrorism in the Arab world. One bigotry mouths off (often appallingly). The other murders thousands of civilians because of their religion and culture and glories in it. "

Midwest Conservative Journal:

"So it would be better to "understand" why Islam treats women as poorly as it does? It would be more civilized to "understand" why Islamic societies have never ever treated members of other religions as civic equals? It would be more enlightened to "understand" why so many Muslims are so violent these days?"

In a mirror, dimly...:

"Islam will wear virtually any face as long as it takes to draw you into its insidious embrace. After that you'll be trapped in much the same way small animals are in carniverous plants, drawn in by the sweet smells, then digested at leisure."


"Christianity sees value in every person -- no matter what their station in life is.

There are those who claim to be Christians that are racist, violent hatemongers. They are a minority.

There are those who claim to be Muslims that are racist, violent hatemongers. They are a majority."

Quite a way to see "value in every person" -- stating that a billion or so people around the world must be "racist violent hatemongers", without bothering to justify the assertion. Very generous.

I enjoyed reading Hoystory's entry for the sheer self-contradictory fun of it. Another gem is his declaration that "the Bible is a story of God's love and redemption of humanity. The Koran is about God's venegence", though he himself later points to the "...wealth of verses available in the Old Testament where God commanded the Israelites to wipe out the inhabitants of the Promised Land."

Does this analysis deserve to be blown off as mere "sniggering"? Do such nuanced arguments merit close and attentive reading? You decide.

FYI, this time reading the Killbloggers didn't send me into a fit of psychotic dementia. But I do have an inexplicable urge to go beat up a hippie.

In a previous column, Nicholas Kristof all but named former U.S. bio-warfare scientist Steven Hatfill as the likely culprit in last fall's anthrax attacks. (Remember them? They were big news when we thought Arabs were responsible.) With his most recent NY Times op-ed, he ups the ante:

When someone expert in bio-warfare mailed anthrax last fall, it may not have been the first time he had struck.

So while the F.B.I. has been unbelievably lethargic in its investigation so far, any year now it will re-examine the package that arrived on April 24, 1997, at the B'nai B'rith headquarters in Washington D.C. The package contained a petri dish mislabeled "anthracks."

The dish did not contain anthrax. But a Navy lab determined that it was bacillus cereus, a very close, non-toxic cousin of anthrax used by the U.S. Defense Department.

Anybody able to obtain bacillus cereus knew how to spell "anthrax." An echo of that deliberate misspelling came last fall when the anthrax letters suggested taking "penacilin."

The choice of B'nai B'rith probably was meant to suggest Arab terrorists, because the building had once been the target of an assault by Muslim gunmen. In the same way, F.B.I. profilers are convinced that the real anthrax attacks last year were conducted by an American scientist trying to pin the blame on Arabs.

::Nicholas Kristof, NY Times: Anthrax? The FBI Yawns
::Laura Rozen, The American Prospect: Who is Steven Hatfill?
::Nicholas Kristof, NY Times: The Anthrax Files
Notes from a northern haven for terrorists...

Three men once touted as Canadian operatives for Osama bin Laden appear to be far less sinister than officials initially thought.

In the weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the men -- Kuwaiti-born Nabil al-Marabh, Syrian-born Hassan Almrei and Somali-born Liban Hussein -- were accused separately of crimes that made front-page news.

Each was portrayed as a Canada-based component of the al-Qaeda network.

But today, law enforcers aren't as eager to accuse the men. Although remaining enveloped in secrecy, the cases against them appear to be less than ironclad, and critics noted that there is no evidence of the men's complicity that was made public.

::Colin Freeze, Globe and Mail: Accusations of terrorism against 3 Arabs less convincing

Thursday, July 11, 2002

Time to indulge in some ethically shady behaviour. Why let the bad apples have all the fun? This posting lifted in its entirety from the British weblog Airstrip One:

Mass resignations in the Turkish government. Why should this worry us? Hyperinflation? No. The fact that this is the IMF's biggest creditor? Not particularly.

The fact is that Turkey is "leading" the peacekeepers in Northern Afghanistan (not to be confused with those "hunting down Al Qaeda" in Southern Afghanistan). Bankrupt and divided, and our biggest allies.

With government ministers being assasinated how long before we are called back in?

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Looks like the new persona as a corporate reformer who gets results is off to a roaring start...

***He said the Securities and Exchange Commission "should be able to punish corporate leaders who are convicted of abusing their powers by banning them from ever serving again as officers or directors of a public company." ...By limiting the suggestion to those convicted of crimes, he stopped well short of what the S.E.C. has sought.

***In some cases, as with his calling on the stock exchanges to require companies listed on them to have more independent directors and to give those outside directors more power, he endorsed proposals that are already sure to be adopted.

***The most important part of the Bush program could be the appointment of what he called a ``financial crimes swat team'' to oversee investigations and prosecutions of corporate officials. ...But administration officials said the creation of the task force did not necessarily mean that more F.B.I. agents or prosecutors would be assigned to such cases, and did not assure a bigger budget for such cases. So it remains to be seen if prosecutions will increase.

***Mr. Bush did not discuss a legislative proposal by Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, to create a new felony that would prohibit any ``scheme or artifice'' to defraud shareholders. Advocates say that would make it easier to win convictions, but aides to the president declined to say if he would sign a bill containing that provision.

***Mr. Bush promised more financing for the S.E.C., ...but it is smaller than the increases proposed in both House and Senate.

***The president was silent on the important issue of financing for [the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants] and for the Financial Accounting Standards Board, which sets accounting rules. When the Public Accounting Board, a weak regulator of accountants, tried to get tough a couple of years ago, the industry responded by threatening to cut off its funds. It has since disbanded.

***Mr. Bush's soaring oratory yesterday was intended to keep him from being blamed, but he runs the risk of being held to the standard he set. Chief executives, he said, ``set a moral tone by showing their disapproval of other executives who bring discredit to the business world.'' ...Yet Mr. Bush has so far stood by Thomas E. White, the Army secretary, who as an Enron executive ran an operation whose accounting has been repudiated by the company and who held on to his Enron stock for many months after taking office, selling only after talking to former Enron colleagues.

...and that ought to demonstrate once and for all the personal integrity of the president. In the face of public uproar, when lesser men would pathetically try to appease the outrage, Bush is determined to stand by the interests that made him the man he is today. A leader of less character would cut and run, abandoning his closest and most valued friends. Not George W. Bush. Tried, tested and true...

::Floyd Norris, New York Times: Bush, on Wall Street, Offers Tough Talk and Softer Plans
I'm sure the warbloggers are already sniggering about this column by Nicholas Kristof. I'd go check some of their pages to see for myself, but I'd rather not risk infection. Last time I descended into the self-referential concentric circles of the Killblogger Purgatorio I was siezed with symptoms of vertigo, eventually blacking out during a violent fit of uncontrollable quaking. I was naked and covered in what I later realised was ketchup when I came to, wailing "Faster, President! KILL! KILL!" like a banshee. Call me a feckless coward -- hell, you can call me a liberal -- but I am loathe to repeat the experience.

Thankfully, the hardy souls at Warblogger Watch continue to wade about in the jingo muck...

But I digress from the article at hand...

Since 9/11, appalling hate speech about Islam has circulated in the U.S. on talk radio, on the Internet and in particular among conservative Christian pastors -- the modern echoes of Charles Coughlin, the "radio priest" who had a peak listening audience in the 1930's of one-third of America for his anti-Semitic diatribes.

...One problem with this prejudice (as with Osama bin Laden's) is that it blinds the bigots to any understanding of what they deride. If Islam were really just the caricature that it is often reduced to, then how would it be so appealing as to become the world's fastest-growing religion?

Islam already has 1.3 billion adherents and is spreading rapidly, particularly in Africa, partly because it also has admirable qualities that anyone who has lived in the Muslim world observes: a profound egalitarianism and a lack of hierarchy that confer dignity and self-respect among believers; greater hospitality than in other societies; an institutionalized system of charity, zakat, to provide for the poor. Many West Africans, for example, see Christianity as corrupt and hierarchical and flock to Islam, which they view as democratic and inclusive.

One can dispute that, and it's reasonable to worry about the implications of the spread of Islam for the status of women and for the genital mutilation of girls. But simply thundering that Islam is intrinsically violent does not help to understand it and picks up on racist and xenophobic threads that are some of the sorriest chapters in our history.

::Nicholas Kristof, New York Times: Bigotry in Islam — And Here
It's a shame our countries aren't into nation building.

Last month, many of the delegates to Afghanistan's loya jirga (grand council), complained that Mr. Karzai was granting too much power to the warlords by appointing them or their close allies to positions of power.

However, the President gambled that the warlords were as sick of the violence, bloodshed and disorder as most of their fellow countrymen and were ready to play a peaceful political role.

"We have to put resentment behind us and look to the future of this country and build this country," he said last month.

However, there are few signs of that transformation.

Regional warlords still maintain small private armies and large caches of weapons, paid for chiefly through smuggling, extortion and drug dealing.

...Despite promises from time to time, none of the major warlords has been willing to hand over substantial stocks of weapons and ammunition to the Afghan national army.

Even Defence Minister Mohammed Fahim is believed by foreign diplomats and intelligence officers to be hoarding stockpiles of heavy weapons in the Panjshir Valley. Mr. Fahim is in charge of the national army.

Although Mr. Fahim and the others say they are not trying to undermine the national army, which the United States considers the cornerstone of a strategy for restoring internal security, there are indications that the warlords' main priority is to ensure that their own private forces remain well-stocked.

::Kathy Gannon, Globe and Mail: Karzai's political gamble takes a hit
Gore Vidal, in conversation...

The Afghans had nothing to do with what happened to our country on September 11. But Saudi Arabia did. It seems like Osama is involved, but we don't really know. I mean, when we went into Afghanistan to take over the place and blow it up, our commanding general was asked how long it was going to take to find Osama bin Laden. And the commanding general looked rather surprised and said, well, that's not why we are here.

Oh no? So what was all this about? It was about the Taliban being very, very bad people and that they treated women very badly, you see. They're not really into women's rights, and we here are very strong on women's rights; and we should be with Bush on that one because he's taking those burlap sacks off of women's heads. Well, that's not what it was about.

What it was really about -- and you won't get this anywhere at the moment -- is that this is an imperial grab for energy resources. Until now, the Persian Gulf has been our main source for imported oil. We went there, to Afghanistan, not to get Osama and wreak our vengeance. We went to Afghanistan partly because the Taliban -- whom we had installed at the time of the Russian occupation -- were getting too flaky and because Unocal, the California corporation, had made a deal with the Taliban for a pipeline to get the Caspian-area oil, which is the richest oil reserve on Earth. They wanted to get that oil by pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan to Karachi and from there to ship it off to China, which would be enormously profitable. Whichever big company could cash in would make a fortune. And you'll see that all these companies go back to Bush or Cheney or to Rumsfeld or someone else on the Gas and Oil Junta, which, along with the Pentagon, governs the United States.

We had planned to occupy Afghanistan in October, and Osama, or whoever it was who hit us in September, launched a pre-emptory strike. They knew we were coming. And this was a warning to throw us off guard.

::LA Weekly: The Last Defender of the American Republic? via Cursor
It's just a few bad apples. Or maybe a few thousand of them with a vice-grip on money and power...

It is no accident that the current wave of costly corporate scandals followed the rise of modern conservatism to political power two decades ago. Ronald Reagan governed while denigrating government as "the problem, not the solution." He starved agencies of resources and placed committed ideological opponents in charge of them. Reagan's Commerce Department drew up a hit list of regulations resented by business ("the Terrible 20"). And of course Reagan signed the law that deregulated the savings and loans associations, while his appointee revoked requirements that any S&L have 400 shareholders. The resulting infamies cost taxpayers many billions.

The conservative assault on government reached fever pitch when Newt Gingrich led the "perfectionist" caucus of the Republican right to take over Congress. For Gingrich conservatives, government regulation was creeping Stalinism. House Majority leader Dick Armey said that in the New Deal and the Great Society, "you will find, with a difference only in power and nerve the same sort of person who gave the world its Five Year Plans and Great Leaps Forward -- the Soviet and Chinese counterparts."

And it wasn't just rhetoric. "Regulatory agencies have run amok and need to be reformed," said Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the House majority whip, as he invited business lobbyists to detail the regulations they wanted gutted.

A centerpiece of Gingrich's Contract With America was "securities reform." Passed in 1995 over President Clinton's veto, the bill shielded outside accountants and law firms from liability for false corporate reporting, and made it more difficult for shareholders to bring suit against fraudulent reporting. A flood of corporate misstatements has followed, with nearly 1,000 companies restating misleading reports in the past five years.

::Robert Borosage, Washington Post: The Conservative Bubble Boys

Sunday, July 07, 2002

Each year, Americans spend as much on lawn maintenance as the government of India collects in federal tax revenue.

::Wade Davis, Globe and Mail: The ticking bomb: The Western ideal of comfort and wealth holds a hollow promise for the rest of the world and provides fodder for extremists
::Wade Davis @ wood s lot

The use of lawn chemicals is dramatically increasing despite alarming reports of increasing rates of cancer and the perennial threat posed to children, pets, and wildlife.  According to a recent study (U.S. News 4/3/1999) the number of Americans treating their lawns has risen from 55 percent to 67 percent just in the last decade .  Although many factors affect people's vulnerability to cancer, increasing pesticide use may be partially responsible for the staggering one percent per year increase in cancer rates among children.  The rise lawn chemical use is also problematic for the growing number of people who work with these chemicals; pesticide sprayers have been shown to have significantly higher incidence of lymphoma and possibly other immuno-response deficiencies.  Even pets are at risk; the rates of lymphoma among pets of lawn chemical users is double that of non-chemical users.

::Safelawn Alliance

Diazinon has been banned from use on golf courses and sod farms because it is responsible for deaths of large numbers of birds on turf and in agriculture. YET... it is still allowed to be used in our common lawn and garden products. 

. . . Bird kills associated with diazinon use have been reported in every area of the country and at all times of the year. Diazinon is highly toxic to fish and bees. 

Residues of diazinon have been found in the air of garden stores where it was being displayed and sold. 

::Where have all the songbirds gone?

Lawn fertilizer . . . contains nitrogen compounds called nitrates. When fertilizer gets applied excessively or just prior to a rainstorm, it washes off the lawn and into the gutter, where it makes its way through the storm sewer system and into a river or lake. Once in the water, these nitrates have the same effect on algae as they do on lawns - they make it grow! Overgrown algae can have devastating effects on a lake or stream, consuming all the oxygen and suffocating fish and other aquatic wildlife. This is called eutrophication.

::Non-point source pollution

Thursday, July 04, 2002

Mokhiber and Weissman point out that recent reports of corporate crime have focused on financial wrongdoing. That revelations have come in this area is likely because regulatory oversight in finance is actually relatively strong, at least when compared with consumer, labour and environmental protections.

Given what is now the apparent blatant corporate disregard for the law, even in areas where executives are most closely watched, what should we expect is occurring elsewhere? What's happening with consumer rip-offs, sales of unsafe products, endangerment of workers, pollution of the environment?

Even with inadequate law enforcement, reporting requirements or organized countervailing institutions, we know enough to know that the epidemic of corporate crime, fraud and abuse is at least as severe outside of the financial arena as within.

..."Cracking down on corporate crime" -- the mantra of the moment -- cannot be limited just to financial crime, already the most policed form of corporate wrongdoing.

My personal nominee for best progressive writer around, Barbara Ehrenreich, has made this point dozens of times. Last Sunday, the author of Nickled and Dimed reflected on corporate crime and her experiences living among the servant-for-hire class in a NY Times Op-Ed:

What has been revealed in corporate America over the past six months is a two-tier system of morality: Low-paid employees are required to be hard-working, law-abiding, rule-respecting straight arrows. More than that, they are often expected to exhibit a selfless generosity toward the company, readily "donating" chunks of their time free of charge. Meanwhile, as we have learned from the cases of Enron, Adelphia, ImClone, WorldCom and others, many top executives have apparently felt free to do whatever they want — conceal debts, lie about profits, engage in insider trading — to the dismay and sometimes ruin of their shareholders.

But investors are not the only victims of the corporate crime wave. Workers also suffer from management greed and dishonesty. In Wal-Mart's case, the moral gravity of its infractions is compounded by the poverty of its "associates," many of whom are paid less than $10 an hour. As workers discover that their problem is not just a rogue store manager or "bad apple" but management as a whole, we can expect at the very least widespread cynicism, and perhaps an epidemic of rule-breaking from below.

::Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman: Cracking Down on Corporate Crime, Really!
::Barbara Ehrenreich, Harper's, January 1999: Nickled and Dimed: On (not) getting by in America
::Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times: Two-Tiered Morality
::Image from Mark Dowie, Mother Jones, 1979: The Corporate Crime of the Century

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) provides a bare minimum of reproductive health care for women in developing countries -- or in cases like Afghanistan, completely destroyed countries. UNFPA runs maternity hospitals, provides family planning advice and dispenses sterile emergency birth kits for refugees. It is not involved in any way with abortion.

But this fact -- verified by several independent investigations, including one by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell just last year -- cuts no ice with the bug-eyed fanatics that Bush and Cheney have empowered. They insist that UNFPA is in cahoots with China's forced abortion and sterilization programs, and thus not a cent of sacred American money -- doesn't it say "In God We Trust" on every precious greenback? -- should be spent on the devil's handiwork.

Although forced abortion and sterilization were once lauded by good Christian Rightists as a means of ridding the world of "inferior breeds" (indeed, the Bush family has a long history of involvement with the "eugenics" movement and its modern offspring), the "pro-life" battle now provides convenient cover for the Right's larger anti-woman (no, anti-human) agenda.

Bush has plucked extremists from several pseudo-religious culture-war factions to represent the United States in high-level UN negotiations on such controversial issues as protecting children, combating AIDS and the truly heinous Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The Bushvolk have aligned the U.S. with enlightened states like Sudan, Iran and Iraq to thwart even these extremely modest attempts to provide a few scraps of human dignity to the "insulted and injured," the weakest, most brutalized and vulnerable of our common species.

Bush's Bug-Eyes say such efforts are "unscriptural," and threaten the God-given order of slaveowning, childbeating, womanhating and ethnic cleansing enshrined in that rattle bag of Bronze Age texts called the Bible. And the polyp-less president agrees -- for hath not the Lord made His healing light to shine upon His exalted servant's pure and gleaming colon?

::Chris Floyd, Moscow Times: Seat of Power

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

"There seems to be a fantasy enemy..."

Listening to US leaders over the past six months, it seems that the unnameable, unknowable enemy in the war on terror is everywhere - and nowhere. The evil forces that would attack and undermine America are present in 'up to 60 nations' and everywhere from 'Brussels to Bagram' - but on the ground in Afghanistan, where an actual war is taking place, there is no sign of bin Laden, Muhammad Omar, or any of the other al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders that allied forces have spent nine months searching for. Indeed, many now question how coherent or big an organisation al-Qaeda actually is.

There seems to be a fantasy enemy, against whom Bush and co can make grand pronouncements and big bad threats - and a real enemy, which has continuously eluded American and British forces in Afghanistan. A fantasy war on terror, where America and its allies look strong and determined - and a real war in Afghanistan, where the war aims change on a weekly basis and where operation after operation ends in failure.

::Brendan O'Neill, Spiked-Online: War against what?
A nice indication of how well things are going with that war they said was all but over a few months back...

The United Nations has suspended its programme of returning refugees to northern Afghanistan because of the "extremely volatile" security situation.

Yussuf Hassan, the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kabul, said on Tuesday that conditions were now too "precarious".

::BBC News: UN halts Afghan repatriation via Dack

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

The Pentagon has some cool chemicals for you

The war on terrorism is gonna get a lot more trippy...

The Advantages and Limitations of Calmatives for Use as a Non-Lethal Technique, a 49 page report obtained last week by the Sunshine Project under US information freedom law, has revealed a shocking Pentagon program that is researching psychopharmacological weapons. Based on "extensive review conducted on the medical literature and new developments in the pharmaceutical industry", the report concludes that "the development and use of [psychopharmacological weapons] is achievable and desirable." These mind-altering weapons violate international agreements on chemical and biological warfare as well as human rights. Some of the techniques discussed in the report have already been used by the US in the "War on Terrorism".

The team, which is based at the Applied Research Laboratory of Pennsylvania State University, is assessing weaponization of a number of psychiatric and anesthetic pharmaceuticals as well as "club drugs" (such as the "date rape drug" GHB). According to the report, "the choice administration route, whether application to drinking water, topical administration to the skin, an aerosol spray inhalation route, or a drug filled rubber bullet, among others, will depend on the environment." The environments identified are specific military and civil situations, including "hungry refugees that are excited over the distribution of food", "a prison setting", an "agitated population" and "hostage situations". At times, the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) team's report veers very close to defining dissent as a psychological disorder.

...Most of the JNLWD team's weapon candidates are controlled substances in most countries. Some are widely used legitimate pharmaceuticals that are also drugs of abuse, such as Valium and opiates. The Pentagon team advocates more research into the weapons potential of convulsants (which provoke seizures) and “club drugs”, the generally illegal substances used by some at "rave" and dance clubs. Among those in the military spotlight are ketamine ("Special K"), GHB (Gamma-hydroxybutrate, "liquid ecstasy"), and rohypnol ("Roofies"). The latter two in particular are called "date rape drugs" because of incidences of their use on victims of sexual and other crimes. Most are DEA Schedule I or II narcotics that provoke hallucinations and can carry a sentence of life imprisonment.

Taking drugs to fight terrorism to take drugs to...

::Project Sunshine: Pentagon Program Promotes Psychopharmacological Warfare
This story would be funny if it wasn't so damned pathetic... How else to think about business and police who "find the idea of a trailer full of books parked downtown to be far too challenging to the normal order of things"?

::Paul Riismandel, Urbana-Champaign IMC: Bookmobile Visit Marred by Harrassment from City Police and Downtown Business via Mediageek

Monday, July 01, 2002

Let's check in on that amazingly effective Afghan campaign...

Senior officials in the [British] Prime Minister's office have launched an astonishing attack on America's handling of the hunt for Osama bin Laden and al-Qa'eda fugitives.

They have told The Telegraph that troops carrying out house-to-house searches in the remote tribal areas of Pakistan along the Afghanistan border were "blundering" with a "march-in-shooting" approach.

The US action was "backfiring", increasing support for terrorism and making it harder for bin Laden and his henchmen to be caught.

"The Americans think they and the Pakistanis can just march in shooting", said an official closely involved in the direction of the war.

"They don't understand the sensitivities. We have years of experience in the tribal areas and we know using force will just backfire and increase sympathy for al-Qa'eda."

This story via Brendan O'Neill, who's been tracking the friction between these two ostensible allies for some time. From his recent piece in The American Prospect:

For all British and U.S. leaders' grand pronouncements of solidarity in the face of terrorism, the "true friendship" between Bush and Blair seems to be in short supply -- at least between U.S. forces and Royal Marines in the hills of east Afghanistan. Indeed, while politicians at home talk about standing "shoulder to shoulder," their forces on the ground can barely see eye to eye.

::Christina Lamb, Telegraph: Blair's aides denounce US 'blundering' in Afghan war
::Brendan O'Neill, The American Prospect: Divided They Fight