x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

More wisdom on Iraq and Israel from politicians

A review of news items that looks at US- Arab relations in Washington, on the presidential campaign trail and in the US media.

On June 12, the Supreme Court delivered a major blow to the Bush administration's decision to use Guantanamo as a long-term detention facility in the "war on terrorism".
On June 12, the Supreme Court delivered a major blow to the Bush administration's decision to use Guantanamo as a long-term detention facility in the "war on terrorism".

As if the United States did not already have enough problems in Iraq or the Iraqi government enough of its own complications, Alcee Hastings wants to pile on some more. Last week the Florida Democrat proposed legislation in congress urging the government of Iraq to recognise the right of Israel to exist and to establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

In a statement introducing the bill, Mr Hastings said: "The United States has provided Iraq with nearly US$50 billion in security and economic assistance to date, none of which has been repaid. Yet despite this enormous amount of aid, the Government of Iraq refuses to recognise Israel, the most reliable ally of the United States in the Middle East. This isn't right. Establishing ties with Israel would help Iraq grow ? The resolution I am introducing today calls on the Government of Iraq to recognise Israel's right to exist and establish diplomatic relations with our Middle Eastern friend."

Another idea certain to ruffle some feathers comes from Ed Markey, chairman of the house's select committee on energy independence and global warming. The Massachusetts Democrat has put forward legislation "to restrict nuclear co-operation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia". Mr Markey noted: "The United States should be helping the kingdom exploit its enormous solar potential, not building nuclear reactors ? Providing nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia, a country for whom such technology makes no economic sense for electricity generation, is short-sighted and dangerous."

The US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay made the news on a number of fronts. On June 12, the Supreme Court delivered a major blow to the Bush administration's decision to use Guantanamo as a long-term detention facility in the "war on terrorism". In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that those interned have the right of habeas corpus. Just because "they have been designated as enemy combatants or because of their presence at Guantanamo" does not eliminate their right to "freedom from arbitrary and unlawful restraint and the personal liberty that is secured by adherence to the separation of powers". In other words, prisoners at Guantanamo have the legal right to petition US courts for release, which requires the government to make a legal argument for their continued detention.

This did not sit at all well with hardliners. Antonin Scalia, the justice who wrote the minority, dissenting opinion, noted what he termed "the disastrous consequences of what the court has done today. America is at war with radical Islamists". Mr Scalia went on to declare that the decision "will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed". Mr Bush and John McCain criticised the decision, but indicated that they would accept the ruling.

The only way forward for the government to continue to hold prisoners without due process would be to change the country's constitution. Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, appeared to oblige, proposing to do just that - amend the US Constitution. There is, of course, something unseemly about proposing to amend a document that enshrines freedom and the rule of law for the purpose of ending the rule of law to deny freedom.

Meanwhile, the McClatchy newspaper chain has run a series of stories that it characterises this way: "An eight-month McClatchy investigation of the detention system created after the September 11 attacks has found that the US imprisoned innocent men, subjected them to abuse, stripped them of their legal rights and allowed Islamic militants to turn the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba into a school for jihad." Many of the products of the investigation, including clips of interviews and numerous documents, are also available on the web. The article draws not only a damning picture, but one that shows a poor understanding on the part of the Bush administration of the consequences of its decision to hold detainees in "legal black holes".

Indeed, the third of the stories in this series made a point that has only been a mention in intelligence briefings: the lawless detention system developed at Guantanamo (and later spread to other US detention sites in Afghanistan and Iraq) helped to radicalise people who had no ties to the Taliban or al Qa'eda before coming into US custody. One detainee was a "thug in the lawless Zormat district of eastern Afghanistan. By the time [he] was released from Guantanamo the next year, however - after more than 12 months of what he described as abuse and humiliation at the hands of American soldiers - he'd made connections to high-level militants. In fact, he'd become a Taliban leader." Damning picture, indeed.

But if Guantanamo is in the news, increasingly the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not. Why? According to reports, US networks have been pulling their reporters out of both countries - resulting in a dramatic decline in coverage. According to a media monitor, the three major US television networks have given only 181 minutes of total coverage to the Iraq war in the first six months of 2008, compared with 1,157 minutes in 2007.

The same is true for Afghanistan; despite the continued presence of 40,000 US combat troops in that country, the three major television networks gave only 46 minutes of total coverage to Afghanistan in the first six months of this year. More disturbing is the fact that more than one-half of that coverage was on one network - NBC (and only because that network's anchor travelled to Afghanistan). That left only 13 minutes for ABC and a mere eight for CBS (less than three seconds per day).

John McCain's chief campaign adviser, Charlie Black, was widely criticised for saying that another terrorist attack on US soil "certainly would be a big advantage" to Mr McCain. What was little noted was that Mr McCain was quoted on the same day describing what he said was his greatest concern: that being, of course, a new terrorist attack on the United States, which, he noted, would have "devastating consequences". Good for Mr McCain, bad for America?