Friday, May 26, 2006

Tarnished Glory: Haditha (updated)

Original Post (May 26)

In late November, many of us here in the United States picked up our newspapers and read a small article about a roadside bomb exploding in Haditha, killing 15 Iraqi civilians and an American soldier, a 20 year old Lance Corporal named Miguel Terrazas from Texas. Like many of us here in the United States, I read this article at the time, briefly pondered how callous these insurgents were to detonate this bomb in a crowd of civilians, and then forgot about the incident.

Fortunately, Time Magazine did not forget about the incident, and after their investigation found that the US military's version did not fit with the evidence they had gathered, they confronted the US military about it in January, prompting an investigation. Here is an excerpt of Time's March 19 article that broke this scandal open:

Eman Waleed, 9, lived in a house 150 yards from the site of the blast, which was strong enough to shatter all the windows in her home. "We heard a big noise that woke us all up," she recalls two months later. "Then we did what we always do when there's an explosion: my father goes into his room with the Koran and prays that the family will be spared any harm." Eman says the rest of the family—her mother, grandfather, grandmother, two brothers, two aunts and two uncles—gathered in the living room. According to military officials familiar with the investigation, the Marines say they came under fire from the direction of the Waleed house immediately after being hit by the ied. A group of Marines headed toward the house. Eman says she "heard a lot of shooting, so none of us went outside. Besides, it was very early, and we were all wearing our nightclothes." When the Marines entered the house, they were shouting in English. "First, they went into my father's room, where he was reading the Koran," she claims, "and we heard shots." According to Eman, the Marines then entered the living room. "I couldn't see their faces very well—only their guns sticking into the doorway. I watched them shoot my grandfather, first in the chest and then in the head. Then they killed my granny." She claims the troops started firing toward the corner of the room where she and her younger brother Abdul Rahman, 8, were hiding; the other adults shielded the children from the bullets but died in the process. Eman says her leg was hit by a piece of metal and Abdul Rahman was shot near his shoulder. "We were lying there, bleeding, and it hurt so much. Afterward, some Iraqi soldiers came. They carried us in their arms. I was crying, shouting 'Why did you do this to our family?' And one Iraqi soldier tells me, 'We didn't do it. The Americans did.'" Time was unable to speak with the only other survivor of the raid, Eman's younger brother, who relatives say is traumatized by the experience. U.S. military officials familiar with the investigation say that after entering the house, the Marines walked into a corridor with closed doors on either side. They thought they heard the clack-clack sound of an AK-47 being racked and readied for fire. (Eman and relatives who were not in the house insist that no guns were there.) Believing they were about to be ambushed, the Marines broke down the two doors simultaneously and fired their weapons. The officials say the military has confirmed that seven people were killed inside the house--including two women and a child. The Marines also reported seeing a man and a woman run out of the house; they gave chase and shot and killed the man. Relatives say the woman, Hiba Abdullah, escaped with her baby.
As the father of two young children myself, I find it very difficult to read this story. I try to imagine my own daughter in the place of little Eman Waleed, try to imagine how she might feel seeing me murdered in front of her eyes, and the kinds of nightmares she would suffer from for years after, as she grows up missing her parents in some distant relative's home.

When I first saw this story, I did not write about it - after all, the Time article had several conflicting sources, and I wanted the US military to complete its investigation before forming my own opinion. The investigation is still going on, however some preliminary results were leaked today, and they are not looking good:

The defense official discussed the matter Friday only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the investigation. He said the evidence found thus far strongly indicated the killings in the insurgent-plagued city of Haditha in the western province of Anbar were unjustified. He cautioned that the probe was not finished.

Once the investigation is completed, perhaps in June, it will be up to a senior Marine commander in Iraq to decide whether to press charges of murder or other violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Three officers from the unit involved — 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. — have been relieved of duty, although officials have not explicitly linked them to the criminal investigation.

To summarize, the Time article presented two versions of the Haditha story: one by some local Haditha residents, and another by the US military. Based on the military's own investigation, the Haditha residents' version of the story seems to be the most accurate.

The US military has many inventions at its disposal, but a time machine is not one of them, and if there was a massacre in Haditha we cannot go back in time to fix it. What is important now is how the investigation is conducted and what is done with the result.

To all the Americans reading this: are you in favor of this alleged massacre of Waleed Eman's family being carried out in your names? If we as a society allow ourselves to brush this incident under the carpet, we are responding with a resounding "YES" to this question. If we brush this incident aside, we become an accessory after the fact: accomplices, cohorts, and co-conspirators, just as guilty as if we were there pulling the trigger for the miscreants. We cannot just turn a blind eye to this sort of heinous act being carried out in our names.

I am glad that the US military is taking this incident seriously and conducting an investigation. While the results of the investigation may be troubling for both ourselves and the Iraqi public, the results of trying to brush it under the carpet it would be worse.

Update (May 30)

Storm clouds are gathering in Washington, according to this article by CNN....

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Some members of Congress have been told to brace for the fallout from potential charges of murder and cover-up stemming from an inquiry into an alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines, sources say.
Military investigators strongly suspect that what happened in the western Iraqi city of Haditha last November was a rampage by a small number of Marines who snapped after one of their own was killed by a roadside bomb, the sources told CNN.
Pentagon sources told CNN that at least 24 Iraqis were killed.
Sources told CNN on Monday that the investigation is substantially complete, and that charges -- including murder charges -- could be filed sometime in June. And, sources said, investigators have concluded there was a cover-up -- but won't say if it is limited to the handful of Marines who did the killings.

The pieces are starting to come together. Reading between the lines, it sounds like the military's own investigation has wrapped up, but the findings are so shocking and odious, and so likely to provoke public outrage that they decided to hold off on releasing them for a few days to allow for briefing key members of congress, and allow the Marines and lawmakers some time to figure out how to mitigate the upcoming maelstrom.

Of course, there is very little that can be done to mitigate details trickling out like this excerpt from the LA Times:

Briones said he took pictures of at least 15 bodies before his camera batteries died. He said he then helped other Marines remove the bodies and place them in body bags. He said his worst moment, and one that haunts him to this day, was picking up the body of a young girl who was shot in the head.

"I held her out like this," he said, demonstrating with his arms extended, "but her head was bobbing up and down and the insides fell on my legs."

As he spoke, his mother, Susie Briones, 40, a Hanford community college teacher, who was sitting beside him at the kitchen table, silently wiped away tears.

Earlier she confided to a reporter that her son called frequently from Iraq after he experienced nightmares over the little girl.

"He called me many times," she said, "about carrying this little girl in his hands and her brains splattering on his boots. He'd say, 'Mom, I can't clean my boots. I can't clean my boots. I see her.' "

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Panic on a Florida School Bus

Let's imagine a scenario for a moment....

You're a young man, 20 years old. You've pushed yourself through high school, and after a lot of convincing of your parents, you have been given the opportunity to study abroad in a far-away country. This far-away place is strange to you, the customs are strange, the clothing people wear is strange, and even the language they speak is strange. In fact, you're worried that you may not succeed in your program of study because of all the cultural and language differences, so you sign up for a 1 year program to study the strange language, and become acclimatized to the strange culture and customs before you begin your program of study.

You've been in this strange place for a full school year from September to May, and have found it very peculiar: the way people walk, the way they interact in public. One of the strangest things you've seen is that every day as you're walking to school, you walk past a large group of people about your age gathered at a street corner just at the edge of your university campus, where a funny-looking orange bus picks them up and takes them to some unknown destination. You are curious about who this group is, and what this orange bus is for - you've never seen an orange bus on the university campus, and have never seen any of your classmates arriving in one.

One day in May, after your classes are mostly wrapped up for the year, you decide to find out what is up with this funny looking orange bus and this crowd waiting on the street corner. One morning, you and a friend of yours wait around alongside this group, and when the orange bus pulls up, you get on with them to see where it's going. You're surprised when the bus driver barely notices you getting on the bus, and more surprised when he doesn't make you pay a fare, and you and your friend sit in the back of the bus laughing and talking to yourselves about it. Of course, this surprise pales when the bus arrives at its destination (a local high school), and you and your friend are abruptly removed from the bus and hauled off to jail in the back of a police car.

If you and your friend were from Europe or perhaps Japan or China, you would probably not have had such an unwelcome reception at the high school, and the whole incident would have been laughed off as a simple act of ignorance by a pair of hapless visitors. But, you and your friend are not from Europe or Japan or China, you are from Saudi Arabia, the language you were speaking in the back of the bus with your friend is Arabic... and as a result you are both in a whole heap of trouble.

The two men are named Mana Saleh Almanajam (23 years old) and Shaker Mohsen Alsidran (20 years old), both shown at left, both enrolled in the full year English as a Second Language pre-university program at Southern Florida University in Tampa. The bus they boarded was one that picked up high school students from a street corner right at the edge of the USF campus, taking them to a local school called Wharton High School. More details are shown here and here.

Several bloggers, most notably Michelle Malkin, have talked about this issue and raised the spectre of possible terrorist attacks, considering the two men lied by initially telling the police they were from Morocco (when they were from Saudi Arabia), and making up a few versions of why they were on that bus. I personally think the incident is much more benign than this:

1. The two are simple college students, from a far-away place. They probably had no idea that the funny-looking orange bus was only for students of a particular high school. It's not as if there is a sign on the bus saying "Private Property - do not enter", the only words on it are "School Bus", and perhaps a sign indicating the route.
2. Being young and a bit reckless, they decided to go find out where the bus went, and perhaps explore Tampa a bit, not knowing this was not a permitted activity.
3. The bus driver did not challenge them when they first got on the bus, and allowed them to get in and sit down. Perhaps if the bus driver or one of the students on the bus had told the two men they were not allowed to be on the bus, they would have left.
4. After being pulled off the bus and questioned, they made up a few excuses for being on the bus. They might have done this because they knew they didn't have a good reason to be on the bus at all. Perhaps they were just riding it to see where it goes.

It is truly unfortunate that, 5 years after 9/11, we still need to be so paranoid about anything that an Arab does in this country. As Arab visiting students, these two men were expected by the system to be virtual house hermits, to stay below the radar, to never do anything unusual, and never bring any attention to themselves. Thus, when they made a simple mistake, they were considered suspected terrorists, and the full heavy hand of the law was brought down on them.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Iran Conundrum

What is easier to make: a car, or a Molotov cocktail?

A Molotov cocktail, obviously...

Let's think about this for a second: both a car and a Molotov cocktail use gasoline for fuel, however, the car uses it for a peaceful civilian purpose, and the Molotov cocktail uses it for a weapon. The car harnesses the gasoline's energy in a controlled manner to propel it, while the Molotov cocktail uses the gasoline's energy in an uncontrolled fashion to maim, kill, and burn. And, the car requires a much higher degree of engineering skill to design and build, since it is harder to burn gasoline in a controlled fashion than to burn it in an uncontrolled fashion.

Let's consider how this relates to Iran....

What is easier to make, a nuclear reactor, or an atomic bomb?

A scary question indeed. And, when you realize the correct answer is the atomic bomb, it becomes even scarier. Both a nuclear reactor and an atomic bomb use the same type of fuel: fissile nuclear material such as enriched uranium or plutonium. However, the nuclear reactor requires much more work to design and build, since the goal for a reactor is to harness nuclear power in a safe and controlled manner. A weapon, which harnesses the same nuclear power but in an unsafe and uncontrolled manner is much easier to design. In fact, the only really hard part is producing the fissile nuclear material to make it.

A few months ago, I wrote about the technical difficulties in enriching uranium; and we should all be very thankful that it is as hard to enrich uranium as it is. It is greatly troubling, however, when a less-stable country such as Iran begins a uranium enrichment project, because it is this same process that can be used to make weapons-grade enriched uranium. And, once a country has a working nuclear reactor, a key by-product contained in nuclear waste is plutonium. So, by either diverting some enriched uranium from the enrichment program, or by reprocessing the nuclear waste from a reactor, it is possible to obtain the main ingredient for an atomic bomb. And, as I wrote previously, getting your hands on the main ingredient is the only really difficult part in making a nuclear weapon.

What is even more troubling than Iran having access to nuclear materials is the possibility that Iran might sell these materials, or even a working bomb to a terrorist group they are reputed to support, such as Hezbollah or al-Qaeda. Imagine the destabilizing effect of a terrorist nuclear weapon being detonated in Baghdad, Tel Aviv, Riyadh, Dubai, or Amman.

Iran's current government getting its hands on nuclear weapons is a scenario the world should strive to avoid. However, the big question is how to stop Iran from doing so. So far, the world community has been trying the diplomatic approach, but diplomacy isn't working. Sanctions won't help much - look at the effects they had in Saddam's Iraq, enriching Saddam while driving his people into poverty. The military alternative isn't pretty either, with the United States already stretched thin in Iraq, and after three years of war, the American people lack the stomach to invade another country. A Yugoslavia-style bombing campaign is a real possibility, but would Iraq erupt like a tinderbox afterward, as pro-Iranian Shia militias turn on American troops?

The Iranian nuclear situation is a real problem, and one without an easily identifiable solution. Diplomacy is, by far, the best approach, but if it fails, "Plan B" may end up being very, very ugly.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Netherlands Loss, America's Gain

For those of us here in the United States, you should get used to seeing this face, as you'll probably be seeing her in the news a lot in the coming years.

The face is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, undoubtedly one of the most controversial figures in Europe. Hirsi Ali, originally from Somalia, went to the Netherlands as a refugee in 1992, became a citizen, and since 2003 has been serving as a member of parliament. What makes Hirsi Ali controversial, however, is her critical views on Islam and on women in Islam, which have earned her numerous death threats from Islamic extremists in the Netherlands. Two years ago, when Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered, the letter pinned to his body was a death threat against Hirsi Ali.

And, in a real shocker, she has resigned her seat in the Dutch parliament and is moving to the United States.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has faced an assault on two major fronts this past week. A few days ago, a group of fellow owners in the building she lives in won a court injunction forcing her to leave - the result of the constant threats on her life, and the security apparatus necessitated by it (armed guards, bulletproof glass, etc.). Then, on another front, it was revealed that she was untruthful on her refugee application in 1992, lying about how she's arrived in the Netherlands and her true family name. The Dutch immigration minister announced that Hirsi Ali's citizenship was null and void, and that her passport was being revoked. Shortly after this, Hirsi Ali announced that she is resigning her seat in parliament, leaving the Netherlands, and taking up a fellowship with the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

If Ayaan Hirsi Ali does come to Washington, I am sure we will be seeing a lot of her in the newspapers - she does not seem the type to stay on the sidelines.

I have a great respect for people who are willing to jeopardize their own wellbeing to promote ideas they believe are right. People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali benefit our society by questioning the status quo and stimulating constructive debate; and, it is through this debate that our society continually improves itself. For this reason, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is now the Netherlands' loss, and America's gain.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Iranian President Ahmadinejad's Letter to George Bush (Full Text)

Earlier today the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the Iranian national news agency, released the full text of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's letter to US president George Bush.

The letter was surprising to me in a number of ways. I was surprised a few days ago when I heard it had been sent to George Bush, and today, I was even more surprised when I got to read it for the first time - the content was not at all what I'd expected. When I first heard about the letter, I had expected it to focus on the Iranian nuclear situation and ways to resolve it. Instead, the letter glosses over the nuclear subject and touches mainly on several other Iranian concerns. Perhaps the most curious part of the letter was that Ahmadinjad appealed to George Bush on largely Christian religious terms - probably the last thing I'd have expected from Iran.

The real audience for this letter seems not to be George Bush, it seems to be the American people and others in the West. I'm sure Ahmadinejad (or his advisors) knew that within a short time of his letter's full text being released, it would be posted and dissected on a few blogs like mine.

Perhaps Ahmadinejad isn't quite as looney as I'd originally made him out to be...

So, without further ado, here is Ahmadinejad's letter, with some creative comment from yours truly.

"In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,

Interesting how he refers to "God", and not "Allah" at this point, although he uses "Allah" later. I expect Ahmadinejad is trying to do a bit of bridge-building, perhaps realizing that many American Christians do not realize that "Allah" is just the Arabic word for God, and that Arabic-speaking Christians call God "Allah" also.

Mr George Bush, President of the United States of America, For sometime now I have been thinking, how one can justify the undeniable contradictions that exist in the international arena -- which are being constantly debated, especially in political forums and amongst university students.
Now, have a look at this sentence. It seems a bit awkward in English, and there are some errors in it: in this context, "sometime" should be two words ("some time"), and there should be a word "about" inserted after "thinking".

There are other grammatical errors later in the letter, and I'm not sure what to make of them. It suggests to me that whoever wrote this letter does not have English as his first language. But, a professional translator probably would not have made such basic mistakes.

Did Ahmadinejad write the letter in English himself?

Many questions remain unanswered. These have prompted me to discuss some of the contradictions and questions, in the hope that it might bring about an opportunity to redress them.
Can one be a follower of Jesus Christ (PBUH), the great Messenger of God, feel obliged to respect human rights, present liberalism as a civilization model, announce one’s opposition to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and WMDs, make “War on Terror” his slogan, and finally, work towards the establishment of a unified international community – a community which Christ and the virtuous of the Earth will one day govern, but at the same time, have countries attacked.
Perhaps the last sentence I'd have expected to see in this letter, from the hardline Muslim ruler of Iran. I'm not surprised to hear Ahmadinejad refer to Jesus (who Muslims revere as a prophet), and I'm not surprised to hear him refer to Jesus as the "great Messenger of God" (Muslims think of Jesus this way too), and expected the "PBUH" ("peace be unto him") annotation after His name (Muslims usually write this after using the name of someone they consider a prophet). I am very surprised, however, to see Ahmadinejad refer to Him as Jesus Christ, as the word Christ has very specific meaning in Christianity that I'd be surprised to to hear Ahmadinejad wanting to express.

Most of my Muslim friends refer to Jesus but leave off the "Christ" part.

The lives, reputations and possessions of people destroyed and on the slight chance of the presence of a few criminals in a village, city, or convoy for example, the entire village, city or convoy (are) set ablaze.
Another grammar error - the word "are" should be inserted before "destroyed".

Or because of the possibility of the existence of WMDs in one country, it is occupied, around one hundred thousand people killed, its water sources, agriculture and industry destroyed, close to 180,000 foreign troops put on the ground, sanctity of private homes of citizens broken, and the country pushed back perhaps fifty years.
Whoah!! I've heard of adding a "fudge factor" to numbers, but those are ridiculous! Even the anti-war blogs list the Iraqi civilian casualties as under 40,000. And, while 40,000 people killed is big, and is certainly nothing to be happy about, it is not "around one hundred thousand people".

At what price? Hundreds of billions of dollars spent from the treasury of one country and certain other countries and tens of thousands of young men and women – as occupation troops – put in harms way, taken away from family and loved ones, their hands stained with the blood of others, subjected to so much psychological pressure that everyday some commit suicide and those returning home suffer depression, become sickly and grapple with all sorts of ailments; while some are killed and their bodies handed to their families.
Let's see... the US has been in Iraq for 3 years now, and "everyday" soldiers commit suicide. So, we should expect at least a thousand soldiers dead from suicide at this point? Yeah, right....

Well, at least he didn't have to fudge the "hundreds of billions of dollars" number.

On the pretext of the existence of WMDs, this great tragedy came to engulf both the peoples of the occupied and the occupying country. Later it was revealed that no WMDs existed to begin with.
Of course Saddam was a murderous dictator. But the war was not waged to topple him, the announced goal of the war was to find and destroy weapons of mass destruction. He was toppled along the way towards another goal; nevertheless the people of the region are happy about it. I point out that throughout the many years of the imposed war on Iran Saddam was supported by the West.
Mr. President, You might know that I am a teacher. My students ask me how can these actions be reconciled with the values outlined at the beginning of this letter and duty to the tradition of Jesus Christ (PBUH), the Messenger of peace and forgiveness? There are prisoners in Guantanamo Bay that have not been tried, have no legal representation, their families cannot see them and are obviously kept in a strange land outside their own country. There is no international monitoring of their conditions and fate. No one knows whether they are prisoners, POWs, accused or criminals.
European investigators have confirmed the existence of secret prisons in Europe too. I could not correlate the abduction of a person, and him or her being kept in secret prisons, with the provisions of any judicial system. For that matter, I fail to understand how such actions correspond to the values outlined in the beginning of this letter, i.e. the teachings of Jesus Christ (PBUH), human rights and liberal values.
More references to Jesus Christ.

And here we go in Israel...

Young people, university students, and ordinary people have many questions about the phenomenon of Israel. I am sure you are familiar with some of them.
Throughout history many countries have been occupied, but I think the establishment of a new country with a new people, is a new phenomenon that is exclusive to our times.
Perhaps Ahmadinejad needs to study his world history a bit better. Canada, the United States, Mexico, all the rest of the countries in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, etc., etc. - all were "new countries".

Now, I'm not a big fan of how Israel has treated the Palestinians either, but at least let's get our facts straight.

Students are saying that sixty years ago such a country did not exist. They show old documents and globes and say try as we have, we have not been able to find a country named Israel.
And if you pull up a globe from 200 years ago, you will not find a country named "Canada" on it either.

I tell them to study the history of WWI and II. One of my students told me that during WWII, which more than tens of millions of people perished in, news about the war, was quickly disseminated by the warring parties. Each touted their victories and the most recent battlefront defeat of the other party. After the war they claimed that six million Jews had been killed. Six million people that were surely related to at least two million families.
Again let us assume that these events are true. Does that logically translate into the establishment of the state of Israel in the Middle East or support for such a state? How can this phenomenon be rationalized or explained?
Mr. President, I am sure you know how – and at what cost – Israel was established:-Many thousands were killed in the process.
-Millions of indigenous people were made refugees.
-Hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland, olive plantations, towns and villages were destroyed.
This tragedy is not exclusive to the time of establishment; unfortunately it has been ongoing for sixty years now.
A regime has been established which does not show mercy even to kids, destroys houses while the occupants are still in them, announces beforehand its list and plans to assassinate Palestinian figures, and keeps thousands of Palestinians in prison. Such a phenomenon is unique – or at the very least extremely rare – in recent memory.
Well, at least he got this last part right: this is much of the basis of much of my own criticism of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

Another big question asked by the people is “why is this regime being supported?” Is support for this regime in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ (PBUH) or Moses (PBUH) or liberal values? Or are we to understand that allowing the original inhabitants of these lands – inside and outside Palestine -- whether they are Christian, Moslem or Jew, to determine their fate, runs contrary to principles of democracy, human rights and the teachings of prophets? If not, why is there so much opposition to a referendum? The newly elected Palestinian administration recently took office. All independent observers have confirmed that this government represents the electorate. Unbelievingly, they have put the elected government under pressure and have advised it to recognize the Israeli regime, abandon the struggle and follow the programs of the previous government.
If the current Palestinian government had run on the above platform, would the Palestinian people have voted for it? Again, can such position taken in opposition to the Palestinian government be reconciled with the values outlined earlier? The people are also asking “Why are all UNSC resolutions in condemnation of Israel vetoed?” Mr. President, As you are well aware, I live amongst the people and am in constant contact with them -- many people from around the Middle East manage to contact me as well. They do not have faith in these dubious policies either. There is evidence that the people of the region are becoming increasingly angry with such policies.
It is not my intention to pose too many questions, but I need to refer to other points as well.
Why is it that any technological and scientific achievement reached in the Middle East region is translated into and portrayed as a threat to the Zionist regime? Is not scientific R&D one of the basic rights of nations? You are familiar with history. Aside from the Middle Ages, in what other point in history has scientific and technical progress been a crime? Can the possibility of scientific achievements being utilized for military purposes be reason enough to oppose science and technology altogether? If such a supposition is true, then all scientific disciplines, including physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, engineering, etc. must be opposed.
Now, he's hinting around at the whole nuclear issue. Not directly talking about it, just hinting around at it.

Lies were told in the Iraqi matter. What was the result? I have no doubt that telling lies is reprehensible in any culture, and you do not like to be lied to.
Mr. President, Don’t Latin Americans have the right to ask why their elected governments are being opposed and coup leaders supported? Or, Why must they constantly be threatened and live in fear? The people of Africa are hardworking, creative and talented. They can play an important and valuable role in providing for the needs of humanity and contribute to its material and spiritual progress. Poverty and hardship in large parts of Africa are preventing this from happening. Don’t they have the right to ask why their enormous wealth – including minerals – is being looted, despite the fact that they need it more than others? Again, do such actions correspond to the teachings of Christ and the tenets of human rights? The brave and faithful people of Iran too have many questions and grievances, including: the coup d’etat of 1953 and the subsequent toppling of the legal government of the day, opposition to the Islamic revolution, transformation of an Embassy into a headquarters supporting the activities of those opposing the Islamic Republic (many thousands of pages of documents corroborate this claim), support for Saddam in the war waged against Iran, the shooting down of the Iranian passenger plane, freezing the assets of the Iranian nation, increasing threats, anger and displeasure vis-à-vis the scientific and nuclear progress of the Iranian nation (just when all Iranians are jubilant and celebrating their country’s progress), and many other grievances that I will not refer to in this letter.
Mr. President, September Eleven was a horrendous incident. The killing of innocents is deplorable and appalling in any part of the world. Our government immediately declared its disgust with the perpetrators and offered its condolences to the bereaved and expressed its sympathies.
All governments have a duty to protect the lives, property and good standing of their citizens. Reportedly your government employs extensive security, protection and intelligence systems – and even hunts its opponents abroad. September eleven was not a simple operation. Could it be planned and executed without coordination with intelligence and security services – or their extensive infiltration? Of course this is just an educated guess. Why have the various aspects of the attacks been kept secret? Why are we not told who botched their responsibilities? And, why aren’t those responsible and the guilty parties identified and put on trial? All governments have a duty to provide security and peace of mind for their citizens. For some years now, the people of your country and neighbors of world trouble spots do not have peace of mind. After 9.11, instead of healing and tending to the emotional wounds of the survivors and the American people -- who had been immensely traumatized by the attacks -- some Western media only intensified the climate of fear and insecurity – some constantly talked about the possibility of new terror attacks and kept the people in fear. Is that service to the American people? Is it possible to calculate the damages incurred from fear and panic? American citizens lived in constant fear of fresh attacks that could come at any moment and in any place. They felt insecure in the streets, in their place of work and at home. Who would be happy with this situation? Why was the media, instead of conveying a feeling of security and providing peace of mind, giving rise to a feeling of insecurity? Some believe that the hype paved the way -- and was the justification --for an attack on Afghanistan. Again I need to refer to the role of media.
In media charters, correct dissemination of information and honest reporting of a story are established tenets. I express my deep regret about the disregard shown by certain Western media for these principles. The main pretext for an attack on Iraq was the existence of WMDs. This was repeated incessantly -- for the public to finally believe -- and the ground set for an attack on Iraq.
Will the truth not be lost in a contrived and deceptive climate?
You mean like the sort of climate where Internet usage and blogging are censored like they are in Iran?

Since Mr. Ahmadinejad seems to be so interested in the teachings of Jesus these days, perhaps he may find this one interesting:

"Or how can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself don't see the log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck in your brother's eye." (Luke 6:42)

Again, if the truth is allowed to be lost, how can that be reconciled with the earlier mentioned values? Is the truth known to the Almighty lost as well?
Mr. President, In countries around the world, citizens provide for the expenses of governments so that their governments in turn are able to serve them.
The question here is “what has the hundreds of billions of dollars, spent every year to pay for the Iraqi campaign, produced for the citizens?” As Your Excellency is aware, in some states of your country, people are living in poverty. Many thousands are homeless and unemployment is a huge problem. Of course these problems exist – to a larger or lesser extent -- in other countries as well. With these conditions in mind, can the gargantuan expenses of the campaign – paid from the public treasury – be explained and be consistent with the aforementioned principles? What has been said, are some of the grievances of the people around the world, in our region and in your country. But my main contention – which I am hoping you will agree to some of it – is: Those in power have a specific time in office and do not rule indefinitely, but their names will be recorded in history and will be constantly judged in the immediate and distant futures.
The people will scrutinize our presidencies.
Did we mange to bring peace, security and prosperity for the people or insecurity and unemployment? Did we intend to establish justice or just supported especial interest groups, and by forcing many people to live in poverty and hardship, made a few people rich and powerful -- thus trading the approval of the people and the Almighty with theirs’? Did we defend the rights of the underprivileged or ignore them? Did we defend the rights of all people around the world or imposed wars on them, interfered illegally in their affairs, established hellish prisons and incarcerated some of them? Did we bring the world peace and security or raised the specter of intimidation and threats? Did we tell the truth to our nation and others around the world or presented an inverted version of it? Were we on the side of people or the occupiers and oppressors? Did our administrations set out to promote rational behavior, logic, ethics, peace, fulfilling obligations, justice, service to the people, prosperity, progress and respect for human dignity or the force of guns, intimidation, insecurity, disregard for the people, delaying the progress and excellence of other nations, and trample on people’s rights? And finally, they will judge us on whether we remained true to our oath of office – to serve the people, which is our main task, and the traditions of the prophets -- or not? Mr. President, How much longer can the world tolerate this situation? Where will this trend lead the world to? How long must the people of the world pay for the incorrect decisions of some rulers? How much longer will the specter of insecurity – raised from the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction -- hunt the people of the world? How much longer will the blood of the innocent men, women and children be spilled on the streets, and people’s houses destroyed over their heads? Are you pleased with the current condition of the world? Do you think present policies can continue? If billions of dollars spent on security, military campaigns and troop movement were instead spent on investment and assistance for poor countries, promotion of health, combating different diseases, education and improvement of mental and physical fitness, assistance to the victims of natural disasters, creation of employment opportunities and production, development projects and poverty alleviation, establishment of peace, mediation between disputing states, and extinguishing the flames of racial, ethnic and other conflicts, were would the world be today? Would not your government and people be justifiably proud? Would not your administration’s political and economic standing have been stronger? And I am most sorry to say, would there have been an ever increasing global hatred of the American government? Mr. President, it is not my intention to distress anyone.
If Prophet Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ishmael, Joseph, or Jesus Christ (PBUH) were with us today, how would they have judged such behavior? Will we be given a role to play in the promised world, where justice will become universal and Jesus Christ (PBUH) will be present? Will they even accept us? My basic question is this: Is there no better way to interact with the rest of the world? Today there are hundreds of millions of Christians, hundreds of millions of Muslims and millions of people who follow the teachings of Moses (PBUH). All divine religions share and respect one word and that is “monotheism” or belief in a single God and no other in the world.
The Holy Koran stresses this common word and calls on all followers of divine religions and says: [3.64] Say: O followers of the Book! Come to an equitable proposition between us and you that we shall not serve any but Allah and (that) we shall not associate aught with Him, and (that) some of us shall not take others for lords besides Allah; but if they turn back, then say: Bear witness that we are Muslims. (The Family of Imran)
Mr. President, According to divine verses, we have all been called upon to worship one God and follow the teachings of divine Prophets.
“To worship a God which is above all powers in the world and can do all He pleases.” “The Lord which knows that which is hidden and visible, the past and the future, knows what goes on in the Hearts of His servants and records their deeds.” “The Lord who is the possessor of the heavens and the earth and all universe is His court” “planning for the universe is done by His hands, and gives His servants the glad tidings of mercy and forgiveness of sins” “He is the companion of the oppressed and the enemy of oppressors” “He is the Compassionate, the Merciful” “He is the recourse of the faithful and guides them towards the light from darkness” “He is witness to the actions of His servants” “He calls on servants to be faithful and do good deeds, and asks them to stay on the path of righteousness and remain steadfast” “Calls on servants to heed His prophets and He is a witness to their deeds” “A bad ending belongs only to those who have chosen the life of this world and disobey Him and oppress His servants” and “A good end and eternal paradise belong to those servants who fear His majesty and do not follow their lascivious selves.” We believe a return to the teachings of the divine prophets is the only road leading to salvation. I have been told that Your Excellency follows the teachings of Jesus (PBUH) and believes in the divine promise of the rule of the righteous on Earth.
We also believe that Jesus Christ (PBUH) was one of the great prophets of the Almighty. He has been repeatedly praised in the Koran. Jesus (PBUH) has been quoted in Koran as well: [19.36] And surely Allah is my Lord and your Lord, therefore serve Him; this is the right path. Marium Service to and obedience of the Almighty is the credo of all divine messengers.
The God of all people in Europe, Asia, Africa, America, the Pacific and the rest of the world is one. He is the Almighty who wants to guide and give dignity to all His servants. He has given greatness to Humans.
We again read in the Holy Book: “The Almighty God sent His prophets with miracles and clear signs to guide the people and show them divine signs and purify them from sins and pollutions. And He sent the Book and the balance so that the people display justice and avoid the rebellious”.
All of the above verses can be seen, one way or the other, in the Good Book as well.
Divine prophets have promised: The day will come when all humans will congregate before the court of the Almighty, so that their deeds are examined. The good will be directed towards Haven and evildoers will meet divine retribution. I trust both of us believe in such a day, but it will not be easy to calculate the actions of rulers, because we must be answerable to our nations and all others whose lives have been directly or indirectly affected by our actions.
All prophets, speak of peace and tranquility for man -- based on monotheism, justice and respect for human dignity.
Do you not think that if all of us come to believe in and abide by these principles, that is, monotheism, worship of God, justice, respect for the dignity of man, belief in the Last Day, we can overcome the present problems of the world -- that are the result of disobedience to the Almighty and the teachings of prophets – and improve our performance? Do you not think that belief in these principles promotes and guarantees peace, friendship and justice? Do you not think that the aforementioned written or unwritten principles are universally respected? Will you not accept this invitation? That is, a genuine return to the teachings of prophets, to monotheism and justice, to preserve human dignity and obedience to the Almighty and His prophets?
Another surprising section for me. I would not have expected this type of argument from the leader of Iran. It is interesting that Ahmadinejad did not mention Mohammed, only Jesus and the chain of Old Testament prophets that are recognized by both Islam and Christianity.

Mr. President, History tells us that repressive and cruel governments do not survive. God has entrusted the fate of men to them. The Almighty has not left the universe and humanity to their own devices.
Many things have happened contrary to the wishes and plans of governments. These tell us that there is a higher power at work and all events are determined by Him.
Can one deny the signs of change in the world today? Is the situation of the world today comparable to that of ten years ago? Changes happen fast and come at a furious pace.
The people of the world are not happy with the status quo and pay little heed to the promises and comments made by a number of influential world leaders. Many people around the world feel insecure and oppose the spreading of insecurity and war and do not approve of and accept dubious policies.
The people are protesting the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots and the rich and poor countries.
The people are disgusted with increasing corruption.
The people of many countries are angry about the attacks on their cultural foundations and the disintegration of families. They are equally dismayed with the fading of care and compassion. The people of the world have no faith in international organizations, because their rights are not advocated by these organizations.
Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the Liberal democratic systems.
We increasingly see that people around the world are flocking towards a main focal point -- that is the Almighty God. Undoubtedly through faith in God and the teachings of the prophets, the people will conquer their problems. My question for you is: “Do you not want to join them?” Mr. President, Whether we like it or not, the world is gravitating towards faith in the Almighty and justice and the will of God will prevail over all things.
Vasalam Ala Man Ataba’al hoda Mahmood Ahmadi-Nejad President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
All in all, a surprising letter in a number of aspects. Yes, Ahmadinejad fudged a few numbers, and made a few bogus arguments. But, he did make some decent points, and the overall letter seemed to be constructive in tone, with none of the caustic rhetoric and vitriol that Ahmadinejad has developed a reputation for. It's not any kind of major diplomatic breakthrough, but at least this type of communication is a step in the right direction.

Update (May 10)

You gotta love New York. For anyone who thought bloggers were prickly, you should try some of the New York tabloids. How's this for a headline:

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Mouss that Roared (updated)

Original Post: April 5

Is Zararias Moussaoui a dangerous terrorist, or just a narcissistic raving lunatic? Or is he both? Ever since Moussaoui was captured in the weeks before 9/11, I have often wondered the answer to that question, especially given his weird behavior in court. Moussaoui's conduct in court has drifted between near-comical disdain, and self-destructive undermining of his own case.

Most recently, Moussaoui decimated his own defense case by admitting in front of the jury that he and would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid were supposed to hijack a fifth plane and fly it into the White House.

Before being muzzled by Judge Leonie Brinkema, Moussaoui's conduct in the early part of the trial was even more bizarre. Acting as his own counsel, he submitted a flood of handwritten filings to the court, lashing out at Brinkema, Ashcroft, and the whole court system. Rather than going into a detailed descripion, I'll let Moussaoui speak for himself.

Perhaps the looniest of the written briefs Moussaoui filed is this one, titled "KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT DUMHAM (sic)," where Moussauoi petitioned the judge to, "shut the mouth of her wannabe superstar," - Moussaoui's own lawyer Frank Dunham.

Another comical one is this, where Moussaoui asks Judge Brinkema to send Attorney General John Ashcroft a "coupon" asking whether Moussaoi is the "20th Hijacker", the "5th plane Pilot Missing in Action", "I Ashcroft don't know", or "let's kill him anyway."

This next one is just totally bizarre, petitioning the court that the "5th PLANE MUST LAND ON MOUSSAOUI RUNAWAY (sic)", and that the "Court of Appall (sic)" should force the "uncompetent" Ashcroft to disclose the 5th plane is "missing in action".

If I didn't know Moussaoui was in jail, I'd think he was drunk or perhaps stoned on marijuana when he wrote this. I can't imagine someone in their right mind writing this, can you?

This next rant starts out with an all-caps diatribe towards "Death Judge Lieoni Brinkema" (note the play on the judge's first name).

This next rant is addressed to the "Court of Appall of 9th Circus". This childish play on words seems like something I'd expect to find written in crayon.

This next filing asks Judge Brinkema to "stop playing games with my life."

Or this "FREEDOM OF INFORMATION" rant aimed at the "Court of Appall of the 4th Circus".

Or this one ranting about "ASHCROFT POLITICAL SENSURE (sic) OF THE TRUTH".

Is Zacarias Moussaoi a dangerous terrorist or a raving lunatic? Senior al-Qaeda detainees like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed have described Moussaoui as too unstable to have been used for the original 9/11 attacks - a "misfit" who refused to follow orders. Certainly there is an abundance of evidence showing Moussaoui's connections to al-Qaeda, but nothing other than his own testimony connecting him to 9/11.

Is it possible that Moussaoui's stunning admission in court was nothing but a self-aggrandizing lie; an attempt to pump up his own ego, to make others think he was the big bad terrorist he never was able to be? Perhaps Moussauoi's own statement to FBI agent James Fitzgerald explains his mindset, that it is "different to die in a battle ... than in a jail on a toilet." Moussaoui evidently preferred a quick death where some might view him as a martyr, over a slow and ignominious rotting away in a jail cell.

Who is Moussaoui? To me, he seems rather like the Inspector Clouseau of terrorism, the bungling and narcissistic idiot who none of the other terrorists trusted to get the job done. Don't get me wrong, a lunatic like Moussaoui would be quite dangerous with a weapon, and I would not want to see him out walking around on the street. But, does Moussauoi deserve the death penalty, or to be committed to an insane asylum?

Update: April 13

Moussoui took the stand today in the penalty phase of his trial, against his own lawyers' advice, and completely trashed his own case. Over the span of three hours, Moussaoui launched into a tirade, testifying that he had "no regret, no remorse" over 9/11, that he is willing to kill Americans "anytime, anywhere", and that his only regret about 9/11 was that there weren't more attacks: "I just wish it could have gone on the 12th, the 13th, the 14th, the 15th, the 16th, the 17th. We can go on and on."

Moussaoui even made the bizarre prediction that he would be released soon, saying he had a dream that George Bush would have him released before his term is up.

What is troubling to me about Moussaoui's tirade is that it seemed too much like a calculated attempt to scare the jury into sentencing him to death. First, he tries to offend everyone on the jury and to make the jury hate him, then he makes the jury fear what he'd do if he got out of jail, then he raises the spectre of him getting out of jail by talking about his dream of Bush releasing him. It troubles me that Moussaoui may be doing a lot of lying, aggrandizing, and exaggerating here, in a calculated attempt to get himself the death panalty. Here are two quotes from Moussaoui that seem to belie his mental state:

"The greatest jihad in Islam is to speak the truth and be executed for it." (one of Moussaoui's filings to the court)

"It is different to die in a battle ... than in a jail on a toilet." (Moussaoui's statement to FBI agent James Fitzgerald)

Is Moussaoui speaking the truth, or is he just seeking "martyrdom" in his own mind? From his behavior, Zacarias Moussaoui wants desperately to be executed - he wants America to kill him.

And, a bigger question: are Moussaoui's delusions about martyrdom and his own narcissistic behavior evidence of a deeper underlying psychiatric illness?

Update (May 3)

The jury has reached a sentence: life in prison. And, in doing so, I think they proved the effectiveness of the US justice system.

Zacarias Moussaoui is definitely someone I am glad to have behind bars, but at the same time, given his apparent insanity, he is not someone I would feel comfortable executing. Moussaoui is a deranged lunatic, with grandiose narcissistic illusions of being a warrior in a cohesive global jihad against the "great Satan", and of being a key player in the 9/11 attacks. But, just because Moussaoui, in his own deranged mind, believes this fallacy to be real does not make it real; and just because his deranged mind believes that he merits the death penalty does not mean that he really does merit this ultimate punishment.

Fortunately, the jury was able to see through Moussaoui's façade and through all the hype and rhetoric surrounding this case, and was able to reach a just sentence.