Sunday, September 30, 2007

VIDEO: The Washington DC Protest, September 29, 2007

Check this out! There were massive protests in DC yesterday, and there's been no media coverage. Our friend Big Dan was there and he's posted some video clips at YouTube. Here are a few samples:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 14

This is the one Big Dan likes best. "Listen how loud", he says.

Big Dan also said:
It seemed small at first, then it grew and grew and grew and grew, until we were packed in like sardines!
There's much more and you can find it all here!

Many thanks to Big Dan for these videos!! You can read more comments from him on this thread.

It sure is nice to post some good news for a change.

Pakistani Police Batter Protesting Lawyers; Journalists Protest

Protesters led by lawyers in business suits were attacked by Pakistani police on Saturday, and the backlash on Sunday has been led by journalists. Think about that for a moment.

Carlotta Gall reported on Saturday's violence in the New York Times:

Lawyers Battle Police Over Election Ruling in Pakistan (mirrored here)
Riot police officers fought with batons and tear gas against lawyers protesting President Pervez Musharraf’s bid for re-election outside the Supreme Court and Election Commission on Saturday. Dozens of lawyers and some journalists were beaten and a number arrested in the clashes, witnesses said.

As the mood grew uglier, the state minister for information, Tariq Azim Khan, was badly beaten by angry journalists as he was leaving the election commission building.

The lawyers were protesting a Supreme Court ruling Friday that cleared the way for General Musharraf’s re-election as president while he is still in uniform. They tried to march on the Election Commission, which was examining nominations for the Oct. 6 presidential election on Saturday morning. It was the first time since July that the black-suited lawyers, who campaigned for months against General Musharraf’s dismissal of the chief justice in March, have come out in force on the streets here in the capital.

The lawyers led a popular movement to reinstate the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, after President General Musharraf attempted to dismiss him. This move was widely seen as an attempt to manipulate the Supreme Court into allowing him to run for re-election this year as Army chief of staff. The Court ruled against Musharraf and reinstated Chaudhry, pacifying the popular democratic forces with the expectation that the Court would rule against allowing Musharraf to run again.

But the Supreme Court made the opposite decision on Friday, and the action led by the lawyers, though swift and courageous, was no doubt anticipated by Musharraf and his advisers. As I wrote Thursday,
A former Prime Minister who returned to the country to participate in the electoral process was promptly arrested and deported. Hundreds of opposition leaders have been imprisoned. The roads leading to the capital have been closed, military police have barricaded the area around the palace in order to prevent any disruptions by the nation's lawyers, and the process of re-electing the General has begun.
In other words, this clash was entirely expected and there is certainly more to come; there was a general strike in May, and now the "election" is imminent.

Carlotta Gall continues:
As they marched the hundred yards from the Supreme Court down Constitution Avenue to the Election Commission, police officers with helmets, shields and long sticks blocked their way. Lawyers began hurling stones, and the officers retaliated, throwing the stones back and firing tear gas, and then charging and beating protesters.

Plainclothes officers hauled lawyers off to police vans, including one of the leaders of the movement, Ali Ahmad Kurd. Aitzaz Ahsan, another leading member of the lawyers’ movement, was bludgeoned by a policeman who hit him with a heavy brick in his stomach.

Despite the commotion outside on the street, the Election Commission approved General Musharraf’s nomination for the presidential election, as well as those of two of his opponents, the former Supreme Court judge, Wajihuddin Ahmed, and the Pakistan Peoples Party politician, Makhdoom Amin Fahim. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Mr. Khan, the information minister, were present as supporters of General Musharraf’s nomination.

Lawyers representing Mr. Ahmed lodged objections to General Musharraf’s candidacy, in particular that he holds the position of chief of army staff, has already served the limit of two terms, and should not be elected a second time by the same assembly. But the Election Commission did not accept the objections, and the lawyers emerged saying they would now take the matter to the courts on Monday.
There's more from Carlotta here (or here).

Sunday the journalists reacted to Saturday's attacks, as Reuters reports:

Pakistani journalists protest police "brutality" (mirrored here)
Pakistani journalists protested on Sunday against police violence against colleagues covering a protest against President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad a day earlier.

About 400 journalists and human right activists chanted anti-government slogans and condemned police "brutality" as they marched from a press club in Islamabad to the parliament building.

More than a dozen lawyers, several journalists and a cabinet minister were injured in clashes on Saturday outside the Election Commission, where Musharraf's nomination was accepted for a vote on Oct. 6, which is expected to secure him a fresh term.

Police launched a baton charge and fired tear gas to disperse black-suited lawyers and opposition activists, who have been at the vanguard of a pro-democracy movement.

"They want to snatch our freedom which is unacceptable. We'll fight, we'll fight for our independence and freedom," Mazhar Abbas, president of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), told the marchers.

Similar rallies in support of press freedom were held in other cities including Karachi, Peshawar, Multan, as well as tribal areas where the army is fighting pro-Taliban militants.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on Sunday ordered Islamabad's top administration and police officials to provide explanations to the Supreme Court on Monday to explain why force was used against lawyers and journalists.

The Supreme Court dismissed on Friday challenges to General Musharraf's bid to seek re-election while still army chief, removing a major obstacle to his securing another term.

Opposition parties say they will resign their seats before the presidential vote, even though Musharraf has vowed to quit the army, his main source of power, if he wins.
The closing paragraph from Reuters misses the point, of course.

As Carlotta Gall phrased it [with my comments in brackets]:

"He holds the position of chief of army staff [and therefore should not even be allowed to serve as President, much less run again], has already served the limit of two terms [and therefore should not be allowed to run again, general or no], and should not be elected a second time by the same assembly [there should be a general election first, then the newly elected assembly should elect a new president]."

That's the way it's supposed to work; I didn't make it up. But there are some factors in play here which weren't anticipated by the drafters of Pakistan's Constitution. Among them, Pakistan's status as an ally of the United States has changed considerably since the attacks of 9/11/2001; and Musharraf is now (in some ways) in a much more precarious position than any of his predecessors.

Paul Alexander of the AP provides some more context here:

Pakistan Cracks Down on Election Protest (mirrored here)
Despite dwindling popularity and increasingly bitter opposition, Musharraf, a close U.S. ally, seems set to win the election. The ruling coalition says it has the numbers it needs, and even the general's main challenger, retired Judge Wajihuddin Ahmed, has admitted he has little chance.

The Election Commission approved only six of the 43 candidates, including Ahmed, who was nominated by lawyers, and Makhdoom Amin Fahim, vice chairman of ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party. Fahim's party earlier said he would only run if Musharraf were disqualified.

The opposition alliance has said its lawmakers would quit Parliament on Tuesday to protest the general's candidacy, a move also aimed at depriving the election of legitimacy.

Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, has pledged to give up his powerful post as army chief if he wins the election and restore civilian rule in a country that has lurched between unstable elected governments and military regimes during its 60-year history.

But he has faced growing opposition since his failed attempt to oust Pakistan's top judge in March. He is also struggling to contain growing Islamic militancy and growing public sentiment that his alliance with Washington has fanned extremism.

Still, he has been trying to retake the initiative while clamping down on his most vociferous opponents.
I thought this part was funny:
He is also struggling to contain growing Islamic militancy and growing public sentiment that his alliance with Washington has fanned extremism.
Paul Alexander apparently cannot say
Musharraf is also struggling to contain the growing Islamic militancy his alliance with Washington has fanned.
The French press agency AFP provided more detail on the demonstration:

Pakistani police baton-charge, teargas anti-Musharraf lawyers (mirrored here)
Pakistani police used batons and teargas to disperse hundreds of lawyers protesting against President Pervez Musharraf's candidacy in next week's presidential election, officials and witnesses said.

Several lawyers were injured and around a dozen arrested during the noisy protest outside the Election Commission as Musharraf's nomination papers and those of other candidates were being scrutinised.

Around 900 lawyers rallied near the commission despite tight security and road blocks, a day after the Supreme Court ruled that Musharraf could stand in the October 6 poll while keeping his role as army chief.

Chanting "Go Musharraf, go" the lawyers tried to approach the commission building from the Supreme Court but riot police with shields and helmets blocked their way and scuffles broke out.

"Police beat up lawyers mercilessly and several of them were wounded," an AFP photographer said. At least two were seen with blood coming from head wounds.

Aitzaz Ahsan, the main lawyer for Pakistan's Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry during Chaudhry's battle against Musharraf's attempts to sack him earlier this year, said he was among those beaten.

"The brutality of General Musharraf is being seen worldwide. Only the blind governments of the United States and Britain cannot see it," Ahsan told AFP.

"I was targeted, the police were waiting for an opportunity. I tried to crouch down for safety but they started beating us viciously with batons," added Ahsan, who was a minister under Benazir Bhutto in the 1990s.

Plainclothes police were seen taking into custody Ali Ahmad Kurd, another senior leader of the lawyers' movement.

Police also arrested nearly two dozen opposition party activists in a raid on an apartment block for parliamentarians as they prepared to head to the Election Commission, they said.

"There is a ban on gatherings of five or more people in the capital territory and we are not going to allow anyone flout this law," a senior Islamabad police official told AFP.
Meanwhile, back at the Carlotta NYT, Carlotta Gall and Salman Masood have some more on the Supreme Court's decision:

Pakistan Court Clears Musharraf’s Path to Election Day (mirrored here)
The bench of nine judges dismissed the two cases by a vote of 6 to 3 on a technicality. The cases were “not maintainable,” said the senior presiding judge, Justice Rana Baghwandas, citing an article of the Constitution that specified cases that should be heard by the provincial high court rather than by the Supreme Court.

The terse ruling was met by an audible gasp, and then shouts of “Shame! Shame!” from lawyers, politicians and others gathered in the high-ceilinged chamber, as the judges filed out.

“It is despicable,” said Roedad Khan, a retired senior civil servant and former federal secretary, who attended all 10 days of hearings. “We reject it. They are lackeys of General Musharraf,” he said angrily.

The Supreme Court had shown a newfound independence after its chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, fended off an attempt by General Musharraf to dismiss him earlier this year.

But Chief Justice Chaudhry did not preside over the two cases decided Friday, removing himself in order to ensure the impartiality of the court, and, according to opposition lawyers, to avoid another direct confrontation with General Musharraf.
Some of the protesters on Saturday carried a fake coffin symbolizing the death of democracy in Pakistan.

The Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported on some of the other reactions to the Court's ruling:

The day of the General: Musharraf to run for president in uniform, Petitioners, lawyers’ leaders livid (mirrored here)
Reacting to the judgment, PML (N) acting president Makhdoom Javed Hashmi said the infamous doctrine of necessity, under which all military rules had been validated by the apex court, was still continuing. “We thought the judiciary has become totally independent, but this impression proved to be wrong,” he deplored.

He announced that a campaign would be launched against the regime and for complete independence of the judiciary.

MMA parliamentarian Farid Paracha said the judgment did not reflect the aspiration of the people, rather it strengthened the rule of a military dictator. He said the people of Pakistan had rejected it, adding that the MMA would file a review petition. He said that the struggle for restoration of genuine democracy in the country would be intensified.

Supreme Court Bar Association president Munir A. Malik said it was not a verdict which had been unexpected. “Though the July 20 judgment of restoring Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was a step ahead, we still have a long way to go for complete independence of the judiciary. Although the judgment is disappointing, our battle is not over,” he added.

Senior Advocate Hamid Khan said judges had abdicated their jurisdiction in deciding the matter, adding that the order was a continuation of the Tameezuddin and Dosso cases (in which the concept of the doctrine of necessity was introduced).

However, he said, the judgment would not dampen lawyers’ struggle which would continue till the end of dictatorship.

Advocate Hamid Khan said President Musharraf’s holding of two offices derogated the constitutional provision of equality before the law because he was holding the gun.
And this of course is the point that Reuters missed. (Remember Reuters?)

It is definitely not "equality before the law" if one of the candidates is holding the gun.

But that's not the point; these two points are much more important: Pakistan is America's number one Asian ally in the global war against international terrorism (and the wellspring of international terrorism -- isn't that convenient?), and American democracy has nothing to do with equality under the law. It wasn't an accident when the State Department sent Richard Boucher to Pakistan to say "thou shalt have an election".

Richard Boucher did not say "thou shalt have a free and fair election", and that was a signal. What does it mean? It means the cops can beat up the lawyers and the journalists for another week, if they can hold out that long. If they do, and if the cops get tired of beating on them, they can start shooting them.

I certainly hope it won't come to that. But there will be no free and fair election in Pakistan this time around, and that suits Pakistan's number one ally just fine.

All of which it leaves me with this entirely hypothetical question:

If there were a pro-democracy movement in the United States, would our lawyers and journalists be leading it?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

... And The 'Reverse Bang For The Buck' Award Goes To ... MoveOn!

Robert Parry dissects the MoveOn / Petraeus / New York Times debacle, focusing on return on investment, rather than the more commonly discussed angle, freedom of speech.

His conclusion:
MoveOn has taken $142,083 from American donors and given it to the New York Times for the privilege of running an ad that served to undermine the goal of reining in President Bush’s Iraq War. Talk about getting a reverse bang for your buck.
Note to MoveOn leadership:
The New York Times is now and has always been our enemy.

Let them raise their own money.

Parry continues:
(By contrast, for many independent media outlets, the cost of that one ad would cover all their expenses for a year or more. In 2006, the entire budget of our Web site,, was $109,000.)
I can't even imagine what sort of coverage this cold website could provide if it had a hundred thousand a year to work with. But even without that ... What an unbelievable waste of money!


For the full impact of Robert Parry's analysis, please read these three columns from Consortium News:

Hard Lessons from MoveOn Fiasco

MoveOn & Media Double Standards

The Left's Media Miscalculation (Redux)

Mike Gravel: Senate Democrats Were Elected To End A War, Not Start A New One

Here's Mike Gravel on the Democratic front-runners, from Huffington Post via Dandelion Salad:
Hillary Clinton was either misinformed or economical with the truth in Wednesday night’s debate when she responded to my challenge to her by saying the Senate’s resolution earlier in the day on Iran was designed to permit economic sanctions against individual members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

She and her staff should know the United Nations Security Council on March 24 already slapped economic sanctions on individual Guard Members. Like the Red Army in China, Iran allows Guard commanders to own and run private companies. Security Council Resolution 1747, which the United States voted for, froze financial assets held outside Iran on the seven military commanders, including General Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr and six other admirals and generals.

I know of no law dictating the State Department must first designate individuals or groups as terrorists before sanctions can be imposed on them. Dozens of countries have been under U.S. unilateral sanctions that are not designated as terrorist. The U.S. first imposed sanctions on Iran in 1979 over the hostages, not terrorism. The only possible purpose of the Senate resolution asking the State Department to designate the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization is to set it up for military attack in George Bush’s war on terror.

As Virginia senator Jim Webb valiantly said in the Senate, the United States has never before designated the military services of a sovereign state a terrorist group. Indeed, though there is international dispute over the definition of terrorism, there is little disagreement on the legal point that terrorists are non-state actors who target civilians, i.e., never members of a government. Governments can be guilty of war crimes, but not terrorism. And the resolution talks about attacks on American troops, not civilians.

The hypocrisy of Hillary and the 75 other senators who called for more unilateral sanctions on Iran, was exposed Monday by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier who said, according to Spiegel Magazine, that American companies are violating existing U.S. sanctions by surreptitiously doing business with Iran through front companies in Dubai.

Joe Lieberman wrote the resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq that was passed with Democratic support on October 11, 2002. Lieberman’s new resolution setting up a Bush-Cheney invasion of Iran passed by 76 to 22 with Democratic backing on September 26, 2007. These are two dates that will live in infamy in the 21st century. Led by Senator Clinton, it was another sad day for the Senate and for Senate Democrats, who were elected to the majority in November in order to end a war, not start a new one.
I like Mike.

Syrian Imam Assassinated, Coverage Varies

Sheikh Mahmoud Abou al-Qa'qa, also known as Mahmud Gul Aghassi, a radical Syrian imam with thousands of followers, was assassinated in Aleppo, in northern Syria, after Friday prayers.

In this post, various reports of the assassination, detailed and otherwise, with a few comments and a touch of emphasis added.

Pakistan's Dawn, very sketchy:

Imam shot dead at Syrian mosque
DAMASCUS : The imam of a Syrian mosque who repeatedly called for holy war against US forces was shot dead after Friday prayers, witnesses and medical sources said.

A gunman stepped from a car and opened fire with an automatic weapon outside his mosque in the northern city of Aleppo, witnesses said.

The preacher was hit in the head and stomach and died later in hospital.
Al Bawaba identifies the victim:

Syria: Prominent cleric - who supported Iraqi resistance - assassinated
A Syrian cleric who recruited young Muslims to fight U.S.-led forces in Iraq was assassinated in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Friday, his aides said. Sheikh Mahmoud Abou al-Qa'qa was shot dead after he emerged from Friday prayers, they told Reuters.

"A man fired several bullets into the Sheikh's chest. A crowd chased him and he was eventually caught. He is now with the authorities under custody," said Ahmad Haidar, one of the aides to the young cleric. "Sheikh Qa'qa died in hospital. His killers do not want Muslims to unite."

Syrian sources said the killer was in his 20s.

Qa'qa had thousands of followers and operated from Aleppo. He had called for jihad to counter U.S. policies against Syria.

Qa'qa disappeared from Aleppo last year. He returned this year and became head of a religious school. He led prayers at a mosque in the northern part of the city.

"I challenge anyone to prove that I had ever called for unlawful resistance or indiscriminate violence against any country," Qa'qa once said. "Our hearts are filled with joy when we hear about any resistance operations in Iraq against the American invaders. We ask people to keep praying to God to help achieve victory for Iraq against the US," Qa'qa was quoted as saying late 2003 by The Christian Science Monitor.

He also called for an Islamic state based on sharia law in Syria.
ABC Radio of Australia, cautious:

Cleric shot dead in Syria
A Syrian cleric, Sheikh Mahmoud Abou al-Qaqa, has been shot dead in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo after Friday prayers.

It has been widely reported that he was suspected of recruiting foreign fighters to travel to Iraq.

The cleric was killed as he was leaving Friday prayers in a Mosque in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

An unidentified man fired several bullets into his chest.

After a chase the gunman was arrested by the Syrian authorities.

Sheikh Abou al-Qaqa was widely reported to have been involved in the recruitment and training of foreign fighters destined for Iraq.

The cleric always denied any involvement with the insurgency.
The Associated Press, via the International Herald Tribune:

Muslim cleric suspected in smuggling fighters to Iraq shot dead in northern Syria
DAMASCUS, Syria: A Sunni Muslim cleric who in the past has been suspected of recruiting militants to fight in Iraq was shot dead as he left a mosque after Friday prayers in the northern city of Aleppo, aides said.

Mohammed Gul Aghassi, 34, was instantly killed by a gunman who pumped five bullets into his body as he left the Imam Mosque where he regularly preaches after the noon prayers.

The aide, Ahmed Sadeq, told The Associated Press that he pursued the gunman and captured him, handing him over to authorities.

Sadeq accused "terrorists" of killing Aghassi for his "nationalist positions." He did not elaborate.

Sheik Samir Mohammed Ghazal Abu Khashbeh, another aide to the slain cleric, said the gunman fled in a waiting pickup truck and he was chased and arrested along with the driver.

He said two worshippers who happened to be nearby were shot and wounded, one in the leg and one in the pelvis.

Abu Khashbeh said the attacker told him he shot the cleric "because he (Aghassi) was an agent of the Americans."

"The one who carried out the assassination was a prisoner of the American forces in Iraq and has been released some time ago. He is known to us," Abou Khashbeh told AP.

Such attacks are uncommon in Syria, a country where security is generally tight. But Syrian security forces have occasionally clashed with Islamic militants.

Aghassi, also known as Abu Qa'qa', headed a theology school in Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city. Western media in 2005 cited interviews with Sunni insurgents saying that he was a prominent figure in recruiting Arab fighters and helping funnel them into Iraq to fight U.S. and Iraqi troops. Some of the insurgents in the reports raised suspicions he was also informing Syrian security about the movements.

Aghassi denied any links to networks taking insurgents into Iraq.

In June 2006, Syrian anti-terrorism police fought Islamic militants near the Defense Ministry on Friday in a gunbattle that killed five people and wounded four. CD-ROMs of Aghassi's speeches were found on the fighters but the cleric denied then he had any links to that group of extremists.

Syria has been accused by the United States of not doing enough to stem the flow of militants across its desert border with Iraq.
Gulf News (cherry-picking from the AP report):

Radical Syrian cleric shot dead
Aleppo: A Syrian cleric suspected of recruiting militants for Iraq has been shot dead in the northern city of Aleppo, his aides have said.

Shaikh Mahmoud Abu Al Qaqaa was shot to death several times as he left the Imam Mosque after Friday prayers.

The gunman, who tried to flee the scene of the shooting, has been arrested. One of his aides said that "terrorists" killed the cleric for his "nationalist positions".

Al Qaqaa was popular with radical Islamist followers in Syria because of his anti-American sermons.

In June 2006, authorities have found CDs of Al Qaqaa's sermons in which he called for US forces in the Middle East to be slaughtered "like cattle".
Middle East Online, seemingly not taking any chances:

Imam shot dead at Syrian mosque
DAMASCUS - The imam of a Syrian mosque who repeatedly called for holy war against US forces was shot dead after Friday prayers, witnesses and medical sources said.

Mahmud Gul Aghassi, also known as Abu Al-Qaaqaa, was killed by a gunman who stepped from a car and opened fire with an automatic weapon outside his mosque in the northern city of Aleppo, witnesses said.

The preacher was hit in the head and stomach and died some hours later in Aleppo's al Shaaba hospital, according to a medical source at the hospital. Three people with him were wounded in the attack.

Witnesses said one of his attackers was detained by the imam's followers.

Al-Qaaqaa was known for his anti-American views and recordings calling for holy war against US forces, and had set up a group which recruited young men to fight coalition forces in Iraq.

He had recently fallen foul of fellow jihadists, however, for allegedly colluding with the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and several extremist websites had called for his assassination.
Reuters via Khaleej Times:

Syrian cleric assassinated in Aleppo
DAMASCUS - A Syrian cleric who recruited insurgents to fight US-led forces in Iraq was assassinated in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Friday, his aides said.

Sheikh Mahmoud Abou Al QadaSheikh Mahmoud Abou Al Qaqa was shot dead after he emerged from Friday prayers, they told Reuters.

“A man fired several bullets into the Sheikh’s chest. A crowd chased him and he was eventually caught. He is now with the authorities under custody,” said Ahmad Haidar, one of the aides to the young cleric.

“Sheikh Qaqa died in hospital. His killers do not want Muslims to unite.”

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government.

Qaqa had thousands of followers and operated in the mysterious world of Islamist movements in Aleppo, a once liberal trading hub that has become more religious in recent years.

He had called for jihad, or holy war, to counter US policies against Syria. Experts say he had toned down his rhetoric lately and become less active.

Qaqa disappeared from Aleppo last year. He returned this year and became head of a religious school. He led prayers at a mosque in the northern part of the city.

“I challenge anyone to prove that I had ever called for unlawful resistance or indiscriminate violence against any country,” Qaqa once said.

Syrian writer Shaban Aboud said Qaqa was virtually unknown before the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that removed Saddam Hussein from power and ushered sectarian strife.

“The invasion and the shock it left among youth made him a star. Thousands began going to the mosque he led to listen to his fiery speeches. Qaqa emphasised he was not against the state,” Aboud wrote last year in the Lebanese An-Nahar daily.

“A handsome man skilful in speech and debate, Qaqa inspired Jihadists who made reaching Iraq and fighting the occupation forces their goal,” he said.

The Syrian government is accused by Washington and the pro-US government in Baghdad of helping foreign fighters behind sectarian killings and attacks on US soldiers.

Damascus denies helping rebels. Syria has been ruled by the Baath Party since 1963 and is a tightly controlled country.
BBC News provides some context:

Radical Syrian cleric 'shot dead'
A Syrian cleric suspected of recruiting foreign militants to fight in Iraq has been shot dead in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, his aides have said.

Sheikh Mahmoud Abu al-Qaqaa was shot several times by a gunman as he left the Imam Mosque after Friday prayers.

The gunman tried to flee the scene of the shooting, but was chased by a crowd and later arrested, the aides said.

Correspondents say Abu al-Qaqaa was a charismatic Sunni cleric with thousands of radical Islamist followers in Syria.

His anti-American sermons attracted a wide audience after the US-led invasion in Iraq in 2003, and his reputation rapidly spread.

The BBC's Kim Ghattas, who has interviewed the sheikh, notes that assassinations are highly unusual in Syria.

She says there are a number of stories concerning why he was killed, some of them contradictory, but adds that he does appear to have been instrumental in channelling jihadis into Iraq.

After the shooting, one aide to the cleric told the Associated Press that "terrorists" had killed the sheikh, whose real name was Mahmoud Qul Aghassi, for his "nationalist positions".

Another aide, Sheikh Samir Abu Khashbeh, said the gunman had told him that he had killed the cleric "because he was an agent of the Americans".

"The one who carried out the assassination was a prisoner of the American forces in Iraq and had been released some time ago," Abu Khashbeh said. "He is known to us."

In June 2006, a group of militants killed while attempting to carry out an attack in the capital, Damascus, were found to be carrying CDs of sermons by Abu al-Qaqaa in which he called for US forces in the Middle East to be slaughtered "like cattle".

Afterwards, the sheikh denied he had called on Syrians to go to war in Iraq.

Others have claimed that Abu al-Qaqaa was an agent of the Syrian government, who was used to appease rising anti-American discontent amongst the country's Muslims and to keep the authorities informed of the activities of his fellow jihadists.

Abu al-Qaqaa is said to have kept a low profile in the last year since he was appointed head of a religious school by the Syrian government and he did not openly criticise the authorities.

The Syrian government has yet to make an official statement about the incident.
The French news service, AFP:

Imam shot dead at Syrian mosque
DAMASCUS (AFP) — The imam of a Syrian mosque who repeatedly called for holy war against US forces was shot dead after Friday prayers, witnesses and medical sources said.

Mahmud Gul Aghassi, also known as Abu Al-Qaaqaa, was killed by a gunman who stepped from a car and opened fire with an automatic weapon outside his mosque in the northern city of Aleppo, witnesses said.

The preacher was hit in the head and stomach and died some hours later in Aleppo's al Shaaba hospital, according to a medical source at the hospital. Three people with him were wounded in the attack.

Witnesses said one of his attackers was detained by the imam's followers.

Al-Qaaqaa was known for his anti-American views and recordings calling for holy war against US forces, and had set up a group which recruited young men to fight coalition forces in Iraq.

He had recently fallen foul of fellow jihadists, however, for allegedly colluding with the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and several extremist websites had called for his assassination.
Lebanon's Naharnet, very similar:

Fatah al-Islam's God Father Assassinated in Syria
The Reputed Mentor of Fatah al-Islam and other notorious Islamist terrorists operating in Lebanon and Iraq was gunned down in Syria Friday.

Mahmoud Gul Aghasi, a Kurd who goes by the name of Abu al-Qaaqaa, was killed by a gunman who stepped out of a car and opened fire at him from an automatic weapon as he walked out of a mosque in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo after Friday noon prayers, according to an Agence France Presse report attributed to witnesses and medical sources.

Aghasi was hit in the head and stomach and passed away a few hours later in Aleppo's al Shaaba hospital, according to a medical source at the hospital. Three people with him were wounded in the attack.

Witnesses said one of his attackers was detained by Aghasi's followers.

Al-Qaaqaa was known for his anti-American views and recordings calling for holy war against U.S. forces, and had set up a group which recruited young men to fight coalition forces in Iraq.

He had recently fallen foul of fellow jihadists, however, for allegedly colluding with the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad, and several extremist websites had called for his assassination.

Al-Qaaqaa, according to reliable sources, was responsible for preaching the radical doctrine to Jihadi recruits at a camp in Syria before dispatching them to fight in Iraq, and most recently in Lebanon.

The sources said al-Qaaqaa was the God Father of Fatah al-Islam militants and their terrorist mastermind Shaker Abssi, who remains at large in north Lebanon after the army finished off his group in a 106-day battle in Nahr a-Bared on Set. 2.
And finally, a report from Iran's Press TV, which is very different:

US, Israeli hands in cleric's murder
Syria's Islamic institute, Qarba al-Sham, has accused the US and the Zionist Regime of assassinating their chief, Sheikh Abou al-Qaqa.

Mahmoud Qul Aghassi, known as Sheikh Abou al-Qaqa, a senior cleric, was shot dead by two assassins in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, after he emerged from the Friday prayers, which he had been leading.

"Aghassi didn't have any enemies. His only enemies were the United States and the Zionist Regime, against whom he called on his followers to assemble," Sheikh Samir Abu Khashbeh, one of the institute's authorities, said.

"The ones who carried out the assassination have been arrested by Syrian security forces, and preliminary research shows them to be connected with foreign states," Abu Khashbeh said. "They are known to us."

However, he did not release any information on the terrorists' identities.

A year ago, al-Arabia, a pro-west Saudi news channel, had accused Aghassi of supporting al-Qaeda and recruiting Syrian youths to travel to Iraq and fight US-led forces.

While pressing charges on al-Arabia for its false claims, the sheikh denied all accusations and stressed that he was against al-Qaeda actions.
Don't ask me.

I just report.

You decide.

Tom Toles: An Incredibly Low Teaser Rate

Friday, September 28, 2007

Unmanned Plane Crashes In Pakistan

Pakistan's Dawn reports:

Drone crashes in Waziristan
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan, Sept 28 (AP) - An unmanned spy plane crashed in Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan.

The drone crashed 25 kilometers west of Miran Shah, the region's main town, said a security official on condition of anonymity.

He said the plane crashed in a remote area and caused no damage.

The official said authorities were trying to establish whether it was a U.S. aircraft that had flown in from Afghanistan, where NATO and government forces are battling resurgent Taliban and al-Qaida militants.

Pakistan Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Musharraf

Pakistan's Supreme Court has ruled by a 6-3 margin that President General Pervez Musharraf may contest next month's the presidential election without first relinquishing his role as army chief of staff.

The President General had promised to comply with the restriction by resigning his army post if he wins the presidential election (but not otherwise).

According to many and varied opposition figures, the current state of affairs confers an enormous advantage on the President General, who may now run as incumbent President as well as Army chief of staff, while giving him a fall-back position of considerable power (if he somehow lost the election he would remain in control of the Army.)

As I have pointed out in a previous post, Musharraf's American advisers like elections, but they don't insist that the elections be free and fair, so the chance of the President General losing this very stacked election appears as slim at this point as the chance that he will actually be forced to resign his Army commission after he wins the election.

This is what one would call a triumph of justice and a victory for the electoral process, or just another giant leap forward in Pakistan's impregnable fortress of democracy.

SC dismisses petitions against Musharraf's two offices
ISLAMABAD, Sept 28 (APP):- The Supreme Court Friday dismissed a set of constitutional petitions against the holding of two offices by President General Pervez Musharraf, clearing the way for him to contest the forthcoming presidential election in uniform.

A nine-member bench ruled by majority of six to three that the petitions were not maintainable under Article 184 (3) of the Constitution, which relates to matters of public importance.

The head of the bench Justice Rana Bhagwandas and two other judges, Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza Khan and Justice Mian Shakirullah Jan, dissented with the majority and held the petitions maintainable.

Six other members of the bench -- Justice Javed Iqbal, Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, Justice Muhammad Nawaz Abbasi, Justice Faqir Muhammad Khokhar, Justice Falak Sher and Justice M. Javed Buttar -- held the petitions to be “not maintainable” under Article 184 (3) of the Constitution.

The petitions were filed by Jamaat-i-Islami, its Ameer Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Imran Khan and Pakistan Lawyers Forum.

“For reasons to be recorded later, as per majority view of 6:3, these petitions are held to be not maintainable within contemplation of Article 184 (3) of the Constitution,” the order said.

The nine-member bench was constituted by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

The bench heard the case for two weeks during which counsels from both sides presented their arguments and the President's counsel Sharifuddin Pirzada submitted a short statement in which the President pledged that if re-elected he would doff the uniform before taking oath for new term.

The constitutional petition of Dr Anwarul Haq was disallowed to the extent of seeking permission to contest the election to the office of President.
The decision is a triumph for justice, according to its chief beneficiary.

For reasons to be recorded later. Yeah, sure! That's good enough for me!!

Musharraf says 'justice triumphs' after court victory
ISLAMABAD, Sept 28 (AFP) - Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Friday hailed a Supreme Court ruling that enables Musharraf stand for re-election next week while remaining army chief.

“Justice triumphs. The president respects and honours the judgment of the supreme court, as always,” Musharraf's spokesman, Major General Rashid Qureshi, said.

“Today Pakistan has crossed an important, indeed critical milestone in its march towards true democracy,” premier Aziz said in a statement.
The Supreme Court is none too pleased about the deportation of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

SC issues notices to Federation over Nawaz Sharif deportation
ISLAMABAD, Sep 28 (APP): The Supreme Court Friday issued notices to 13 respondents of the federation including prime minister Shaukat Aziz over a petition against the recent deportation of Nawaz Sharif to Jeddah.

The four-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry heard Fakharuddin G Ibrahim, counsel for Nawaz Sharif, who sought initiation of contempt of court proceedings against the Federation.

Nawaz Sharif's September 10 deportation was a “gross, audacious and atrocious act of contempt of the court,” he said and prayed that respondents should be directed to secure the safe return of Nawaz Sharif and produce him in the court.

He said the matter was of utmost importance as elections were around the corner.

The bench directed Chairman PIA Zafar Akram and Director General Civil Aviation Authority Rehmatullah to file complete report about the activities which took place at Islamabad airport on Sept 10, including arrival of Nawaz Sharif's from London, the airplane which deported him to Jeddah, and the authority which gave orders in this connection.

It also directed Director General FIA Tariq Pervez to submit report whether an exit stamp on Nawaz Sharif's passport existed or not when he left the country.

Notices were also issued to Secretary Interior, Chief Secretary Punjab, Chief Minister Punjab, Interior Minister, IG Punjab, Chairman NAB, DG NAB, DIG Police Rawalpindi, and DG Pak Rangers. The hearing was adjourned for October 17.
Indeed the matter is indeed of utmost importance. And that's probably why the hearing is adjourned until after the election.

But where's the leader of the opposition?

US Ambassador calls on Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman
ISLAMABAD, Sept 28 (APP): The leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman Friday held talks with US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson in his chamber in the Parliament House and said that Pakistan wanted peace in Afghanistan in the interest of Pakistan.

He was of the view that US should concentrate on economic and social sector development in Afghanistan and the Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

Engagement of people in the process of talks and developmental activities was a must, he said and underlined the need for early evacuation of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

The US Ambassador said that US wanted peace in Afghanistan and to leave the country as soon as peace was established there.

“We want to develop Afghanistan and continue economic development activities only”, she said.

She said that US has very positive image about Islam and any evil talk about Islam hurts us very much.
It's hard to imagine how much worse all this would be if not for the US and its very positive image of Islam.

Iraqi Government Rejects Senate Plan To Carve Up Iraq

Just in case anyone was wondering what "the sovereign Iraqi government" was thinking...

Baghdad rejects US Senate [plan] to carve up Iraq
BAGHDAD, Sept 28 (AFP) - The Iraqi government on Friday firmly rejected a Bosnia-style plan approved by the US Senate to divide Iraq on ethnic and religious lines, saying Iraqis will themselves decide their future.

“The government and its prime minister (Nuri al-Maliki) reject this vote,” said government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.

“It is the Iraqis who decide these sorts of issues, no one else,” Dabbagh said on state-run Al-Iraqiya television. “The Iraqi parliament too should express its total rejection of this plan.”

The plan, touted by backers as the sole hope of forging a federal state out of sectarian strife, was approved by the US Senate on Wednesday in a vote of 75 to 23.

It proposes to separate Iraq into Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni entities, with a federal government in Baghdad in charge of border security and oil revenues.

Why The Truth Doesn't Matter To The Frog Movement

Several years ago, Tom, Dick and Harry started getting together once a week to discuss the one thing they had in common: their love of frogs. This was before The Frog Movement, and they were lucky to find one another.

In those days, Tom, Dick and Harry were considered a bit strange because of the way they felt about frogs -- and because they talked about frogs all the time. But that didn't stop them from holding meetings or from inviting other frog lovers.

Strangely enough, the same sort of thing was happening elsewhere. Other frog-lovers in other cities started having meetings, forming small groups that grew ever larger. Eventually the groups began to link up, and Tom, Dick and Harry found themselves at the center of a vibrant and growing Frog Movement.

As the Frog Movement coalesced around them, its leaders -- Tom, Dick, Harry, and a few others -- had to serve two masters. They tried to focus on frogs, but they also became increasingly mindful of the Frog Movement itself. They didn't see this as a problem; in fact they hardly saw it at all. As they often reminded themselves, what was good for The Frog Movement was good for the frogs, and vice versa.

This was a new way of thinking for the leaders of The Frog Movement. If one of them had suggested in the early years that what was good for Tom, Dick or Harry was good for frogs and vice versa, the other two would have fallen over laughing. But as The Frog Movement continued to grow, their thinking continued to change, and eventually their concern for the movement came to surpass their concern for the frogs. This they barely noticed. After all, what was the difference? What was good for the Frog Movement was still good for the frogs, and vice versa.

One day a fellow from the marketing department came up with a powerful idea: He suggested that they start hinting that members of the Frog Movement enjoyed more satisfying love lives than non-members. As he said at the time, "Nobody can resist a little sex. If you want to grow the Frog Movement, you have to make it sexy."

Dick and Harry and some of the others nodded in agreement. Only Tom spoke up: "But it's not true, is it?"

The marketing fellow smiled his well-honed smile and said, "I'm glad you asked, sir. No, it's not true. But nobody can disprove it, so there's no legal danger for us."

Tom was unconvinced. He said "Does it matter that nobody can disprove it, when we already know it's false?"

Dick and Harry the others agreed that as long as they were in no legal danger, the truth or falsity of their new marketing campaign was of little consequence. And, as they reminded Tom, if people believed supporting the Frog Movement was going to enhance their love lives, that would be good for the Frog Movement. And what was good for the Frog Movement was good for the frogs.

In a private meeting, Dick and Harry and a few of the others also agreed that Tom had been divisive and the incident had been embarrassing. And they determined not to let anything like that happen again, for they knew internal squabbling was bad for The Frog Movement and therefore bad for the frogs.

Some time later Tom spoke up at a meeting again. "I've been doing some research," he said, "and it appears some frogs may be poisonous."

The others were unanimous: "Don't say that!"

But Tom wouldn't let the matter drop. "I don't see the problem. This is another fascinating detail about frogs. And if we share this information, it could save lives!"

The others disagreed: "What's good for the Frog Movement is good for the frogs, and that's why we're trying to grow the Frog Movement. We won't grow the movement by scaring people with stories about frogs being poisonous -- and anyway, most frogs are harmless."

It wasn't long before they stopped inviting Tom to the meetings.


The preceding tale may be fictional, but I claim it's plausible. (You may disagree with me if you like.)

What do you think about Dick and Harry?

Did they do a good thing?

Have they exposed their movement to charges of fraud -- or worse -- by pushing a line that they know is false?

Have they weakened their movement by forcing Tom out?

I don't know. I'm pretty sure these questions are debatable.

Are they selling their integrity for a cheap lie? Yes, definitely.

Is it possible to tell a lie that benefits the Frog Movement? I think it probably is.

Does that mean one should do it? Now we're back in the realm of debate, I think.


But what if it we were talking about a different movement? What if the same sort of thing happened in the Dog Movement, or the Hog Movement, or the Log Movement? Would we feel more or less the same way about it? I think we would.

And what if the same sort of thing happened in the Fog Movement? In that case I believe we'd chuckle at the irony, or at least some of us would. It would be quite fitting if members of The Fog Movement told lies in support of their Movement, since fog, like propaganda, isolates and confuses people, and restricts their vision. Lying for The Fog Movement? That's perfect! After all, what's good for the Fog Movement is good for the Fog, and vice versa.

But what if the same sort of thing happened in the Truth Movement? What if people started thinking "It doesn't matter if we're lying, because we're doing it for the Truth Movement, and what's good for the Movement is good for the Truth"?


I submit for your consideration the thesis that such things are bound to happen in any movement, even without professional agitation. It doesn't even matter what that movement is about, because once it becomes a Movement, it's no longer about The Cause. It's all about The Movement. And even if it's a Truth Movement, its leaders will eventually come to care more about the Movement than about the Truth.

For instance, if a newcomer tells a fishy story, people might be reluctant to ask too many questions, fearing that she may be lying and that by exposing her lie, they may bring discredit upon The Movement.

In general, in my view, people may quite naturally develop plausible-sounding reasons for acting in direct opposition to Truth, even in the Truth movement. So when they act in this seemingly irrational way, this is not necessarily a sign of COINTELPRO infiltration; it may be simply a matter of Movement Dynamics, a case of people erroneously doing what they think is best for The Movement, at the expense of The Cause.

Examples are everywhere, all in the eye of the beholder.

How we use this knowledge is up to us.

Supreme Court Expected To Rule Today On Musharraf's Candidacy

In the New York Times, Carlotta Gall and Salman Masood write:
[Pakistan's] Supreme Court is expected to rule [today] on two petitions challenging General Musharraf’s eligibility on the grounds that is it unconstitutional for him to serve as both president and chief of the army staff.
This could get very interesting. Very dangerous, too.
Two senior lawyers close to the case said they were prepared for the court to return a verdict in General Musharraf’s favor. But even if it did, lawyers and political parties said they were gearing up to make further legal challenges over the next week in a last-ditch effort to derail the election. An opposition alliance, the All Parties Democratic Movement, upped the ante on Thursday by announcing that its members would resign en masse from the national and provincial assemblies that will hold the presidential election.

The move, which the opposition hoped would undercut the credibility of the vote, would take place on Tuesday, just four days before the election. It could force the provincial assembly and government in the North-West Frontier Province to dissolve, leaving the electoral college incomplete.
The government denies everything, of course. No possibility of anything interesting happening or about to happen, so move along.
General Musharraf’s supporters in the governing coalition say he has enough seats in the various assemblies to secure his victory.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, flanked by other ministers, delivered the papers nominating General Musharraf, 64, on behalf of the president to the election commission.

“We fully believe that President General Pervez Musharraf, who is candidate of the P.M.L. and allied parties, will succeed,” Mr. Aziz said, referring to the Pakistan Muslim League, the state news agency reported.
Oh yes, we fully believe that he will succeed, even though the very act of filing those papers may have been illegal. Oh yes. Doo dee doo...
General Musharraf faces two opponents: a former Supreme Court judge, Wajihuddin Ahmed, 68, who is backed by the lawyers campaigning against military rule; and Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the vice chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, which is led by the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Mr. Ahmed’s candidacy is aimed at raising constitutional objections, and he may withdraw before the vote, lawyers said.

He was one of six Supreme Court judges who resigned in January 2000 rather than take an oath of allegiance to General Musharraf, who had seized power in a coup just three months before.

“It was contrary to the constitutional oath,” Mr. Ahmed said in a recent interview from his home in Karachi before traveling to the capital, Islamabad. “In my view it was defiling the Constitution.”
But they spin 'em as well in Pakistan as they do here. Thus:
Syed Mohammed Zafar, a member of the governing party who is advising the court, said in an interview that General Musharraf had made an important concession by promising to resign his military post if he wins the election.

Mr. Zafar, who is also an adviser to General Musharraf, has been calling for the president to resign his military post since 2004. This time, he said, he believed that the general would do so and that the Supreme Court should let the election go ahead, because having a military leader voluntarily step down would set an important precedent.

“Pakistan has very recently emerged from a period of constitutional deviation, and the best option is to allow the transition to proceed smoothly,” he told the court on Wednesday.
In other words, Musharraf will resign from his Army post if and only if he is re-elected. So you'd better go along with his re-election, otherwise he will retain control of the Army. And we all want a full return to civilian government, don't we? So let's all vote for the General in support of his transition to civilian government.

That's some spin!

There's more and you can get it from the New York Times or from my frozen storage unit.

Another Fraud At The Top: Leader Of 9/11 Survivors' Group Cannot Validate Anything

The following excerpts from David W. Dunlap and Serge F. Kovaleski in the New York Times (and mirrored here) describe Tania Head, purported 9/11 survivor and widow, whose story of miraculous escape and tragic loss is apparently completely bogus.

In a 9/11 Survival Tale, the Pieces Just Don’t Fit
Tania Head’s story, as shared over the years with reporters, students, friends and hundreds of visitors to ground zero, was a remarkable account of both life and death.

She had, she said, survived the terror attack on the World Trade Center despite having been badly burned when the plane crashed into the upper floors of the south tower.

Crawling through the chaos and carnage on the 78th floor that morning, she said, she encountered a dying man who handed her his inscribed wedding ring, which she later returned to his widow.

Her own life was saved, she said, by a selfless volunteer who stanched the flames on her burning clothes before she was helped down the stairs. It was a journey she said she had the strength to make because she kept thinking of a beautiful white dress she was to wear at her coming marriage ceremony to a man named Dave.

But later she would discover, she said, that Dave, her fiancé, and in some versions her husband, had perished in the north tower.

Much of Ms. Head’s account was posted on the Web site of the World Trade Center Survivors’ Network, a nonprofit organization for which she served as president and as point person for corporate donations.

But no part of her story, it turns out, has been verified.
What does this mean, "no part of her story has been verified"? Apparently it carries a double meaning: Her story may be entirely false, and until now, nobody has ever checked it. Not even a little bit.

It would have been easy enough to blow it out of the water.
The family and friends of the man to whom she claimed to be engaged say they have never heard of Tania Head and view the relationship she describes with the man, who truly died in the north tower, as an impossibility.

A spokeswoman for Merrill Lynch & Company, where she told people she worked at the time of the terror attack, said the company had no record of employing a Tania Head.

And few people, it seems, who embraced the gripping immediacy and pain of her account ever asked the name of the man whose ring she had returned, or that of the hospital where she was treated, or the identities of the people she met with in the south tower on the morning of 9/11.

“She never shared those details, and it was nothing we wanted to probe,” said Alison Crowther, the mother of Welles Remy Crowther, a man who died on 9/11 and who is credited with rescuing a number of people from the south tower, including, by Ms. Head’s account, Ms. Head. “I felt it was too private and painful for her.”

In recent weeks, The New York Times sought to interview Ms. Head about her experiences on 9/11 because she had, in other settings, presented a poignant account of survival and loss. But she canceled three scheduled interviews, citing her privacy and emotional turmoil, and declined to provide details to corroborate her story. During a telephone conversation on Tuesday, she would not explain her reticence, saying only that she had not filed any claims with the federal Victim Compensation Fund. “I have done nothing illegal,” Ms. Head said.
I wouldn't be surprised if Tania Head's story is an utter fraud.
No one has suggested that Ms. Head did anything to profit financially from her position as an officer with the Survivors’ Network, the nonprofit group for which she helped to raise money. But the organizations with which she has been affiliated have also questioned her account after learning of the inquiries from The Times.

For several weeks, colleagues who said they respected the good work she had done as a fixture in the survivor community have pressed her to come forward with clarifying details. But they said that they had been unable to persuade her or, in other cases, that she made representations that contradicted previous versions she had given.
It's an amazing story, even if (or perhaps because) none of it is true. You can read the rest here (or here).

Why would anybody do such a thing? [Warning: Conspiracy Theory Ahead]

Is she a COINTELPRO mole, sent to scramble the brains and destroy the credibility of the 9/11 survivors? Or is she just totally nuts?

We've seen both kinds of crazy actors many times already, but it's never easy to tell what makes them so crazy.

This tale reminds me of Jonathan Kenney, the imaginary war hero we discussed two and a half years ago. Clearly that story was the product of a very sick mind, but was the sick mind working alone to fabricate the story? We may never know.

The same questions appear in this case, as do the same answers, at least in my opinion.

As usual, I could be wrong.

Tom Toles: We Know Where This Is Going

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Musharraf Prepares To Retain Power In Pakistan's Impregnable Fortress Of Democracy

When the State Department sent Richard Boucher to Pakistan last month to dictate the terms under which President General Pervez Musharraf would retain power, he made it clear that the President General must be re-elected, but neglected to mention that the elections should be free and fair. So that's they way they're doing it.

To sidestep a constitutional requirement that the candidates for the presidency must be civilians, President General Musharraf has decided to step down as army chief of staff after his reelection. None of the opposition politicians are happy about this, but they do not control the army or the police. Speaking of which ...

A former Prime Minister who returned to the country to participate in the electoral process was promptly arrested and deported. Hundreds of opposition leaders have been imprisoned. The roads leading to the capital have been closed, military police have barricaded the area around the palace in order to prevent any disruptions by the nation's lawyers, and the process of re-electing the General has begun.

Thus the democratic process is alive and well in Pakistan, where they're building an impregnable fortress of democracy, with a little help from their friends.

Myanmar: Protest Crackdown Leaves At Least Nine Dead

Troops cleared protesters from the streets of central Yangon on Thursday, giving them 10 minutes to leave or be shot as the Myanmar junta intensified a two-day crackdown on the largest uprising in 20 years.

At least nine people were killed, state television said, on a day when far fewer protesters took to the streets after soldiers raided monasteries in the middle of the night and rounded up hundreds of the monks who had been leading them.

One of dead was a Japanese photographer, shot when soldiers cleared the area near Sule Pagoda -- a city-centre focus of the protests -- as loudspeakers blared out warnings, ominous reminders of the ruthless crushing of a 1988 uprising.
Aung Hla Tun of Reuters reports:
The army, which killed an estimated 3,000 people in 1988, moved in after 1,000 chanting protesters hurled stones and water bottles at troops, prompting a police charge in which shots were fired and the Japanese went down.

Soldiers shot dead three more people in a subsequent protest outside the city's heart as crowds regrouped and taunted troops. Their bodies were tossed in a ditch as troops chased fleeing people, beating anybody they could catch, witnesses said.

Another Buddhist monk -- adding to the five reported killed on Wednesday when security forces tried to disperse huge crowds protesting against 45 years of military rule -- was killed during the midnight raids on monasteries, witnesses said.

Monks were kicked and beaten as soldiers rounded them up and shoved them onto trucks. Some of the monasteries were emptied of all but the very old and sick, people living nearby said.
And ...
"Doors of the monasteries were broken, things were ransacked and taken away," a witness said. "It's like a living hell seeing the monasteries raided and the monks treated cruelly."

After darkness fell and curfew hour loomed, sporadic bursts of automatic rifle fire echoed over the city of five million people.
Nice. Reuters has much more.

TIMELINE: 45 years of resistance and repression in Myanmar

U.S. demands immediate halt to Myanmar crackdown

Myanmar's people take desperate measures to survive
People in Myanmar were already living on the edge before the government doubled fuel prices, raising the cost of just about everything and shoving many over the precipice.

In a country where more than a quarter of the 56 million people live on less than a dollar a day, the sudden announcement of fuel price hikes on August 15 became the tipping point of a crisis that had been building for a long time.

For retired headmaster U Sein, 82, and his wife Daw Nu, 80, the plunge in their quality of life has been nightmarish.

"My monthly pension now buys only two cups of tea although it used to be enough for the monthly subsistence diet for my wife and me when I first retired over 20 years ago," U Sein told Reuters in May, months before fuel prices went up.

The cost of living had soared since the failed uprising of 1988, residents say, but has really rocketed the past year.
Myanmar information window closing, says dissident

A "window of information" is closing in Myanmar as the military junta battles networks of disaffected citizens by restricting mobile phones and Internet access, a leading dissident journalist said on Thursday.

The biggest anti-junta protests in two decades in one of the world's most closed states has been broadcast around the world thanks to exiled journalists in countries such as Thailand and India and their clandestine contacts on the inside.

So far, citizen reporters have managed to send information and photos across the Internet, even using the social networking site Facebook or hiding news within e-greetings cards to outwit the military government.

Pictures of marches of monks and civilians and the response by security forces is on TV screens around the world in hours.

It could soon change.

"The window of information is closing," said Soe Myint, Editor-In-Chief of the Internet-based Mizzima News Agency and a former hijacker of a Thai International Airways plane in 1990.

"It's getting more and more difficult," Myint added in an interview with Reuters. "Many blogging sites are now blocked and opposition activists have had their mobile phones cut."

Tom Toles: About That Alarm We Heard

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Art In Islamabad Gallery Runs Counter To Stereotypes

For a reporter who has spent most of her adult life covering the wars and the aftermath of the wars in south-central Asia, doing a story on an art gallery must have felt like a vacation -- or at least a breath of fresh air.

Carlotta Gall is one of the very few mainstream reporters whose work I take at face value. Her columns are always very well-crafted, she reports about things she has actually seen and people she has actually talked to, and she always manages to include some historical context. All this and more, actually: if you read her over an extended period, you can see that there's never any consistent "spin" -- in one column she may appear to support President General Pervez Musharraf, for example, but in a subsequent piece she may line up with his most strident detractors.

I'm not calling Carlotta Gall a "flip-flopper"; far from it. I'm saying she calls 'em as she sees 'em. She has made a career of praising people when she thinks they've done something good, and criticizing them when she thinks they've done something bad. It amazes me that anyone so honest can still draw a salary from the New York Times; but then again she's willing to work in south-central Asia. They certainly don't have anybody like her in the corridors of power.

Back to the point: Carlotta Gall's newest piece is a portrait of the National Art Gallery in Islamabad, Pakistan, which opened last month after more than 30 years of on-again, off-again. Most of the article details the story of the gallery's construction -- a project whose fate has always depended on the whim of the national government, in a country of severe political shifts. It's a fascinating tale, and Musharraf looks good in this light. (So there's probably something quite scathing about Musharraf in Carlotta Gall's pipeline! -- just kidding, but not really!!)

Back to the point, again: Tucked away near the end of the piece is a wonderful description of what the gallery actually contains:
The gallery runs counter to many of the stereotypes of Pakistan’s image today. There is a startling amount of humor and overt sexuality in the exhibits. A pair of suitcases filled with special shower heads for Islamic ablutions, and monumental razors and clippers, poke fun at the needs of the Muslim traveler. Metal sculptures of the female form recall something of the medieval chastity belt. Suspended wooden speakers invite visitors to enter a maze like a pinball machine and batter their heads with the sound of hundreds of madrasa pupils chanting the Koran.
It's our unifying factor, our common human bond. Where would we be without jokes about sex, ablutions, and religion? I can see the advertising slogan now:
"When in Islamabad, get your sex and religion jokes at the National Art Gallery."
OK, maybe not ... but it's still funny, isn't it?

You can read the entire piece at the NYT website: "An Outpost of the Arts, Secured by a Military Dictator". Or if that doesn't work, look here.