Political MoJo

Danger of Mass Suicides Among Detainees in Britain

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 5:13 PM PDT

There is a real danger of "mass suicides" among more than 20 foreign terror suspects held in maximum security prisons in Britain awaiting deportation. An Council of Europe investigation found that the mental and physical health of the suspects had deteriorated sharply since their arrest last August. (Guardian)

"The delegation shared its concerns with the UK authorities that serious mental disorders, coupled with the situation in which the detainees found themselves, increased the likelihood of a major crisis, including the possibility of multiple suicide. The delegation's findings suggested that such a scenario was real and should be addressed accordingly."

As we're now used to hearing, the decline in detainees' health was put down to the indefinite length of their detention, the lack of charges leveled, and the prospect of being deported to home countries, like Algeria, where they might be tortured.

Given the other news from Britain today, any bets on whether this report will lead to improved conditions for these detainees (whose guilt or innocence have not been established)?

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iPod Listeners to Be Profiled?

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 4:15 PM PDT

ipod.jpgAs noted below, the first plot to blow up airliners with liquid explosives was foiled in 1994. That particular scheme used a cheap Casio watch as a timer, a detail that might have remained a footnote if not for the, um, thoroughness of American counterterror officials. Fast forward 10 years, and now more than a dozen Guantanamo detainees have been held in part because they were caught wearing what the government has called "the infamous Casio watch." We recently printed some excerpts from their military tribunal hearings, in which the incredulous detainees tried to understand the logic of wristwatch profiling:

Detainee 651, Usama Hassan Ahmend Abu Babir: I have a Casio watch due to the fact that they are inexpensive and they last a long time. I like my watch because it is durable. It had a calculator and was waterproof, and before prayers we have to wash up all the way to my elbows.

Detainee 298, Salih Uyar: If it is a crime to carry this watch, your own military personnel also carry this watch. Does this mean they're just terrorists as well?

Detainee 228, Abdullah Kamel Abudallah Kamel: When they told me that Casios were used by Al Qaeda and the watch was for explosives, I was shocked…. If I had known that, I would have thrown it away. I'm not stupid. We have four chaplains [at Guantanamo]; all of them wear this watch.

Detainee 154, Mazin Salih Musaid al Awfi: Millions and millions of people have these types of Casio watches. If that is a crime, why doesn't the United States arrest and sentence all the shops and people who own them? This is not a logical or reasonable piece of evidence.

Today's plot reportedly involved MP3 players as timers. Air passengers in Britain have already been told not to bring their iPods on board. Earbud wearers, you've been warned.

Liquid Explosives: Easy to Find, Make, Hide

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 2:37 PM PDT

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The BBC has a good Q&A on liquid explosives. Here's a key snippet:

How are they made?

There are such things as liquid explosives that are high explosives and they behave in exactly the same way as solid explosives, such as TNT.


But there are also explosives that are made by mixing a solid and a liquid - one being the oxidant and the other being the fuel. Unlike most high explosives, they do not contain the fuel and oxidant in the same molecule but they do contain them in sufficiently close contact to cause a blast.

Are the components difficult to get hold of?

No, it is very easy. Ordinary household substances could be used.

Specialist knowledge or equipment needed to make?

If someone wanted to obtain a solid high explosive in a liquid form, it would not be difficult for a trained chemical technologist.

But if someone was using a backyard laboratory it is more likely they would go for the two component approach.

Not a lot of experience is needed, the principles are quite simple but it would be a hazardous process of trial and error.

I would not want to be messing about these things. It has been known for schoolboys to go home and attempt this and blow their house up.

Could an explosive device be carried on to an aeroplane?

The size of a device necessary could be carried in hand baggage. Explosives in a toilet bag, certainly inside a shoulder bag would be enough to meet the terrorists' needs.

They could be quite hard to detect because I do not think any of the things we have mentioned would respond to x-rays. For example, a liquid hydrocarbon fuel could pass as mineral water.

The question is how do you get something packed into a bag so it does not look suspicious?

More here.

Neocon Hubris and Chaos in the Middle East

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 2:00 PM PDT

Mark Levine, last seen deftly unmanning David Horowitz on Hannity & Colmes, has a counterintuitive take over at Tomdispatch on the troubles convulsing a certain part of the world. Call it the Chaos Theory of the Middle East. He argues that political and military leaders are especially prone to the illusion that they control events. "[A]nd perhaps the most hubristic version of this illusion is the belief that they can use chaos itself to further their control, to strengthen their situation. Our world today reminds us constantly that you ride that tiger at your peril." Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon -- we don't lack for reminders.

[W]hen I was in Iraq only a year into the American occupation, among the first things most Iraqis I met, particularly Sunni and Shiite leaders, would bring up were their fears of onrushing factional/sectarian violence and possible civil war and their desire to avoid it at all costs (unless it involved the Kurds, held in disdain because of their close relations with the U.S.). Then they would almost invariably state their belief that the Bush administration was encouraging sectarian differences and tensions in pursuance of a classic imperial strategy of divide and rule -- or at least, divide and make sure no one asks you to leave.

[...]

The problem is, in the world of occupational politics, one rarely gets to eat one's cake and have it too. At some point, the ripples from the chaos you generate, whether purposely or by accident, converge into the kind of perfect wave of horror that you just may not be capable of riding out. Ask Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the top brass of the Israeli Defense Forces about that. Thanks to Matthew Kalman of the San Francisco Chronicle, we now know that the current Israeli air campaign against, and invasion of, Lebanon had been planned out perhaps two years ago; that, more than a year ago, "a senior Israeli army officer" was giving "off-the-record" PowerPoint presentations about just such a "three-week campaign" to influential figures in Washington; and that Hezbollah's July 12 capture of Israeli soldiers was the pretext that the government had been waiting for to launch its campaign.

More at Tomdispatch.

Milk? Prove It. Liquids on Planes

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 1:19 PM PDT

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Wow, we really do live in a new world.

Liquids for children are allowed on board, as are liquid prescription medicines with the traveler's name on the bottle and non-prescription medicines like insulin. Parents were being asked to take a sip of the juice or milk to prove it is what they say it is. (NYT)

Neocon Max Boot: Current Bush Strategy in Iraq Isn't Working

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 11:39 AM PDT

Whoa! Not quite on the level of Francis Fukuyama's showy disavowal of neoconsersavative groupthink, but not far off: Max Boot (a neoconservative who has long pushed for more US troops in Iraq and who recently argued that we should "let Israel take off the gloves" -- what gloves?) has this to say in the Los Angeles Times:

But there's another course short of withdrawal: reducing U.S. forces from today's level of 130,000 to under 50,000 and changing their focus from conducting combat operations to assisting Iraqi forces. The money saved from downsizing the U.S. presence could be used to better train and equip more Iraqi units. A smaller U.S. commitment also would be more sustainable over the long term. This is the option favored within the U.S. Special Forces community, in which the dominant view is that most American soldiers in Iraq, with their scant knowledge of the local language and customs, are more of a hindrance than a help to the counterinsurgency effort.

Make no mistake: This is a high-risk strategy. The drawdown of U.S. troops could catalyze the Iraqis into getting their own house in order, or it could lead to a more rapid and violent disintegration of the rickety structure that now exists.

Which path should we take? My preference remains deploying more soldiers, not fewer. A couple of divisions in Baghdad, if skillfully led, might be able to replicate the success that Col. H.R. McMaster's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment had in pacifying the western city of Tall Afar, where the troops-to-civilians ratio was 10 times higher than in Baghdad today. But at this point, I am also open to a substantial reduction in troop numbers because the current strategy just isn't working.

Next up...?

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Astroturf Telecom Groups Exposed

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 11:32 AM PDT

New from the media reform team at Common Cause:

Back in March, Common Cause released its first "Wolves in Sheep's Clothing" report, detailing the activities of nine groups masquerading as think tanks and public interest organizations, but controlled by telephone and cable companies. Since then, we've gotten the dirt on five more.

For example, Hands off the Internet sounds like activists wanting to protect the Internet. Actually, it's a telecommunications industry-backed organization that was spending $20,000 a day on television commercials aimed at eliminating long-standing net neutrality protections so that telephone and cable companies can maximize profit and minimize competition on the Internet.

These groups have managed to convince some members of Congress (with, just possibly, a nudge and a wink) that they enjoy public support. The Common Cause website allows people to go on the record and tell their Senators they oppose the telecom reform bill, which is, to quote CC, is "riddled with giveaways to the phone and cable companies."

See the new report here.

New Orleans Post-Katrina Recovery Lagging

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 10:38 AM PDT

Brookings has as a one-year anniversary special report on New Orleans' post-Katrina recovery. Bright spots include: the housing market is on the upswing, tourism and business travel are picking up, but that's pretty much it for the plus side of the ledger.

Basic findings:

  • Housing rehabilitation, and demolition, are well underway while the housing market tightens, raising rent and home prices. Across the most hard-hit parishes in the New Orleans area, the pace of demolitions has accelerated in the last six months while the number of permits issued for rehab has nearly doubled in the city. Yet, housing is less affordable as rent prices in the region have increased by 39 percent over the year and home sale prices have spiked in suburban parishes.

  • Across the city, public services and infrastructure remain thin and slow to rebound. Approximately half of all bus and streetcar routes are back up and running, while only 17 percent of buses are in use, a level of service that has not changed since January. Gas and electricity service is reaching only 41 and 60 percent of the pre-Katrina customer base, respectively.

  • The labor force in the New Orleans region is 30 percent smaller today than one year ago and has grown slowly over the last six months; meanwhile, the unemployment rate remains higher than pre-Katrina. The New Orleans metro area lost 190,000 workers over the past year, with the health and education services industries suffering the largest percentage declines. In the past six months, the region has seen 3.4 percent more jobs but much of that may reflect the rise in new job seekers. The unemployment rate is now 7.2 percent, higher than last August.

  • Since last August, over $100 billion in federal aid has been dedicated to serving families and communities impacted by hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. In the meantime, the number of displaced and unemployed workers remains high. To date, the federal government has approved approximately $107 billion in federal aid to the Gulf Coast states most impacted by the storms. Of these funds, nearly half has been dedicated to emergency and longer-term housing. In the meantime, an estimated 278,000 workers are still displaced by the storm, 23 percent of whom remain unemployed.
  • Full report (PDF) here.

    UK-US Bomb Plot/Red Alert: Test Run in 1994?

    | Thu Aug. 10, 2006 10:17 AM PDT

    Some scary background from Tony Harris of CNN (with the caveat that it's not yet certain "Al Qaeda," whatever that name means these days, is behind this):

    In fact in 1994, al Qaeda actually pulled off a test run of one of these bombs that was assembled on an airplane using liquid explosives and a detonator. In that case, it was a Casio watch. Here the thinking is that it might have been one of these electric key fobs.

    So he says ... we're only talking about a small amount of explosives. Look at what Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, had. That was only a small amount of explosives, yet it was enough to bring down a plane, and that was much evolved from what happened in 1994.

    In 1995 and 1996, there was a plot to bring down up to 11 transoceanic flights from the Pacific into the United States. This plot is very reminiscent of that. So you begin to see where there's an evolution of the al Qaeda playbook here.

    Not sure how testing this out 10 years ago and doing it today represents an "evolution" but it's an interesting data point.