Beyond the Blast

As the dust literally begins to settle after the worst terrorist attack in US history, MotherJones.com offers this guide to undercovered news, commentary and resources to help put the horror into context. Updated throughout the day.

Fri Sep. 21, 2001 3:00 AM EDT

Sept 21, 2001

US planning to topple Taliban? -- The Guardian
Diplomatic cables out of Washington reportedly indicate that the Bush administration is laying the groundwork for a military campaign aimed not just at catching Usama bin Ladin, but at deposing Afghanistan's Taliban regime. Ian Traynor and Gary Younge write that diplomatic documents they have seen show that Washington is bringing several leaders of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance together in Rome to meet with exiled Afghan monarch Zahir Shah, in the hopes of getting the guerrillas to support Shah's return to the throne.

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The official word on terrorism -- National Security Institute
"The premier Internet resource for the security professional" has compiled this exhaustive list of links to terrorism-related US government research and legislation. One finding worth bearing in mind as the US gears up for an assault on Afghanistan, is this nugget from a Congressional Research Service report: "Bin Ladin does not appear to be acting on behalf of the Taliban, or vice versa." The report's publication date: Sept. 10, 2001.

US attack could destabilize Central Asia -- Moscow Times
US military action in Afghanistan could plunge its ex-Soviet neighbors -- Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan -- into crisis, several experts warn. All three are impoverished nations run by oppressive regimes facing their own radical Islamic movements, some of which are closely allied to the Taliban. Some warn that the whole region could be destabilized if refugee crises develop or the Taliban retaliate for the support these countries are likely to offer the US.

Yes, no, maybe to supporting US -- Toronto Star
An at-a-glance overview of which nations are backing the US' anti-terrorist military campaign, which oppose it, and which aren't quite sure. Among those firmly on-side: Uzbekistan, Greece and Bulgaria. Among the sympathetic-but-squeamish: Croatia and Lebanon. The full lineup of those against: Afghanistan, China, Iraq and Libya.

Sept 20, 2001

Nearly half the dead may be non-Americans -- AFP
The list of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks is turning out to be as diverse as the population of New York. Estimates from governments around the world suggest that as many as 2,430 of the approximately 5,888 people known or suspected to have been killed in the terror attacks were from countries other than the US, including primarily Muslim nations like Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia.

Who's who, and where, in Afghanistan -- Sydney Morning Herald
An useful guide to Afghanistan's various armed factions, including the alleged locations of Usama bin Ladin's training camps. Here's hoping the Joint Chiefs of Staff read the Australian papers.

Attack on Afghanistan could force retreat in drug war -- Reuters
There's one area in which the Taliban have received high marks from the United Nations and even the US: suppressing Afghanistan's once-thriving drug production industry. But now, UN officials are warning that the Taliban likely won't hesitate to allow farmers to resume growing the poppies from which opium and heroin are made, in order to raise cash to fund their defense against a US-led assault. Before the Kabul regime launched its poppy-eradication program two years ago, taxes on poppy farmers brought in some $10 million annually.

Losing freedoms, one war at a time -- Civilliberty.about.com
Columnist J.D. Tuccille offers an overview of how the US government has usurped civil liberties in many major conflicts of the last century and a half, from banning anti-war newspapers during the Civil War to restricting public speech during World War One and interning Japanese-Americans during World War Two. "(A) major war effort necessarily results in the curtailment of some civil liberties," Tuccille quotes Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist as saying.

Sept 19, 2001

Ask, tell, whatever: we just need soldiers -- San Francisco Chronicle
Facing a possible troop crunch after President Bush's call to mobilize up to 50,000 reservists nationwide, the Pentagon has issued an order suspending discharges from the military, including those of service members who are public about their homosexuality. But the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group for gay service members based in Washington, D.C., warns that those who disclose that they are gay might still face discharge after the emergency ends, as happened to gay troops after the Gulf War.

Back doors to Afghanistan-- Stratfor
Iran and Pakistan's internal politics make them unreliable allies from which the US might launch attacks on Afghanistan, so the Bush administration is talking to former Soviet republics in central Asia that also border the Himalayan nation. "Although they are not likely to give permission for a massive buildup of ground forces, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan will probably allow the United States to base aircraft and perhaps even special operations forces within their borders," reports Stratfor, an Internet-based intelligence news site. Those nations have better infrastructure than Iran or Pakistan, says Stratfor, and both "could be cajoled or bribed into Washington's corner." Turkmenistan even has a handy airbase near Afghanistan, which the Soviet Union used during its own Afghan war.

All things Afghan -- Various
Curious about the country the US may soon be bombing? Here are the basic facts, courtesy of the CIA; a thorough index of information on Afghani culture; and a gateway to other links providing sources for everything from the nation's prevalence of HIV to the weather forecast in Kabul.

Rush: Falwell was wrong -- Rush Limbaugh
You know your rhetoric has really gone over the top when Rush Limbaugh denounces you. But even radio's mightiest mouth was appalled by Reverend Jerry Falwell's comments blaming feminists, gays and the ACLU for the twin terror attacks, and by televangelist Pat Robertson's defense of those remarks. "Suggestions of this kind are one of the reasons why all conservatives get tarred and feathered with this extremist, bigoted, racist, sexist, homophobic label that isn't true," laments Limbaugh. "I was profoundly embarrassed and disappointed by their comments."

Sept 18, 2001

International support frays -- Stratfor
War rhetoric may be heating up in the United States, but elsewhere the emotional response to last week's attacks is fast being replaced by jitters over the implications of US military action. France, Germany, and Egypt have all let it be known that while they support US action to punish terrorists, they will not accept a campaign that involves substantial civilian casualties. "Unstated but implicit [is] the threat that something America badly wants -- intelligence cooperation -- would be limited, if not withheld, if the United States goes too far," reports the online intelligence service Stratfor.

Fear in Pakistan -- Various
Criticism of a possible US strike against Afghanistan is mounting in South Asia: A leading Afghan opposition figure who fought both the Soviets and the Taliban says he is ready to pick up arms to prevent another foreign incursion. In Pakistan, conservative Islamic leaders have warned of possible reprisals if the country supports US military action against Usama bin Ladin. And some are speculating that the US has more than retaliation in mind: A former Pakistani diplomat tells the BBC that US officials informed him of a planned attack against the Taliban way back in October.

It's the liberals' fault -- Front Page
Hard on the heels of Jerry Falwell's apologies for a speech blaming the Sept. 11 attacks on secular humanism, conservative writer David Horowitz weighs in with a comparison between the hijackers and violent left-wingers like the Weather Underground. And it's not just extremists who come in for Horowitz' scorn: "Liberal self-hatred masquerading as a concern for human rights was the primary reason why it was so easy for a complicated and lethal attack to be planned and carried out without coming to the attention of American intelligence agencies," he argues. "It was more important for the Clinton Administration to be sensitive to the utopian concerns of the progressive elites and the one-world kleptocrats who make up the UN than to protect the American people."

They want to know where you are -- MSNBC
Congress is considering legislation that could require every person in the US to carry ID cards that could even include biometric information such as fingerprints. And the advocates aren't just conservatives: prominent House Democrat Dick Gephardt is recommending that legislators seriously consider the measure in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks. Employers may get in on the act too: The LA Times reports that the attacks "may prompt a broader range of companies to more closely monitor workers' whereabouts" with tools such as electronic tags that record who passes through an exit door.

All Sousa, all the time? -- San Francisco Chronicle
Program directors at Clear Channel Communications, one of the nation's largest radio groups, are discussing how to adapt their playlists in the wake of the twin terror attacks, and one program director has compiled a list of "potentially inappropriate" songs. In addition to "any song by Rage Against the Machine," the no-nos include Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Tuesday's Gone," the Beatles "Obla Di, Obla Da," and Sinatra's "New York New York," as well as peace anthems such as John Lennon's "Imagine."

Anti-Muslim violence grows -- Various
Despite official appeals from President Bush on down to Americans not to vent their anger on Arabs and Muslims in the US, a rash of attacks has broken out in recent days. On Saturday, a gunman in Arizona fatally shot the Sikh owner of a gas station, shot at a clerk of Lebanese descent at another gas station, and fired several shots into the home of a family of Afghan descent before he was arrested, reportedly shouting "I stand for America all the way," as police cuffed him. A Pakistani grocery store owner in Dallas was also shot dead the same day in what may have been a revenge attack. Elsewhere, an arsonist burned down an Iraqi-owned pizza shop in Plymouth, Mass., a man smashed his car into the entrance of a mosque in Parma, Ohio, and another man in Akron, Ohio drove his car into an Arab-owned grocery store. The US Commission on Human Rights has set up a hotline for Arab and Muslim Americans to report attacks.

Sept 17, 2001

Afghanistan's humanitarian crisis -- Various
With hundreds of thousands of Afghans fleeing expected American air strikes, food supplies already critically low and a three-year drought grinding relentlessly on, humanitarian aid agencies are warning that US military action could lead to mass starvation, reports The Los Angeles Times. There were already nearly one million displaced people in the country before last week; now, with the evacuation of all foreign aid workers in recent days, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is "extremely worried that the situation for all these people -- and millions of others -- could deteriorate very rapidly, leading to major population movements, and even widespread deaths."

Next: nuclear reactors? -- The Nation
Horrific as they were, the Sept. 11 terror attacks could have been much worse if they had targeted one or more of America's many nuclear reactors -- and Russian security services reportedly warned last week that terror groups are planning to do just that. It's not a new idea: After the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, the terrorists themselves wrote to The New York Times saying that next up would be an attack by "150 suicide soldiers" aimed at "nuclear targets." So what's being done to safeguard US nuke plants? The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says only that it has "recommended" that plants tighten security.

Bring back war bonds -- Associated Press
Taking the Pearl Harbor analogy to the twin terror attacks one step further, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has introduced legislation to allow the government to start selling war bonds, just like it did in World War Two. The low-interest bonds would help pay for rebuilding and anti-terrorism initiatives, says McConnell. No word yet on whether Rosie the Riveter will be called out of retirement.

Usama in depth -- The New Yorker
A detailed sketch of the life of America's leading adversary by veteran foreign correspondent Mary Anne Weaver. Interesting trivia: Usama bin Ladin is the youngest of some 20 sons born to his father's four wives. He now has four wives (the maximum permitted under Islamic law) and ten children of his own. After his father's death in 1968, when he was just 13 years old, Bin Ladin inherited $80 million. Of more substantial concern: Weaver's sources say that while bin Ladin is clearly an important and dangerous figure, he has been "mythologized" by the US government and is far from the only radical Islamic terrorist the US needs to worry about.

Compiled by Brooke Shelby Biggs, Andye Friedman, Emily Huber, Amos Kenigsberg, Jamie McCallum, and Vince Beiser.