Beyond the Blasts

MotherJones.com's guide to undercovered news, commentary and resources to help put the Sept. 11 terror attacks and their aftershocks into context. Updated throughout the day.

Fri Oct. 19, 2001 2:00 AM EDT

Oct. 19, 2001

Congressman: Nuke 'em -- Yahoo News
Now it's not only conservative commentators (see "Defense Intelligence Vet: Go Nuclear") who are ready to use nuclear weapons in Afghanistan. US Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., is suggesting that small nuclear weapons be used against the caves where Usama bin Ladin and his followers are thought to be holed up. "I just want the (Bush) administration to know that I think the United States needs to send a message to the world that we are prepared to do that," Buyer says.

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The UN's new role -- Spiked Online
American and British plans to use the United Nations to rebuild Afghanistan after the bombing is right in line with other recent UN adventures, like East Timor and Kosovo, but a far cry from the role envisioned for the organization by the victorious Allies in 1945. "The UN has exchanged its role of preventing 'the scourge of war'," argues David Chandler, "for one of overseeing post-war nation-building."

"Boondocks" banished -- ABCNews.com
Add cartoonist Aaron McGruder, author of the nationally syndicated strip "Boondocks", to the list of cultural figures (Bill Maher, Susan Sontag) slammed for stepping outside the bounds of post-Sept. 11 permissible criticism. A pair of New York-area newspapers refused to run a few days worth of "Boondocks" strips showing lead character Huey, a grade-school black revolutionary, trying to tip off the FBI that their search for backers of Usama bin Ladin should start with Ronald Reagan, whose administration supported the anti-Soviet mujaheddin movement.

Oct. 18, 2001

Aid under attack -- Various
Attacks on humanitarian aid organizations in Afghanistan are reportedly ratcheting up in concert with the bombing. The Associated Press reported that Taliban forces seized control of World Food Programs warehouses in Kandahar and Kabul, taking control of 7000 metric tons of wheat. A day later, Reuters reported the Kabul warehouse was again under the control of the WFP. Reuters also reported that Doctors Without Borders offices in Mazar-i-Sharif and Kandahar were looted. As a result, says Morten Rostrup, the group's international president, Afghans in six provinces "are left without any medical aid and any aid for malnourished children."

Ridge's reputation in Pennsylvania -- TomPaine.com
Before Tom Ridge became Homeland Security chief, Steve Rosenfeld says, he was the "tough on crime" governor of Pennsylvania. Rosenfeld reports that Ridge's gubernatorial tenure, which began in 1993, saw a stepped-up war on drugs; controversial surveillance of Republican National Convention 2000 protesters; and parole board reforms that caused inmate populations to skyrocket. Given that record, Rosenfield suggests, this may not be the man Congress should grant "untested new power" as the newest Cabinet member.

Commission pushes secretive "cyber court" -- Wired News
A government commission on anti-terrorism wants Congress to set up a special court to authorize surveillance and searches of suspected hackers, Declan McCullagh reports. The court would be similar to the secret, seven-judge court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that approves surveillance in cases of "national security," McCullagh says. Proceedings of that court are sealed, and judges don't need probable cause -- a minimum requirement in ordinary cases -- to order surveillance.

US anti-terrorism "consultants" in Philippines -- Voice of America News
US military advisors have arrived in the Philippines to help train local army troops to fight Abu Sayyaf Muslim rebels, said to have vague al-Qaida links, Ron Corben reports from Bangkok. US embassy officials in Manila say that the advisors aren't armed, nor will they participate in any combat operations. Corben reports that more consultants are expected in the next few weeks, with the US Commander for Pacific Forces scheduled to drop by in November.

Spot the terrorist -- Funnystrange.com
How well do you know your leaders? Analyze 20 quotes and decide who to attribute them to: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, or Usama bin Ladin. It's harder than you think.

Oct. 17, 2001

The politics of opium -- Daily Mail & Guardian (SA)
Afghanistan at one point produced about 75 percent of the world's opium, the primary raw component of heroin -- a figure that dropped sharply after the Taliban banned poppy cultivation in 1999. Earl Hutchinson reports that rebel leaders seeking to topple the Taliban have given no assurances that they will maintain that policy should they come to power, suggesting that Afghanistan could once again become the world's heroin hotbed.

The Taliban, in retrospect -- The New Republic
In 1996, the Clinton administration actually greeted the Taliban takeover of Kabul, suggesting, Benjamin Soskis notes, that there was "an indication they intend to respect the rights of all their citizens." That critical miscalculation, Soskis suggests, was the result not only of poor intelligence and unrealistic hopes, but of a policy that "was not so much support for the regime as support for any group that would unify the country after years of bloody civil war."

From Israel, words of discontent -- The Jerusalem Post
Israeli President Moshe Katsav is frustrated at the US approach to fighting terrorism, Greer Fay Cashman says. In addition to being "irked" by what he perceives as "political gains" being made by the Palestinian Authority in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Katsav is bothered that the US has "separated its own war against terrorism from that in which Israel is embroiled," Cashman says.

Oct. 16, 2001

Attack on Afghanistan interactive -- Guardian (UK)
Taking full advantage of the Web's multimedia capabilities, the Guardian offers this collection of animated graphics detailing the war in Afghanistan and the terrorist attacks that preceded it. Of particular interest: specifics of the US-led aerial attacks, the increasing military build-up in the Middle East, the US' specialized bunker-busting bombs, and an illustrated tutorial on anthrax.

Radio USAfghanistan -- BBC
Bombs and food aren't the only things US and British forces are dropping on Afghanistan. As part of "psychological operations" to undermine the Taliban, the allied forces are reportedly dropping wind-up radios along with relief supplies. The radios are pre-set to a frequency carrying pro-American broadcasts. The BBC's George Eykyn points out that Afghanistan's high rate of illiteracy - and the Taliban's ban on owning television sets - mean the allies will "need to rely heavily on sound and images rather than text."

Copy-cat intimidation -- Philadelphia Inquirer
The anthrax attacks in New York and Florida have apparently given inspiration to a widespread domestic campaign of intimidation. Planned Parenthood officials reported that 90 clinics and offices in at least 13 states received threatening letters containing a powdery substance recipeints feared might be contaminated with anthrax. One of the letters, signed "Army of God", contained both a mysterious powder and a threat to "kill you all." None of the envelopes have been found to contain actual anthrax, although not all test results are in.

Everything you never wanted to have to know about Anthrax -- Centers for Disease Control
For those who want to know how to handle an Anthrax attack (and who doesn't, at this point) the federal Centers for Disease Control has a wealth of information, including this handy factsheet on what to do when you fear you've been contaminated.

Oct. 15, 2001

Biological warfare basics -- Dallas Morning News
Don't know your anthrax from your VX? Can't tell Sarin from Tabun? The Dallas Morning News offers this compact, clickable explainer on biological and chemical warfare agents, detailing where they're made, and how much America is spending to counter them.

Feeding the Taliban -- BBC News
The concept behind the US policy of dropping food and bombs in Afghanistan is to help civilians while hammering the Taliban -- but a United Nations official charges the regime's soldiers are the primary recipients of the parachuted packets of peanut butter. When the food hits the ground, "the man with the gun picks it up," the official says. "So Americans are feeding the Taliban every night."

The trillion-dollar defense -- Los Angeles Times
In the wake of the terror attacks, it seems everyone wants everything protected, from nuclear power plants to sewage treatment plants. But the financial costs of all this extra security could be staggering -- as much as $1.5 trillion over the next five years, according to one estimate being floated on Capitol Hill. "(L)awmakers, particularly local officials ... may find themselves having to choose between school textbooks and firefighter gas masks," Times staff writer Richard Simon suggests.

War won't help the economy -- Counterpunch
Past wars have given the US economy a boost, but not this time, Alexander Cockburn argues. The economy was sufficiently weakened before the Sept. 11 attacks to easily offset any potential boost related to the bombing. "The fall in growth and investment from early 2000 to early 2001 was the fastest since 1945, from 5 per cent GDP growth to zero. So fast indeed that people are only now catching on to the extent of the bad numbers, and battening down the hatches as bankruptcies begin to rise."