Beyond the Blast

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 Dec. 14, 2001 1:00 AM PST

December 14, 2001

Lawyers: "smoking gun" tape not so hot -- The Boston Globe
While the videotape of Osama bin Laden gloating over the Sept. 11 terror attacks may be a public relations coup for the Bush administration, legal experts are suggesting it might not hold up as evidence in a US court, Wayne Washington reports. For one thing, the government would have to prove that the bearded man in the video actually is bin Laden. Such questions might diminish the tape's value not only in a trial of bin Laden himself, but also those of alleged co-conspirators like Zacarias Moussaoui.

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Sept. 11 was written in the stars -- Boston Phoenix (via Alternet)
The aircraft crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon may have shocked the CIA, FBI, and the president, but not everyone in America was so surprised, says Chris Wright. A handful of what are evidently the nation's most prescient astrologers had predicted trouble, some with uncanny accuracy, Wright reports. Taking first prize is Lynne Palmer, a 69-year-old Las Vegas resident, who in June 2000 penned what Wright calls "an odd combination of the obvious and the prophetic: 'Avoid terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.'"

The end of bin Laden -- tompaine.com
One way or another, the US will ensure that Osama bin Laden winds up dead in Afghanistan, argues Richard Blow. The trick for the American propaganda machine, he argues, will be how to kill him or have him killed without turning him into a martyr. But Blow says the US has no interest in capturing bin Laden alive so he can stand trial. "We don't want him sitting in a courtroom discussing, for example, the United States' past support of the Taliban," Blow writes.

Artist saves Kabul paintings -- Radio Free Europe
A Kabul artist says he saved nearly 80 paintings from destruction by the Taliban, Charles Recknagel reports. Dr. Mohammad Yousef Asefi, a board member of Afghanistan's National Gallery, says he used watercolors to paint over "offensive" images that would have made the paintings targets for destruction by the Taliban. "I collected most of the figure paintings in a room and, using a special technique that I had, I painted over the parts of the canvas where there were figures," said Asefi. Still, Asefi's efforts saved only a fraction of Afghanistan's artistic heritage. The Taliban managed to destroy nearly 800 works of art during their rule.

December 13, 2001

A lack of women's voices -- Newsday
The ranks of women appearing on talk shows and op-ed pages have thinned significantly since Sept. 11, Jennifer L. Pozner reports. According to a recent study by the White House Project, a nonpartisan women's group, the number of American women guests on news shows has dropped 39 percent since the attacks. "Fox News Sunday" and ABC's "This Week" have interviewed a grand total of one female guest each in that time. Pozner argues that ignoring women "gives us a skewed perception of America's political leanings. ... Our media are neglecting to reflect the voices of half the population."

Will the US fund the reconstruction? -- Christian Science Monitor
The US says it wants peace and stability in Afghanistan, but will it put its money where its mouth is? Helena Cobbena notes that the US currently spends only one-tenth of 1 percent of the gross national product on helping the world's developing nations, a small fraction of what it spent 10 years ago. "The shockingly low level of aid throughout the 1990s prepared the ground for the kind of chaos and social despair in which the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and their ilk have flourished," says Cobbena.

Lessons in conflict -- The New Republic
Elizabeth Rubin's look at the Afghan school system -- under the Taliban regime and the Mujahadeen government it replaced -- gives new meaning to the phrase, "learned behavior." Rubin finds that militant indoctrination started early in Kabul, beginning with children learning to read. For instance, one textbook helps students learn to read the letter making the sound "I", as in "Israelis", with this example phrase: "Israelis are enemies of Muslims." Math problems also reflect the country's war-torn history. "A box of 2 booby-trap mines multiplied by another of 4 booby-trap mines equals a drawing of a crowded box of 8 booby-trap mines," Rubin reports.

December 12, 2001

FBI drops in on interviewees -- Village Voice
The Justice Department has "invited" 5,000 Middle Eastern citizens who hold US visas to be interviewed and share any information they might have concerning the Sept. 11 attacks. But, as Chisun Lee reports, these interviews often begin with an FBI agent arriving, uninvited and unexpected, at the visa-holder's door. Haaris Ahmad, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says the "knock-and-talk" approach is nothing new, but is especially troubling because it catches people off guard. A lawyer is rarely present at such sessions and interviewees often do not know that they can decline to be interviewed. "The potential for accidental self-incrimination is great," says Lee.

Al Qaeda in Indonesia? -- BBC
Indonesian authorities say there are al Qaeda members fighting with local Islamic rebels on the island of Sulawesi, Jonathan Head reports. Indonesia is not on President Bush's list of countries which harbor terrorists, but US officials aren't satisfied with the level of Jakarta's cooperation in the campaign against terrorism.

Kamikaze camels! -- BBC
As if landmines, scorpions and friendly fire weren't enough to worry about, US commanders have told Marines on the ground in Afghanistan to be on the lookout for suicide-bombing camels. During the 1980s Afghan-Soviet War, Afghan mujahideen reportedly load camels with explosives, sending the animals toward Soviet bases. Soldiers at the marine's forward base, Camp Rhino, say they spotted a camel wandering around the military compound one night and "put a hell of a lot of rounds in it," but never caught the suspicious animal.

December 11, 2001

India and Pakistan square off in Kabul -- The Times of India
Much to the US's dismay, India and Pakistan are moving their longstanding regional rivalry into the newly opened diplomatic corridors of Kabul. "With the fall of the Taliban, it is New Delhi's day, as its Northern Alliance proteges are swept into power," writes Chidanand Rajgatta. "But Islamabad is not giving up without a fight. As deftly as it ditched the Taliban, Pakistan is now cottoned on to the newly-chosen Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai, hoping to arrest Kabul's tilt towards India." For the Bush administration, however, the diplomatic jockeying represents nothing more than another regional headache, Rajgatta reports. "In Washington, senior administration officials say an Indo-Pak rivalry in Afghanistan is the last thing they want while the war against terrorism is still incomplete and the world is faced with the enormous task of the country's reconstruction."

Refugees at risk of tuberculosis outbreak -- St. Paul Pioneer Press
"Conditions are ripe for a serious outbreak of tuberculosis in camps near Peshawar, Pakistan, where Afghan refugees live in mud huts and malnourished children play in open sewage ditches," reports Cynthia Boyd. The rate of TB infection in the camps is already nearly triple that for the rest Pakistan.

Enjoying the local squalor -- Alternet
A five-dollar bath and 60-cent carriage ride across town are choice amenities in Taloqan, but no matter how much money you've got, luxury in this northern Afghan city stops there, reports Ted Rall. Lice-infested beds leave rashes on foreigners and locals alike, drinking water comes from the gutter, and homes are heated wth noxious benzene. After mistaking a teen-ager for a man in his forties, Rall writes "that middle-aged teenagers shouldn't come as much of a surprise in a country with an average life expectancy of 43 ... But when you spend just a few weeks living the same toxic lifestyles as these poor and unlucky souls, it's amazing that they live as long as they do."

December 10, 2001

Being watched at work -- ZDNet
With federal authorities finding it easier to tap phones and listen in on attorney-client conversations, corporations are eager to step up their own spying, reports Tiffany Kary. ICaughtYou, which sells a system allowing businesses to clandestinely monitor employees' Internet usage, has reported a jump in sales since the Sept. 11 attacks. "Strictly from a corporate perspective, there's fear of liability, and there's fear that there could be links to terrorist activity within their corporate walls," says ICaughtYou CEO Jack Palmer. There's also evidently fear of inefficiency: Kary notes that the economic downturn was boosting business for the likes of ICaughtYou even before Sept. 11.

Pentagon continues to dodge the question -- Alternet
As a growing list of Journalists file stories from Afghanistan describing flattened villages and packed hospitals, the Pentagon continues to avoid the subject of civilian casualties, David Corn writes. Corn suggests that US military leaders should do some legwork instead of complaining that it's "impossible to get factual information about civilian casualties," as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did. "In many instances (the Pentagon) can determine if civilian casualties have happened by doing what ... reporters did: asking people on the ground," Corn says. "(The) military just hasn't bothered."

Now what? -- BBC
Foreign correspondent Paul Reynolds has drafted a handy primer on what might be next in the US-led war on terror, now that the Taliban have essentially ceded all power in Afghanistan. Is Iraq the next target? Is Yemen? Reynolds speculates on these and other questions, but his bottom line is not encouraging: "Like the 'war on drugs' and the 'war on crime,' the 'war on terrorism' will probably never end," he writes.

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