Posted on July 04, 2008 in Washington Watch

(A review of items of interest to the U.S.-Arab relationship – covering developments in Washington, political campaigns and the U.S. Media)

More great ideas from Congress. If the U.S. didn’t already have enough problems in Iraq and the Iraqi government didn’t already have enough problems of their own, Congressman Alcee Hastings wants to pile on some more. Last week the Florida Democrat proposed legislation “Urging the Government of the republic of Iraq to recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist and to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.”

In a statement introducing the bill, Hastings said, “The United States has provided Iraq with nearly $50 billion in security and economic assistance to date, none of which has been repaid. Yet despite this enormous amount of aid, the Government of Iraq refuses to recognize Israel, the most reliable ally of the United States in the Middle East. This isn’t right. Establishing ties with Israel would help Iraq grow. …The resolution I am introducing today calls on the Government of Iraq to recognize Israel’s right to exist and establish diplomatic relations with our Middle Eastern friend.”

Another idea certain to ruffle some feathers comes from Congressman Ed Markey, Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, the Massachusetts Democrat has put forward legislation “To restrict nuclear cooperation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Markey noted, “The United States should be helping the Kingdom exploit its enormous solar potential, not building nuclear reactors. …Providing nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia, a country for whom such technology makes no economic sense for electricity generation, is short-sighted and dangerous.”

Hijab flap. Two young Muslim women were positioned on stage right behind where Vice President Al Gore would be at his endorsement event with the Democrats’ presumptive nominee Barack Obama. Obama volunteers, concerned that the women would be in the camera shot, told them to move. Said one of the volunteers, “because of the political climate and what’s going on in the world and what’s going on with Muslim Americans, it’s not good for [women in hijabs] to be seen on TV or associated with Obama.”

The story rightly exploded in the national media and could have become bigger, but the Obama campaign, once alerted, acted quickly to defuse the situation. The campaign issued a statement rebuking the volunteers, noting, “The actions of these volunteers were unacceptable and in no way reflect any policy of my campaign. I take deepest offense to and will continue to fight against discrimination against people of any religious group or background.”

A day later, Obama himself called the two women to deliver a personal apology. In a statement, he noted, “I reached out to Ms. Aref and Ms. Abdelfadeel this afternoon. I spoke with Ms. Abdelfadeel, and expressed my deepest apologies for the incident that occurred with volunteers at the event in Detroit. Our campaign is about bringing people together, and I’m grateful that Ms. Abdelfadeel accepted our apology and I hope Ms. Aref and any who were offended accept my apology as well.”

On the surface, the problem was solved, but as several of the new stories noted, a deeper concern remains. Several Arab American and American Muslim leaders have felt that their communities received short shrift from the Obama campaign. A problem still to be resolved.

The U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay made the news on a number of fronts. On June 12, the Supreme Court delivered a major blow to the Bush Administration’s decision to use Guantanamo as a long-term detention facility in the “war on terror.” In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that those interned have the right of habeas corpus. Just because “they have been designated as enemy combatants or because of their presence at Guantanamo” does not eliminate their right to “freedom from arbitrary and unlawful restraint and the personal liberty that is secured by adherence to the separation of powers.” In other words, prisoners at Guantanamo have the legal right to petition U.S. courts for release, which requires the government to make a legal argument for their continued detention.

This did not sit at all well with hard-liners. Justice Antonin Scalia , speaking for the minority of the court, noted, what he termed “the disastrous consequences of what the Court has done today. America is at war with radical Islamists.” Scalia went on to declare that the decision “will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.” President Bush and Senator John McCain both criticized the decision, but indicated that they would accept the ruling.

The only way forward for the government to continue to hold prisoners without due-process would be to change the Constitution. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) appeared to oblige, proposing to do just that – amend the U.S. Constitution.

There is, of course, something unseemly about proposing to amend a document that enshrines freedom and the rule of law for the purpose of ending the rule of law to deny freedom.

Meanwhile, the McClatchy newspaper chain has run a series of stories, which it characterizes this way. “An eight-month McClatchy investigation of the detention system created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has found that the U.S. imprisoned innocent men, subjected them to abuse, stripped them of their legal rights and allowed Islamic militants to turn the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba into a school for jihad.” Many of the products of the investigation, including clips of interviews and numerous documents, are also available on the web. The articles draws not only a damning picture, but one that shows a poor understanding on the part of the Bush Administration of the consequences of its decision to hold detainees in “legal black holes.”

Indeed the third of the stories in this series made a point which has only been an mentioned in intelligence briefings – the lawless detention system developed at Guantanamo (and later spread to other U.S. detention sites in Afghanistan and Iraq) helped to radicalize people who had no ties to the Taliban or Al-Qaeda before coming into U.S. custody. As the story describes on detainee, he was “thug in the lawless Zormat district of eastern Afghanistan. By the time [he] was released from Guantanamo the next year, however – after more than 12 months of what he described as abuse and humiliation at the hands of American soldiers – he’d made connections to high-level militants. In fact, he’d become a Taliban leader.” Damning picture, indeed.

But if Guantanamo is in the news, increasingly the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not. Why? According to reports, U.S. networks have been pulling their reporters out of both countries,—resulting in a dramatic decline in coverage. According to a media monitor, the three major U.S. television networks have only given 181 minutes of total coverage to the Iraq war in the first six months of 2008, compared with 1,157 minutes in 2007.

The same is true for Afghanistan, despite the continued presence of 40,000 U.S. combat troops in that country, the three major television networks gave only 46 minutes of total coverage to Afghanistan in the first six months of this year. More disturbing is the fact that more than one-half of that coverage was on one network – NBC (and only because that network’s anchor traveled to Afghanistan). That left only 13 minutes for ABC and a mere 8 for CBS (less than 3 seconds per day.)

Here’s one for the books. John McCain’s chief campaign advisor, Charlie Black, was widely criticized for saying that another terrorist attack on U.S. soil “certainly would be a big advantage to [McCain]”. What was little noted was that McCain was quoted on the same day describing what he said was his greatest concern: that being, of course, a new terrorist attack on America , which, he noted, would have “devastating consequences.” Good for McCain, bad for America?

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