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Between the Lines

June 28, 2004

Busy, busy, busy

Big news day. Here are the top items. Comments follow.

1. The U.S. handed the keys to the Iraqi government to the new government this morning, two days early.

"This is a historical day ... a day that all Iraqis have been looking forward to," said Iraqi President Ghazi Al-Yawer. "This is a day we are going to take our country back into the international forum."

2. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that both Americans and foreign nationals detained as suspected terrorists or "illegal combatants" must have some access to U.S. courts.

Ruling in the Yaser Esam Hamdi case, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the court has "made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."

3. Like a virus, the Iraq resistance movement is rapidly evolving. Time reports that its goal now is to turn Iraq into what Afghanistan was before we invaded: a refuge and breeding ground for an international jihad movement.

4. Was Niger trying to sell "yellowcake" uranium ore to Iraq after all? Possibly. The Financial Times, one of Britain's more reliable newspapers, says that while much-reported forged documents undercut the case, three European intelligence agencies say they picked up information that the African country was trying to sell uranium not only to Iraq, but also to Libya, Iran, North Korea and China. If true, this would be a huge boost for the Bush administration's argument that Saddam Hussein was still actively trying to develop nuclear weapons.

5. And north of the border, Canadians are holding a national election little noticed by us.

Posted by tbrown at 02:12 PM


1. The Iraq handover

The handover of "sovereignty" in Iraq came two days early, and took most everyone by surprise, it appears.

The surprise transfer was, for the U.S., both smart and sad.

Smart because it undercut an almost certain effort by Islamic militants to stage another terror bloodbath to coincide with the handover. Sad because it underscored the utter lack of security in the country. There has been widespread speculation that the new Iraqi government may impose some form of martial law soon.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi delivered a speech urging people not to be afraid of the "outlaws" fighting against "Islam and Muslims," assuring them that "God is with us."

"I warn the forces of terror once again," he said. "We will not forget who stood with us and against us in this crisis."

The sovereignty of the new government will be restricted because of the instability that plagues the country. The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority officially went out of business today and its head, Paul Bremer, and some top aides flew home. Bremer's role will, in many respects, be assumed by the new U.S. ambassador, John Negroponte. The American Embassy is expected to be our largest anywhere, with a staff of about 1,000. U.S. troop levels are expected to remain at about 130,000 at least through the end of next year.

Posted by tbrown at 02:06 PM


2. Prisoners and the law

As is often true in major cases, the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings today on how the government must treat prisoners taken in the war on terror both U.S. citizens and foreigners were complex. But one thing that seems clear is that the three decisions were bad news for the Bush administration's assertions that it can just make up new law as it goes along and apply it as it sees fit.

For the analysis, we turn to SCOTUSblog, which is written primarily for lawyers.

"In countless courtroom briefs, and in a pile of secret internal memorandum only recently beginning to emerge, administration lawyers have sought to justify a new order in which the president may do whatever is deemed necessary to wage this new style of global conflict," Lyle Denniston writes. "That argument appears to have failed utterly, in the eyes of eight Justices of the Court."

The court's lead opinion, written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, said that, "Striking the constitutional balance here is of great importance to the Nation during this period of ongoing combat. But it is equally vital that our calculus not give short shrift to the values that this country holds dear or to the privilege that is American citizenship."

The court, in one of the three decisions, did agree by a 5-4 vote that in authorizing the Iraq war, Congress also authorized detention of suspects for indefinite periods. It indicated, though, that the judicial system might at some point determine what constituted an appropriate "indefinite" period.

"The most important qualification on that now-acknowledged power to detain, however, is the Court's mandate that when a detainee is a U.S. citizen, the detention can continue beyond an initial -- and presumably fairly brief -- period, only if the government can justify prolonging the denial of freedom and legal rights," Denniston says. "And, such justification is to be judged by a 'neutral decisionmaker,' not by the President or the secretary of Defense or a military authority."

Here is his summary of the three rulings:

By a vote of 5-4, the Court found the 2001 congressional declaration did give the President power to detain citizens and foreign nationals, if they are found on a foreign battlefield.

By a vote of 8-1, citizens detained as "enemy combatants" have the right to a fair process under which they can challenge that designation and their continued detention.

By a vote of 6-3, the Court ruled that the foreign nationals detained at the Cuba base have a right to file lawsuits in civilian courts to contest their detention and conditions at the base.

Posted by tbrown at 02:03 PM


3. The Iraqi resistance morphs

A hugely troubling aspect of the Iraqi resistance has been the speed with which it has changed. What initially seemed to be a relatively small movement led primarily by former members of Saddam's Baath party quickly became a broader-based nationalist movement encompassing not only Sunni Muslims, from whom Saddam drew his support, but also the majority Shiites. Now, with the rise of Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, who is believed to have orchestrated the bloody terror-bombing campaign of recent weeks and the grotesque beheadings of hostages (a U.S. Marine of Muslim faith is the latest threatened with this ghastly death), it has combined Iraqi nationalism and foreign operational skill.

Time magazine reports that an "investigation of the insurgency today--based on meetings with insurgents, tribal leaders, religious clerics and U.S. intelligence officials--reveals that the militants are turning the resistance into an international jihadist movement. Foreign fighters, once estranged from homegrown guerrilla groups, are now integrated as cells or complete units with Iraqis.

"Their goal now, say the militants interviewed, is broader than simply forcing the U.S. to leave. They want to transform Iraq into what Afghanistan was in the 1980s: a training ground for young jihadists who will form the next wave of recruits for al-Qaida and like-minded groups. Nearly all the new jihadist groups claim to be receiving inspiration, if not commands, from Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, the suspected al-Qaeda operative who the U.S. believes has masterminded the insurgency's embrace of terrorism."

Before the U.S. invasion, Time reminds us, "al-Zarqawi was a fringe player on the global terrorist stage." Now he's achieved an almost mystical status among his followers, Time reports. Other potentially important resistance leaders also are emerging, it says.

In consequence, "U.S. intelligence officials say they now believe Iraq is a magnet for fanatical Muslims around the world. 'It's become the proving ground,' says a senior U.S. intelligence official. The jihadists are convinced they can continue fighting indefinitely. 'Jihad is not made by us,' says a midlevel insurgent leader. 'It is made by the Prophet and will continue to Judgment Day.' "

This outcome was predicted by some Middle East experts and by friendly Arab governments in the region before the war. Now the question is whether we can find a way to deal with reality both in the short term, so that the new Iraqi government has some hope of establishing a stable state, and in the long run for our own self-defense.

Posted by tbrown at 02:00 PM


4. Yellowcake, yellowcake

Gregory Djerejian at The Belgravia Dispatch parses this Financial Times story and finds much to encourage the Bush administration. (He also gets in some digs at yellowcake whistle-blower Joe Wilson.)

Though the Bush administration was forced to back away from its assertion that Saddam had attempted to buy the partially processed uranium ore know as yellowcake from the African country of Niger after Wilson went public and some documents supporting the claim proved to have been forged, British intelligence stuck by the story. Djerejian says these paragraphs from the Financial Times indicate why:

"However, European intelligence officers have now revealed that three years before the fake documents became public, human and electronic intelligence sources from a number of countries picked up repeated discussion of an illicit trade in uranium from Niger. One of the customers discussed by the traders was Iraq.

"These intelligence officials now say the forged documents appear to have been part of a 'scam', and the actual intelligence showing discussion of uranium supply has been ignored."

This will be big news if it proves true especially since Libya, Iran, North Korea and China also supposedly were implicated.

However, Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has a very different slant on what's going on here.

"I hear something different," he writes in a post today.

"In fact, I know something different.

"My colleagues and I have reported on this matter extensively, spoken to key players involved in the drama, and put together a detailed picture of what happened. And that picture looks remarkably different from this account which is out today -- specifically on the matter of the origins of those forged documents and who was involved.

"So read the FT article. But also keep your ears open. It is, I'm quite confident, not the last word you'll hear on this story."

Very interesting. Marshall has been covering the yellowcake issue since it first popped into the news, and now he's saying he has uncovered new, as yet unreported facts about how it came together.

Stay tuned.

Posted by tbrown at 01:56 PM


5. A tip of the toque

Our neighbors to the north are having a national election today, though you'd hardly know it here. Here's a blog where some of the key issues are being discussed (hint: many Canadians don't like NAFTA either).

Posted by tbrown at 01:52 PM




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Busy, busy, busy
1. The Iraq handover
2. Prisoners and the law
3. The Iraqi resistance morphs
4. Yellowcake, yellowcake
5. A tip of the toque

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