Zarqawi Ought To Be In Pictures

CNN has new pictures of terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, updating the psycho-lunatic photo commonly used with reports on his activities with a kindler, gentler image:

CNN recently obtained new pictures of a man believed to be terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose network in Iraq has been responsible for attacks on military and civilian targets. Al-Zarqawi is thought to be a close associate of Osama bin Laden, and has pledged his allegiance to bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network.
In the photos, he is chatting and laughing with unknown men. …
Intelligence officials said this week that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has enlisted the help of al-Zarqawi to plan new attacks inside the United States. Sources tell CNN the man in the photos is indeed al-Zarqawi.

It’s not SOP for terrorists to have their pictures taken at parties, which makes me wonder about the circumstances of this release. Did Zarqawi mean for these pictures to be released? Or did someone in his inner circle intend to send a message? After all, Zarqawi has to move anonymously in Iraq in order to avoid capture. Having one’s smiling face on CNN creates some difficulty in maintaining that anonymity.
One thing is probably certain: the guy who took the picture at this tea party probably won’t be getting many invitations to Zarqawi functions in the future, unless it’s his own wake.

Al-Reuters Can’t Even Spin Coherently

The news service Reuters appears almost apoplectic today as it tries to gin up a diplomatic meltdown between Italy and the US after the wounding of a freed hostage and the killing of an Italian commando yesterday by US forces at a checkpoint. As MS-NBC noted yesterday, the shooting commenced because the Italians refused to slow their car down as it approached a military checkpoint near the airport — not exactly a bright idea in a country where terrorists attack checkpoints with carbombs on a regular basis.
Silvio Berlusconi called the American ambassador to his office to request a full investigation, which President Bush publicly announced would take place. For our stout Italian allies, nothing less would suffice; however, even from preliminary information, it appears that the shooting could have been avoided had the Italians exercised some common sense and better communication with the Americans.
However, Reuters issued two reports, which didn’t even get out of the editing process before making the wires this morning, omitting all mention of the context but wildly exaggerating the diplomatic rift. The first appeared at 7:23 CT and has not been updated since (via the milblog Phone Home). Here’s how it starts:

The United States and its staunch Iraq war ally Italy face their worst falling out in years after U.S. troops killed an Italian secret service agent and wounded an Italian reporter.
The shooting in Iraq on Friday, as the reporter was being whisked to freedom after being held hostage for a month, was sure to fuel anti-war activists in Italy and put pressure on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Berlusconi, who defied widespread public opposition to the Iraq war and sent 3,000 troops, took the rare step of summoning U.S. ambassador Mel Sembler to his office.
He demanded the United States “leave no stone unturned” in investigating the incident. President Bush was quick to call Berlusconi and promise a full investigation.

I don’t know what the headline writer or the Philip Pulella, the reporter, was thinking, but it’s hardly unusual under these circumstances for Berlusconi to call for an investigation. It certainly doesn’t amount to a diplomatic crisis of the scale Pulella imagines. Just to top off the hysterical nature of the account, here’s how the Reuters account concludes:

The agent had helped free Sgrena a month after she had been kidn

That’s it; it stops in mid-sentence, which one could simply chalk up to a coding error. However, the second was even worse than the initial report:

The United States and its staunch Iraq (news – web sites) war ally Italy face their worst falling out in years after U.S. troops killed an Italian secret service agent and wounded an Italian reporter.
The shooting in Iraq on Friday, as the reporter was bein

That’s all they wrote. It appeared on the wire at 8:30 am CT and as of 8:52 had not been updated or completed.
Obviously Reuters employs no editors or fact-checkers. Do they not even have copy desks any more to make sure they have complete sentences — or even words? Remind me again how the mainstream media has a higher quality output with all of their checks and balances that we bloggers sadly lack.

Syria Losing Control Of Lebanese Army?

CNN reports that the Lebanese Army has taken positions around the Syrian intelligence headquarters in Beirut, an ominous development in the Cedar Revolution:

Lebanese army troops and armored vehicles took up positions Saturday around the Syrian intelligence headquarters in Beirut.
The move comes ahead of an expected announcement from Syrian President Bashar Assad, within a few hours, that he will withdraw some troops from Lebanon and redeploy others within the country. …
Lebanon’s defense minister Abdul-Rahim Murad said he expected Assad to announce a pullback of troops to the Bekaa region in eastern Lebanon, near the Syrian border, but not a full withdrawal from the country, The Associated Press reported.
When asked whether the redeployment meant a full withdrawal, Murad answered, “No.”

This could mean one of two things. It could mean that the Lebanese Army plans on protecting Syrian intelligence assets as the Syrian Army pulls out, a scenario that appears most likely given the close nature of the Syrian and Lebanese military up to this point. It could, however, also mean that the Lebanese Army has decided to impose its own will on the Syrians to up the pressure on Bashar Assad to not only withdraw all of its army but their spies as well.
If the former is the case, the demonstrators in the streets of Beirut should redouble their peaceful efforts to remove the last vestiges of the collaborationist government and elect new leaders as soon as possible. They need to know if the Army can be trusted not to start taking orders from Syria’s Mukhabarat and attempt a military coup to put Assad back in the driver’s seat by proxy.
On the other hand, if this move by the Lebanese Army demonstrates that they intend to throw in with the Cedar Revolution, Assad and his Mukhabarat are finished, and not just in Lebanon. Getting chased out of Beirut in three weeks by a few thousand civilians and the Lebanese Army will destroy any credibility Assad has left, including domestically, leaving him vulnerable to enemies across the spectrum of Syrian and Arabian politics. There won’t be any more talk of a pullback or phased withdrawal — the Syrians will have to retreat, and retreat quickly, in order to avoid a military clash that would threaten to bring in the Americans from the east and possibly the French from the west, over the Mediterranean.
Either way, the situation has just about reached critical mass in Beirut. The rest of the weekend should provide some answers.

Pakistan Gathers More AQ Assets

Operating from new intelligence, the Pakistani Army attacked a suspected al-Qaeda hideout in North Waziristan, capturing eleven foreigners and killing two other suspected terrorists:

Pakistani troops raided a hideout of suspected al-Qaida militants Saturday in a remote tribal area near Afghanistan, triggering a shootout that left two foreigners dead, an army spokesman said. Eleven people were arrested.
The troops also seized a large number of weapons in the raid near Miran Shah, the main town in northwest Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region, said Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan.

Miran Shah is near the Afghan border, in a region known for its sympathies to the Islamists. The Pakistanis had recently come to terms with the tribal chiefs in the area and had quit attacking on a broad front in both North and South Waziristan. While they weren’t satisfied that the al-Qaeda operatives in the area had all been rounded up, they promised that the tribes would no longer act to protect them. The Pakistanis then turned more of their effort to the cities, where AQ appeared to have moved in an effort to blend into larger populations for better security.
It appears that the deal with the chiefs may have borne some fruit. The AP reports that a tip initiated this latest raid, and it would seem unlikely that a pizza boy would have just stumbled across a hideout on a delivery. If Pervez Musharraf has managed to convince the tribes to act on Pakistan’s behalf instead of providing cover for the terrorists — or even if AQ suspects that may now be the prevailing wind — it makes it much more difficult for their leadership to use the border lands to transit in and out of Pakistand and Afghanistan. They would have to use the regular roads, airports, and seaports, which hold a much greater risk of discovery.
We’ll keep watching to see if more such raids turn out as successful as this one.

An Open Letter To The United States Senate

Following the example of CQ reader Erp, I wrote a letter to Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold, and copied all 98 other Senators to express my outrage over the direction that the FEC has been forced to take in regulating political speech on the Internet. I encourage you to get involved and do the same, in your own words, in order to serve notice that we will not allow them to silence us.
To the honorable Senators McCain and Feingold, et al:
I have read with considerable dismay the effect that your recent lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission, upheld by Judge Colleen Kollar-Ketelly, will have on political speech on the Internet. I write a political media-watchdog blog, Captain’s Quarters, which enjoys a not-insubstantial daily readership. No one pays me to do this; I operate my site and write on topics purely from personal convictions and a deep desire to improve the world around me and make the nation stronger. I can unequivocally say the same about my many colleagues in the “blogosphere”, both liberal and conservative.
Now we understand from Bradley Smith, one of the FEC commissioners, that your lawsuit forcing them to regulate speech on the Internet will have the effect of turning our efforts into in-kind contributions, especially when we provide hyperlinks back to candidate sites for referencing their positions and excerpt text from their on-line documents. Hyperlinks allow our readers to check our references to ensure our accuracy and context, and perform the hygienic task of holding our politicians accountable for their campaign practices. All of this not only should fall under the protection of the First Amendment, but it should be the primary reason for the First Amendment — to protect and encourage free political speech and foster genuine debate.
Your legislation and the accompanying lawsuit that forced the FEC to regulate Internet political speech threaten all of that. If my links to political sites such as and counted as contributions and I was forced to accept responsibility for the cash value that the FEC designated to them, I would have been charged with several misdemeanors and possibly felonies, as I provided many such links during the past election cycle. During this cycle, my blog published over 680 essays on the presidential election. In fact, I linked to Senator Kerry’s site four times as often as President Bush’s site, which would have meant to the FEC that I was a major contributor to his campaign — when in fact I opposed Senator Kerry and supported President Bush. These regulations would have forced me to retain the services of a full-time accountant and retain an attorney to understand when and where I overcontributed. At the very least, the burden of proof would be on me to make the FEC believe that my blog does not constitute in-kind contributions subject to the limits imposed on both hard and soft money contributions.
The effect of this would have been to force me to shut down my blog, or convert it to something else. In fact, it would have caused me less legal heartache to convert my site to a porn blog and do nothing but post hard-core pictures all day long. In the twisted environment of the McCain-Feingold Act, that kind of website would enjoy greater First Amendment protection than my political speech, a result for which every single Senator should feel shame and outrage.
Each of you should read the Constitution you swore to uphold and defend, and reflect on the unequivocal language of our forefathers:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
We may debate about the effect of unregulated cash on our electoral system, but if this new FEC effort comes to pass, the only people debating will be the corporate-owned media and the politicians. The rest of us will have been effectively bound and gagged, unable to contribute in any way thanks to the efforts of those who fear their own constituents. You can be assured that none of us in the blogosphere will fail to recognize those who do not act to defend our rights to free and unfettered political speech, and regardless of political party, none of us will rest until those voices of repression are stripped of office by the voters they hold in such low regard.
I, for one, will not be daunted by your attempts to stifle us. My many friends and colleagues on both sides of the political aisle stand as ready as I to defend the Constitution. We demand a hearing on McCain-Feingold, with open testimony before the press and our colleagues, and we demand action to reform or repeal this dangerous and un-American muzzle on political speech.
We await your response, sirs.
Edward Morrissey
Captain’s Quarters
UPDATE: A lot of these e-mails have bounced back. Apparently, our public servants don’t like direct e-mail and require people to hit their websites to send them messages. At Town Hall, they have a Web form set up to do this, but many of the autoresponses indicate that they will not reply to messages sent from constituents outside their state.
Here’s where you can help me out. Please copy my letter above and paste it into a message with an introduction of your own and send it to both Senators from your home state. That way we can be sure that all 100 Senators not only see this letter but your endorsement of it.
Thank you for your continued support!

UPDATE and BUMP: I’m keeping this at the top of the blog all day today. As I get specific responses, I’ll be sure to post them here for everyone to see.

Look Who’s Reconsidering The Bush Strategy On Terror

A number of Bush critics have watched the wave of popular demand for democratization sweep across the Middle East since the staging of the Iraqi elections on January 30th and have started to question their previous assumptions. The New York Times did this, with reservations, in its unsigned editorial last Tuesday. Today, the Christian Science Monitor published an opinion piece wondering if Bush has been right all along. Try to guess who wrote this:

The movements for democratic change in Egypt and Lebanon have happened since the successful Iraqi election on Jan. 30. And one can speculate on whether Iraq has served as a beacon for democratic change in the Middle East.
During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush said that “a liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region.”
He may have had it right.

That conclusion came from the pen of Daniel Schorr, senior news analyst at National Public Radio. This is the man who wrote that the war “lacked a rationale” in September 2003, implied in November 2003 that Bush wanted to abandon Iraq before our 2004 presidential election, and argued in December 2003 that Libya’s abrupt reversal on WMD had nothing to do with Bush’s invasion of Iraq and capture of Saddam Hussein.
Interestingly, Schorr’s Iraq commentary appears to have ended at NPR just over a year ago. In the meantime, it looks like he has been doing some research and opening his mind a bit more.

Does British Airways Only Own One Airplane?

CNN reports that British Airways has had another in-flight engine failure that they ignored to complete the flight on time. Remarkably, the plane involved is the same one that blew an engine on takeoff last week, ran out of fuel, and forced to make an emergency landing in Manchester — and the engine that failed yesterday was the replacement for the first failure:

British Airways jet that continued on an 11-hour flight from Los Angeles to London after one of its four engines lost power also flew on three engines on a later flight from Singapore to London, the airline said Friday.
The Boeing 747 left Singapore on February 25 and landed at London’s Heathrow Airport the next day, arriving only 15 minutes behind schedule, BA spokesman Jay Marritt said.
Three hours into the 14-hour flight, an oil pressure indicator showed there was a problem with one of the engines, which the captain shut down as a precaution, Marritt said. It was the captain’s decision to continue with Flight 18, which was carrying 356 passengers, he added.
“It’s still very safe to fly a 747 on three engines,” Marritt said. “It is certified to do so.”

Yes, that’s what BA kept telling its passengers as it coasted towards Manchester on fumes after having passed up numerous opportunities to land and get serviced in the US and Canada last week. Now we find out that the plane hardly even got a routine maintenance check and got fitted with a faulty replacement for the passengers that BA claims are its first priority. Their spokesman insists that this is just all a strange coincidence, but it appears much more likely that British Airways is simply incompetent to operate a transoceanic service.
I honestly thought when I read this story at first that CNN was reporting on the earlier story and had the facts incorrect. I started thinking about how to fact-check the article when I finally realized that this was a separate incident involving the same plane. I could not believe that British Airways would do the same thing twice in a week, with the same aircraft.
Again, I’d like to see the FAA force BA’s corporate officers or their families to sit on every transoceanic flight for the next six months as a requirement for allowing them access to US markets. Perhaps when their own safety is at stake, British Airways will discover the importance of competent management decisions.

Another Ukrainian Minister Kills Himself

The Orange Revolution, a bloodless exercise in people power which overthrew a proto-puppet government, has not gone as bloodless as thought. The reversal of Viktor Yanukovych’s fraudulent electoral win and the subsequent victory of Viktor Yushchenko has removed the political protection for the highly-ranked allies of Yanukovych — and they seem to all have the same exit strategy in mind:

Ukraine’s former interior minister has been found dead of an apparent suicide on the day he was to be questioned about the killing of an opposition-minded journalist, officials said.
The Security Service of Ukraine, the SBU, confirmed Friday that Yuri Kravchenko’s body was found at his country house and that a preliminary investigation suggests he committed suicide, CNN’s Jill Dougherty reported.
Kravchenko was due to be questioned Friday by prosecutors in connection with the murder of investigative journalist Georhiy Gongadze.

Some criticized the West for its insistence on free and open Ukrainian elections and the December do-over that elected Yushchenko. People believed that such action undermined Vladimir Putin when we need his assistance in fighting terrorism, and possibly made Russia more dangerous and more likely to retreat from democracy. Now that the election has kicked over the stones of the previous government, the worms that crawled beneath during the long Kuchma presidency don’t appear capable of withstanding sunlight.
Kravchenko is the second of former Kuchma and Yanukovuch ministers to have died either from suicide or unknown causes in the past three months. Heorhiy Kyrpa, the transportation minister, was found dead days after the election with a bullet in his head, reportedly self-inflicted. Both ministers were targets of investigations into widespread corruption, and Kravchenko also was linked strongly to Gongadze’s murder. Kravchenko, had he not died, might have provided links to higher-ranking Ukrainian politicos in the Gongadze case, as CNN reports:

His death sparked months of protests against then-President Leonid Kuchma. Critics implicated Kuchma in the murder, citing secretly recorded audio tapes in which Kuchma allegedly ordered his staff to get rid of the journalist. Kuchma vehemently denied those charges.
In the tapes, Kuchma was overheard repeatedly complaining about Gongadze’s reporting and ordering Kravchenko to “drive him out, throw (him) out, give him to the Chechens.”
The high-profile murder was never solved during Kuchma’s presidency. Recently elected President Viktor Yushchenko has made the case a high priority and vowed to solve it.

“Give him to the Chechens”? That must be the Ukrainian equivalent of “sleeping with the fishes”. It wouldn’t be the first time thata similarity between the Kuchma government and Russian-influenced Ukrainian politics and The Sopranos has been noted (see King Banaian for much more on this topic). One thing is sure: Kravchenko won’t give testimony that might implicate former President Kuchma now. How coincidentally fortunate for Kuchma.
Yushchenko may want to put the rest of Kuchma’s cabinet on suicide watch for a while, just to be on the safe side.

Assad Still Doesn’t Get It

Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, an opthalmologist by trade, keeps proving that he can’t see his way around the worst political crisis of his career. According to Lebanese political sources at Reuters, Assad will announce a partial withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, according to the Taif Accords that have lain dormant for sixteen years:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is expected to announce on Saturday the pullout of some Syrian troops from Lebanon and the redeployment of the rest close to the border, a Lebanese political source said on Friday.
Assad, who delivers a speech at Syria’s parliament on Saturday, is expected to declare the move in line with the Taif Accord which ended Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war, the source said.
Taif stipulates Syrian forces redeploy to the eastern Bekaa Valley and then the Lebanese and Syrian governments agree on a timeline on how long these forces would stay.

The problem with following the Taif Accord is that Taif is dead, killed by Syria’s abandonment of it in favor of continued exploitation of Lebanon. The Lebanese have changed the ground situation for good, but Assad wants to pretend that it is still 1990 and he can simply pick up where he left off.
Unfortunately, that won’t work any more. The US will not sit back and allow Assad to just tone down the tyranny temporarily, nor will France. Both have shown a unity of purpose rare in this generation to liberate what used to be one of the most cosmopolitan of Middle Eastern states. Egypt and Saudi Arabia want no more people power demonstrations in the street to inspire and motivate their own oppressed populations — they want Syria to leave immediately as well. Even Russia, Syria’s most strategic ally, has told them that the occupation must end now.
Assad is simply stalling for time with this proposal. He wants to make a show of moving uniformed personnel back to the border while his intelligence services try to gin up another puppet government with which to renew the slow, phased withdrawal of Taif. The Lebanese won’t stand for it, and the US and France will make their impatience known on Syria’s eastern border, using the Iraqi insurgency and Damascus’ assistance towards it a well-justified reason to do so. The UNSC will slap crippling sanctions onto Syria, and they won’t have a neighboring ally to undermine it as they did for Saddam.
Perhaps Assad thinks of himself so highly that he presumes he can overcome all of these obstacles. If so, he won’t remain around long enough to try. Eventually, the same powers that prop him up now will tire of his incompetence, and he will be lucky to find himself making spectacles of anything but himself.