Thursday, February 28, 2008

Prince Harry "pays his dues" by fighting in Afghanistan

The Drudge Report and Bloomberg broke a scoop today, that Britain’s 23-year-old Prince Harry Windsor was stationed in southern Afghanistan, serving as a lieutenant in a foxhole or bunker, firing off machine gun rounds and calling in chopper strikes against Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents. The story is by Kitty Donaldson and the link is here.

The story had been kept a secret within Britain and in the press for ten weeks, as he had started service in December 2007. The Queen, his grandmother, had approved. The British Army had been unwilling to send him to Iraq because of security reasons. Harry keeps his steel pot and helmet on, hiding his red hair and face from easy recognition.

Apparently, Drudge first picked up the story from an Australian source.

Major news media presented stories tonight. It is likely that the British government will remove him and reassign him away from combat areas.

The NBC Nightly News show for 2/28 has a Web Extra video link (5:47) here. At one point it shows him handling a cigarette (that’s depressing!) Harry is third in line to the British throne.

Harry’s service fits in to the debate about the “everyone serves” principle, that people should not be sheltered from sharing risks because of family advantages. (I was “sheltered” in the Army however, and never went to Vietnam.) It fits into the debate in the US on national service, the possibility of resuming a formal draft, and the current stop-loss “backdoor draft.”

Harry and William, as "the boys", presented a bang-up concert at Wembley in July to honor their mother Princess Diana; they were informal and looked as though they would navigate the disco circuit.

The story leaked one day after a bizarre story from Canada and Britain about military personnel security and the Internet (Feb 27).

Update: March 1

The British government did remove him from Afghanistan. Prince William is likely to serve in the Royal Navy later this year.

Yet a question remains, if Prince Harry's "presence" endangers the security of his unit in a combat area, what does that say about how well Britain has secured its combat theater in Afghanistan? What does that say about the effectiveness of the coalition with the United States? Presumably, with the proper military security that is expected, Harry's "presence" would provoke no risk, because his area should be impenetrable anyway. So, what is really going on "over there"?

So try this "litany" on SNL, and have the players recite it in unison: "Royal blood is incompatible with military service. The presence in the military environment of persons with royal blood seriously impairs the accomplishment of the military mission...." Remember the "123 Words."

March 10, 2008

AOL is running an AP story by Rohan Sullivan "Magazine Sorry for Prince Harry Story", about an apology from New Idea Magazine in Australia. The AOL link is here. (AP's search function for stories on its own site was not working this morning.)

China's human rights abuses draw even more criticism as Olympics approach

China is coming under increasing criticism for its prosecution (or persecution) of dissidents as the Beijing Olympics approaches.

A major recent story appeared Jan. 31, 2008 on Human Rights News: "China: Olympic Promises Are Not Being Kept: Government Toughens Censorship, Cracks Down on Human Rights Defenders," link here. There is particular concern about the arrest of Hu Jia for "incitement to subvert state power" on Dec. 27, 2007.

The case got mentioned by reporters at President Bush's press conference this morning in Washington.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Canada, Britain warn troops about posting personal information on social networking sites, blogs

Well, as in the movie "Southpark," Blame Canada! Reuters has a story of a Canadian Broadcasting Report that Canadian soldiers have been told not to post personal information on social networking sites such as Facebook. The story appeared Feb. 26 and the link is here.

All military operations have to be concerned about soldiers' posting details about military operations in their "grassroots journalism" that has become popular and a source of valuable information about the war in Iraq especially. This concern seems to be more about personal information. Canadian authorities are concerned that homes of servicemembers (and families) could be targeted. NBC4 reported this story tonight and also mention that Britain has told troops the same thing. It also was bookmarked on

Of course, some sources claim that this is simply a way to clamp down on information on the progress (or lack thereof) in the war. But it sounds like it is more about security for the soldiers themselves and their families, even at home.

This has not been reported by the media in the US. Because of the "don't ask don't tell" policy in the US military, American soldiers may not post information about gay sexual orientation on the Internet, but that would not itself be a concern in other Nato countries that have lifted the ban. This personal information (in this story) is more about home address, family members, and that sort of thing.

American teenagers and college students are told that they should not post such personal information on social networking sites because of family security from domestic problems.

However, concern from enemies (mainly radical Islam or Al Qaeda) that could represent personal risks for persons is more marked overseas, especially in Britain and perhaps France and the Netherlands , where Muslim assimilation has become a big social issue, as reported in Bruce Bawer's book "While Europe Slept." Author Salman Rushdie, living in England, has lived with threats from Islamic extremists because of his "blasphemous" writings. It's not clear that this is such an issue in Canada.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Meeting in Oslo today to discuss reducing nuclear risks

Former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) has an interview online "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons: An Interview With Nuclear Threat Initiative Co-Chairman Sam Nunn; by Daryl G. Kimball and Miles A. Pomper," at the Arms Control Today site, link here. The interview, while reiterating the need to secure loose nuclear materials in Russia and the former portions of the Soviet Union, also talks about lengthening warning times and removing quick launch weapons, given the possibility of an "accident" with Russia or perhaps China or other powers at some time in the future, as well as nagging concerns about future stability of these former enemies from the Cold War.

The Nuclear Security Project has a writeup on the October 2007 "Reykjavik Revisited" conference, here.

Today, Feb. 26, there is a meeting with representatives from 29 countries in Oslo, Norway to discuss reducing dangers from nuclear weapons and radiological materials.

I received a complimentary copy of the film "The Last Best Chance" from the NSP/NTI about two years ago, which I have discussed on this blog in Nov. 2007.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Pakistan to cut off YouTube access

Pakistan has apparently banned all access to YouTube within the country ("The Land of the Pure") after publicity about a planned short film release from Dutch filmmaker Geert Wilders, which would portray Islam as "fascist" and prone to violence and repression of women and gays. The AP story is by Sadaqat Jan and is titled "Pakistan Blocks YouTube Video Access," link here. The story appeared on p 9 of the Washington Post this morning in print.

It does seem bizarre that a whole major site is blocked because of one item, but I don't know whether Pakistan would have been able to block that one item alone; but it seems from various reports that China blocks many specific items and sites, even with the help of major companies wanting to continue to do business in this market.

To cover the rapidly evolving political developments in Pakistan after Musharraf's election loss, go here on CNN.

I recently found that a spider had been run against my site from Iran, and it lingered, trying to load a few specific videos repeatedly (perhaps only because it couldn't connect).

Update: Feb. 26, 2008

Jane Spencer has a story on page B1 print of the Feb. 26, 2008 Wall Street Journal, "How a System Error in Pakistan Shut YouTube," link here. Service on YouTube was actually disrupted around the world on Sunday (Feb. 24) because of a problem called "black-holing" where router errors accumulated and backed up on servers because of the "coronary" blockage in Pakistan. It still isn't clear why only that one clip couldn't be blocked Pakistan. Visitors may be able to comment on this.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cuba; Kosovo

There are plenty of media reports about the resignation of Fidel Castro, such as this one on CNN. His resignation letter is here.

This was the closest Communist country for decades, and Castro’s coziness with the Soviets in 1962 led to the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, the closest we ever came to all out nuclear war. The only other incident in recent decades of comparable risk to the United States is 9/11, if that. The Crisis was dramatized in the New Line film “13 Days,” in 2000. And the whole incident may have started with the abortive “Bay of Pigs” in 1961 and may have been involved in the Kennedy Assassination in 1963.

The rise of Castro motivated the recent Andy Garcia film “The Lost City,” and an earlier film about a gay artist from Cuba, “Before Night Falls.” The pre-Castro period inspired "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights," as well as another film from Cuba about pre-Castro in last year's international film circuit, "The Silly Age."

Before Castro, Cuba as a whole may have enjoyed a higher standard of living than did Spain.

Michael Moore ended his film “Sicko” with a laughable sequence about how great health care is in Cuba.

In 1980, the gay communities, particularly in Texas, Florida, and the South actually prepared to house a lot of Cuban refugees, many of whom were thought to have left because of anti-gay policies in Cuba.

The US has recognized Kosovo, but the CIA website does not yet have a separate fact sheet on it as an independent country. Even before the declaration, it had been considered as “de facto independent. Wikipedia already has an entry on the independence declaration here. One wonders how the autonomy compares with other areas of the world, like the Basque area of Spain (which I visited in 2001).

The one big film recently that dealt with Milosevic’s fall was “Behind Enemy Lines” starring Owen Wilson, in 2001. The Balkans were a major issue early in the Clinton years, with a major Time issue in 1993 simply titled "Bosnia."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Reading Bin Laden's Mind: a creative writing exercise (from Washington Post)

The Outlook section, on p. B3 of The Washington Post today, has a spoofy piece by Michael Scheuer, from the "Department of Creative Writing," -- "READING BIN LADEN'S MIND: The State of the Jihad, As He Might See It," link here.
Bin Laden's goals are indeed "radical Islamist" and not "moralistic" for the sake of self-righteousness. His goals are to drive the United States from Arab lands, eliminate the state of Israel, and settle rifts with the Shiites.

The piece is very curious. Americans made radical Islam "cocky" by a gratuitous invasion of Iraq in 2003 and occupation since. But Islam has become as concerned with its own struggles between Sunnis and Shiites as with Americans and Zionists. The "danger" is that Americans could actually withdraw, and Islam could still self-destruct with its own internal struggle, leading to Civil War in Iraq (already in progress).

Is this bin Laden's thinking, or that of a western analyst? (Ask Peter Bergen, author of a major book on bin Laden shortly after 9/11: Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden). Nevertheless, the "creative writing" piece goes on to recommend major distractions aimed at the U.S.: another homeland attack outdoing 9/11, and destruction of oil-producing facilities in Saudi Arabia, with its evil "American puppet" monarchy.

It seems amazing that Saudi oil security has been as successful as it has. (But rent and see the Participant film "Syriana" and you'll see the vulnerability.) When oil prices slipped in the mid 1980s with increasing Middle Eastern production (partly because of Reagan administration policies at the time) the economy in the West, first jolted by a bit of disruptive real estate deflation in some areas and a wave of hostile corporate mergers, eventually took off with its new productivity and efficiency. But life in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries seemed to deteriorate, as young Muslim men had troubles finding wives because of economic issues and even polygamy (a point often noted by social conservatives). The picture became mixed by Afghanistan (the initial eviction of the Soviets), the Iran-Iraq war, and then the Persian Gulf War. Still, the trend is clear: Islamic society has fallen into despair because of its own internal policies, hidden by self-righteous religiosity.

An article on p A1 (World Section online) of the Sunday Feb. 17 New York Times by Michael Slackman, "Stifled, Egypt’s Young Turn to Islamic Fervor," describes how young men in a more moderate state are troubled by the system, and the article discusses the importance, difficulty, and extreme expense of getting married, here. Marriage is often the only way wealth is transferred in Egyptian society today.

Also, tonight, Peter Bergen reported on CNN that Al Qaeda's "popularity" is now way down in Pakistani mountainous tribal areas, a hard finding to interpret.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Proposal to recognize Sharia for Muslims in Britain met with shock and outrage

Recently, many media outlets have been reporting calls for applying Sharia law in Muslim areas of Britain. This could include some civil benefits for polygamous marriages. Immediately, this brings up the obvious objection that polygamy in effect denies many men the opportunity to marry and have their own families, a criticism that social conservatives have long made of many non-Judeo-Christian cultures (some, like George Gilder in the 1980s, even connected this to homosexuality). It can be argued that polygamy is a major cause of social despair among young men in some Islamic societies, leading to an interest in martyrdom and terrorism. But the major objection is that in a constitutional democracy, the law has to apply equally to all citizens, male or female, married or not.

The London Telegraph reported, in an article by Patrick Hennessy and Melissa Kite, " Poll reveals 40pc of Muslims want sharia law in UK," here (back from 2006).

But much of the controversy started Feb. 11, 2008, with the story "VIEW: Archbishop of Canterbury suggests adoption of sharia in Britain," as in the Times of India, link here.

The Bishop of Hulme condemned this proposal; story "Bishop condemns 'shameful' sharia outcry", by James Sturcke, Hélène Mulholland in the UK Guardian, link here.

Then, on Tuesday Feb. 12, the Washington Times reported, "Britain clears way for polygamy benefits," link here. This is despite the fact that polygamy is outlawed in Britain, but individual Muslims are never prosecuted for it.

Then, today in the same paper, Helen Dale offered a perspective "Islam, Britain," link here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Six men who helped plot 9/11 to be tried before military tribunal

Six men captured overseas and held at Guantanamo will be charged with the 9/11 attacks and tried before a military tribunal in a manner similar to that allowed for US soldiers. The government expects to ask for the death penalty, but the military judge might not accept the request. The procedure may take several years.

The list of persons is Mohammed al-Qahtani (the "20th hijacker"), Ramzi bin al-Shibh (the intermediary with Al Qaeda, "The Base"), Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali (alias Ammar al-Baluchi), Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Walid bin Attash, and Khalid Shaikk Mohammed. The United States has not executed a military prisoner since 1961.

The story ("U.S. Charges 6 With Key Roles in 9/11 Attacks") is by William Glaberson, appears on p A1 of the Feb. 11, 2008 New York Times, and the link is here. All major media outlets have similar stories today.

The government is finally making formal charges. Human rights advocates have criticized the used of waterboarding and other techniques, as noted in the previous posting, and this was apparently used against Khalid. However, a story in the Feb. 12 Washington Post by Josh White, Dan Eggen and Joby Warrick, "U.S. to Try 6 On Capital Charges Over 9/11 Attacks; New Evidence Gained Without Coercive Tactics," indicates that the FBI and intelligence services used great care in interrogation. The Post link is here. Media reports indicate that executions by injection would happen at Guantanamo.

Bruce Fein has a commentary, "Torture Exonerated?" in the Feb. 12, 2008 Washington Times, link here.

Zacarias Moussaoui was tried before a US district court in Alexandria, VA with a jury. He did not get the death penalty, and will serve life without parole in a super-max in Colorado. This new action, against suspects captured overseas, will be more like a military court martial.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Human Rights First presses for reform in Intelligence Authorization Act (presented at film screening)

A representative of Human Rights First was present tonight (Feb. 8) at Landmark E Street Cinema (showing of "Taxi to the Dark Side") (review) with information urging voters to support the United States Senate in passing Section 327 of the Intelligence Authorization Act, HR 2082, as soon as Feb. 13. The organization did have a handout (shown). (Note: if you enter the URL without the 's' on "rights" you get an insurance sales site.)

The blog entry that discusses this provision is here
on that site. Dec 13, 2007. The blog on waterboarding is here.

Other stories on the site include "U.S. Efforts to Resettle Iraqi Refugees Still Lag," "Military Commissions Resume at Guantanamo," "HRF Urges U.S. to Work for Improved U.N. Review Conference on Racism," and "Your Voice Can Make a Difference in Kenya."

The Govtrack references (for the 110th Congress) are H.R. 2082 "Intelligence Authorization Act", here, introduced by Rep. Silvestre Reyes [D-TX] and S 1538 "Intelligence Authorization Act," here, introduced by Sen. John Rockefeller [D-WV].

I am unable to locate a section 327 in the text of either bill and would appreciate a comment from a visitor who knows exactly where the wording of the Section 327 is.

An episode of CWTV's "Smallville" on Feb 14 2008 suggests that "rendition" could be accomplished with telepathy from machines wired to read the brain waves of an unconscious person. Maybe.

There was an earlier posting about waterboarding on Dec. 11, 2007 on this blog.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

US missile hit in Pakistan's tribal area: is there a Libyan connection?

Imtiaz Ali and Craig Whitlock from The Washington Post Foreign Service have an important story “Al-Qaeda Figure Moved Freely in Pakistan: Commander Killed Last Week Had Lived in Northwest for Years,” on p A1 Monday Feb. 4, 2008, link here. The website article has the subtitle “Libyan Killed Last Week Operated Openly.” This refers to Abu Laith al-Libi, who operated relatively openly near Peshawar in the northwest tribal areas of Pakistan, where the Taliban has been regrouping. PBS Frontline had reported on this general problem with a film last week, discussed here.

Al-Libi was apparently killed in a US missile strike (reportedly a CIA drone) in north Waziristan. The US has complained that Pakistan had been particularly lax in pursuing him, but that may be related to the lack of ability of the Pakistani area to operate in the tribal areas.

There are some dots to connect here. Relations between the United States and Libya are said to be improving and formal diplomacy is supposed to be getting re-established. (Check Wikipedia and the CIA site.) Yet, a recent book by David Armstrong and Joseph Trento notes that, in keeping Pakistan armed with small nuclear weapons (which Al Qaeda could get control of if there were a coup unless US troops could protect them still), a company in Libya has been supplying unusual machine parts. These sorts of weapons require maintenance and specific parts to remain operative. I discussed this book in December 2007 in my books blog, here.

Early on Thanksgiving morning in 2007, I received cell phone calls from “Africa” looking for another party with a common English surname. I traced the country code to Libya. The calls may have been genuine wrong numbers, but I had to turn the cell phone off to stop the calls. After I read the book by Armstrong-Trento, I reported this to the FBI.

Visitors should also check out The Washington Times commentary today (Tuesday, Feb. 5) by Claude Salhani, "Jihad Turning Point?", here.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Pentagon pressured on its plans to respond to up to 15 WMD scenarios

Kristin Roberts and Alan Elsner of Reuters has a major report "Pentagon rejects report, says ready for WMD attack," link here, Friday Feb. 1, 2008.

The Pentagon keeps on working at a detailed plan to respond to up to fifteen WMD domestic scenarios, including coordinated chemical attacks, attacks against certain kinds of facilities, or nuclear or radiological attacks. The way the National Guard has been used overseas in Iraq is criticized, since the Guard would be the first line of military response in case of a massive catastrophe at home. But the same is true of natural disasters. The difficulty in responding to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 does not seem encouraging.

In early 2003, the Center of the American Experiment in Minneapolis solicited contributions on preparations for WMD attacks. At the time, there was still a widespread belieft that Saddam Hussein had them and was a threat, partly based on Colin Powell's report to the United Nations in February 2003.