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“No Freedom from Fear”


Gee. I wonder whether it’s purely an accident of history that Washington “feels more and more like a fortress these days”? And in what, exactly, this “whole terrorist atmosphere” has its origins?

In the “armed guerrillas” of Baghdad and Najaf, perhaps? Not to mention the “gangs of roving nihilist terrorists” (Christopher Hitchens’ phrase) who slip back and forth across the borders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran—and parts much farther afield? Parts unknown?

Or in the armed insurgency being run out of Washington—but now a truly global insurgency, directed at the rest of the world?

(Memo to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whose office still awaits the delivery of the final report of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change that it convened last November, with the task of addressing the “major threats and challenges the world faces in the broad field of peace and security, including economic and social issues insofar as they relate to peace and security, and making recommendations for the elements of a collective response” (SG/A/857, Nov. 4, 2003): What the hell do you propose the world do about the Super Gangs of roving nihilist aggressors and occupiers that are part of the international structure of coercion headquartered in places like Washington and London? Call for firm multilateral action to try and contain them? Or denounce the Government in Khartoum while expressing how sad you are that violence just seems to keep flaring up around the world—all of your rhetoric about the actually-existing connections between different threats notwithstanding? (SG/SM/8855, Sept. 8, 2003.))

Anyway. I like the fact that the Chicago Tribune‘s reporter turned to a “trauma psychologist” (whatever this is, exactly) to see what he thinks about all of this Government by FEAR. (This is assuming, of course, that the mind of the “trauma psychologist” is not equally captive. A risky assumption, though. It seems to me.)

Wonder how we ZNet bloggers might go about producing an estimate, or some kind of index, if you will—not of the terror alert status facing the “Homeland,” real or imaginary—but of the level of fear and the concomitant moral and intellectual incapacitation that the so-called War on Terror has sown in the hearts and minds of its victims?

Just make Moqtada al-Sadr go away. Just make the Al-Mahdi Militia disarm. Just keep nukes out of the reach of Tehran. Use whatever means necessary to stop Khartoum and its Arab Janjaweed Militia from committing genocide in the Darfur states of the Sudan. Search my car, if you have to. My home. The various records of my existence. Probe the inside of my mouth. My anal cavity. And detain the weird-looking guy up the street. In fact, detain all of the weird-looking guys you like. Just don’t bother me with it any longer. Above all, just make it all go away.

The American state-media nexus labors tirelessly to erect the ramparts of war everywhere that falls within its reach. In all honesty, do we have any good reason at all to wonder why so-called symbols of democracy feel more like armed encampments and prisons?

FYA (“For your archives”): Am depositing here copies of two articles (exhibits, really) from this morning’s Chicago Tribune: Anastasia Ustinova, “No freedom from fear,” and Hugh Dellios, “Terror alerts ripple south of U.S. border: Al Qaeda figure possibly sighted in Honduras.” In various ways, they both iterate as well as exemplify, and indeed betray, the nature of living in a world governed by fear. (Sorry I can’t provide a hyperlink to it, since all it would give you is the Trib‘s demand that you register with its website in order to access a copy—an unfair restriction on the use of the Internet, as far as I’m concerned, and therefore a violation of the rules of ZNet blogging. Of course, you’re always free to register with any website you like. It’s just that I’m not going to compel you to do it, when I can give you a copy of the material instead.)

Chicago Tribune
August 19, 2004
LETTER FROM WASHINGTON
No freedom from fear
These days, a city designed as a symbol of democracy feels more like an armed camp, Anastasia Ustinova writes

WASHINGTON — The latest round of terrorist threats in Washington did not come as a surprise to David Young, who is accustomed to security alerts shifting up and down the color-coded scale. Still, he thought his consulting job at the World Bank headquarters, listed as one of the potential targets, was not worth the risk.

So he quit.

“I am not a person who gets scared easily,” said Young, 35, who has traveled to Papua New Guinea, Honduras and Guatemala and would know what to do if confronted by armed guerrillas. “But in the case of working in a building that was targeted for years, the risk is multiplied.”

Young’s decision may seem extreme, and the World Bank has not had a significant drop in staff since Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge placed the bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington, as well as institutions in New York and New Jersey, on heightened alert Aug. 1.

But there is little doubt that Washington, conceived by the French engineer Pierre L’Enfant as a city of grand open spaces symbolic of democracy, feels more and more like a fortress these days. The streets, with their traffic circles and squares, also were designed to frustrate invading armies, and that effect has only been heightened.

Even before the Sept. 11 attacks, Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was closed for security reasons. After the terrorist attacks, roads around the Capitol were closed and barriers erected. A new visitors center is being built at the Capitol, in part to better screen visitors.

On the streets of Washington, many residents say the new alerts have struck a nerve.

“People are a lot more anxious. They are a lot more aware of their surroundings,” said Ken Buscaow, 57, who works downtown. “The whole terrorist atmosphere has everybody on edge.”

Since the latest alerts, the Capitol Police have erected a dozen security checkpoints and barricades around the Capitol building and throughout the city to prevent a possible truck-bomb attack. More than 1,600 officers are deployed in the neighborhoods around Capitol Hill, working 12-hour shifts.

Although similar concerns were raised in 1995 when President Bill Clinton shut down part of Pennsylvania Avenue after a truck bomb destroyed the Oklahoma City federal building, officials say this year’s measures are unprecedented.

“Washington, D.C., is going to be defined by military roadblocks and endless chains of Jersey barriers and automatic weapons,” said Tony Bullock, a spokesman for Mayor Anthony Williams. “This is not the America that we want to see. You don’t enhance freedom by restricting the rights of citizens and terrifying them.”

Williams and Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington’s non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives, have charged that local police failed to consult city officials before closing parts of a street in front of the Capitol. They contend the closing will cause enormous congestion when lawmakers and their staff members return to Washington in September.

Capitol Police spokesman Michael Lauer said his agency will work with city officials on a more solid security plan by the time Congress resumes.

But while local and federal officials are bickering, armed police officers on every corner have not made Capitol Hill neighborhood resident Catherine Phillips, 25, feel any safer.

“The fact that we have so many policemen in D.C. and yet there is such a ridiculously high crime rate means it’s not doing that much,” Phillips said. “Obviously security is necessary, but they are taking it to the extreme. They are taking the resources from other areas where they could use it as well.”

Although the security alerts come at the height of the tourist season, those who don’t have to deal with the heightened security indefinitely don’t seem to mind.

“I feel very safe around here,” said Sarabeth Sahmaunt, 46, of Oklahoma City, as she stood in front of the White House in a group of tourists, watched closely by Secret Service agents. “It’s something that they had to do for everybody’s safety.”

But Robert Butterworth, a trauma psychologist in Los Angeles, said constant security alerts run the risk of keeping people on edge, making them more skeptical of the warnings.

“You can say that the sky is falling only for so long,” Butterworth said.

Chicago Tribune
August 19, 2004
Terror alerts ripple south of U.S. border
Al Qaeda figure possibly sighted in Honduras
By Hugh Dellios
Tribune foreign correspondent

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — The reported sighting of the suspected Al Qaeda operative in the Internet cafe was hard to verify. It was also hard to dismiss.

A witness said she saw Adnan el Shukrijumah, a Saudi native on the FBI’s terrorist watch list, in the cafe in this Central American capital in May. A photo of Shukrijumah, whose name was linked to the recent terrorism alert in New York, also was identified by the cafe owner, who said the suspect and two companions spoke little Spanish.

This week, the FBI and U.S. consular officials along the Mexico border put out an alert asking people to be on the lookout for Shukrijumah trying to enter U.S. territory.

The possible sighting, which Honduran and U.S. authorities investigated, is one of several alerts and potential threats in recent months that have added to jitters about the possibility of a terrorist attack on the U.S. or its interests from beyond its porous southern border.

Last week, the FBI investigated and ultimately discounted a report that another Al Qaeda suspect tried to open a bank account in Tijuana, across the U.S.-Mexico border from San Diego. U.S. officials are questioning a suspected Pakistani who carried a South African passport and a plane ticket to New York when she crossed illegally from Mexico into Texas.

Farther south, El Salvadoran officials and the FBI are probing Web site threats from a group naming itself after Sept. 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta, which vowed to stage attacks in that country if it replaces its small contingent of troops fighting with U.S. forces in Iraq. The 380 fresh troops are due to depart Thursday.

While officials emphasize they have not uncovered any confirmed threats in the region, many have raised their state of alert in recent months as worries in the U.S. ripple southward to those in charge of protecting Gulf of Mexico oil facilities, shipping ports and tourist destinations popular with Americans.

“We’re taking a lot of precautions,” said Oscar Alvarez, the Honduran security minister, adding that his analysts took the Internet cafe report seriously. “We’re putting a lot of security in the ports.”

Officials and analysts point to many strategic sites that could be targets for anti-U.S. terrorists in the region. Not least among them is the Panama Canal, where the U.S. and seven other nations from the region participated in joint anti-terrorism maneuvers last week.

Last spring, analysts with the private U.S.-Mexico Binational Council identified the Cantarel oil field in Mexico’s Campeche Sound as another possible target because it produces more than 50 percent of Mexico’s oil. The U.S. imports 15 percent of its oil from Mexico.

But the primary concern is the established trafficking networks that funnel drugs and illegal immigrants up the Central American isthmus and through the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, and whether those routes could be used by terrorist organizations.

Mexico’s efforts praised

U.S. officials in the region have tried to strike a balance between sounding reassuring and advising caution. In Mexico’s case, U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza and others have praised the government of President Vicente Fox for its cooperation since Sept. 11, although concerns linger about police corruption and efficiency.

Worries about the difficulty of patrolling the border have risen along with fears in the U.S. about a terrorist strike before the presidential election in November. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced that illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico and Canada will be immediately deported.

“There is a concern that as we tighten the security of our ports of entry through biometric checks, there will be more effort made by terrorists through our vast land borders,” said Asa Hutchinson, the department’s undersecretary, in making the announcement.

A U.S. official said the authorities in Mexico have had to deal with an “overwhelming” number of leads and reports about potential terrorist threats, though so far none has led to a publicly known danger.

“Are we more concerned than we were six months ago about Mexico? Yeah,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But again, it’s not because of any specific intelligence. It’s just across the board. Where are the gaps [in security]? Where are the loopholes?

“Every lead now, you have to treat it as the real thing,” he said. “You’ve got to follow up and track it down, and so far it’s worked well.”

Mexico has taken a number of security steps with an eye toward the terrorist threat. Last year, it devised a mobilization plan under which it can deploy 18,000 security personnel to the border and other sites of U.S. interest. It has participated in joint anti-terrorist training exercises, such as a simulated hijacking of a chemical tanker truck at the Texas border last month.

“Mexico is being very pragmatic about this,” said Ana Maria Salazar, a former Pentagon official and now a security analyst in Mexico City. “If an enemy of the U.S. gets through that border, just the thought of the impact is so horrendous.”

U.S. officials also praise Honduras for the security steps it has taken. They include improved efforts to disrupt money laundering, a new border police force, a new version of passports that previously were easy to counterfeit and stepped-up security at the largest cargo port in the Caribbean, Puerto Cortez.

The possible terrorist sighting rang alarm bells in the government.

Shukrijumah, 28, is a Saudi-born former U.S. resident whom the FBI suspects may be plotting attacks against the United States. Some officials suspect he may have done some of the surveillance of New York financial institutions that led to this month’s alert there.

U.S. officials also say they think he is one of the Al Qaeda operatives in touch with Jose Padilla, the former Chicago gang member in U.S. custody for allegedly plotting to blow up buildings in U.S. cities with a radioactive “dirty bomb” or natural-gas explosions.

Shukrijumah was thought to be living or traveling in Latin America and was seen in Panama in 2001. He previously lived with his Muslim cleric father in Miramar, Fla., and also has family in Guyana. U.S. officials say he may be carrying passports from Guyana, Saudi Arabia, Trinidad and Canada.

Alvarez, the Honduran minister, said the owner of the cafe described the men he saw as sloppily dressed and speaking English and French. The cafe records indicate the men placed calls to France and Canada.

`Following this tip’

The minister said the sighting corresponded with other unverified reports that some foreigners were recruiting Hondurans to carry out terrorist attacks.

“We are following this tip and we believe it is credible,” said Alvarez, who leads the government’s campaign to control violent street gangs.

U.S. officials in Honduras say they found the sighting of Shukrijumah “unlikely.” They noted that it came at a time when his image only recently was posted on the FBI’s Internet list with a reward of $5 million and that other such sightings of him were reported.

Still, they said, they have not been able to rule it out.

“There are these established smuggling networks; they are a threat to the U.S., and we are taking it seriously,” one U.S. official said. “People in the U.S. have to realize that our anti-terror effort is not just limited to the Middle East.”

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