Jennings Spikes Confirmation of Sarin, Highlights Damaged Mosque --5/26/2004
2. CBS Misconstrues Report, Claims Bush Failing in War on Terror
3. Chicago Tribune Finds Girls Who "Had More Fun" Under Hussein
Correction: The May 25 CyberAlert referred to "U.S. Army Lieutenant General David Kimmitt." The correct first name of the Deputy Director for Coalition Operations in Iraq is Mark and his title is Brigadier General, not Lieutenant General. The CyberAlert, however, did accurately quote CBS News reporter David Hawkins as describing Kimmitt as a "Lieutenant General."
Peter Jennings spikes confirmation of sarin in Iraq. ABC's World News Tonight on Tuesday had time for stories on how the turn over of authority in Iraq is not as "simple" as President Bush claims, how Iraqis are skeptical about Bush's promise to tear down the Abu Ghraib prison, with one man wanting to know if there's a guarantee that Bush "will not torture prisoners in the new prison?", how U.S. forces in Najaf had damaged "one of the most important Moslem shrines" and how Israeli bulldozing of a Gaza neighborhood had left an old Palestinian woman "scowling the rubble" for her medicine. But, while the cable networks and CBS and NBC picked up on late afternoon word that a laboratory had confirmed sarin was in a shell in a roadside bomb detonated by U.S. forces on May 15, ABC didn't utter a syllable about it. CBS's Dan Rather added the odd caveat that "whether the sarin came from inside or outside of Iraq is undetermined."
On CNN's NewsNight, anchor Aaron Brown made it his number two story of the night: "As if to add to the chill tonight, there came word that an artillery shell used in a roadside bomb in Iraq did in fact contain sarin nerve gas. A year ago it would have been headline news. Tonight it's a big story again, more for the ramifications than the discovery itself."
David Ensor warned that the discovery "elevates concern that there could be more chemical weapon shells in Iraq, shells that could fall into the wrong hands." Ensor noted that "officials say they suspect the insurgents who used the chemical shell did not know what they had. It was not marked in any way. The team headed by the CIA's Charles Duelfer in Iraq is searching for additional chemical shells. Officials say this one appears to be an old shell, possibly predating the first Gulf War." Ensor, however, pointed out: "The sarin gas shell, and another mustard shell found in Iraq, do show that when Iraq denied in the 1990s having any further chemical weapons it was not telling the truth."
CBS and NBC held coverage to brief items read by the anchors. On the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather announced:
Over on the NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw asserted: "And remember that exploded artillery shell found earlier this month in Iraq? The preliminary tests showed that it contained the deadly nerve gas sarin. Well today U.S. officials said that further lab tests have confirmed it was sarin. They say, however, that the shell dates from before the first Gulf War in 1991, so it is not clear whether those who planted the device knew that it contained a chemical weapon."
ABC and Peter Jennings had other priorities on Tuesday night. The May 25 World News Tonight led with how the award for the capture of Abu Masab al-Zarqawi will be hiked from $10 million to $25 million. Then, from the White House, Terry Moran gave a clause to the Iraqi men in the U.S. to be outfitted for prosthetic hands to replace the ones Saddam Hussein had chopped off, as he focused on questions about the transition: "Meeting this morning with Iraqis who were maimed by Saddam Hussein's regime, President Bush said his plan for the future of Iraq is simple."
Next, Jennings went to Jeffrey Kofman in Iraq for a story on how Iraqis were unimpressed with Bush's pledge to tear down the Abu Ghraib prison. From outside of the prison, he showcased Iraqis "skeptical" of the promise. Kofman relayed the words of some: "'Demolishing the prison,' he says, 'is not a big thing because they can always build a new one.' 'What guarantee is there,' says this man, 'that he will not torture prisoners in the new prison?' Even Iraq's Interior Minister questions the value of tearing down the prison."
Wrapping up the day's Iraq coverage, over a video sequence of the outside of a mosque, what looked like a brick on a floor, an angry crowd and a man in a hospital with people around him holding IV bags, Jennings intoned: "One other item from Iraq today. In the city of Najaf one of the most important Moslem shrines was slightly damaged in fighting between U.S. forces and the militia of the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The U.S. command accused the cleric's fighters of possibly doing it to provoke anger against the U.S. At least 13 Iraqis were killed overnight in Najaf and the nearby city of Pufa [sp?]. In Karbala, the fighters belonging to al-Sadr appear to have left."
It should be noted that back on Monday, May 17, when news first broke about the fear that a shell that had been set off had dispersed some sarin gas, World News Tonight ran a full story by Brian Ross. Jennings downplayed the significance when he introduced Ross: "U.S. military in Iraq said today that an explosive device containing Sarin nerve gas was discovered in Baghdad by U.S. troops. Sarin was one of those banned weapons the US knew the Iraqis had manufactured, but it was supposed to have been destroyed. None of it has ever been found in bulk until now. Can't even say in bulk tonight, but they found a little bit."
Ross cautioned not to over-read the import: "No one is trying to say that this one sarin-filled shell is some kind of a breakthrough in the search for weapons of mass destruction. But there is concern there may be others like it still out there."
Adding an anti-Bush edge to a think tank's report on al-Qaeda's strength, a report which avoided inserting such a blatant political tone, Dan Rather on Tuesday night intoned: "The war in Iraq is, as President Bush sees it, part of the overall war on terror, a war the President insists is being won, citing, for example, the capture of many of al-Qaeda's leaders, though still not the man at the very top, Osama bin Laden. But, as CBS's Mark Phillips tell us, a new report raises some questions about the President's claim."
But the Bush administration never claimed that going to war in Iraq would destroy al-Qaeda, just that it would eliminate a source of potential WMD to use against us. And, as Phillips noted in his story, "the report warns [al-Qaeda] is again planning attacks using, if it can get hold of them, weapons of mass destruction."
From London, Phillips began his story, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "The war on Iraq hasn't weakened al-Qaeda and international terrorism. According to a report issued today, it's strengthened it. The respected International Institute for Strategic Studies says in its annual survey, 'The war has focused the energies and resources of al-Qaeda and its followers while diluting those of the global counter-terrorism coalition.' The report says al-Qaeda still has the numbers -- of the 20,000 terrorists trained in its camps, 18,000 are still at large."
For a five-page PDF of IISS Director John Chipman's press statement summarizing the report: www.iiss.org
His statement doesn't sound as ominous as CBS made out. An excerpt:
Overall, risks of terrorism to Westerners and Western assets in Arab countries appeared to increase after the Iraq war began in March 2003. With the military invasion and occupation of Iraq, the United States sought to change the political status quo in the Arab world to advance American strategic and political interests. Al-Qaeda seeks, among other things, to purge the Arab and larger Muslim world of US influence. Accordingly, the Iraq intervention was always likely in the short term to enhance jihadist recruitment and intensify al-Qaeda's motivation to encourage and assist terrorist operations. The May 2003 attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, the gathering of foreign jihadists in Iraq, and the November 2003 attacks in Saudi Arabia and Turkey confirmed this expectation. The Madrid bombings in March 2004 reinforced the perception that al-Qaeda had fully reconstituted, set its sights firmly on the US and its closest Western allies in Europe and established a new and effective modus operandi that increasingly exploited local affiliates. Al-Qaeda must be expected to keep trying to develop more promising plans for terrorist operations in North America and Europe, potentially involving weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, soft targets encompassing Americans, Europeans and Israelis, and aiding the insurgency in Iraq, will suffice. Given the group's maximalist objectives, its ubiquity and its covertness, stiff operational counter-terrorist measures, inter-governmentally coordinated, are still acutely required. Progress in marginalising transnational Islamist terrorists will come incrementally. It is likely to accelerate only with currently elusive political developments that would broadly depress recruitment and motivation, such as the stable democratisation of Iraq or resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict....
END of Excerpt
The IISS home pages features a link to the above as well as an explanation of how to purchase the report titled, "Strategic Survey 2003/4." Check: www.iiss.org
The Chicago Tribune on Tuesday profiled some victims of Saddam Hussein's ouster from power: Two teenage girls and an 11-year-old who had a life of privilege. "Ironically," due to the violence, reporter Deborah Horan asserted, "Iraq's new freedom -- or chaos, depending on your point of view -- has imprisoned the girls" inside their house.
Horan fondly recalled: "Their teenage world was simpler when Saddam Hussein was in power. Back then, they said, they hung out with friends at the Pharmacists Club, a swanky place with a swimming pool to which their father, the vice president of Iraq's Pharmacists Union, belonged. They watched the latest American and French movies on a television station that was run by Hussein's son Udai, who pirated the latest flicks from the U.S. and Europe."
Without any indication of the lives of oppression, deprivation and horror endured by Iraqis not in Saddam Hussein's favor, Horan managed to cite only one shortcoming of the Hussein years: "Hussein limited access to the Web." But now the girls can "surf the Internet."
Horan's article in Monday's Chicago Tribune, highlighted Tuesday by James Taranto in his "Best of the Web" column for OpinionJournal.com ( www.opinionjournal.com ), appeared under the heading, "LETTER FROM BAGHDAD." The headline: "Imprisoned by Iraq's new freedom." A subhead explained: "The Tribune's Deborah Horan visits with three sisters -- age 11, 15 and 17 -- who say they had more fun and felt safer when Saddam Hussein was in power."
An excerpt from the article in the May 24 Chicago Tribune:
BAGHDAD -- The Sami sisters, ages 17, 15 and 11, listen to Madonna and Britney Spears. They read Agatha Christie novels and watch movies starring Russell Crowe.
They also rarely venture outside their upscale home in central Baghdad out of fear of explosions and violence....
In April, insurgents aiming for an adjacent Iraqi police station launched a mortar round into the field behind the school, sending Mais and her classmates home for 10 days while school authorities determined whether holding classes in the building was safe....
Their teenage world was simpler when Saddam Hussein was in power. Back then, they said, they hung out with friends at the Pharmacists Club, a swanky place with a swimming pool to which their father, the vice president of Iraq's Pharmacists Union, belonged.
They watched the latest American and French movies on a television station that was run by Hussein's son Udai, who pirated the latest flicks from the U.S. and Europe.
"Before, we would have fun," said Farah Sami, 17. "I used to go see my friends. I would even go walking. Now the city is not safe, and I'm afraid."
These days the girls ride in a private taxi their father has hired to take them to school at the exorbitant price of $25 a month per child. There are no school buses in Iraq -- there never were -- and taking any taxi on the street is considered unsafe.
Farah doesn't play basketball with her friends anymore; school authorities looking for ways to shorten the school day for safety reasons have canceled after-school sports, intramural competitions, even painting classes until Baghdad's bombings subside, she said.
Mina Sami, 11, no longer rides her pink bicycle around the neighborhood. If friends come over -- a rare treat -- they play in a front-yard garden hidden from the street by a high wall.
Ironically, perhaps, Iraq's new freedom -- or chaos, depending on your point of view -- has imprisoned the girls; school is their only social outlet....
Sometimes they surf the Internet, still a curiosity to many Iraqis because Hussein limited access to the Web. They chat online with friends, including an American who wanted to know about the U.S. soldiers who patrol Baghdad's streets....
END of Excerpt
For the story in full, registration required: www.chicagotribune.com
# NBC's Brian Williams is scheduled to appear tonight (Wednesday) on NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward is scheduled to appear Friday night on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman.
-- Brent Baker