Thursday, November 29, 2007

CSI: The Web - Tracking Gangs and Porn Stars

I'm continuing to gather string on the the Web as virtual crime scene, which was the theme of Newsweek's story, "Murder Most Wired," about the Meredith Kercher case in Italy, A previous posting looked at the broader context, but here are two more specific examples. One involves a hunt for suspects from an MS-13 gang implicated in the killings of three kids in Newark last August. The other is a story about the recent disappearance of a college student in Kansas who recently began leading a double life as a porn star:

Tracking Newark shooting suspects on MySpace
by Jonathan Schuppe
Sunday August 19, 2007, 12:10 PM
The Star-Ledger

The 60 sleepless hours Newark Detective Rasheen Peppers spent chasing the half-brothers wanted in the Newark schoolyard shootings began at his home in Newark, at the keyboard of his IBM ThinkPad, when he searched for them on the social-networking Web site MySpace.

He found nothing under the name of Rodolfo Godinez, the 34-year-old man police have described as a "principal player" in the murders of three college students on Aug. 4.

But the profile of his 16-year-old half-brother, Alexander Alfaro, was packed with clues. It listed the boy's nickname, "Smokey," and the names of dozens of friends who had sent him messages. It seemed to confirm reports that Alfaro is a member of a Latino street gang called MS-13: It included the name of an MS-13 clique (Guanacos Little Cycos Salvatruchos) and pictures of Alfaro throwing gang signs. The page also verified a crucial clue from early in the investigation: The boy had fled New Jersey.

Thursday, Peppers took an hour to build a bogus MySpace profile so he could try to strike up a conversation with Alfaro's friends. For Peppers, a deputized member of the U.S. Marshals Service task force for the New York-New Jersey region the past five years, it was an online version of the old gumshoe technique of finding friends and neighbors.

The detective spent the rest of Thursday trying to draw out the online friends. That night, the FBI in Washington, D.C., shared an informant's tip that the little brother was in in Virginia.

Peppers, remembering the MySpace page had listed friends from Virginia, asked the FBI to hold off until he and other New Jersey members of the task force could get there. Peppers, Daniel Potucek of the U.S. Marshals and Lydell James, the lead Newark homicide detective on the case, jumped in a car at 3 a.m. Friday.

Once they arrived in Virginia, the FBI told them the informant had seen Alfaro in Woodbridge, Va., hanging out with local members of MS-13. Alfaro was with another gang member from New Jersey, nicknamed "El Guapo."

"Guapo?" Peppers said he asked. "I know Guapo."

Peppers went back to the MySpace list of friends.

Peppers showed FBI agents El Guapo's pictures, which included some tattoos that matched the description provided by the informant.

By Friday night, Peppers and others tracked El Guapo to a Salvadoran restaurant in Woodbridge called Bongo's. El Guapo wouldn't tell them anything useful, so Peppers pressed his partners to raid the seven or eight houses they had been staking out.

As they were preparing for the raids, James got a tip from another informant: Godinez was in nearby Prince George's County, Md., where a black car was waiting to pick him up. The tipster said the car would leave at 2 a.m. Godinez would meet Alfaro and the two would head to Texas, then Mexico, then El Salvador, birthplace of MS-13.

At 1 a.m., investigators rushed to an apartment house in Oxon Hill, Md., about a 45-minute drive from Woodbridge, and raided a first-floor apartment with about 10 adults and teenagers inside, including several MS-13 members getting tattoos.

Godinez was in the crowd, but there was no sign of Alfaro.

Peppers and his partners called authorities in Woodbridge and told them to go ahead with their planned raid on a townhouse at Grist Mill Terrace. At around 1:45 a.m., they caught Alfaro walking out the back door. He didn't put up a fight. ... (more)


Missing student may have been porn star

By ROXANA HEGEMAN, Associated Press Writer

A missing Kansas college student believed to be the victim of foul play apparently led a double life as an Internet porn star by the name of Zoey Zane.

Nude photos of 18-year-old Emily Sander appeared on a Zoey Zane Web site before she vanished, and investigators are looking into whether her modeling had anything to do with her disappearance last Friday.

"She enjoyed it. She is a young teenage girl and she wanted to be in the movies and enjoyed movies. She needed the extra money," Nikki Watson, a close friend of Sander's at Butler Community College, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "Nobody in El Dorado knew besides her close friends."

Sander's brother, Jacob Sander, confirmed that the nude woman pictured on the site is his sister.

El Dorado Police Chief Tom Boren said FBI and state experts on Internet crime have been called in.

"Investigators are aware that Miss Sander was apparently involved in a Web site situation," he said. "Allegations that this may factor into her disappearance are being thoroughly investigated."

Sander was last seen leaving a bar in El Dorado, about 30 miles from Wichita, with a man identified as Israel Mireles, 24, authorities said. Sander and Mireles had met that night at the bar, according to Watson.

After Mireles did not show up Saturday at his job at an Italian restaurant, his employer went to the motel room where he was staying.

"His motel room was found to appear in great disarray, and a large quantity of blood was found in the room," Boren said. "Bed clothing was found to be missing. The police were called."

A nationwide manhunt was under way for Mireles and his 16-year-old girlfriend. A rental car he had been driving turned up Tuesday in Texas, where he had family. Those relatives have been interviewed, El Dorado Detective Justin Phillips said, but he declined to say whether they had seen Mireles or knew where he was....(more)

No link has yet been established between Sander's activity on the Web and her disappearance, but the case does provide an interesting glimpse into the recruitment of porn models and the distribution of revenues. The Zoey Zane site itself has been taken down, but the company that built and hosted it, using the Internet name RagingBucks, is still running this little item:

New Site
SEP 25 2007 - RagingBucks is proud to announce our newest teen site - the launch of! Just as our other solo models, Zoey will be very active on her site. Get ready to see the rebills roll in! Start promoting today!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Immigration Background

The Shadowland column "Urban Legends" argues that new immigrants play an important role making America's big cities safer. Among sociologists and many people in law enforcement, this is understood. But it's so counterintuitive that I thought it might be useful to post a couple of notes and links.

One of the most thorough but accessible background reports is from the Immigration Policy Center, "The Myth of Immigrant Criminality and the Paradox of Assimilation: Incarceration Rates among Native and Foreign-Born Men," available for download as a PDF.

The New York Times' recent article about the decline in homicides does not deal directly with the immigrant question, but is a fascinating read: New York City Murder Rate Falling Fast.

Robert Sampson at Harvard and Jim Lynch at John Jay College were both kind enough to share presentations and papers with me that have not yet been published, but which I hope to link to when they are.

The NYPD also generously gave me a print-out list of 52 foreign countries where 284 of its police cadets in the Dec. 2006 class at the academy were born. The largest numbers come from the Dominican Republic (55), Haiti (24), Jamaica (23), China (18), Poland (12), and Bangladesh (11). Perhaps less predictably there are six from Pakistan, four from Turkey, two from Kazakhstan, two from Kosovo, one from Burma, one from Bosnia, another from Indonesia, and so on and on.

And then there's this story:

Immigrant Breaks Law to Become Cop
Posted: 2007-11-23 13:54:41

MILWAUKEE (Nov. 23) - Oscar Ayala-Cornejo followed the path that leads many red-blooded Americans to law enforcement.

His family lived next to a crack house in Milwaukee, where he says he often heard gunshots and came home to find thieves had stolen the things that his father had worked hard to provide for his mother, older brother and sister.

So he got excited when two officers visited his high school to recruit police aides. The doe-eyed 15-year-old decided he wanted to become a cop, maybe make things a little better than he had it growing up.

"I wanted to change my neighborhood, to change other people's neighborhoods, so they could feel safe, you know," says Ayala, now 25. "Because I didn't feel safe."

He wanted that, it turns out, badly enough to break the law.

Though Ayala's family moved to Wisconsin in 1992 from Guadalajara, Mexico, he says he didn't realize until after he'd made up his mind to wear a badge that he was in the country illegally. He didn't know it until his father, Salvador, told him that if he wanted to be an officer, he would have to go back to Mexico and apply for citizenship, a process that can take at least 10 years.

Ayala cried and soon his father, mother and brother wept, too.

A few days later, his father found another option - one that would help Ayala get his dream job, but also would take it away and could cost him his freedom.

His father's cousin, Carmen, who lived in Chicago, would allow Ayala to take the identity of her son, Jose Morales, who was born five months after Ayala in Illinois and died of stomach cancer when he was about 7....(more)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Perugia Murder Mystery

In the current issue of Newsweek we take a look at the killing of British student Meredith Kercher ("Murder Most Wired") and the primary suspects, including American co-ed Amanda Knox, in the context of the investigation pulled together by the Italian Communications Police. It’s a disturbing and compelling murder mystery in any case, but there are some distinctly 21st-century (and 20-something) twists.

The whole idea of Communications Police raises Orwellian questions. One thinks of the Academy Award-winning German film, “The Lives of Others,” about the way the Stasi listened in on the private worlds of people in East Germany and used that knowledge to manipulate them. Was the movie historical drama or historical parable? That's the question that kept going through my mind as I watched the DVD recently.

In one way or another (if by other names) the communications police are becoming a standard part of law enforcement just about everywhere in the world, and like most police they can oppress or protect depending on the societies where they serve and the laws that govern them.

“For all the benefits and richness that the Internet and modern telecommunications makes possible, there is a dark side to the virtual world,” says Tim Connors, head of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Policing Terrorism. “Unfortunately, these tools also enable crime, terror, violence, bullying and other dysfunctional behaviors. Police in the United States have taken notice. Cyber crime units and virtual investigative techniques are becoming routine business. Law enforcement is also exploiting the Internet as a source of intelligence, which can lead to preventing acts of crime and terror before they occur.”

In the Kercher case, in addition to the elements discussed in the current Newsweek story, you can surmise how the Web may have contributed to motive, and it certainly helps to given and idea of the character of the key suspect.

Whether the killer or killers were influenced by the vast libraries of violent pornography available on the Web is, at this point, an open question. The Communications Police have remained as quiet about such details found on the computers used by the suspects as their Italian CSI colleagues have about the DNA of hair and skin under Kercher’s nails. But the government prosecutor said in a statement earlier this month that the fatal wound to Kercher’s throat, a stab into her windpipe that left her voiceless and bleeding to death slowly, came during an episode of “extreme” sex in which she began struggling to break free. (Some Italian press reports suggest Kercher’s spinal cord may have been fractured as well.)

As for Knox, her short stories on the Web are interesting not only because one character talks glibly about date rape, but because another evidently practices self mutilation. In developing what is supposed to be her own persona on Facebook, “Foxy Knoxy” sounds like she was experimenting a little nervously with the risqué freedoms she found in Europe. She and a German uncle visited the red-light district in Hamburg to do a little gawking on “a street where naked women are posing in front of red tinted windows that they can open to make the deal. ewwww.”


Knox and her sister got lost in Perugia on a first look-see in early September and decided to accept a ride from an older man, even though she thinks hitchhiking is dangerous. She quickly told the driver in broken Italian “we aren’t interested to[sic] going out with his 40-something year old self.” Looking back on that same trip, Knox wrote in her online diary, “I bumped into the most beautiful black man I have ever seen.”

We don’t know from Facebook who that might have been. But two months later, two different African-born men would loom large in the investigation of Meredith Kercher’s murder.

One of them is Diya “Patrick” Lumumba, the slight, round-faced 40-something Congolese owner of a bar called “Le Chic” where Knox landed a job waitressing. After her arrest, Knox would tell police a disjointed story about seeing Lumumba at the cottage she shared with Kercher the night of the murder and cowering in the kitchen with her hands over here ears “because in my head I could hear Meredith screaming.” But Knox also denied that she was there at all that night. She said that she had been smoking marijuana with Sollecito at his place, and making love with him and taking a long shower with him, and that police interrogators had just confused her. She said she might have been dreaming about seeing Lumumba. In fact, no trace of Lumumba – no fingerprints, no DNA -- was found anywhere in the cottage. He has been released for lack of evidence but remains under investigation.

The other African-born suspect is 20-year-old Rudy Hermann Guede from the Ivory Coast, and some people including Amanda Knox might think of him as handsome (although his infamous YouTube appearance doing his imitation of an extraterrestrial vampire wouldn’t leave you with that impression.) We wrote about Guede at length in the current Newsweek article, and also in a piece about his arrest last week by Barbie Nadeau.

These two YouTube postings of Guede and Knox are likely to haunt them for a long time, even if both are proved innocent. In the Knox video, she's silly and drunk, laughing away as a boy in the room makes an anti-Semitic slur about the girl doing the filming.

Mug shots of Rudy Hermann Guede distributed by Italian State Police; photograph of Amanda Knox taken from Facebook.

Kafka in Iraq: The Bilal Hussein Case

In Franz Kafka’s novel “The Trial,” published in 1925, the defendant is never able to discover why he was arrested in the first place. No law is comprehensible; no person he knows is trustworthy. The book ends with the defendant in profound doubt about everything near and far, past and present, as he waits in his cell for execution: “Who was that? A friend? A good person? Somebody who was taking part? Somebody who wanted to help? Was he alone? Was it everyone? Would anyone help? Were there objections that had been forgotten? There must have been some. The logic cannot be refuted, but someone who wants to live will not resist it. Where was the judge he'd never seen? Where was the high court he had never reached?”

Bilal Hussein, an Associated Press photographer in Iraq, is living that same experience, as the Washington Post op-ed by the AP’s president and chief executive, posted below, makes all too clear.

But here's what puzzles me about this case: Since many of the people who were insurgents in Ramadi when Hussein was arrested for being with them are now supposed to be friends of the United States military, does that mean Hussein is a friend, too? Or does it mean he's been fingered by former enemies turned friends to protect their own interests? Or perhaps they actually do have information about him to which the AP has no access. Hard to know since no evidence is available to Hussein, to his lawyer, to his employer or to us.

Railroading A Journalist In Iraq

By Tom Curley
Saturday, November 24, 2007; A17

At long last, prize-winning Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein may get his day in court. The trouble is, justice won't be blind in this case -- his lawyer will be.

Bilal has been imprisoned by the U.S. military in Iraq since he was picked up April 12, 2006, in Ramadi, a violent town in a turbulent province where few Western journalists dared go. The military claimed then that he had suspicious links to insurgents. This week, Editor & Publisher magazine reported the military has amended that to say he is, in fact, a "terrorist" who had "infiltrated the AP."

We believe Bilal's crime was taking photographs the U.S. government did not want its citizens to see. That he was part of a team of AP photographers who had just won a Pulitzer Prize for work in Iraq may have made Bilal even more of a marked man.

In the 19 months since he was picked up, Bilal has not been charged with any crime, although the military has sent out a flurry of ever-changing claims. Every claim we've checked out has proved to be false, overblown or microscopic in significance. Now, suddenly, the military plans to seek a criminal case against Bilal in the Iraqi court system in just days. But the military won't tell us what the charges are, what evidence it will be submitting or even when the hearing will be held.

Not that former federal prosecutor Paul Gardephe, Bilal's attorney, hasn't asked. The conversation went pretty much like this:

When will the court hold its first hearing? Sorry, can't tell you, except it will be on or after Nov. 29. Since we're trying to be cooperative, we will let you know the exact date at 6:30 a.m. the day of the hearing, if you're in Baghdad by then.

What will Bilal be charged with? Sorry, can't tell you. The Iraqi judge who hears the evidence is the one who decides what charges will be filed.

What evidence will the judge be basing that decision on? Sorry, can't tell you. In the Iraqi court system, we don't have to show our specific evidence until after we file the complaint with the court.

Will Bilal be allowed to present evidence refuting your evidence that we can't see in advance? We don't know. He might be. Ask an Iraqi lawyer if you don't know how this works.

It's almost like a bad detective novel: Go to the phone booth at Third and Jones at 6:30 in the morning and wait for a call for further instructions. How is Gardephe to defend Bilal? This affair makes a mockery of the democratic principles of justice and the rule of law that the United States says it is trying to help Iraq establish.

A year ago, our going to trial would have been good news. But today, the military authorities who created the case against Bilal have largely been rotated out of Iraq. Witnesses and evidence that Bilal may need would also be much harder to find, even if there were time to track them down. Further, if Bilal wins, he could still lose: The military has told us that even if the Iraqi courts acquit Bilal, it has the right to detain him if it still thinks he is an imminent security threat…. (more)

A similar story is told in Michael Tucker's grimly funny and also just grim documentary
"The Prisoner."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Flashback: "Countdown Iran" from October 2003

As a sidelight on this week's Shadowland column, "Unreality Check," about the not-so-magical realism at work in the Iranian mind and the U.S. administration, it's worth a glance back at a couple of articles.

One is the essay I wrote for "Foreign Policy" in May 2006:

The Oil Shield
Iran is commanding the world’s attention as the ayatollahs accelerate their race for the bomb. But the timetable for talks—or a nuclear crisis—is not being shaped by centrifuges, uranium, or reactors. It’s about the security only a barrel of oil can provide.
(requires registration)

The other, no longer on the Newsweek site, is published here in its entirety:

Shadowland: Countdown Iran, 17 October 2003

The United States finally won a diplomatic victory in the United Nations. But Washington and Tehran are moving toward war. How far will they go?

By Christopher Dickey

Good news from the United Nations today: the Security Council unanimously approved a new resolution for the reconstruction of Iraq. Unfortunately, even the Security Council’s words are cheap, and reconstruction is not. Worse still, there’s a new war on the horizon.

A countdown has started for war between the United States and Iran. It’s quiet but persistent right now, like the ticking of a Swatch. Soon enough though, alarms will start ringing.

When did this move toward war begin? You could say 25 years ago, with the fall of the Shah of Iran, or just this year, when Saddam was deposed. You could make the case that the clock started the moment some of Osama bin Laden’s key aides found sanctuary in Iran, or on the day that Iranian equipment used to make nuclear fuel showed traces of the stuff used in nuclear weapons. But whenever the countdown to war began, it’s already well under way.

Now, countdowns come in a lot of guises. They can be bluffs as trivial as a schoolyard threat, “I’m gonna count to three!” And sometimes they can be stopped, of course. But when it comes to making war, the closer you get to zero hour, the harder that is to do. Expectations rise, political capital is spent, troops are deployed. A crescendo approaches, a point of no return is passed—or is said to be—and the drama of the countdown itself starts to dictate events.

That’s part of the reason we rushed to war in Iraq last spring. The Bush administration didn’t want to lose the momentum it had drummed up for ousting Saddam Hussein, even if it had to fudge the facts about him. So: weapons of mass destruction? “Check.” Links to Al Qaeda? “Check.” United Nations support? A pause there. “Not needed.” U.S. troops in place? “Check.” Ready for action? “Hoo-ah!” Popular support in Iraq? “That’s what they say.” Popular support in the U.S.? “Just look at the polls!” Pliant press? “Yep.” Supine Congress? “Got it.”

In the case of Iran, the first part of that checklist is much the same, except the evidence against the ayatollahs is much more damning. Weapons of mass destruction? Iran has chemical weapons and probably has developed biological ones, but the danger of nasty germs and poison clouds is minor compared to The Bomb, which Iranians are better able to produce with each passing day. So much evidence has piled up suggesting they’re doing just that, a special team from the International Atomic Energy Agency went to Iran at the beginning of this month. The U.N.-backed organization has set an Oct. 31 deadline for Iran to come clean. Inspectors are still there. Still digging. Their report is expected to be tough. So, WMD? Check. Terrorism? Iran supports suicide attacks on Israelis, and its rap sheet for bombing and kidnapping Americans goes back to 1979. (Just 20 years ago next week, it helped blow up 241 Americans at the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut.) But the big question today is whether Iran has ties to Al Qaeda. In the last few weeks, damning leaks have come out of Washington, Europe and various Arab intelligence services suggesting that, yes indeed, those links exist.

Osama bin Laden’s son, Saad, along with Qaeda operations chief Seif al-Adel and other notables are supposed to be working with a special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards known as the Jerusalem Force. With help from this group, they are reported to have plotted recent attacks in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. The sourcing for these stories is not conclusive. But they’re much more detailed than the vague allegations about Saddam’s Al Qaeda connections. So, terrorism? Check.

If there’d been this much evidence about Saddam, his zero hour would have come a lot sooner.

But what about popular sentiment at home and in Iran? The Iranian people are desperate for a change. In every election since 1997, they’ve showed just how sick they are of this regime. When they thought they could trust the candidates, they turned out in droves and gave them huge majorities. When those candidates failed to deliver, voters stayed away from the polls altogether. In Tehran’s recent municipal elections, only 12 per cent of the electorate showed up. When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded the to human-rights activist Shirin Ebadi last week, it strengthened calls for reform across the board. Isn’t this a cause worth fighting for? And what about domestic political imperatives in the United States? Not to be cynical, but President Bush’s approval ratings speak for themselves. When America’s at war he’s wildly popular, when it’s not, he’s not.

You’d think such calculations would make the mullahs repent, if not resign. But these guys clearly think they can call the American bluff, and they’re sure as hell testing American resolve.

The reason is Iraq. Iran’s hard-liners probably believe the United States is too overextended to take on a new enemy, and most probably they’re right. Iran has 500,000 soldiers and mountainous terrain. It probably has chemical and biological weapons, and it has learned from North Korea that if it does manage to produce nukes, it will not be invaded and could be invulnerable.

The troops Washington has on the ground in Iraq, meanwhile, are easy prey for guerrillas, terrorists or mobs any time the mullahs want to play that game. The Iranians don’t need to show their hand. They have lines in with the Kurds, they can buy off Sunnis and they know all the players among the Iraqi Shiite majority. A Western official who negotiated with several of the powerful clergy in Najaf and Karbala recently came back to Europe convinced that Tehran had those holy cities completely wired: “When I talked to the Iranians they knew verbatim—verbatim—my conversations with the Iraqi ayatollahs.” At best, there’s a stand-off, and a dangerous one for both sides. But the countdown continues.

If the IAEA gives a negative report at the end of this month, which it probably will, Washington will back United Nations sanctions against Iran. But to get the Iranians’ attention, those sanctions are going to have to bite. They’d have to hit Iran’s oil industry. And even tough sanctions, by themselves, are the bluntest of instruments. Best of all would be to back up U.N. pressure with the threat of direct force. The record shows that was very effective against Iraq—before the force was used. But at this point, not even Washington’s closest allies will support that kind of bellicosity. Before the Iraq invasion, apologists like British Prime Minister Tony Blair could claim the countdown was all a game of brinkmanship, that the credible threat of
war was intended, in fact, to prevent war. Who would believe him now?

Among Iranian exiles and retired intelligence agents there’s a lot of talk about surgical strikes on nuclear installations. But with its military overburdened and its diplomacy discredited, the Bush administration might be willing to cut a deal with Iran. It could actually wind up guaranteeing the mullahs’ security, in effect, in exchange for promises (verifiable, of course) that they’ll give up weapons of mass destruction, sign a protocol allowing snap inspections, keep their fingers out of Iraq and turn over their Qaeda cohorts.

That’s not really a happy solution. It would do nothing to encourage the demoralized Iranian majority. It would appease the most dangerous elements of the clerical regime. But it might buy time to explore other solutions, and at least it would stop the countdown. Right now, before the United States gets dragged into a third war in three years, that’s probably not a bad plan.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Flashback to 2003: Pride and Prejudices

When writing the review of Bob Drogin's "Curveball" that appears in Sunday's New York Times Book Review I was reminded how steadfastly the American people resisted the facts dawning on them in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. Unfortunately the column I wrote about all this way back in September 2003 is not live on the Newsweek site for the moment so I am reprinting it here:

Pride and Prejudices
How Americans have fooled themselves about the war in Iraq, and why they’ve had to

Sept. 19 — A sturdy-looking American matron in the audience at the American University of Paris grew redder by the second. She was listening to a panel talking about the Iraq war and its effect on U.S.-French relations, and she kept nodding her head like a pump building emotional pressure.

Finally she exploded: “Surely these can’t be the only reasons we invaded Iraq!” the woman thundered, half scolding, but also half pleading. “Surely not!”

What first upset her was my suggestion that, looking back, the French were right. They tried to stop the United States and Britain from rushing headlong into this mess. Don’t we wish they’d succeeded? (Readers, please address hate mail to

Then she listened as another panelist and I went through the now-familiar recitation of Washington’s claims before the war, and the too-familiar realities since: the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and the inevitable conclusion that Saddam Hussein was not the threat he was cracked up to be, the fantasy that this war could be waged on the cheap rather than the $1 billion per week American taxpayers are now spending, the claim that occupation—called “liberation”—would be short and sweet, when in fact American men and women continue to be shot and blown up every day with no end in sight.

As we went down the list, I could see the Nodding Woman’s problem was not that she didn’t believe us, it was that she did. She just desperately wanted other reasons, better reasons, some she could consider valid reasons for the price that Americans are paying in blood and treasure.

It’s not the first time I’ve come across this reaction. I just spent a month in the States and met a lot of angry people. A few claim the press is not reporting “the good things in Iraq,” although it’s very hard to see what’s good for Americans there. Many more say, “Why didn’t the press warn us?”

We did, of course. Many of us who cover the region—along with the CIA and the State Department and the uniformed military—have been warning for at least a year that occupying Iraq would be a dirty, costly, long and dangerous job.

The problem is not really that the public was misinformed by the press before the war, or somehow denied the truth afterward. The problem is that Americans just can’t believe their eyes. They cannot fathom the combination of cynicism, naiveté, arrogance and ignorance that dragged us into this quagmire, and they’re in a deep state of denial about it.

Again and again, you hear people offering their own “real” reasons for invading Iraq—conspiracy theories spun not to condemn, but to condone the administration’s actions. Thus the “real” reason for taking out Saddam Hussein, some say, was to eliminate this man who rewarded the families of suicide bombers and posed as an implacable enemy of Israel. (Yet the bombings go on there, and surely the chaos in Iraq does nothing for the long-term security of the Jewish state.) Or the “real” reason for invading Iraq was to intimidate Syria and Iran. Yet Tehran, if anything, has grown more aggressive, and may actually have stepped up its nuclear weapons program to deter the United States. (After all, that strategy worked for North Korea.) Or the “real” reason was to secure America’s long-term supply of oil, but the destabilization of the region, again, may make that more tenuous, not less.

But the real problem with such “real” explanations is that they were not the ones cited by President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair as the compelling reasons to rush to war last March. Then, they talked about weapons of mass destruction, and the fight against terrorists.

Which brings us to the grandest illusion of all: the link between Saddam Hussein and September 11. A Washington Post poll published earlier this month concluded that 69 percent of Americans thought it “at least likely” that the former Iraqi leader was personally involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. There’s nothing to back this up. So puzzled political scientist and pollsters, with evident disdain for the public, suggested the connection is just the result of fuzzy thinking: Al Qaeda is evil, Saddam is evil, the attacks on 9/11 were evil and folks just draw dumb conclusions. Other analysts pointed the finger at the administration, which spins harder and faster than Hurricane Isabel to convince us the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror begun on September 11, without quite explaining where it fits in.

Yet just this week President Bush himself (and Donald Rumsfeld, too!) admitted that information to substantiate this popular fantasy just doesn’t exist. “We’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September 11,” Bush said flatly, almost matter-of-factly, on Wednesday.

Is the president taking a chance here? Will the public recoil in horror, claiming he’s somehow lied to them? I don’t think so.

Bush knows what a lot of his critics have forgotten: the Iraq war is not just about blood and treasure, or even about democracy or WMD or terror. It’s about American pride. And people—perfectly intelligent people—have always been willing to sacrifice sweet reason in order to save face, to protect pride. As George Orwell pointed out, they will refuse to see what’s right in front of their noses. He called this condition a kind of political schizophrenia, and society can live quite comfortably with it, he said, until “a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

Well, that’s what’s happening right now. It’s not only American money and lives that are being lost, it’s pride. But people in the United States will try to deny that for as long as they possibly can.

Unfortunately for those of us who live abroad, that’s much harder to do—and that’s why the woman at the American University in Paris the other evening was really so angry. When I stopped her in the hall afterward she said she was terribly upset because even though she’s lived in France for years, and is married to a Frenchman, the behavior of people here in the last few months has made her bitter.

I know just how she feels. The media talk about anti-Americanism, but what’s really noxious right now is an insufferable smugness, a pervasive air of schadenfreude, and I fear it’s a symptom of still worse to come from this Iraq adventure. Because the bitterest contradiction of all may be that this war was waged—first and foremost—to save face after the humiliation and suffering of September 11. It was meant to inspire awe in the Arab and Muslim world, as former CIA operative Marc Reuel Gerecht and others insisted it should be. And in that it truly has failed. Every day we look weaker. And the worst news of all it that it’s not because of what was done to us by our enemies but because of what we’ve done to ourselves.

Published on, Saturday, September 20, 2003

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Dutch Riots: Too Much Tolerance of Intolerance?

A disturbing picture of a deteriorating situation that has attracted little notice outside Holland:

Published 30 Oct 07
International Desk

By Abigail R. Esman
World Defense Review columnist

Riots and Radicals Rising in the Netherlands

For six nights running (as I write this; it may be more by the time you read it), Moroccan youth in the Slotervaart neighborhood have burned cars, busted windows, and brought mayhem to the streets. But unless you're one of those people who follow these things closely, you may not have heard about it yet: the events haven not received much play in the media outside Holland. The chaos hasn't reached the level yet of the Paris riots in 2005; perhaps it just doesn't seem important enough for foreign press to bother with.

But it is important, in part because it comes only days after a multicultural festival in the Hague also ended in a riot, as 200 or more Moroccan youth threw stones and other objects at policemen. Why? Because the time allotted for the Moroccan band had ended and it was another ethnic group's turn to play.

In Amsterdam, the cause is something different altogether. On the morning of October 14, 22-year-old Bilal Bajaka, a Dutch-Moroccan who lived in the area, entered a local mosque and asked directions to the nearest police station. It wasn't far.

At 11:30 a.m., Bajaka entered the police headquarters on the August Allebéplein, leapt across the counter, grabbed a female police officer and stabbed her in the chest. As she tried to free herself, he plunged his knife into her back, perforating a lung. He then lunged at a male colleague, stabbing him in the throat, shoulders, and back. As the two men wrestled, the wounded woman drew her gun and fired. Seconds later, Bajaka lay dead on the police department floor.


As it turned out, this was not Bajaka's first encounter with the Amsterdam police. He'd been arrested earlier, and was known already to have connections to the Hofstadgroep, Holland's largest home-grown terror network to which Mohammed Bouyeri, who slaughtered filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004, also belongs. According to Dutch intelligence records, Bouyeri once paid a visit to Bilal, and Bouyeri's cohort, Samir Azzuz, is known to have met several times with Bilal's brother, Abdullah, probably concerning the acquisition of illegal weapons and explosives.

That's not all. In October, 2005, Dutch intelligence reported that Azzouz, Bilal and Abdullah had planned to shoot down an El Al plane at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. (It is not known exactly what went wrong.) Abdullah was arrested and released within ten days. Bilal himself received no sentence.

This past August, after a slew of smaller crimes, a judge ordered that Bilal Bajaka be admitted to a psychiatric center for treatment of what his parents now say was schizophrenia. Over the next few months, he escaped the center several times before doctors officially released him, maintaining that he posed not threat either to himself or others. On October 11, three days before the stabbing, he checked himself in again.

Then he left... (more)