THE INTELLIGENCE SOURCE SPEAKS

Oxford, England

When people have asked me whether I am angry that 10 Downing Street plagiarized my article in the September issue of Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA), my answer has been “no.” What has angered me is when people like Alexander Cockburn in his March 3 “Beat the Devil” column, “The Great ‘Intelligence’ Fraud,” have criticized the UK dossier because it came from my article, which in his words was “spliced together” by a student like myself. First of all, the article took me three months to write and was by no means “spliced.”

Cockburn suggests that since I have never been to Iraq, my work should not be valued. Nevertheless, if you ask anyone who has studied Iraq in depth, they would state that the expert on the Iraqi regime is Amazia Baram, an Israeli scholar who also cannot travel to Iraq.

Cockburn is critical of the fact that my article was published in MERIA, an Israeli journal. I published the article in MERIA for the simple reason that it is the most widely used online journal dealing with the Middle East.

He also suggests that I colluded with Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile affiliated with the US government. Again, Makiya had no role in aiding me with this article.

The only agenda I had in writing this piece was strictly an academic one. While governments have invested millions in their intelligence services, I believe this whole incident demonstrates that the real “intelligence” comes from within the universities. Perhaps both the UK and US governments should reconsider how much they invest in their education, given that a “student” could produce a piece of material that they would pass off as the latest intelligence on Iraq.

IBRAHIM AL-MARASHI


COCKBURN REPLIES

Petrolia, Calif.

As regards Kanan Makiya, I checked again with Ken Raposa, the freelance journalist who interviewed al-Marashi, and whom I cited. Raposa’s response: “This is how Ibrahim responded to my question, ‘Where did you get your resources for your study, and how long did it take you to do it?'”

Ibrahim: “I started it in 1998 and used sources from Harvard’s Iraq Research and Documentation Project, founded by Kanan Makiya. He arranged for 4 million Iraqi documents to be shipped out of Kurdish rubble right after Desert Storm. These are captured Iraq documents.”

Regarding MERIA, my point was that the intelligence memo served up by Tony Blair to Colin Powell was a politically inspired document, written by a Shiite student, published by an Israeli-based think tank hot for war, swiped off the web by Blair’s harried minions.

I’m glad al-Marashi didn’t just pull an all-nighter, like many a student. As for not visiting Iraq, on-site research or experience isn’t mandatory, though it can help. Either way, I never said that al-Marashi’s work was valueless. His final paragraph makes a sound point. And there’s good news too. Al-Marashi has said he’s using Andrew and Patrick Cockburn’s excellent book Saddam: An American Obsession (Verso) in a new research project. Assuming this too is plagiarized by British intelligence, we can soon expect Powell to be startling the world with some soundly based material.

ALEXANDER COCKBURN


COMMANDMENTS–10, RIGHTS–0

Grand Junction, Colo.

In “Religion in the News” [March 10], Edward Sorel and Richard Lingeman report that the Rev. Mickey Carter “thinks he can outwit the ACLU by displaying documents of other cultures” along with the Ten Commandments in a public building. Unfortunately, Reverend Carter is going on more than a hunch. Here in Grand Junction, a group of us, with the backing of the ACLU, sued the city to remove the Ten Commandments from the front lawn of City Hall. The city responded by placing the tablet in a “secular” context, with other tablets that together were dubbed “The Cornerstones of Law and Liberty.” Someone had the bright idea to place the stones at ever increasing angles so that the Ten Commandments stood fully upright (naturally). Guess which document was placed virtually parallel to the ground? Hint: Our nickname for the Cornerstones was “The Trample on the Bill of Rights Plaza.” The ACLU, fearing (likely correctly) that it would lose the case, dropped our suit.

Sorel and Lingeman also indicated that as a result of the lawsuits the ACLU has won, taxpayers have been responsible for the costs of disposing of Ten Commandments tablets. But those costs are nothing compared with having five new stones engraved. We were told the costs were being partly covered by “donations,” but despite our repeated requests, the city never revealed exactly how much public money was expended to make up the balance.

CLARE L. BOULANGER


THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE

Westminster, Vt.

Our small town in rural southeastern Vermont holds its town meeting in the evening so no one will miss work, and because we have no building large enough we hold it in the Bellows Falls high school. There were about 400 people in the auditorium in February as the moderator gaveled us to order. The first twenty items involved funding the cash-strapped school system, road and building maintenance and budgets for fire and rescue. We spent hours in heated debate over every nickel and dime, some Republican stalwarts combing through the town report trying to save every possible penny of tax money. It was grueling.

Finally we came to the last two issues before the town. First was whether to relicense Vermont Yankee, the local nuclear power plant–recently purchased by Entergy, the massive Louisiana energy conglomerate. It was 11:30. People were irritable, and the debate boiled up in a contentious froth. Despite the nearly $200,000 Entergy spent to influence the local towns, we voted them down by nearly 3 to 1.

The final issue was whether to bar federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies from exercising the power granted to them by the USA Patriot Act. Several spoke eloquently about not trading away our civil rights. Our librarian described how the FBI could search her records to gather information about what books we’ve been reading, could install computer software to track which websites we’ve visited and would bar her from telling us when this had taken place. (She’s put a sign on the library door saying, “The FBI has not been here, please watch for sign.”)

A Vermont Yankee employee, who had spoken in favor of the nuclear power plant, stood up to say he had risked his life in service to our country, defending the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. He said his father had also laid his life on the line, and they would both gladly do it again to protect our freedom from anyone who tried to take it away.

The moderator finally called the question. Would the people of Westminster bar federal, state or local law enforcement from violating civil rights within our township: “All in favor?” The auditorium rocked with the sound of several hundred voices proclaiming in unison, “Aye.”

“All opposed?” For the first time that evening, the auditorium was silent–the only sound, the hum of the fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling above, that and the deafening silence of unanimous democracy at its most inalienable.

BEN MITCHELL


SUPERMAXED OUT

San Diego

Regan Good’s “The Supermax Solution” [March 3] about the prison in Tamms, Illinois, proves George Santayana’s theory that those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it. During the nineteenth century, the penitentiary system was based on the premise that prisoners should remain in solitary confinement and not say anything in order that they repent their crimes. As a result, a lot of prisoners developed severe mental problems, as is the case in Tamms.

It is a sad fact nowadays that the criminal justice system is pervaded by a self-righteous attitude that considers anything less than the harshest treatment “soft,” as is evident from the Supreme Court’s recent decision to let stand a fifty-year-to-life prison term for a petty thief under California’s “three strikes” law.

THOMAS A. OLAFSON


DELECTABLE COMESTIBLES

Austin, Tex.

Don’t you just love Freedom Fries? Especially with… But did you know that hamburgers are named for a city in another country that refuses to get in line and do as it’s told? So let’s call them Patriot Patties. Now that I think about it, we sometimes call hot dogs “frankfurters,” and that’s another city in that country. How about Stars and Stripes Sausages? Can’t have a good Fourth of July picnic without Patriot Patties, Stars and Stripes Sausages and Freedom Fries.

Oh, and Russian dressing. We’ll have to change that to Democracy Dressing. And then there’s the distressing problem of Chinese food, an entire cuisine named after a country that doesn’t do as it’s told. We could call it Homeland Security Food. (Dang! I’m running out of alliterations!)

We have avoided one close call, however. We almost had to rename turkey. I don’t think Thanksgiving would be the same with Yankee Doodle Tom, although “Yankee Doodle Drumstick” does have a certain je ne sais quoi… Whoops! I don’t know what got into me. Just a small faux pas. Whoops again!

While we’re renaming things, how about that statue in New York harbor? You know, the woman with the torch. I suggest “the Statue of Empire.” Hey, c’est la guerre, y’all.

BOB BLAU


CONUNDRUM

Gainesville, Fla.

Re “‘The Hammer’ Strikes” [“In Fact…,” March 24]: Is there a reluctance even on the part of The Nation to note the most obvious and frightening contradiction in the Bush Administration’s cries of “appeasement”? In the 1930s, the League of Nations failed to stand up to the world’s mightiest military power, which was threatening and invading smaller nations in an unhindered process of violating national sovereignties and which culminated in World War II. Today, in an effort to avoid war and achieve a lasting peace, many of the nations that suffered most from World War II are, through the United Nations, resisting a proposed aggression by the world’s mightiest military power. Are not today’s “appeasers” those who are not, rather than those who are, resisting that aggression? It is also interesting that three of the Administration’s four firmest supporters at this time, Bulgaria, Spain and Turkey, cannot be considered to have been foes of Hitler.

OTTO H. OLSEN