What U.S. newspapers are saying

Oct. 13, 2001 at 10:21 AM
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New York Times

The discovery of an anthrax case in New York City -- coming on top of three anthrax exposures in Florida -- has heightened concern in a nation that was already jittery and waiting for the next terrorist act to occur. Top officials at NBC announced yesterday that an employee had developed a full-fledged case of anthrax several days after the network received "suspicious mail." She is being treated with antibiotics and is said to be doing well. Nevertheless, her case has multiplied the fears generated by an episode at a Florida newspaper publisher where one editor died of anthrax apparently inhaled at his workplace and two others who worked in the mail room were exposed to the anthrax germ but have not become sick.

The pattern of these incidents seems to suggest an attempt to infect journalists, though that has yet to be established. Amid what can only be described as rising hysteria in the country, it is important to remember that so far only two people have been diagnosed as ill with anthrax, and one of them is expected to recover.

It is difficult to retain one's composure at a time when false leads, wild Internet gossip and outright hoaxes -- as well as genuine intelligence warnings from the government -- make it seem as if the nation is under incessant attack. The Times learned firsthand yesterday what it feels like to face these uncertainties, when a bioterrorism reporter received a letter containing a white powdery substance. The police were called, the area was cleared, the air was tested for chemicals and found clean, and the substance itself, which smelled like talcum powder, was sent off for testing. Though work resumed, no one will rest easy until the results are in. Times workers discovered the short psychic distance between reasonable caution and irrational fear, the difficulty in always distinguishing between the remote possibility and the clear and present danger.

A logical assessment of the odds of harm helps. Should a person inadvertently open a letter containing anthrax spores, he or she can prevent the onset of disease by promptly seeking medical treatment.

Employers and individuals will need to be especially alert to packages and letters that might conceivably have lethal substances in them. But it makes little sense for people throughout the city to race to emergency rooms, as many are, when the incidents are so few and so limited in the number of exposures. Nor is there any need to stockpile antibiotics that are readily available should the need arise, and which the government is poised to distribute in mass quantities if a real anthrax outbreak should occur. Nor does it make sense to buy a gas mask that would be useful only if someone had advance notice that the spores would be in the air. Anthrax is not contagious and does not spread from one person to another.

For now, the remarkable thing is how small these incidents were, and how quickly contained. In that sense they are a cause for reassurance, not panic.

Washington Post

The Bush administration's drive to construct an anti-terror coalition has demonstrated the power of determined diplomacy. Countries ranging from Russia to Pakistan to China have put aside anti-American suspicions and endorsed the Afghan campaign. But recent events also show that countries that deliver on terrorism may feel free to behave badly on other issues. Pakistan has agreed to help dislodge Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan, but it has yet to rein in its own anti-Indian terrorists. Russia has also rushed to cooperate, hoping that this will give it a license to pursue its brutal war in Chechnya. Meanwhile, an extreme mix of cooperation and abomination characterizes the response from Sudan.

Sudan is one of the seven nations on the State Department list of terrorism sponsors. But it promptly condemned the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and proceeded to detain more than 100 Islamic militants suspected of terrorist connections. Secretary of State Colin Powell praised Sudan for its efforts, saying that it had granted U.S. officials "access to certain individuals within the country" -- meaning, presumably, an opportunity to interrogate them. The U.N. Security Council then lifted the sanctions on the country that had been imposed in 1995, after a failed assassination attempt on Egypt's Hosni Mubarak.

That is the good news. The bad news is that Sudan has stepped up its appalling bombing of civilian targets as part of its long war on rebels in the country's south. Twice last week the Sudanese air force hit a village called Mangayath, where U.N. workers were distributing humanitarian aid. On Monday it struck again just before a U.N. plane was due to airdrop food there. As a result, the United Nations has suspended relief efforts for some 20,000 displaced civilians in Mangayath. This is the sort of episode that explains why, prior to the terrorist attacks, Congress was considering Draconian sanctions on Sudan to reinforce the ones in place already.

The task for the Bush administration on Sudan -- much like the long-term task on Pakistan and other ambiguous cooperators -- is to build on its recent diplomatic advances. If U.S. pressure could get Sudan to round up terrorists, U.S. pressure can also prod the government to stop bombing civilians. But this can be done only if the administration devotes the necessary time and energy to convince Sudan's government of its seriousness; otherwise, the regime will assume that the United States cares only about terrorism and so cooperation on that front is sufficient. As it happens, the administration has appointed a special envoy on Sudan, former senator John Danforth. His responsibility is large: Sudan will be a test case of whether the United States can balance its anti-terrorist effort with a sustained commitment to rein in egregious human rights abuses.

Washington Times

In the first prime-time press conference of his presidency Thursday night, President Bush did a masterful job of outlining what is at stake in America's new war against international terrorism. The president emphasized that this military campaign, now one month old, was could well last "a year or two," if not longer. The president said he would give Afghanistan's ruling Taliban dictatorship one final opportunity to "cough up" al Qaeda boss Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the grisly Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in which more than 5,000 people were murdered. "I will say it again: If you cough him up and his people today, that we'll reconsider what we're doing to your country," Mr. Bush said, referring to the U.S.-British led bombardment of Taliban military bases and al Qaeda terrorist training sites throughout Afghanistan.

"You have a second chance," Mr. Bush, in one of his more upbeat moments, pointedly told the Taliban. "Just bring him in, and bring his leaders and lieutenants and other thugs and criminals in with him." But the president's somber yet extraordinarily forceful tone left little doubt that he understands current realities very well: that these brutal gangsters who rule Afghanistan today have no intention whatsoever of doing anything to comply with international law.

"I made it clear to them, in no uncertain terms, that in order to avoid punishment, they should turn over the parasites that hide in their country," the president said. "They obviously refused to do so, and now they're paying a price."

Mr. Bush highlighted some of the progress made thus far. The U.S. government has seized upwards of $24 million in al Qaeda and Taliban assets. Several hundred members of al Qaeda cells have been apprehended in various locations around the world. Also, U.S. and British forces continue to pound Taliban forces throughout Afghanistan. Pentagon officials said that allied forces had gained full control of the air space over that country, and showed pictures of Taliban fighter aircraft that had been destroyed by U.S. bombing, and a surface-to-air missile sight near Kandahar which had been hit.

Still Mr. Bush rightly warned against overconfidence, pointing to America's experience in Vietnam. "We learned some very important lessons in Vietnam. Perhaps the most important lesson that I learned is that you cannot fight a guerrilla war with conventional forces," Mr. Bush said. The current war against the Taliban, Mr. Bush emphasized, will not be "the kind of war we're used to in America.The greatest generation was used to storming beachheads. Baby boomers such as myself [were] used to getting caught in the quaqmire of Vietnam, where politics made decisions more than military [factors]. Generation X was able to watch technology, right in front of their TV screens," being used against Iraq.

This war, as Mr. Bush has noted many times and did so again Thursday night, is going to require a sustained campaign -- utilizing both conventional and nonconventional forces -- to defeat the terrorist enemy. America is in good hands.

Boston Herald

In returning a $10 million check from a nephew of the king of Saudi Arabia, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani showed the world that principles of decency are not for sale in America, not even for filthy rich royalty.

After touring the World Trade Center ruins, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal handed over the check for the center's relief fund - and unburdened himself of the usual anti-Israel harangue: ``Our Palestinian brethern continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis. At times like this, one has to address some of the issues that led to the criminal attack.''

Giuliani properly noted a major flaw in this excuse for the murder of nearly 6,000 Americans: ``To suggest there is a justification for it only invites it happening in the future.''

Coming from a medieval monarchy in a culture where the conflict on the West Bank provides a ready-made explanation for any setback, no matter whether related or not, the prince has a poor sense of how to court esteem in the civilized world. It is a horror to suggest that anyone's grievances are a justification of the World Trade Center carnage.

Way to go, Rudy.

Detroit Free Press

In the war on terrorism, some things we may never know:

Whether the aggressive FBI dragnet that has ensnared some innocent men with Middle Eastern backgrounds also has disrupted the plans of terrorists who may yet lurk in the United States. That appears to be the strategy: Sweep up anyone and everyone with the remotest possible connection; if the "evildoers" are out there, keep them off balance. The only gauge of success is whether any new attacks occur. So far, so good, except for those who have been detained on a presumption of guilt.

Whether at times such as this, which are unlike any times before, it is possible to overreact to anything. We have seen unprecedented terror, mass murder, delivered live on TV. The government says a "general threat" requires high alert for the next several days. The president warns us to be watchful and report anything suspicious. And what used to look like normal activity now can look suspicious, especially if the actors look Arabic. Nobody wants to be paranoid, but everybody wants to be prudent. When does prudence become prejudice?

Whether the anthrax-laden mail intended for NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw had anything to do with the Sept. 11 attacks or was just a celebrity being targeted. A Brokaw aide who opens his mail is being treated for exposure to powder containing anthrax and is expected to recover.

Whether any number of sick individuals with no connection to terrorist organizations are seizing this time to spread their own kind of terror or carry out personal vendettas. It is said that arsonists like to watch the building burn; are there sickos among us who like to watch people panic?

Whether Osama bin Laden is really still in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan, or whether he fled to a new lair when the bombing started. At 6-foot-5, it would seem he'd have a hard time blending in with the throngs of refugees streaming into Pakistan. That $7-million price on his head should be conspicuous, too.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Before the Asian Development Bank convened here in May, authorities vowed to prevent "illegal mass demonstrations." However, the laws that would have made the demonstrations illegal were themselves unconstitutionally oppressive. The city lost a court challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union and has agreed to rewrite ordinances governing peaceful demonstrations.

The settlement comes as civil liberties are perceived as being under threat by security measures taken since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on America. It is a reminder that freedom of expression should not be compromised even in times of national duress. The anti-globalization protest had no effect on world trade policies but was successful in assuring freedoms for future demonstrators.

Honolulu police initially tried to enforce ordinances that would have required protesters to submit applications for demonstration permits at least 40 days in advance and to purchase $500,000 in general liability insurance. Public park gatherings required prior notification of least three weeks. A federal judge ordered the onerous requirements to be set aside, and the protesters were granted a permit for as many as 7,000 protesters. Only 500 showed up.

The city's resistance cost taxpayers $87,500 in legal expenses incurred by the ACLU for a case that should have been quickly settled out of court. In the end, the city agreed to change the ordinances to allow demonstration applications to be submitted five working days in advance and to waive the insurance requirement for those unable to afford it. Notices of gatherings in parks can be given as little as 24 hours in advance when prompted by current affairs.

"Our primary emphasis was not trying to impose conditions on ADB marchers but to ensure safety" at the convention center and on the streets, says Greg Swartz, a deputy corporation counsel.

Local authorities had prepared for unruly demonstrations in Honolulu following violent protests at the 1999 World Trade Organization conference in Seattle and the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. A more rational look at the upcoming demonstrations in Honolulu and a willingness to establish dialogue with the protesters prior to the ADB conference would have modified those expectations.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

As U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was being told Friday of the Nobel Peace Prize he'll share with the United Nations, his special representative to Afghanistan was in London, meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair about a potentially key U.N. role in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Once again, Annan and Blair have demonstrated remarkably able leadership in the new coalition against terrorism.

Call it what you will -- President Bush resorted to "so-called nation-building" during his press conference Thursday -- the job of helping Afghanistan organize and run a post-Taliban representative government will be critical not only to the region's stability, but to the success of any effort to curb terrorism.

Credit Blair for being a few steps ahead of Washington in his strategic thinking -- and credit Bush both for acknowledging Blair's leadership on the issue and accepting, despite his campaign stance against nation-building, that the attacks on Sept. 11 require a reevaluation of his thinking. Bush said, "We shouldn't play favorites between one group or another within Afghanistan. Secondly, we've got to work for a stable Afghanistan so that her neighbors don't fear terrorist activity again coming out of that country. ... It would be a useful function for the United Nations to take over the so-called nation-building."

Indeed, a U.N.-led effort would offer advantages over pretty much any other scenario one could imagine. An American-aided Northern Alliance victory would upset Pakistan and the majority Afghan population of Pashtuns in the south, leading to renewed tribal fighting. Any government installed with a heavy U.S. hand would further anger those who already resent American power-wielding. A U.N. effort would be truly multinational in makeup and scope.

According to a New York Times report out of London, the idea is that Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special envoy, would make plans for an Afghan government consisting of representatives from the nation's various tribes. Afghanistan's exiled king, Muhammad Zahir Shah, would help convene a traditional meeting of tribal leaders, who would then legitimize a ruler. Monetary, technical, humanitarian and other international aid would continue under U.N. auspices for several years.

Brahimi appears singularly well-equipped for the task. He is an Arab Muslim from Algeria who, as an official of the League of Arab States, mediated the end of Lebanon's civil war. He has many contacts in the area and a wealth of knowledge about Afghanistan from service as a special envoy there from 1997-99.

Understandably, the hastily formed coalition against terrorism has had little time to look beyond the forming of immediate responses to the Sept. 11 attacks. But look it must. Blair and the United Nations have nicely met that need.

Philadelphia Inquirer

As a busy U.S. Senate last week considered the airport security bill, antiterrorism bill and other critical legislation, Democrat Zell Miller of Georgia rose to pay tribute to a world leader who has been "as stalwart and as loyal an ally for the United States as anyone could ask."

That would be British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr. Blair richly deserves the Senate's and America's praise, not just because of his unflagging support.

More than any other foreign leader, Mr. Blair has expressed the most eloquent response to Sept. 11's unspeakably evil act of terrorism. And for any in Europe uncertain about wholeheartedly backing U.S. military strikes, Mr. Blair has been the voice of authority, making it clear anything less than a full assault against terrorism will produce a greater long-term global risk.

President Bush's well-received speeches and comments, frequently laced with down-home phrases, have spoken directly to the American heart. Yet Mr. Blair has been the Churchillian speaker of the moment, expressing sentiments that resonate here and throughout the world.

Among many fine addresses, Mr. Blair's Oct. 2 speech to his Labor Party's annual conference stands out.

He deftly linked terrorism to other crises that must be confronted by a civilized world, among them the Afghan-based heroin trade and any future Rwandan-type massacres.

Yet it was when he described the human cost of Sept. 11 that Mr. Blair spoke most touchingly. He told of meeting families of some of the World Trade Center's British victims:

"As you crossed the room, you felt the longing and sadness; hands clutching photos of sons and daughters, wives and husbands; imploring you to believe them when they said there was still an outside chance of their loved ones being found alive . . . I tell you, you do not feel like the most powerful person in the country at times like that."

Mr. Blair has risen to the occasion before. When NATO delivered air strikes against Serbia during the Kosovo crisis, he became the action's top European cheerleader.

But after taking office in 1997, he was sometimes criticized in Britain as a Mini-Me to Bill Clinton. The prime minister faced critics calling him "Tony Blur" for what they said was his skill at mouthing meaningless rhetoric.

He has long since grown in stature and strength.

America is fortunate to have such a good ally, such a good friend.

(Compiled by United Press International)

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