What U.S. newspapers are saying

Dec. 5, 2002 at 11:48 AM
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New York Times

After spending most of the past 18 months in prison, Egypt's most prominent advocate for democracy and human rights, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, has been freed by the country's highest criminal court. His freedom came not a moment too soon -- for Mr. Ibrahim's declining health and Egypt's declining reputation. If the court, which has set a new trial for January, has even a modicum of integrity, it will find Mr. Ibrahim innocent of all charges in what has been a vindictive government mugging.

Mr. Ibrahim, a sociologist who holds dual Egyptian and American citizenship, was convicted and imprisoned for training his fellow Egyptians in voter registration and election monitoring -- apparently seditious conduct in Egypt today. ...

The court of appeals's action this week was the second time that it had vacated the verdict against Mr. Ibrahim. The court says it will handle the next retrial itself. This looks like good news. While Egypt's security courts are tools of political repression, its highest civilian courts, like this one, appear to have retained a measure of independence. If so, this case will be dismissed, and those who wish Egypt well -- and have hopes for Arab democracy -- will have reason to cheer.

Washington Times

"There are so many miserable stories. People pick undigested beans out of the dung of oxen to eat. They compete to take the clothes off dead bodies to wear. It is not a human world."

That grim picture is one of the few glimpses inside the disaster that is North Korea. In the past few months, the world has learned more about the hermit kingdom's disturbing advancements in developing and proliferating components for weapons of mass destruction. This week, Russia's Vladimir Putin and China's Jiang Zemin strongly cautioned the North's Kim Jong Il against pursuing his nuclear dreams and upsetting regional stability. Now, a compelling report from Human Rights Watch -- detailed accounts of life inside North Korea by a handful of an estimated hundreds of thousands of refugees -- makes the moral case for putting Pyongyang out of business. ...

Denying humanitarian assistance while millions starve is not the obvious humane response. But, the future of North Korea depends on changes in Pyongyang, and central to that is cutting off the pipeline that strengthens the regime's control. ...

This is by no means an overnight task, but it should take on heightened importance in the Bush administration's efforts to create a more humane world.

Washington Post

It might be expected that President Bush's meeting today with Presidents Daniel arap Moi of Kenya and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia would be dominated by the war on terrorism. East Africa has been a center of activity for al Qaeda for some time; yesterday Mr. Bush directly blamed the group for last week's bombing in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa. The United States badly needs the cooperation of the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments to uproot terrorist networks in their own countries and help prevent neighboring, lawless Somalia from becoming an al Qaeda base. Still, war can't be the only item on the White House agenda: Mr. Moi and Mr. Zenawi also need to be given a push toward accepting political and economic reforms. ...

Kenya may stand at an even more important juncture. Later this month, Mr. Moi, who has ruled the country with a mixture of autocratic brutality and malfeasance since 1978, is due to oversee presidential elections in which he is not a candidate. A free and fair election and the retirement of the 77-year-old "Big Man" could be a turning point in the postcolonial history of Kenya, where development has been all but strangled by corruption and mismanagement. An opposition coalition has managed to unite behind a consensus presidential candidate who promises reform; but Mr. Moi is trying to install a puppet successor, the 41-year-old son of the man he replaced two decades ago. There's no need for the United States to take sides -- but Mr. Bush does need to insist that Mr. Moi not try to steal the election or prolong his own tenure in power in the event his own candidate does not win. Though getting his compliance may seem less important than tracking down the terrorists who organized last week's bombing, it would do more to determine whether Kenya becomes, over time, an ally the United States can genuinely depend on.

Des Moines Register

A recent archaeological find might renew an old theological argument: Did Jesus have brothers and sisters?

The question arises anew in light of discovery of an ossuary, or burial box, that apparently dates from the first century. It bears the Aramaic inscription, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." If authentic, the box would be the oldest known archaeological relic of early Christianity.

The James mentioned in the inscription is presumably the apostle who led the early Christian community in Jerusalem. James died a martyr's death around the year 61. He is identified as a brother of Jesus in the New Testament, which also contains other references to Jesus" brothers and sisters.

Theologians disagree whether those references should be taken literally. Catholic doctrine holds that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was "ever virgin." Hence, it would have been impossible for him to have siblings. Catholics believe that biblical references to Jesus' brothers and sisters should be read to mean close relatives, not actual siblings. But it is odd that the burial box of James would identify him as the brother of Jesus if he were not an actual brother.

It's possible the inscription is a forgery. Even if it is authentic, it could refer to an entirely different James who only coincidentally had a father named Joseph and brother named Jesus. It's also possible to insist that the word brother on the inscription should be interpreted to mean cousin or stepbrother.

So the argument over the authenticity of the inscription and its meaning will likely go on for a very long time. Those who expect archaeology to either validate or disprove matters of faith are almost always bound to be disappointed.

Houston Chronicle

We're confident the Teamsters' opposition to the Bush administration's decision to give Mexican trucks full access to U.S. highways is grounded more in the quest to preserve jobs than the union's fear of environmental devastation from Mexico's aging truck fleet.

But, in truth, the Teamsters have a point. Dirty and unsafe Mexican trucks rolling across America could pose a hazard to the health and safety of our citizens, if allowed.

However, according to the 1994 NAFTA agreement, signed by then-President Bill Clinton, Mexican trucks operating in the United States must comply with all local, state and federal transportation and safety regulations, including clean-air requirements. In other words, they must meet the same safety and environmental standards demanded of American trucks and truckers. ...

The bottom line, however, is that Mexican trucks and their drivers must meet inspections and tests and be made to comply with all the standards regarding safety, weight limits, adequate rest for drivers, etc., required of American trucks and their drivers.

That demands adequate numbers of U.S. safety and environmental inspectors at our southern borders, a number that has not yet been reached.

Kansas City Star

One of the awkward geopolitical realities in the war on terrorism is that the United States needs assistance from the repressive and unreliable regime in Saudi Arabia.

Over the years the Saudi government has failed to exercise responsible leadership in the Arab and Muslim worlds, sometimes catering to extremist elements. The Saudis have often been careless about where their money ends up.

The country is also run by a royal family that prevents its citizens from enjoying the democratic rights and freedoms that Americans cherish.

Saudi Arabia, however, is the world's largest oil producer and an important source of the energy for America. And it could play an important role in the battle against global terrorism.

So it makes sense for the United States to seek a better relationship with the Saudis despite our profound differences about economic, political and cultural values. Saudi Arabia will reform more quickly if this country stays engaged with it and presses for reforms. Walking away would mean loss of important leverage. ...

The forces of modernity are pressing hard on Saudi Arabia. As that happens, Washington must continue to push the Saudi royal family for political reforms and greater respect for human rights. American officials should also insist on meticulous accounting to make sure Saudi "charitable contributions" don't end up supporting terrorism.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

During the reign of Pol Pot's government in Cambodia in the 1970s, as many as 1.7 million people perished. It was one of the worst sprees of mass murder in human history -- the subject of many television documentaries and a memorable commercial film called "The Killing Fields."

Pol Pot has died. But some of his cohorts in the infamous Khmer Rouge are still alive, and the Cambodian government is resisting efforts by the United Nations to put them where they belong: at the bar of justice.

Recently, a U.N. General Assembly committee adopted a resolution calling on Secretary-General Kofi Annan to resume negotiations with the Cambodian government for the purpose of setting up an international tribunal to deal with those Khmer Rouge leaders who remain alive.

This may seem like a step in the right direction -- but only if the post-Khmer Rouge government of Cambodia is willing to face up to the ugly facts of its history. So far, it has shown few signs of doing that. ...

Annan probably ought to continue his discussions with the Cambodians, not so much to establish a deeply flawed tribunal as to remind them that a whitewash can never conceal the crimes of their history. Until Pol Pot's collaborators are punished for their appalling crimes, the era of the Khmer Rouge will stain Cambodia's future as well as its past.

New York Post

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice dropped by the United Nations earlier this week to diplomatically deliver an important message to weapons-inspection honcho Hans Blix: Get with it, guy.

That is, light a fire under the inspectors now on the ground in Iraq.

Yesterday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer turned up the heat: "We want to make certain that [U.N. inspections] are aggressive enough to be able to ascertain the facts in the face of an adversary who in the past did everything in his power to hide the facts."

The Bush team is understandably concerned by the transparently naive, laid-back, "nothing to see here, let's go for coffee" attitude manifested by the U.N. team. ...

America went to the United Nations to get a resolution demanding Saddam disarm. It's now up to the U.N. to decide if it wants to hold Iraq to its terms.

Rest assured, if the United Nations won't -- America stands ready to do the job.

(Compiled by United Press International)

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