More Fuelish War Talk

The bottom line on Iraq is whether an attack against Saddam Hussein helps or hinders the Republican Party's chances in midterm elections next November. A quick air strike on Iraq with no U.S. casualties might make Bush look extra-special tough. But any protracted campaign on Iraq involving a large number of casualties and large numbers of troops would raise serious questions, not the least of which would be the administration's casting aside of the War Powers Act, under which it is supposed to consult with Congress. As it now stands, the OPEC states in the Middle East are generally opposed to an invasion, and they have pegged the price of oil in such a way that fuel costs are likely to rise here whatever happens. If they get pissed and throw down an embargo, gas prices would go through the roof. That probably would be instant death to Republican congressional contenders, who, no matter what, will still be defending themselves for doing nothing during the recession.

Meanwhile, Democrats are slowly beginning to frame their election-year challenge to the president on a range of different issues. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle issued a mild criticism of Bush for not telling Congress he was setting into motion a secret shadow government that, for now, does not include either Congress or the judiciary. (Such shadow cabinets have hovered over D.C. for years.) Over the weekend, Daschle seemed almost stern in another threat to subpoena homeland security czar Tom Ridge to try to learn what he plans to do with all the money Bush wants to give him.

Last week, the conservatives sent guru William Bennett into the fray, setting up a new organization to target people they consider too critical of the war effort. The group, which operates out of Bennett's Empower America, is called Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT). It promises to "take to task those groups and individuals who fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the war we are facing." Likely targets are liberal members of Congress. And it poses the war against terror as a crusade against radical Islam, which it calls "an enemy no less dangerous and no less determined than the twin menaces of fascism and Communism we faced in the 20th century."

Bennett said on Monday that he wanted to keep "enthusiasm" for the war going strong, adding, "This war can take longer than World War II, and we just want to make sure we all are together at the end."

This looks like a rather feeble attempt by the neoconservatives, some of whom are ensconced at the American Enterprise Institute, to start up a blacklist. Bennett disagreed. "It's not a blacklist; it is a wrong-list," he said. "We just think that these people are wrongheaded, unhelpful and misguided. We live in a free country, so we have the right to debate and go back and forth with them. I am sure I am not going to make [former] President Jimmy Carter shut up if I say that I don't agree with him." And he promised the list would grow. "We don't add them," he said cheerfully. "They add themselves."

Cover Fire at Columbine

Many people have already expressed disgust at the apparent timidity of the Jefferson County and Denver, Colorado, police to put their lives on the line during the Columbine massacre three years ago. On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 12 kids, one teacher and themselves, wounding 23 others. At least one victim is believed to have bled to death while waiting hours for rescuers to make their move.

Now it appears that some cops laid down a hail of bullets that may well have endangered lives while protecting their own.

Newly found FBI diagrams suggest that the cops themselves were shooting wildly into the school while the students were waiting inside to be rescued. Diagrams show where different bullets were lodged and where they came from (the material's posted at Police bullets went into the library, teachers' lounge, corridor and front door. In addition, one student appears to have been shot through the chest while standing outside the school. At least one cop told his parents the boy was killed by police fire.

Randy Brown, the father of a Columbine student, presented the diagrams to a commission reviewing evidence last month. He and other parents had discovered them on a CD-ROM they obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. It is his contention that the cops are hiding evidence at least in part to cover their asses.

The diagrams suggest that the police fired into rooms that even the authorities admit Klebold and Harris were never in. And the cops didn't enter the school until after Harris and Klebold had allegedly committed suicide.

Glowing Reports

President George W. Bush may have frightened most of America with big talk about nuclear war, but people in Afghanistan and Pakistan think they've already been nuked by depleted-uranium (DU) bombs.

"The use of reprocessed nuclear waste in the U.S. air strikes against the Taliban poses a serious risk of radiation poisoning to the human lives in Afghanistan and Pakistan," said the Pakistan Weekly Independent last November. Added Dawn, Pakistan's big English-language paper, on Nov. 12: "A leading military expert told Dawn that since Oct. 7, the United States Air Force has been raining down depleted-uranium shells at targets inside Afghanistan, especially against the Taliban front lines in the north. . . . 'There is widespread radiation in many areas that could adversely affect tens and thousands of people in the two countries for generations to come,' he said."

The U.S. employed munitions containing depleted uranium during the Gulf War in 1991 and more recently during NATO's campaign in the Balkans and in Vieques as part of military exercises. In Afghanistan, there have been reports of depleted uranium in bunker bombs and other munitions; some contain a "mystery" metal, either tungsten (most of which comes from China) or depleted uranium.

A 1994 report to Congress by the secretary of the army said, "Like naturally occurring uranium, DU has toxicological and radiological health risks." The report goes on to say that "in combat, DU wound contamination and fragment implantation become more significant pathways of entry. Based on the lessons learned in Desert Storm, the army is developing procedures to better manage the internal exposure potential for DU during combat."

But who's using it? In January 2001, a French TV documentary reported that the depleted uranium in munitions may come from a contaminated reprocessing plant in Paducah, Kentucky. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told a French publication in January that the U.S. had found radiation in Afghanistan—but that it was from depleted uranium warheads belonging to al-Qaida. On Monday, a spokesperson for the U.S. Central Command said that it has "not used depleted uranium in Afghanistan." Dai Williams, a depleted uranium researcher, has told reporters that if al-Qaida is responsible, there may be even more of a risk: that could mean the depleted uranium might have come from Russia, and it could be even dirtier than that from Paducah.

Additional reporting by Gabrielle Jackson, Meritxell Mir and Michael Ridley.


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