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Western Press Review: Tokyo Conference, Guantanamo Bay, Disaster In Congo

By Daisy Sindelar/Grant Podelco/Dora Slaba

Prague, 21 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentaries in the Western media today focus on a number of issues relating to Afghanistan, beginning with the donor conference currently underway in Tokyo, which has already seen pledges of more than $1 billion in aid. Other pieces look at the problem of global terrorism and the treatment of Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Other topics include the mounting humanitarian disaster in the Congo, where tremors continue in the wake of last week's devastating volcano eruption.


In today's "International Herald Tribune," World Bank President James Wolfensohn comments on the meeting of Afghan donor countries taking place today and tomorrow in Japan.

Wolfensohn writes that Tokyo is an appropriate choice of venue for the Afghanistan conference, since Japan was faced with reconstructing its own country 57 years ago after the devastation of World War II. He urges people to remember that "poverty in itself does not immediately and directly lead to conflict, let alone to terrorism, yet we know that exclusion can breed violent conflict, and conflict-ridden countries in turn become safe havens for terrorists."

Only by ensuring that Afghanistan gets back on its feet can peace be assured. Therefore, he says, it is crucial that Kabul obtain concrete pledges for the $5 billion it will need in the next two and a half years to rebuild the country.

"The worst outcome in Tokyo would be for the Afghans to come up with visionary plans," says Wolfensohn, "only to see them thwarted by a lack of donor commitment. The Tokyo conference this week must enable Afghanistan's people to once again have human security -- a prerequisite for international security."


Also in "The International Herald Tribune," Astri Suhrke and Susan L. Woodward also comment on the Tokyo donor conference. "The present Afghan cabinet, negotiated at Bonn and endorsed by the UN Security Council as a crucial transitional structure, is nearly destitute, with no money for salaries. The next cabinet, scheduled to take power in mid-June, will have been nominated by a traditional assembly (loya jirga) and thus have more legitimacy at home. By that time, however, many of the underlying principles of the reconstruction will already have been laid down -- by outsiders."

The commentators think that moving too far ahead "ignores the primary principle of successful transition. No peace will last if wartime political structures are not replaced by a government that can restore social trust, provide essential public services like health care and education, and enforce the law."

Funds, although desperately needed, are only part of the solution. They write, "implementation of reconstruction projects is effective only if authorities have shared in setting priorities."

Suhrke and Woodward think what is required is "a long-term commitment from donors to institution-building, rather than a rapid infusion of funds for visible projects of the kind favored by the donors -- which do not function, because recurrent costs like salaries are not available." The commentators propose that funds be provided for projects on a community level and, money permitting, can be expanded gradually. This, they conclude, "is the only way to build public confidence in peace, generate employment and government revenues, and provide an alternative for those who have benefited from drug production and trafficking, terrorism and war."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" today warns about feeling complacent that the war on terrorism is being won, despite the ouster of the Taliban in Afghanistan and arrests of alleged terrorists throughout the world, such as the breakup of an Al-Qaeda-related gang in Singapore.

"Every piece of good news in the war on terrorism also has its dark side," the paper writes. "The U.S. military has managed to dislodge the Taliban while failing to capture Osama bin Laden. [Passengers] managed to subdue Richard Reid before he could detonate his alleged shoe bomb on a 22 December trans-Atlantic flight, but where did Mr. Reid obtain his explosive material and the money for his airline tickets, and how did he get on board? There have been no new anthrax attacks, but also no arrests."

Each new thread of intelligence that is unraveled is a victory, the paper says, but such reports also remind the world how much remains unknown and how much of a headstart the terrorists enjoy.

Americans should not live in fear, the paper says, but as long as the U.S. offensive against Al-Qaeda remains unfinished, the chance of more attacks taking place "is pretty close to 100 percent."

The paper concludes: "A lot of the recent talk, about how [the events of 11 September] made America a stronger country and all the rest, seems to assume that the worst is past. Such complacency can only increase the danger."


An editorial in Britain's "The Independent" newspaper today criticizes what it calls the "folly" of the United States in its questionable treatment of Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "President George W. Bush asked the world to support him in the war in Afghanistan and in tracking down Al-Qaeda members elsewhere, and succeeded in marshalling an unprecedented coalition behind him. Yet it does not seem to occur to most people in the U.S. that other nations have an interest in the judicial process now that several hundred alleged terrorists have been taken prisoner."

The paper goes on to list areas of particular concern as the U.S. proceeds with detention and preparation for trial of its prisoners. One is the "excessive" use of restraint, illustrated by photographs published over the weekend showing detainees kneeling on the ground in handcuffs. Additional reports described prisoners as wearing leg shackles, surgical masks, and goggles that had been blacked out. It also points to the inclusion of Taliban forces, whose crime -- harboring terrorists rather than direct involvement in the September attacks -- should be a matter for the United Nations, not a single state. "The Independent" also criticizes the willingness of the U.S. to cast aside international and U.S. law in devising a procedurally dubious judicial alternative.

Each instance, the paper says, "undermines the claim by the U.S. to be fighting Al-Qaeda on behalf of the 'partnership of nations' and in the name of universal human values. It may not have been the intention to subject the prisoners to torture by sensory deprivation, but the U.S. has an extraordinary inability to realize how such pictures will be seen around the world -- as proven by the fact that they were taken for and issued by the U.S. Navy itself."

"The present U.S. administration shows a lamentable failure to understand that a campaign to defend civilized values must be fought scrupulously in accordance with those values."


Two commentaries in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" today strike back at criticism of the U.S. for its role in the war in Afghanistan and its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The first dismisses charges that Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners are being mistreated as "numbingly absurd." "We are supposed to consider the feelings of men -- as their beards were shaved to prevent the spread of lice -- whose idea of law enforcement is to tear out the fingernails of women wearing nail polish? No one has yet asserted the neon prison suits as a violation of a human right to be fashionable; but that too no doubt will come."

The paper goes on to argue that the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan is not a war of revenge: "It is an effort to ensure that Americans and citizens of all democracies may never again suffer so devastating an attack at the hands of religious fanatics. [Many] Americans [think] in terms of an eye for an eye. But if Guantanamo was about exacting revenge, then why give undernourished prisoners protein drinks and extensive medical exams? We don't imagine Taliban prisoners find life a joy, but why should they?"

The U.S. might do well to invite officials and journalists to the military base to witness conditions for themselves, the paper says, even if there is no real evidence of abuse. "Perhaps," it says, "the critics are unnerved by the thought of a nation with so much power married to such great anger and unity of purpose."


The second piece in "The Wall Street Journal" looks at last week's Human Rights Watch annual survey of human rights abuses, which included a large section on the performance of the U.S. in the antiterror campaign. "In its annual survey of rights around the world, [HRW] devotes at least three times as much critical space to America as to any other country. And it treats the war on terror as a far greater threat to humanity than terrorism itself."

It continues, saying the report fails to credit the U.S. with securing the removal of the Taliban from Afghanistan, instead focusing on civilian casualties during the bombing campaign and suggesting possible violations of international humanitarian law. "This is a moral slander against the U.S. military, which went to lengths unknown in history to avoid such casualties."

The commentary goes on to refute other areas of criticism in the HRW report, arguing that the USA Patriot Act -- which grants the government unprecedented freedoms in pursuing and prosecuting possible terrorists -- was passed democratically by all but one Senate vote. The paper concludes: "We hardly think the U.S. is immune from criticism, and as a rich democracy it should be held to the highest standards. But this report is off the wall. It harks back to the kind of left-wing moral equivalence we haven't seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall."


Stefan Ulrich in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" expresses fear that justice will not be served in the case of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners being held by the U.S. He writes that the United States may have won the war in Afghanistan, but this does not mean a victory over terrorism. Now it is a case of winning the minds of millions of Muslims who until now have been ambivalent in their attitude to the U.S. And this, Ulrich argues, very much depends on how the U.S. deals with its prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The world is watching with keen interest to see to what degree Washington will observe international rights or whether it will opt instead for taking revenge.

Ulrich says no one can expect the U.S. to have mercy. But it must have respect for its own words and political wisdom, which should prevent the Bush administration from curtailing basic human rights. "The Americans see themselves as champions of freedom, democracy, and human rights," Ulrich writes. "Such lofty aims are binding."


At a moment when all eyes are on Afghanistan, an editorial in "The Times" of London sends out a plea on behalf of the half a million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo who have been driven out of their homes and deprived of their livelihood by a bulldozing tide of lava.

The editorial says that the past decade of civil war has left hundreds of thousands dead, and that the number of those perished in the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo may seem comparatively slight. The country, with its fragile economy and an infrastructure weakened to the point of collapse, has few resources to offer. Water sources have been poisoned. Food supplies are low. The risk of contagious disease is high. The paper warns that a humanitarian emergency will spread even more rapidly than the current lava flow if international aid is not forthcoming immediately.