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Western Press Review: Neglecting Afghanistan, The Legal Rights Of Detainees, And Iraqi Sovereignty

Prague, 30 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics under discussion in the media today are Western neglect in Afghanistan, the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings on the rights of detainees held by the U.S. government, the war in Chechnya, the return of sovereignty to Iraq this week, and Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, Portugal's prime minister and now the man picked to succeed Romano Prodi as president of the European Commission.


An editorial today calls Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai "a leader of unusual dignity and forbearance." Yet he has "good reason to complain loud and long over the treatment he and his country have received at the hands of the grandly styled 'international community.' The military intervention in Afghanistan had the full support of the United Nations and a well-defined purpose: destroying the bases of Al-Qaeda." This endeavor was successful, the Taliban were driven from power and Karzai now rules with the backing of a small but international NATO force.

But the London-based daily says the long-term support for Afghanistan in funds and military aid that was pledged by the United States, Britain, and others "has fallen lamentably short of what was required." A lack of security forced Afghanistan's first free elections to be postponed until September.

"Western neglect over the past year has already set Afghanistan back," the paper writes. "Local fiefdoms have been established, here and there the Taliban again rears its head, and the opium crop flourishes. Outside Kabul many roads are dangerous and the borderlands with Pakistan have never been fully pacified. It seems doubtful now that they will be. Afghanistan needs much more concentrated help, military and civilian, than it is receiving."

The West "cannot fail in Afghanistan," the paper says. Western credibility has already been compromised, and the future of NATO is at least in part reliant on whether it can succeed in its Afghan mission. Moreover, "[if] Afghanistan can make the transition to representative government in relative peace and security there will be an example for the West and for Iraq to follow."


Two rulings delivered this week by the U.S. Supreme Court "struck decisively" at U.S. administration claims that it had the right to exercise "sweeping power" of those held as enemy combatants. And with these decisions, the Supreme Court has "kept the [U.S.] Bill of Rights from being a collateral victim of the war on terror."

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush "claimed the right to hold enemy combatants captured in Afghanistan indefinitely and to deny them any right to lawyers to challenge their detention. In both cases, the court ruled that detainees did have the right to counsel."

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in her ruling that the court has "made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president." O'Connor "also denied the government the right to hold an enemy combatant until the conclusion of something as ill-defined as the war on terror. But she said that circumstances in Afghanistan are still unsettled enough to justify further detention."

"The Boston "Globe" says the practical effects of yesterday's decisions remain unclear. But the rulings do "reaffirm the basic rights of detainees to have counsel, and of judges to review executive actions -- rights that the [Bush] administration wanted to deny."


An editorial in the Brussels-based edition says the United States "has kept its word" in handing sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government. But the paper says many observers are downplaying the move by pointing out that U.S. troops in the country will remain at current levels or even increase. Nevertheless, the newspaper says, "all significant decision-making power will really be in Iraqi hands, and [U.S.] forces will be there at the invitation of a sovereign nation." And any attempts to portray members of the new Iraqi administration as "U.S. puppets" are "offensive to men and women risking their lives to build a better Iraqi future."

The biggest mistake made by U.S. policy in Iraq "was not trusting [Iraqis] with the keys to their own country much sooner," the daily says. Chief U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer, whom the paper describes as "autocratic," never empowered the Iraqi Governing Council to be much more than a symbolic administration.

"Not surprisingly, then, Iraqis began to blame the Americans for a year without improvements in things like electricity generation" and "the worst of the failures," security.

Security in Iraq will now undergo "more than symbolic change" in a newly sovereign Iraq, the paper says. Iraq's leaders will have "a kind of legitimacy the U.S. never did to authorize forceful policies against the enemy."

But the "most important thing for this new Iraqi government to keep in mind is that its continued legitimacy depends almost entirely on progress toward elections." Timely elections would prove an even bigger victory than this week's handover.


A piece in "The Times" of London by columnist Simon Jenkins takes a dimmer view of the 28 June handover. Jenkins says U.S. and British leaders have "cut and run" from Iraq before fulfilling their mission. Both U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair "had promised to stay 'until the job is done.' It is not done, but they are going."

"The coalition skulks out of Iraq as the Americans did out of Vietnam, in armored helicopters, while another three-hour power cut leaves Baghdad sweltering and fearful," Jenkins writes.

Nevertheless, he says, the coalition's decision to get out early may have been its shrewdest one yet, as security in Iraq "was worsening and nothing but corpses were to be gained by staying."

Cities such as Al-Najaf, Karbala, Al-Ramadi, and Al-Fallujah, and Sadr City in Baghdad "are now in the hands of gangsters and militias. The Kurdish region is beyond Baghdad's aegis. More important, so are the transport network, the highways and airports. Contractors have recently had to stop most infrastructure work, leading to a return of power cuts and oil losses."

But there is always hope, Jenkins says. "I can hope that that nice, tough [Iraqi Prime Minister] Iyad Allawi gains swift control of his country. I can hope his police assert control over the gangsters now ruling his streets. I can hope the Kurds accept rule from suspect Baghdad. I can hope peaceful elections take place next year 'as planned.'"

But Jenkins predicts that even if the new prime minister has "recourse to special forces of Saddamist ruthlessness, he will find it hard to reassert Baghdad's authority."


A commentary by Anne Applebaum says the Chechen war is "among the bloodiest ethnic conflicts in Europe."

Theoretically, she says, U.S. policy on the breakaway republic is fairly clear. Washington favors a negotiated settlement, although it considers the Chechen war "an internal Russian matter."

Last month, an immigration judge in a Boston court granted political asylum to Ilyas Akhmadov, the former foreign minister of what Applebaum calls "an elected, moderate, separatist Chechen government." Akhmadov has been in exile since 1999, "advocating a negotiated end to the Chechen war [and] repeatedly denouncing terrorism."

And yet if he were to return to Russia, he would likely face arrest and perhaps execution, with or without trial.

But two days after Akhmadov's asylum was granted, lawyers from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requested an appeal of the decision on the grounds that Akhmadov is a terrorist. Applebaum says that although the lawyers conceded "that Akhmadov was part of a government that had 'spoken out against' terrorism, the appeal argued that his 'actions and comments' have 'furthered acts of terrorism and persecution by Chechen separatists,' and that he should therefore be deported."

Applebaum remarks that the text of the appeal sounds "[like] the work of Russian security officers, not U.S. officials."

She says perhaps the appeal "reflects DHS contacts with Russian security, or a White House attempt to curry favor with the Russian leadership, or even simple ignorance." But she says none of these explanations is sufficient. The United States "may not have the national energy to do anything about Chechnya or the national attention span even to care much about what happens there, but at least we should have the national decency to treat Chechens who are trying to achieve peace in their country with consistency."

For that reason, she says, chief of homeland security Tom Ridge should "withdraw this embarrassing appeal immediately."


An analysis by Arnaud Leparmentier in France's leading daily says the new administrators of the European Commission will be subject to strict constraints as they attempt to fulfill their mandate. The newly appointed president of the commission, Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, will even have little latitude with which to compose his team.

Barroso's task will be particularly delicate, as he will preside over the first commission of an EU enlarged to 25 members. In theory, he will enjoy expanded powers conferred by the Treaty of Nice that will apply for the first time. Article 217 allows the president to determine the internal organization of the commission and to apportion powers to the new commissioners, one from each member state.

But the reality is more complex, says Leparmentier. Most of the 10 commissioners from the new accession countries will serve out their terms for the next five years. And Barroso is certain to come under pressure from the six largest member states, which represent three-quarters of the population of Europe but which will have only six representatives vis-a-vis the nineteen commissioners of the smaller EU countries. Leparmentier says the six large states surely intend to compensate somehow for this loss of influence.

He says it will also be necessary to find a way to organize the commission efficiently. No one yet believes it possible to deliberate all subjects among the 25 members. So a plan is in the works to break the commission down into groups serving under the authority of vice presidents, a project that is eyed warily by Europe's commissioners.

And Leparmentier says it is the new president that will eventually have to settle all of these remaining questions.