Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: Treatment Of Afghan Prisoners, NATO's Role In War On Terrorism

Prague, 22 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Several commentaries in the Western media today criticize the treatment of Afghan prisoners being held at a U.S. Army base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Other issues include the donors conference for Afghanistan, which concludes today in Tokyo; NATO's role in the war on terrorism; Turkey's role within the North Atlantic alliance; and Central Asia's isolation.


An editorial in Britain's "Independent" calls on British Prime Minister Tony Blair to insist that the U.S. improve its treatment of Taliban and suspected Al-Qaeda prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay.

Prisoners are held "without privacy and open to the elements in what amount to chicken coops," writes the paper, "while both politicians and officials readily refer to the captives as 'terrorists,' implying that there is barely any need for a trial since their guilt is so certain. [The] treatment of these men is disgraceful, and the readiness of Mr. Blair's government to kowtow to such degradation is shameful."

The paper writes that even on "the cynical grounds of practical politics and diplomacy, the course America is taking is potentially disastrous. The savage and inhumane treatment meted out to the prisoners" may lose America much of the international support for the war on terrorism, it says. "The shaving of heads and beards of some prisoners is not just degrading; it also hands America's enemies a priceless propaganda gift. It is almost as if America seems bent on confirming the claims of the fanatics that the war on terror was, in fact, a war on Islam."

But the paper adds that there is now a growing fear "that American politicians are playing to a vengeful domestic gallery and care little about the international response."


An editorial in Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says that "instead of bombs, dollars now rain down on Afghanistan." It adds that for years, the international community left this arid land to its own civil war devices, but now it wishes "to pour its bounteous cornucopia on Afghanistan."

Yesterday, on the first day of the Tokyo donors conference, contributing nations promised some $3 billion for reconstruction, notes the editorial. The promise of such a large sum, according to the newspaper, evidences a guilty conscience derived from neglect of the civilian population's suffering. But of course this is also an expression of the world's political engagement, it says.

"The question, though, is whether the world has learned its lesson: in this day and age of globalization and international terrorism, nobody can afford to forget about any corner of the earth," the commentary says.

One thing is clear, the paper concludes. The funds for Afghanistan mean "a future without minefields, drug smuggling or violence against women."


A "Washington Times" editorial notes that in the days following the 11 September attacks, for the first time in its history, NATO invoked Article 5 of its charter, which states that an attack on one alliance member is an attack on them all. But the editorial says this symbolic gesture "has yet to be translated into unified action." The editorial says the alliance "is in danger of settling on the sidelines as the world faces the gravest security threat of this generation."

The editorial goes on to say that in Washington, there are three schools of thought on NATO's role. One regards the alliance as a political organization that should remain focused on Europe and integrating Russia. Another believes NATO should remain distinct from Russia. And a third believes NATO is the "defense arm of Europe and North America" and should thus address all security threats facing the trans-Atlantic community.

The editorial says only this last view recognizes "the reality of a post-September 11 world" and the redefined threats the West now faces.

The paper writes: "NATO's goals should include keeping nuclear, biological and chemical weapons out of the hands of terrorists, with counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation being the alliance's main objectives. [Until] the alliance realizes it must address current challenges to security in the trans-Atlantic community, it can consider itself a relic of the Cold War."


A "New York Times" editorial says that it is in America's own interest to provide all Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners with "humane conditions of detention and basic standards of due process." The United States, it says, "should stand for the rule of law, even when it comes to prosecuting violent enemies."

The editorial says that so far, it is hard to tell how many of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay might have a legitimate claim to prisoner-of-war status, since the Pentagon has not provided much information about whom it is holding and from which countries they originate.

The paper says that in this murky situation, "far more is at stake than legal technicalities. Any detainees who qualify for prisoner-of-war status cannot be brought before the military commissions proposed by the [U.S. President George W.] Bush administration, but must be tried under regular court-martial procedure or in American civilian courts. By holding the Guantanamo prisoners at a military base outside the United States, the administration has complicated the issue of judicial intervention. That does not excuse the Pentagon from following basic American standards of fairness and applicable international law," the editorial says.


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," economist David Jay Green of the Asian Development Bank says that the geographic isolation of Central Asia has limited the region's opportunities for economic development. "Being far from the marketplaces of the industrialized world has stalled these countries' chance to reduce appalling poverty," he writes. Central Asia is landlocked and connected to East Asia or Europe by long and poorly maintained roads and railroads. [The] region lacks the easy access to Western Europe that has helped the people of Eastern Europe to adopt market-based economies and move toward eventual integration in the European Union. This has discouraged investment in Central Asia," he says. As a result, the region plays no role in global trade.

Green goes on to say that international aid has, in the past, tended to be project-based -- building a school in one place, repairing a road in another. With few exceptions, he says, the assistance "does not recognize the region's central problem of being located far from industrialized markets. [Assistance] that is not designed with a regional perspective will produce little," he writes.

Green concludes by saying, "More concerted efforts are needed to link Central Asia to the global economy and restore development potential."


A contribution to France's daily "Le Monde" by Rony Brauman, former president of Doctors Without Borders, says that 11 September marked the beginning of what he calls a new "American epoch." He says the world has long been accustomed to enduring, even as it protests, decisions made by the White House and imposed on other nations -- in particular those regarding the environment, trade, international justice, and security.

Brauman says the Western world has long been characterized by a "historical tendency to extend its authority to the remainder of the planet." Since the Soviet collapse, the U.S. has continued this tradition. The war on terror is not dealing in nuances, says Brauman, who cites the oft-repeated words of U.S. President George W. Bush: "Whoever is not with America in this battle is against it."

Brauman says rather than reject criticisms of the U.S. as "barbarian atavism," it is necessary to consider its causes. "For all those who endure violence perpetrated in the shadow of American power," he says, "the monstrous attacks of [11 September] were, first of all, revenge -- a rebalancing of the unequal distribution of death inflicted [on] the innocent." He adds: "To try to understand these [sentiments] is not to justify them. It is [to] remember, in the light of history and of current reality, that the world is not divided into two camps." The real world, he concludes, cannot be defined by such "ideological over-simplifications."


"Newsweek International" editor Fareed Zakaria writes that Turkey would find itself in a difficult position in the event of a Western attack on Iraq. Since 11 September, Turkey has become more important as a moderate, secular Muslim country, but also because of its geopolitical location. This is also producing what Zakaria calls "its greatest headache."

Turkey's fear, he says, is that with the possible dissolution of Iraq, Turkey's army would be forced to prevent a declaration of Kurdish independence by occupying northern Iraq. With a 12-percent Kurdish population of its own, many believe that a Kurdish state on Turkey's border would mean "the end of the nation's unitary existence," he says. Although Washington offers assurances that Iraq should remain one nation, Zakaria says "Many Turkish generals [think] that once the war begins, all bets are off."

American intervention in Iraq would also hit Turkey hard economically, he says, as did the 1991 Gulf War. It would take Turkey's focus away from economic and political modernization and human rights issues and center it instead on the "life-and-death problems of international sovereignty." Zakaria concludes that for Turkey, the stakes of an Iraq campaign would be very high.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)