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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The laugh test

Yesterday, in Belgium, President Bush said this during a joint press conference with EU leaders:
And finally, this notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said that, all options are on the table. (Laughter.)
Note the parenthetical laughter?

The White House webpage also inserts (applause) during presidential speeches.

In any case, this reaction to the President's words reflects a measure of public accountability. The US position on Iran couldn't even pass the laugh test.

Today, after meeting with Germany's Gerhard Schröder, Bush issued a public correction to yesterday's remark:
We spent time talking about Iran, and I want to thank Gerhard for taking the lead, along with Britain and France, on this important issue. It's vital that the Iranians hear the world speak with one voice that they shouldn't have a nuclear weapon. You know, yesterday I was asked about the U.S. position, and I said all options are on the table. That's part of our position. But I also reminded people that diplomacy is just beginning. Iran is not Iraq. We've just started the diplomatic efforts, and I want to thank our friends for taking the lead and I will -- we will work with them to convince the mullahs that they need to give up their nuclear ambitions.
How long will this take? Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter says bombing is slated for June, 2005.

Oh, let me note one other recent "laugh test." A young man from Virginia, who was valedictorian of his Alexandria, VA, high school class, has reportedly been charged with plotting to assassinate President Bush. Apparently, the guy was held in Saudi Arabia for 20 months and claims he was tortured -- with the cooperation of US officials:
Abu Ali did not enter a plea at his brief court hearing, but 100 or more of his supporters let out an audible laugh when a summary of the assassination plot was read aloud.
Abu Ali was arrested in Saudi Arabia while taking his final exam, then his home in Falls Church, VA, was raided one week later. Here are some of the more disturbing logistical details from the story:
According to court records and other documents related to the case, a grand jury initially investigated links between Abu Ali and a group of men in Virginia who allegedly used paintball games as a method of training for terrorist attacks. The grand jury completed its deliberations in early 2004 and declined to indict Abu Ali.

Since then relatives and supporters have lobbied Washington for Abu Ali's release, and been told that American officials were powerless because he was in Saudi custody. Abu Ali's father, who works as a systems analyst at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, claimed that unnamed Saudi officials told him his son had not broken any Saudi laws, and that his detention was the result of an "American case."

A federal judge in Washington ruled in December that Abu Ali's supporters could pursue his release through the American courts. The ruling, noting evidence that Abu Ali had been tortured while in prison, suggested that he had been kept in Saudi Arabia to "avoid constitutional scrutiny by American courts."
Certainly, if true, the charges are disturbing.

However, the apparent US method in this case are quite troubling. Why was the guy held for 20 months in an allied -- but undemocratic -- country, where he had apparently committed no crime? His alleged activities had already been investigated by a US grand jury too. Is this an example of the US outsourcing torture?

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