WMD: Looted and Lost?
U.S. troops have yet to turn up conclusive evidence that Iraq was maintaining a nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) arsenal. Two very suspicious trailer rigs turned up last week in Mosul. The Pentagon called them mobile bio-labs. The first of the truck-drawn labs, intercepted at a roadblock, had been swabbed clean. The other, discovered Friday, was stripped by looters before U.S. troops found it.
Looters, in fact, have outrun the WMD hunters in several instances. "Once a site has been hit with a 2,000-pound bomb, then looted, there's not a lot left," says Maj. Paul Haldeman, the 101st Airborne Division's top NBC officer. In the rush to Baghdad, Coalition forces raced past most suspected WMD sites. After Saddam Hussein's fall, there were too few U.S. troops to secure the facilities. Roughly 900 possible WMD sites appeared on the initial target lists. So far, V Corps officers say, fewer than 150 have been searched.
Some of the lapses are frightening. The Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, about 12 miles south of Baghdad, had nearly two tons of partially enriched uranium, along with significant quantities of highly radioactive medical and industrial isotopes, when International Atomic Energy Agency officials made their last visit in January. By the time U.S. troops arrived in early April, armed guards were holding off looters--but the Americans only disarmed the guards, Al Tuwaitha department heads told NEWSWEEK. As soon as the soldiers left, looters broke in. The staff fled; when they returned, the containment vaults' seals had been broken, and radioactive material was everywhere.
U.S. officers say the center had already been ransacked before their troops arrived. Last week American troops finally went back to secure the site. Al Tuwaitha's scientists still can't fully assess the damage; some areas are too badly contaminated to inspect. Stainless-steel uranium canisters had been stolen. Some were later found in local markets and in villagers' homes. The looted materials could not make a nuclear bomb, but IAEA officials worry that terrorists could build plenty of dirty bombs with some of the isotopes that may have gone missing.
Not finding WMDs doesn't mean there are none. Last week the ground-forces commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, told NEWSWEEK he's confident evidence will emerge. "We haven't found yet the big, hard evidence, but I think that will come," he said. Officials in Washington spoke more cautiously. "I think we're going to find that they had a weapons-of-mass-destruction program," said Stephen Cambone, under secretary of Defense for intelligence--carefully not saying the weapons themselves would be found. Proving Saddam's guilt is almost beside the point. The urgent job now is to keep his WMD materials out of terrorist hands--if it isn't already too late.
--Rod Nordland with bureau reports
Two film studios in China and Hong Kong are already reportedly planning movies about SARS, but that doesn't mean we can all breathe easy again. Early last week the World Health Organization changed its estimated death rate to 15 percent--double the rate previously thought--due to new data. Even if the spread is soon contained, rehabilitation will be difficult: the Asian Development Bank has now warned that SARS could cost Asia $28 billion in lost economic output.
Iraq: Killer Jokes
Telling a joke like that could get you maimed, tortured and even killed in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The most common penalty was tongue amputation. Iraqis know the story of Lt. Gen. Omar al-Hazzaa, one of Saddam's top officers. During a backgammon game with friends in 1984, the subject of Saddam's mother came up. Al-Hazzaa joked, "Who is she, anyway?" Saddam and his four brothers all had different mothers. Everyone laughed, but one of them informed on him. According to accounts from family survivors who later fled Iraq, first al-Hazzaa's tongue was cut out, then his sons had their tongues cut out while their wives were forced to watch. Then his male family members were killed in front of him, and his wife and daughters turned out of their home. Finally he was executed.
Nor was such penalty reserved for the mighty. Last week a poor Shiite family showed up at a human-rights group in Baghdad to see if they could find where their son's body might be buried; they produced the official death warrant that ordered him executed "for telling jokes and showing disrespect to Saddam Hussein and other officials." When jokes could kill, Iraqis traded them in secret. Now the laughter is gushing out. Iraqis are beginning to tell jokes about the Americans, too. Here's one that covers three nationalities: A TV interviewer asks an American, an Afghan and an Iraqi, in turn: "What is your opinion about electricity shortages?" The American replies, "What's an 'electricity shortage'?" The Afghan says, "What's an 'electricity'?" The Iraqi says, "What's an 'opinion'?"
Religion: Impolitic Timing
Last month the pope beatified a 17th-century Capuchin priest who's perhaps most famous for preventing a Muslim invasion of Europe. When the Ottoman Turks tried to seize Vienna in 1683, the priest, Marco d'Aviano, led the Christian armies to victory. Legend has it that when the Turks fled they forgot their coffee--leaving it to the triumphant Viennese, who named their new favorite beverage cappuccino, after the order to which d'Aviano had dedicated his life.
Forget coffee, says the Vatican, which is too busy defending the pope's heralding of an anti-Muslim crusader to be much interested in Starbucks prehistory. In his beatification speech, the pope said d'Aviano is a symbol that Europe's "unity will be more stable if it is based on its common Christian roots." A Vatican spokeswoman defends the impolitic choice of d'Aviano for public exaltation in late April, and asserts that he has been slated for "some time now." But John Allen, Vatican correspondent for the Kansas City, Missouri-based National Catholic Reporter, thinks the timing was calculated, noting that the Vatican has insisted that the EU's constitutional document include a specific reference to the Christian identity of Europe as the basis for its value system. Not surprisingly, delegates from some countries, including France and Sweden, balked.
--Suzanne Smalley and Barbie Nadeau
PSYOPS: Cruel and Unusual
Washington may be trying to win hearts and minds in Iraq. But those recalcitrant Saddam supporters who don't want to hear of it are being forced to listen to a very different message. Some U.S. military units have taken to exposing uncooperative Iraqis to long doses of heavy-metal music or even popular children's songs in an effort to convince them not to resist Coalition forces. "Trust me, it works," says one U.S. operative on the ground. "In training, they forced me to listen to the Barney 'I Love You' song for 45 minutes. I never want to go through that again."
The idea, explains Sgt. Mark Hadsell, is to break down a subject's resistance through sleep deprivation and annoyance with music that is as culturally offensive and terrifying as possible. Hadsell's personal favorites include "Bodies" from the "XXX" soundtrack and Metallica's "Enter Sandman." "These people haven't heard heavy metal before," he explained. "They can't take it. If you play it for 24 hours, your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your will is broken. That's when we come in and talk to them." The sledgehammer riffs of Metallica, that's understandable. But can children's songs really break a strong mind? (Two current favorites are the "Sesame Street" theme song and the crooning purple dinosaur Barney--for 24 hours straight.) In search of comment from Barney's people, Hit Entertainment, NEWSWEEK endured five minutes of Barney while on hold. Yes, it broke us, too.
Campaign 2004: The Dean Machine
Many things in U.S. politics--soaring promises, hearty handshakes--are immutable. But the media methods for reaching voters keep evolving. In 1980, Ronald Reagan's team overrode hostile reporting on broadcast news with irresistibly cinematic photo --ops. In 1992, Bill Clinton's battalions understood that cable and satellite uplinks--and the "rapid response" they made possible--were the next new thing. And although Al Gore may have claimed to have invented the Internet, Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean of Vermont is actually using it. Last week thousands of Dean supporters met at various functions around the country, all summoned there by e-mail and via the Internet, creating a serious Dean buzz.
But not every candidacy is a tech-based insurgency, and Democratic insiders don't want one. They see Dean, who rose to prominence by opposing the Iraq war, as a disaster in the making. They dream of settling pre-emptively (after a foreshortened primary season) on a well-funded centrist. This minute's party buzz is enveloping Sen. Joe Lieberman, after he declared that "no Democrat will be elected president in 2004 who is not strong on defense." Party types--and Republicans--loved the indirect swipe at Dean. Dean, who plans to continue using the Internet as his medium of choice, so far remains unfazed. And only time will tell where the buzz bounces next.
--Howard Fineman and Rebecca Sinderbrand
The Smithsonian: Pictures of Controversy
For photographer Subhankar Banerjee, it should have been a publicity coup. During the U.S. Senate's March 19 debate over proposed oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, opponents of the legislation used blown-up photographs of polar bears and caribou to urge the reserve's preservation. The photographs were from "Seasons of Life and Land," Banerjee's first book and the subject of an exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. During the debate, which resulted in defeat of the bill, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer held up Banerjee's book and implored her colleagues to visit the exhibition.
Days later, Banerjee received notice that the Smithsonian, which depends on Congress for its funding, had decided to move his exhibition from a prominent space near the museum's rotunda to the bottom floor, and the exhibit's captions were expunged of quotes from Jimmy Carter, who, in the foreword to Banerjee's book, urges the refuge's preservation. Attorneys for the museum insisted that Banerjee remove all mentions of the Smithsonian from his book. "I was told that my work was just too political. It's just photographs," Banerjee says.
A Feb. 27 design plan lists the exhibit's location to be a space near the rotunda, but Smithsonian officials say the changes were "routine" and deny any political pressure. "To my knowledge, there have been no complaints about the show," says Michelle Urie. Others aren't so sure. Last month Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin wrote Smithsonian chief Lawrence Small, demanding an explanation. "I really hope this is not an effort by the White House or anyone else to diminish the value of these photographs," says Durbin. The White House had no comment.
By A. L. Bardach
SALMAN SPEAKS: At a recent book party in Manhattan, novelist Salman Rushdie explained his imperturbability in the face of yet another fatwa slapped on him just two months ago. "Every year on the anniversary of the first fatwa," he said wearily, "some unknown shaggy mullah crawls out of a cave somewhere--usually in Pakistan--and announces that he too is issuing a fatwa against me. Then the mullah gives a speech, which gets picked up by some militant Pakistani rag, which then gets picked up by Reuters, and it's a big story again."
But Rushdie was far more intrigued with the fatwas coming out of Washington. "They are basically going to war with the world. The U.S. economy is plummeting like a stone... and W. is going to be in big trouble next year. They probably have Osama bin Laden stashed away somewhere. I'm not kidding. Then they use him as their trump card right before the election. Another October surprise!"
TEARING OFF THE VEIL: Moroccan Islamic scholar Fatema Mernissi reports that women have taken a dominant role in the Arab media. Of the 80,000 people employed in radio and television, some 50,000 are women, according to a recent article in Egyptian magazine Rose El Youssef. Among the most famous is Muntaha ar-Rimhy, an attractive Al-Jazeera anchorwoman who also hosts a top-rated talk show, "For Women Only." The program can be pretty racy at times: ar-Rimhy devoted an entire show to the taboo topic of sexuality--specifically, "the reasons for the lack of sexual desire among spouses," which she informed her macho Arab viewers was "statistically alarming."
BAGHDAD VS. KABUL: Although President Bush has assured the world that America plans to stay in Iraq, Afghanistan is not an encouraging precedent. A high-level military team sent to assess the stability of the country came away disheartened. "The job is just not done," said a source close to one of the generals on the team. "There were conference calls every day with Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks. They were told that they needed more men and equipment. But he turned down the request--no more money." Perhaps they should ask for a tax cut instead.
She could pass for the love child of Wolfgang Puck and Sophia Loren--if it weren't for that British accent. Television's domestic goddess recently launched a new season of cooking shows, "Forever Summer With Nigella," and published her fourth book, also called "Forever Summer." Lawson chewed the fat with NEWSWEEK's Jac Chebatoris.
You're not trained as a chef. Doesn't that make you an easy target for critics?
I have friends who are great chefs, and they love what I do because there isn't a great chef who hasn't got fond memories of home cooking. They know I'm not trying to do the same thing that they are. It's the wanna-be great chefs that feel threatened.
One thing women seem to love about you is that you obviously eat.
I'd be lying if I said there aren't times when I'm deeply insecure about walking into a room if I know there are going to be a lot of thin women there. If you eat less and exercise more, you will get thin, but I just accept that it's too high a price for me.
What's the most exotic thing you've eaten?
I've eaten ostrich once. I didn't like it much. It's illogical, my eating one animal and not the other.
I have to confess. I just cook everything on high.
That's what I do. Nobody will stay in the kitchen with me, I live so dangerously. It's sort of pathetic, really, when your idea of living dangerously is how high your flames are.