Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2006, pages 40-41

European Press Review

European Papers Welcome Zacharias Moussaoui Verdict

By Lucy Jones

The decision by an Alexandria, Virginia court on May 4 not to execute al-Qaeda plotter Zacharias Moussaoui for his role in the 9/11 attacks was widely welcomed by the European press.

“Moussaoui is a horrible piece of work,” wrote Sam Leith in Britain’s Daily Telegraph two days later. “He knew something of the plot. He approved of both its aims and its outcomes.”

But, Leith continued, “to execute someone for an act of murder committed by others, and under the direction of an entirely different third party, would...look awfully like executing him not for carrying out the attacks, but for approving of them.”

“The jury did not fall into the trap set for it by the prosecution and the defendant,” editorialized France’s Le Monde on May 5. “The American judicial system has demonstrated that it is capable of judging honestly even the most hateful of defendants,” it added.

The jurors were under “unspeakable pressure” to pronounce themselves in favor of capital punishment, noted Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung the same day. By not caving in to that pressure, the newspaper said, they had done their country a service and “showed up” the administration.

That day’s Die Welt described the fact that the trial took place at all as “a victory,” but added that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay had not yet been given a fair trial.

EU Palestinian Aid Cut May Be Counterproductive

The April 10 decision by the European Union to temporarily stop direct aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government received a mix reception in the European press.

That day’s Le Monde applauded the move, saying that Western countries “cannot subsidize a group which, as far as they are concerned, remains on the list of terrorist organizations.”

However, Spain’s El Pais of the same day said the move may prove to be counterproductive. “Everything indicates that Hamas will turn toward Iran and like-minded Arab regimes to pay its immediate bills,” the newspaper editorialized.

Gaza is becoming a “humanitarian disaster,” the newspaper warned, adding that the EU should at all costs avoid punishing a people “already close to hunger.”

“For the time being, at least, the strategy promises little success.”

The day after a deadly suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv, Germany’s Frankfurter Rundschau of April 18 questioned whether the E.U. policy was working.

Those who had hoped that financial pressure would persuade Hamas to renounce violence, or even recognize Israel, “must, for the time being, at least, concede that the strategy promises little success,” the newspaper said.

“The response [to the Tel Aviv bombing] of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, was swift and appropriate,” wrote The Guardian that same day. “He condemned it as a ”˜terrorist attack’—which it is—and then observed—correctly—that no good would come of it.

“Mr. Abbas has, however, been rendered a principally ceremonial individual after his Fatah party was beaten at the polls by Hamas in January,” the paper went on to point out. “Ultimately, it is the opinions and the deeds of those who command the actual power that counts for the most. The instant declaration of a spokesman for the Hamas-controlled Ministry of the Interior was that the blast was a ”˜legitimate’ response to the situation that the Palestinians are in and that no remorse, let alone any regret, would be forthcoming.”

Goading Iran Is “Nuts,” Says London Times Columnist

There was much discussion in the European press of the probability of a U.S. strike against Iran, following a report in TheNew Yorker by veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh which suggested that when the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to cross Iran off its list, the White House insisted on keeping it there.

“My own uninformed guess is that there is a lot of contingency planning going on about Iran, just as we plan for the unlikely eventuality of an avian flu pandemic,” wrote columnist David Aaronovitch in the April 11Guardian. “Hersh reminds us that ”˜there is a Cold War precedent for targeting deep underground bunkers with nuclear weapons,’” he noted. “My point is that we didn’t use it.”

However, noted Simon Jenkins, writing in the next day’s London Times, “One country in the region that has retained some political pluralism is Iran. It has shown bursts of democratic activity and, importantly, has experienced internal regime change. If ever there was a regime not to goad into seeking nuclear weapons it is Iran. Yet that is precisely what British and American policy is doing. It is completely nuts.”

In Moscow, there was dismay following an April 19 meeting between U.S. and Russian officials to discuss Iran.

Few doubt that Washington has made up its mind to take “decisive steps” against Iran, wrote Rossiyskaya Gazeta the next day.

“The fact is,” it said, “that if Iran carries on ignoring the international community’s decisions, other participants will have to accept Washington’s conclusions sooner or later.”

Warned that day’s Novyye Izvestia, “The hope for a peaceful solution to Iran’s ”˜nuclear problem’ is literally fading with each passing day.

“All those who took part in the Moscow consultations are against Iran becoming a nuclear power,” the paper noted, “but there is no unity as to how this could be achieved.”

Row Over London Review of Books Article on Israel Lobby

The London Review of Books sparked a transatlantic row with its March 23 cover article by two prominent American academics on the influence of the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. (See “Other Voices” supplement to the May/June 2006 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.) The article, by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, argues that the lobby holds a disproportionate and damaging sway over American foreign policy. It led to the journal being accused of anti-Semitism by U.S. commentators.

Responding in the April 2 issue of the U.K.’s Observer, the Review’s (Jewish) editor, Mary-Kay Wilmers, warned that accusations of anti-Semitism—designed to serve the purpose of censorship by those attempting to forestall criticism of Israel—may actually encourage anti-Semitism in the long run.

“It serves a purpose,” she said. “No one wants to be thought of as anti-Semitic because it is thought of as worse than anything else.

“One of the most upsetting things is the way it can contribute to anti-Semitism in the long run just by making so many constant appeals and preventing useful criticism of Israel,” she continued. “No one can say Israel’s posture does not contribute to anti-Semitism, yet charges of anti-Semitism are used to justify that policy.”

Remarks on European Muslims Raise U.S. immigration Questions

Remarks by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Daniel Fried, to an April 6 Senate committee hearing, including his view that European Muslims face discrimination in employment and other fields, were criticized by some European newspapers. Fried had said that discrimination, as well as distorted perceptions of Washington’s foreign policy, were a dangerous mix which posed a threat to U.S. national security.

Muslims do face discrimination and social inequality in France and Germany, Austria’s Der Standard conceded the following day. But, the newspaper continued, the U.S. was not setting much of an example with its treatment of its own Hispanic immigrants.

Switzerland’s Le Temps that day noted that immigration was an “explosive debate” in the U.S,, which “does not want to see Arabs in its ports, hates to see Chinese people work their guts out, and is prepared to send the Latinos home.”

“Stark” Contrast Between London Bombings Reports, 9/11 Inquiry

The reports into the July 7, 2005 London bombings by the U.K.’s parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee and the Home Office, both published on May 11, were “marked by the characteristically British habit in these types of inquiries of listing a long series of failures and then not blaming anyone,” wrote the BBC Website’s Paul Reynolds that day.

He described the contrast with the report of the American commission on the attacks of 9/11 as “stark.”

“The British government’s official account concludes: ”˜This case demonstrates the real difficulties for law enforcement agencies and local communities in identifying potential terrorists,’” Reynolds wrote.

He also noted that the parliamentary report said it was “tragic that, despite their success in disrupting other planned attacks, the attacks that took place in London...were not prevented.”

“Compare this to what the American commission said,” Reynolds continued—that “across the government, there were failures of imagination, policy, capabilities and management.”

“The same accusation could have been made about the performance of British agencies over the London bombings,” he argued.

According to the U.K.’s Daily Mail of May 12, the reports do not give a clear indication of who the masterminds were and when they will strike again.

“Many questions were left unanswered,” agreed Bronwen Maddox in that day’s London Times. “There must be a suspicion that [the reports] have been too easy on the intelligence services. The Sept. 11 attacks came literally out of the clear blue sky, on an unwary country. Britain had been alerted by 9/11 as well as the Madrid bombings, and the Afghan and Iraq wars.

“In particular,” she wrote, “there must be a lingering question: did the failures of intelligence in Iraq make British security forces nervous or skeptical of intelligence?” 

The Daily Telegraph of May 12 described the parliamentary report as a “gloss” and an “outrage.”

“In principle, this newspaper is against public inquiries,” it noted. “However, this administration’s evasion of accountability and sheer untrustworthiness make the case for an independent inquiry into the London bombings unanswerable. Its victims, dead and living, deserve no less,” it concluded.

However, that day’s The Guardian did not think a public inquiry was the answer. “There is much less of a case here for a public inquiry than there is for an independent, no-holds-barred, effective and ongoing review of the governmental and departmental efforts,” the newspaper argued. 

Lucy Jones is a free-lance journalist based in London.

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