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Birds of a Feather

The long arm of coincidence
Haddon Chambers, Captain Swift

It was only a coincidence. The fact that the two leaders have similar approaches should not lead anyone to think Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the United State’s George W. Bush are cut from the same cloth, even though they share the same goals. Both men want to protect their countries from terrorists. Not aware that they are birds of a feather, however, Mr. Bush criticizes Mr. Putin. Mr. Putin is too much of a gentleman to return the criticism although it would be perfectly appropriate for him to do so. I’ll do it for him.

In recent days domestic news has been dominated by Mr. Bush’ s extensive surveillance program and the justification for its use offered by Mr. Bush. As Mr. Bush explained in a news conference shortly after news of surveillance became public, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was written before terrorists were the enemy. Explaining, he said: “A two minute phone conversation between somebody linked to al Qaeda here and an operative overseas could lead directly to the loss of thousands of lives.” By authorizing the National Security Agency to spy on citizens without a court order, Mr. Bush has protected terrorist and citizen alike although trampling on their constitutional rights.

Continuing with his news conference and happy to divert attention from his own culpability, he complained of the newspaper leak that disclosed his law-breaking habit and said an investigation had begun into the leak that, said he, had an adverse effect on the nation’s security. Asked to explain he gave a really good example since it involved the man everyone loves to hate-Osama bin Laden.

According to Mr. Bush, the government had been successfully tracking Mr. bin Laden in 1998. Then it was reported by the press that Mr. bin Laden was using a certain kind of telephone and, said Mr. Bush: “guess what happened? Saddam-Osama bin Laden changed his behavior. He began to change how he communicated.” That was a really good example for the point Mr. Bush was making. It would have been even better had it been true. As so often happens with things Mr. Bush says, it was not.

According to Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post, the bin Laden tale is “an urban myth” perpetuated in a book and referred to by the 9/11 commission. According to Mr. Kessler, Mr. bin Laden’s use of satellite phones had been reported as early as 1996 by the Taliban, an organization that in 1996 was not one of our enemies. Mr. bin Laden quit using his satellite phone in 1998, the day after the cruise missile attack by the Clinton administration on a facility in Sudan.

Mr. Bush shouldn’t be faulted for his inaccuracy. He is relying on what his advisors told him since he doesn’t read. His advisors read but they are much too busy to do their own fact checking and therefore rely on the work of others, which may be wrong. The fact that Mr. Bush was once again lying or misinformed was OK since it was all done to fight terrorism. And that brings us to Mr. Putin.

On December 23 the Russian parliament approved legislation supported by Mr. Putin that will give Mr. Putin greater control over charities and other nongovernmental organizations. Under the new law such organizations must prove that their works don’t oppose Russia’s national, social or cultural interests. The law passed over the objections of George Bush (who has no vote in Russia) who urged Mr. Putin not to let the law be enacted. Mr. Bush believes that if enacted the law would stifle free debate and adversely affect democracy and pluralism in Russia.

Mr. Putin explained that the changes were being made to bolster national security by controlling the activities of terrorists and others wishing the government harm. The legislation is vague in some respects but that, as Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin both understand, is necessary to give the government the flexibility to protect its citizens’ safety and civil liberties.

Not everyone who has considered the new legislation understands or is pleased. Steven Solnick, representative for the Ford Foundation said: “What everybody was hoping for was that they [the parliament] would be concrete about what activities are prohibited. But they have gone the other way.” So, some would say, has George Bush. Next time the two men visit they can console each other u by saying what they are doing is protecting us all from terrorists. Each of them will believe the other and the fact that no one else does will be of no moment.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer in Boulder, Colorado. He can be reached at: Brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu or through his website: http://hraos.com/

 

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