Monday, June 13, 2005

Did the "Night Letter" cause the riots in Afghanistan? Have you heard of it?

If this has been all over the net, my apologies. I'm reading The New Yorker and, because I subscribe, my new issue is an old issue. There's an important story in this issue and I know most members who surf would have passed this along if they'd seen it. So if it's been discussed, it's not been discussed a great deal. We're going to note it here.

It's from the June 6, 2005 issue. Jon Lee Anderson's "The Man In the Palace." (For Doug, pages 60 to 72.) I'm not finding a link for it at the magazine's web site. You may have more luck.

But, as most people know, coverage from Afghanistan is sparse in the mainstream media because so many have either pulled their reporters out completely or reduced the numbers.
(Carlotta Gall reports on Afghanistan for the New York Times.)

There's a detail about the riots in Afghanistan that's not getting out. Maybe because the press wanted to circle the wagons? Maybe because enough reporters aren't on the ground there.

From page sixty, here's the opening of Anderson's "The Man In the Palace: Hamid Karzai and the dilemma of being Afghanistan's President:"

On May 11th, riots broke out in the city of Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan. The violence followed a Newsweek story -- which has since been retracted -- on new allegations that American interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had desecrated the Koran. In the next few days, the protests spread to the capital, Kabul, and throughout the country. In some provincial towns, police fired into crowds. But early on there were signs that the violence had less to do with Newsweek than with Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai.
On the first night of rioting, copies of an anonymous letter circulated in the streets of Kabul. This Night Letter, as it was called, was a vehement exhortation to Afghans to oppose Karzai, whom it accused of being un-Islamic, an ally of the Taliban, and a "U.S.A. servant." The letter said that Karzai had put the interests of his "evil master" ahead of those of Afghans, and it called for leaders who were proven patriots, mujahideen -- a synonym, in this case, for members of the Northern Alliance, many of whom are now warlords and regional strongmen -- to defy him. The timing was opportune: Karzai was on a trip to Europe, in search of financial backing. His next destination was Washington, where he planned to discuss a pact that would guarantee the United States a long-term military presence in Afghanistan.
Karzai seemed unsure of how to respond. Even as the unrest continued, he stuck to his itenerary and, from Brussels, called the riots a "manifestation of democracy." When he finally arrived home, several days later, he held a press conference, at which he blamed unspecified "enemies of peace" for the violence. He asked, "Who are they who have such enmity with Afghnistan, a nation that is begging for money to build the country and construct buildings and during the night they come and destroy it?"

That's not quite the way it played out in the press. We noted here that Newsweek's reach wasn't enough to have carried the news everywhere. Common sense dictated that all the talking points from Bully Boy and his cohorts were a distraction. And obviously, it was easier to slam Newsweek than to deal with what it was reporting. But could, possibly, the distraction also have buried an embarrassing truth for the administration?

Anderson's dealing with a number of issues. The above isn't the focus of the article. (And sorry to Anderson for reducing a complex article to just the above but maybe it will cause people to go to their libraries and look the story up.) Read the article to get a better picture of reality in Afghanistan.

This is a detail that's not been out in the mainstream very loudly (if at all). Again, that might be the result of not having enough (or, in some cases, any) reporters in Afghanistan. But I think it's worth noting.

We'll go ahead and note one thing from the latest issue (which I haven't received yet). Seymour M. Hersh's "Watergate Days." From the piece (available online):

It was late in the evening on May 16, 1973, and I was in the Washington bureau of the Times, immersed in yet another story about Watergate. The paper had been overwhelmed by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s reporting for the Washington Post the previous year, and I was trying to catch up. The subject this time was Henry Kissinger, President Richard Nixon’s national-security adviser. I had called Kissinger to get his comment on a report, which the Times was planning to run, that he had been involved in wiretapping reporters, fellow Administration officials, and even his own aides on the National Security Council. At first, he had indignantly denied the story. When I told him that I had information from sources in the Justice Department that he had personally forwarded the wiretap requests to the F.B.I., he was silent, and then said that he might have to resign. The implicit message was that this would be bad for the country, and that the Times would be blamed. A few minutes later, the columnist James Reston, who was a friend of Kissinger's, padded up to my desk and asked, gently, if I understood that "Henry" was serious about resigning. I did understand, but Watergate was more important than Kissinger.
[. . .]
By May of 1973, the White House coverup was unravelling, and the stalking of Richard Nixon by the wider press corps had begun. Woodward and Bernstein had been more than vindicated. The Nixon Administration, mired in a losing war in Vietnam, was also losing the battle against the truth at home. Throughout the two-year crisis, Watergate was perceived as a domestic issue, but its impact on foreign policy was profound. As memoirs by both Nixon and Kissinger show, neither man understood why the White House could not do what it wanted, at home or in Vietnam. The reason it couldn't is, one hopes, just as valid today: they were operating in a democracy in which they were accountable to a Constitution and to a citizenry that held its leaders to a high standard of morality and integrity. That is the legacy of Watergate.

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