At a cultural festival last year, Sameer al-Qudah recited a poem of his depicting Arab rulers as a notch below pirates and highwaymen on the scale of honorable professions. Within days, Jordan's intelligence police summoned him.
Mr. Qudah, sentenced to a year in jail for a similar offense in 1996, was apprehensive but not surprised. The secret police, or mukhabarat in Arabic, is one of the most powerful and ubiquitous forces in the Arab world. Jordan's network had surreptitiously videotaped his reading.
"We are hungry for freedoms like the right to express ourselves," said Mr. Qudah, 35, whose day job is supervising construction projects as a civil engineer. "But our country lives under the fist of the mukhabarat."
In Jordan and across the region, those seeking democratic reform say the central role of each country's secret police force, with its stealthy, octopuslike reach, is one of the biggest impediments. In the decades since World War II, as military leaders and monarchs smothered democratic life, the security agencies have become a law unto themselves.
The above is from Neil MacFarquhar's "Heavy Hand of the Secret Police Impeding Reform in Arab World" in this morning's New York Times.
Secret police? Thank goodness the United States doesn't engage in anything like that! Oh . . . wait . . . extraordinary rendention. Secret prisons abroad. Detainees held with no charges for years at Guantanamo Bay.
And never forget the propaganda battles. We'll note two. First, Susan e-mails to note Stephen J. Hedges' "Secretive firm helps U.S. wage information war abroad" (The Baltimore Sun):
The Rendon Group, directed by former Democratic Party political operative John Rendon, has garnered more than $56 million in work from the Pentagon since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
These contracts list such activities as tracking foreign reporters; "pushing" news favorable to U.S. forces; planting television news segments that promote American positions; and creating a grass-roots voting effort in Puerto Rico on behalf of the U.S. Navy, according to Pentagon records.
The contracts, some of which were obtained by the watchdog group Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal that the Bush administration is engaged in a constant war of images and words with al-Qaida and other radical groups.
Seen as necessity Civilian and military leaders say the contracts are necessary to fight the media wars waged by Islamic fundamentalists who control images on television, radio and the Internet in some Arab countries.
But proponents of open government question the role of firms such as the Rendon Group, suggesting that their work blurs the line between legitimate news and propaganda.
Also, Americans have long been nervous about the notion of the government's managing information.
[. . .]
The Rendon Group is perhaps best known for its part in the controversy that surrounded the Pentagon's short-lived Office of Strategic Influence nearly four years ago. A February 2002 New York Times article disclosed the office's existence and reported that the company was part of the effort, which possibly included attempts to plant false new stories abroad.
And we can't note propaganda without noting the Bully Boy -- Lyle e-mails to highlight Matthew Rothschild's "Bush Tries to Gag Critics in Veterans Day Speech" (This Just In, The Progressive):
What's more, Bush said, "When I made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Congress approved it with strong bipartisan support."
But that's not exactly what Bush told Congress or what Congress was approving. The October 2002 authorization of force was not a declaration of war; Bush did not seek one. It talks about "support for United States diplomatic efforts," though it does give the President ridiculous leeway to "use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate" to defend against "the continuing threat posed by Iraq" and to "enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq."
Lowest of all, Bush suggested that even to question his veracity was to give aid and comfort to the enemy--the constitutional definition of treason.
"These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops, and to an enemy that is questioning America’s will," he said.
That's the last defense of this scoundrel: Wrapping himself in the flag, and denouncing anyone who dares to criticize him for deceitfulness as helping out the enemy and hurting the troops.
This is the tattered old Ashcroft card. Bush's first attorney general, when questioned about his civil liberties infringements, said that such criticisms "only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends."
But this ploy didn't work for Ashcroft, and it won't work for Bush. And it is profoundly un-American.
As citizens, we are entitled to question our President's policies--and, yes, his truthfulness.
And he’s certainly given us plenty of reasons to do so.
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stephen j. hedges
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