Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Why Do They Hate Us?

Why Do They Hate Us?:
"Israel's military said it was conducting two separate investigations into the shooting death last week of a 13-year-old Palestinian girl who was riddled with bullets as she walked near a military post near the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

At least two unidentified soldiers have spoken to the Israeli news media, saying one of their fellow soldiers told them to hold their fire because the Palestinian had been identified as a young girl and did not appear to be an imminent threat.

But the soldiers said that the girl, Iman al-Hams, had been fatally shot and that their platoon commander then approached her body and shot her repeatedly to make sure she was dead, the newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported."

Palestinians and human rights groups have often accused the military of firing recklessly during the last four years of fighting. The military says that civilian casualties are unintentional and that investigations are held when there is evidence that soldiers acted improperly.

The United States had held Mr. Yaser E. Hamdi, 24, in solitary confinement as an "enemy combatant" for much of the past three years. One condition of his release required Mr. Hamdi, who was born in Baton Rouge, La., to renounce his American citizenship within a week of his arrival here.

Mr. Hamdi did not wait a week; the Saudi Interior Ministry said he had proclaimed he was no longer American as soon as he stepped off the plane about noon. Mr. Hamdi also spoke to Frank Dunham, his lawyer in Washington, after he landed, and Mr. Dunham said his client declared the moment to be "awesome."

Mr. Hamdi's release had been held up for 10 days because of an impasse between the Saudi and American governments. Saudi officials, irritated that they had not been included in negotiations over his release, insisted that he be freed without condition because he had not been charged with any crime.

In the end, State Department officials said, the Saudis accepted Mr. Hamdi's return without imposing new conditions. One senior State Department official added, "It was really just a situation of making the Saudis feel comfortable with the terms of the deal, making them understand the arrangements and know what we were requiring of him."

Shortly after arriving in Riyadh on a military contract aircraft, Mr. Hamdi took a commercial flight home to Al Jubayl, on the eastern coast. There he was being questioned by the Saudi police, said Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

"It is just to get a picture of his activities in Afghanistan and to understand any violations or criminal activities, if any," General Turki said. "To us he is innocent, and we still think he is, but we are just doing our work based on our laws."

The United States had portrayed Mr. Hamdi as a dangerous man with possible links to Al Qaeda. Interviews with his lawyer and others on Monday provided a clearer picture of Mr. Hamdi's side of the story, as he recounted it.

In early 2001, he left King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia and entered Afghanistan through Pakistan. He attended a camp run by the Taliban in Kunduz Province. There, young men trained in religious activities, calisthenics and small-arms proficiency. A friend who has been in contact with Mr. Hamdi said his aim was simply to reconnect with Islam.

"His agenda was to take a sabbatical from school and try to get his head straight to live in a strict Islamic environment with other young men like himself," the friend said. "He wanted to strengthen his resolve, and he thought he would get the necessary training so that if the need ever arose for him to defend himself and his family, he would have the know-how to do so."

The United States has said Mr. Hamdi was captured with Taliban soldiers and a weapon in his hands. But Mr. Hamdi insisted to family and friends that he had no connections to Al Qaeda or terrorism.

His father, Esam, said Mr. Hamdi had called in the summer of 2001, before the Sept. 11 attacks, and had said he was ready to come home.

His friend said, "He didn't want any part of any war with the United States. He wanted to go home, but he was trapped in Afghanistan. After 9/11, the Afghan borders were closed down, and he couldn't go anywhere."

As he tried to leave the country, Mr. Hamdi said, he was captured by the Northern Alliance and taken into custody along with John Walker Lindh, the other so-called American Taliban. Mr. Hamdi said he later learned that the Northern Alliance had apparently "sold" him to American officials for $20,000.

After his capture, the United States filed no legal charges against him. He was held first at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and then in Navy brigs in Norfolk, Va., and Charleston, S.C., for nearly three years.

Scouring Iraq for Enemies, Finding Farmers and Mud

House-to-house raids in this dangerous swath of territory about 30 miles south of Baghdad are turning up few men of fighting age, leading American commanders to believe that insurgents are melting away ahead of troops who are trying to bring the area under Iraqi control.

At the same time, intelligence here has been sketchy, leading to nighttime raids on what appear to be no more than frightened farm families. And the rural terrain - irrigation-soaked roads that are either too narrow for armored vehicles or too weak to support their weight - partly negate the Americans' vast technological advantage.

In at least one case, the problem with the Iraqi back roads led to a disastrous eight-hour ordeal in which new armored vehicles called Strykers became mired in an irrigated field as they were chasing an insurgent who had just fired mortar shells at them. The attacker escaped. Overnight Friday, they searched two towns just east of the Euphrates River and found that they had been deserted, virtual ghost towns.

The enduring optimism of many American troops was summed up by Capt. Rob Krauer of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, who emphasized the need to train Iraqis to do the house-to-house operations in the long run. "We can win a war this way," he said.

But the day-to-day frustrations were enunciated by Specialist Anthony Ellis, sweating in the belly of a Stryker as it slipped off the side of a tiny lane and lurched to a stop, its four right tires subsiding into an irrigation ditch. "Our man slips through the cracks again," he said, disappointment in his voice.

The raids are part of an operation involving about 2,500 marines and G.I.'s and a much smaller number of Iraqi soldiers, who are trying to take back what have become "no go" areas - places where the Iraqi government and the American-led forces exercise little control - before national elections in January.

The elusiveness of the insurgents became clear early Wednesday, when a raid netted hundreds of mortar and artillery rounds and rocket-propelled grenades but no people. Soldiers later searched other buildings in the desert area and found a number of women and children. Under questioning, the women said their husbands had all died.

Several officers said drone reconnaissance aircraft had spotted as many as six men in the area just minutes before troops arrived. Colonel James, who said similar episodes had been replayed over and over, said the quick response by the presumed insurgents indicated that they had developed effective surveillance to monitor the Americans.

Just after nightfall Wednesday, another raid raised questions about the effectiveness of American intelligence here. Acting on a tip that a group of farm houses was the site of mortar launchings directed at a nearby power plant, a swarm of marines, soldiers and armored vehicles stormed into the area.

An explosive charge was used to blow open the door of one building when no one answered a knock. The building turned out to be deserted. But in an adjacent structure, the soldiers found a frightened family of eight huddled in one room.

The head of the family, a middle-aged man who said his name was Abd Jassin Hamid, stood in front of the others, who squatted in a corner. But when asked by a reporter in broken Arabic whether there were mujahedeen in the area, Mr. Hamid's son, Adnan, stepped forward and said in English, "No, no, no, no, no."

As the armed American soldiers stood about waiting for an interpreter, Adnan and his father made digging motions, indicating in pantomime that they were only farmers.

In another building a woman and six children squatted outside the front door, watching in apparent shock as the Americans, wearing night-vision goggles, trooped into their house. There was one man inside. He identified himself as Mr. Jassin and nervously showed the Americans around his house. They found one automatic rifle and a magazine of ammunition, which are allowed for personal protection.

Still, Mr. Jassin plaintively offered to explain why he had the weapon. "Ali Baba fil Iraq!" he said, meaning that there were thieves in Iraq, hardly a controvertible assertion, and that he needed the gun for protection.

The Americans indicated that they had found no reason to suspect the farmers of insurgent activity, yet they returned in force the next day to check out some of the other buildings in the complex. The family filed out of yet another house as two well-kept calves grazed in a shady pen.

Again nothing was found, and because no interpreter was available, one of the soldiers, who had a shotgun dangling from a belt outfitted with shotgun shells along with his other weaponry, struggled to find a way to say they were leaving. "All I know is 'shukran,' " he said, turning to his buddies and using the Arabic word for thank you.

It was suggested that he could say, "Ma'a salama," the traditional words for goodbye.

"I can't learn all that stuff," the soldier said, walking away and using a strong expletive.…

con·cept: Why Do They Hate Us?