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A Basket of Goodies for White House Bashers

24 May 2002

The news coming out of the United States this month would be funny - ripe for a Michael Moore-style send-up - if it all weren't just so ugly and tragic. To recap:

In early May, U.S. delegates to a United Nations summit on children's rights helped to hijack the official concluding declaration. First, by forcing the summit to eliminate a provision that opposed the execution of children. Then, with the support of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Syria and the Vatican, it insisted that any references to the rights of the world's children to "reproductive health services and education" be removed.

The resulting stand-off with other nations, as well as AIDS and women's health NGOs, was finally resolved by dropping the word "services" (which to some delegates read as an endorsement of abortion, never mind that abortion is legal in the United States) and the addition of a specific endorsement of sexual abstinence - much to the dismay of those who know that abstinence is of little use to the millions of girls worldwide who are forced into prostitution, or married before they are 18, often in nations where women's rights are negligible and AIDS is on the rise.

Then, the following week, there was the amazing optics of President George W. Bush denouncing Fidel Castro while he was seated next to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a new friend of the White House in its "War on Terror".

Obviously, there's something less than credible about Bush criticizing Cuba - to be fair, for some valid reasons - while he's recently embraced undemocratic and human rights-challenged leaders like Chinese President Jiang Zemin and the Saudi royal family.

But even more stunning is that Bush slammed Castro in front of Malaysia's Mahathir, whose party has ruled since 1957 with a dubious human rights record that includes limits on free press, as well as questionable election practices.

Mahathir is also renowned for publicly blaming Jews for Asia's past financial woes, for giving ethnic Malays legal preference over Malaysia's ethnic Chinese minority, and for sentencing political rival Anwar Ibrahim to 15 years in prison in 1998 for sodomy and corruption - charges widely believed to be false.

Next comes the battle in Congress over presidential secrecy. First up is Enron - as I write this, a Senate committee is preparing to subpoena the White House for Enron-related information. Some of Enron's ties to the top Republicans are already known, including the fact that former chair and CEO Ken Lay was one of George W.'s biggest campaign donors. But the White House counsel is dragging its heels on releasing further information, claiming it doesn't want to compromise protected presidential decision-making processes.

This comes as no surprise. This White House has always been pathologically secretive. Last November, for instance, Bush issued an executive order that grants sitting presidents, former presidents and family members expansive privileges to block the release of past presidential records.

Which brings me to the biggest issue of the past two weeks, the question of how much was known about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks before they happened and why this information was hoarded by various intelligence and government agencies.

The battles currently being waged in Congress and the media aside, what's so troubling isn't that Bush, or the CIA, or FBI, or whomever could have prevented the attacks. As much as they've been revealed, the pre-Sept. 11 warnings weren't that specific, and what could the government have done, anyway? Shut down every airport indefinitely? Arrest every Arab flight school student?

But what is certain, and what is unnerving, is that the government lied repeatedly in the last eight months every time it said there were "no warnings" of the attack.

And that it lied for reasons of political gain, to protect its own butt, to whip up fear, to gain support for its egregious homeland security campaign and for its war on Afghanistan. And that it continues to block access to pre-Sept. 11 briefings and to reject calls for an independent investigation.

Finally, comes the recent, convenient and coincidental, flood of fearmongering warnings from the White House of further "inevitable," "certain," and "imminent" terrorist attacks that will happen sometime, somewhere, maybe at the Statue of Liberty, or maybe somewhere else, maybe a suicide bomber, we'll let you know, but stay alert, or something.

Execution, abstinence, dictators, Enron, and 9/11 secrets and lies. It's been a busy month. I'm exhausted just writing about it - and May isn't over yet.

Rachel Giese
Published in the Toronto Star © 1996-2002. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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