Correspondence with the Bush Administration

U.S. transfers 20 more prisoners to Afghan custody
February 10, 2008
Confusion Clouds Guantanamo Tribunals
Associated Press
February 6, 2008
France urges US to drop Guantanamo trial of Canadian
January 23, 2008
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Supreme Court Decisions
  - RASUL v. Bush & Al-Odah v. United States
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Amicus Briefs
  - Helen Duffy and William Aceves



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Standing By Stand-Up Iraqis

New York Times
May 26, 2006

I am often asked why I don't just give up on Iraq and pronounce it a lost cause. It would certainly make my job (and marriage) easier.

What holds me back are scenes like the one related in last Sunday's Times story from Baghdad about the Iraqi Parliament's vote to approve the country's new cabinet. Our story noted that during the Iraqi parliamentary session, the Sunni party leader Saleh Mutlaq, a former Baathist, stood up and started denouncing the decision by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to have Parliament vote on the new cabinet even though he hadn't yet filled the key security posts.

At that point, another Sunni politician, Mithal al-Alousi, told Mr. Mutlaq to sit down. ''Iraqi blood is being spilled every day,'' Mr. Alousi said. It was time to move forward. When Mr. Mutlaq pressed on with his denunciations, Mr. Alousi ''pulled him down into his chair,'' The Times reported. That was a gutsy move -- live on Iraqi TV. Many Sunni insurgents may not like what Mr. Alousi did, but he did it anyway.

As long as I see Iraqis ready to take a stand like that, I think we have to stand with them. When we don't see Iraqis taking the risk to build a progressive Iraq, then it is indeed time to pack and go. That moment may come soon. It's hard to tell. I won't hesitate to say so -- but not yet.

In such confusing times I find it useful to listen to someone steeped in the history of the Arab world, someone like the Egyptian sociologist and democracy campaigner Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who was visiting Washington with a human rights group from the CarterCenter.

Mr. Ibrahim compares the U.S. invasion of Iraq to Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798, which punched the first big hole through which modernity could seep into the Arab world. It was the key ruler of Egypt after the Napoleonic invasion, Muhammad Ali, who started sending students to Europe, introduced secular education and ushered in a mini-Arab renaissance that culminated with the first Egyptian parliament, elected in 1866.

What you are seeing in Iraq today is the ''hard labor'' of nation building in a country that has gone through almost 50 years of tyrannical rule, Mr. Ibrahim said. It is a naturally messy process, much messier than Eastern Europe's, with the outcome uncertain. ''Everyone with a grievance for 50 years there is now breathing freely and wanting to act on their newfound freedom,'' he added.

The reason that the violence in Iraq is so intense -- mass executions, mosques blown up -- is in part because of all these pent-up grievances. But in part it is also because two very entrenched forces in that part of the world -- the theocrats and the autocrats; that is, the Qaedas and the Arab regimes surrounding Iraq, even the ''pro-America'' ones -- are deeply worried that we might succeed.

''The theocrats fear modernity taking root in Iraq,'' in the heart of the Arab world, ''and the autocrats fear democracy taking root there,'' Mr. Ibrahim said. Therefore, they are pulling out all the stops to make Iraq fail. America, Britain and their Iraqi allies must fail, the theocrats and autocrats say, so the Arab theocrats can tell their people that modernity is not an option and so the Arab autocrats can tell their people that democracy is not an option. The future of the Arab world is at stake here.

Nevertheless, thanks to the incredible sacrifice of U.S. and British soldiers, Iraqi elections have been held, a parliament convened. The process is indeed messy, and, given all the shameful mistakes by the Bush team, much deadlier than it had to be. But Mr. Ibrahim, who spent from 2000 to 2003 in an Egyptian prison for pushing free and fair elections in Egypt, is no starry-eyed dreamer, and he believes there's a decent chance that in a few years, Iraq will make its transition, build up an army and settle down.

''Every major transformation since Napoleon in this part of the world has been the function of an external jolt,'' Mr. Ibrahim said.

The best thing the Americans could do now to help this process is to move into the background in Iraq, he added. Let the Iraqis invite our help, but let's get out of their faces wherever possible. Also, Mr. Ibrahim said, ''We need America to get back on the moral high ground that it has slid down from since 9/11.''

President Bush may have moral clarity when speaking about freedom and democracy in the Arab world, but he has no moral authority. He lost it all by coddling Arab oil regimes and by tolerating the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons, which should be closed down immediately.

''So you have your homework to do, and we have ours,'' Mr. Ibrahim said.

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