Weekly Review — November 2, 2004, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

[Image: The pope cast into hell.]

The Bush Administration reversed itself and declared that non-Iraqis captured fighting in Iraq are not protected by the Geneva Conventions; such prisoners, it was reported, have already been transferred out of Iraq in recent months and could be taken to Egypt or Saudi Arabia where torture is more common than it is in the United States.ScotsmanFour British citizens who were held without charges in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, filed suit against Donald Rumsfeld and other senior administration officials, and claimed that they were tortured while in custody. The Pentagon responded that the men were “enemy combatants” and thus had no right to sue.ReutersA newly released document revealed that F.B.I. agents witnessed Iraqi prisoners being abused at Abu Ghraib but failed to report it because they saw nothing unusual about the abuse. One agent said that what he saw at Abu Ghraib was similar to what goes on in prisons in the United States.New York TimesA new study found that Iraqis are 58 times more likely to die a violent death than before the American invasion; the study concluded that 100,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion, and that coalition air strikes, which mostly kill women and children, were the primary cause of civilian deaths.BBCPresident Bush suggested that the missing explosives from the Al Qaqaa military facility might have been removed before the invasion, and he claimed that by criticizing him John Kerry is “denigrating the action of our troops.”Washington PostSeveral news agencies confirmed that their embedded reporters were present at the facility with American troops and that they saw boxes labeled as explosives; KSTP Television in Minneapolis broadcast footage taken at Al Qaqaa of boxes of high explosives. KSTP also photographed the seal of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which indicates that the explosives were known to be associated with Iraq’s former nuclear program.KSTP.comRudolph Giuliani went on television and said that it wasn’t the president’s fault that the Al Qaqaa explosives weren’t secured; on the contrary, he said, “the actual responsibility for it would be for the troops that were there.”NBCThe Pentagon extended the Iraq tours of 6,500 soldiers, and aNew York Timesfederal judge ordered the Defense Department to stop giving troops the anthrax vaccine and said that the Food and Drug Administration broke its own rules by approving it.Washington PostCongress approved a measure that will permit soldiers and their families to seek reimbursement for combat equipment, such as body armor, that they have purchased with their own money.New York TimesU.S. forces were preparing for another large military assault on Falluja, and nearby Ramadi was said to be “slipping into chaos.”New York TimesOsama bin Laden released a new video message and said that it was U.S. foreign policy, particularly U.S. support for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, that led him to plan the September 11 attacks. “Bush says and claims that we hate freedom, let him tell us then, ‘Why did we not attack Sweden?'”CNNBush-Cheney campaign officials were happy to hear from Osama: “We want people to think ‘terrorism‘ for the last four days,” said one. Another said that “anything that makes people nervous about their personal safety helps Bush.”NY Daily News

Voter suppression campaigns were reportedly underway all around the country, though all indications were pointing to an historically high turnout.Talking Points MemoWisconsin Republicans were trying to challenge about 37,000 voter registrations in Milwaukee, and thereJournal Sentinelwere reports of gay-marriage push polls in Michigan.Talking Points MemoIn South Carolina a letter purporting to be from the NAACP claimed that voters will be arrested at the polls if they have outstanding parking tickets or child support payments and said that voters must provide a credit report, two forms of photo ID, a Social Security card, a voter registration card, and a handwriting sample.Associated PressEarly voters in Florida, especially in heavily Democratic districts, were standing in line to vote for up to six hours.Talking Points MemoBroward County’s election supervisor said that up to 15,000 absentee ballots would be resent to voters whose ballots mysteriously disappeared.New York TimesA federal judge said that political parties in Ohio may not station challengers at polling places and said that to do so would create a “substantial likelihood that significant harm will result not only to voters, but also to the voting process itself.”Associated PressA Sarasota man failed to run over Florida Republican representative Katherine Harris in his car. “I intimidated them with my car,” he said. “I was exercising my political expression.”Associated PressThe Bush Campaign was forced to withdraw an ad that had been digitally altered to increase the number of soldiers in an audience listening to the president speak.New York TimesThe IRS decided to investigate the tax-exempt status of the NAACP.New York Times

Mobs of machete-wielding Christians and Muslims were slaughtering one another in Liberia,Associated PressLatvia’s government collapsed, and thereNew York Timeswas violence between Han Chinese and Hui Muslims in central China.New York TimesA teenage suicide bomber killed three people in Tel Aviv when he set off his explosives in a vegetable stall.ReutersFidel Castro banned the U.S. dollar, andNew York TimesPakistan’s lower house of parliament passed a bill that would impose the death penalty for honor killings, which have traditionally been ignored.New York TimesGovernor Rick Perry of Texas refused to proclaim “UN Day,” and aNew York Timesnew study found that up to 21,000 people are injured every year from air rifles, paintball pistols, and BB guns.Associated PressChief Justice William Rehnquist, who underwent a tracheotomy last week, was recovering from treatment for thyroid cancer and was unable to return to work.ReutersA clinic in Cleveland was hoping to perform a face transplant using skin and the underlying fat from a donor.USA TodayScientists announced the discovery of a species of hobbit-like humans on Flores, an island 370 miles east of Bali, that lived as recently as 13,000 years ago. The adult hobbits, who apparently hunted pygmy elephants and Komodo dragons for food, were about the size of a three-year-old modern human child.National Geographic, New York TimesNew research found that it is better to be bullied for the first time as a young child than as an adolescent.New ScientistIt was discovered that the stem cell lines approved for federally funded research in the United States are tainted with mouse characteristics, theNew ScientistWorld Health Organization announced that avian flu probably has not mutated into a form that can pass from human to human, and researchersNew York Timesin South Carolina concluded that high-fat diets can cause brain damage.New ScientistYoung mice treated with Prozac, a study found, grow up to be depressed.New ScientistScientists in California successfully implanted a brain prosthesis in a dish of rat brain slices.New ScientistThe widow of former French president Francois Mitterrand auctioned off some of her designer furniture to raise money for the defense of her son Jean-Christophe, who is under investigation for selling arms illegally to Angola.New York TimesBritain’s House of Commons voted to stop calling visitors “strangers,” andAssociated PressRussia’s Federation Council ratified the Kyoto Protocol.New York TimesThe U.S. murder rate was up.New York TimesThe Boston Red Sox won the World Series.New York Times

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Within about fifteen years, China’s economy will surpass America’s and become the largest in the world. As this moment approaches, meanwhile, a consensus has formed in Washington that China poses a significant threat to American interests and well-­being. General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), has said that “China probably poses the greatest threat to our nation by about 2025.” The summary of America’s 2018 National Defense Strategy claims that China and Russia are “revisionist powers” seeking to “shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.” Christopher Wray, the FBI director, has said, “One of the things we’re trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole-­of-­government threat, but a whole-­of-­society threat . . . and I think it’s going to take a whole-­of-­society response by us.” So widespread is this notion that when Donald Trump launched his trade war against China, in January 2018, he received support even from moderate figures such as Democratic senator Chuck Schumer.

Shanghai Broadcasting Building, by Cui Jie (detail) © The artist. Courtesy private collection
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In December 2015, a twenty-­two-year-­old man named Masood Hotak left his home in Kabul, Afghanistan, and set out for Europe. For several weeks, he made his way through the mountains of Iran and the rolling plateaus of Turkey. When he reached the city of Izmir, on the Turkish coast, Masood sent a text message to his elder brother Javed, saying he was preparing to board a boat to Greece. Since the start of the journey, Javed, who was living in England, had been keeping tabs on his younger brother’s progress. As Masood got closer to the sea, Javed had felt increasingly anxious. Winter weather on the Aegean was unpredictable, and the ramshackle crafts used by the smugglers often sank. Javed had even suggested Masood take the longer, overland route, through Bulgaria, but his brother had dismissed the plan as excessively cautious.

Finally, on January 3, 2016, to Javed’s immense relief, Masood sent a series of celebratory Facebook messages announcing his arrival in Europe. “I reached Greece bro,” he wrote. “Safe. Even my shoes didn’t get wet.” Masood reported that his boat had come ashore on the island of Samos. In a few days, he planned to take a ferry to the Greek mainland, after which he would proceed across the European continent to Germany.

But then, silence. Masood stopped writing. At first, Javed was unworried. His brother, he assumed, was in the island’s detention facility, waiting to be sent to Athens with hundreds of other migrants. Days turned into weeks. Every time Javed tried Masood’s phone, the call went straight to voicemail. After a month passed with no word, it dawned on Javed that his brother was missing.

A screenshot of a December 2015 Facebook post by Masood Hotak (left), in Istanbul
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When Philip Benight awoke on January 26, 2017, he saw a bright glow. “Son of a bitch, there is a light,” he thought. He hoped it meant he had died. His mind turned to his wife, Becky: “Where are you?” he thought. “We have to go to the light.” He hoped Becky had died, too. Then he lost consciousness. When he opened his eyes again, Philip realized he wasn’t seeing heaven but overhead fluorescents at Lancaster General Hospital. He was on a hospital bed, with his arms restrained and a tube down his throat, surrounded by staff telling him to relax. He passed out again. The next time he came to, his arms and legs were free, but a drugged heaviness made it hard to move. A nurse told him that his wife was at another hospital—“for her safety”—even though she was also at Lancaster General. Soon after, two police officers arrived. They wanted to know why Becky was in a coma.

Three days earlier, Philip, who was sixty, tall and lanky, with owlish glasses and mustache, had picked up his wife from an HCR ­ManorCare nursing home. Becky had been admitted to the facility recently at the age of seventy-­two after yet another series of strokes. They drove to Darrenkamp’s grocery store and Philip bought their dinner, a special turkey sandwich for Becky, with the meat shaved extra thin. They ate in the car. Then, like every other night, they got ice cream from Burger King and drove to their home in Conestoga, a sparse hamlet in southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Philip parked in the driveway, and they sat in the car looking out at the fields that roll down to the Susquehanna River.

They listened to the radio until there was nothing more to do. Philip went into the house and retrieved a container of Kraft vanilla pudding, which he’d mixed with all the drugs he could find in the house—Valium, Klonopin, Percocet, and so on. He opened the passenger-­side door and knelt beside Becky. He held a spoon, and she guided it to her mouth. When Becky had eaten all the pudding, he got back into the driver’s seat and swallowed a handful of pills. Philip asked her how the pudding tasted. “Like freedom,” she said. As they lost consciousness, the winter chill seeped into their clothes and skin.

Illustration by Leigh Wells (detail)
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America in the Middle East: learning curves are for pussies.
—Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, June 2, 2015

In January 2017, following Donald Trump’s inauguration, his national security staffers entered their White House offices for the first time. One told me that when he searched for the previous administration’s Middle East policy files, the cupboard was bare. “There wasn’t an overarching strategy document for anywhere in the Middle East,” the senior official, who insisted on anonymity, told me in a coffee shop near the White House. “Not even on the ISIS campaign, so there wasn’t a cross-governmental game plan.”

Syrian Arab Red Crescent vehicles in eastern Ghouta, March 24, 2018 (detail) © Anas Alkharboutli/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

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