Week in Review

NPR's Scott Simon reviews the week's news with Barbara Slavin of USA Today.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Prince HUSSEIN: Our blood is the same color, whether we are American or Arab or Muslim, and I think the tragedy today is that there is a total lack of legitimacy and moral authority and consultation between Muslims.

SIMON: Prince Hussein of Jordan speaking on Friday from the capital city of Amman. Three hotels in Jordan were bombed this week, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds more. Dan Schorr is away so we're joined now by Barbara Slavin, diplomatic reporter for USA Today.

Barbara, thanks for being back with us.

Ms. BARBARA SLAVIN (USA Today): My pleasure.

SIMON: And al-Qaeda in Iraq has posted a statement, declaration on the Web that claims responsibility for the bombings in Jordan. Jordan's deputy prime minister says that the attackers were certainly not Jordanians and he's investigating the chance that they were Iraqis. Taking this declaration as valid for the moment, what does it tell us about al-Qaeda's reach?

Ms. SLAVIN: Well, it's rather frightening. You know, al-Qaeda has tried to attack in Jordan before back in 2000, the millennium. There were plots against hotels in Amman that were broken up by the Jordanian authorities. But al-Qaeda has something now that it didn't have in 2000. In 2000, it was based in Afghanistan. Now it has a base in Iraq. And the proximity means everything. It means that it can train people who can go into Jordan, go into Syria, go into Saudi Arabia, neighboring countries, carry out attacks and then go back to their base.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. Now the argument would seem to be though at the same time that there's a great number, tens of thousands of US troops and other troops that are in Iraq at the same time, that unlike Afghanistan under the Taliban, military force should be able to reach some of these areas.

Ms. SLAVIN: Well, as you know, there are not enough American troops, there are not enough Iraqi troops trained to control these people. And I think the real fear a number of people have talked about is that Iraq will somehow become Afghanistan on steroids.

SIMON: We have to ask about several developments this week. First, you met, or you at least heard Ahmed Chalabi in Washington, DC, this week.

Ms. SLAVIN: Yes, I did. It was quite unusual. He came back to the American Enterprise Institute which is a bastion of neoconservatism in Washington. It It was deja vu all over again.

SIMON: Now we should remind people that, at one time, he was alleged to be the US government's favorite to lead a new Iraqi government. He's now suspected by the FBI of passing classified information to Iran and criticized for providing flawed intelligence to US officials on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. What did Mr. Chalabi say?

Ms. SLAVIN: Well, I was thinking as I was watching him that if there's an Arabic word for chutzpa, and I don't really know what it is, it should be Chalabi.

SIMON: I think it's chutzpa actually.

Ms. SLAVIN: Yeah. He came in and, you know, he has this sort of sly smile that he has, and he was beaming and he was surrounded with his coterie of supporters, many of them familiar faces, people who work in the Pentagon and who promoted him at the beginning of the Bush administration. And he came back in as though, `My goodness, nothing is wrong. Nothing has changed.' And, yet, of course, everything has changed. The United States is now in Iraq. We've lost 2,000 men. No weapons of mass destruction have been found. We asked him about this, `Didn't you contribute? Didn't information that came from your people help justify the war in Iraq?' He said this is an urban myth that the intelligence provided by his group, the Iraqi National Congress, was somehow responsible for us going to war. Amazing performance.

SIMON: I want to ask you about a couple of killings that were getting the news this week. The news is crossing this morning that, let me just say, a Web site that publishes regular news releases from Baath Party supporters said on Saturday that Saddam Hussein's deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, was dead. He was considered to be the largest member still at large of the Baath Party leadership.

Ms. SLAVIN: That's an important development because he was supposedly directing some elements of the insurgency, at least the Baath Party side of the insurgency following the death of Saddam's two sons. As you recall, they were killed by US forces in Mosul I think in the summer of 2003. And then this gentleman, red-haired, always stood out among the Baathists because of his red hair and his red mustache, apparently has died. I think it may be natural causes. He was said to be quite ill and, clearly, the US didn't capture him.

SIMON: In Baghdad, a member of Saddam Hussein's defense team was shot and killed, the second killing of defense lawyers. Now the trial is scheduled to resume on November 28th, but the defense team clearly is not eager to step up to the bar, let's put it that way. They say they have to provide more security. It's going to make it very difficult for the trial to resume, isn't it...

Ms. SLAVIN: Yeah.

SIMON: ...if they keep running out--I don't mean to--I would--in any way to cheapen the observation, but they seem to be running out of defense lawyers.

Ms. SLAVIN: Yeah. I think it's a terrible thing. It's--there were a lot of questions raised about this trial to begin with and whether you could hold a fair trial for someone like Saddam Hussein and his henchmen in Baghdad given the way feelings are running and the insurgency and so on. And now if they can't even keep the defense lawyers alive, might be an argument for moving the trial out of the country. But the Iraqis--the government in power now says, no, they still want to keep it there.

SIMON: It's important for them to proceed.

Ms. SLAVIN: Yeah.

SIMON: Yeah. I want to move around a bit to elections in Africa because something happened over the past couple of days. A woman has been elected president of Liberia. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf went to school at Harvard, a former official of the World Bank and she defeated George Weah--those of us who follow world soccer are familiar with George Weah. And there seemed to be a demographic face-off between Liberia's large group of angry young men and righteously indignant women.

Ms. SLAVIN: Well, it may be partly a result of all this civil war, you know, over a decade of civil war in that country. It's killed off a lot of men. So perhaps there are more women around and they've managed to pull this off. But I think it's very interesting. She's the first woman president in Africa. It's a continent that's suffered a great deal from political violence and we'll now have a chance to see whether she has some solutions. She ran for president against the warlord Charles Taylor, by the way, in 1997 and lost. She spent a year in jail so she's really proved her bonafides.

SIMON: Hm. Elections in the United States, of course, Democratic governor elected in New Jersey; another one--another Democrat elected in Virginia. Republican Michael Bloomberg won a second term as mayor of New York. Any harbinger for the off-year elections next year--mid-term elections next year?

Ms. SLAVIN: It does seem to have some lessons, I suppose. Mark Warner who was the governor--who is the governor of Virginia who kind of helped his prodigy, the lieutenant governor, in, talks about the sensible center. And it seems to be, I guess, a victory for the sensible center in a lot of these places, suggestion being that those candidates that run toward the center, that don't look for extreme hot-button issues like the death penalty, abortion and so on may do better. I think the electorate is looking for practical solutions, doesn't really care where they come from, whether it's from the Democrats or the Republicans at this point.

SIMON: And House Intelligence Committee has opened an investigation into the leaking of classified intelligence information, specifically the source of a Washington Post article that purported that there were secret CIA detention centers overseas. Now the committee reportedly hasn't decided whether or not it's gonna ask Dana Priest, who I gather was on this show last week, who broke the story, to talk about it. There's no federal shield law for reporters, and even though--a number of people have been openly happy, in fact, that reporters have been compelled to testify. Has this opened the door to something in journalism?

Ms. SLAVIN: It's a little frightening. You're right. Some people were enjoying Judy Miller's discomfiture, but there is an important principle at stake here, as you mentioned, the shield law. Dana Priest's article is a much more typical example of investigative journalism that needs the protection of this sort of shield law. Judy Miller didn't even write a story about what she learned. And, of course, that was a case where perhaps the type of journalism that was being done was not this sort of investigative work where secrets are exposed that the American public needs to know about.

SIMON: Barbara, thanks very much.

Ms. SLAVIN: You're welcome.

SIMON: Barbara Slavin, diplomatic reporter for USA Today.

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