Week in Review: Cartoons, Gonzales, Patriot Act

Highlights of a turbulent week include rage at cartoons of the prophet Muhammad; Russia's role in the Middle East; Attorney General Albert Gonzales' Senate testimony on domestic surveillance; a deal on the USA Patriot Act; and the Katrina response.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

Mr. ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Prime Minister, Denmark): We are seeing ourselves characterized as an intolerant people or as enemies of Islam as a religion. That picture is false. Denmark and the Danish people are not enemies of Islam or any other religion.

SIMON: Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen at a press conference in Copenhagen on Tuesday. A Danish newspaper was the first to run cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad many Muslims and others found offensive. The cartoons have prompted demonstrations around the world, some violent.

And just today, Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is out of surgery, his doctors say also out of danger. He underwent emergency abdominal surgery this morning to repair intestinal damage. We'll keep you informed as events develop.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us now.

Dan, hello.

DAN SCHORR reporting:

Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Afghan police, in fact, fired into a crowd and four people were killed in Kabul. There's also increased tension in European countries that have sizeable Muslim populations. What could conceivably defuse this situation now?

SCHORR: I don't know. Apparently there is no way out of the right now. We're in a kind of situation where no party can yield without sacrificing some sacred principle. The Danish government has refused to apologize, because it sees nothing to apologize for when a newspaper prints a satiric cartoon. And the Islamic leaders find themselves riding a tiger of popular fury around the world. This was all like some kind of a bomb that was waiting to explode, and it did.

SIMON: Hmm. Well, let me ask you about what people are trying to portray as a confrontation of free speech versus a misapprehension of speech. And then of course there are Muslims in Europe and throughout the world that say, look, in Europe anti-Semitic caricatures and anti-Christian caricatures are at least labeled as bigotry. They're not defended as free speech.

SCHORR: Well, yes. But I don't really see very much of an analogy there. I don't think that the Christian world would explode if somebody printed a cartoon, say, of Jesus Christ with a bomb on his head. Some people would say it was tasteless, and so on.

I think it's all a manifestation of rage that has been building up for a long time, a product of the rising frustration of Islamic people. And perhaps, encouraged a little bit by the firebrands who gain power from this spillover of rage.

SIMON: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week, spiking off what you said, suggested that Syria and Iran have intentionally been trying to provoked some of the unrest, and even trying to take it advantage of it. Now, of course, initially the U.S. condemned the cartoons, said that nobody's religion should be mocked this way.

Is the Administration trying to walk a fine line between saying we find these cartoons offensive, but we find free speech necessary?

SCHORR: Well, yes. It is. And apparently a lot of people are trying to walk fine lines. The line is express understanding for the feelings of Islamic people without in any way justifying the violent response. You have to really walk carefully to say, you know, we feel your pain and all of that. However, you can't go around killing people because of that. And Prime Minister Rasmussen made the point, I thought, that any democratic leader should and would make. And that is, no violence can force us to give up our free press.

SIMON: I want to move into the situation in Iran, because last Saturday, of course, as we were on the air, the International Atomic Energy Agency voted to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council. Members of the board said that they were not confident that Iran's nuclear program was intended for peaceful purposes. But before the Security Council takes up the issue next month, Russia and Iran are apparently going to continue talks on this Russian proposal that would enrich Iran's uranium in Russia.

SIMON: Is it possible that something could be reached between President Vladimir Putin and the Iranian President Ahmadinejad?

SCHORR: Yeah, it could. And the United States has been generally in support of the effort to move the uranium to Russia, and to enrich it there. But Iran has been on again and off again about making an arrangement of this sort. There is some reasons to believe that it's mainly a stalling tactic. The position of Russia, however, is very interesting. Not only is Russia trying to get its foot into the Iranian situation, but now President Putin has said he wants to invite the Palestinian Hamas militants, who won that astounding election victory, to come to Moscow for a visit.

You know, in Soviet days when I worked in the Soviet Union, the Kremlin played an important role in Middle East with Syria, with Egypt, and with Yasser Arafat's PLO. Apparently President Putin is making a bid now to get Russia back into the Middle East picture.

SIMON: Certainly let's ask about the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, to answer questions about those warrantless searches, eavesdropping by the National Security Agency. The Attorney General said that using FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, protocols that would have obtained warrants would have impeded the administration's ability to investigate terror suspects. How do you gauge the success he had in putting this across to the Judiciary Committee, and the American people at large?

SCHORR: Well, he hasn't convinced Congress at all of the legal statement that they wanted to make. Which is that Commander in Chief can do it because he is Commander in Chief. That has not gone down very well. And the Democrats on a whole don't accept all those explanations, nor even some Republicans in Congress. That legal position is very hard to sustain. And the White House, however, is trying to give some long delayed briefings to the Intelligence committees, which it hadn't done for a long.

Talk in Congress, though, is of getting a law of some kind, not to forbid it, but to make it all legitimate. And with this, as with the USA Patriot Act, which is up for extension, lawmakers are careful, however, not to be put in a position of impeding the war against terrorism. So all they want is a few concessions and they'll go along with both.

SIMON: There was, as you suggest,a compromise reached on the Patriot Act. How is the new Patriot Act going to differ from the old one?

SCHORR: Well, apparently they've gone a little further than they did before in trying to protect civil rights. On the whole, however, it's very much as it was. I think also they will not necessarily be able to get the library books that you read, and a few things like that. I think the guts of that act is going to go ahead. And I think some concessions have been made to make everybody in Congress feel good.

SIMON: Senate committee investigating the federal response to Hurricane Katrina heard new testimony from former FEMA director Michael Brown on Friday, who I suspect will forever be known as Brownie in some quarters. He testified that he warned the White House about the seriousness of Hurricane Katrina. I believe the phrase he used was, This was the nightmare we've been worrying about, says he used on the day that the storm made landfall.

Now, this testimony comes a day after Senate Democrats released documents from 28 different government agencies that says the White House had been alerted about levee failures on the day of the storm. How does Mr. Brown's testimony put the representation that was made by the federal government immediately following the hurricane?

SCHORR: Well, it all doesn't square with the testimony of Brown and other information. Brown testified that he personally talked to the White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph Hagen, told him of this nightmare that was approaching, and then told other people in the White House. You know, whether it be Iraq or New Orleans, this Administration does not seem to have all the facts it needs to act right. There's something a little dysfunctional.

SIMON: Winter Olympics opened in Turin, Italy on Friday night. A lot of people don't know, Dan, that you were once a luge racer. And I just wonder what event you're looking forward to this year?

SCHORR: Well, obviously luge racing because it really...

SIMON: It brings it all back for you, doesn't it?

SCHORR: It really is my favorite of all the sports. I mean, my family goes skiing, but I would go luge racing, if I went anywhere.

SIMON: All right. Well, all right. I'll see you in a few minutes. We'll go, we'll go luge racing in the park sometime.

SCHORR: Okay.

SIMON: Thank you, Dan.

SCHORR: Thank you.

SIMON: Dan Schorr.

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