Terrorism on the decline

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Last week the State Department released its ANNUAL REPORT ON GLOBAL TERRORISM. The report received modest attention from the press. Most stories focused on Iran’s demotion from “most active terrorist state” to a run-of-the-mill sponsor of state terrorism, joining Cuba, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Iraq, and North Korea. The second most common lead pointed to the fact that 1998 was a record year for casualties from terrorist attacks, with 741 people killed and nearly 6,000 wounded.

What didn’t make the headlines is the fact that the total number of terrorist attacks last year, 273, is the lowest annual total since 1971. The decline is part of a decade-long descent from a peak of 666 attacks (spooky!) in 1988.

Also missing from the news was almost any explanation of why casualties were higher last year. In fact, one bombing, that of the U.S. embassy in Kenya, accounted for nearly half of the 741 deaths and over 80% of the casualties. While tragic, this was an extremely anomalous incident.

Meanwhile, the risk to Americans, particularly those who don’t leave the country, is almost nonexistent. Last year, 12 Americans were killed by terrorists — all of them in the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya. No terrorist attacks were recorded on U.S. soil in 1998, which is typical.

According to the State Department, “about 40 percent of the [terrorist] attacks in 1998 were directed against U.S. targets. The majority of these — 77 — were bombings of a multinational oil pipeline in Colombia, which terrorists regard as a U.S. target.” Elsewhere, the report points out that the pipeline is owned by the Colombian state oil company and a consortium of U.S., French, British, and Canadian firms.

One other notable conclusion of the report: Cuba, North Korea, and Syria, which are among the countries listed as sponsors of “state terrorism,” do not actually stand accused of actively organizing terrorism. “Cuba no longer actively supports armed struggle in Latin America or elsewhere,” says the report, which goes on to admit North Korea hasn’t been linked to a terrorist incident since 1987, and Syria not since 1986. What these countries do stand accused of is providing a “safe haven” for terrorist groups.

Ironically, in a press briefing on the report, when asked about a specific terrorist group thought to be “in business” within the U.S., a senior State Department official responded: “Oh, there are many terrorist organizations in this country — that operate in this country….” He said the FBI was working to track them down.



Sweet deals for corporations

May 6

Cities and states around the country are giving away the store to big corporations in the form of tax incentives, according to the latest issue of THE PROGRESSIVE. What do local citizens get in return? Cutbacks in hospital services, declining funds for schools, and rampant urban sprawl.

Kentucky tops the “Terrible Ten” list with its $132.3 million giveaway to Willamette Industries for the expansion of a paper and pulp mill. That’s $1.26 million for each of the 105 new full-time jobs the company claims to have created. The Bluegrass State also gave Norton Healthcare $2 million a year in taxpayer-financed bonds to buy out three hospitals. Norton’s first move after the takeover? It closed down the pediatric, labor and delivery, and mother-baby units of Audubon Hospital, a facility long troubled by labor disputes.

Handouts from the runners-up weren’t too shabby either. The city of Hazelwood, Mo. doled out $17.2 million to build a 332-acre industrial park in a farming and wetlands floodplain. Alabama, which ranks 38th in high-school graduation rates, gave away so much in tax credits that it had almost nothing left to fund schools. And, despite $119 million in subsidies, the Avondale Industries shipyard in New Orleans pays its workers an average wage low enough to qualify a family of four for food stamps.



INS loosens policy on criminal immigrants

May 5

What happens when the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) tries to deport a criminal immigrant, but the prisoner’s home country won’t take him back? Let’s put it this way: INS guards refer to them as “lifers.”

But that may be changing. The INS announced Friday that it would review the cases of 3,500 criminal immigrants who have been behind bars for years — some for minor infractions such as shoplifting, according to the ASSOCIATED PRESS. The immigrants in question can be detained indefinitely, according to the INS rules, if their home countries do not have deportation agreements with the U.S. Most such detainees are from Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

In the face of criticism from Human Rights Watch and other civil-rights groups — and a hunger strike by one imprisoned immigrant — the INS said it would release all detainees who do not “pose a threat to public safety.”

But Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, slammed the new policy, and doubted that the INS decision had anything to do with a sudden realization of the unfairness of the policy. Instead, he said, the INS is seeking a back-door way to solve its lack of beds: “Why is the INS’ response to a shortage of detention beds always to release convicted criminals into our communities? Is this the best the Clinton administration can do for the public it is supposed to serve?”



Whoops, you’re not a terrorist after all

May 4

After months of allegation and innuendo, the U.S. government has effectively admitted that last year’s bombing of a Sudanese factory was a mistake. Yesterday, the Clinton administration unfroze the bank accounts of the Saudi businessman whose pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was destroyed by a U.S. missile attack last August, according to the WASHINGTON POST. The businessman, Saleh Idris, had filed a lawsuit contending that the administration had acted unlawfully by freezing his assets without formally declaring him to be a terrorist. The British newspaper THE INDEPENDENT carries a criticism of the U.S. government, stating that “the embarrassing reversal means that the U.S. has virtually no evidence to support the claim that the missile attack was a strike against terrorism.” At the time, the government justified its razing of the plant by claiming it had links to Osama bin Laden. Since then, officials have not released any information that conclusively proves this claim.

After the U.S. unfroze of Idris’ assets, Sudan today asked the U.S. to compensate everyone affected by the missile attack and urged that the U.S. lift economic sanctions on Sudan.



Russia to develop more nukes

May 3

There’s no shortage of scary news to report these days, but Russia’s declared intention to “bolster its nuclear stockpile” may just top the list. The WASHINGTON POST reported last Friday that Boris Yeltsin has approved “a blueprint for the development and use of non-strategic nuclear weapons.” Several experts say this decision may jeopardize the future of the Bush-Gorbachev tactical nuclear agreement, which called for the mutual withdrawal of “large numbers” of these weapons.

THE GUARDIAN of London also chimed in on the story, saying it was “a public effort by Mr. Yeltsin to show his anger at the NATO campaign in Kosovo.” The article quotes Russia’s SEGODNYA newspaper declaring, “All the military elite and all the political elite now see the West as the main threat.” The Russian paper also says,”NATO has decided Russia’s future: efforts will be intensified to create a new generation of nuclear weapons…. The Start II disarmament treaty is dead.”





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