The news desk
•Rice testimony genial, unrevealing
Condoleezza Rice worked hard for her money today. The emphasis seemed to be on presenting the presidential advisor on national security as attractive and pleasant -- not substance. That is normally a good ploy for women seeking approval. But, the audience for hearings related to the most controversial issue in the world today, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, is not typical. Will being 'nice' be enough?
The Los Angelos Times covered Rice's testimony before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
National security advisor Condoleezza Rice today conceded that the nation was "tragically" not ready to fight a war with terrorists prior to 9/11, but she defended the Bush administration's terrorism policies in a high-stakes appearance before the independent investigative panel.
The three-hour hearing was punctuated by some contentious moments as Rice responded to questions about the White House and her response to intelligence data about terrorist activity in the months leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In an intense exchange with a commission member, Rice said a crucial presidential briefing memo issued a month before the attacks — titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States" — did not warn of a pending attack against New York or Washington, D.C., and lacked information that warranted immediate action.
. . ."There were some frightening things" in the Aug. 6, 2001, memo, Rice said in response to a question by commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, but there was "nothing actionable."
Some members of the audience, which included relatives of those killed in the attacks, broke out in applause as Ben-Veniste repeated his question to Rice as to whether she had told the president that there were Al Qaeda terrorist cells in the United States prior to the Aug. 6 memo. That information had been forwarded to Rice by the administration's former counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke.
"I really don't remember, commissioner, whether I discussed this with the president," Rice said.
Rice's evasive answers were presented in a careful, businesslike tone. The memo under discussion could be made public if she or her superiors agreed to release it. They have refused to.
It is unclear how the public will interpret evasions such as claiming the memo was not sufficient warning because it did not identify the cities attacked as targets, which, of course, is not even proven as long as the paper remains classified.
•Iraqi militants seize hostages
Iraqis continue to repudiate the claim they are pleased by the invasion and occupation of their country. Their latest form of repudiation -- in a week that has seen more backlash than any since the occupation -- is hostage taking.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Militants seized a number of foreign nationals as hostages in Iraq on Thursday, threatening to burn alive one group of three Japanese unless their country withdrew its troops.
Seven South Koreans, seized while doing missionary work on Thursday, were later freed unharmed, Seoul's foreign ministry said
But the three Japanese as well as two Israeli Arabs and a Briton were reported still to be hostages after being seized by militants. An Iranian television station said the two Israeli Arabs were kidnapped by the Ansar a-Din group, and the uncle of one of the men identified him as an employee of a U.S. aid agency.
Gunmen frequently stage hold-ups on Iraq's lawless roads but taking hostages would mark an escalation of the growing conflict between U.S.-led forces and Iraqis and foreign militants opposed to the occupation.
Some of us in the blogosphere questioned the presence of Christian missionaries in Iraq after a newspaper articledescribing their presence there March 18.
At least nine evangelical churches have opened in Baghdad in the last eight months, many supported by American organizations contributing up to $100,000 per church. More than 900,000 Bibles in Arabic — along with hundreds of tons of food and medical supplies — have been sent to Iraq (news - web sites). About 30 Christian evangelical missionaries are working in Baghdad, and 150 others have visited since last summer. Some Christian groups focus on offering aid and avoid proselytizing.
These missionaries' humanitarian and religious labors are fraught with peril. Four Americans affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention were killed and one was critically injured Monday after gunmen opened fire on their vehicle in Mosul, north of Baghdad. A spokesman for the International Mission Board said the Americans had been scouting locations for humanitarian and evangelical work.
An influential Shiite Muslim leader, Sheik Fatih Kashif Ghitaa, said, "Iraqis already see the American occupation as a religious war." Ghitaa said Shiite and Sunni clerics have discussed issuing a fatwa, or religious edict, against missionaries.
The missionaries — a mix of professional proselytizers and novices with little or no preparation — are buoyed by President Bush's evangelical bent, his oft-repeated biblical references and his vision of freedom spreading out from a saved Iraq.
We wondered if welcoming naive and unprepared persons with a religious agenda that most in Muslim culture consider insulting to the occupied country is counterproductive. Though the current seizure of captives does not include any American missionaries, militants taking them as hostages may be inevitable. Doing so will send a more direct message to the United
States -- that even a country as strong as it is vulnerable in some ways.
The Japanese received a chilling threat from the hostage takers.
"We tell you that three of your children have fallen prisoner in our hands and we give you two options -- withdraw your forces from our country and go home or we will burn them alive and feed them to the fighters," the group said.
"You have three days from the date of this tape's airing," it said in a statement, accusing Japan of betraying Iraqis by supporting the U.S.-led occupation.
Their response is mixed.
A Japanese government spokesman demanded their immediate release and said there were no plans to pull out troops. Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi urged Japanese civilians, including journalists, to leave Iraq immediately.
It will be interesting to see if the United States also curtails the presence of civilians in the war-torn country -- before American hostages are taken or killed.