By Alan W. Dowd
Signs of War
Two years ago this month, the Cuban government jailed 75 people for expressing their political disagreement with the Castro regime. James Cason of the U.S. interests section in Havana used the Christmas season to remind Cuba and the world of Castro’s actions, but not with a speech or a harshly worded statement. Instead, he added a giant neon “75” to the Christmas decorations that adorn the grounds around the interests section to serve as “a reminder of those arrested for thinking and speaking independently.”
Castro did not appreciate the provocation, and after warning U.S. diplomats to remove the sign or face serious consequences, he erected a billboard directly opposite the U.S. display. Castro’s sign included pictures of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and a swastika.
Cason, who could be expelled by the Cuban government for his actions, wanted to remind the world that in Cuba “there are people who cannot enjoy Christmas and will not be with their families as they should because they were arrested unjustly, tried arbitrarily.” In fact, the number is much higher than 75. Cason notes that at least 330 political prisoners are being held by Castro. The neon 75 was meant to represent them all.
“The Cuban people have fundamental freedoms which are being violated on a daily basis by the Castro regime,” Cason said. “We want to see fundamental changes that allow people to exercise their rights as provided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, rights that their own constitution says they are supposed to have.”
Sadly, the American Legion knows Castro’s arbitrary, lawless and brutal methods in an all-too personal way. In April 1961, Castro sent Havana Legion Post Commander Howard Anderson to the firing squad after a kangaroo trial. Anderson had moved his family out of Cuba after the revolution but returned to take care of the gas stations he owned, when Castro’s secret police arrested the World War II veteran for conspiring to smuggle weapons to an anti-communist group. “He gave his life for the cause of freedom,” as National Commander William Burke observed in 1961.
Cason said he believes the display can serve as a catalyst of sorts among the Cuban people. “They’ll begin to ask each other, ‘What does it mean?’”
With its first democratic election in decades now complete, Iraq has taken yet another step in the long road to a stable, representative government. One of the major impediments along the way has been a so-called insurgency movement thought to include a strange amalgam of radicalized Shiites (like Muqtada al-Sadr), well-funded regime leftovers (like Ibrahim al-Duri) and a few al-Qaeda fighters (like Musab al-Zarqawi). But with increasing evidence that Iran and Syria are sending men and material into Iraq, “insurgency” is probably the wrong word since it implies an internal resistance.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih confirmed in a Washington Post interview that “Some groups in neighboring countries are playing a direct role in the killing of the Iraqi people.” Iraqi President Ghazi Yawar has accused Iran of sending intelligence agents into Iraq to coordinate and foment anti-government activity. Indeed, in Tehran, “aid organizations” are encouraged to recruit volunteers to conduct suicide bombings against American forces across the border.
The Syrian government is providing safe haven, safe passage and material support to non-Iraqi fighters. According to the London Telegraph, which detailed Syria’s mischief in a recent analysis, Damascus is turning a blind eye to a network of mosques that serve as staging areas and recruiting centers for the guerilla war in neighboring Iraq. Most of the Syrian fighters travel through the border town of Rabia and into Mosul, where they are placed in 10-man teams and fan out across Iraq to wreak havoc for 80-day tours. The Wall Street Journal adds that funding for the guerilla war is coming from Syrian banks, where Saddam Hussein deposited some $2.5 billion in assets.
Some Syrians are earning as much as $3,000 per month to kill Iraqi democrats and their coalition partners—a sum that eclipses what most U.S. GIs are paid, as the Telegraph observes.
On the political side, Yawar has accused Iran of sending money into Iraq to fund Shiite political parties. King Abdullah of Jordan told the Washington Post that Tehran sent at least a million Iranians into Iraq ahead of the elections. He also has detailed an Iranian effort to win goodwill among Iraqi Shiites by providing social services and bankrolling unemployed Iraqis.
In words that one would expect from a U.S. general, Salih has warned, “If we do not see a real response from those countries, then we a re obliged to take a decisive stance.”
In yet another sign of its desire to liberate Iraq rather than occupy it, the U.S. military has changed the names that adorn 17 of its bases in Iraq.
Army bases that once had distinctly American—and distinctly bellicose—names like “Headhunter,” “Outlaw,” “Warhorse,” and “Gunslinger” are now known by more translatable and more politically palatable monikers like “Independence,” “Freedom I,” “Honor,” and “Justice.”
“Camp Justice,” for instance, is known as Camp Al Adala among Iraqi security forces. A full listing of the changes, complete with their new Arabic translations, appeared in a recent edition of Lyric Wallwork Winik’s Intelligence Report column.
Published monthly in the American Legion Magazine, Under the Radar provides a snapshot of current challenges in international politics, U.S. foreign policy and national security.