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Life during Wartime

Say hello to an ugly America

So John Ashcroft reveals his true face, and nobody notices. Last week, of course, the U.S. attorney general indicted erstwhile Bay Area homeboy John Walker, the so-called Marin Taliban, for conspiring with terrorists and providing them with "material aid."

But the real story, which most of the press missed, is in the subtext: Walker, an American citizen, has been held virtually incommunicado since his Dec. 2 capture. Though he did several media interviews early on, Walker, 20, hasn't been allowed to talk to his parents at all.

Several months ago – before liberals like Harvard legal scholar Alan Dershowitz began touting torture's merits – it was verboten to deny suspects communication with the outside world, a flagrant violation of due process. It was the kind of thing for which the State Department condemned other countries: think human rights-trampling countries like the Taliban-governed Afghanistan, China, Turkey, and Milosevic's Serbia.

It doesn't matter if Walker is a fascistic religious nutjob. It doesn't matter if he was tight with Osama bin Laden. It doesn't even matter if he's killed people. No matter how vile or stupid or misguided he is, Walker is entitled to protection under the Constitution, the tattered document that not so long ago served as the legal foundation of this flag-happy nation.

Sure, this is an extraordinary and anomalous case. Walker was captured after a savage battle in which some 400 Taliban supporters were shot, set afire, blown to hamburger by air-dropped bombs, and run over by tanks. He was interrogated by Central Intelligence Agency spooks and Pentagon personnel and shoved into a military prisoner-of-war camp. Then the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed up and started asking Walker questions; the jihadist allegedly incriminated himself in grand fashion, admitting he was down with bin Laden.

Not surprisingly, the pundits are frothing, rabidly calling for Walker's head. Walker is "screwed," gloated San Francisco Chronicle columnist Rob Morse, who can't wait for the Marin kid to "face the music." Skip the trial, right-wing Chronicle blabster Deborah Saunders argued; we already know the guy is guilty.

Really they should be focused on the long-term implications of justice Ashcroft-style. In November the attorney general swept up and jailed 1,000-plus immigrants and held many of them in total secrecy. Now he's at it again. By barring Walker's parents from talking to him, Ashcroft is opening the door to more gulag-style detentions. Who's next? (A.C. Thompson)

Pentagon pork bonanza

Before everybody starts cheering for the military-spending increases President George W. Bush is expected to unveil next month, let's take a closer look.

According to defense experts, most of the tens of billions of extra dollars given away to the Pentagon since Sept. 11 have little to do with roughing up terrorists. "Everything that's being done in the name of the war on terrorism is getting kicked through," said Christopher Hellman, senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information, an independent Washington think tank.

Take the $32 billion defense-budget increase, which brings the Pentagon's total to $343 billion and is the biggest hike since Reagan's cold war buildup. The money has nothing to do with shredding al-Qaeda, and the increase was on the table before the towers came down. "But the mood of the country changed, and anything that was good for the Pentagon got the OK," Hellman said. With the current deficit, the increase will be paid for with Social Security money, "bringing closer to us that day when Social Security will go broke."

One great irony, Hellman says, is that as a general rule, war spending doesn't come out of the military budget. "You spend all this money on the military, and then when you call on them to do some fighting, they don't have the money to do it." The fighting bucks – about $1 billion per month of war – will come from $20 billion of emergency spending passed after Sept. 11, and more fast-tracked bills are expected to be OK'd soon.

Of the defense appropriations bill Bush signed with extreme patriotic pomp Jan. 10, about $7 billion to $10 billion will pay for programs the Pentagon didn't ask for, funneling fat into Congress members' districts, Hellman said. As part of the bill, Boeing will supply the Air Force with 100 tanker jets it doesn't want. Cost for taxpayers: $26 billion.

As if that weren't enough, there's the estimated 8 percent hike in the multibillion-dollar intelligence budget, and because of official secrecy, we'll never know whether the increased funds deal directly with combating terrorism. The list goes on. (Will Evans)

Airline (in)security

When Congress handed the airlines billions of dollars in bailout money shortly after Sept. 11, most of us thought the idea was to thwart industry layoffs. Obviously it hasn't worked out that way, as evidenced by the chart below. The airlines are complaining they didn't get enough aid, and an army of airline workers are out of jobs. Now, if the Capitol Hill crowd was smart, they would have penned a clause into the handout bill, something like, "We give you this money, and you agree not to slash more than X percentage of your staff." Too bad they didn't. (Evans and Thompson)


Airline Federal aid1 Layoffs2

Air Wisconsin $7.8 million 650

Aloha Airlines $7.7 million 450

America West $98.2 million 2,000

American Trans Air $43.9 million 1,500

AMR (American $724.4 million 20,000

and TWA)

Atlas Air $10.1 million 1,000

Chautauqua Airlines $6.5 million 176

Continental Airlines $317.5 million 12,000

Delta Airlines $528.9 million 13,000

Frontier Airlines $17.5 million 440

Hawaiian Airlines $24.9 million 172

Horizon $8.3 million 27

Mesa Airlines $9.7 million 700

Mesaba $10.6 million 400

Midway Airlines $10.1 million 2,400

Midwest Express $12.6 million 450

National Airlines $17.9 million 300

Northwest Airlines $405.5 million 10,000

PSA Airlines $2.0 million 20

Spirit Airlines $18.9 million 800

Sun Country Airlines $9.3 million 250

United Airlines $644.1 million 20,000

US Airways $255.3 million 11,000

Vanguard Airlines $7.3 million 125

World Airways $5.1 million 100


1 Bailout payments, as reported by the U.S. Department of Transportation, as of Jan. 11

2 Announced or completed layoffs, as compiled by the AFL-CIO, as of Nov. 13