Good Reads: Sept. 11 and Somalia famine pieces that rise above

The New Yorker's Sept. 11 coverage is a keeper, while the Globe and Mail's reporting from a Somalia famine victims' camp introduces you to one family's tragic trek toward safety. The Monitor explains how the US allegedly sent Libyan Al Qaeda suspects back to Tripoli, knowing they'd be tortured.

Oded Balilty/AP
People walk by the ground zero construction site in New York, Monday, Sept. 5. Sept. 11, 2011 will mark the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the United States.

We’ll be reading a lot about the World Trade Center attacks in the next few days, ahead of the 10-year anniversary of that horrific attack this Sunday.

But nobody does it like the New Yorker magazine.

From David Remnick’s elegiac foreword piece on how the Sept. 11 terror attacks changed the world and the mindsets of Americans, to more personal reminisces and reported pieces, this week’s New Yorker looks like a keeper.

One of the things that has changed about the world in the past decade is that readers have become more and more inured to shocking images of human suffering. Reports of fathers burying their sons, color-coded alerts, and recurring fears of large-scale terror attacks have made it difficult now for people to feel shock.

But the images coming out of the Horn of Africa, where famine is spreading and an estimated 750,000 Somalis are at risk of starvation, may challenge even the most desensitized heart. In the Somali capital of Mogadishu, Geoffrey York visits a displacement camp, and writes a heart-rending piece about Somali parents losing their children one by one. It’s not an easy read, but it’s an important issue, particularly as donor nations dawdle on making good on their pledges of aid relief.

It’s not easy to ask a mother to tell about how her children died, but Mr. York’s gentle touch coaxed Faduma Hashi to tell about her trek from the rebel-held port city of Kismayo to Mogadishu with her 10 children.

For 17 days, the family trudged along the 400-kilometre road to Mogadishu. By day, food was scarce, and the children grew weaker. By night, they slept outside, quaking in fear of hyenas.

“As their food and water supplies ran low, two of the children died. “I was too weak to bury them,” Ms. Hashi said. “I had to keep walking. We just left them in an open space and someone else buried them.”

Later this week, look for stories in the Monitor by Mike Pflanz reporting from Mogadishu on security conditions in Somalia’s capital, and the likelihood – if any – of bringing an end to that country’s 20-year civil war.

For those who might have missed this story yesterday, the Monitor’s Scott Peterson writes from Tripoli about a set of documents uncovered in Libya that showed how US and British intelligence worked together with Libyan intelligence against their common enemy, Al Qaeda – a useful reminder that there are no permanent friends in international politics, just permanent national interests.

Human Rights Watch, which discovered and distributed the documents to the Monitor and other media outlets, highlights a controversial program in which the US and British intelligence agencies would bring suspected Al Qaeda operatives back home to Libya to face interrogation and torture at the hands of Libyan agents.

MI6 and the CIA knew absolutely how much torture was taking place. They knew that these people would be abused in custody when they were sent back to Libya,” says Peter Bouckaert, the HRW emergencies director who copied the documents in Tripoli and shared them with the Monitor and other media.

“Why else would you hand them over to the Libyans? You captured him, you have all of your black sites anyway, but you offered him to the Libyans,” says Mr. Bouckaert, whose organization aims to ensure that all Libya’s intelligence and government archives are secured as rebel forces extend control across the country. “Of course the [CIA] letters say, ‘Please commit to us that you will respect their human rights.’ But that’s just talk.”

Disturbing as that might be, Yochi Dreazen, a senior national security correspondent for National Journal, writes in this month’s Atlantic magazine about a bill now before Congress that would require military custody for all arrested Al Qaeda suspects. At present, all terror suspects arrested in the US are interrogated by the FBI. This move, proposed by Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, might scratch an itch for fast justice, but it undermines the institution of civilian courts and due process, argues Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

"Absent a waiver, it seems clear that the provision would require that the FBI suspend a productive interrogation, transfer the arrestee to the military, and that the military begin things anew later on," Wittes wrote in the essay. "The last thing the bureau needs when it pulls someone off a plane who has just tried to blow up that plane is to worry about how quickly it can turn him over to the military – which have no nearby investigative presence or detention facility."

"This scenario should scare those concerned about the integrity of intelligence and counterterrorism operations at least as much as it should scare those who get the willies thinking about the military conducting domestic arrest operations," he wrote.

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