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Feature Story October 31, 2002
You Say Terrorist, Washington says Shuttup
By Mark Ames Browse author Email
Page 7 of 9
It isn't that Hiatt is anti-war. God no, the man loves it! He was oddly forgiving of Russia's military conduct during the first Chechen war, when his young reformer friends were in power in Moscow. He was aggressively in favor of bombing Serbia in 1999, even going so far as to blame the deaths caused by America on Milosevic, and encouraging NATO to bomb "Mr. Milosevic" [as if only he, and not 10 million Serbs, were being targeted] "no matter how long it takes."

Today, Hiatt is considered one of the country's leading editorial hawks on Iraq, for which he was singled out by The Nation as perhaps the single most influential propagandist for the upcoming war. He is anything but squeamish as a rule.

But he sure as hell cares about Chechens! Or rather, he sure as hell can't seem to forgive the Russians. The above-mentioned editorial ends with an over-the-top swipe at Russia during what was truly one of its darkest moments in modern history. In it, he blames the Moscow hostage crisis and looming death of 800 Russians squarely on Russia itself, much as he blamed Russia for its own economic collapse four years earlier, the last time Russia had suffered such a serious shock:

"Russia's war in Chechnya is also different because -- unlike America's war on terrorism -- it has a clear political solution. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, could begin negotiating with Mr. Maskhadov tomorrow and could end the war just as easily, if he could muster the political willpower. Paradoxically, ending the war would also make the fight against al Qaeda's terrorist network in Chechnya far easier. In the end, it is the Russian government's invasion -- with its systematic bombardment of civilians, its human rights violations and its mass executions -- that has created anarchy in Chechnya, so conducive to al Qaeda and its ilk. While the United States must support Mr. Putin during this frightening new crisis, the Bush administration must also do everything it can to persuade the Russians, finally, to confront its true cause."

Hiatt's outburst was so shocking that the Russian ambassador, Yuri Ushakov, wrote a letter to the Post, published the next day:

"Imagine that on the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, an influential Russian newspaper used the previous day's terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon as an opportunity to lecture the U.S. government on its conduct. I suspect that most Americans would have found this patronizing advice to be deeply offensive, and yet this is precisely what The Post has done in its Oct. 25 editorial "Chechnya in Moscow." Moreover, The Post took this position while hundreds of innocent civilians -- including women, children and, yes, Americans -- continued to be held hostage and threatened with mass murder at the hands of their Chechen captors.

"The Post claims that Russia's war in Chechnya is different from the American war on terrorism because it could be ended "easily" if President Vladimir Putin had sufficient "political willpower." But the United States could also bring an end to the war on terrorism, for example, by abandoning Israel, closing its bases in the region and withdrawing its troops. Successive U.S. administrations have maintained these policies because they have seen them as important or even vital to U.S. national interests. My country's territorial integrity is no less important to its government and citizens.

"Aslan Maskhadov's policies during 1996-99 -- when he was Chechen leader and the Russian military was practically absent from Chechnya -- speak for themselves. During this period Chechnya, which enjoyed de facto independence, adopted Islamic sharia courts, developed an alliance with the Taliban, offered hospitality to al Qaeda representatives and became the scene of widespread kidnapping and murder, including of Western aid workers. Russia's reintroduction of its military forces in 1999 came after attacks by Chechen forces in the adjacent region of Dagestan. It also followed terrorist bombings, linked to Chechen groups, of three apartment buildings; hundreds of innocent people were killed. The outrageous mass hostage-taking still underway should demonstrate to any unbiased observer that the Chechen militants are perfectly capable of such acts.

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