Five myths about the National Rifle Association: No, the NRA did not start out as a civil rights organization.

“Never is the Second Amendment more important than during public unrest,” a National Rifle Association video claimed in March. Rhetoric about owning, wielding and using guns has grown especially heated in recent weeks. In response to protests against police brutality, President Trump tweeted, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” echoing a Miami police chief from the 1960s — and an NRA article published after the Los Angeles riots in 1992. “You loot — we shoot,” wrote Marion Hammer, the organization’s first female president. Meanwhile, armed protests against state health measures, such as those that shut down the Michigan Legislature last month, seem rooted in an ideology promoted by the modern NRA: that only firearms in civilian hands can safeguard the nation from government overreach. Here are five myths about the group’s mission and history — some told by critics, others told by the NRA itself.

Myth No. 1

The early NRA was involved with the Ku Klux Klan.

Michael Moore, in his 2002 documentary “Bowling for Columbine,” insinuated that the NRA and the KKK were linked, because they were formed six years apart. The New Republic drew a similar connection in a 2013 article on the history of gun control. In a recent review of my book (which reported no ties between the organizations), the New York Times wrote that the NRA “came to the rescue of Southern members of the K.K.K.,” before issuing a correction.

Documents from the era, including an exhaustive tome by NRA co-founder William Conant Church, show that this isn’t true. The early NRA, founded at the peak of Reconstruction in 1871, never went much farther than its shooting range outside Manhattan, and played no role in the South during Reconstruction or for years thereafter. Church and other early NRA leaders, nearly all of whom were veteran Union officers, unequivocally supported President Ulysses S. Grant’s efforts to crush the Klan.

But, contrary to claims by NRA board director Allen West, who has said that the group “stood with freed slaves to make sure they had their Second Amendment rights,” the organization didn’t play a major role in opposing white supremacists, either. The NRA was so provincial at the time that, in 1877, Church had to remind the board that New York City and its environs “are only a part of the great rifle movement in America.”

Myth No. 2

The NRA originated as a champion of gun rights.

The group calls itself “America’s longest-standing civil rights organization,” a claim constantly repeated by its leaders and lawyers, and by media outlets including NPR.

But the NRA did not raise gun rights at all over the first half-century of its existence. It focused instead on improving marksmanship in anticipation of future wars. In 1922, an editorial in the NRA’s first official journal flagged gun rights as an area of concern for the first time, citing both a 1911 New York law and Russia’s recent outlawing of civilian ownership of guns. The Second Amendment came up only as the Cold War set in: The NRA first asserted what it called “the Second Article of the Bill of Rights,” along with the “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” in a 1952 American Rifleman editorial.

In 1977, the NRA finally embraced gun rights as its “unyielding” aim, in the words of its leader Harlon B. Carter. At that year’s national convention, Carter, a former Border Patrol chief, led the “Cincinnati Revolt,” an internal rebellion that transformed the NRA into the nation’s largest gun rights organization.

Myth No. 3

Armed Black Panthers led the NRA to support gun control.

“When Black Folks Armed Themselves The NRA And Republicans Suddenly Supported Gun Control,” read a headline on NewsOne. “Back in the 1960s, even the NRA supported gun control” when it came to disarming the Black Panthers, says the History Channel. Indeed, in 1967, mere months after a group of Black Panthers entered the California State Capitol with long guns and holstered sidearms, Gov. Ronald Reagan signed a law banning the open carry of firearms. The NRA helped write that legislation and monitored its passage in American Rifleman without comment; race no doubt influenced the bill.

But this event was not a turning point for the NRA. By the 1960s, it had disavowed the “private armies” of white supremacists that arose during the civil rights era, and it broadly supported greater regulation of firearms, such as those tied to recent political assassinations. “The NRA does not advocate an ‘ostrich’ attitude toward firearms legislation,” said its chief executive, Franklin L. Orth, three weeks before the Black Panthers protested at the California capitol. “We recognize that the dynamism and complexities of modern society create new problems which demand new solutions.” The following year, the NRA supported a federal law banning, among other things, mail-order guns, adding to a 1934 NRA-backed law sharply restricting “machine guns.”

Myth No. 4

The NRA is just an extension of the gun industry.

People often declare that the group is a mere “front for gun makers,” as one HuffPost article put it. It’s true that the NRA was born at the gun industry’s hip: All seven editions of the “Manual for Rifle Practice,” by co-founder George Wood Wingate, were packed with firearms ads. Today, large donations from gun manufacturers make up a substantial portion of the NRA’s revenue, as membership dues have declined.

But the NRA has still operated relatively autonomously over the past 149 years. In 1937, its leadership even labeled a new, powerful Magnum revolver by Smith & Wesson a “ ‘freak’ class of weapon” that should be restricted to police.

More important, the modern NRA is a political force in its own right, commanding outsize influence that can’t fully be explained by the deep pockets of the companies that fund it. Since 1977, when the group started to back the notion that civilians are entitled to nearly the same level of firepower as police, it has helped to roll back federal gun laws it once supported and to block almost all new federal regulations, while working to expand concealed-carry laws in most states.

Though money is important to its operations, “the real source of its power, I believe, comes from voters,” law professor Adam Winkler told the Guardian. In recent elections, especially primary contests, the NRA has mobilized voters at every level, attacking opponents and rewarding “pro-gun” candidates. That electoral following helped chief executive Wayne LaPierre persuade President Trump last summer to reverse himself on expanding background checks.

Myth No. 5

The NRA isn’t threatened by its current troubles.

The NRA is in turmoil. A 2019 tax investigation by the New York attorney general prompted a billing dispute between the group and the advertising firm Ackerman McQueen, its chief vendor and longtime communications partner. What ensued was a crossfire of charges of financial improprieties, pitching LaPierre against the group’s president, Oliver North, who eventually stepped down. Its top lobbyist was forced out. Several board members resigned. Still, members insist that the organization’s leadership remains strong. “It’s going to take a big revolt to get them out of power,” John Crump, an NRA member and firearms instructor, told the Chicago Tribune. The NRA has endured “these sorts of internal discussions, debates, and changes without losing a step,” board director J. Kenneth Blackwell said in the Washington Times.

The NRA also faces significant financial issues. Already in debt from the more than $30 million it spent on Trump and other candidates in 2016, its recent legal troubles have cost an additional $100 million, according to secret recordings obtained by NPR this year. “To survive,” LaPierre said, he took the group “down to the studs,” laying off dozens of people and cutting the pay of others. Meanwhile, the New York authorities continue to investigate whether the NRA illegally diverted funds from its tax-exempt foundation, threatening the organization’s nonprofit status. This combination of internal and external pressures presents LaPierre with the biggest crisis of his career — and the NRA as a whole with its worst crisis since the Cincinnati Revolt.

Between Tyranny and Bombs: A Review of “Baghdad Diaries”

BAGHDAD DIARIES: A Woman’s Chronicle of War and Exile
By Nuha al-Radi
Vintage. 217 pp. Paperback, $12

[NOTE: The Iraqi painter and author of this book, Nuha al-Radi, died not long after her book was published on August 30, 2004 in Beirut.]

Try to imagine yourself or your family living in Baghdad over the past decade, enduring tyranny, privation and wars. What if your family came from the old ruling guard but the quality of your life had only eroded under President Saddam Hussein’s regime? Would you blame him and his cronies for your plight, or blame America for the twin punishments of sanctions and bombings?

The answers to these questions may help explain why at least some Iraqis today seem so ungrateful to the United States. Not long after being liberated from Iraq’s homegrown dictatorship, large crowds began demonstrating against the subsequent U.S. military occupation. The mood soured faster across Iraq than leading U.S. officials or news commentators had expected, but readers of this book will see through a window into Iraq that they missed.

Born in Baghdad during the Second World War, Nuha al-Radi is a Western-educated Iraqi who retains an Eastern outlook. A world-renowned sculptor, ceramist and painter, she is a survivor from a once-thriving cultural community rooted in ancient Mesopotamia, which remains among the most respected artistic traditions in the Arab world. While she was pinned down in one of the wealthier neighborhoods of Baghdad, and afterward, while she was in exile in both Eastern and Western countries, this artist stopped working with her hands to speak with her head.

Anyone comfortable with the jingoism passing for journalism on many American television networks may find some passages in “Baghdad Diaries” as hard to digest as green, moldy bread. But if one is wondering how millions among the audience of the Qatar-based satellite television network, Al-Jazeera, today see Iraq, the raw and often bitter passages of this artist’s diary are a good place to start:

“Everyone was preparing and hoarding foodstuffs in their freezers, never imagining that they would bomb us out of electricity. Now the big question is whether to keep the freezer and fridge doors open or closed. If they stay open the rubber seals will dry out, and if closed they smell.”

Nuha al-Radi’s story begins in 1991 with the last Gulf War. She is an unmarried woman, living near her mother and struggling to get by. Another central character is her dog Salvi, named after the Spanish painter Salvador Dali. The artist says they are “well-to-do” Iraqis who live not far from the Mansur neighborhood, where Hussein was filmed walking among supporters in the street after the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The author’s late father was an ambassador back when Iraq was ruled (briefly) by British-backed kings, and her family, like others associated with the old monarchy, waned under Hussein’s regime. “Ma says she feels like Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone With the Wind,’ ” writes al-Radi, “except that we are far from starving.”

This is an impressionistic chronicle, and anyone looking to learn more about the rich ethnic and religious mosaic that is Iraq will not find it here. Although its author does not say it, “Baghdad Diaries” is told from the point of view of Iraq’s traditionally privileged minority based in the capital. Compared with most other Iraqis, this elite has long managed to live reasonably well even under so-called revolutionary regimes.

Some of the author’s friends and acquaintances had low-level jobs in Hussein’s government. One of her friends worked for Uday, the more notorious of Hussein’s two sons, and was told to wear “a smart dress and make-up” for work. Another friend’s nanny worked inside one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. “She said that when someone was caught stealing, they gathered the staff together, brought in a doctor who chopped off this guy’s hand, and immediately dunked it into boiling oil to cauterize it.”

This grisly account is told without commentary; al-Radi saves most of her outrage for America’s apparent disregard for the plight of the Iraqi people. “We didn’t have anything to do with the Kuwaiti take-over, yet we have been paying the price for it. Meanwhile Our Leader is alive and well — or not so well, we do not know. We’re living,” she goes on, “like Peter Sellers in [the 1968 film] ‘The Party,’ refusing to die and rising up again and again, another last gasp of the bugle.”

Al-Radi’s narrative possesses a disarming charm. Her snapshots of the strangulation of Iraq play out in the smaller details of daily life: “The birds have taken the worst beating of all. They have sensitive souls which cannot take all this hideous noise and vibration [of bombing]. All the caged love-birds have died from the shock of the blasts, while birds in the wild fly upside down and do crazy somersaults. Hundreds, if not thousands, have died in the orchard. Lonely survivors fly about in a distracted fashion.”

Al-Radi looks at Iraq like a woman who insists on viewing a canvas only through a magnifying glass, intimately describing its texture while failing to see the wider scene. But however narrow its focus, “Baghdad Diaries” offers an unfiltered perspective on a widely misunderstood world.

Battle Cry of Freedom: A Review of Taking Liberties

How many Americans take their rights for granted? Last month an impressive number of antiwar demonstrators converged on San Francisco and New York in chartered buses. Similarly, more than 30 years ago, various protest organizers chartered buses to bring anti-Vietnam-War demonstrators to Washington. After that peace demonstration, the largest of that war, FBI agents secretly asked private banks to open their proprietary records to identify the people who had signed the checks to pay for the buses. “We found out when a bank clerk called to alert us,” writes Aryeh Neier, who was then executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, “which allowed us to rush into federal court to halt the practice.”

Born in Nazi Germany to Jewish parents, Aryeh Neier is America’s foremost rights advocate. Today, at 65, he runs the Open Society Institute funded by the philanthropist financier George Soros. Neier previously founded and led Human Rights Watch, a once-small organization that has surpassed even Amnesty International as the world’s most authoritative voice on international human rights. Before that, Neier successfully guided the ACLU through some of its most challenging years, including the recovery of its prestige after the revelation that some previous leaders had secretly collaborated with the FBI during and after America’s “Red scare.”

Anyone looking to learn much more about Aryeh Neier himself will only be disappointed by this book. Instead of being a revealing personal memoir, Taking Liberties, as its subtitle suggests, reads more like an intellectual history of the rights movement in the United States and abroad, as told by a perhaps self-serving but no doubt highly effective protagonist.

Neier was executive director of the New York ACLU before he was elected to run the national organization, and the first issue he confronted was brutality by New York City police officers, including the practice of forced confessions. While at the ACLU, he also exposed abuses in prisons and mental-health asylums, and he was a pioneer in challenging the then-illegality of abortion. But his defense of the right of neo-Nazis to march through a Skokie, Ill., neighborhood whose residents included Holocaust survivors was even more controversial. Although many ACLU members resigned, as widely reported at the time, the drop was only short-lived, and the organization rebounded in the 1980s during President Ronald Reagan’s term in office.

By then, Neier had already left the ACLU to join with others, most notably Robert L. Bernstein, then chairman and chief executive officer of Random House, to form the U.S. Helsinki Watch Committee “to protest repression against dissenters in the Soviet Union.” Neier writes that “as one who had followed closely accounts of resistance to Soviet repression since the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 . . . I welcomed Bob Bernstein’s call.” Soon the founders of Helsinki Watch added America’s Watch, which battled President Ronald Reagan’s administration over the facts of human-rights cases, first in El Salvador and later elsewhere.

Taking Liberties reminds readers that defenders of rights are ironically indebted to the Reagan administration. Officials such as Elliott Abrams (White House director of Middle East policy today) erroneously argued that only communist regimes committed the worst offenses. When the Watch committees proved him and others wrong, together they established the tenet that human rights deserve a central place in U.S. foreign policy.

Along the way, Neier’s sometimes uncompromising style provoked more than a few internecine conflicts. In Taking Liberties, he avoids reopening old wounds over different strategic approaches. But the book does take some swings at, among others, Chief Justice William Rehnquist and his allies on the Supreme Court, who Neier maintains have only eroded our rights.

Today, as director of the well-funded Open Society Institute, Neier has even more latitude to defend rights at home and abroad. He chronicles his own lead role in promoting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa. He laments the loss of his friend Fred Cuny, who volunteered to go to Chechnya to help provide health and reconstruction services. “Every day,” writes Neier, “[I] rue my part in [his disappearance].”

But there is one area that this otherwise intrepid activist steps over. Watchdogs such as Human Rights Watch under Neier’s leadership sharply criticized U.S. military aid to many human-rights-abusing countries, but after the Cold War, Human Rights Watch, still under Neier, began to lobby for international military intervention to stop similar abuses by other non-U.S.-backed parties and regimes. Unfortunately, he papers over what he fails to mention was a watershed dispute among human-rights advocates over whether to back U.S. intervention in Somalia. (The last Bush administration began the intervention that the Clinton administration continued.) Aryeh Neier was among those hoping to use the African Horn intervention as a springboard to stopping both alleged and many already proven acts of genocide and other crimes throughout the 1990s in Bosnia and later in Rwanda and Kosovo.

Neier deserves credit for his lead role in helping establish the notion that the same standards that apply to international war crimes also apply to civil conflicts. In the early 1980s, he began promoting accountability for disappearances and other political crimes in Argentina. Two decades later, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s ex-president Slobodan Milosevic was indicted at the Hague for humanitarian crimes he had allegedly ordered in his own nation’s southern province of Kosovo.

Taking Liberties tells us more about where we came from than where we are going. But it is a timely story told by one American who never took any right anywhere for granted. *

Frank Smyth is a freelance journalist who has collaborated with many human-rights organizations. He is writing a book about the 1991 uprisings against Saddam Hussein.

Living Dangerously: A Review of “The Lion’s Grave”

THE LION’S GRAVE: Dispatches from Afghanistan
By Jon Lee Anderson
Grove. 244 pp. $24

Any egomaniac with an audience can do a live stand-up in an alleged combat zone these days, but Jon Lee Anderson is a war correspondent’s journalist. On Sept. 11, while most Americans were still either looking up or glued to their television sets, Anderson sent an e-mail from southern Spain to his editor at The New Yorker in Manhattan. “I am guessing you never made it to the office. I hope everyone at The New Yorker is OK,” he wrote. “I feel like I should be heading for Afghanistan, which I fully expect to be flattened any day now.”

The result is an insightful book of dispatches that are different in focus from, but reminiscent, in their on-the-ground style, of the late Ernie Pyle’s reporting from North Africa during World War II. In London, Anderson bought a portable satellite phone, which he used to file his reports from Central Asia over the ensuing months. A pack of hundreds of other reporters descended upon the region in late 2001, but Anderson, who had been covering the country since the days of the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, was nearly the first journalist to reach Afghanistan after Sept. 11. All but one of these dispatches previously appeared in the weekly magazine, but much of the writing remains prescient.

“The sight of women, or at least discernibly human creatures in feminine clothes, is about the only thing that relieves the harshness of the landscape. This visible part of Afghan society is unremittingly male, as is the land, which is drab and muscular,” writes Anderson. “Barefoot boys walk back and forth through beds of harvested rice, turning the grains with their toes to dry them in the sun. . . . Lambs are tethered next to men with long knives who slaughter them and hang the carcasses from hooks, hacking them into a steadily diminishing mess of blood and meat and bone and fat by day’s end. Grain and vegetables are weighed in tin scales that are balanced with stones.”

Anderson also gives his readers a window on himself. The book’s narrative journalism is framed by contemporaneous e-mails that either begin or end every chapter. Most were sent by Anderson via laptop (with a special bullet-proof casing) and satellite phone to his editor, Sharon DeLano. Some e-mails show the hardships of prolonged frontline reporting. “Our compound has mud walls and mud floors and mud everything,” he tells DeLano. “Outside, there is a large dirt patio with two hole-in-the-floor latrines, a vigilant mongrel dog, and — as of yesterday — a scorpion in the washroom.”

Other e-mails reveal another side of a correspondent who is apparently not afraid of talking back to men with guns: “One [Afghan combatant] asked for a cigarette. I gave him one, but chided him, since it was Ramadan, and Muslims are not supposed to smoke [or eat or drink] during the daylight hours. Then another man came up and demanded a cigarette and I could see that the whole group of ten or so fighters were planning on doing this. So I said, No more.”

“A third mujahideen, a burly man with a large PK machine gun slung over his shoulder, leered at me and grabbed me between the legs, hard. Then he darted away and laughed. I followed him and kicked him in the rear end, twice. This made his comrades roar with laughter, but he didn’t think it was so funny, and he pointed his gun at me, then lowered it. I began cursing him in English and he raised the gun at me again and I could tell that he was cursing me too, in Dari. We had something of a standoff.”

The book, as its title suggests, revolves around the murder of Ahmed Shah Massoud, “The Lion of Panjshir,” the Northern Alliance commander who was killed by two Arab men posing as journalists two days before Sept. 11. Anderson convincingly ties the assassination to Osama bin Laden, who, like Anderson himself, apparently expected an American retaliation on Afghan targets in response to Sept. 11. In the only new reporting in the book, Anderson explores bin Laden’s former home base south of Jalalabad, where he introduces readers to a heavily armed American named “Jack,” a 46-year-old former U.S. Army Green Beret from Fayetteville, N.C., who claimed, “I have no official relationship to the U.S. government.”

The strength of The Lion’s Grave goes beyond its character profiles to its effective navigation of the crisscrossing lines of Afghan politics. Anderson already knew the country and its players, not only the late Massoud but also many lesser-known Afghans, including noncombatants. Like the dispassionately illuminating biography of Che Guevara that largely earned this correspondent his name, this book captures a time and a place that no one who reads it will forget. The text is interspersed with black-and-white images by Magnum photographer Thomas Dworzak that depict austere Afghans usually in a cold landscape. For anyone tired of instant journalism, this book reflects an older art.

Frank Smyth is writing a book on the 1991 Iraqi uprisings against Saddam Hussein.

After the Shelling Stops: We Need More Than Missiles To Oust Saddam

Who doesn’t want a new government in Baghdad? The Clinton administration’s sustained airstrikes against Iraq will cripple some of Saddam Hussein’s military capabilities, but few believe that unilateral bombing will, by itself, compel lasting change in Iraq. In fact, no real change is likely without a comprehensive political strategy that engages the full spectrum of Saddam Hussein’s domestic opponents and reaches out to other regional powers, including perhaps even Iran.

Last month, Congress pushed President Clinton to provide various Iraqi opposition groups with $97 million in aid, leaving it up to the administration to decide how to distribute it. Clinton responded with his first public assertion that removing the current government in Baghdad was the only long-term solution to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Clinton’s words were quickly matched by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose government hosted a two-day meeting of exiled Iraqi opposition leaders in London.

But what one might call the Clinton-Blair plan has little chance of success. Pursuing Saddam Hussein’s ouster in earnest requires nothing less than a new geopolitical strategy, even though it would be based upon an old concept–the same one over which the Gulf War ostensibly was fought. In directing his Iraq policy, Clinton has up to now followed that of President Bush, who briefly sought to oust Saddam Hussein after the ground campaign in the Gulf War ended. But the Bush administration’s effort failed because it chose to seek out allies among the roughly 20 percent of the Iraqi population who are, like Saddam Hussein, Sunni Arabs, while ignoring the nearly 80 percent of the Iraqi people who are either Sunni Kurds or Shiite Arabs.

The United States and its allies fought the Gulf War over the principle of self-determination, but applied it in practice only to Kuwait. Now, to develop a serious effort toward toppling Saddam Hussein, the Clinton administration must apply it to Iraq. Instead of trying to inspire a coup against Saddam Hussein by Sunni Arabs relatively close to him–as the Bush administration tried and failed to do–the Clinton administration needs to nurture resistance among the country’s two other main ethnic groups, the minority Kurds and majority Shiites, whom Saddam Hussein has long excluded from power. So far, the administration has only lent a hand to the Kurds, and it just recently extended one to the Shiites. In announcing his decision to launch new air attacks against Iraq, Clinton said on Wednesday that the United States “will strengthen [its] engagement with the full range of Iraqi opposition forces.” But administration officials only met Iraq’s Shiite leaders, in Washington, for the first time four months ago. To have any chance of ousting Saddam Hussein, the administration must embrace them fully.

This is easier said than done. For decades, the United States and its allies have sought to contain Shiite expansionism as well as Kurdish nationalism in the region. Iraqi Kurds share an ethnic identity with Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iran, while Iraqi Shiites share their religion with the Iranian people and government in Iran. America and its friends (not to mention some enemies) still worry that an insurrection in Iraq might lead to either the secession of Iraq’s northern region by Kurds, thereby encouraging Kurdish demands for greater autonomy in Turkey and elsewhere, or to a Shiite government in Baghdad allied with Tehran, thereby spreading the influence of radical Islamic forces in the region.

Bush admitted–but only after he left office–that this fear was why he abandoned the Kurdish and Shiite rebels shortly after the Gulf War, when everyone but Saddam Hussein expected the Iraqi leader to be deposed. Bush literally begged for a coup. Two days after the Gulf War ended, he called on Iraqis to “force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside,” and to bring Iraq “back into the family of peace-loving nations.” No one close to Saddam Hussein took up the cause.

But the same day that Bush issued his call, Shiite clerics in southern Iraq called for insurrection and, within days, rebels were holding ground in every city in southern Iraq. Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq followed suit en masse two weeks later. By then, rebel newspapers in the south were calling the uprising an intifada, equating their rebellion with the popular insurrection by Palestinians against Israel. In the north at the time, I saw Kurds holding hands and dancing and singing in the streets as they celebrated being clear of Saddam Hussein’s eye for the first time in decades. The days were so heady that some Kurdish couples named their newborns “Bush.”

Within weeks, many of these children were dying of exposure in the safe haven that the Bush administration established for the Kurds in northern Iraq. The intifada had been quickly snuffed out. Everyone under-estimated Saddam Hussein, who had ingeniously saved from harm during the war entire divisions of his army’s special forces along with the Republican Guards, as well as a surprising array of artillery, tanks, multiple-rocket launchers, light helicopters and heavier gunships. While downing his planes, the Gulf War cease-fire agreement had allowed Saddam Hussein to fly helicopters, purportedly to ferry his officers to negotiations and transport his wounded to hospitals. Instead, he used them to put down the rebellion with brutal force.

I was in Kirkuk, the first Kurdish city to fall. The Iraqi counter-offensive began after dawn on March 28. Incoming artillery and tank shells shook the ground, killing a young girl on her bicycle. “This is Saddam Hussein!” yelled one man who knew her. “Mr. Bush must know.” By noon, as Iraqi tanks were closing in on the town, Iraqi helicopters firing machine guns were joined by four or five helicopter gunships. Glistening like angry hornets, they unloaded seemingly endless volleys of exploding rockets. Kurds were dying all around. Several multiple-rocket launchers dropped a blanket of fire on fleeing guerrillas and civilians. The battle for Kirkuk was over in about seven hours. The Kurdish uprising was extinguished in four days.

To convince any Iraqis to again risk their lives will require global leadership and conviction from President Clinton, and a sustained commitment from the American people. Wishing for a new government in Baghdad is not enough. Clinton will have to take a step Bush never made and commit the U.S. military to backing up Iraqi opposition forces in the field. The route toward a wider American military role may have been eased by the bombing attacks over the past few days on Saddam Hussein’s special forces and intelligence services. Options include imposing a “no-fly” zone across all of Iraq and working to find front-line states willing to provide sanctuaries for various rebel forces. And, yes, the options would include arming the rebel forces sufficiently. U.S. air power could check Saddam Hussein’s aircraft and armor, while U.S. ground forces–conceivably with the help of forces from Britain and other allies–could help carve out and protect sanctuaries that could be stocked with food and medicine for general distribution by opposition groups.

The premise behind such a plan already exists, namely that the Iraqi dictator is an intolerable menace who continues to threaten his own people and regional stability. But the opposition is weak, in some cases bitterly divided, and largely inactive inside Iraq. Far more resistance will be required to successfully execute the plan. In the mid-1990s, the CIA backed a coalition of exile groups called the Iraqi National Congress in northern Iraq. The joint goal was to unite two feuding Kurdish factions that have long differed over clan-based identification as well as ideology. But the effort collapsed in August 1996 when one of the Kurdish leaders, Massoud Barzani, invited Saddam Hussein to join forces with him against Iraq’s other main Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani. Saddam Hussein’s forces moved in on the CIA-baked operation, capturing and killing many. By then, the CIA was also backing the Iraqi National Accord, a group led by former officials of Saddam Hussein’s regime who hope to inspire a coup via anti-regime radio broadcasts from Amman, Jordan.

Independent groups, however, have launched attacks against the regime inside Iraq. In December 1996, a group identifying itself as Al-Nahdad, or the Awakening, ambushed Saddam Hussein’s eldest son, Uday, in Baghdad. The attack left Uday, who was notorious for torturing suspected dissidents, badly crippled. Just last month, 60 miles south of Baghdad in Karbala, unidentified assailants hurled two hand grenades at Izzat Ibrahim, Saddam Hussein’s second-in-command. While he escaped unharmed, it was the first known anti-government attack in southern Iraq since the intifada. The most important Shiite opposition group is the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq, which is represented within the London-based Iraqi National Congress even though the Supreme Assembly’s leaders have long been based in Tehran. To resurrect a viable opposition, the United States has no choice now but to somehow work with Iran. For 19 years, Americans have equated Iran’s Shiite-led government (nine out of 10 Iranians are Shiite) with radical Islamic fundamentalism. But the biggest sponsors of Islamic terrorism today are Sudan and Afghanistan. Both countries have Sunni Islamic regimes that have harbored Osama bin Laden, a Sunni, whom the United States has accused of being the mastermind behind last summer’s bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

A real policy to oust Saddam Hussein would mark a strategic break with past U.S. efforts to contain Iran, which last year finally began showing signs of change. In Tehran moderate leaders have been challenging radical ones for the first time since the 1979 revolution. The position of those Iranians advocating change remains precarious and may still slip without warning. But one thing is certain. New and old Iranian leaders alike remember that Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons, including mustard gas, at least three times against Iran in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war.

The United States must choose its Iraqi allies more wisely as well. One reason the Bush administration failed during the post-Gulf War uprising was that it placed too great a stake in a group of Sunni Iraqi exiles, many of whom are ex-monarchists, based in London. Though they played no role in the rebellion, by the time it was crushed they were already planning to proclaim themselves representatives of a government-in-exile based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Now even the smallest of Iraqi opposition groups expect to receive millions in U.S. aid. The United States stands to benefit more if it backs groups proportionately, based upon their representativeness and military potential inside Iraq.

Many fear that CIA and other U.S. support for the Iraqi opposition now might come back to haunt the United States much like the CIA’s support for the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan in the 1980s contributed to that country’s recent takeover by the ultra-fundamentalist Taliban movement. Of course, there would be no guarantee that whoever replaces Saddam Hussein would be to anyone’s particular liking. But wouldn’t the world be better off, in any case, without him in power?

Any effort toward removing Saddam Hussein would also be risky and unpredictable, and it would threaten to upset America’s regional alliances. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, to name just three front-line states, would all have legitimate concerns. Nonetheless, Saddam Hussein’s ouster would be welcomed by many Arabs as well as Iranians.

Some argue, too, that any U.S. effort to overthrow a sovereign government is an intrinsically imperialist act. But one should keep in mind that, inside Iraq, the 1991 uprising united groups as diverse as the Supreme Assembly and the Communist Party. U.S. support for a truly representative coalition now would be more consistent with the principles of democracy and self-determination than any previous policy. The effort would be further legitimized if Saddam Hussein were finally indicted as a war criminal over, among other things, his 1988 gassing of Iraqi Kurds, as Human Rights Watch has documented based on Iraqi documents captured in the Gulf War.

Saddam Hussein knows better than anyone that he is already surrounded by hostile groups and states. To encourage an effective armed rebellion, the Clinton administration must develop a sustained, comprehensive plan–and commit to it. The diplomacy required would be challenging and complex, as potential participants and allies alike were recruited and reassured. This would demand consistent, high-level attention, probably for years. But if enough people inside Iraq thought that enough people outside Iraq were serious about them, then maybe some people, or many, might act. The last time they tasted hope, Iraqis rose up en masse. Unlike us, they suffer Saddam Hussein daily, and he no doubt has earned more enemies than friends.

The Nun Who Knew Too Much: Dianna Ortiz Links This North American Man to Her Rape and Torture in Guatemala

Original article can be found here.

THEY MET last month on the set of NBC’s “Today” show. Jeanne Boylan, the forensic artist who drew the Unabomber suspect, is the expert the FBI most often hires for top-priority crimes. Dianna Ortiz is a Roman Catholic nun who says that in November 1989 in Guatemala she was kidnapped, raped and tortured in a clandestine prison. The two women worked together to compose sketches of four men who were present. But unlike most of those Boylan has drawn, one of these men, according to Ortiz, may have been working for the U.S. government.

Only 5-foot-3 with delicate features making her look much younger than 37, Ortiz, over the past six weeks, has managed to reopen wounds in this country first incurred in the 1980s over Central America. She has gained ground in her search for her assailants, which even White House officials admit may yet implicate the U.S. intelligence community.

“We’re going to let the chips fall were they may,” says Nancy Soderberg, the Clinton administration’s deputy national security advisor. “Our premise is that none of this happened on our watch. We just want to get to the facts.”

The Ortiz case once again draws America’s attention to Guatemala, where a succession of military governments have compiled the hemisphere’s worst record for brutality. Human rights organizations estimate that as many as 100,000 Guatemalans have been killed by their own government over the last four decades; torture, disappearances and massacres have been routine. Whatever one makes of Ortiz’s story, her bid for U.S. government documents on her ordeal puts to the test CIA Director John Deutch’s assertions that he will clean up the agency and tests the White House’s ability to get the answers about the relationship between U.S. intelligence officials and the D-2, Guatemala’s military intelligence service.

The Bush administration doubted Ortiz’s credibility. Last week the Clinton administration released documents about Ortiz’s case from that period. In one cable to Washington, then-ambassador Thomas F. Stroock. a newly arrived political appointee of George Bush, wrote that he did not believe her account He rejected her claim that one of her abusers, “Alejandro,” was a North American man who spoke Spanish poorly and cursed in English. Stroock questioned “the motives and timing behind the story,” writing that it may have been a “hoax” designed to influence an upcoming vote in Congress on Guatemala over U.S. military aid.

“I know something happened to her in Guatemala,” says Stroock by telephone from Wyoming. “What I don’t know is what it was.” Stroock, who met Bush at Yale, has long complained that Ortiz failed to cooperate with both U.S. and Guatemalan authorities after her ordeal. “It is one thing to be traumatized, but it’s another thing not to talk to the police.” About her story, Stroock adds, “I don’t know whether to believe her or not” But today a growing number of people m the White House, Congress and elsewhere do believe Ortiz and her story.

“I’m so stunned that there was a credibility question,” says sketch artist Boylan, who was called to work on the case of Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who falsely claimed that her children had been abducted by a blade man but later admitted to having killed them herself. Boylan doubted Smith’s story. “It is part of my job to look for such factors,” Boylan adds, explaining that she constantly evaluates whether a subject’s emotional reactions and the details communicated are appropriate in the context of the alleged crime.” With Ortiz, she says, “I found nothing to indicate deception of any kind.”

Boylan and Ortiz worked for four days to reconstruct her memories of her abductors, Ortiz, who by then was down to 87 pounds, reacted differently to each image. “At first it took her an hour to look at Alejandro. She hyperventilated, and then passed out,” recalls Boylan. “[Later] she curled up in a ball on her bed weeping.” The two women finished the sketches last Sunday, releasing them at a press conference the next day.

Ortiz, who has broken down during many previous Press encounters, appeared stronger and more confident than in any before. “Even though I carry their faces with me, they can’t haunt me anymore,” she said in response to one reporter’s question: “They’re out there. I’m free.”

Ortiz also announced that she was suspending the vigil and fast that she had begun in front of the White House, and admitted taking some of her inspiration from Jennifer Harbury, a Harvard-educated attorney. Last year Harbury fasted in Lafayette Square to find out what the U.S. government knew about the disappearance of her leftist guerrilla husband. Twelve days later, Rep. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) revealed that a CIA-paid Guatemalan D-2 intelligence officer, Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, was involved in his torture and extra-judicial execution.

Torricelli is one of 103 members of Congress from both parties who last week signed a letter to President Clinton backing Ortiz’s demands for an U.S. government documents related to her case and others. The next day the State Department released more than 5,800 documents related to her case and 17 other U.S. citizens who have suffered human rights abuses in Guatemala. The documents released so far about Ortiz, however, elaborate only on the Bush administration’s previous doubts about her story, not on die information she demands.

One document, from a yet unidentified agency, states: “We need to dose the loop on the issue of die ‘North American’ named by Ortiz. . . . The EMBASSY IS VERY SENSITIVE ON THIS ISSUE but it is an issue we will have to respond to publicly when the [ABC News Prime Time’] show airs.” The next paragraph and the whole next page of this document is censored for national security reasons.

The Clinton administration, while saying that so far it has found nothing on “Alejandro” has recently been sending conflicting signals about Michael Define, an American innkeeper murdered in Guatemala in June 1990 (Col. Alpirez is also implicated in that lolling). But the administration has promised to release more information about these cases and others in June. Taking a personal step, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake paid three visits to Ortiz during her Lafayette Park vigil.

Her ordeal began on November 2,1989, just days before the Berlin Wall started to crumble. Ortiz, who had come to Guatemala to teach Mayan grade-school children how to read and write, was a guest at a religious retreat in the colonial town of Antigua. From there at around 8 in the morning she disappeared. U.S. embassy officials, including Ambassador Stroock, helped anxious nuns and priests try to find her. They did after about 24 hours. Stroock later saw her briefly in Guatemala City inside the Papal Nuncio. But he did not believe the statement outlining her main claims late-distributed by the office of Guatemala’s archbishop. It “is in Spanish and not in the first person,” he wrote.

Although he offered assistance, Stroock and other U.S. officials were denied the opportunity to question Ortiz. Neither he nor any member of his staff saw the cigarette burns which she allegedly had on her chest and back. The embassy could find no witnesses nor confirm any material details of her account. These facts “seem to indicate that the stay as told is not accurate,” Stroock told his superiors in Washington.

The following week Congress was scheduled to vote on economic and military aid to Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries, a package which the Bush administration was backing. In the months before, Guatemala, especially, was overcome by a wave of violence. These attacks led some to argue that Congress should put conditions on military aid to the country.

“The old Guatemala of the early ’80s seems to have returned with a vengeance,” wrote Philip B. Heymann, a Harvard University law professor who was then directing a U.S.-funded criminal justice project in Guatemala, in a September 1989 letter to Sen. Robert Byrd. “The Senate should condition any military aid on the Guatemalan government’s investigation, prosecuted and conviction of the perpetrators of the recent political violence. The entire $9 million earmarked for such aid should be held in suspension until adequate measures are taken.”

The Bush administration disagreed, and Stroock feared that Ortiz’s case might have been fabricated to try and sway Congress. Such logic led him and other Bush administration officials to eventually doubt her completely. Sue Patterson, the embassy’s consul general, wrote in April 1992 that the case was a “big political problem for Guatemala, because everybody believes a nun more than they do the [Guatemalan government] . . . . I don’t believe [her], nor does anyone else who knows the case well.”

Ortiz, however, still bears signs of her experience, including 111 small round scars. Seen by another doctor as well as by church officials in the Papal Nuncio, Ortiz was later examined by Dr. Gelbert Gutierrez in her home town of Grants, N.M. He confirms the scars: “All over her body, second degree burns,” he says curtly between patients by telephone.

In Guatemala, the then-defense minister, Gen. Hector Gramajo, was quoted as saying that Ortiz’s scars were the result of a bizarre “lesbian love tryst” Gramajo, who has admitted his own working relationship with the CIA, said that he learned of the alleged tryst from the U.S. embassy.

Who in the embassy? ABC News reported that Lewis Amselem, then the embassy’s human rights officer, was responsible for disseminating that rumor about the alleged love tryst. Amselem later threatened to sue ABC News but never did. Recently reached for comment at his State Department office in Washington, Amselem denies he made the statement.

Ortiz tells a different stay. She was behind the religious retreat house in Antigua when she says she was abducted by armed men, who later threatened to release a hand grenade if she did not get on a public bus. It stopped in the small town of Mixco, where the men escorted her to a waiting poke car, before driving her to a secret prison. There, Ortiz says, she was raped repeatedly. Later, “I was lowered into an open pit packed with human bodies–bodies of children, women and men, some decapitated, some lying face up and caked with blood, some dead, some alive–and all swarming with rats.”

Recently Ortiz has made public one alleged detail of her ordeal that few people had heard besides her therapist, Mary Fabri, a Chicago-based clinical psychologist who is now treating Bosnian torture survivors. Fabri says that this act destroyed Ortiz’s personality. At some point, her abusers handed her what she has described as other a small machete or large knife. Says Ortiz: They “put their hands onto the handle, on top of mine . . . . I was forced to use it against another” victim. Ortiz thinks she may have killed her.

What saved Ortiz from suffering the same fate? She says Alejandro, the North American, intervened. Earlier in the experience, she says her abusers had referred to this man as their boss. Later, she says, they brought her to him. Upon realizing that Ortiz was American, Alejandro, she says, ordered his men to stop.

“He kept telling me in his broken Spanish that he was sorry about what had happened to me,” says Ortiz. “He claimed it was a case of mistaken identity,” that his men had confused Ortiz with Veronica Ortiz Hernandez, a leftist guerrilla. Alejandro, according to Ortiz, then offered to drive her in his own vehicle, a gray Suzuki four-wheel-drive, to the U.S. embassy to talk to a friend who would help her leave the country. She says agreed. But only blocks before reaching the embassy, while the Suzuki was stuck in heavy traffic, Ortiz says she jumped out and ran.

Stroock told Washington that the archbishop’s third-person statement describing her ordeal was not consistent with what “persons around Ortiz” had told him at the time. They behaved erratically, explaining as fear what Stroock suspects was disingenuousness. And “when [I] saw her, [I] was not permitted to see her alone and she said nothing me. . .

Ortiz needs no intermediaries now: “I have been consistent in my account since the beginning. The U.S. embassy was inconsistent and, in fact, deceptive.” Alice Zachmann is a youthful 70-year-old nun who is a close friend of Ortiz. She says, “If none of this had happened to Dianna, I think she’d be teaching children in Guatemala now.”

Instead Dianna Ortiz has gained exactly what some U.S. officials have always feared: credibility in Washington.


Frank Smyth, a freelance journalist, has previouslywritten about Guatemala for Outlook, the New Republic and the Wall Street Journal.

Gunning for His Enemies: Neal Knox, the Real Power at the NRA, Sees Diabolical Plots Everywhere

An artful conspiracy theorist can easily cultivate believers.

One day, history will add to the conspiratorial log the name of Neal Knox, one of America’s more widely-read gun-magazine columnists and a veteran torchbearer of the National Rifle Association.

Knox neatly divides the world into those who support gun control and those, like him, who do not. Thus, gun-control advocates become suspects in what Knox sees as a fantastic and diabolical plot to disarm Americans.

It might be tempting merely to dismiss Knox, if he weren’t today the NRA’s most influential leader. Now one of the NRA’s top executive officers, Knox for decades has used his magazine columns to endorse — or sometimes to bury — candidates for seats on the NRA’s 76-member board of directors.

Even Knox’s rivals openly concede his gains, while fretting about his influence. “That’s always a bad situation, when you have somebody that has a group that more or less if he just raises his hand, they wait till he does and they’re gonna vote that way,” said board member Joe Foss, a past NRA president and former South Dakota governor.

Like Foss, the NRA’s current president, Thomas L. Washington, represents the NRA’s traditional wing of hunters and competition shooters.

Washington is himself an avid hunter who has long lobbied for right-to-hunt legislation in his home state of Michigan. But he is also proud of his environmental record.

Such “soft” issues, however, have little appeal for Knox. The former [Texas; original story incorrectly said Oklahoma] National Guardsman has been trying to seize power within the NRA for decades, ever since Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968.

Approved in the wake of the Kennedy and King assassinations, the law tightened the interstate sale of firearms and banned fully automatic weapons. When it was passed, the NRA leadership endorsed the bill.

But Knox and other hardliners disagreed and have been accumulating power ever since. A key victory came in 1975, when they established the Institute for Legislative Action, a new NRA division that effectively turned the organization into the gun lobby.

Knox later became chief of the ILA, while his protégé, Tanya K. Metaksa, became its deputy director. Knox was forced to resign from that position in 1982, however, by former allies who found both his militancy and tactics too abrasive.

Ever resilient, Knox returned and, largely through his own newsletters and columns that appear in and other publications, by 1991 had managed to get 11 allies onto the NRA’s board.

Today, with strong influence over the board, Knox wants to go way beyond the NRA’s stated goals of repealing the Brady law (which requires a brief waiting period for handgun purchases) and the assault-weapons ban (on some semi-automatic weapons).

Most of the NRA’s critics have ignored the differences between leaders like Washington and Knox, but these differences are crucial at a time when an increasing number of gun rights activists are openly defending their right to armed struggle. And they are even more important when a number of armed groups are reaching out to the NRA.

One is the Michigan Militia, a group that Oklahoma bombing suspects Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols reportedly tried to join. Even before they did, NRA President Washington had criticized the Michigan Militia for advocating extremist views. But, as reported by ABC’s, that didn’t stop Knox’s ally Metaksa from meeting with Michigan Militia leaders in February.

Another group working to align itself with the NRA is the National Alliance, led by author William L. Pierce. The fictional diaries, which among other things show how to make a fuel-oil and fertilizer bomb, tell the story of rightist militias who overthrow a Jewish-dominated government.

What Knox and all these extremist groups today share is the belief that gun control is the result of a government-led conspiracy.

Knox continues to propagate this view, as he moves the NRA ever further from its traditional sporting and hunting roots.

Freelance journalist Smyth covers the NRA for the Village Voice.