POSTSCRIPT / December 23, 2001 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Obstructionism won’t pull us out of the rut

JUST WHERE IS BIN LADEN?: Since not even the White House can tell exactly where Osama bin Laden is or if he is/was actually in those labyrinthine caves in the Tora Bora mountains, everybody is free to speculate what ever happened to the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the US.

But what we have here is not speculation. It is information that, according to our source, came from Debka intelligence files — which we understand is not American. We stress, however, that there is no definitive report yet on the fate of bin Laden.

The unofficial report on how he and some 3,000 terrorists supposedly slipped through the US cordon follows:

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PARALLEL EVACUATION: “It was just before midnight Nov. 11 when Russian-made Antonov aircraft without markings began landing at the bombed-out airport of Konduz in northern Afghanistan.

“The Northern Alliance’s conquest of the Afghan city was still five days away, and a small group of Pakistani military intelligence officers and soldiers — all of whom had been serving with the Taliban — waited anxiously on a runway, together with a large number of Pakistanis wounded in battle lying on blankets. The planes were coming to take them home.

“Around 5 p.m. earlier that day, US bombings of the airport had suddenly stopped. As they waited for the airlift, the Pakistanis understood the rescue of their men trapped in Konduz had been set up in a silent agreement between their government, or commanding officers, and the US. Two planes were to touch down every night to pick them up until the evacuation was finished.

“But as the airlift began, Pakistani air crews and their passengers were astonished to see they had company on the runways of Konduz — a second fleet of Antonov transports was running a parallel airlift on some mysterious mission.

“Military sources have solved the mystery: The planes belonged to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida. Under cover of the Pakistani airlift, 3,000 of the group’s fighters were secretly lifted to safety from the besieged towns of Konduz and Khandabad about 15 miles to the south.

“The double airlift lasted five nights. The planes arriving to ferry Pakistani fighters home were closely shadowed by a phantom airlift extracting al-Qaida personnel.

“The rescued Pakistanis were flown to air bases in northwest and central Pakistan. The al-Qaida men were taken long distance to the Persian Gulf emirates, landing, according to Gulf sources, in Abu Dhabi and the Somali town of Baidoa.

“The al-Qaida fighters were described by several sources in Abu Dhabi as arriving hungry, in rags and without identifying documents. Asked who they were, they claimed to be Pakistani construction workers who had paid out all their savings to reach the Gulf in search of employment. But they soon disappeared, trucked to the Saudi and Yemen frontiers and apparently put down to cross on foot.”

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CAVE STORY WAS PLANTED?: The account continues: “On Dec. 18, Yemeni special forces engaged a group of just-landed senior al-Qaida operatives in the al Husoun tribal region of Marib but met fierce resistance and were repulsed after losing 17 men.

“At Baidoa, Somalia, too, immediately after landing, al-Qaida partisans mingled with the local Somalis living in thousands of straw and mud huts in the airport environs. Then the trucks came and drove a batch to the Somali-Kenyan frontier. They later continued to Uganda. Others moved through the villages scattered on Somalia’s Indian Ocean coast before they, too, disappeared.

“The al-Qaida evacuation of Konduz got away behind American backs. But when a similar airlift began two weeks ago at the international airport of the last Taliban-al-Qaida fortress of Kandahar, the Americans caught on in time to stall it by bombing the runways.

“There was one last al-Qaida escape route that the US did not manage to plug: across the 1,400-mile-long frontier into Pakistan. There, they were driven to small airfields and airstrips in the northwest and flown to the Gulf and Somalia.

“According to intelligence sources, US and Pakistani agents are investigating the source of the reports claiming that al-Qaida and bin Laden had concealed themselves in the Tora Bora cave complex and the White Mountains abutting on the Pakistani frontier — to fight to the last man.

“Those reports may have been part of a deliberate deception. It is now clear that no more than 200 to 300 al-Qaida fighters actually hid up in Tora Bora as bait to misdirect the Pashtun and US Special Forces hunters. Small groups moved from cave to cave to keep the searchers and US bombers occupied and unaware of the main body of the al-Qaida force, which meanwhile escaped into Pakistan. They, too, were flown on to Abu Dhabi and Somalia.”

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DIVERSIONARY MOVES: “One source even suggests that last week’s daylight suicide attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi may too have been part and parcel of al-Qaida’s grand escape scheme. According to this theory, the Kashmiri terror group Lashkar-e-Toiba’s raid, in which 14 people died, including the five assailants, was intended as a diversion.

“Lashkar-e-Toiba is known to be controlled by al-Qaida and pro-Taliban elements in Pakistani military intelligence. The suicide mission was not intended, as India claimed, to carry out a massacre, but, according to terror experts, to raise military tensions between India and Pakistan in the hope of reciprocal troop buildups on either side of the Kashmir partition line.

“Al-Qaida hoped this would result in the thinning out of Pakistan combat forces stationed on the Afghan frontier to seal it off to escape and divert the attention of Pakistan intelligence away from that frontier, too. The coast would be then left clear for al-Qaida men to cross from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

“US intelligence officers briefing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during his first visit to Afghanistan last Tuesday had to admit that the majority of the Taliban’s fighting force had vanished and, moreover, the bulk of al-Qaida’s fighting force and its commanders, apparently including bin Laden, also got away.”

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WHO’LL JUDGE JUDGES?: The Constitution has created a Judicial and Bar Council composed of three ex-officio members led by the Chief Justice and four members appointed by the President. These seven wise men screen and recommend judges throughout the land.

The naïve would think that the JBC members chosen to choose, in turn, the men and women in robes who would pass judgment on litigants would be themselves models of integrity, probity and wisdom in the law.

An aggrieved party, Damaso S. Flores, does not think so. He has filed an apposition with the Commission on Appointments against the naming of Justice Regino C. Hermosisima Jr. to the JBC. He complained that while he came prepared for the recent hearing before the CA justice committee, chairman Sen. Renato Cayetano reset the hearing. Damaso expressed fear that the committee might just recommend confirmation of Hermosisima without due hearing.

The main beef of Flores is that Hermosisima has written several rulings that he said were patently erroneous in GR Nos. 97556 and 101152 (259 SCRA 618). He said that Hermosisima’s decisions have shown him to be “unfit to sit with the JBC” representing retired SC justices and choosing, in turn, who are fit to be judges and justices.

Flores said it was incredible that Hermosisimia could make the mistake, for instance, of dismissing his petitions five years after they were already given due course by the SC. The justice cited what he called supervening events for his ruling, but Flores said the events mentioned happened before and not after the main event at issue and were therefore not “supervening.”

The petitions of Flores before the SC were prompted by the continued refusal of a lower court to enforce its own final and executory judgment that was in Flores’ favor. He has stubbornly filed petition after petition before the SC to force the issue, but his case has dragged for the past several years.

He asked why the SC should be held hostage by “the incompetence of one of its members.”

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THAT NEW-CAR SMELL: You like to savor the lilting smell of a new car? Have you wished that such smell of newness never left your car interior?

Netscape reports that that smell is toxic. It can even be carcinogenic, it adds, citing a two-year study by Australia’s leading government research organization, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).

The study determined that gases emitted by vinyl and plastic materials in new cars can cause headaches, nausea, and drowsiness. Long-term exposure can cause cancer and may even cause birth defects.

The primary culprit is benzene, a known human carcinogen, that reaches levels in new cars that are five times above the tolerable exposure limit. The benzene can remain in new cars as long as a year.

CSIRO says the new-car smell can cause automobile accidents. “Something that causes headaches, eye irritation and drowsiness is quite logical to have an impact on accidents,” the study says.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 23, 2001)

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