The enduring significance of the Emancipation Proclamation

Shannon Jones

Book Review

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, by Allen C. Guelzo (Simon & Schuster, 2004)

This work, the first major treatment on the Emancipation Proclamation in 40 years, is well written and highly informative. The author, Allan C. Guelzo, is a professor of American history at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. His book, Abraham Lincoln, Redeemer President, shared the Lincoln Prize in 2000.

Lincoln’s proclamation, which took effect January 1, 1863, in the midst of the American Civil War, imparted to the conflict, which until then had been waged as a struggle to preserve the union, a social revolutionary character. It initiated one of the largest property transfers in history, expropriating the principal form of property in one third of the United States, an action that reverberates to this day. It freed 4 million slaves valued at $3 billion. By comparison, as a proportion of national wealth, this would represent several trillion current US dollars.

The author does not share the opinion, widespread among contemporary historians, that the failure of emancipation to lead to full equality diminishes the historical stature of Lincoln. He insists that emancipation was perhaps the single most significant act ever carried out by a US president.

He affirms the democratic and revolutionary significance of the Emancipation Proclamation and rebuts those who would seek to diminish its importance by claiming that Lincoln more or less blundered into it, that it did not actually free any slaves, or that it was forced on him by the threat of European intervention.

The author holds, on the contrary, that emancipation, while it did not necessarily take the form Lincoln initially envisioned, was the outcome of a conscious policy he had been pursuing at least since his inauguration.

To attack the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation is to question the progressive historical role of Lincoln. Like the spate of recent attacks on Thomas Jefferson, attempts to diminish the stature of Lincoln aim at sowing skepticism in the possibility of revolutionary change and the very idea of human progress.

In his preface, Guelzo calls Lincoln “America’s last Enlightenment politician.” He notes Lincoln’s affection for the radical freethinker Thomas Paine and Scottish poet Robert Burns. He writes: “If there was any cardinal doctrine among Lincoln’s beliefs, it was his confidence in the inevitability of progress.... His was a typically Enlightenment kind of optimism, coming from a man born at the end of the long Enlightenment era and steeped in the conviction that the American founding ‘contemplated the progressive improvement in the condition of all men everywhere’” (p. 149).

When Lincoln took office in March 1861, he was committed to a policy of containing slavery, not its abolition. To the chagrin of radicals, he opposed any measures affecting slavery in areas where it already existed. However, little more than a year later, he was contemplating a policy more sweeping than that advocated by all but the most extreme abolitionists. Guelzo traces this remarkable shift.

Lincoln’s policy had the virtue of “prudence,” asserts Guelzo, in the classical sense of good judgment: the ability to size up a situation and make the most out of it. At every point, he sought to choose those methods most suitable to the battle against slavery.

The Civil War unfolded according to its own internal logic. Although Lincoln himself, though an opponent of slavery, was not an abolitionist, ultimately the only way in which the aims of the North could be achieved was through the extirpation of slavery. It is to Lincoln’s credit that he was able to grasp this necessity and boldly act in a timely manner.

Guelzo notes that one of Lincoln’s paramount concerns was to keep his actions within strict constitutional bounds. One of his fears was that actions against slavery based on his executive authority might be overturned by the pro-slavery Supreme Court headed by Justice Roger B. Taney. (1)

Only weeks after Lincoln’s inauguration, the Confederacy consummated its break with the union by firing on Fort Sumter in South Carolina, one of the last federal military outposts in the South. Lincoln responded by issuing a call for volunteers to put down the rebellion, signaling the beginning of full-scale civil war.

In the first months of the conflict, Lincoln felt constrained by the need to placate the critical border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware. In these states, slavery was legal, but the state legislatures contained unionist majorities and did not vote to join the Confederacy. Lincoln feared that precipitate action against slavery would strengthen secessionist forces in these areas. Thus, to the dismay of the abolitionists, he presented the war primarily as a struggle to preserve the Union. Lincoln even countermanded a martial law order by General John C. Fremont freeing the slaves of rebel sympathizers in Missouri.

The reluctance of the federal government to officially embrace anti-slavery did not deter slaves from fleeing the plantations and seeking protection within Union lines. As the war progressed, federal soldiers became increasingly reluctant to return runaways to their former owners.

Guelzo notes: “The decision by white soldiers to intervene on behalf of black strangers was so widespread that it becomes easy to miss how utterly extraordinary these interventions were, especially since they were happening in the face of commanders’ direct contrary orders” (p. 79).

As losses and difficulties mounted, it became clear that the issue of slavery would have to be directly addressed. Still determined to proceed on a constitutional basis, Lincoln advanced a proposal in the closing weeks of 1861 for federal support for gradual, compensated emancipation by action of the legislatures of the border states. If these states voluntarily adopted emancipation, Lincoln hoped, the Confederacy would be demoralized, realizing it had no hope of drawing the border states to its side.

Reflecting a significant hardening of public opinion in the North against slavery, in April 1862 the US Congress voted to abolish the institution in the District of Columbia, the one area where it had the undisputed power to do so. However, the idea of freeing slaves, even if fully compensated, met bitter resistance in all of the border states. In Missouri, a plan for gradual emancipation failed in the legislature by a vote of 59-18. The proposal fared no better in Kentucky and Maryland. It even met strong opposition in tiny Delaware, which had a slave population of just 1,300.

Lincoln was taken aback by the intransigence of the border states. Meanwhile, the strength of Confederate resistance was pushing Lincoln toward taking more decisive action.

Lincoln and McClellan

Union armies scored important military successes in the spring of 1862, but by the summer the tide of war seemed to be turning in favor of the Confederacy. Of particular concern to Lincoln was the inertia of General George McClellan, whose Army of the Potomac, after many delays, had advanced to the gates of the Confederate capital Richmond, only to be driven back by a smaller rebel force. It now languished near where it had started, its commander showing no interest in further fighting.

The conflict between McClellan and Lincoln had been growing since Lincoln appointed him to head Union forces in the east. It reflected political conflicts within the North itself. While McClellan was by all accounts a skilled military organizer, he shared the views of Northern Democrats.

Before the Civil War, the Democratic Party was the main party of slavery. It represented an alliance of Southern slaveholders with sections of Northern business most directly tied in with the plantation system. The Democrats split along North/South regional lines before the election of 1860, with the two factions fielding rival presidential candidates. While generally supporting the preservation of the Union, Northern Democrats held that the war had at all costs to avoid impinging on slavery. A significant section of the Democratic Party favored a negotiated solution with the Confederacy that would leave slavery intact. Reflecting this conciliationist position, McClellan had consistently shown a disinclination for aggressive military action.

Guelzo relates that Lincoln decided in July to visit McClellan and his army in Virginia to personally evaluate the situation. To Lincoln’s surprise, the general presented the president with a letter in which he arrogantly lectured the chief of state on the proper conduct of the war. McClellan made no secret of his opposition to emancipation.

He wrote, “Military power should not be allowed to interfere with the relations of servitude, either by supporting or impairing the authority of the master.... [A] declaration of radical views, especially upon slavery, will rapidly disintegrate our present Armies” (p. 106).

It was hardly a secret that McClellan personally despised Lincoln and blamed the civilian administration in Washington for all of the army’s setbacks. Rumors even circulated within the Union staff that McClellan, a Democrat, planned to march on Washington and depose the Republican administration.

The meeting with McClellan appears to have been one of the crucial events that convinced Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Still, he made one more attempt to convince border state representatives to accept gradual emancipation. However, despite a strenuous effort on his part, he was again rebuffed.

With the Union stymied on the battlefield and insubordination growing within the leadership of its largest army, the North faced a turning point. As Karl Marx, at that time living in London, wrote in a letter to his collaborator Frederick Engels, “The long and short of it seems to be that a war of this kind must be conducted along revolutionary lines, while the Yankees have so far been trying to conduct it constitutionally” (Karl Marx to Frederick Engels, Aug 7, 1862; published in The Civil War in the United States, International Publishers, 1971, p. 253).

Lincoln’s announcement

On July 22, 1863, at a cabinet meeting, Lincoln made a startling announcement. On the basis of his power as commander in chief, he proposed to issue a proclamation freeing all slaves in Confederate-held territory as of Jan 1, 1863, if the rebels did not rejoin the Union.

The revolutionary character of this edict was partially masked by the formal legal language in which it was couched. However, its boldness stunned even the most ardent opponents of slavery. As Guelzo comments, Lincoln “would, to lay it out in detail, override the authority of state slave codes; override even the sanctity of property ownership and civil court process; make no promise of compensation unless the rebel states actually laid down arms....” (p. 120).

Salmon Chase, secretary of the treasury, one of the most radical members in the cabinet, raised reservations, expressing the fear that such a proclamation might call forth a general slave uprising across the South. He proposed leaving it to individual Union commanders to proclaim emancipation in their own military districts.

Other cabinet members warned that the proclamation would have a disastrous impact on Republican chances in the upcoming congressional elections. Democrats, they correctly anticipated, would attempt to incite racial fears among white Northerners.

Lincoln made it clear to his cabinet that he had determined to issue the proclamation with or without their consent. However, he did agree to a proposal by Secretary of State William Seward to at least delay its promulgation until Union forces had won a significant battle.

The North had to wait a considerable period, but on September 17, federal forces forced the Confederate army headed by General Robert E. Lee to withdraw at Antietam in Maryland in the bloodiest single day of the Civil War. The battle reversed a tide of Confederate victories and enabled Lincoln to at last issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Having come to the conclusion that emancipation was necessary to preserve the Union, Lincoln underscored his determination to push it with all his force. “Once the Proclamation took effect,” Lincoln remarked to T.J. Barnett, “the character of the war will be changed. It will be one of subjugation and extermination” (p. 156).

The Democrats, as expected, appealed to racial prejudice. For example in New York, the Democratic candidate for governor, Horatio Seymour, denounced emancipation as “a proposal for the butchery of women and children, for scenes of lust and rapine, for arson and murder unparalleled in the history of the world” (p. 166).

In the fall elections, the Republicans suffered a loss of 34 seats in the House of Representatives and several governorships, including New York. However, they managed to retain a majority in the House and actually increased their majority in the Senate.

Guelzo notes that while Lincoln had invoked military necessity to justify emancipation, “It seems never to have entered his head to use his war powers to declare a national emergency and suspend the elections” (p. 167). There can be little doubt that for Lincoln such an action, even if to some extent justified by the danger posed by the strong body of Southern sympathizers in the North, would have conflicted with the main purpose of the war—the defense of the democratic and egalitarian ideals embodied in the US constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

The first act that Lincoln carried out following the November 1862 elections was to dismiss McClellan, who, as noted earlier, bitterly opposed making the abolition of slavery a war aim. McClellan had failed to capitalize on his army’s victory at Antietam. He had dallied for weeks before pursuing the defeated Confederate army into Virginia, even resisting direct orders to advance. Lincoln was so infuriated that, even though McClellan retained considerable personal popularity within the army, he decided to remove him regardless of the consequences.

The North, however, continued to suffer setbacks on the battlefield. McClellan’s replacement, General Ambrose Burnside, led the Union army to defeat at Fredericksburg, Virginia, ordering an ill-considered frontal attack that was repulsed with terrible losses. The continuing stubborn resistance of the South, however, did not weaken Lincoln’s resolve.

As the January 1 deadline for emancipation approached, tensions increased in the North. Some even predicted that Lincoln would back out of his pledge to free the slaves. However, on December 29, Lincoln presented the final draft of the proclamation to his cabinet.

On New Year’s Day, Lincoln signed the final corrected version of the document. He had not slept the previous night.

Guelzo describes the scene: “Some time that afternoon, the two Sewards reappeared with a corrected version of the proclamation and the handwritten draft Lincoln had finished earlier that day. By that time, Lincoln was thoroughly exhausted. ‘I was tired that day,’ he admitted later to New Jersey Congressman James Scovel, but his determination to finish this work was as high as heaven. With the engrossed copy spread before him, Lincoln picked up a pen he had already promised to Charles Sumner as a keepsake and, after dipping it in his inkwell, moved to sign it. His hand and forearm were trembling, and he put down the pen.

“After a moment he tried again, and again the shaking in his enormous bony hand made him set the pen on his desk. ‘I could not for a moment control my arm,’ Lincoln later told his loyal congressional ally Isaac Arnold. ‘I paused and a superstitious feeling came over me which made me hesitate.’ Was this all a mistake? Was the trembling a sign, yet another divine warning, that he had gone too far, had over-reached himself, had taken a step that would end only in disaster? Then he remembered, ‘that I had been shaking hands for hours, with several hundred people.’ As much to assure himself as the Sewards, Lincoln declared that ‘I never in my life felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper.’

“...And he signed ‘slowly and carefully,’ cramping the final ‘m’ in his first name and the loop of the ‘L’ at the beginning of Lincoln. There it was, as clear as it needed to be: Abraham Lincoln. He looked up with a smile ‘and a laugh followed at his apprehension,’ and he remarked quietly, ‘That will do’” (pp. 182-3).

That historic day, enormous crowds gathered in every major Northern city. Guelzo describes the scene based on a contemporary report in the New York Times: “In New York, an enormous ‘grand jubilee’ was organized at the ‘colored’ Shiloh Presbyterian Church for the evening of December 31. ‘By 9 o’clock in the evening the church was filled to overflowing, nearly one-third of the audience being white.’ Speaker after speaker hailed the dawn of emancipation, and when the clock struck twelve, ‘the Chairman read a dispatch from Washington, saying that President Lincoln would issue the Emancipation Proclamation at 12 o’clock M., today.’ The crowd went up in ‘tumultuous cheers, which lasted some minutes, and were followed by three cheers for Abraham Lincoln, three cheers for freedom & c. &c.’” (pp. 183-4).

Crowds of black and white citizens gathered outside the White House, calling for Lincoln to come out. In response, the president came to the window and bowed.

The proclamation’s impact

In the following weeks and months, the legal merit of the proclamation was debated at great length. Many, including Lincoln, feared that the Supreme Court might overturn it on appeal after the conclusion of the war. Others mocked it as a paper bullet that only freed slaves in areas where the federal government had no authority.

However, the impact of the proclamation was immediate and decisive. It changed the dynamic of the war by turning the federal armies into agents of liberation and by giving slaves a direct and vital interest in the defeat of the South.

Despite predictions that it would spark mass desertions, Union soldiers largely accepted the proclamation. Some welcomed it enthusiastically, like a Minnesota corporal who wrote to his wife, “Abraham has gone and done it at last. Yesterday will be a day hallowed in the hearts of millions of people in these United States & also by friends of liberty and humanity the world over” (quoted from For Cause and Comrades, James McPherson, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 121).

Emancipation enormously raised the stature of the Union cause internationally. By turning the Civil War into a war against slavery, Lincoln attracted to the side of the North workers and progressive-minded people all over the world. It greatly complicated the position of those governments—in the first place, that of Great Britain—who were considering intervention on the side of the Confederacy.

In Britain, the textile industry had come to a virtual standstill due to the Union blockade of the South’s cotton exports. Yet, the working people of Britain rebuffed the attempts of demagogues to direct their anger against the North.

Guelzo writes: “Between January and March 1863, a series of mass demonstrations in Manchester and London cheered Lincoln and his proclamation. Lincoln replied that they would have the ‘admiration, esteem and the most reciprocal feelings of friendship among the American people’” (p. 205).

The author answers the question, Did emancipation contribute to the military defeat of the South?, with a categorical “yes.” He writes, “The presidential mandate for freedom triggered a cascade of running away in 1863 that began sweeping off the underpinnings of slavery. ‘The hopes of freedom, kindled by the emancipation proclamation, paralyzed the industrial power of the rebellion’ wrote Secretary of War Stanton in evaluating the cause of Southern defeat. ‘Slaves seized their chances to escape; discontent and distrust were engendered; the hopes of the slave and the fears of the master...shook more and more the fabric built on human slavery’ “ (p. 214).

The proclamation managed to destabilize slavery even where it still technically remained legal. In Missouri and Tennessee, areas exempted from the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves deserted plantations en masse. By January 1864, one Union general declared that slavery was “virtually dead in Tennessee” (p. 215).

“Whatever the fine print of exemption, ‘Negroes (now have) altogether different feelings from those of former times,’ wrote a federal provost marshall in the summer of 1863, ‘a spirit of independence—a feeling they are no longer slaves’” (p. 229).

Slavery was further undermined by Lincoln’s decision, spelled out in the Emancipation Proclamation, to recruit black soldiers into the Union army. The Union eventually recruited 200,000 African-Americans, who served on every front. “ ‘Every Negro regiment of a thousand men presents just one thousand unanswerable arguments against the revocation of the President’s proclamation,’ rejoiced Zachariah Chandler (radical Republican senator from Michigan), and ‘every fight wherein a Negro regiment distinguishes itself by desperate valor...adds fourfold to their number and weight’”(p. 219).

Nevertheless, Lincoln became convinced of the need for a constitutional amendment banning slavery if emancipation was to be secure. Meanwhile, support for such an amendment mounted throughout the North. On April 8, 1864, the Senate passed the Thirteenth Amendment outlawing slavery. It failed, however, to get the required two-thirds majority in the House, due to the obstruction of the Democrats. However, public pressure forced enough Democrats to change their votes so that the House ratified the amendment on January 31, 1865.

At the time of his assassination in April 1865, Lincoln was considering giving the right to vote to the freed slaves. In his last speech, on April 11, 1865, Lincoln expressed dissatisfaction that the newly adopted Louisiana state constitution did not grant the franchise to at least a portion of the black population. Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, heard that speech, which apparently helped firm his resolve to carry out the assassination of the president three days later.

In the final chapter of his book, Guelzo expresses concern over the growth of disenchantment with Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, particularly since the 1960s and the rise of black nationalism. As a recent expression of this tendency, he points to the 1999 book by Lerone Bennett, Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dreams.

Guelzo writes: “The withdrawal from Lincoln by African-Americans has moved in step with the emergence of a profound nihilism in the minds of many Americans, who see no meaning in American freedom and no hope for real racial progress” (p. 248).

Those historians like Bennett who see no democratic content to the Civil War base their analysis on a false and one-sided selection of facts. They tear events out of their historical context in order to deny the obvious progressive content of Lincoln’s actions. Isolated statements by Lincoln, reflecting dominant prejudices of the time, are advanced to claim he was a racist.

The lack of a worked-out conception of history and the inability to deal with contradiction are the hallmarks of such critiques. To understand the significance of emancipation, as well as its limitations, it is necessary to put this event in its historical and international context.

Bennett and other contemporary critics of Lincoln present the conditions currently facing millions of blacks—unemployment, poverty, and lack of access to quality education, health care and housing—as proof of the failure of the Civil War to carry through the democratic revolution in America. In fact, these social ills arise from the conditions inevitably produced by American and world capitalism, and the delay in the victory of the socialist revolution.

The struggle against chattel slavery waged by Lincoln and the North inevitably had limits. In the long run, the democratic ideals that underlay the Emancipation Proclamation could not be realized on the basis of a society dominated by class exploitation.

The rise of monopoly capitalism in the aftermath of the Civil War led not to equality, but rather to ever-deeper inequality. As the present-day assault on democratic rights in the US and all the major industrialized countries shows, democracy is ultimately incompatible with the ever-greater concentration of wealth and the growth of social inequality.

This does not mean that it is correct to draw the cynical conclusion that emancipation was a meaningless gesture. Rather, it signifies that the struggle for equality must be taken to a deeper and more fundamental level. A new revolution in property relations is an urgent necessity, attacking poverty, oppression and inequality by placing finance and industry under the democratic ownership and control of the working population.

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Arab haj pilgrims outraged at Saddam execution on Religious…

Souhail Karam

Arab pilgrims in Mecca expressed outrage on Saturday that Iraqi authorities had chosen to execute former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on a major religious holiday, saying it was an insult to Muslims.

Sunni Arabs at the haj were shocked at Saddam's hanging which followed his conviction for crimes against humanity against Iraqi Shi'ites.

"His execution on the day of Eid ... is an insult to all Muslims," said Jordanian pilgrim Nidal Mohammad Salah. "What happened is not good because as a head of state, he should not be executed."

The Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, marks biblical patriarch Abraham's willingness to kill his son for God. Muslim countries often pardon criminals to mark the feast, and prisoners are rarely executed at that time.

The death could harden hatred for Shi'ite Muslims in Saudi Arabia, a bastion of Sunni Islam whose Islamic orthodoxy -- known as Wahhabism -- regards Shi'ites as virtual heretics.

"This timing was chosen to turn our joy during Eid to sadness. I don't say this for grief over Saddam ... but we must ready ourselves for a new enemy from the East," a user on an Islamist Web site said, referring to Shi'ites in Iran.

Saddam, a Sunni, was admired by many Arabs for standing up to the United States. Haj authorities fear his death could stoke tensions between Sunni and Shi'ite pilgrims.

Eid falls during the 5-day haj, when more than 2 million Muslims from around the world follow ancient rites at the Islamic Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

"I don't want to believe it. Saddam cannot die. Is this the good news we get on our Eid?" said Saudi Nawaf al-Harbi.

But many Shi'ites regard Saddam's death as a gift from God.

"Congratulations, this is like two Eids! I hope God will not have mercy on him," Iraqi Nadir Abdullah said amid a group of jubilant pilgrims.


Security was already heightened for this haj season because of sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shi'ites in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

Haj pilgrims dress in simple white garments that can disguise differences of sect and nationality. Many come from outside the Middle East and on Saturday most were preoccupied with the next stage of the rites, the symbolic stoning of the devil at the Jamarat Bridge.

But many felt Saddam's execution would only worsen sectarian violence in Iraq.

"This is unbelievable. Things will not improve in Iraq now that Saddam is dead," said a Syrian pilgrim, Abu Mostafa. "There will be more violence and more Arab anger toward the West."

For Iraqi Kurds like Aladdin Suleiman Mohammad, the execution was a "fair decision" regardless of timing, though it dashed hopes of justice for crimes against Kurds.

Saddam's second trial on charges of war crimes against Iraqi Kurds in what is known as the "Anfal" or "Spoils of War" campaign, had been due to resume next month.

But many Arabs said if anyone should be put on trial it was the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government that backed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which overthrew Saddam.

"They are American collaborators, those in Iraq. They should be executed, not Saddam Hussein." said Mohammad Mousa, on haj from Lebanon. "Saddam Hussein is the most honorable of all of them. He is the most honorable Arab. They will go to hell, he will go to heaven."

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Sex slavery plagues Romania and Bulgaria

Justyna Pawlak

Anca thought girls who spoke on television about being sold into sex slavery were paid to invent such stories to boost tv show ratings.

That was until she answered a friend's invitation to join her in Germany and work as a dishwasher in a town near Hamburg.

When she arrived, her passport was taken away and her captors forced her to work as a prostitute for their clients.

Three months later she slid down two floors on a drainpipe, ran several kilometres (miles) through a forest and finally found a taxi that took her to a police station and safety.

"The girl who invited me won her freedom by bringing in two other girls," said Anca, a quiet 20-year-old from a Romanian village. She asked for her real name to be withheld to protect her from her captors.

As they prepare to join the European Union, Romania and Bulgaria are struggling to contain human trafficking and smuggling, particularly in drugs, which is endemic in the Black Sea region that will soon become the EU's eastern border.

Every year, thousands of women such as Anca, some as young as 13, are kidnapped or lured by promises of well paying jobs or marriage and sold to gangs who lock them up in night clubs and brothels or force them to work on the streets.

Observers say even more women could be at risk after the two countries join the EU in January and traffickers seek to increase business by taking advantage of easier access to western Europe, where most of the victims end up.

"There is a lot of exploitation in Romania and I am sure the numbers will get bigger," said Gina-Maria Stoian, Anca's case manager and the director of The Adpare Foundation, a Romanian organization that helps victims of human trafficking.

"Already there is sex tourism around the Black Sea."


Romania and its southern neighbor Bulgaria are among 11 countries listed by the United Nations as top sources of human trafficking, based on reported numbers of victims.

Other countries in the region, the poorest in Europe, are also hotbeds for organized crime and illegal trade such as Moldova and Ukraine.

Poverty, disillusionment with the region's slow reforms after the collapse of communism, and a fraying fabric of society following decades of forced repatriation of many communities help gangs flourish and find easy victims.

"There is poverty, dysfunctional families, mentality. The girls have no roots, no self-esteem," said Iana Matei, who runs Reaching Out, a Romanian charity that helps trafficking victims.

"The traffickers now look for 13 to 14 year olds. They are easier to control. They are trained and brain-washed here. They see they can get little help from police, the system. And they think they can make money and become independent," she said.

Geography is also a problem. Bulgaria and Romania are part of the "Balkan route" for transporting heroin from Afghanistan -- which produces the vast majority of the world supply of poppies -- to Western Europe. Eighty percent of Afghani heroin reaches Western users through this route.

"Romania will be the final border, the final frontier of the EU," said Cristian Duta from Bucharest's SECI Center, which supports trans-border crime fighting in southeastern Europe. "It will be the first step for anyone who wants to get into the EU."


Some observers worry that Romania and Bulgaria's membership of the EU could aid the spillover of illicit trade that plagues the Black Sea region into the west.

Bucharest and Sofia governments say they are doing all they can to combat trafficking and abuse. Romania has won praise from Brussels for reforming border controls, combating endemic corruption and improving police cooperation.

But the EU has been more cautious on Bulgaria, rapping Sofia for not doing enough to fight rampant organized crime.

"Our borders are a 100 percent secure," said Dumitru Licsandru, who runs Bucharest's state agency against human trafficking.

The agency's data shows about 1,400 Romanian victims of trafficking, including sexual exploitation and forced labor, were identified in the first nine months of this year, while some 200 perpetrators were arrested.

Sofia's interior ministry's organized crime unit said 4,000-5,000 Bulgarian women are trafficked a year.

"We cannot deny the fact the problem of trafficking exists," said interior ministry spokeswoman Katya Ilieva, adding that the numbers had dropped compared to previous years.

Observers say official figures on the numbers of people trafficked show only the tip of the iceberg.

Aid workers say police work is not enough. Governments need to train judges and prosecutors, better protect victims and fight corruption which still allows traffickers to take women through borders or keep underage girls on the streets.

They also need to change the mentality in the traditional Balkan societies which often blame victims for their plight.

"My girls all knew about trafficking. But they thought it only happened to whores," said Matei, whose charity assists girls caught up in prostitution rings.

(Additional reporting by Kremena Miteva in Sofia)

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Take Control of Your Dating Life - Learn To Be Honest.

Why Honesty Is Key

Who said dating was easy?
AOL Personals is here to help you get your love life back on track!

Each week, through Valentine's Day, AOL Personals will show you simple rules and tips to date by. Don't let another Feb. 14 go by dateless. With advance planning and a little encouragement, you'll be well on your way to meeting other eligible singles.

Rule No. 2
Identify What You Really Want From Love

Everybody's got a list of ''mate must-haves.'' Those are the things that you absolutely, positively, MUST HAVE in order to even give a guy or girl the time of day. Write it all down so you'll know the minute you've come across a candidate, otherwise, you'll be shooting in the dark.

Rule No. 3
Recognize Your Imperfections And Work With Them

Look, no one wants to admit they have any fatal flaws, but there's a very good chance you do. Acknowledge your imperfections, since you probably aren't likely to eliminate them at this point in your life, and learn to work with them. You're only human and it's really the perfect person you need to watch out for.

Rule No. 4
If You're Not Over It, Then You're Probably Not Over It

Maybe you think you're ready to date, but you're not quite done mourning the last relationship that didn't work. If that's true, take the time to get over him or her. Otherwise, you're just wasting your time and your dates. The flip side is that dating can be therapeutic so be honest with your date if you're rebounding.

Rule No. 5
Don't Talk Yourself Into Repeating Past Mistakes

Dating is an opportunity to get to know what we definitely don't want in a partner, but we generally forget what we've learned once the next love comeJustify Fulls along. As much as it feels right, it probably isn't if it's what broke up your previous relationship.

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Thousands pay respects to James Brown


Associated Press Writer

Even in death, James Brown can move a crowd. Thousands of people danced and sang in the streets outside the Apollo Theater in a raucous celebration Thursday of the music legend's life as his body was displayed on the stage where he made his 1956 debut.

Music thumped from storefronts and portable stereos. Brown's wails and growls even blasted inside the auditorium as fans marched quietly, single-file past his open gold coffin.

Brown lay resplendent in a blue suit, white gloves and silver shoes. Flanking the casket were giant photographs of the singer performing. An arrangement of red flowers on a white background spelled out his nickname: Godfather.

It was maybe the first time the hardest-working man in show business graced a stage in stillness, but that didn't stop his fans from partying.

"This is a celebration of his life," said 41-year-old Bryant Preudhomme of suburban New York. "James Brown gave you heart. He lifted you up when you were down. He gave you hope."

Brown, who died of heart failure Christmas morning at 73, lay in repose in the theater that helped catapult him to fame and was the setting for a thrilling live album in 1962.

At an evening program for family and close friends, the Rev. Al Sharpton said it was difficult to believe that a man who was "so much alive" was dead.

"How could someone with such energy and life really ever be gone?" said Sharpton, a close friend of the Godfather of Soul for three decades.

Sharpton credited Brown with inspiring countless musicians in all genres and with refusing to become a conformist.

"He became a superstar on his own terms ... he never bent, buckled or bowed," Sharpton said. "James Brown wasn't just No. 1, he changed the beat of music all over the world."

Earlier, Brown's body was carried to the theater through the streets of Harlem on a majestic white carriage drawn by two white horses.

Hundreds of fans followed behind the caisson singing the chorus of Brown's anthem, "Say it Loud — I'm Black and I'm Proud."

To many, Brown was more than just an energetic performer. As Norman Brand of Harlem waited for the procession to begin, the 55-year-old recalled hearing "Say it Loud" for the first time in his native Alabama.

"It really changed the attitude of most black people. It was like a wake-up call. Before that, if you were called black, it was like an insult," Brand said. "Just one song and one word can change a whole situation."

Mourners came from far and wide to attend the first in a trio of services that will keep Brown almost as busy in death as he was in life.

His casket left a Georgia funeral parlor Wednesday for an all-night drive to New York. It arrived at Sharpton's Harlem headquarters just before noon Thursday, and was quickly transferred to the carriage for a 20-block procession to the theater.

Sharpton accompanied the body from Georgia and walked behind the carriage Thursday. He stood at Brown's side for hours during the viewing.

On Friday, a private ceremony is planned at a church near Augusta, Ga. A second public viewing of the singer's body will be held Saturday at the James Brown Arena in Augusta.

Some fans arrived at the Apollo as early as midnight for a chance to pay their respects, and more than 100 were inline outside the theater by 8 a.m.

"He seemed like family, a friend of mine," said Brenda Harper, who was the first to arrive, shortly after midnight. Fourteen years ago, she said: "I jumped on the stage and he danced with me. I danced with the Godfather that day."

Musicians and celebrities slipped in to pay their respects throughout the day: boxer Joe Frazier, band members including bass player Fred Thomas, and Ali-Ollie Woodson, who was a singer with the Temptations in the 1980s and again in the early 1990s.

Relatives passed through, too, some wiping away tears.

"He was my uncle, but he acted like a big brother to me," said Brown's nephew Earl Swindell, 54, who acted as a pallbearer. "I loved him, though. I was right there with him till the end. He meant a lot to me."

Brown, who lived in Beech Island, S.C., continued to work to the end, dying less than a week before he was to perform New Year's Eve in Manhattan at B.B. King's blues club. Chaka Khan, the Grammy Award-winning rhythm and blues performer, will play instead.

He had also talked recently about returning to Harlem, friends said.

"He told me two weeks ago to book the Apollo for two days," said his friend and manager, Charles Bobbit. "He said, `Let's play two days at the Apollo, and we'll see the lines again around the block.'"

"The Apollo was always his home because that's where it all started," said his agent, Frank Copsidas, "and the people of Harlem were his family."


Associated Press writers Marcus Franklin and Adam Goldman contributed to this report.

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AP Poll: Bush, Britney get thumbs-down


Associated Press Writer

Bad guy of 2006: President Bush. Good guy of 2006: President Bush. When people were asked in an AP-AOL News poll to name the villains and heroes of the year, Bush topped both lists, in a sign of these polarized times.

Among entertainment celebrities, Oprah Winfrey edged out Michael J. Fox as the best celebrity role model while Britney Spears outdistanced Paris Hilton as the worst.

Bush won the villain sweepstakes by a landslide, with one in four respondents putting him at the top of that bad-guy list. When people were asked to name the candidate for villain that first came to mind, Bush far outdistanced even Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader in hiding; and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who is scheduled for execution.

The president was picked as hero of the year by a much smaller margin. In the poll, 13 percent named him as their favorite while 6 percent cited the troops in Iraq.

On the question of celebrity role models, a pop singer's bad behavior claimed worst honors.

When asked to choose from a list of names, nearly three in 10 adults, or 29 percent, bestowed the honor of worst celebrity of the year on Spears.

The 25-year-old pop singer and mother of two young sons recently filed for divorce from Kevin Federline, her husband of two years. She then followed with highly publicized nights out with party girls Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, including photographic evidence of Spears wearing no underpants, which raised questions about her fitness as a parent.

Spears apologized on her Web site, saying she probably went "a little too far" with her newfound freedom.

Second-worst celebrity billing went to Hilton, 18 percent. The 25-year-old celebutante was arrested for drunken driving in Los Angeles in September while, she has said, she was on a late-night hamburger run.

Mel Gibson, 50, was third-worst celebrity with 12 percent, surely the result of his anti-Semitic tirade at police in Malibu, Calif., during his arrest on suspicion of drunken driving. He later apologized and said he harbored no animosity toward Jews.

In the best celebrity role model category, 29 percent of adults chose talk-show host Winfrey.

The philanthropist and entertainment mogul contributed $40 million toward the establishment of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, which is scheduled to open next month.

Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, finished second with 23 percent. He recently was criticized by conservatives for political ads that showed his body shaking as he urged support for a ballot measure promoting stem cell research and for the Democratic Senate candidate over the Republican.

Actor George Clooney, who's been advocating for refugees in the war-ravaged Darfur region of Sudan, finished third with 12 percent.

Eight percent chose Angelina Jolie over boyfriend Brad Pitt, 2 percent. Newlyweds Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes tied at 2 percent.

Rounding out the worst celebrity role model category were Cruise, 9 percent; former "Seinfeld" star Michael Richards, 6 percent; Nicole Richie, 5 percent; Federline, 4 percent; Lohan, 3 percent; and Jolie, 2 percent.

Jolie and Cruise were the only celebrities to land on both the best and worst lists. But more people named Jolie best celebrity role model, and more people named Cruise worst.

Bush was the choice of 43 percent of Democrats for villain, and 27 percent of Republicans for hero.

The telephone poll of 1,004 adults was conducted Dec. 19-21 by Ipsos, an international polling firm. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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Katie Rees' Sexuality Analyzed By A Feminist Studies Scholar

Okay, enter Katie Rees. Who is she? Katie was born in St. Petersburg, Florida in August 1984. That means she’s currently 22. That means she is, at the moment of this writing, a rather young woman. Okay, Katie held the title of Miss Nevada USA. She earned this distinction because she is very beautiful according to the conventional beauty aesthetic our American culture has created, and, sadly… this beauty aesthetic is rapidly propagating: largely thanks to your local neighborhood Hollywood anorexia bulimia pussy-flashing nip-slipping pill-popping money-wasting celebrity trash culture.

Yes, friends, sorry to get a bit harsh on Christmas day here, but, it really does get tiring. Or, perhaps because it is Christmas day, I am feeling a little more jagged and self-righteous. But, you know, it’s not about self-righteousness! It’s about you and I taking ownership of our world and asking: “How can we make this place a saner, safer, and healthier place for us and our children?” That’s the real question. There are just so many harmful ideals out there… and so many eating disorders… but, back to Katie…

Okay, so, Ms. Rees was Miss Nevada USA, and, she was set to compete for the very prestigious Miss USA 2007, and, many felt that Katie had a superb chance of taking top honors. Well, none of that was to be… In fact, Katie’s glory turned out to be short-lived. You see, she actually only seized the Miss Nevada USA title in Las Vegas on October 8, 2006. So, yes, Katie’s run was quite short indeed. I hope she enjoyed the brief time that she held the title. I mean that sincerely. I feel for the girl. I always feel for women who end up getting railroaded and fucked-over because they have a God-given, natural, human sexuality.

It really gets to the core of what I’m so often ranting against. The way endless violence, bloodshed, and war is so readily acceptable in our sick society. The way depictions of violence and harm to the temple of the Holy Ghost is condoned, but, let a woman’s nipple peek out, and, all hell breaks loose.

And, it makes one wonder, just how on earth did the female nipple get to be on the same level as Satan?

Really, can somebody explain this? You’d think that nipples weren’t something that we were born with… well, ultimately it originates with a lot of Puritan nonsense and our popular perversion of Christianity. The religious version that the far-right is delivering, believe me… this isn’t Christ’s message. I may get a little off-tangent here this Christmas day, but, I read my Bible pretty closely, and, I just don’t remember the sermon that condones the death penalty and gratuitous war while frowning upon stem cell research.

Okay, Katie Rees… on December 20 of this year, some Katie Rees photos turned up… the setting was some, no doubt, dump of a slutty Florida night club, and, in some of the pictures Katie’s beautiful tits and nipples are in glorious plain view, and, in some other pictures she’s sucking on some hottie’s nipples, kissing another woman, and simulating some good old-fashioned pussy-chomping… yummy! And, oh what a beautiful ass Katie has! The only thing wrong and criminal would be if she didn’t show off God’s wonderful work to the world!

Okay, so all of this Katie controversy was obviously right behind all of the Tara Conner controversy. Maybe that got people a little extra hyped-up. Or, perhaps because of the bisexual implications of Katie’s photographs. But, you know, bisexuality, of course, is just as natural as regular heterosexual sexuality, and, some, of course, argue that everybody has some degree of natural bisexuality in their psychological and intangible make-up; but, that’s a little too complicated to get into at the moment!

Okay, to make a long story a bit shorter, after the pictures got floated, the Miss Universe Organization stuck it’s grubby hand out and snatched the crown from Katie’s sweet and human and natural and naturally libidinous head! And why! Because she’s a woman with a pussy who gets a little horny.

So, Katie lawyered up which is what any smart young woman would do. She was fortunate to retain attorney Mario Torres. And, Katie soon made this statement:

“These images were from an isolated incident during my teenage years, long before my consideration to compete in the Miss USA program. While I take full responsibility for the photographs…This incident does not reflect who I am or who I plan to be. I am so sorry this happened.”

Now, I can’t be sure whether Katie really feels that way or not … We can probably feel pretty certain that she wanted to retain the title which she earned.

But, you know, it makes me sad that Katie even had to release a statement like that. The truth is that Katie Rees didn’t do anything wrong. That’s the statement that I’m not seeing in the news sources or blogs that I’ve come across (obviously a small percentage of the blogs out there). But, it remains, she committed no crime, and, all that a story like this ultimately does is again reinforce just what a fucked-up relationship the general American public has with both sexuality and their bodies.

What is Katie’s crime? That she was a young woman with a normal healthy sex drive. That she was a young woman who knew she had a beautiful body and who had a damn good time showing it off in an inspired, no doubt, bout of Dionysian-styled debauchery?

Katie you didn’t do anything wrong. You are just another victim of our sexual pathology.

Hang in there and best of luck to you in the future.

Yours truly,

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The 25 BEST things ever said, by anyone

Yesterday, in Top 20 all time stupid Republican quotes, brought to us by Mr. Liberal, we had a lot of fun.

To extend it, I thought we could list our FAVORITE quotes. It was hard to limit it to 25, but mine are below the fold (the order is pretty arbitrary, I like all of these a lot, but number 1 is special).

  1. If two men agree on everything, you may be sure that one of them is doing the thinking.

-- Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973)

(I have seen this attributed to Truman, as well)

  1. It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

-- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

  1. Music is the pleasure that the human soul encoutners from counting without knowing that it is counting.

-- Leibniz

  1. To give pleasure to a single heart by a single act is better than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.

-- Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

  1. When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.

-- Desiderius Erasmus (1465-1536)

  1. It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.

-- Epictetus (c.55-c.135)

He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice.

-- Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

  1. As I would not be a slave, so I will not be a master.

Abraham Lincoln


No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

-- John Donne (1572-1631), Meditation XVII

  1. If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.

-- Noam Chomsky (b. 1928)

  1. My Country, right or wrong" is a thing no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, "My mother, drunk or sober

-- Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936)

  1. This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man.



The gods are amused when the busy river condemns the idle clouds

Rabindranath Tagore

  1. Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

-- Niels Bohr (1885-1962)


Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.

-- William Pitt (1759-1806)

  1. Pain shared is lessened, joy shared, increased

Spider Robinson

The good old days. I was there. Where was they?

Moms Mabley 1894-1975

  1. All models are wrong but some are useful.

-- George Box


The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" but "That's funny..."

-- Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)

  1. That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.

Hillel (link in 5)

  1. If I am not for myself, who is for me?

If I am for myself alone, what am I?
If not now, when?

  1. Those who would give up a little freedom to get a little security shall soon have neither

Benjamin Franklin

  1. If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let each man march to his own rhythm, however measured, or far away

H. D. Thoreau

There is nothing so horrible in nature as to see a beautiful theory murdered by an ugly gang of facts

Benjamin Franklin

and, my favorite


Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls, when we all ought to be worried abut our own souls, and other people's bellies

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Frightening picture of Pope Benedict XVI at Christmas midnight mass

POPE Benedict has ushered in Christmas at midnight mass, saying the image of the baby Jesus born in a manger should remind everyone of the plight of poor, abused and neglected children the world over.

The 79-year-old Benedict, marking the second Christmas season of his pontificate, celebrated the mass for more than 10,000 people in St Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Thousands of others watched on large screens outside on a clear, starry night and millions more tuned in via television or radio round the world.

"The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children, particularly those who suffer and are abused in the world, the born and the unborn," the Pope said in his homily, making a reference to abortion.

"Towards children who are placed as soldiers in a violent world; towards children who have to beg; towards children who suffer deprivation and hunger; towards children who are unloved. In all of these it is the Child of Bethlehem who is crying out to us. It is the God who has become small who appeals to us."

Just as the shepherds of Bethlehem were called by an angel to seek the child lying in the manger, modern man was called to listen to the message of the baby Jesus, the Pope said.

"Let us pray this night that the brightness of God's love may enfold all these children. Let us ask God to help us do our part so that the dignity of children may be respected. May they all experience the light of love, which mankind needs so much more than the material necessities of life," he said.

The mass is being broadcast on 73 television stations in 47 countries, with another 11 news outlets buying rights to images or rebroadcasts, according to the Vatican.

The mass in Latin, the universal language of the Roman Catholic Church, was to be punctuated by readings in Italian, English, French, German, Spanish and Polish. The traditional prayers of the faithful were to be done in Portuguese, Arabic and the Philippine language Tagalog.

Later today, the Pope will pronounce the traditional Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) message from the balcony of Saint Peter's, to an even greater audience watching 102 television stations in 63 countries.

On Sunday the Pope used his pre-Christmas Angelus blessing to underline the "value of every human life'' amid controversy over the death of Italian right-to-die campaigner Piergiorgio Welby.

"The birth of Christ helps us to be aware of what human life is worth, the value of every human life, from his first moment to his natural decline,'' the Pope said.

Mr Welby, who died on Wednesday, had a civil funeral in Rome on Sunday after Italy's Roman Catholic church refused religious rites for the muscular dystrophy victim.

Mr Welby's activism has sparked a debate on euthanasia in overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Italy, where it is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, although patients are legally allowed to refuse care.

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Who is Osama bin Laden?

CBC News Online

On March 7, 2004, as the snows melted in the mountains of Afghanistan and U.S. President George W. Bush eyed a November election, the United States launched Operation Mountain Storm in the rugged border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to find the elusive Osama bin Laden.

The United States said the operation, based at their headquarters in Kandahar, would unfold in secret across eastern and southern Afghanistan. Spokesperson Lt.-Col. Bryan Hiferty gave few details when he confirmed on March 13 that Operation Mountain Storm was underway, but he did tell the Associated Press, "The leaders of al-Qaeda and the leader of the Taliban need to be brought to justice – and they will be."

The U.S. also sent the elite special forces outfit, Task Force 121, a joint unit of commandos and CIA officers, to the border region to find bin Laden and the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Muhammed Omar. Intelligence sources have told several U.S. media organizations that Task Force 121 was key in tracking down the former president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and after that success, the task force was sent to Afghanistan.

Osama bin Laden
There is one big difference between Saddam, and bin Laden and many of his al-Qaeda and Taliban followers. While Saddam spent most of his time in luxury, choosing which palace to sleep in each night, bin Laden and his men have years of experience dodging a previous enemy, the Soviet Union, which occupied Afghanistan until it was driven out in the 1980s.

Bin Laden was still at large in January 2006. Many experts believe that bin Laden remains in hiding somewhere in the mountains near Khowst, an area that European intelligence sources have told the media is still controlled by the Taliban. It is an area of old tribal loyalties, where local leaders have always been fiercely independent from any ruler of Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Pakistani security forces have also stepped up operations in the border area. Reports say that President Perez Musharraf was reluctant to stir up the hornets' nest of tribes and Islamic fundamentalists in the region, until a couple of failed attempts to assassinate him.

There have been accusations both in the American media and from Europe that while the United States painted bin Laden as public enemy number 1, the Americans "neglected" Afghanistan when its focus turned to Iraq in March 2003, a charge top U.S. officials vehemently deny.

There are also persistent reports that the U.S. invasion of Iraq changed al-Qaeda's focus, with bin Laden and his senior advisors moving resources from Afghanistan to Iraq because it was a good place to fight "the American crusaders," according to a Taliban source quoted by Newsweek magazine.

A new generation

The Washington Post has reported that there is a new generation of al-Qaeda, led by Osama's eldest son, Saad bin Laden, 24, who is said to be in Iran along with Saif el-Adel, al-Qaeda's chief of military operations, and Abullah Ahmed Abdullah, al-Qaeda's chief financial officer. The three and their followers are, according to the Post, surrounded by an elite Iranian security force, loyal to hard-line Iranian Islamists, who act both as guards and jailers, both preventing attack or arrest and restricting their movements.

However, communication between father and son is apparently still possible, using written messages carried by courier and sometimes even satellite phones, which according to some sources, are hard for U.S. signals intelligence to pinpoint in the rugged mountains.

According to the Washington Post, intelligence sources believe that the orders and organization for two suicide bombings, in Saudi Arabia and Morocco in May 2003, came through Saad bin Laden, rather than directly from his father. Despite American efforts, or perhaps because of them, Osama bin Laden is a hero to many people in the Middle East and South Asia. Bazaars and marketplaces are full with bin Laden merchandise including posters, video and audio tapes, and T-shirts.

The life of Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden has been called America's most wanted terrorist suspect at least since the bombing in 1998 of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The U.S. State Department said bin Laden is "one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world."

His code name, "The Contractor," is maybe the best indicator of bin Laden's link to terrorism. Officials in many countries including the United States say that bin Laden's money has paid for attacks in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. His personal wealth is estimated at $250 million US.

Osama bin Laden is believed to be the youngest of 24 brothers in a family that came from Yemen and built up one of the largest construction companies in the Arab world, Bin Laden Group, an empire based in the Saudi city of Jidda that made its fortune in building projects for the Saudi royal family.

As a teenager and a young man, Osama bin Laden was reported to be a typical Saudi of his generation, a bit of a playboy who used his family fortune to have fun outside of Saudi Arabia in Europe and the Gulf states.

The invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979 changed bin Laden's life. Like many young Islamists, he went to Afghanistan to help fight the invaders, to take part in the jihad against the infidel Soviets.

Bin Laden apparently received training from the CIA, which was backing the Afghan holy warriors – the mujahedeen – who were tying down Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

He gave the family money and his own expertise gleaned from the family business to MAK, Maktab al-Khidimat, which recruited young Muslim men from around the world. He also used his fortune to help buy equipment for the Afghan resistance.

In 1984, he helped Abdullah Azzam, founder of the Pakistani "Office of Services," establish training camps across the border in Afghanistan. The Office of Services' goal was to recruit and train Muslim volunteers. Bin Laden provided financial support and handling of military affairs. Two years later, in 1986, Bin Laden established his own training camp for Persian Gulf Arabs called al Masadah, or the Lion's Den.

In 1988, as the Soviet occupation faltered in Afghanistan, bin Laden turned to a global crusade. He founded the group called al-Qaeda, Arabic for The Base. According to one report from the CIA in 2001, al-Qaeda had at least 5,000 trained militants, who created cells in 50 countries. The purpose of these camps was to take militants from around the world and shape them into an international network that would bring all Muslims under a militant version of Islamic law.

In 1989, the collapsing Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan and bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia to join his family's construction company. He kept up his contacts with al-Qaeda.

In 1991, bin Laden moved the headquarters of al-Qaeda to Sudan, where a militant Islamic government had come to power. In 1993, a bomb exploded in an underground parking garage at the World Trade Center in New York, killing six people and injuring another 1,000. The attack was linked to al-Qaeda.

In 1994, Saudi Arabia stripped bin Laden of citizenship for alleged terrorist links and his family disavowed him, at least publicly.

In 1996, bin Laden was forced to leave Sudan for Afghanistan following intense pressure from the U.S. on the government. While in Sudan, bin Laden met a man who was probably a key ally, Imad Mugniyah, a Lebanese said to be a leader of Hezbollah, wanted by the United States for kidnappings and killings during the civil war in Lebanon in the 1980s. By September of that year, the militant Taliban, capitalizing on the divisions in Afghanistan, which was torn by civil war between the mujahedeen factions, took over the country and imposed strict Islamic rule. Bin Laden's son Saad was with Osama when he returned to Afghanistan.

By 1998, bin Laden had teamed up with an Egyptian militant, Ayman Zawahiri, to form "The International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders," which acted as an umbrella group for international militant groups. It issued a religious order saying it was a religious duty of Muslims to kill Americans anywhere possible. The group in effect declared war against the West, but the declaration was ignored by most of the media and discounted by many in the intelligence community. In October 1998, the U.S. Justice Dept. indicted bin Laden for his alleged role in ordering the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

In 1999, bin Laden moved to the village of Farmifadda, Afghanistan, and later settled in a compound near Jalalabad. In October 2000, suicide bombers attacked the U.S.S. Cole in Aden harbour in Yemen. Bin Laden was suspected of ordering the attack.

On September 11, 2001, members of al-Qaeda hijacked American passenger planes and attacked New York and Washington. Soon after the attack, bin Laden and his associates fled Jalalabad for the mountains. On Oct. 7, the United States and its allies began the attack on Afghanistan and the Taliban regime quickly collapsed.

In December 2001, U.S. intelligence pinpointed bin Laden in a cave complex at Tora Bora. U.S. special and regular forces and Afghan allies attacked the caves, but bin Laden successfully slipped through their fingers and disappeared into the mountains.

In his own words:

In an interview with ABC correspondent John Miller on May 28, Bin Laden made the following comment on the fatwa issued calling Muslims to kill Americans regardless of whether they are civilians or military:

"Allah ordered us in this religion to purify Muslim land of all non-believers… After World War II, the Americans became more aggressive and oppressive, especially in the Muslim world. American history does not distinguish between civilians and military, and not even women and children. They are the ones who used the bombs against Nagasaki. Can these bombs distinguish between infants and military? America does not have a religion that will prevent it from destroying all people."

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Iraq, Afghanistan - Christmas on the front line

For our forces, families are often a distant dream. We present some of the soldiers' letters home and, here, Raymond Whitaker reports on Christmas at war, 2006.

Today, somewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan, at least one Christmas dinner is likely to be held. It will be a curious mixture of khaki camouflage and silly hats, bits of tinsel and no-nonsense weaponry.

British forces on operational duties have to celebrate Christmas when they can, and for some, that will not be on Christmas Day. Even for those who do not have to go on patrol or guard duty, or form part of the rapid-reaction force, which is on standby to deal with emergencies, tomorrow will not be a day of leisure.

This morning, troops will be able to hear a special Christmas message from the Queen, in which she tells them: "Your courage and loyalty are not lightly taken... and I know that yours is a job which often calls for great personal risk. This year men and women from across the armed forces have lost their lives in action in both Iraq and Afghanistan."

Troops in both theatres will be hoping to hear from their families, who get an extra 30 free minutes in phone calls at Christmas, courtesy of what is called the "operations welfare package". Their loved ones in uniform will probably have a parcel from home to open - for six weeks before Christmas, families can send packages weighing up to 2.2kg without charge. At this time of year, the Postal Courier Squadron in southern Iraq deals with 1,000 bags of parcels a night.

All of Britain's 25,000 troops abroad, wherever they are, will also benefit from a tradition which has its origins in 1914. Two years ago the tradition was revived, and tomorrow each soldier, sailor, airman or woman overseas will receive a red decorated box with £35-worth of goodies inside. The contents are secret, but last year the box had some novelties, snacks and toiletries, and this year, according to Captain Gary Hedges, a military spokesman in Basra, it is "bigger and better".

Also aiming to achieve a surprise will be the cooks in places like Helmand's Camp Bastion and Basra province's Shaibah logistics base. They will be up as early as 3am tomorrow to prepare something special for the day, the nature of which is always a closely guarded secret. At one base in Helmand this Christmas, they received a surprise of their own: celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay flew in to join them in cooking a turkey dinner with all the trimmings for 800 troops. In some of the more out-of-the-way of dangerous bases, the catering staff will have to improvise with whatever they get their hands on locally. But they will all endeavour to produce something as close as possible to a traditional Christmas feast.

"Every cookhouse has a Christmas tree," said Capt Hedges. This is something of a surprise to anyone who has been to Helmand or Basra province, since there is scarcely a stick of vegetation in either region. "Oh no, they're not real," he continued. "They are made of wire and plastic. They come as part of the welfare package."

Much effort is expended to make the day a little bit different: there will be concerts, talent shows and pantomimes, at which the humour will be far from subtle, if not scurrilous; sports matches, or, as in Basra last year, a fun run in fancy dress. Many of the runners wore khaki camouflage Santa hats. There will be a church service for those who want it. Near Basra a year ago, Geordie fusiliers worshipped in a tent they christened "St James's Church". But the nature of operations usually prevents all the members of a unit assembling at the same time: at Basra Air Station, for example, there will be two sittings for Christmas dinner, to accommodate those on duty.

In some regiments there is a tradition of officers and senior NCOs waiting on the men on Christmas Day - "and having Brussels sprouts chucked at them", according to one soldier. But in forward operating bases all ranks eat in the same cookhouse, or canteen - the Royal Marines insist on calling it the "galley", even though in Helmand they are hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean - standing in the same queue to get their food from a self-service counter. And tomorrow, like every other day, they will have to keep their weapons to hand while they eat.

One element that most would consider essential to the festivities will be missing: with few exceptions, the troops in conflict zones will have to wash down Christmas dinner with nothing stronger than orange squash. No alcohol at all is available at the bases in Helmand province, where Britain deployed a force of some 4,000 earlier this year, and the rules have recently been tightened in southern Iraq, where around 7,200 troops are stationed. Under some previous commanders, off-duty troops were permitted a maximum of two cans of beer a day, while officers at Basra Air Station could patronise the popular "Buzz Bar", where it was possible to order a glass of Australian cabernet sauvignon. No more, however: the bar has closed, and it will be a lucky British soldier anywhere in Iraq who gets even a sniff of lager. "We are a dry brigade and division," Capt Hedges explained. "Battle group commanders can request a two-can rule, but it is very much an exception, only for Christmas." Few appear to have sought such an concession. The truth is, on the front line, it is pretty much business as usual on Christmas Day.

"Where local commanders can make the day special, they will," said Lieutenant-Colonel Nick Richardson of the Ministry of Defence. But everything, religious services included, is subordinate to operational requirements, and in Iraq or Afghanistan there is no chance of any First World War-style truce for Christmas. Many soldiers welcome the routine in any case, because it keeps homesickness at bay. "This is my first Christmas away from home, and I feel pretty bad about it," one young private told me in Basra last year. "On Christmas Day I'll do anything to keep busy, just to take my mind away from not being with my family." Flight-Lieutenant Jacqueline Hackett of the RAF said: "In my experience, it's not too gloomy. Everyone's in the same boat. Of course you'd want to be with your family, but it's not bad being with your mates."

Most of the troops in forward operating bases will wake up in camp beds in unheated plastic tents, and at this time of year, early-morning temperatures in Helmand or Basra province are little different from those in Britain. Many will be sleeping fully clad in fleeces and combat trousers, even putting one sleeping bag inside another.

In cramped Helmand bases like Lashkar Gah and Gereshk, the fitness-obsessed Marines - a member of another service described their arrival in autumn as "like having 2,000 PT instructors turn up" - will repair to the well-equipped gyms, also under plastic, to work off the extra calories from Christmas dinner. In surroundings where privacy is at a premium, pounding away on a treadmill is one way to lose yourself.

These days every ordinary soldier or Marine has his own iPod or MP3 player. Personal DVD players are also standard, with war movies curiously popular. The bases are copiously supplied with free red-top tabloids, lad's mags and periodicals devoted to cars and gadgets; I did not see much evidence of more demanding reading matter, but it is pointless to expect too much reflectiveness in an environment where sudden death can be a moment away.


Hello little lad...

How are you? Daddy would love to get on a plane and come home, but I've got a very important job to do, so I will be here a little longer than expected. But don't worry: I think of you all the time and what you are getting up to with Mummy. I hope you are still looking after Mummy. Remember, she is carrying your little brother or sister. So at times Mummy will be tired and a little grumpy. That's only because she is carrying baby. Not to worry, Xmas will be here soon and you will be with Nanny and Grandad, so that will be fun. What about the weather you have had? Mummy says that all your toys have been blown on to the next door's garden. Sorry I haven't wrote for a while but Daddy has been busy getting things put into nets and then watching them up to helicopters. It's a little scary because the bottom of the helicopter is just above your head, about the length of your arm and a little more. I'm not too busy at the moment. I'm just looking for work to do. I have a little to do today then I will go for a run. There is a big sand dune all around camp so I run around that listening to music. Anyway, I'm going to dream you and picture you. Love you

Colour Sgt Jason Longmate

Age: 32

Rank: Quarter Master Green Jacket, 2 Battalion light infantry

Base: Edinburgh.

Serving in Afghanistan

CS Longmate had been planning to spend Christmas at his home in Edinburgh with his two-year-old son, Austin, and his wife, Ellen, who is pregnant. But at the beginning of November he was told he would be spending Christmas with troops in Afghanistan. They had arranged for all the family to stay but instead Ellen and Austin have travelled down to Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, to stay with Ellen's parents and sister. Ellen said: "We weren't expecting to be without Jason. You are always half expecting it, but it makes it harder that it is over Christmas. I came to my Mum's, so that I didn't have to think about it so much."

Ellen is a co-ordinator for the Army Families Federation and has been married to Jason for nine years. "Jason will be working on Christmas Day. I think they will have Christmas dinner but probably not much more. He is a bit down about being away from us, and he knew some of those that have died, so it brings it all home to him. I know he isn't on the front line, but he is at risk when he is re-supplying helicopters."

Dear Mum, Dad, Hannah and Grandad Burns...

Just a little note to let you all know that I am thinking of you all so much. Christmas won't be the same without you. Thank you all so much for my early Christmas Day back in November. I am still telling everybody about it now. Still working hard over here. The company are keeping me occupied as usual. The busier I am though the faster the days seem to go. Thank you all for my gifts. I will make sure I open them on Christmas morning. I have been good and not even sneaked a peek at them, which probably surprises you. Also thank you for all my warm winter socks and PJs. Can't believe it gets so cold in Iraq. I even wear the pink bobble hat in the office. My thoughts are always with you alland the whole family and friends.

Massive hugs and kisses

Love Ali

L/cpl Ali Burns, 'A' Company, 2nd Battalion, The Light Infantry, Basra, Iraq

Hi there...

I hope you are well. I am really going to miss you this Christmas!

I will miss the family getting together and celebrating together. It will be work as normal for me.

It's the weekends I hate the most as I like to go and socialise with my mates down the pub and play football for my local team, Steelers FC (all the best for the rest of the season, lads).

Most of all I will miss the smiles on the faces of my niece and nephew when they open their presents on Christmas morning.

Sadly, this year I will have to put up with sand rather than snow, but I wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

25065498 Cpl Michael Young, 19, Light Brigade, Basra, Iraq

To Mum, Lisa, darling Verity and my family...

It's strange to be here at Christmas. I'm not normally one for excessive celebrations at this time of year, but listening to the standard anthems being trotted out does threaten to heighten the sense of dislocation from normal life that we get while we're here. In one sense, it's just another day on operations; but then, you catch sight of the little pile of presents in your locker that I'm looking forward to opening. Morale is uniformly good. We're learning new skills daily, and it's great to be seeing the positive effect our efforts are having. The officers and SNCOs will be performing duties over Christmas in order to give the lads a few hours of down time. We really are fine here. I hope you have a lovely time - I'll try to phone at some point during Christmas Day - and I'll see you in a few months. Verity, you looked so sweet dancing in your first Christmas play at nursery; I really enjoyed the video.

Lots of love

Paul/Daddy xxx

Cpt Whillis OC Tigris Troop, 19 Light Brigade Headquarters and Signal Squadron (209), Basra, Iraq

Hi there Nina...

Usually at this time of year it is hard to keep up with all the parties and festiveness that surrounds us. Not this year.

I hate the fact that I am going to miss or have already missed these parties. I am really going to miss being at home and seeing your faces when you get a present you didn't really want but are still pleased to receive anyway.

I look forward to coming home next year and spending some time with you and the family, and playing rugby with my mates, and having more than a few beers in the bar afterwards!

I wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year.

25078207 Cpl Michael Jones, Hq 19 Light Brigade, Basra, Iraq

Hey, darlin' how's things?

You been in work again tonight?

It was brilliant speakin' to u last night - well worth stopping up for! even tho I got called out two hours after gettin' in to bed! It's got to be feelin' mega Christmasie at home now!! Miss the atmosphere around people this time of year!! Just gonna try and make the most of it out here so, knowin' the lads, we will have a laugh either way!!

I will be thinkin' of ya on the day and u will have to wait for your prezzie!!

write you 2morrow!

lv ben xxxxxx

Spr Ben Punter, 28 Eng Reg Op Herick in Afghanistan

Dear Eleanor...

How's my darling daughter? I have been hard at work as usual and spent all morning in the local town. We saw a lot of small children who were very interested in what we were doing.

They should probably have been at school rather than talking to soldiers.

Now I have some time to write you a letter to tell you a little but about where we are living. It isn't like Baghdad, where Daddy lived in a house. Instead, there are a series of boxes called Portakabins. Over the top of each group of boxes there is a roof shaped like a tortoise shell, which keeps the sun off. I have a little cabin to myself, a bit like a rabbit hutch, with a bed, a table and a wardrobe. It is quite comfortable, but it is a little cold in the mornings before I put the heater on. I was surprised by how cold it is in the night-time, although not as cold as Catterick!

It's always very noisy, with vehicles moving around outside and the constant noise of generators or, when it is a bit warmer, air-conditioning units. Sometimes we can hear helicopters coming in to land nearby.

I hope you are looking after Mummy and playing nicely with your brothers. Mummy told me that you are also enjoying riding your bicyle - make sure you don't fall off! I think about you often and before I go to sleep I pretend that I am giving you a cuddle and kissing you goodnight, just like at home.

With lots of love,


Lt Col Andrew T Jackson, Commanding Officer, The Yorkshire Regiment, 1st Battalion, The Prince Of Wales's Own, Iraq Sunday 26 November

Hey, Mother...

Sorry I haven't written you for a long time. I have been extremely busy here. I will tell you all about it in six days, I am sooo looking forward to coming home.

I really need a big hug. I have got some stories for you, and I got some good pictures on a disk for you, nothing bad tho'. I can't wait to see the family again. I've had soo many close calls in the past three weeks, it's getting sporty now. Anyway I am on guard now so I will have to go. Give my love to the family. I love you. Take care and I will see you in six days.

Phillip xxxxxx

Private Phillip Hewett, 21, 1st Battalion Staffordshire Regiment

Private Hewett never made it home. He was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, along with Leon Spicer and Richard Shearer

A letter no one ever wanted to open...

Private Leon Spicer, 26, was with 1st Battalion Staffordshire Regiment. He and two colleagues were killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol in a convoy of Land Rovers in Al Amarah, in southern Iraq, on 16 July 2005. He joined the army in 2003. His commanding officer said after his death that Pte Spicer had overcome an earlier leg injury and regained his fitness, showing "tremendous grit and determination". Pte Spicer, of Tamworth, wrote to his parents, Bridie and Christopher, a letter which was to be opened in the event of his death. Mrs Spicer, 62, said: "It was so sad, but at the same time such a comfort. It was lovely to know there was so much love there." He was buried with full military honours at Wilnecote Cemetery.

Pte Leon Spicer, 1st Battalion, Staffordshire Regiment

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