White House to highlight Taliban treatment of women
By Kelly Wallace
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House will kick-off a campaign Friday to highlight the Taliban's treatment of women, CNN has learned, including a radio address Saturday by Laura Bush -- the first time a first lady has delivered the entire weekly presidential radio address.
Her address, to be taped from the first family's Crawford, Texas, ranch, will stress that "brutal oppression" of women represents the Taliban's and al Qaeda's "vision of government for the world," said a senior administration official.
The first lady is also expected to point out that other Muslim countries condemn the Taliban's degradation of women and give women important freedoms, the official said.
Mrs. Bush believes in the "importance of educating the American public about the lives these women have had to lead," said another senior official close to the first lady. It is an "issue that resonates with the first lady, especially as the mother of two daughters."
White House officials say that even though the Taliban appear to be on the run, they believe it is "more important than ever" to get the message out about the regime's treatment of women to influence a post-Taliban Afghanistan.
"Afghan women had important freedoms before the Taliban," said Jim Wilkinson, White House deputy communications director. "The Taliban took these freedoms away, and by highlighting the oppression of the Afghan women now it makes it more likely that these women will win important freedoms under the new government."
The campaign begins Friday when Mary Matalin, counselor to Vice President Cheney, and Paula Dobriansky, Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, will take part in a conference call with bipartisan House and Senate lawmakers and the female members of Bush's cabinet, a senior official said.
The public campaign gets under way Saturday with the first lady's radio address and the release of a new State Department report documenting the rights and freedoms Afghan women had before the Taliban took power, and how these rights and freedoms were "systemically removed" once the Taliban took control, a senior official said.
The president, the vice president and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are also expected to participate in events, and Cherie Blair, wife of the British prime minister, is expected to deliver a speech in London next week. The administration is also reaching out to Mavis Leno, wife of comedian Jay Leno, who, for the past several years has been trying to focus the world's attention on the plight of Afghan women.
President Bush gave a preview of what his message will be during a question-and-answer session with high school students at Crawford High School in Texas Thursday, his final public U.S. appearance with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When asked how he thinks the fall of the Taliban government will affect women's rights, the president said, "There's no question the Taliban is the most repressive, backward group of people we have seen on the face of the Earth in a long period of time, including ... how they treat women."
On Monday, Secretary of State Colin Powell will drop by briefings delivered by Dobriansky to male and female Muslim leaders and foreign policy experts. Also Monday, Torie Clark, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, will brief women serving as chief executive officers of the country's leading corporations. Tuesday, Dobriansky and Karen Hughes, the president's counselor, will participate in a conference call with women editors and publishers.
The administration's 24-hour war room, called the "Coalition Information Center," which is linked to offices in London and Islamabad, is overseeing the campaign. Cheney dropped by a strategic meeting about the campaign Thursday, a senior official said. The center also sent a cable to all U.S. embassies in central Asia urging them to "communicate the message about the Taliban's oppression," said the official.
In the days ahead, the administration is also expected to focus on the Taliban's and al Qaeda's involvement in drug trafficking.
"I don't know if you know this or not," Bush said during his high school appearance," but the Taliban government and al Qaeda ... use heroin trafficking in order to fund their murder," he told the students. "And one of our objectives is to make sure that Afghanistan is never used for that purpose again."
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