Seek order, peace – not war

TBy Scott Laderman

today it is incumbent upon Americans to remember not only those horrifically murdered last Sept. 11, but also those needlessly killed in the year since by a presidential administration ostensibly acting in their name. While solemnly mourning those who lost their lives in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania and Afghanistan, we must also consider those future victims who the United States will undoubtedly kill should the country – as the Bush administration is demanding – expand its ineffective and odious “crusade” for “infinite justice.”

One year later, it is essential that Americans honestly evaluate just what the “war on terror” has achieved. Following the attacks on the East Coast, I and others maintained that justice had to be sought in accordance with international law and human rights principles if the United States was serious about minimizing the threat of future anti-American violence. The utterance of such heresies generated a flood of shameful invective: Anti-war activists were denounced as “terrorist sympathizers,” “cowardly little bitches” “leftist, pinko bed-wetting faggots” or worse. For suggesting that the United States lacked the legal and moral authority to invade Afghanistan, analysts were derided as spewing un-American hogwash that only this country’s most self-hating “enemies within” were capable of conceiving. In a tremendous abuse of historical reality, those advocating warfare as a logical means of eradicating future terror were heralded as “realists;” critics, meanwhile, were dismissed as hopeless “idealists” or, as one particularly challenged correspondent informed me, of “operat(ing) in the fantasy world concocted by sixties radicals coked off their gourds.”

Yet one year after the attacks that spurred the “patriots’ ” frightening bloodlust, the U.S. campaign has – even as adjudged by its proponents – been largely a strategic failure. “Classified investigations of the al-Qaida threat now under way at the FBI and CIA have concluded that the war in Afghanistan failed to diminish the threat to the United States,” The New York Times reported this summer in an unusually forthright article quickly consigned to the Orwellian “memory hole.” “Instead,” official intelligence analysts observed, “the war might have complicated counterterrorism efforts by dispersing potential attackers across a wider geographic area.” Moreover, while Washington has seemed fixated on the fate of Osama bin Laden, senior U.S. officials believe that a “group of mid-level operatives has assumed a more prominent role in al-Qaida and is working in tandem with Middle Eastern extremists across the Islamic world,” the paper continued. And then comes the inevitable conclusion destined to send the “patriots” into a frenzy: “This new alliance of terrorists, though loosely knit, is as fully capable of planning and carrying out potent attacks on American targets as the more centralized network once led by Ö bin Laden.” So much for “realism.”

The assessment is strikingly similar to that recently reached by a U.N. monitoring panel evaluating the Bush administration’s asset seizure program – a program which, it must be noted, has often seemed like little more than the random targeting of anyone with an Arabic-sounding name. Echoing the findings of the U.S. analysts quoted above, the panel deduced that “al-Qaida continues to have access to considerable financial and other economic resources,” characterizing the outfit as “alive and well and poised to strike again how, when and where it chooses.”

To be sure, Washington publicly disputed the U.N. document; the “war on terror” has, after all, become the White House’s raison d’être. However, in this instance the United States graciously refrained from bombing the panel’s offices, as was done to the Al-Jazeera bureau in Kabul when it so rudely transmitted news unfavorable to American domestic morale. Washington also did not go so far as to threaten to shoot the U.N. associates, as a group of American soldiers did to a Washington Post journalist “attempting to report on a U.S. missile strike that may have killed a group of civilians in eastern Afghanistan.” That last quote is from the Committee to Protect Journalists, the distinguished organization that recently identified Afghanistan as the third-worst place in the world – after the West Bank and Colombia – to be a reporter in 2001. “Cowardly little bitches” may detect a pattern in those


Fortunately for journalists, they at least have the option of leaving. For millions of ordinary Afghans, Human Rights Watch intoned several days ago, “the United States and its allies have failed to provide adequate security throughout (Afghanistan) for the rebuilding and reconstruction of (their country). This short-sighted U.S. strategy has allowed regional warlords to consolidate their power and undermine Afghanistan’s new government, and seen human rights abuses – particularly against women – continue.” One beneficiary of this lawlessness has been Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – a “grim figure Ö who once destroyed half of Kabul while battling to take control of the city,” The New York Times observed last week. Curiously, however, the paper failed to mention that Hekmatyar was previously a favored CIA asset, using “the agency’s arms, logistics, and support to become the region’s largest drug lord,” according to Asian scholar Alfred McCoy. But as the CIA assistance flowed during the years of bin Laden and his allies being celebrated as “freedom fighters” by the Reagan administration, which included a number of individuals now employed by George W. Bush, it has been necessary to expunge this record from historical memory.

Yet these American notions of “freedom” have a way of sticking around. For example, a news article in the Times over the weekend asserted – apparently with absolute seriousness – that “(to) the extremists (in the Arab and Muslim world), it does not seem to matter that America, under Democratic and Republican administrations, has defended freedom.” Substitute a few words and this is the sort of drivel one might have expected in an article on Soviet foreign affairs in Pravda twenty years ago. While telling us nothing about the realities of U.S. foreign policy, it does, however, disclose much about the operative assumptions of this country’s newspaper of record. Consider the statement’s implications. Taking the Times at its word, it seems that the defense of “freedom” is inspiring Washington’s present support for the ruling military dictatorship in Pakistan. It was apparently “freedom” that last month led the State Department to request the dismissal of a federal lawsuit alleging that the Indonesian armed forces, representing the interests of Exxon Mobil, have tortured and murdered innocent Acehnese civilians; a trial, the Bush administration asserted, “could harm U.S. economic and political interests in Asia,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Similarly, it seems that “freedom” has motivated the continuing U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia, a state in which torture is “systematic,” Amnesty International alleges. Likewise, it is “freedom” behind the de facto U.S. insistence that the Palestinian people must continue to suffer, as they have for over thirty years, under a crippling and unlawful Israeli occupation.

It will be a tragedy indeed if critical assessments of the past year are not incorporated into this national day of mourning. While it is crucial that we remember those killed on Sept. 11 and since, it is equally imperative that we soberly contemplate the forms of justice the people of the United States hope to attain.

Along these lines, those interested in a perhaps more “realistic” means of addressing anti-American terror – one seeking to develop a sane world order rooted in human dignity and human rights – are encouraged to attend today’s public memorial observance, sponsored by dozens of Minnesota peace organizations and religious institutions, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in Loring Park, just west of downtown Minneapolis.

Scott Laderman’s columns appears biweekly. He welcomes comments at [email protected]. Send comments to [email protected].