AfghanistanUnited KingdomUSAZIO-NAZI

Strange Crusaders: Diary of the Afghan War

BY JEFFREY ST. CLAIR – ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Ground Zero, World Trade Center, September 12, 2001. Photo: NOAA.

September 12, 2001

The onslaughts on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are being likened to Pearl Harbor and the comparison is just. From the point of view of the assailants the attacks were near miracles of logistical calculation, timing, courage in execution and devastation inflicted upon the targets.

The Pearl Harbor base containing America’s naval might was thought to be invulnerable, yet in half an hour 2000 were dead, and the cream of the fleet destroyed. This week, within an hour on the morning of September 11, security at three different airports was successfully breached, the crews of four large passenger jets efficiently overpowered, the cockpits commandeered, navigation coordinates reset.

In three of the four missions the assailants attained successes probably far beyond the expectations of the planners. As a feat of suicidal aviation the Pentagon kamikaze assault was particularly audacious, with eyewitness accounts describing the Boeing 767 skimming the Potomac before driving right through the low-lying Pentagon perimeter, in a sector housing Planning and Logistics.

The two Trade Center Buildings were struck at what structural engineers say were the points of maximum vulnerability. The strength of the buildings derived entirely from the steel perimeter frame, designed – so its lead architect said only last week – to withstand the impact of a Boeing 707. These buildings were struck full force Tuesday morning by Boeing 767s, with fuel tanks fully loaded for the long flights to the West Coast. Within an hour of the impacts both buildings collapsed. By evening, a third 46-story Trade Center building had also crumbled.

Not in terms of destructive extent, but in terms of symbolic obliteration the attack is virtually without historic parallel, a trauma at least as great as the San Francisco earthquake or the Chicago fire.

There may be another similarity to Pearl Harbor. The possibility of a Japanese attack in early December of 1941 was known to US Naval Intelligence and to President Roosevelt. Last Tuesday, derision at the failure of US intelligence was widespread. The Washington Post quoted an unnamed top official at the National Security Council as saying, “We don’t know anything here. We’re watching CNN too.” Are we to believe that the $30 billion annual intelligence budget, immense electronic eavesdropping capacity, thousands of agents around the world, produced nothing in the way of a warning? In fact Osama bin Laden, now prime suspect, said in an interview three weeks ago with Abdel-Bari Atwan, the editor of the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, that he planned “very, very big attacks against American interests.”

Here is bin-Laden, probably the most notorious Islamic foe of America on the planet, originally trained by the CIA, planner of other successful attacks on US installations such as the embassies in East Africa, carrying a $5 million FBI bounty on his head proclaiming the imminence of another assault, and US intelligence was impotent, even though the attacks must have taken months, if not years to plan, and even though CNN has reported that bin-Laden and his coordinating group al-Qaida had been using an airstrip in Afghanistan to train pilots to fly 767s.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, when hijacking was a preoccupation, the possibility of air assaults on buildings such as the Trade Center were a major concern of US security and intelligence agencies. But since the 1980s and particularly during the Clinton-Gore years the focus shifted to more modish fears, such as bio-chemical assault and nuclear weapons launched by so-called rogue states. This latter threat had the allure of justifying the $60 billion investment in Missile Defense aka Star Wars. One of the biggest proponents of that approach was Al Gore’s security advisor, Leon Fuerth, who wailed plaintively amid Tuesday’s rubble that “In effect the country’s at war but we don’t have the coordinates of the enemy.”

But the lust for retaliation traditionally outstrips precision in identifying the actual assailant. By early evening on Tuesday America’s national security establishment were calling for a removal of all impediments on the assassination of foreign leaders. Led by President Bush, hey were endorsing the prospect of attacks not just on the perpetrators but on those who might have harbored them. From the nuclear priesthood is coming the demand that mini-nukes be deployed on a preemptive basis against the enemies of America.

The targets abroad will be all the usual suspects: rogue states, (most of which, like the Taliban or Saddam Hussein, started off as creatures of US intelligence). The target at home will of course be the Bill of Rights. Less than a week ago the FBI raided Infocom, the Texas-based web host for Muslim groups such as the Council on Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Association for Palestine, and the Holy Land Foundation. Palestinians have been denied visas, and those in this country can, under the terms of the Counterterrorism Act of the Clinton years, be held and expelled without due process. The explosions of Tuesday were not an hour old before terror pundits like Anthony Cordesman, Wesley Clark, Robert Gates, and Lawrence Eagleburger were saying that these attacks had been possible “because America is a democracy” adding that now some democratic perquisites might have to be abandoned? What might this mean? Increased domestic snooping by US law enforcement and intelligence agencies; ethnic profiling; another drive for a national ID card system.

Tuesday did not offer a flattering exhibition of America’s leaders. For most of the day the only Bush who looked composed and control in Washington was Laura, who happened to be waiting to testify on Capitol Hill. Her husband gave a timid and stilted initial reaction in Sarasota, Florida, then disappeared for an hour before resurfacing at Barksdale airbase in Shreveport, Louisiana, where he gave another flaccid address with every appearance of bring on tranquilizers. He was then flown to a bunker in Nebraska, before someone finally had the wit to suggest that the best place for an American president at time of national emergency is the Oval Office.

Other members of the cabinet were equally elusive. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has managed to avoid almost every site of crisis or debate was once again absent from the scene, in Latin America. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld remained invisible most of the day, even though it would have taken him only a few short steps to get to the Pentagon pressroom and make some encouraging remarks. When he did finally appear the substance of his remarks and his demeanor were even more banal and unprepossessing than those of his commander in chief. At no point did Vice President Cheney appear in public. The presidential contenders did expose themselves. John McCain curdled the air with threats against America’s foes, as did John Kerry, who immediately blamed bin-Laden and who stuck the knife firmly into CIA director George Tenet, citing Tenet as having told him not long ago that the CIA had neutralized an impending attack by bin-Laden.

Absent national political leadership, the burden of rallying the nation fell as usual upon the TV anchors, all of whom seem to have resolved early on to lower the emotional temper, though Tom Brokaw did lisp a declaration of War against Terror. Tuesday’s eyewitness reports of the collapse of the two Trade Center buildings were not inspired, at least for those who have heard the famous eyewitness radio reportage of the crash of the Hindenburg zeppelin in Lakehurst, New Jersey in 1937 with the anguished cry of the reporter, “Oh the humanity, the humanity”. Radio and TV reporters these days seem incapable of narrating an ongoing event with any sense of vivid language or dramatic emotive power.

The commentators were similarly incapable of explaining with any depth the likely context of the attacks; that these attacks might be the consequence of the recent Israeli rampages in the Occupied Territories that have included assassinations of Palestinian leaders and the slaughter of Palestinian civilians with the use of American aircraft; that these attacks might also stem from the sanctions against Iraq that have seen upward of a million children die; that these attacks might in part be a response to US cruise missile attacks on the Sudanese factories that had been loosely fingered by US intelligence as connected to bin-Laden.

In fact September 11 was the anniversary of George W. Bush’s speech to Congress in 1990, heralding war against Iraq. It was also the anniversary of the Camp David accords, which signaled the US buy-out of Egypt as any countervailing force for Palestinian rights in the Middle East. One certain beneficiary of the attacks is Israel. Polls had been showing popular dislike here for Israel’s recent tactics, which may have been the motivation for Colin Powell’s few bleats of reproof to Israel. We will be hearing no such bleats in the weeks to come, as Israel’s leaders advise America on how exactly to deal with Muslims. The attackers probably bet on that too, as a way of making the US’s support for Israeli intransigence even more explicit, finishing off Arafat in the process.

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“Freedom,” said George Bush in Sarasota in the first sentence of his first reaction, “was attacked this morning by a faceless coward.” That properly represents the stupidity and blindness of almost all Tuesday’s mainstream political commentary. By contrast, the commentary on economic consequences was informative and sophisticated. Worst hit: the insurance industry. Likely outfall in the short-term: hiked energy prices, a further drop in global stock markets. George Bush will have no trouble in raiding the famous lock-box, using Social Security Trust Funds to give more money to the Defense Department. That about sums it up. Three planes are successfully steered into three of America’s most conspicuous buildings and America’s response will be to put more money in missile defense as a way of bolstering the economy.

September 20, 2001

What moved those kamikaze Muslims to embark, some many months ago on the training that they knew would culminate in their deaths as well of those (they must have hoped) of thousands upon thousands of innocent people? Was it the Koran plus a tape from Osama bin Laden? The dream of a world in which all men wear untrimmed beards and women have to stay at home or go outside only when enveloped in blue tents? I doubt it. If I had to cite what steeled their resolve the list would surely include the exchange on CBS in 1996 between Madeleine Albright and then US ambassador to the United Nations and Lesley Stahl. Albright was maintaining that sanctions had yielded important concessions from Saddam Hussein.

Stahl: “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And you know, is the price worth it?”

Albright: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price ? we think the price is worth it.”

They read that exchange in the Middle East. It was infamous all over the Arab world. I’ll bet the September 11 kamikazes knew it well enough, just as they could tell you the crimes wrought against the Palestinians. So would it be unfair today to take Madeleine Albright down to the ruins of the Trade Towers, remind her of that exchange, and point out that the price turned out also to include that awful mortuary. Was that price worth it too, Mrs. Albright?

Mere nit-picking among the ruins and the dust of the 6,500? I don’t think so. America has led a charmed life amid its wars on people. The wars mostly didn’t come home and the press made as sure as it could that folks including the ordinary workers in the Trade Towers weren’t really up to speed on what was been wrought in Freedom’s name. In freedom’s name America made sure that any possibility of secular democratic reform in the Middle East was shut off. Mount a coup against Mossadegh in the mid-1950s, as the CIA did and you end up with the Ayatollah Khomeini 25 years later. Mount a coup against Kassim in Iraq, as the CIA did, and you get the Agency’s man, Saddam Hussein.

What about Afghanistan? In April of 1978 an indigenous populist coup overthrew the government of Mohammed Daoud, who had formed an alliance with the man the US had installed in Iran, Reza Pahlevi, aka the Shah. The new Afghan government was led by Noor Mohammed Taraki, and the Taraki administration embarked, albeit with a good deal of urban intellectual arrogance on land reform, hence an attack on the opium-growing feudal estates. Taraki went to the UN where he managed to raise loans for crop substitution for the poppy fields.

Taraki also tried to bear down on opium production in the border areas held by fundamentalists, since the latter were using opium revenues to finance attacks on Afghanistan’s central government, which they regarded as an unwholesome incarnation of modernity that allowed women to go to school and outlawed arranged marriages and the bride price. Accounts began to appear in the western press along the lines of this from the Washington Post to the effect that the mujahedeen liked to “torture their victims by first cutting off their noses, ears and genitals, then removing one slice of skin after another.”

At that time the mujahedeen were not only getting money from the CIA but from Libya’s Moammar Q’addaffi who sent them $250,000. In the summer of 1979 the US State Department produced a memo making it clear how the US government saw the stakes, no matter how modern minded Taraki might be or how feudal the Muj. It’s another passage Nat might read to the grandkids: “The United States’ larger interest would be served by the demise of the Taraki-Amin regime, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan. The overthrow of the DRA [Democratic Republic of Afghanistan] would show the rest of the world, particularly the Third World, that the Soviets’ view of the socialist course of history being inevitable is not accurate.”

Taraki was killed by Afghan army officers in September 1979. Hafizullah Amin, educated in the US, took over and began meeting regularly with US embassy officials at a time when the US was arming Islamic rebels in Pakistan. Fearing a fundamentalist, US-backed regime in Afghanistan, the Soviets invaded in force in December 1979. The stage was set for Dan Rather to array himself in flowing burnous and head for the Hindu Kush to proclaim the glories of the Muj in their fight against the Soviet jackboot. Maybe I missed it, but has Dan offered any reflections on that phase of his reportorial career?

Well, the typists and messenger boys and back-office staffs throughout the Trade Center didn’t know that history. There’s a lot of other relevant history they probably didn’t know but which those men on the attack planes did. How could those people in the Towers have known, when US political and journalistic culture is a conspiracy to perpetuate their ignorance? Those people on the Towers were innocent portions of the price that Albright insisted, in just one of its applications, as being worth it. It would honor their memory to insist that in future our press offers a better accounting of how America’s wars for Freedom are fought and what the actual price might include.

Chinook helicopter near Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Photo: Captain Brian Harris, U.S. Army.

September 25, 2001

We’re passing from appalling human loss and suffering, live in the front yard of the media capital of the world, to the traditional parameters of imperial retribution.  It won’t be bombs that settle the issue, and the Pentagon has small appetite for any substantial foray into Afghanistan on the ground. Cash will be the lubricant of victory, and since unlimited supplies of cash are available to buy support for the US among the Afghan factions, it may not be long before the Taliban are chased out. The only inauspicious factors from Bush’s point of view are that the bribing will be the province of the CIA, whose record for screw-ups is ample, and the intermediaries will be Pakistani military intelligence, which sponsored the Taliban’s triumph and which has its own agenda, which is not one inclined to peace and reconstruction for Afghanistan.

Much has been made of the doom awaiting martial forays into Afghanistan, the British debacles of the nineteenth century and the Soviets’ in the 1980s. But the British were exceptionally stupid and the Russians didn’t suffer unduly. Across ten years they lost some 13,000 in Afghanistan. A Russian colonel, veteran of the campaign, recently disclosed to Patrick Cockburn that about 33 per cent of these mortalities were due to accidents (tanks falling off roads and so forth), which brings down the number of Russians actually killed by the Muj to under a thousand a year. (Another numerical perspective is afforded by the fact the Russians killed at least five times as many Chechens in the days of the conquest of Grozny, hailed by Clinton, as died in the World Trade Center, and here we have Bush arm in arm with his soul-bro, Putin, who knows that in these days of world solidarity against terror he can do what he wants to the Chechens without arousing even the pretense of moral reproof.)

The Muj, including bin Laden, held out against the Russians and in the end forced their withdrawal because they enjoyed the limitless support of the Pakistani military and of the US, in the form of the CIA running the largest covert op in its history at a cost of $3.5 billion. Who have the Taliban got? A starving, discontented domestic population and external enemies on all sides, wallowing in promises of huge American dispensations. Their original sponsors in the Pakistani military have far larger satisfactions than temporary loss of a client regime in Kabul before a new one can be cobbled together. Pakistan is now certified as OK to be a member of the nuclear club, with its debts rescheduled.

The globe-spinners talk about bin Laden’s dangerous appeal to Muslims around the world chafing at the despotism and corruption of their leaders, the occupation of Jerusalem by the Jews and their US protector, the starving of Iraqi children, but if the Arab world is so much of a tinder box, why didn’t bin Laden try to apply the match there? All talk of fragile Araby notwithstanding, the regimes there have been astoundingly stable across years of political turmoil.

October 25, 2001

The left is getting itself tied up in knots about the Just War and the propriety of bombing Afghanistan. I suspect some are intimidated by laptop bombardiers and kindred bullyboys handing out white feathers and snarling about “collaborators” and being “soft on fascism.” A recent issue of The Nation carried earnest efforts by Richard Falk and an editorial writer to mark out “the relevant frameworks of moral, legal and religious restraint” to be applied to the lethal business of attacking Afghans. We felt sorry for Falk as he clambered through his moral obstacle course. This business of trying to define a just war against Afghanistan is what C. Wright Mills used to call crackpot realism.

War, as the United States has been fighting it in Iraq and Yugoslavia, consists mostly of bombing, intended to terrify the population, and destroy the fabric of tolerable social existence. Here’s how a couple of Pentagon briefers described the infliction of terror, as reported by Jonathan Landay of the San Jose Mercury News on October 17: “‘If you’re on the ground and get hit with a bomb from a B-52 it’s over,’ the officer said. ‘But if you’re there and you hear an AC-130 coming, with its Gatling gun going, the experience can be even more frightening.’” Marine Corps Lieut. Gen. Gregory Newbold provided further context: “The psychological effect was intended to convince the Taliban leadership that they have made an error and their calculus someday will be in their interests to see that.”

Those AC-130s were over Kabul. What else can the consequence be but to terrify and kill civilians, whose anguish may or may not impinge upon the “calculus” of the Taliban leaders? Remember, too, that bombs mostly miss their targets. Colonel John Warden, who planned the air campaign in Iraq said afterwards that dropping dumb bombs “is like shooting skeet. 499 out of 500 pellets may miss the target, but that’s irrelevant.” There will always be shattered hospitals and wrecked old folks’ homes, just as there will always be Defense Department flacks saying that the destruction “cannot be independently verified” or that the hospital or old folks’ home were actually sanctuaries for enemy forces, for “command and control.”

How many bombing campaigns do we have to go through in a decade to recognize all the usual landmarks? What’s unusual about the latest onslaught is that it is being leveled at a country where, on numerous estimates from reputable organizations, around 7.5 million people were, before September 11, at risk of starving to death. On September 16 the New York Times’ Islamabad correspondent, John Burns, reported that the United States “demanded elimination of truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan’s civilian population.” In early October the UN’s World Food Program was able to resume shipments at a lower level, then the bombing began and everything stopped once more, amid fierce outcry from relief agencies that the United States was placing millions at risk, with winter just around the corner.

On October 15 the UN’s special rapporteur, Jean Ziegler, said in Geneva that the food airdrops by the same military force dropping bombs undermined the credibility of humanitarian aid. “As special rapporteur I must condemn with the last ounce of energy this operation called snowdropping [the air drops of food packagers]; it is totally catastrophic for humanitarian aid.” Oxfam reckons that before September 11, 400,000 were on the edge of starvation (“acute food insecurity”), 5.5 million “extremely vulnerable” and the balance of the overall 7.5 million at great risk. Once it starts snowing, 500,000 will be cut off from the food convoys that should, were it not for the bombing, have been getting them provisions for the winter.

So, by the time Falk was inscribing the protocols of what a just war might be, the United States was already engineering civilian deaths on an immense scale. Not, to be sure, the ghastly instant entombment of September 11, what Noam Chomsky has called “the most devastating instant human toll of any crime in history, outside of war,” but death on the installment plan: malnutrition, infant mortality, disease, premature death for the old and so on. The numbers will climb and climb, and there won’t be any “independent verification” such as the Pentagon demands.

Let’s not be pettifogging and dwell on the point that nothing resembling proof of bin Laden’s responsibility for the September 11 attack has yet been put forward either by the United States nor its subordinate in Downing St. Disregarding the fact that the Bush administration now seems to be substituting Mullah Omar and the Arch Devil (thus perhaps somehow trying to make all-out war on Afghanistan more explicable). Let’s accept the so far unproven charge that the supreme strategist of the September 11 terror is Osama bin Laden. He’s the Enemy. So what have been this Enemy’s objectives? He desires the widest possible war; to kill Americans on American soil; to destroy the symbols of US military power; to engage the United States in a holy war. The first two objectives the Enemy could accomplish by themselves; the third required the cooperation of the United States. Bush fell into the trap and Falk, The Nation and some on the left have jumped in after him.

There can be no “limited war with limited objectives,” when the bombing sets matches to tinder from Pakistan and Kashmir to Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem. “Limited war” is a far less realistic prospect than to regard September 11 as a crime, to pursue its perpetrators to justice in an international court, using all relevant police and intelligence agencies here and abroad.

The left should be for peace, which in no way means ignoring the demands of either side. Bin Laden calls for: an end to sanctions on Iraq; US troops out of Saudi Arabia; justice for Palestinians. The left says Aye to those, though we want a two-state solution, whereas bin Laden wants to drive Jews along with secular and Christian Palestinians into the sea. The US government calls for a dismantling of the Terror Network, and the left says aye to that too. Of course we oppose networks of people who wage war on civilians.

So we’re pretty close to supporting demands on both sides, but we know these demands are not going to be achieved by war. What is this war about? On Bush’s side it’s about the defense of the American Empire; on the other, an attempt to challenge that Empire in the name of theocratic fundamentalist Islam. On that issue the left is against both sides. We don’t want anyone to kill or die in the name of the American Empire, for the “war on terror” to be cashed in blood in Colombia or anywhere else, or for anyone to kill or die in the name of Islamic fundamentalism. Go to the UN, proceed on the basis that September 11 was a crime. Bring the perpetrators to justice by legal means.

A final word about “rationalizing”: After the Columbine school killings, people called for more security in schools. They also asked big questions: How could we have raised such children? Was it distance parenting, violence in culture, bullying? If you asked such questions, no one confused explanation with justification. No one charged you with being soft on teen killers.

Leave the final word to Seth Bardacke who remarked to his father Frank, the afternoon of September 11, “I guess now we know that bombing civilians is wrong.”

Doug Lummis, a friend of the Bardackes and of ours, then wrote in his widely-read column in a Japanese newspaper, “The son of an American Jewish friend of mine in a telephone call to his father said I guess this proves bombing civilians is wrong. Of course there are countless people around the world who don’t need such proof. Nevertheless, I find the statement extraordinary in its simple wisdom. It doesn’t use the crimes of the past (the countless civilians who have been killed by US bombs) to lighten the criminality of the New York and Washington attacks. Rather it suggests that fully grasping the total criminality and horror of those attacks can be used to grasp the equal criminality and horror of similar acts in the past. This understanding can provide a solid ground for opposing all similar acts (including state terrorism) in the future.”

November 10, 2001

“FBI and Justice Department investigators are increasingly frustrated by the silence of jailed suspected associates of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, and some are beginning to that say that traditional civil liberties may have to be cast aside if they are to extract information about the Sept. 11 attacks and terrorist plans.”

Thus began a piece by Walter Pincus on page 6 of The Washington Post on Sunday, and if you suspect that this is the overture to an argument for torture, you are right. The FBI interrogators have been getting nowhere with the four key suspects, held in New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center. None of these men have talked, and Pincus quotes an FBI man involved in the interrogation as saying that “it could get to that spot where we could go to pressure…where we won’t have a choice, and we are probably getting there.”

Pincus reports that “among the alternative strategies under discussion are using drugs or pressure tactics, such as those employed occasionally by Israeli interrogators, to extract information. Another idea is extraditing the suspects to allied countries where security services sometimes employ threats to family members or resort to torture.”

Some FBI interrogators are thinking longingly of drugs like the so-called “truth serum,” sodium pentothal; others the “pressure tactics,” i.e., straightforward tortures, used by Shin Bet in Israel, banned after savage public debate a few years ago, which included sensory deprivation (an old favorite of British interrogators in Northern Ireland), plus many agonizing physical torments. Another idea is to send the suspects to other countries for torture by seasoned experts. Israel is not mentioned; nor are the British. Extradition of Moussaoui to France or Morocco is apparently a possibility.

CounterPunch was astounded to find David Cole, noted liberal professor at Georgetown University Law Center, being quoted by Pincus as saying that “the use of force to extract information could happen” in cases where investigators believe suspects have information on an upcoming attack. “If there is a ticking bomb, it is not an easy issue, it’s tough,” he said. Of course it’s tough. As Cole surely knows, the “ticking bomb” rationale has been used by Israel’s torture lobby for years, long after it had become clear that it had simply become a routine way of dealing with suspects. Right now the disposition of the FBI, intent on interrogating every Arab American male (some 200,000) in this country, is doubtless to assume that they might have knowledge of a ticking bomb.

The FBI claims it is hampered by its present codes of gentility. If so, there’s no need to eye Morocco or France as subcontracting torturers. As a practical matter torture is far from unknown in the interrogation rooms of U.S. law enforcement, with Abner Louima the best-known recent example.

The most infamous disclosure of consistent torture by a police department in recent years concerned cops in Chicago in the mid-70s through early 80s who used electroshock, oxygen deprivation, hanging on hooks, the bastinado, and beatings of the testicles. The torturers were white and their victims black or brown. A prisoner in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison was thrown into boiling water. Others get 50,000-volt shocks from stun guns. Many states have so-called “secure housing units” where prisoners are kept in solitary in tiny concrete cells for years on end, many of them going mad in the process. Amnesty International has denounced U.S. police forces for “a pattern of unchecked excessive force amounting to torture.”

Last year the UN delivered a severe public rebuke to the United States for its record on preventing torture and degrading punishment. A 10-strong panel of experts highlighted what it said were Washington’s breaches of the agreement ratified by the United States in 1994. The UN Committee Against Torture, which monitors international compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture, has called for the abolition of electric-shock stun belts (1000 in use in the U.S.) and restraint chairs on prisoners, as well as an end to holding children in adult jails. It also said female detainees are “very often held in humiliating and degrading circumstances” and expressed concern over alleged cases of sexual assault by police and prison officers. The panel criticized the excessively harsh regime in maximum security prisons, the use of chain gangs in which prisoners perform manual labor while shackled together, and the number of cases of police brutality against racial minorities.

So far as rape is concerned, because of the rape factories more conventionally known as the U.S. prison system, there are estimates that twice as many men as women are raped in the U.S. each year. A Human Rights Watch report in April of this year cited a December 2000 Prison Journal study based on a survey of inmates in seven men’s prison facilities in four states. The results showed that 21 percent of the inmates had experienced at least one episode of pressured or forced sexual contact since being incarcerated, and at least 7 percent had been raped in their facilities. A 1996 study of the Nebraska prison system produced similar findings, with 22 percent of male inmates reporting that they had been pressured or forced to have sexual contact against their will while incarcerated. Of these, more than 50 percent had submitted to forced anal sex at least once. Extrapolating these findings to the national level gives a total of at least 140,000 inmates who have been raped.

Since its inception the CIA has taken a keen interest in torture, avidly studying Nazi techniques, and protecting their exponents such as Klaus Barbie. The FBI could ship the four key suspects to plenty of countries taught torture by CIA technicians, including El Salvador. Robert Fisk reported in the London Independent in 1998 that after the 1979 revolution Iranians found a CIA film made for the SAVAK, the Shah’s political police, on how to torture women. William Blum, whose Rogue State (Common Courage, 2000) gives a useful overview of the United States’ relationship to torture, cites a 1970 story in Brazil’s extremely respectable Jornal do Brasil, quoting the former Uruguayan chief of police intelligence, Alejandro Otero, as saying that U.S. advisers, particularly Dan Mitrione, had instituted torture in Uruguay on a routine basis, with scientific refinement in technique (such as the precise upper limits of electric voltage before death intervened) and psychological pressure, such as a tape in the next room of women and children screaming, telling the prisoner that his family was being tortured.

The CIA’s official line is that torture is wrong and is ineffective. It is indeed wrong. On countless occasions it has been appallingly effective.

F-16 near Kandahar, Afghanistan. Photo: Staff Sgt. Keifer Bowes, U.S. Air Force.

September 7, 2002

Amid the elegies for the dead and the ceremonies of remembrance, seditious questions intrude: Is there really a war on terror; and if one is indeed being waged, what are its objectives?

The Taliban are out of power. Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy, blooms once more in Afghan pastures. The military budget is up. The bluster war on Iraq blares from every headline. On the home front the war on the Bill of Rights is set at full throttle, though getting less popular with each day as judges thunder their indignation at the unconstitutional diktats of Attorney General John Ashcroft, a man low in public esteem.

On this latter point we can turn to Merle Haggard, the bard of blue-collar America, the man who saluted the American flag more than a generation ago in songs such as the Fighting Side of Me and Okie from Muskogee. Haggard addressed a concert crowd in Kansas City a few days ago in the following terms: “I think we should give John Ashcroft a big hand …(pause)… right in the mouth!” Haggard went on to say, ‘the way things are going I’ll probably be thrown in jail tomorrow for saying that, so I hope ya’ll will bail me out.”

It will take generations to roll back the constitutional damage done in the wake of the attacks. Emergency laws lie around for decades like rattlesnakes in summer grass. As Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch points out to me, one of the main legal precedents that the government is using to justify detaining “enemy combatants” without trial or access to a lawyer is an old striking-breaking decision. The government’s August 27 legal brief in the Padilla “enemy combatant” case relies heavily on Moyer v. Peabody, a Supreme Court case that dates back to 1909.

The case involved Charles Moyer, president of the Western Federation of Miners, a feisty Colorado trade union that fought for such radical reforms as safe working conditions, an end to child labor, and payment in money rather than in company scrip. As part of a concerted effort to crush the union, the governor of Colorado had declared a state of insurrection, called out the state militia, and detained Moyer for two and half months without probable cause or due process of law.

In an opinion that deferred obsequiously to executive power (using the “captain of the ship” metaphor,), the US Supreme Court upheld Moyer’s detention. It reasoned that since the militia could even have fired upon the strikers (or, in the Court’s words, the “mob in insurrection”), how could Moyer complain of a mere detention. The government now cites the case in its Padilla brief to argue that whatever a state governor can do, the president can do better. As Mariner remarks, next thing you know they’ll be citing the Japanese internment precedents.

Right under our eyes, as former top CIA analyst Bill Christison describes today on this site, a whole new covert ops arm of government is being coaxed into being by the appalling Rumsfeld, who has supplanted Powell as Secretary of State, issuing public statements contradicting official US policy on settlements and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Rumsfeld has asked Congress to authorize a new undersecretary of defense overseeing all DoD intelligence matters, also requesting that the DoD be given greater latitude to carry out covert ops. Wrap that in with erosion or outright dumping of the Posse Comitatus act of 1878 forbidding any US military role in domestic law enforcement and the silhouette of military government shows up ever more clearly in the crystal ball. The terrorists in those planes a year ago nourished specific grievances, all available for study in the speeches and messages of Osama bin Laden. They wanted US troops out of Saudi Arabia. They saw the US as Israel’s prime backer and financier in the oppression of Palestinians. They railed against the sanctions grinding down upon the civilian population of Iraq.

A year later the troops are still in Saudi Arabia, US backing for Sharon is more ecstatic than ever and scenarios for a blitzkrieg against Saddam Hussein mostly start with a saturation bombing campaign which will plunge civilians in Iraq back into the worst miseries of the early 1990s.

Terror against states springs from the mulch of political frustration. We live in a world where about half the population of the planet, 2.8 billion people, live on less than two dollars a day. The richest 25 million people in the United States receive more income than the 2 billion poorest people on the planet. Across the past year world economic conditions have mostly got worse, nowhere with more explosive potential than in Latin America, where Peru, Argentina, and Venezuela all heave in crisis.

Is the world impressed with America’s commander-in-chief? The answer is mostly, No. But wars need leaders, and for George Bush it’s been a wobbly slide downhill from the terse defiance of that first emergency joint session of Congress, to the strange on-again, off-again proclamations about an attack on Iraq.

Can anything stop these proclamations from being self-fulfilling? Another slump on Wall Street would certainly postpone it, just as a hike on energy prices here if war does commence will give the economy a kidney-blow when it least needs it.

How could an attack on Iraq be construed as a blow against terror? The administration abandoned early on, probably to its subsequent regret, the claim that Iraq was complicit on the attacks of September 11. Aside from the Taliban’s Afghanistan the prime nation that could be blamed was Saudi Arabia, point of origin for so many of the Al Qaeda terrorists on the planes.

Would an attack on Iraq be a reprisal? If it degraded Saudi Arabia’s role as prime swing producer of oil, if it indicated utter contempt for Arab opinion, then Yes. But does anyone doubt that if the Bush administration does indeed topple Saddam Hussein and occupy Baghdad, this will be truly a plunge into the unknown, one that would fan once more the embers of Islamic radicalism that peaked as long ago as the end of the 1980s, and amid whose decline the attacks of September 11, 2001 were far more a coda than an overture.

Would Iran sit quiet while US troops roosted in Baghdad. And would not the overthrow of Saddam be prelude to the downfall of the monarchy in Jordan, with collapse of the House of Saud following thereafter?

Islamic fanatics flew those planes a year ago and here we are with a terrifying alliance of Judeo-Christian fanatics, conjoined in their dreams of the recovery of the Holy Lands of the West Bank, Judaea, and Samaria. War on Terror? It’s back to the late thirteenth century, picking up where Prince Edward left off with his ninth crusade after St Louis had died in Tunis with the word Jerusalem on his lips.

May 12, 2015

Barack Obama, who pledged to restore ethical honor to the White House after the Bush years, is now burying himself under an active volcano of lies, mostly but not exclusively concerning the assassination of Osama bin Laden.

There was scarcely a sentence in the President’s Sunday night address, or in the subsequent briefing by John Brennan, his chief counter-terrorism coordinator, that has not been subsequently retracted by CIA director Leon Panetta or the White House press spokesman, Jay Carney, or by various documentary records.

The White House photograph of Obama, Clinton and top security advisors supposedly watching real-time footage of the Navy Seals’ onslaught on the Abbottabad compound, their killing of two men and a woman (excuse for the latter killing: the standard “caught in crossfire”) and liquidation of OBL himself turns out to have been a phony. BO and friends could have been watching basketball replays. Panetta has admitted the real-time video link stopped working before the Seals got into the compound.

Panetta also admits Osama bin Laden was not armed, and that he did not hide behind his young wife’s skirt. He conceded that under military rules of engagement Osama should have been taken prisoner, but then added vaguely that he showed some unspecified form of resistance. He probably reached for his walking stick since he has been ailing from kidney and liver problems. As any black or brown resident in, say, the purview of the  Ramparts Division of the LAPD knows full well, reaching for a walking stick or even holding a cell phone can be a death warrant; multiply that likelihood by a factor of 100 if you are the world’s most wanted terrorist  in front of a score of heavily armed and homicidal Navy SEALs, no doubt amped up on amphetamine.

An admitted fan of the herb, Osama may have been stoned as part of his pain management program since there was a marijuana patch outside in the allotment and, like any world star in retirement, Osama liked to smoke a lot of weed and made DVDs of important speeches which stacked up forlornly on the bookshelf next to the bottles of pills and the Koran, hoping to get picked up by Al Jazeera or HBO. How his lieutenants must have yearned for his summary martyrdom as they received his importunate bulletins that they derail a train during Obama’s State of the Union and other madcap schemes.

The White House claims that issues of delicacy prohibit the release of photographs of Osama’s bullet-riddled face and required that after an alleged match with a relative’s DNA he be given a swift but formal sea burial in a weighted body bag dropped from the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson into the north Arabian Sea, presumably awaiting retrieval by salvagers with a fix on the Vinson’s position at the time of burial.

Maybe the Navy Seal photographer forgot to take his lens cap off. Obama’s claims of ethical sensitivity certainly ring hollow. He’s battling the wimp factor, and “Lo! The head of Osama” would be a nifty prop. There was lengthy display back in Bush-time of the mutilated bodies of Saddam’s sons Uday and Qusay, killed by US special forces in 2003, plus filming of Saddam’s own execution by hanging.

Further back, when DNA matches were unknown, US special forces verified Che Guevara’s execution by permitting many photographs immediately post-mortem. They also cut off Che’s hands, for subsequent verification by the CIA. We’re not talking Miss Manners here.

The official “back story” released Sunday night by Obama is that US intelligence learned of the Abbottabad compound only last August and spent the following months watching the place, following Osama’s trusted couriers, and concluding that it was highly likely, though not certain, that Osama was there.

This is bunk. The three-story house has been a well-known feature of Abbottabad. Shaukat Qadir, a well-connected Pakistan Army officer, reported to CounterPunch from Pakistan: “For the record, this house has been under ISI surveillance while it was under construction. It was first raided in 2003, and the ISI just missed capturing al-Libi (he was later captured by the ISI close to Mardan in K-P Province). It has been raided on numerous occasions since.”

Shaukat tells us that contrary to a report in the New York Times by Carlotta Gall on May 5, neither of the two trusted couriers were among the dead in the compound.

Shaukat: “The house where Osama had sought refuge belonged to two brothers from Mardan (a Pashtun dominated region of K-P) who had numerous aliases; locally they were known as Arshad (or Bara, meaning elder) and Chota (younger) Pathan, who have been residents of that house for seven years past. The rub is; neither one has been identified among the dead. If Osama was followed to this house by constant tracking of his courier who, according to CIA reports, shouldn’t one, if not both brothers, should have been present, shouldn’t they? But they weren’t. Of the seven bodies left behind (a female, a child and five men of ages ranging from mid-twenties to mid-thirties), none have been identified as being either brother?. “ Inference: “Osama was sold out. The operation was the result of entrapment. An entrapment organized through one or more of his most trusted aides?”

In fact, specific knowledge by US intelligence of the compound and its likely possible prime denizen goes back to 2005.

From this active volcano of lies, we can safely assume that Obama’s re-election campaign has been well and truly launched. Lift-off began on April 27 with the White House’s release of the long birth certificate. Obama seems to have problems with timely provision of convincing documentation about arrivals (his own) and departures (Bin Laden’s).

Release of the full birth certificate could have come in 2008, when it first became a minor issue. Instead Obama refused to authorize release until last week, by which time 25 per cent of all Americans and 50 per cent of all Republicans thought he was hiding something fishy. A photo of the dead Osama would have been useful this week in quelling speculation.

Had it not been for cloud cover over Abbottabad, the raid on Osama’s compound could have come on Friday, April 29, the same day as the royal wedding.

Saturday, April 30 was reserved for the attempted assassination of Colonel Gaddafi, with the dropping of precision-guided bombs on the house of his son Saif, who died along with three grandchildren. Saif, then four, was in the Gaddafi family compound on April 15, 1986 when bombs ordered up by Ronald Reagan were dropped from F-111s, killing his 15-month-old sister, adopted by Gaddafi 11 months earlier.  Thus have Reagan and Obama shared a target. ‘Decapitation’ – going for the enemy’s top guy – is now standard NATO strategy. In the “shock and awe” assaults on Iraq in 2003, the prime mission of US bombers was to target whatever houses Saddam was presumed to be visiting. We can assume electronic eavesdrops or maybe a human observer told the NATO targeteers that Gaddafi himself was in the house that Saturday, and the bombers were swiftly dispatched from NATO’s Allied Air Command in Izmir, Turkey, whose overall commander is Lt-Gen Ralph J. Jodice II (US).

Would Obama have been briefed on the plan, or have signed off on a program of targeted assassination of Gaddafi? It seems a sure thing.

Reverse the rationale. If a Libyan bomber had blown up the wedding couple and a goodly tranche of the British upper crust in Westminster Abbey under justification that the whole place and its human contents, down to the grandchildren, not to mention the hats, were fair game because Cameron was there.

As the Oxford historian Mark Almond subsequently wrote in CounterPunch,

Little wonder, the royal newlyweds’ honeymoon was suddenly cancelled on Saturday. So much of William and Kate’s nuptials was choreographed around their parents’ and grandparents’ weddings that it was a fair guess that like Princess Elizabeth and Philip they were going to fly to Malta to start their honeymoon before going on to Kenya where three generations of Windsors have enjoyed cementing their relations. Malta is too close to Libya for comfort and Kenya’s Muslim minority might not be too friendly to a serving NATO officer.

But Gaddafi survived. So Obama only had one bloodied feather in his cap when he gave one of the most morally repellent speeches we have ever heard delivered from the White House. Bush at least had the crude brio of a semi-literate jock when he vaunted America’s prowess. Obama’s “we nailed him” paragraphs of mendacity concluded with Dickensian Heepishness: “Tonight we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history.”

Alas, the actual story of “our history” is an unrelenting ability to lie about everything, while simultaneously claiming America’s superior moral worth.

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