A Terrorist Bombing by Any Other Name

What if in the weeks fol­low­ing the bomb­ing of the fed­er­al cour­t­house in Okla­homa City, the FBI had launched dozens of cruise mis­siles at the Michi­gan town where Tim­o­thy McVeigh had built his bomb? What if it had done so even when evi­dence was still mea­ger, when accounts were still con­tra­dic­to­ry? What if it did so with­out look­ing for less dra­mat­ic ways of serv­ing jus­tice? What if the mis­siles just killed and enraged more innocents?

Ear­li­er today the Unit­ed States attacked two nations accused of har­bor­ing the ter­ror­ist team respon­si­ble for the recent bomb­ings in East Africa. Telling the world that “our tar­get was ter­ror,” U.S. naval ships fired seventy-five to one hun­dred cruise mis­siles into a busy urban neigh­bor­hood of the Sudanese cap­i­tal of Khar­toum, a city of 2.3 mil­lion peo­ple, and at a lightly-populated tar­get in Afghanistan.

It is a sol­id prin­ci­ple of both inter­na­tion­al diplo­ma­cy and non­vi­o­lent action that the more peace­ful options are exhaust­ed first. No sig­nif­i­cant diplo­mat­ic efforts have been made with the Tal­iban gov­ern­ment in Afghanistan to extra­dite reput­ed ring­leader Osama bin Laden. No Unit­ed Nations res­o­lu­tions have been passed for inspec­tion of the reput­ed chem­i­cal weapons fac­to­ry in Sudan (local offi­cials say it’s a fac­to­ry for med­ical drugs).

If the chem­i­cal plant had been in a Euro­pean cap­i­tal, it is all but cer­tain that the U.S. would not have fired dozens of cruise mis­siles with scant evi­dence and no pre­lim­i­nary diplo­mat­ic effort. But Khar­toum is the cap­i­tal of a mil­i­tar­i­ly weak African nation. While Clin­ton claims to be sad­dened at all the African lives lost in the bomb­ing at the embassy in Kenya, yet he has lit­tle regard for the lives of Africans in the neigh­bor­ing Sudan.

Jus­tice takes time. It needs the care­ful weigh­ing of evi­dence by neu­tral par­ties. It took over a year for inves­ti­ga­tors to col­lect the evi­dence sur­round­ing the Okla­homa City bomb­ing and for Tim­o­thy McVeigh to be con­vict­ed of the crime. But while jus­tice might take time, pol­i­tics requires imme­di­a­cy, dra­ma. Clin­ton is a politi­cian and he knows that tough mil­i­tary adven­tures against pip-squeak coun­tries is the fastest way to ral­ly bipar­ti­san domes­tic sup­port in times of trou­ble. Con­ser­v­a­tive politi­cians have stopped the ever-louder calls for his impeach­ment over the sex and per­jury scan­dal to ral­ly behind him and mut­ter the famil­iar impe­ri­al­is­tic clichés about pol­i­tics stop­ping at the water’s edge. But it is time to stop play­ing pol­i­tics with Third World lives.

“Our tar­get was ter­ror” said Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, but so was his solu­tion. The only way Amer­i­ca knows to respond to two bombs is to set off seventy-five bombs. The only way it know to avenge the death of hun­dreds of inno­cent Africans is by threat­en­ing the lives of hun­dreds of oth­er Africans. Ter­ror­ist bomb­ing by any oth­er deliv­ery method is just as dead­ly and it is just as dis­rup­tive to inter­na­tion­al world order.

As cit­i­zens, Amer­i­cans have grown too com­pla­cent about these mis­sile launch­es against unarmed cities. These attacks have become too famil­iar a part of U.S. pol­i­cy. Too few ques­tions are asked, either imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing the bomb­ing or in the years after­ward. Ter­ror­ist mis­siles are not effec­tive means of appre­hend­ing crim­i­nals or serv­ing jus­tice. Ear­ly reports from Afghanistan are that bin Laden is safe and con­tin­u­ing to plan fur­ther attacks against Amer­i­cans. In the last decade, mis­sile attacks have been used against Libya, Lebanon and Iraq but in no case have they dam­aged the ene­my and have in fact only strength­ened the anger and the resolve of their supporters.

As before, the mis­siles were launched by com­put­er from ships hun­dreds of miles away. We nev­er see the smoke and the fire, we nev­er smell the blood, we nev­er see the ter­ror in the eyes of the chil­dren. Chil­dren whose night­mares will now fea­tured scream­ing mis­siles from unseen ter­ror­ists known only as Amer­i­cans. Chil­dren whose dreams will be the taste of revenge.

Osama bin Laden has won. He won by pro­vok­ing the U.S. to shun it’s ideals of democ­ra­cy and jus­tice to wal­low with him in the mud of orga­nized inter­na­tion­al ter­ror. Two hun­dred and fifty mil­lion Amer­i­cans have now joined bin Laden’s cru­sade to avenge ter­ror­ist vio­lence with more ter­rror­ist vio­lence. It is time to stop all ter­ror, it is time to speak out against all violence.

How Come the U.S. Trains All the Terrorists?

I’ve just been read­ing today’s New York Times arti­cle about the con­vic­tion of the New York City World Trade Cen­ter bombers. With it is a com­pan­ion piece about the plot leader, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who hoped to kill 250,000 peo­ple when the tow­ers col­lapsed onto the city below. Born in Kuwait to a Pak­istani moth­er and Pales­tin­ian father, his life began as an alle­go­ry for the social dis­place­ments of the Mid­dle East, and he grew up with anger towards the Israelis-and by exten­sions the Americans-who had forced his father from his home­land. Even so, Yousef came to school in the West, to Wales, where he stud­ied engi­neer­ing. But in 1989 he left it for anoth­er edu­ca­tion, fueled by his anger and lead­ing to the death of six in the heat and smoke of the mas­sive under­ground explo­sion in down­town Manhattan.

Yousef trav­eled to Afghanistan to join the Muja­hedeen rebels in their fight against Sovi­et occu­piers, and there learned the guer­ril­la tech­niques he would lat­er employ in New York. Who sup­port­ed the Muja­hedeen and paid for Yousef’s train­ing in ter­ror­ism? The Unit­ed States Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency, who fun­neled the Afghan rebels mil­lions of U.S. tax­pay­ers dollars.

It would seem a sim­ple case of U.S. mil­i­tarism com­ing home to roost, but it is not so sim­ple and it is not uncom­mon. Fol­low most trails of ter­ror­ism and you’ll find Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment fund­ing some­where in the recent past.

Tim­o­thy McVeigh was anoth­er angry young man, one who had to drop out of col­lege, couldn’t find a steady job, and moved from trail­er park to trail­er park as an adult, won­der­ing if the Amer­i­can Dream includ­ed him. He did what a lot of economically-disadvantaged young kids do, and enlist­ed in the U.S. Army (this has been described by some as “the pover­ty draft”).

In 1988, he met Michael Forti­er and Ter­ry Nichols at the U.S. Army base at Ft. Ben­ning, Geor­gia (coin­ci­den­tal­ly home of the infa­mous School of the Amer­i­c­as). There he was taught how to turn his anger into killing and was quick­ly pro­mot­ed, get­ting good reviews and being award­ed with the Bronze Star and Com­bat Infantry Badge for his ser­vice in the Gulf War.

Lat­er he came back to the U.S. with his Ft. Ben­ning friends and turned his anger against the U.S. gov­ern­ment. He used his mil­i­tary skills to build a bomb (alleged­ly with Nichols, now at tri­al, with the knowl­edge of Forti­er, who turned state’s wit­ness). On a spring day in 1995, he drove the bomb to Okla­homa City’s fed­er­al build­ing and set it off, killing 168 peo­ple. McVeigh’s moth­er said, “It was like he trad­ed one Army for anoth­er one.” (Wash­ing­ton Post, 7/2/95)

Anoth­er ter­ror­ist trained by the Unit­ed States government.

But it doesn’t end there either. This same dynam­ic hap­pens on the nation-state lev­el as well. Today’s head­lines also include sto­ries about the stand­off between Iraq’s Sad­dam Hus­sein and Unit­ed Nations arms inspec­tors, a sit­u­a­tion which threat­ens to renew mil­i­tary fight­ing in the region. Who fund­ed Hus­sein and gave him mil­lions of dol­lars worth of weapons to fight the Ira­ni­ans dur­ing the 80s? Why, it’s the U.S. gov­ern­ment again.How come the Unit­ed States is direct­ly involved in train­ing some of the biggest ter­ror­ists of the decade? Haven’t we learned that mil­i­tarism only leads to more mil­i­tarism? Would Ramzi Ahmed Yousef and Tim­o­thy McVeigh just be polit­i­cal unknowns if the Unit­ed States hadn’t taught them to kill with their anger? Would Sad­dam Hus­sein be just anoth­er ex-dictator if the U.S. hadn’t fund­ed his mil­i­tary dur­ing the 1980s?

We can nev­er know these answers. But we can stop train­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of ter­ror­ists. Let’s stop fund­ing war, let’s stop solv­ing prob­lems with guns and explo­sives. Let today’s angry twen­ty year olds cut peo­ple off in traf­fic and do no more. Let’s stop these unde­clared wars.