Today is the ninth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. In recognition, here’s my Nonviolence.org essay from 10/7/2010. It’s all sadly still topical. Nine years in and we’re still making terror and still creating enemies.
The United States has today begun its war against terrorism in a very familiar way: by use of terror. Ignorant of thousands of years of violence in the Middle East, President George W. Bush thinks that the horror of September 11th can be exorcised and prevented by bombs and missiles. Today we can add more names to the long list of victims of the terrorist airplane attacks. Because today Afghanis have died in terror.
The deaths in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania have shocked Americans and rightly so. We are all scared of our sudden vulnerability. We are all shocked at the level of anger that led nineteen suicide bombers to give up precious life to start such a literal and symbolic conflagration. What they did was horrible and without justification. But that is not to say that they didn’t have reasons.
The terrorists committed their atrocities because of a long list of grievances. They were shedding blood for blood, and we must understand that. Because to understand that is to understand that President Bush is unleashing his own terror campaign: that he is shedding more blood for more blood.
The United States has been sponsoring violence in Afghanistan for over a generation. Even before the Soviet invasion of that country, the U.S. was supporting radical Mujahadeen forces. We thought then that sponsorship of violence would lead to some sort of peace. As we all know now, it did not. We’ve been experimenting with violence in the region for many years. Our foreign policy has been a mish-mash of supporting one despotic regime after another against a shifting array of perceived enemies.
The Afghani forces the United States now bomb were once our allies, as was Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. We have rarely if ever acted on behalf of liberty and democracy in the region. We have time and again sold out our values and thrown our support behind the most heinous of despots. We have time and again thought that military adventurism in the region could keep terrorism and anti-Americanism in check. And each time we’ve only bred a new generation of radicals, bent on revenge.
There are those who have angrily denounced pacifists in the weeks since September 11th, angrily asking how peace can deal with terrorists. What these critics don’t understand is that wars don’t start when the bombs begin to explode. They begin years before, when the seeds of hatred are sewn. The times to stop this new war was ten and twenty years ago, when the U.S. broke it’s promises for democracy, and acted in its own self-interest (and often on behalf of the interests of our oil companies) to keep the cycles of violence going. The United States made choices that helped keep the peoples of the Middle East enslaved in despotism and poverty.
And so we come to 2001. And it’s time to stop a war. But it’s not necessarily this war that we can stop. It’s the next one. And the ones after that. It’s time to stop combat terrorism with terror. In the last few weeks the United States has been making new alliances with countries whose leaders subvert democracy. We are giving them free rein to continue to subject their people. Every weapon we sell these tyrants only kills and destabilizes more, just as every bomb we drop on Kabul feeds terror more.
And most of all: we are making new victims. Another generation of children are seeing their parents die, are seeing the rain of bombs fall on their cities from an uncaring America. They cry out to us in the name of peace and democracy and hear nothing but hatred and blood. And some of them will respond by turning against us in hatred. And will fight us in anger. They will learn our lesson of terror and use it against us. They cycle will repeat. History will continue to turn, with blood as it’s Middle Eastern lubricant. Unless we act. Unless we can stop the next war.
Reports are in that link up the US torture program and the hunt for the non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Jonathan S Landay in McClatchy News quotes a “former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue”:
“The main [reason for the torture] is that everyone was worried about some kind of
follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003,
Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links
between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed)
Chalabi and others had told them were there.”
“There was constant
pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do
whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees,
especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming
up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push
harder,” he continued.
All this is not really a surprise; I covered it in real time over on Nonviolence.org. There were numerous reports that the Vice President and Secretary of Defense were pushing the intelligence agencies to come up with evidence that would back their flawed theories.
The United States is supposed to be the champion of freedom but we resorted to the most brutal of communist-era torture techniques because our highest officials were more interested in their cartoon view of the world than the complex reality (and not so complex: anyone who’s taken an “Intro to Islam” class would know that an alliance between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden would be have been very unlikely). When facts and ideological theories don’t match up, it’s time to dig for more facts and revisit the ideologies.
We now know that while Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein didn’t conspire together, they did have one thing in common: their power was funded by our dependence on their oil. But even as Saddam’s show trial begins, televisions are watching America’s new national security enemies: Katrina and Wilma. Al Qaida’s 9/11 attacks and the Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship were “powered by” oil industry fortunes and short-sighted global energy policies, the same policies now bringing us global warming and monster storms.
Before making landfall in Mexico’s Yucatan and pounding Florida, Hurricane Wilma was declared the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in history. That we got to a W-name itself is cause for concern: the first tropical storm of the year gets a name starting with “A” and so forth through the alphabet. This summer has been the “most active hurricane season”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2005_Atlantic_hurricane_season since record-keeping started 150 years ago. We’ve seen so many storms that weather officials have now run through the alphabet: meteorologists are now having to track Tropical Storm (now Depression) Alpha 350 miles north of the Bahamas. In 2004, “five devastating hurricanes ripped across Florida”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Atlantic_hurricane_season, each one coming so fast on the heels of the last that few of us could even name them a year later. As I write, Wilma is pounding Western Florida, one of the fast-growing regions in the country. And of course Katrina devasted New Orleans and the Gulf Coast just two months ago.
Global climate change is here. After decades of political hemming and hawing, only the most slimy of oil industry apologists (and Presidents) could argue that global warming hasn’t arrived. We’ve built a national culture built on inefficient burning of fossil fuels. Developers put more and more people on unprotected sandbars built, maintained and insured by tax dollars. Someday is here and our weather is only going to be getting worse. We could be preparing for the inevitable adjustments. We could be investing in conservation, in renewable energies. We could change our tax codes to encourage sustainable housing: not just getting new development off beaches but also building urban and semi-urban communities that reduce automobile dependence.
Instead we spend billions of dollars on our oil addictions. We’re now waiting for the “announcement of the 2,000th U.S. military casualty in iraq”:http://www.afsc.org/2000/. Administration officials used Katrina to rollback environmental protection regulations in Louisiana. The arctic ice cap is rapidly melting away (the North Pole is now ice-free for part of the year) but oil industry officials point to the good news that we will soon be able to put “year-round oil rigs in the ice-free seas there”:http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/1010–07.htm.
How many Katrina bin Laden’s and Saddam Wilma’s does it take before we get the news.
While the images of U.S. soliders torturing iraqi prisoners at Al Grahib Prison in Badgdad have been broadcast around the world, US officials have frequently reassured us that conditions at the U.S. detention camp in Guantamano Bay, Cuba, were acceptable and in accord with the Geneva Convention’s rules for treatment of prisoners. As proof the Pentagon and Bush Administration have frequently cited the fact that the International Red Cross regularly inspects prison conditions at Guantamano. They forgot to tell us what they’ve seen.
A confidential report prepared by the International Red Cross this summer found that conditions at Guantamano Bay were “tantamount to torture.” Strong words from a cautious international body. Because of the way the IRC works, its reports are not made available to the public but instead presented to the accused government, in the hope that they will correct their practices. In predicable fashion, the Bush Adminstration privately denied any wrongdoing and kept the IRC findings secret. In a display of incredible audacity it then defended itself _from other accusations of torture_ by citing the IRC’s presence at Guantanamo, conveniently omitting the IRC’s strongly-worded criticisms. Amazing really.
The IRC report is still secret. We only know of it second-hand, from a memo obtained by the _Times_ that quotes from some of its findings (“Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantanamo“http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/30/politics/30gitmo.html, Nov 29). What kind of stuff is going on there? The _Times_ recently interviewed British prisoners who had been detained in Afghanistan and iraq and sent to Guantanamo Bay. Here’s one story:
bq. One one regular procedure was making uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair while shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air-conditioning was turned up to maximum levels.
It’s not needles under fingernails or electrodes to the privates, but it is indeed “tantamount to torture.” While it was hard to believe these prisoners’ stories when they were first published a few months ago, they become much more credible in light of the IRC conclusions.
We still don’t know about what’s happening in the camp. The Bush Administration has the power, not to mention the duty, to immediately release International Red Cross reports. But the United States has chosen to suppress the report. No torturing government has ever admitted to its actions. Saddam Hussein himself denied wrongdoing when _he_ ran the Al Grahib prison and used it for torture. We rely on bodies like the International Red Cross to keep us honest.
There are those who defend torture by appealing to our fears, many of which are indeed grounded in reality. We’re at war, the enemy insurgents are playing dirty, Osama bin Laden broke any sort of international conventions when he sent airliners into the World Trade Center. Very true. But the United States has a mission. I believe in the idealistic notion that we should be a beacon to the world. We should always strive for the moral high ground and invite the world community to join us. We haven’t been doing that lately. Yes it’s easier to follow the lead of someone like Saddam Hussein and just torture anyone we suspect of plotting against us. But do we really want him as our role model?