"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Uncommon Sense

In his eyewitness account of "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," author William Shirer, who lived in Nazi Germany throughout most of the 1930s, described a phenomenon that will, in 2004, seem disturbingly familiar to Americans who dissent from the policies of the Bush regime.

"I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state," Shirer wrote. "Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers . . . and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one's inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one's mind and often misled it."

Shirer then recounted how, in conversations with his German friends and strangers he would meet in cafes and beer halls, "I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers.

"Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were."

I will never forget the shock of recognition I felt when I first read those words several years ago, nor my first thought when I looked up from the page: "This happens to me all the time." It wouldn't be surprising if many of you reading this now have just had the same thought.

This would be particularly true for those among you whom the American media, with increasing frequency, describe as "conspiracy theorists:" those who suspect that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have more to do with oil than with any humanitarian or security motives; or those who question the omissions in the 9/11 Commission's report, and think that the 9/11 tragedy had more to do with the Bush/Saudi connection and neoconservative imperial ambitions than with America being "hated for its freedom"; or those who believe that American media are the finely-tuned propaganda organs of the military-industrial complex which, rather than failing their journalistic responsibilities, are doing an excellent job of keeping the American public confused and uninformed; or even the overwhelming majority of Americans who subscribe to the event that made the term "conspiracy theory" mainstream: that the CIA was directly involved in the assassination of JFK.

Among that last group, it is exceedingly rare for members of what used to be called "the establishment" to go public with their private suspicions about what happened in Dallas in November 1963. So it took a real act of courage for David Talbot, editor and publisher of the quasi-respectable website Salon.com, to stick his neck out recently by expressing his own doubts about the legitimacy of the official report of the Warren Commission.

The most valuable contribution Talbot makes in his lengthy article, "The mother of all coverups," published last week at Salon, is compiling from various sources a list of public figures who also had suspicions about the JFK assassination—a list that includes Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Dan Rather, Gary Hart, Richard Russell (a member of the Warren Commission himself), Nikita Krushchev, Charles DeGaulle, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (which produced the only other official report on JFK's death, concluding that it was "probably" the result of a conspiracy), and Jackie and Bobby Kennedy.

In fact, it is reasonable to speculate that Bobby Kennedy's indications to his closest associates that, should he become president, he intended to reopen the investigation into his brother's death, may explain his own suspicious murder.

Because it reinforces some questions I've raised in previous articles for Online Journal ("Paranoid shift" and "Secret admirers: the Bushes and the Washington Post") it's also worthwhile to reproduce in full one of Talbot's paragraphs, about another public figure who has been connected to the string of events beginning with the Bay of Pigs operation and ending in Dallas:

"Among those in Washington who were particularly curious about the revelations concerning the CIA and the Kennedy assassination was George H.W. Bush. As Kitty Kelley observes in her new book about the Bush family, while serving as CIA director in the Ford administration, Bush fired off a series of memos in fall 1976, asking subordinates various questions about Oswald, Ruby, Helms and other figures tied to the assassination. 'Years later, when [Bush] became president of the United States, he would deny making any attempt to review the agency files on the JFK assassination,' writes Kelley in The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty. 'When he made this claim, he did not realize that the agency would release 18 documents (under the Freedom of Information Act) that showed he had indeed, as CIA director, requested information—not once, but several times—on a wide range of questions surrounding the Kennedy assassination.'"

The dark thread of secret agendas and unspeakable acts that runs like a subterranean stream through the last half-century of American history—and which has turned into a river under this most secretive of presidential administrations—would not have been possible without the outright cooperation of the media. Despite the majority opinion that the Warren Report was a "whitewash," Talbot correctly notes that "there is one sanctuary where the Warren Report is still stubbornly upheld and where its manifold critics can expect their own rough treatment: in the towers of the media elite."

What is true of the media's treatment of Warren Commission critics can be equally applied to anyone who questions what is sometimes called the media's "metanarrative"—the official media version of events. Usually this is accomplished by what Catholic theologians call "the sin of omission." So, for example, the startling and uncomfortable fact that a Zogby poll found that half of New York City residents believe that the US government either had foreknowledge of, or was complicit in, the 9/11 attacks has been quickly stuffed into the media's "memory hole." The revelations of FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds about the 9/11 drug connection, and of Senator Bob Graham about the connections between the 9/11 hijackers and the Saudi government, have received similar treatment.

But the great irony in the media's rejection of "conspiracy theory" is that the metanarrative requires mainstream news consumers to subscribe to a far less credible "coincidence theory."

By this theory, it is nothing more than "coincidence" that the membership of a neoconservative think tank, whose ambitions for a global American empire depend on public opinion being swayed by "a new Pearl Harbor," stole their way into power and occupy key positions in the Bush regime. It is merely a "coincidence" that unnamed persons cashed in big time in trading United and American Airlines stocks in the week before 9/11. It's entirely "coincidental" that the FBI supervisor who blocked the investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui's computer, containing information about the hijacker's 9/11 plans, got a $25,000 bonus.

In the media's metanarrative, the incontestable facts that Persian Gulf oil has been central to American strategic planning since World War II, and that Dick Cheney's secret energy task force generated maps of Iraq's oil fields in early 2001, have absolutely nothing to do with the invasion of Iraq. It's just a serendipitous "coincidence."

And the statement by the late CIA director William Colby that the CIA controls "everyone of major significance in the major media" is just the incoherent rambling of a guilt-burdened covert operative with too much blood on his hands. If that statement offers a better explanation of a long, consistent pattern of journalistic failings than the idea that reporters are the victims of the government's "Jedi Mind Tricks"—well, it's only a "coincidence."

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, once said, "Give me control of the German media, and I can control the German people." It is our generation's misfortune that Goebbels' ideological descendants are now in the White House. It is our generation's responsibility to remove them.

Michael Hasty
Online Journal Columnist

National ID Card a Terrible Idea

As Americans continue to debate immigration, they need to make sure that precious rights and freedoms are not abridged by any new public policy that may grow out of the discussion.

That’s why we urge Congress to strongly oppose a proposal by Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., that would require all workers to have what his Web site describes as a Social Security card with their picture on it. It would "contain an electronic signature strip that contains an encrypted electronic identification strip, unique to that individual."

Whenever you applied for a new job, your employer would be required to verify you are a citizen or legal alien "via a phone verification system, to be set up by" the Department of Homeland Security. Employers not following the procedure would face fines up to $50,000 per occurrence.

Dreier’s proposal includes other reforms, such as adding 700 more Border Patrol agents and a guest-worker program. His proposal came in response to an effort by a local radio show to throw him from office for what the hosts say is his support for high illegal immigration.

Dreier says his proposal wouldn’t impose a national identification card. But what else would it be?

"It scares the hell out of me," remarked former Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr.; he represented the San Fernando Valley in Congress in the 1970s and is the son of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater. In the 1970s, Dreier was an intern with the younger Goldwater.

In the late 1970s, Goldwater got Congress to pass a ban on the use of Social Security cards for identification purposes without the approval of Congress. Unfortunately, he said, Congress then immediately reversed itself.

"I’ve always been concerned about a universal ID card or system, somewhat like in Nazi Germany," he added. "That’s scary. We value our privacy and freedom and are very concerned about the power of the U.S. government. A universal ID number is easy to track and record. You would need to tighten up the (Social Security card) system, to make it foolproof. I don’t know who’s that smart."

We don’t, either. Computer hackers always seem a step ahead of government bureaucrats.

Even more than the 1986 immigration law, Dreier’s proposed system makes employers the enforcers, essentially acting on behalf of the federal government on immigration control.

This is a bad idea. Employers are here to create products and services for customers who want them, not to investigate immigration status for the federal government.

Whether one supports open borders or closed borders, amnesty or a guest-worker program, it would be a tragedy if this issue led to a reduction in what attracts immigrants in the first place: our liberties and the prosperity they bring.

Valley Morning Star

The Orwellian U.S.

Journalists often compare contemporary society to the totalitarian social order described in George Orwell’s disturbing novel 1984. Orwell portrayed the state as being all-powerful, controlling every aspect of citizens' lives. When the novel was first published in 1949, few people could conceive of such a society. Most felt that citizens simply wouldn't allow it. Of course, if the state had attempted to implement a totalitarian society overnight, angry citizens might have prevented it. But the state cautiously enacts its takeovers incrementally, so as to not arouse the public. Also, it is able to persuade people that the agenda it is pursuing is for their own good or for the betterment of society. Consequently, little resistance is offered.

Of course, you already know how the state operates but I wanted to remind you again before discussing three invasive government proposals that will seriously encroach on our freedoms. In fact, these three, if they materialize, should make us turn off the TV, put down the remote control, get off the couch and take to the streets.

The first has been reported on LRC by both Rep. Ron Paul and Wendy McElroy: the "New Freedom Commission on Mental Health" that proposes a governmental mandate requiring mental-health screening for all Americans, including public schoolchildren and even pre-school children, with or without parental consent. Rep. Paul criticized the proposal as follows: "...it negates parental rights and would encourage the over-medication of children." Although this law would provide a windfall for the pharmaceutical industry and greatly enlarge the Washington bureaucracy, it would be a disaster for Americans especially families.

The excessive use of antidepressants by children was the subject of recent editorial by The Beaufort Gazette that contained this comment: "A growing body of research, some of it performed by the FDA's own experts, but suppressed until recently, indicates that children and teenagers may be at risk for suicidal tendencies after taking antidepressants that were approved for use in adult patients." Ritalin (methylphenidate), one of the primary drugs used to control children, is addictive and has serious side effects. Methylphenidate is already being abused by young drug users. When mixed with heroin, it is called a "speedball" and is illegally sold on the street for a "quick-fix."

The second encroachment, still in the discussion stage, is for government to monitor homeschooling more aggressively. But homeschooling is already subject to government scrutiny, including enforced testing requirements and so forth. Frankly, the word "monitor" raises a red flag because government monitoring usually evolves into government control. Public schools, or perhaps the more appropriate designation that has been suggested, "government schools," blend indoctrination with education and imprudently rely on the latest untested teaching fads.

These are some of the reasons why many parents elect to home school their children. But Washington bureaucrats won’t rest until they are able to control the curricula, philosophy and teaching techniques of home schooling.

Finally, there is the "American Community Survey," a new annual census report which has been described as "an attempt to invade every aspect of our lives." The questionnaire is a breathtaking 24 pages long and contains all-encompassing questions dealing with such issues as "a person's job, income, physical and emotional health, family status, and intimate personal and private habits." Questions demand to know how many days you were sick last year, whether you have trouble getting up the stairs, and, curiously, what time you leave for work each morning. You must give the names and addresses of your friends and relatives and answer inappropriate questions about them as well. If others live in your home, you are required to indicate how many years of school they completed; when they last worked at a job, what languages they speak, and their physical and emotional problems.

So, what happens if you, like me, think these questions are none of the government's business and you don't want to become an informer on your friends and relatives? Your noncompliance will cost you big bucks. For every question not answered, there is a $100 fine. For every intentionally false answer, there is a $500 fine and Washington bureaucrats will decide whether the false answer was intentional or not.

These three proposals amount to a bureaucratic inquisition. And I don’t think I exaggerate when I call them Orwellian. Once implemented their scope will be gradually expanded. Our children will, in essence, become wards of the state, even while they are still pre-schoolers. The state will decide if the behavior, thought processes and opinions of our children are suitable. If not, they may need to be drugged or subjected to corrective tutoring. Home schooling will be forced to conform its curricula and philosophy with government schooling so all students’ beliefs can be made uniform. Expanded surveillance of citizens will be used to help Washington identify those whom it suspects are resisting government efforts to "protect" our freedoms and "improve" society. Once these noncompliant citizens are known, bureaucrats can decide what measures should be taken to modify their insubordination.

Our apathetic representatives in Washington, Republicans as well as Democrats, have no qualms about supporting proposals like these. Yet they expect us to continue to return them to office.

Gail Jarvis


Poor Richard. Richard Perle is a right-wing neocon theorist who wants to be taken seriously as both a governmental and corporate insider...but he keeps taking highly-public pratfalls that would be absolutely comical, if they weren't so ugly.

Perle, who's tight with Dick Cheney and Donnie Rumsfeld, was one of the main architects of George W's disastrous policies in Iraq. He was the chief proponent of the fanciful notion that our invading troops would be greeted by a grateful people tossing rose petals at them. Instead, angry Iraqis are tossing bombs – and more than a thousand of our troops are dead.

Richard is not doing any better in the corporate world. His latest pratfall is as a board member of Hollinger International, a media conglomerate that owns such papers as the Chicago Sun-Times and Jerusalem Post. The head honcho of Hollinger, Lord Conrad Black, now stands accused of having looted some $400 million from the corporation. Perle was not merely on the board, but on the executive committee, with a direct, fiduciary responsibility to protect the interest of the shareholders. But this supposed watchdog was Lord Black's lapdog – Perle admits that he personally rubber-stamped stacks of financial documents involving Black's looting, signing the papers without even reading them.

One reason that Perle was so head-in-the-sand irresponsible is that he was enjoying the corporate gravy, too. In a sweetheart deal, he directed a Hollinger division that let him pocket three million dollars – even though this division lost $49 million on Perle's watch.

But Richard now claims that he's a victim! After Lord Black's corporate kleptocracy was exposed – and after an internal report nailed Perle for his "flagrant abdication of duty" – Richard loudly proclaimed to the media that he had been duped by his former friend and benefactor.

Poor Richard. I guess he was duped into putting those millions into his own pockets, too. Maybe he'll pay the money back – do you think?

Jim Hightower

Stop Thinking, and See What You're Told

Part I: Trucking with the Terrorist Devils

Did fear do it to us? Did the horrific attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center so scare the American people that many of our fellow citizens can no longer see that the emperor has no clothes?

Only in part.

Naked in his eerie isolation, the resolute Mr. Bush clearly uses the great fear to blind us to his "catastrophic success" in Iraq, a land destined to become at best Iran-Lite, if not our very own West Bank and Gaza Strip. Watch it nightly on Arab TV: "Americans Kill Again. Blood at 6 and 11."

Mr. Bush sells himself with psychodrama, pushing us to relive the nightmare of 9/11 - and deny today's reality. He plays the wartime leader on TV, and no one breaks out laughing, at least not in public. Indeed, nearly half the country seems truly to believe that he has made them safer.

Beyond our borders, most of the world takes his "War on Terror" as American hyperbole. Europe, in particular, has known waves of terrorist attack at least since the 1880s, and has finally learned to deal with the problem without all the fanfare. European police agencies quietly warned our hapless CIA and FBI of preparations for the 9/11 attacks in good time to intervene, and have continued to break up Al-Qaeda cells with some success.

As for Mr. Bush himself, most European pundits and those who are polled tend to see him as a dangerous lightweight who lied his way into war, blundered the occupation, and now hides his eyes from the chaos he has created. Even the conservative Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal of Europe, charged last week that Bush and his team "systematically refused to engage with what has happened in Iraq."

In the FT's opinion, the administration made too many "mistakes" and "handed the initiative to jihadi terrorists," giving them "a new base from which to challenge the west and moderate Islam."

Those who back Mr. Bush angrily reject this view as liberal rhetoric, disloyalty, or treason. They just will not face the facts.

Fear alone cannot explain such hysterical blindness. Fear got Americans going, but never told us how to view the terrorists who caused our fear. Someone had to fill in the blanks.

Who should we most fear - Osama or Saddam, Chirac or Sharon, radical rag-heads on their prayer rugs or blue-eyed, born-again fundamentalists waving the Red-White-and-Blue?

Do we rush with rockets rattling to kill or capture every terrorist we can? Or do we fight them in ways that do not encourage thousands more to join their ranks?

Do we tar Islam as the enemy, creating the clash of civilizations that Osama wants to provoke? Or do we try to understand why hundreds of millions of Muslims, if we force them to choose, will side with the terrorists rather than us?

To frame their answers, Team Bush drew heavily on conservative counter-terrorists and colonial counter-insurgents, most of whom had honed their way of thinking years before 9/11 became even a gleam in Osama's eye. Their worldview perfectly matched Mr. Bush's gut instincts - and extensive view of the world:

Deal with terrorists primarily as a military threat, or at most a matter for the police and secret services.

Don't take their political grievances seriously or change your own policies and practices. If you do, the terrorists will see it as a sign of weakness, a political victory, and a vindication of their terrorist methods.

As for their potential supporters, and our winning their hearts and minds, leave that to the psychological warriors, communications specialists, and assorted shmear artists in what Washington calls public diplomacy. ("We're here to liberate you," reads the psy-war leaflet. And that's why we're bombing you and your brothers.)

To these simplistic precepts, Mr. Bush added a touch of genius. He further branded the terrorists as pure evil, the spawn of Satan, which made them anathema to most God-fearing Americans. Sound familiar? Have no truck with the devil, neither in the guise of Godless Communists, nor as Islamic Terrorists.

Faith-based anti-terrorism, as Bush and his people package it, is now bidding to replace anti-Communism as America's all-consuming political ideology. Focusing fear, it blinkers what terrified Americans see - and what they do not see - when they look at Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel and Iran, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, or at the threadbare Mr. Bush.

Caught up in a holy war against the ultimate evil, the pro-Bushies see no means too vile to defeat their foe, from torture and sexual humiliation to bombing where people live.

Forbidden the weakness of human empathy, the pro-Bushies never understand that many Iraqis are doing just what we would do if a foreign power occupied the United States - fighting for their country's independence.

Embedded in a military mindset, the pro-Bushies never realize how their winning battles recruit far more terrorists than they kill, while polarizing a huge portion of the world's Muslims against the United States.

Blinded to political realities, the pro-Bushies honestly believe their fearless leader when he tells them that our enemies hate us for who we are rather than for what we do, whether in supporting Saddam in the 1980s, forsaking the Iraqi Shiites after the first Gulf War, backing Sharon against the Palestinians, or propping up the oil-rich Saudi princes.

Anti-terrorist ideology such as this only helps the bin Ladens and Zarqawis. It also helps Mr. Bush. Without it, clear-eyed voters - Republicans as well as Democrats - would run him out of office on a rail and trash his scary, know-nothing approach to radical Islamic terror.

Steve Weissman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Why Have We Suddenly Forgotten Abu Ghraib?

"Children, Ardent for Some Desperate Glory"

We are now in the greatest crisis since the last greatest crisis. That's how we run the Iraq war--or the Second Iraq War as Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara would now have us believe. Hostages are paraded in orange tracksuits to remind us of Guantanamo Bay. Kidnappers demand the release of women held prisoner by the Americans. Abu Ghraib is what they are talking about. Abu Ghraib? Anyone remember Abu Ghraib? Remember those dirty little snapshots? But don't worry. This wasn't the America George Bush recognised, and besides we're punishing the bad apples, aren't we? Women? Why, there are only a couple of dames left--and they are "Dr Germ" and "Dr Anthrax".

But Arabs do not forget so easily. It was a Lebanese woman, Samia Melki, who first understood the true semantics of those Abu Ghraib photographs for the Arab world. The naked Iraqi, his body smeared with excrement, back to the camera, arms stretched out before the butch and blond American with a stick, possessed, she wrote in CounterPunch, "all the drama and contrasting colours of a Caravaggio painting".

The best of Baroque art invites the viewer to be part of the artwork. "Forced to walk in a straight line with his legs crossed, his torso slightly twisted and arms spread out for balance, the Iraqi prisoner's toned body, accentuated by the excrement and the bad lighting, stretches out in crucifix form. Exuding a dignity long denied, the Arab is suffering for the world's sins."

And that, I fear, is the least of the suffering that has gone on at Abu Ghraib. For what happened to all those videos which members of Congress were allowed to watch in secret and which we--the public--were not permitted to see? Why have we suddenly forgotten about Abu Ghraib? Seymour Hersh, the journalist who broke the Abu Ghraib story--and one of the only journalists in America who is doing his job--has spoken publicly about what else happened in that terrible jail.

I'm indebted to a reader for the following extract from a recent Hersh lecture: "Some of the worst things that happened that you don't know about. OK? Videos. There are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib... The women were passing messages out saying please come and kill me because of what's happened. And basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children, in cases that have been recorded, the boys were sodomised, with the cameras rolling, and the worst above all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking..."

Already, however, we have forgotten this. Just as we must no longer talk about weapons of mass destruction. For as the details slowly emerge of the desperate efforts of Bush and Blair to find these non-existent nasties, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. US mobile site survey teams managed, at one point, to smash into a former Iraqi secret police headquarters in Baghdad, only to find a padlocked inner door. Here, they believed, they would find the horrors that Bush and Blair were praying for. And what did they find behind the second door? A vast emporium of brand new vacuum cleaners. At Baath party headquarters, another team--led by a Major Kenneth Deal--believed they had discovered secret documents which would reveal Saddam's weapons' programme. The papers turned out to be an Arabic translation of A J P Taylor's The Struggle for Mastery in Europe. Perhaps Bush and Blair should read it.

So as we continue to stagger down the crumbling stairway of our own ghastly making, we must listen to bigger and bigger whoppers. Iyad Allawi, the puppet prime minister--still deferentially called "interim prime minister" by many of my reporter chums--insists that elections will be held in January even though he has less control of the Iraqi capital (let alone the rest of the country) than the mayor of Baghdad. The ex-CIA agent, who obediently refused to free the two women prisoners the moment Washington gave him instructions not to do so, dutifully trots over to London and on to Washington to shore up more of the Blair-Bush lies.

Second Iraq War indeed. How much more of this tomfoolery are we, the public, expected to stomach? We are fighting in "the crucible of global terrorism", according to Lord Blair of Kut. What are we to make of this nonsense? Of course, he didn't tell us we were going to have a Second Iraq War when he helped to start the First Iraq War, did he? And he didn't tell the Iraqis that, did he? No, we had come to "liberate" them. So let's just remember the crisis before the crisis before the crisis. Let's go back to last November when our Prime Minister was addressing the Lord Mayor's banquet. The Iraq war, he informed us then--and presumably he was still referring to the First Iraq War--was "the battle of seminal importance for the early 21st century".

Well, he can say that again. But just listen to what else Lord Blair of Kut informed us about the war. "It will define relations between the Muslim world and the West. It will influence profoundly the development of Arab states and the Middle East. It will have far-reaching implications for the future of American and Western diplomacy."

And he can say that again, can't he? For it is difficult to think of anything more profoundly dangerous for us, for the West, for the Middle East, for Christians and Muslims since the Second World War--the real second war, that is--than Blair's war in Iraq. And Iraq, remember, was going to be the model for the whole Middle East. Every Arab state would want to be like Iraq. Iraq would be the catalyst--perhaps even the "crucible"--of the new Middle East. Spare me the hollow laughter.

I have been struck these past few weeks how very many of the letters I've received from readers come from men and women who fought in the Second World War, who argue ferociously that Blair and Bush should never be allowed to compare this quagmire with the real struggle against evil which they waged more than half a century ago.

"I, now 90, remember the men maimed in body and mind who haunted the lanes in rural Wales where I grew up in the years after 1918," Robert Parry wrote to me. "For this reason, Owen's 'Dulce et decorum est' remains for me the ultimate expression of the reality of death in war, made now more horrific by American 'targeted' bombing and the suicide bombers. We need a new Wilfred Owen to open our eyes and consciences, but until one appears this great poem must be given space to speak again." It would be difficult to find a more eloquent rejoinder to the infantile nonsense now being peddled by our Prime Minister.

Not for many years has there been such a gap--in America as well as Britain--between the people and the government they elected. Blair's most recent remarks are speeches made--to quote that Owen poem--"to children ardent for some desperate glory". Ken Bigley's blindfolded face is our latest greatest crisis. But let's not forget what went before.

Robert Fisk is a reporter for The Independent

Feeding-Tube Posturing Struck Down

Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature were justly rebuked last week when the Florida Supreme Court declared unconstitutional their ghoulish efforts to require continued nutritional support for a severely brain-damaged woman who has been in a persistent vegetative state for more than a decade. The patient is Theresa Schiavo, who suffered a heart attack in 1990 that deprived her brain of oxygen. She has been kept alive with feeding and hydration tubes ever since.

There seems little doubt that Ms. Schiavo's medical prognosis is hopeless. A trial court found overwhelming evidence that her brain had deteriorated so severely that much of her cerebral cortex was gone.

The case is complicated because Ms. Schiavo left no written directive that spelled out her wishes should she be in a vegetative state. Her husband contends that she had orally expressed a desire not to be kept alive artificially, and the lower courts, finding clear and convincing evidence that she would want the life support stopped, had ordered the feeding tube removed.

But the Legislature, prodded by religious conservatives, quickly passed a law authorizing the governor to order the feeding resumed, and Governor Bush ordered that life support be reinstated. Those grandstanding maneuvers were properly struck down last week when the Florida Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the law was an unconstitutional encroachment on the judiciary's power.

Ms. Schiavo's parents cling to the hope that she may someday recover and plan to continue their legal fight to keep her alive. That is their right. But we hope that the politicians at least will now keep their hands off this tragic case.

NY Times

Irresponsible Intelligence Reform

Momentum is growing for efforts to dramatically reorganize the U.S. intelligence community in the few weeks before Congress adjourns for the elections. But while there has been much arcane debate on budgetary authorities, one important aspect of the reform proposals has gone largely unnoticed: the serious threat they pose to civil liberties.

While the Sept. 11 commission rejected a proposal to establish a domestic intelligence agency along the lines of Britain's MI5 agency, many of the current proposals would create a back-door domestic spy agency. The proposed intelligence agency restructuring would, in columnist William Safire's words, marry the law officer and the spy by placing the FBI's domestic counterterrorism activities and counterterrorism operations by the CIA and Defense Department under the authority of one spymaster. Foreign and domestic intelligence activities are now in different agencies reporting to separate masters because intelligence methods used overseas -- disinformation campaigns, secret kidnappings, etc. -- are fundamentally different from those allowed in the United States. Here, the FBI can engage in secret surveillance, but it must arrest and charge individuals in ways consistent with due process. FBI domestic operations are also subject to public scrutiny, because they are ultimately answerable to the courts in a way that is not true of such CIA activities as secret interrogations in unknown prisons overseas.

Under the proposals being considered, there would be no protection against the reappearance of covert operations targeting Americans by the CIA and the Pentagon. There are no legal prohibitions against the CIA or defense intelligence agencies conducting covert campaigns against Americans. Although the National Security Act excludes the CIA from law enforcement and internal security, it has never been read to prohibit domestic covert operations done for a "foreign intelligence purpose." Indeed, President Ronald Reagan granted such authority to the CIA in a 1982 executive order that remains in place. The only protection against such operations has been bureaucratic arrangements and the CIA's understanding that its primary mission lies overseas. Those bureaucratic protections would disappear with the establishment of a new intelligence director with the power to turn to the CIA or Defense Department and order domestic covert operations in the name of counterterrorism.

These proposals also threaten to transform the FBI's counterterrorism operations by putting an intelligence czar, rather than the attorney general, in charge. Despite civil libertarians' many criticisms of the FBI, it operates with much greater accountability than the CIA, because the line of command goes to the Justice Department, which has an institutional responsibility for the protection of constitutional rights.

The pending bills call for the creation of a national information-sharing network. (This is not part of the intelligence agency restructuring.) Congress would require building the technological capability for an FBI or CIA officer sitting at his desk to access all information about any American in any existing database. This would make it possible, for instance, to generate complete dossiers on all political protesters in Seattle or all Arab Americans in Michigan. Instead of building one massive central database, this proposal envisions a system whereby thousands of government officials would have instantaneous access to multiple databases. No laws currently restrict such dossier-building or limit the government from using such information against anyone for any purpose. Only the lack of capacity stops the government from putting this into practice today.

The proposals do contain references to privacy and civil liberties protections, but they abdicate Congress's constitutional responsibility to enact such protections. Instead, they direct the White House to write privacy guidelines for the new information network. Neither administration guidelines nor the proposed civil liberties board is an adequate substitute for public debate and congressional legislation on the complex issues posed by such a massive new information-gathering program.

What is to be done? As CIA Director Porter Goss has recognized, we urgently need a national debate on the domestic spy powers of any new intelligence director before such powers are given to him. If there is to be a new national intelligence director, domestic covert operations should be outlawed. While a new intelligence director should ensure that foreign and domestic information is shared and that agencies operating at home and abroad coordinate their efforts, the FBI should remain under the direction and control of the attorney general.

Before Congress gives its blessing to the largest-ever surveillance information network, it should conduct a serious examination of the need for such government capability. It should then look closely at the implications for individual privacy and liberty in concentrating such power in the government. Only then, if it determines that such a capability is needed, should it authorize its construction and write the laws necessary to protect individual rights.

In the end, there will be an added security benefit from respecting civil liberties because limited government resources will be focused on actual terrorists and not on American Muslims or political dissidents.

The writer is director of the Center for National Security Studies, a civil liberties organization.

Kate Martin
NY Times

The West's Battle for Oil

Five months before September 11, the US advocated using force against Iraq ... to secure control of its oil.

10/06/02: (Sunday Herald) IT is a document that fundamentally questions the motives behind the Bush administration's desire to take out Saddam Hussein and go to war with Iraq.
Strategic Energy Policy Challenges For The 21st Century describes how America is facing the biggest energy crisis in its history. It targets Saddam as a threat to American interests because of his control of Iraqi oilfields and recommends the use of 'military intervention' as a means to fix the US energy crisis.

The report is linked to a veritable who's who of US hawks, oilmen and corporate bigwigs. It was commissioned by James Baker, the former US Secretary of State under George Bush Snr, and submitted to Vice-President Dick Cheney in April 2001 -- a full five months before September 11. Yet it advocates a policy of using military force against an enemy such as Iraq to secure US access to, and control of, Middle Eastern oil fields.

One of the most telling passages in the document reads: 'Iraq remains a destabilising influence to ... the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East. Saddam Hussein has also demonstrated a willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon and to use his own export programme to manipulate oil markets.

'This would display his personal power, enhance his image as a pan-Arab leader ... and pressure others for a lifting of economic sanctions against his regime. The United States should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments.

'The United States should then develop an integrated strategy with key allies in Europe and Asia, and with key countries in the Middle East, to restate goals with respect to Iraqi policy and to restore a cohesive coalition of key allies.'

At the moment, UN sanctions allow Iraq to export some oil. Indeed, the US imports almost a million barrels of Iraqi oil a day, even though American firms are forbidden from direct involvement with the regime's oil industry. In 1999, Iraq was exporting around 2.5 million barrels a day across the world.

The US document recommends using UN weapons inspectors as a means of controlling Iraqi oil. On one hand, 'military intervention' is supported; but the report also backs 'de-fanging' Saddam through weapons inspectors and then moving in to take control of Iraqi oil.

'Once an arms-control program is in place, the US could consider reducing restrictions [sanctions] on oil investment inside Iraq,' it reads. The reason for this is that 'Iraqi [oil] reserves represent a major asset that can quickly add capacity to world oil markets and inject a more competitive tenor to oil trade'.

This, however, may not be as effective as simply taking out Saddam. The report admits that an arms-control policy will be ' quite costly' as it will 'encourage Saddam Hussein to boast of his 'victory' against the United States, fuel his ambition and potentially strengthen his regime'. It adds: 'Once so encouraged, and if his access to oil revenues was to be increased by adjustments in oil sanctions, Saddam Hussein could be a greater security threat to US allies in the region if weapons of mass destruction, sanctions, weapons regimes and the coalition against him are not strengthened.'

The document also points out that 'the United States remains a prisoner of its energy dilemma', and that one of the 'consequences' of this is a 'need for military intervention'.

At the heart of the decision to target Iraq over oil lies dire mismanagement of the US energy policy over decades by consecutive administrations. The report refers to the huge power cuts that have affected California in recent years and warns of 'more Californias' ahead.

It says the 'central dilemma' for the US administration is that 'the American people continue to demand plentiful and cheap energy without sacrifice or inconvenience'. With the 'energy sector in critical condition, a crisis could erupt at any time [which] could have potentially enormous impact on the US ... and would affect US national security and foreign policy in dramatic ways.''

The main cause of a crisis, according to the document's authors, is 'Middle East tension', which means the 'chances are greater than at any point in the last two decades of an oil supply disruption'. The report says the US will never be 'energy independent' and is becoming too reliant on foreign powers supplying it with oil and gas. The response is to put oil at the heart of the administration -- 'a reassessment of the role of energy in American foreign policy'.

The US energy crisis is exacerbated by growing anti-American feeling in the oil-rich Gulf states. 'Gulf allies are finding their domestic and foreign policy interests increasingly at odds with US strategic considerations, especially as Arab-Israeli tensions flare,' says the report. 'They have become less inclined to lower oil prices ... A trend towards anti-Americanism could affect regional leaders' ability to co-operate with the US in the energy area. The resulting tight markets have increased US vulnerability to disruption and provided adversaries undue political influence over the price of oil.''

Iraq is described as the world's 'key swing producer ... turning its taps on and off when it has felt such action was in its strategic interest''. The report also says there is a 'possibility that Saddam may remove Iraqi oil from the market for an extended period of time', creating a volatile market.

While the report alone seems to build a compelling case that oil is one of the central issues fuelling the war against Iraq, there are also other, circumstantial pieces of the jigsaw that show disturbing connections between 'black gold' and the Bush administration's desire to wage war on Saddam. In 1998 the oil equipment company Halliburton, of which Dick Cheney was chief executive, sold parts to Iraq so Saddam could repair an infrastructure that had been terribly damaged during the 1991 Gulf war. Cheney's firm did £15 million of business with Saddam -- a man Cheney now calls a 'murderous dictator'. Halliburton is one of the firms thought by analysts to be in line to make a killing in any clean-up operation after another US-led war on Iraq.

All five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the UK, France, China, Russia and the US -- have international oil companies that would benefit from huge windfalls in the event of regime change in Baghdad. The best chance for US firms to make billions would come if Bush installed a pro-US Iraqi opposition member as the head of a new government.

Representatives of foreign oil firms have already met with leaders of the Iraqi opposition. Ahmed Chalabi, the London-based leader of the Iraqi National Congress, said: 'American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil.'

Neil Mackey
06 October 2002

The Wounds of War

The story of the military hospital where there’s no escaping the horrors of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan

LANDSTUHL, Germany -- The medical team that accompanied the soldier on the Thursday morning flight from Iraq had worked the whole way to keep him alive, his body burned and lacerated by the fire and metal of a roadside bomb.

They were low on oxygen by the time the green military ambulance reached the front door of the hospital.

"Get me more O2," shouted out a visibly upset nurse, Maj. Pat Bradshaw. She had been up and working for 28 hours, ferrying the wounded out of Iraq.

"She's stressed," said Capt. George Sakakini, a physician in charge of the team that greets the wounded. He watched from the curbside through the early-morning drizzle, keeping an eye on his highly trained squad of doctors, nurses and chaplains. "Someone's trying to die on her."

Full green oxygen tank in place, its contents filtering into the unconscious man's lungs, the team lowered the soldier on his stretcher to the ground. His scorched face was a painter's palette of the colors of pain: yellow, mauve, bright red.

In the intensive care unit, nurses quickly worked to make sure his wounds were as clean as possible. An infection could kill him. A couple of rooms over, more nurses worked on another young soldier, also unconscious, burned and sparring with death. Another roadside bomb victim. Dabbing gently, they spread thick white antimicrobial cream on the raw flesh of his forearms. Twenty percent of his body was burned.

It was an average morning at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, which has become the American military's museum of pain and maiming, doubt and anger. The planes from Iraq land every day, sometimes two or three of them.

Like his staff, who brim with frustration at what they see as the irresponsible disinclination of the American people to understand the costs of the war to thousands of American soldiers, the hospital's chief surgeon feels that most Americans have their minds on other things.

"It is my impression that they're not thinking about it a whole lot at all," said Lt. Col. Ronald Place. As he spoke, the man who has probably seen more of America's war wounded than anyone since the Vietnam War sobbed as he sat at a table in his office.

First stop for injured

Nowhere is it less possible to escape the horrors of the war in Iraq for American soldiers than Landstuhl. Nestled among the tall trees of a forest on the outskirts of this small town in southwestern Germany, the largest American military hospital outside the United States is the first stop for nearly all injured American personnel when they are flown out of Iraq or Afghanistan. Dedicated and compassionate doctors, nurses and support staff push aside curtains of fatigue and what the hospital's psychologists call "vicarious trauma" to patch up and tend to soldiers before they fly to the United States for longer term care.

This month politicians focused on the unwelcome tally of the 1,000th American soldier to die in Iraq. Landstuhl has its own set of figures, numbers that flesh out the suffering occurring on the battlefields of Iraq and in homes across the United States.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 18,000 military personnel have passed through the hospital from what staff refer to as "down range": Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those, nearly 16,000 have come from Iraq.

Last month, 23 percent of those were casualties from combat, slightly higher than most months; the rest had either accidental or disease-related complaints.

Thirteen have died at the hospital.

Each day, an average of 30 to 35 patients arrive on flights from Iraq. The most on a single day was 168.

More than 200 personnel have come in with either lost eyes or eye injuries that could result in sight loss or blindness.

About 160 soldiers have had limbs amputated, most of them passing through the hospital on their way home to more surgery.

And it's not just their bodies that come in needing fixing. More than 1,400 physically fit personnel have been admitted with mental health problems.

Then there are the Pentagon's figures that touch on all casualties from the war in Iraq: 1,042 dead; 7,413 injured in action, including 4,026 whose injuries have prevented them from returning to duty. In Afghanistan, there have been 366 injuries and 138 deaths.

One other number tells a slightly different tale, a story of selflessness in the face of suffering: one third. That's about how much money surgeons at Landstuhl make compared to what they could make if they chose to work in the civilian world.

"There is nothing more rewarding than to take care of these guys," said Place, the skin around his eyes reddening with the tears that he failed to hold inside. "Not money, not anything."

Every day starts in the same way at Landstuhl. The staff get up early to greet the buses and ambulances that come from nearby Ramstein air base, where the planes from Iraq touch down as early as 6 a.m. Most soldiers can walk off the buses, with broken bones or noncombat illnesses. But those who come in ambulances, like the two blast-injured soldiers, go straight to the ICU.

On Thursday morning, the 20-bed ICU was a busy, but not rushed, place. As so often these days, the staff there were dealing with the effects of roadside bombs rather than bullets. That means taking care of scorched, lacerated bodies that may have less obvious internal injuries.

Col. Earl Hecker sat outside the room where nurses were applying the white antimicrobial cream to one of the burned soldiers. Twenty-seven years old, Hecker remarked, looking at the patient's notes. (Hospital officials were not able to get these patients' consent to be named or photographed because of their medical conditions.)

Hecker, at 70, is a few generations older than his patient. A surgeon who had retired from the Reserves but recently rejoined, he has forsaken his private practice in Detroit for now to help at Landstuhl, working past his assigned 90-day tour to stay nearly 150 days.

This experience "has changed my whole life," he said, his jovial demeanor fading to introspection. "I'm never going to be the same."

The day before, Hecker had been taking care of an 18-year-old soldier who, thanks to an Iraqi bullet, will forever be quadriplegic.

Hecker sat gazing through the window at the burned soldier and thought of the kid he had sent off to the States the day before. "Terrible, terrible, terrible," he said, staring into the distance. "When you talk to him he cries."

A month ago, Hecker took four days off to fly home to see his family. He needed a break. They went out for dinner at a nice restaurant. Hecker realized during dinner that he was suddenly seeing the world differently. He looked around at the chattering people, eating their fine food, drinking good wine and he thought to himself: "They have no idea what's going on here. Absolutely none."

He doesn't think people want to see it. He thinks the nation is still scarred by Vietnam and would prefer not to see the thousands of injured young men coming home from Iraq.

"I just want people to understand -- war is bad, life is difficult," he said.

Maybe it was the stress, maybe it's because Hecker has no military career to mess up by speaking out of line, but it just came out: "George Bush is an idiot," he said, quickly saying he regretted the comment. But then he continued, criticizing Bush as a rich kid who hasn't seen enough of the world. "He's very rich, you'd think he'd get some education," Hecker said.

"He's my president. I'll follow him in what he wants to do," he continued, "but I'm here for him." Hecker leaned forward and pointed through the glass at the unconscious soldier fighting for his life 2 yards away.

'It's just not right'

Not all of the staff can get away with criticizing their commander-in-chief or his decisions, but many use more opaque ways of communicating their unease.

"It's not right," said Maj. Cathy Martin, 40, head nurse of the ICU, when asked how she felt seeing so many soldiers pass through her unit. She paused. "It's just not right."

She declined to elaborate on what exactly she meant. Comments such as Hecker's about the president can lead to severe consequences for those with careers ahead of them. But Martin did add: "People need to vote for the right people to be in office and they need to be empowered to influence change."

What she did feel comfortable saying, echoing the head surgeon, Hecker and others, was that people back home just don't get it.

"Everyone's looking but no one's seeing," added Staff Sgt. Royce Pittman, 32, who works with her. "I had no idea this was going on. ... What we see every day is not normal. There's nothing normal about this."

In private, some hospital workers said they wished they could openly air their feelings about the war. And if reporters could somehow quote people's facial expressions, a number of those staff members would probably be facing disciplinary hearings. Only one staff member interviewed expressed solid support for the war.

"I do believe, I truly do believe that those that are fighting and defending for liberty and freedom ... that that is a truly worthy cause," said Maj. Kendra Whyatt, head nurse of inpatient orthopedics.

Is it all worth it? the head surgeon was asked. "That's not for me to say, but I'll be here for them," Place said.

The staff do talk among themselves, said Maj. Stephen Franco, chief of the clinical health psychology service at the hospital. He recalled one doctor's comments after attending a memorial service for a young soldier who had died. "I wish some of the lawmakers could attend some of these more often so they can think a little more about their decisions," Franco recalled the doctor telling him.

But like all the staff in the hospital, politics comes second to healing with Franco. He has a lot of it to do.

"It's probably the biggest challenge to mental health [in the military] since Vietnam," said his boss, Col. Gary Southwell, chief of psychology services.

Psychological wounds

Soldiers come in carrying guilt about leaving their unit behind, haunting visions of seeing friends dying, nightmares, frayed nerves and deep anxieties about their future, Franco said. Place noted that for a single man facial disfigurement, for example, can be particularly traumatizing. Who's going to want someone with a face like this? the young men wonder.

Franco and his colleagues -- the number of psychologists and psychiatrists has doubled since the Iraq war began, reflecting large staff increases throughout the hospital -- make a point of visiting all new patients to see how they're doing.

"We provide assurance, look to the future," he said. "We're careful not to sugarcoat anything."

Franco doesn't attempt quick miracle fixes for traumatized soldiers, most of whom are flown to the United States after a few days. "When your world is rocked like that it's not a smooth process necessarily to get that to make sense," he said.

On Sept. 18, Army Sgt. 1st Class Larry Daniels' world was rocked. So was his wife's.

With other men from his platoon, Daniels was standing on a bridge over a highway near Baghdad International Airport while an Iraqi contractor fixed a fence by the side of the road. Daniels, 37, was waving Iraqi vehicles past the three American Humvees while the contractor worked as quickly as possible to fix the wire fence.

An orange and white Chevy Caprice, a type of car usually driven as a taxi in Baghdad, veered toward the soldiers. It exploded; a suicide car bomb.

"I felt my body went up in the air," said Daniels, in his Texas drawl. "I was upside down looking back at where the car had been and landed on the ground. Three seconds later it hit me what happened."

Lying on the pavement, Big Daddy Daniels, as his men call him, had the presence of mind to keep ordering his soldiers around, even though he couldn't move. Another unit arrived soon and ferried the survivors to safety. Two were dead.

Two days later, Daniels was flown to Landstuhl. Both of his arms have multiple fractures. Steel pins and thick casts keep his bones in place. Part of his hand is missing. And as he puts it, he's got "holes from my ankle to my ear." The doctors have taken some of the shrapnel out. Some fragments are still there.

Wife's opinion has changed

Daniels is an experienced, professional soldier. He's been in the Army for 17 years. His dad was a draftee in the Vietnam War. He can trace his family's military history back to the Civil War. So perhaps it's not surprising that he says he wishes he were still in Iraq with his men.

His wife, Cheryl, has had enough. While the staff at Landstuhl move the injured on, usually after five days, the families of the wounded have to face up to the long-term consequences of the violence in Iraq. Many are embittered.

From a military family herself, the mother of two had been changing her mind about a lot of things even before her husband became so badly injured that he can't do even the most basic of tasks for himself.

She supported the war and voted for Bush. Now, she says, she wants to pull the troops out of Iraq. "I will vote for Kerry. Not because I prefer Kerry over Bush but because I don't want Bush back in office."

Her 12-year-old son has been saying he wants to go to West Point. Her 8-year-old daughter wants to be a military veterinarian. She's stopped encouraging those ambitions.

Speaking alone, without her husband, she said she knew that the Army wasn't going to like what she had to say. Like Hecker, she hasn't got much to lose by speaking her mind, which she did, calmly and thoughtfully.

"I don't feel we have any business being there," she said Friday. "I think this is an area of the world that has been fighting for thousands of years, and I don't think our presence will change anything. If anything, we've given them a common target to focus on. Rather than fight each other, they're fighting us. I don't see why my husband has to lose two soldiers or question why he's here or see his other guys that are hurt. The minute we pull out, things will go back to the culture that is established.

Cheryl Daniels is looking at a tough future. She has to parent her kids, hold down a job at Fort Hood Army base in Texas, where the family lives, and finish the management degree she is studying for at night. Soon her disabled husband will be home, and she finds it hard to believe, as the doctors have told her, that "in a year or two he's going to be back to normal. I can't see that right now because he's got nerve damage in his arms."

She doesn't feel that her country, her military, is giving her enough support. She had to pay her own way to Germany and her own way back. The Army was doing almost nothing for her, she said.

"I feel like we've paid our dues," she said. "And I'm done."

Matthew McAllester
Staff Correspondent
Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.

Event On Darfur at NY's Greenwich Village 9/30

Dear Friends,

Please join Africa Action and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)for a discussion on the humanitarian emergency in Darfur, western Sudan. We look forward to seeing you there!

Catastrophe in Darfur: No End In Sight?
Thursday, September 30
Reception at 6pm Discussion at 7pm
Tishman Auditorium
New School University, 66 West 12th Street, New York

Join Ann Curry of NBC’s Today Show; journalist Scott Anderson, a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine; Nicolas de Torrenté, executive director of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF); Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action; and MSF volunteer Jonathan Spector, MD, to discuss the humanitarian emergency in Darfur.

An estimated one and a half million people have fled attacks by government-backed militia in Darfur, western Sudan, since May 2003. They continue to be terrorized in the overcrowded, unsanitary camps where they have sought refuge, and are dying from violence, disease, and malnutrition. Up to half a million people have received no assistance at all.

Why was the world so late to notice what was happening in Darfur? Are conditions improving? What does the future hold for the people of Darfur?

The event is free, wheelchair accessible, and open to the public. To reserve a seat, please call (212) 847-3151. For more information visit http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/ or call (212) 679-6800.

Hosted by Eugene Lang College and the Graduate Program in International
Affairs, New School University.

Terrorist Watch

The indiscriminate detention of Arabs and Muslims after September 11 devastated thousands of families. A new film tells their stories.

A white room, a shabby desk, feeble light seeping through a window: The set of Alison MacLean and Tobias Perse’s new documentary, Persons of Interest, is deceptively bland. But as 12 stories unfold within its confines -- the narrators are Arab and Muslim immigrants who endured the terror and confusion of post-September 11 detention -- the room begins to resemble less a blank stage set than an existential interrogation cell, a prison block, a waiting room out of Franz Kafka’s The Trial.

The men would be fit characters for that master of absurdity, the master of “hope and the absurd,” as philosopher Albert Camus wrote of Kafka, with their burning outrage and bafflement, their struggle to maintain human dignity, awareness of a terrible duality: of the ways in which an antiseptic, bureaucratic world nurses -- and is fueled by -- its own darkness. Some of their stories are even flecked by Kafka’s gallows humor, as in the case of Saleem Jaffer, who found himself hauled in for questioning because he was sitting in a rental car outside a Burger King. He was later absolved of all charges, including the “unauthorized use of a rental vehicle,” but the case cost him $25,000 in legal fees.

Persons of Interest puts faces to a horrifying statistic: After 9-11, more than 5,000 suspects were rounded up and detained, according to Human Rights Watch. Not one has been convicted of crimes related to the terrorist attacks. The 12 stories here shed light on the little-heard experiences of the detainees and underscore a harsh irony: that many came seeking the social liberties they felt were compromised in the Palestinian territories, Algeria, the Sudan -- only to get locked up in the land of the free.

As for the reasons for the arrests, one was detained, he tells us, because police found his son’s flight-simulation video games, $200 in foreign currency, and a ticket stub from family friends’ visit to the World Trade Center. Another was hauled in because the deli where he worked had postcards of the World Trade Center up on the freezer case. The list of offenses goes on -- the most severe being expired visas or illegal immigration status -- but none connects the men to terrorist plots.

Not surprisingly, the agents of the U.S. war on terrorism come out looking like the true criminals. The documentarians splice in damning footage of Attorney General John Ashcroft banging the pulpit about the efficacy of the war on terrorism.“war,” the efforts that are keeping terrorists off the streets. The only member of the authorities heard from in the film, he’s made to look like a reckless fear-monger, a hypocritical buffoon. Like the majority of political documentaries this year, Persons of Interest is unapologetically one-sided. But unlike nearly any other “real life” film this year, it takes pains to reveal its artifice, the metaphoric scaffolding behind the set.

Persons of Interest displays a curious, faux-naïf quality to its filmmaking: A boom mic drops down into the frame, the interviewers’ questions and commands (“Can you be sure to say, ‘My brother?’”) seem forced and stagy. But then the filmmakers peel back another layer. We follow a man around as if he were a singer backstage, preparing for a performance -- and indeed he is, a nephew who breaks out a few tender bars of song for his detained uncle. The children of another imprisoned man run roughshod over the room, turning it into a playground; they stand in the window and show us that it is not a window at all, merely a cutout in a wall, lights and wires behind it. There’s no outside to this room, no exit in the Sartrean formulation, and only the claustrophobia of entangled human tragedy. The wife of a detainee holds up a photograph, we hear the squeaking of a baby behind her, but we never see its face. Why not? I wonder, only to find out that the baby’s father has never met his own child. As for the released detainees, they become players in their own stories, not just victims giving their testimony -- somehow the directors’ purposeful, ersatz clumsiness gives the men’s stories the power and ambiguity of art. Is it all true, what they say? Who can know, or judge?

Persons of Interest manages to re-create in its audience the feelings of the men: confusion, anger, a sense of powerlessness before the question of how to interpret these experiences, presented here so starkly and abruptly. One of the men admits to feeling like reality is capricious and uncertain for him: “It doesn’t feel like whatever is mine is mine anymore,” he says. Others found family and friends falling away, while another is alienated from “the dark ages of our religion” of Islam and “one-dimensional religious leaders who profess and harvest hatred,” just as his adoptive homeland imprisons him unfairly.

The documentary seems to conclude on an upbeat note: the families sharing food and then posing for a group photograph. And then come the harsh postscripts laid over the faces: a litany of failed businesses, soaring legal expenses, families split apart by deportations and health problems, wives who may never see their husbands again. There is no picture-perfect happy ending for these families, only dark questions and the struggle to make meaning from a broken American dream.

Noy Thrupkaew is a Prospect senior correspondent.

The Ashcroft Garbage Dump

The war against terror continues to be accompanied by critical acclaim from its authors, George W. Bush, Richard Cheney and John Ashcroft and criticism from much of the rest of the country. A study of its successes explains why.

One of the administration's proudest early achievements in the war against terrorism was the arrest six days after 9/11 of four Arab immigrants living in Detroit. John Ashcroft was terribly excited by their capture and let it be known that he believed the men were members of a sleeper cell associated with al Qaeda and had plans to obtain weapons and attack domestic and foreign targets. Because Mr. Ashcroft knew that they were the epitome of evil he kept them in solitary confinement for more than two years which gave them a taste of the society he believed they were trying to destroy.

As excited as the Attorney General was at their capture, he was even more excited during the trial. He could not resist praising one of the government witnesses and making other extra-judicial comments, comments that caused Judge Gerald E. Rosen who was hearing the case to rebuke the Attorney General for violating a gag order that had been imposed by the judge. The judge said Mr. Ashcroft demonstrated "a distressing lack of care" in public statements he made about the case. Who could fault him for his enthusiasm, however? These were the first terrorists to be brought to trial and their conviction, when obtained, would be the first conviction of terrorists since 9/11. The convictions would also justify the harsh treatment given them by Mr. Ashcroft.

In June 2003, one of the defendants was acquitted, one was convicted of document fraud and two were convicted of conspiring to support Islamic extremists plotting attacks in the United States. Mr. Ashcroft hailed the Detroit convictions as a clear message that the United States would work diligently to disrupt and dismantle terrorist "sleeper cells" at home and abroad.

The judge ordered the prosecution to review how it had handled the case. At the review's conclusion on September 1, 2004, the Justice Department acknowledged that it had uncovered evidence that completely undermined the case. It asked the judge to put an end to the terror case and try the three men only on document fraud. John Ashcroft being only voluble when he touts guilt before trial had nothing to say about the dismissal of the terrorism charges.

Another arrest that was loudly trumpeted as an example of success in the war against terrorism was the arrest of Yaser E. Hamdi, an American citizen captured in Afghanistan and held incommunicado in solitary confinement for more than two years. At the time of Mr. Hamdi's arrest Mr. Ashcroft suggested that Mr. Hamdi was responsible for the death of CIA agent Johnny Spann (although that was mere speculation on his part since he gave and had no evidence to support the charge.) He also created the impression that Mr. Hamdi was directly involved in the events of 9/11.

That case has joined the Detroit case and can be found in the Ashcroft garbage dump. In June the United States Supreme Court told Mr. Ashcroft that he did not have the unchecked authority to detain Mr. Hamdi and other enemy combatants indefinitely without access to legal counsel. On August 16, Robert G. Doumar of Federal District Court in Norfolk, Va. said of Mr. Hamdi 's detention: "This case appears to be the first in American jurisprudence where an American citizen has been held incommunicado and subjected to an indefinite detention in the continental United States without charges, without any finding by a military tribunal, and without access to a lawyer." On August 27 the judge told the government that Mr. Hamdi's confinement clearly raised constitutional issues and asked for an explanation of the solitary confinement imposed on Mr. Hamdi. Mr. Ashcroft has repeatedly demonstrated his lack of familiarity with the constitution but very likely asked one of his assistants to see what the judge meant. The task wouldn't have been too difficult since the judge gave Mr. Ashcroft a hint. He said Mr. Hamdi's confinement might violate the 8th Amendment which prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment.

As a result of the court's rulings and negotiations between Mr. Hamdi's attorney and the U.S. attorneys, Mr. Hamdi will soon be, if he is not already, freed and on a plane heading to Saudi Arabia where he grew up. As soon as that happens Mr. Ashcroft will probably hold a press conference to explain to the American people why one of its citizens was held in solitary confinement for more than two years without charges being filed.

Christopher Brauchli, AlterNet