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It Is Vital to Move Beyond 911
Terrell E. Arnold
More than five years after the fact, Washington leadership keeps the American people fixated on the events of 9/11. They have brought us no closer than we were on September 12, 2001 to resolving how it was executed and by what enemy. They tell us repeatedly that it was the work of al Qaida, but they have yet to show us the proofs. They told us the official version of what happened that day, but their story is laced with contradictions, and the facts visible on the ground at the time belie much of the official account. Our leadership gave us a Sopranos blank screen ending to a terrible tragedy, while working below the radar to avoid our established laws and slowly to destroy our democratic institutions. Every American must look carefully at the pattern of decay that began with 9/11.
The 9/11-induced decay has been continuous. It began with attacks on Afghanistan because, as we were told, Osama bin Laden and his al Qaida leaders were hiding there. To pave the way for finding them, our forces overthrew the Taliban government of Afghanistan. That government, in our terms at least, was no great loss, but in its place the US:
(a) Created a new government under a former CIA asset, Hamid Karzai, whose control is confined to the capital city of Kabul, and even though he was born to a wealthy Pushtun Afghani family, most Afghans consider him an American employee;
(b) Largely put the traditional Afghan warlords back into command of their own territories and turned the country into five mafia-like fiefdoms;
(c) Allowed or at least did not prevent the warlords from reviving the country's lucrative opium crop that is now the source of about 90% of world opium/heroin trade;
(d) Scoured the country from side to side, killing more ordinary civilians than alleged al Qaida militants;
(e) To this day has been unable to confirm or deny whether Osama bin Laden is/was actually in the country, or is even alive;
(f) Is still running a military operation that from day to day does more harm than good; and
(g) Provides a training ground for counterinsurgents but yields little gain in the so-called War on Terrorism.
Part two of America's 9/11-induced decay is the war on Iraq. While Afghanistan operations are conducted as a more or less conventional counterinsurgency operation, the war on Iraq was initiated through multiple assaults on American institutions. The first Bush move was to ignore and virtually eliminate the separation of powers. Without the constitutionally required declaration of the Congress, Bush began an undeclared war on Iraq. He did that by ignoring the obvious facts: (1) Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had not once threatened the United States and (2) in the best estimate of serious observers Saddam lacked the capacity to do so. As an accumulating pile of evidence shows, Bush cooked the books on Iraq, and he ignored outright a completely factual report of Iraq's military shortcomings that Saddam submitted to the United Nations. As some historians argue, this may not be the only time the US has gone needlessly to war, but it is certainly the most easily documented instance.
Using 9/11 as the excuse, the Bush team violated both the letter and the spirit of American and international law. Iraq's actual military forces collapsed within a matter of days, but the Bush administration kept up a pattern of many weeks in bombing the Iraqi infrastructure into rubble, destroying its public administration system, dismantling its government human and physical infrastructure, disbanding its military forces, wiping out its industrial base, eradicating its power and water capabilities, and devastating its system of roads and bridges. Effectively Iraq was used for Air Force target practice-significantly for new and battlefield-untested weapons-well after there was any possibility of organized Iraqi military resistance. This pattern systematically destroyed Israel's main regional enemy.
As the third stage of post 9/11 decay the US used nuclear and chemical weapons against a country that possessed neither. From the beginning US forces pounded Iraq with depleted uranium weapons. The official US view of depleted uranium is that it is harmless. In reality so-called "depleted" uranium (DU) has had the U-235 removed to make weapons, but the "depleted" material is uranium 238 that is 60% as radioactive as natural uranium. Because of the official US position DU effects have been ignored, while it has been scattered by explosives over much of Iraq. It is increasingly associated with Gulf War syndrome that has affected tens of thousands of Gulf War I veterans. Experience suggests it will affect half or more of Gulf War II veterans. It has contaminated millions of Iraqis and particularly is associated with birth defects. Unless and until it can be systematically cleaned up, the US has made Iraq into a toxic nuclear hot spot that will persist for generations.
The US also has used chemical weapons, notably phosphorus, in an attack at Fallujah and elsewhere. In so doing, the US has moved the rules of war back toward the truly uncivilized standards our troops experienced in World War I, with unknown, probably hairy consequences for the future. In these terms Iraq has become a brutal American experiment in the misconduct of war.
Stage four in the post 9/11 decay remains a dirty and drawn out process, but its effects are widely visible. In the run up to the Iraq war it became obvious almost immediately that the Bush team was prepared to invade that country with or without national support and with or without proof of need. The only way an Iraq invasion could garner national support was to link it to 9/11. Iraq was so accused even though there was no shred of evidence, and nothing has emerged in the aftermath to suggest Iraq had anything to do with 9/11. The next reason for an invasion was Condi Rice's "mushroom cloud" argument, even though the widely published UN expert opinion at the time-based on repeated inspections-was that Iraq had no nuclear weapons capability.
The fact that no weapons or capability to make them were found was called "an intelligence failure". However, even if, as accused, Iraq had achieved a few nuclear weapons, it would have been no match for the hundreds of weapons owned by Israel or the thousands possessed by the United States. Going to war with Iraq was in truth a failure of American leadership integrity.
Stage five in the post 9/11 decay was US mistreatment of top-level Iraqi prisoners including Saddam Hussein. Having found him guilty in a kangaroo style court, US officials looked on while Saddam was turned over to his personal enemies who hanged him in a vengeful and brutal manner. Saddam's two sons were dispatched in an even more cold-blooded assault. Others since have been killed with little attention to the rule of law. 9/11 has made our leadership forget everything that was learned at Nuremberg.
Stage six in the post 9/11 decay is the deceitful manner in which the US has set out permanently to occupy Iraq. A key part of that process concerns the creation of US bases in Iraq that are meant to be permanent, even as the issue of the need for them is still being debated in the United States. Knowledgeable returned servicemen report that those bases were initiated with 60-year leases stiff-armed out of compliant Iraqi officials. Note that the Iraqi people were not asked, nor was the matter ever submitted to the obviously US manipulated Iraqi assembly for endorsement. The same duplicitous procedure was likely involved in the concession by Iraqi leadership of a 104 acre piece of central Baghdad as the site for the world's largest American Embassy-inexplicably to be built in the 44th most populated country of the world. Similarly duplicitous processes are now at work to assure that US and British oil companies take over, develop and take the major profits from an estimated three quarters of Iraq's oil reserves.
Stage seven in post 9/11 decay is the use of the War on Terrorism to help friendly governments suppress their political opposition or dissident elements. The War on Terrorism is most popular in countries where it enables host elites and governments to repress their political opposition with US support. Case in point is the Philippines where that government has ignored the needs and interests of the Moro (Muslim) peoples for generations. That neglect led to creation of the Moro national liberation front and eventually the group Abu Sayaff that is nominally allied with al Qaida. But other examples include Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, India, Pakistan, and Palestine. The US Rule that "we don't negotiate with terrorists" is convenient for governments that do not wish to make concessions to their political dissidents or out groups. War on Terrorism mainly provides a global excuse to suppress out groups, especially if they are accused of being allied with al Qaida or of representing Islamic movements.
Stage eight of America's post 9/11 decay began in Washington, but surfaced in Iraq, continues in numerous secret prisoner hellholes abroad, and has evolved into the flagship stockade in Guantanamo. Recent Washington Post articles on the roles of Dick Cheney in the George W. Bush administration show-as many observers already knew-that Cheney and a cabal of supportive political appointees were the real bad apples who contrived the policies that still lead to torture of numerous US prisoners. While it obviously was known to our military leadership in Iraq, and to top political leadership in Washington, Abu Ghraib was a shock to the American people. Even so, the Bush team largely has succeeded in seeing that only people on the ground, most of them enlisted men and women, pay any penalties for those crimes.
For stage nine of the post 9/11 decay, a compliant Congress ratified the overall scheme by passing the Military Commissions Act. This act denies constitutional rights to detainees and permits continuing violations of due process. The act permits abuses that are defined as torture under the Geneva Conventions, but it says that no American officials who violate those principles will be subject to prosecution, even though their acts are war crimes under treaties to which the United States remains a leading party.
Meanwhile, Guantanamo continues to fester as a place of illegal confinement and torture of alleged terrorists or supporters of Osama bin Laden. In Guantanamo, the physical and psychological abuse of prisoners who have never been charged with any crime has been so gross that the Bush team now fears to let any of those prisoners go for fear that they might try to retaliate. Thus, contrary to all American principles of justice, the Guantanamo prisoners may now face a life in prison just to keep them off the street.
All of those actions are dangerous to the United States or to Americans abroad because they offend, anger and/or harm so many people. But the stages of the post 9/11decay that are most dangerous to the American system are occurring here at home. They are many and growing.
Stage ten of the post 9/11 decay consists of subtle and not so subtle attacks on our form of government. The first of these, of course, was Congressional concession of its war making decision authority to Bush, and he personally took us into an unnecessary war on Iraq. That cost the death and wounding of tens of thousands of American troops and the death, wounding or displacement of millions of Iraqis. It has led to the near total collapse of Iraqi society, but the Iraqi people continue to refuse to concede their country to an occupying army.
Under the guise of pursuing the villains of 9/11 Bush launched the War on Terrorism. As "the decider" of all questions moral, legal or treaty related Bush determined that he was above the law. In his War, therefore, he could use assassinations, which are against US law; he could conduct surveillances of American citizens, outside established laws and regulations; he could unilaterally move into any country from which the US might perceive itself to be somehow threatened and take action against alleged enemies; he could detain individuals captured or handed over to the United States by others for years without charge, contrary to US law and to treaties binding on the US; he could authorize the torture of such prisoners up to some point short of their organ failure and death, so long as that torture produced information allegedly of value to "saving American lives"; he could spy on Americans via telephone taps and other surveillance devices. All of this he asserted was proper under his authorities as "wartime" Commander in Chief.
Under his role as "the decider", Bush has turned the presidential signing statement into a line item veto or declaration of intent not to comply with any law that Congress may send to him which he does not like. When signing he simply pens a statement that says what he intends to do, regardless of what is in the law as passed and signed by him. Since taking office he has penned over 750 such statements, all of which assert in some fashion that he is not bound by legislation, nor, he asserts, are his appointees. In so doing, Bush has turned himself from the constitutional role of principal overseer of the application and enforcement of American laws (made by the Congress for the people) into an alternative legislator whose written word is law.
Vice President Cheney has gone a giant step beyond by saying that as elected Vice President and next in line to succeed the President, he is not part of the Executive Branch and therefore is not subject to its rules. This sounds far-fetched, but it is consistent with his behavior from the beginning of the Bush administration. He has personally (a) made a secret of his official dealings with the oil industry; (b) interfered with environmental law enforcement, including bypassing the appointed agency head; (c) altered water use decisions, involving going around the designated cabinet officer, (d) created a network and set of policies that led to torture of prisoners in US custody, including ignoring US laws and treaties to the contrary. In short, Cheney has behaved as if he runs a separate government whose actions only incidentally may conform to the actions and preferences of the President of the United States or to the needs and preferences of the American people.
All of the foregoing actions have been publicly justified, President Bush and Vice President Cheney aver, to assure that 9/11 will not happen again. We went to War in Afghanistan and Iraq, so they say, to assure that the terrorists will be captured or killed abroad and will not come to the United States. That approach has offended or angered and injured so many people in the world that the US has few real friends left.
As an alleged post 9/11 defense, the War on Terrorism is a gigantic fraud. In the world today, a high-side tabulation of the number of "terrorists", meaning actually insurgents, remains no more than 150,000 people. Most of them are clustered in small groups that are scattered among 80-90 countries. If the reported numbers for the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Colombia (about 10-15,000 dissidents each) are put aside, the global number drops near 100,000, meaning on average maybe a thousand dissidents of which only a few hundred or less are combat members in each country. Virtually all of those small groups have long-standing grievances against their home governments and elites. The failure of host governments to deal successfully with them is responsible for most of the visible instability in the world.
That pattern of instability and Israeli repression of the Palestinian people are the primary source of world terrorism. There is no action that can stop this pattern short of individual governments beginning to treat their minorities and out groups fairly, or short of the Israelis beginning to treat the Palestinians as human beings. But the US uses the pattern of global instability to justify a growing roster of repressive measures in the United States. Domestic spying is becoming commonplace. Electronic eavesdropping, laws to the contrary notwithstanding, goes on all the time. Ways are being sought to put aside constitutional barriers and bring the Pentagon and the armed forces into domestic surveillance and law enforcement.
The sum of those moves is to (a) centralize governance in the White House; (b) place our society under a military police surveillance and control process; (c) use spurious or actually irrelevant threats abroad to keep our people in a constant state of fear; (d) build an American military capability that will keep the rest of the world at bay; (e) ignore US laws and treaty obligations that might interfere with this agenda; and (f) finally to turn the United States into an oligarchic and elitist autocracy. If these were only the temporary aberrations of a White House that is suffering from an egotistical urge to unfettered executive power, we could hope it will pass with the next election.
We cannot let a single criminal act, the facts and perpetrators of which are still obscure, destroy our society. With all respect due to those who lost family and friends in the attacks of 9/11, there is no evident search for justice, truth or our future safety in the US government actions outlined in this paper. Instead we are watching the most brutal power games of our times that benefit the few at the expense of the rest of us.
We have a President who is weak and a Vice President who is incorrigible. And all their crimes are being committed in the name of 9/11. If Osama bin Laden actually did mastermind the 9/11 attacks, and even if he engineered them with a view to dealing a deathblow to the great Satan, he could not have foreseen that those attacks would be used by unscrupulous leaders to justify the gradual disassembly of American society. We the people are allowing this to go on in some hope that there can be a definitive resolution of 9/11. Such a resolution is unlikely and even if found will never satisfy everybody. What will serve everybody is that the United States emerges from this experience resolved to keep the best system so far built for sustaining a complex society.
We have a clear set of choices: We can let the people who are using 9/11 continue the changes in our systems that they allege will protect us, but which in truth will destroy us. We can demand a halt; put 9/11 in the class of gross criminal acts where it belongs and devote appropriate law enforcement resources to resolving it. We can move our government back to the business of running our national affairs the way they should be run-with integrity and in the interests of all our people. We can leave the United States on its present course of using 9/11 to build a world-dominating military enterprise that will fuel the most deadly arms race in history. Or we can call a halt, and insist that the United States get in step with the world's main needs and problems and with the cooperative means that will be needed to meet them. We can watch while our military power brokers use 9/11 to fuel the most elite-centered and moneymaking military enterprise the planet has ever seen. Or we can collectively say no. It is time America actually joined the human race instead of seeking always to dominate it. We must put 9/11 to rest to do that.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter-Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at wecanstopit@charter.net



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