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A very interesting trial, pretty much ignored by the mainstream media, is now taking place in a federal court in Albany, New York.
Yassin M. Aref, a Kurdish immigrant and imam of an Albany mosque, and Mohammed Hossain, a naturalized citizen from Bangladesh, were arrested by the FBI in August 2004 in a case that smacked of entrapment and guilt by association. This arrest occurred around the same time as the arrest of four Detroit Arab-Americans who were supposedly members of a terrorist “sleeper cell.” The Detroit case fell apart when it was discovered that a key witness fabricated damning evidence as part of a plea bargain.
The Albany case involves a sting operation using an FBI informant, a Pakistani businessman whose services were procured in exchange for a reduced sentence for a document-fraud conviction. Hossain, the owner of rental property and a pizza-shop, approached the informant about a business loan. In response, the informant, pretending to be a part-time arms dealer, offered to give Hossain $5000 if he would “hold” $50,000 for him, money that he claimed came from the sale of a shoulder-fired missile that would be used to kill a Pakistani diplomat in New York City. A farfetched story, but Hossain believed it and agreed to hold the money for him in exchange for the $5000. I am guessing that from Hossain’s perspective, he was not only getting a loan without interest, but he was getting a loan with a $5000 bonus, and, at the time, he was supposedly looking for a way to bail out his ailing pizza shop. Aref’s role in this whole affair was limited—he merely witnessed the transaction and wrote up receipts. But both men were charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, money laundering, and conspiracy. The informant had claimed to be working for Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani-based group that the feds list as a terrorist organization.
But why were these men targeted in the first place? Apparently, Aref was the one that they were really after. First, he had been a member of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan. The Islamic Movement, although it supposedly gets money form Iranian backers, is a legitimate political party, not a terrorist organization. But Aref failed to indicate his prior affiliation with the party on his visa and residency applications, something that he was required to do. Second, he allegedly had connections to a splinter group of the IMK called Ansar al-Islam, a Taliban-like group of Muslim extremists who have supposedly used suicide bombs against their own people. The established connections are based on association—phone numbers and addresses found in notebooks and an acquaintance with the group’s leader. He also made some calls to a number in Syria that allegedly had connections to Al-Qaeda. Some controversial journal entries were also found, and those were addressed during the most recent day of trial. Aref claims that, in his journal, he recorded the words of others without endorsing what they had to say.
But the point is that, regardless what these guys thought or believed and regardless who they knew, they hadn’t done anything illegal and, as far as anyone knows, had no plans to do anything illegal until the FBI conducted its sting operation. Hossain, at least, had been living in the Albany area since 1999, and both were known to neighbors as quiet family men. Furthermore, the motive for laundering the money seemed more financial than political. What did the government hope to accomplish here? If the goal was to get suspected terrorists or terrorist sympathizers off the streets, then I suppose that it was accomplished, but the US government is sliding down a slippery slope when it entraps one of its own citizens (Hossain) on mere suspicion. And Hossain didn’t even seem to be the one that had the suspicious connections.
This case is coming to trial two years after the arrest and at the same time that Congress is considering the new detainee bill. Now, one of the provisions of that bill is that a person can now be considered an “enemy combatant” if he is materially supporting terrorist activity. According to Human Rights Watch:
The latest version of the legislation includes an extremely dangerous expansion in the bill’s definition of “unlawful enemy combatant” – a phrase used by the administration to justify holding a combatant outside of the usual protections given to combatants by the Geneva Conventions. It now explicitly deems persons who have “purposefully and materially supported” hostilities against the United States to be combatants, an unprecedented redefinition of “combatant” that could potentially cover a range of innocent people. Financing and support for terrorist activities are already criminal offenses in the civilian justice system. This definition would pervert any reasonable concept of what a combatant is.
And, under another provision of this bill, if Hossain had been arrested outside of the United States, he would, as an enemy combatant, lose his right to habeas corpus, even though he is an American citizen. In other words, he would lose his right to challenge his arrest and detention. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, “. . . the courts would also be barred from hearing the habeas petitions of any future detainees. A simple determination that someone-even a U.S. citizen taken into custody abroad-is an ‘enemy combatant’ would be enough to detain them indefinitely.”
When these men were first arrested about two years ago, much was made in the local and national media about the possibility that they had been entrapped. Now, of course, that has been forgotten.
It’s not that I have so much sympathy for terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, it’s more that I want to protect my basic constitutional rights, and I want to promote the same kinds of rights for people all over the world, whether they are our enemies or not. I cannot justifiably advocate for myself unless I am willing to advocate for others in the same way. As Thomas Paine said, “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”
As Bill Clinton made the rounds of the news and TV talk shows in the past couple of weeks, promoting his Global Initiative, what most impressed me as I watched him is what a remarkable politician he is. And I’m not talking about his politics, which, to some, is hardly better than Bush’s. I’m not talking about his policy, but his ability to be politic. When it comes to politicking, Bill Clinton, the son of a traveling salesman, is a natural, and George Bush, the scion of a wealthy oligarch, is glaringly unnatural. Clinton, more simply put, is more comfortable in his own skin. He is a President wearing it well, rather than an emperor wearing nothing at all.
Just watch him as he enters a room. He strides confidently. When Bush enters a room, it is with the affected John Wayne swagger that Hugo Chavez so delicately commented on, his arms nearly akimbo, as if he were making room for an invisible gun belt, the hallmark of a false or overblown confidence.
When an interviewer asks Clinton a difficult question, Clinton pauses and thinks about it before answering. When Bush is asked a difficult question, he shoots from the hip of his invisible gun belt, sometimes stuttering and stammering his unformed thoughts.
When Clinton speaks, his delivery is multi-vocal, and his style is multi-faceted. His tone and diction are often colloquial, without being familiar or casual. He offers anecdotes, analogies, digressions, divergences. He sometimes circles around a point but he does, eventually, arrive at it. The content of his speech is generally measured, sometimes too measured for my taste. He appeals to logic without appearing overly intellectual, he makes difficult issues accessible without appearing condescending, and he praises without seeming to flatter. He evokes an air of sincerity even when you know he is lying.
When Bush speaks, he often resorts to clichés, slogans, pat phrases, and favorite words (think of “hard work,” “resolve,” and “stay the course”). His style and delivery is often stilted, and one gets the impression that, when pausing, he is scanning an empty database. He seems to not have the erudition or, sometimes, even the bare facts needed to elaborate on a given point. One wonders if he has read his briefings. And, when he does succeed in arriving at a point, he visibly struggles along the way. This might not be so much due to a difference in intelligence, either. Some have argued that Bush is fairly bright and have attributed his inarticulateness and malapropism-peppered speech to dyslexia. Personally, I think that this is an insult to dyslexics.
Sometimes the man seems inept at any form of self-expression. His facial expression is often not in sync with his words. He smirks at members of the Washington press corps when his words suggest playful banter. He sometimes smiles or leers when discussing matters of great seriousness. He looks bewildered when presenting facts. He seems to be reading from the cue cards.
And what about expressing anger? I would not have wanted to be sitting across from Bill Clinton when he railed at Fox News. Chris Wallace appeared to be almost shrinking in his seat, curling up like a besieged hedgehog. Appropriate anger or inappropriate anger, I don’t know. I suppose that’s debatable. But at least Clinton’s response seemed genuine and his affect seemed appropriate. Dare I say it—his anger was almost “manly,” almost Schwarzeneggerian. When Bush gets angry, as he did at last week’s press conference, he “bleats, bullies, and whines,” as Keith Olbermann aptly put it. He is the truculent preppie, the Little Lord Fauntleroy, the kid in school that you just wanted to smack.
Clinton was never far enough to the left for me, and he cajoled and compromised his way through too many important issues. He made a lot of bad decisions, in my opinion, and many mistakes. But at least he was “Presidential,” damn it. At least you knew that he was steering the ship of state rather than running it aground.
OK, so the Iraq war is not making the world a safer place. A classified intelligence report confirms what many people have been saying for years and have determined simply by following the news, reading the headlines, and examining whatever non-classified evidence is available. Common sense itself dictates that the removal of Saddam Hussein would create a power vacuum, which, if not immediately replaced by a suitable and, most importantly, functional replacement, would suck in forces of chaos and provide a breeding ground in which they can multiply. In addition, the Iraq War made tangible, not only to Muslims but to people throughout the world, all the policies that radical extremists use as rallying points for anti-Americanism: the American desire for cultural and political hegemony, the American desire to control Mideast oil, the American desire to control and force rather than negotiate, the American desire to protect Israel, and the American desire to erect military bases on Arab land. The war made manifest what Muslim jihadists had been complaining about for years. The young recruits were and continue to be impressed.
Well, what would make the world a safer place? What would help eliminate terrorism? You can start by asking Bill Clinton. When Keith Olbermann asked Clinton, during an interview the other night, what advice he would give to Bush in the unlikely circumstance that Bush should ask him for any, he replied,
I would say that—I would give him, actually, two pieces of advice. I would say, first of all, I think if you can find some way, consistent with our commitment to Israel’s security, to resume the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and move fairly quickly to a Palestinian state, I think that would do more to change the image of the United States and—than anything else. I think there’s so many Arab-Muslim countries that are frightened by this instability and all this violence, and I think you would find that Israel would actually get more credit and a more positive response from other Arab nations by doing this than ever before. And I think we would have a chance then to stabilize a lot of other problems in the Middle East. That’s the first thing.
The second thing I’d say is no American president can possibly please people all over the world all the time. If you have an unusual political, military and economic position, you’re always going to do things that some people won’t like. But there are two things that are important. You should look like we prefer cooperation over unilateralism and act alone only when we feel we have to. And you should let people know that we have no anger or animosity and we wish them the best. And if we can do it consistent with Israel’s security, let’s get back to work on this Palestinian-Israeli peace process, because that’s half the juice that’s feeding terror all around the world.
Regardless of what you think of Clinton, he is right on the money here. Middle East resentment over US support of Israel can be found anywhere someone cares to look for it. It is in almost all Al-Qaeda diatribes. A peaceful and fair solution to the conflict would and must inevitably defuse this resentment because there will be nothing to hang it on any more. Every day that the conflict continues is another day that the Palestinians serve as the embodiment of Arab and Muslim victimization and oppression. All past resentments, over British colonialism, over the Crusades, and over efforts to control the wealth and the resources of the land have been crystallized in this never-ending conflict, almost like an icon for jihadists to raise over the heads of the underprivileged masses. The conflict is like a centrifuge of hatred, the force of which radiates throughout the Middle East. But now we have a competing centrifuge—the one in Baghdad that has welled up out of the power vacuum of Iraq, if I’m not mixing my metaphors too much here.
There will always be those unhappy with any two state solution. Unfortunately, there will probably always be some degree of violence and terrorist activity. But it is inevitable that it will be substantially reduced by a reasonable compromise and, as far as I can see, the Bush administration has not exerted one iota of effort towards achieving this.
And what about the second point—American cooperation and good will? What does this imply? Diplomacy, something that George Bush said at his last press conference he has no patience for. It implies a slower, more socio-cultural approach to problem-solving, one that is sensitive to underlying causes. Where do young jihadists come from and how are they bred? They are bred in schools that are run by extremists and fundamentalists. Why do parents send their children to these schools? Because there are no other schools, or no other schools that they can afford, if they happen to be one of the many poor in this still developing part of the world. In some places, it is a Mujahideen education or no education. In some places, it is Mujahideen health care and social services or no social services. Who handed out wads of cash to the Lebanese after their homes were destroyed? Hizballah, quicker than you can say FEMA. Who has helped the impossibly downtrodden Palestinians in Gaza? Hamas has, and it has done so for many years.
What about American hypocrisy—do you think that this wins us any friends? Do you think that the people of the region take us seriously when we speak of Democracy, particularly when we ally with countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, provided they play by the rules?
And, as Reza Aslan said on Real Time, we have to think about what we say and how we say it, rather than shooting from the hip:
When Bush says, ‘You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists,’ most people – particularly most moderate Muslims – think, ‘Well, I’m not with you.’
I’d like to add one more method for making the world safer—developing alternative energies, or, to start, developing an energy policy that is not an oil policy. As Jefffrey Sachs said in The Guardian:
It always comes back to oil. The continuing misguided interventions in the Middle East by the United States and the United Kingdom have their roots deep in the Arabian sand. Ever since Winston Churchill led the conversion of Britain’s navy from coal to oil at the start of the last century, the Western powers have meddled incessantly in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries to keep the oil flowing, toppling governments and taking sides in wars in the supposed “great game” of energy resources. But the game is almost over, because the old approaches are obviously failing.
Just when one is lulled into thinking that something other than oil is at the root of current US and UK action in Iraq, reality pulls us back. Indeed, President Bush recently invited journalists to imagine the world 50 years from now. He did not have in mind the future of science and technology, or a global population of nine billion, or the challenges of climate change and biodiversity. Instead, he wanted to know whether Islamic radicals would control the world’s oil.
Yes, another gem from Bush’s last press conference. George Bush’s imagination is limited indeed, if he is unable to imagine a world with alternative energy sources or a world in which oil, which has always buttered his family’s bread, is not the number one commodity.
But are we any closer to a clear vision? Must a former president use TV talk shows to show us the way? What now?
Perhaps this is a little dated at this point, but President Bush’s news conference last Friday raised so many interesting issues and revealed so much about the President’s inner workings, that I really want to take a closer look at it. The President opened the news conference according to form, by outlining current policy agenda items and the administration’s stance on them. He began by promoting his controversial bill to maintain CIA interrogation practices that are currently in use, redefine Chapter 3 of the Geneva Conventions (a provision in the bill since dropped, apparently), and retroactively pardon any US personnel that might have violated those conventions. With much gravitas, he provided the following as an example of the effectiveness of the CIA program:
The information that the Central Intelligence Agency has obtained by questioning men like Khalid Sheik Mohammed has provided valuable information and has helped disrupt terrorist plots, including strikes within the United States. For example, Khalid Sheik Mohammed described the design of plane attacks on building inside the U.S. and how operatives were directed to carry them out. That is valuable information for those of us who have the responsibility to protect the American people. He told us the operatives had been instructed to ensure that the explosives went off at a point that was high enough to prevent people trapped above from escaping.
Excuse me, Mr. President, but am I missing something here? Is this the kind of information that you waterboarded the man for? Is this something that our top CIA analysts couldn’t figure out for themselves, particularly after observing the events of 9/11? And what does the President mean by “high enough” anyway? It seems to me that the intention, on 9/11 at least, was to attack “low enough” to prevent people from escaping. Bush proceeds to offer two examples that are more compelling, but he offers no details about them, and I, for one, wonder why we haven’t heard about them before if they were such remarkable successes. And, beyond waterboarding, described as follows:
The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.
Two young sons of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed . . . are being used by the CIA to force their father to talk. Yousef al-Khalid, nine, and his brother, Abed al-Khalid, seven, were taken into custody in Pakistan last September . . . The boys have been held by the Pakistani authorities . . . Last night CIA interrogators confirmed that the boys were staying at a secret address where they were being encouraged to talk about their father’s activities.
Have we, as a people, really sunk that low under this man’s leadership?
Further on in the conference, the President is questioned about Colin Powell’s comment that “The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism,” and, no wonder, given the above. The President’s response?
It’s unacceptable to think that there’s any kind of comparison between the behavior of the
United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.
Keith Olbermann on Countdown has provided extensive commentary on the President’s use of the phrase, “It’s unacceptable to think . . .” Olbermann discoursed at length on the totalitarian implications of a president who would presume to judge the acceptability of any person’s thoughts, let alone those of his former Secretary of State. But let’s give the President the benefit of the doubt here and assume that this phrase was just one more entry in his already overflowing “slip-of-the tongue” catalog. Perhaps he simply meant to say, “I don’t agree . . .”
But let’s look at the rest of the statement: “ . . there’s [no] comparison between the behavior of the United States and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.” Now, is this really true? Really? The above acts of torture aside, given that they were conducted on someone presumed guilty, let’s take a look at the Iraq Body Count. One look at the IBC listings, especially those that detail the beginning of the war and occupation, and you will see that US soldiers killed a fair number of Iraqi civilians, including women and children and, inadvertently, the members of a wedding party: Pages 88 and 89 of this database are particularly interesting in that they detail virtually scores of civilians, including children, that were killed “mistakenly” or by unexploded cluster bombs. Whether or not these actions were intentional matters not to those who are dead and to their families, and it is not even worth debating intention when soldiers strike in civilian areas. Undoubtedly, their deaths were the direct result of US “behavior” that was intended “to achieve an objective,” and a flawed one at that, given that Iraq was a sovereign nation that posed no direct and immediate threat to the United States. Are we so different, when you look at “the bottom line,” a standard that Bush quite frequently refers to. Well, if it unacceptable to think it, then it must be even more unacceptable to state it.
The same reporter asks if he can “follow-up,” and Bush answers flatly, “No you can’t.” Apparently the President doesn’t understand that reporters are just being polite and respectful when they ask that question, with the expectation that the President, who is at bottom just another US citizen with a job to do, will be polite and respectful in return. In reality, they can ask as many questions as they want, if not in the Rose Garden, then in their newspapers, and in polite company no one would expect a literal and a flat response to the question. But Mr. Bush, unrefined even when compared to the likes of Richard Nixon, is seldom polite or politic when dealing with the free press. . .
The Village Voice recently featured a blog piece, followed by many interesting comments, on the proliferation of 9/11 conspiracy theories. Are those who believe such theories simply nuts? Are they doing the right thing, at least, by questioning the “official version” of the story? Either way, their cause has some legs because according to the article, which cites a Zogby Poll (and I find this hard to believe in a country in which the one third of the population consistently supports the President):
A startling 36 percent of Americans now believe the Bush administration either perpetrated the attacks or failed to stop them because it wanted to go to war in the Middle East [and]
Forty-two percent of Americans believe the U.S. government and 9-11 commission are in some way covering up the truth of 9-11.
One needn’t believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories to see who was the clear victor on that day. It was, resoundingly, the Bush administration. Whether the Bush administration powers-that-be knew or didn’t know what would happen; whether they turned their heads or didn’t turn their heads; whether the catastrophe was a result of their cynicism or their negligence; whether they were shocked, shaken, horrified, or grief-stricken, they must have known, very soon after, what a victory the event was for their party and for the neoconservative agenda.
The event, within a matter of days, justified a sweeping revamp of executive power, long on the Dick Cheney and neoconservative “to do list.” It gave the President not only the already legally sanctioned right to make independent decisions in a time of war, but it gave him an excuse to push through other policy agendas, such as the NSA surveillance program, without the support of Congress or the sanction of the courts. It seemingly justified his self-anointed role as “The Decider.”
After 9/11, the Bush administration had the almost unanimous support of Congress and the support of a large majority of the American people. Congress rubber-stamped (98-1) the Patriot Act without debate and some legislators approved it without even reading it. Most importantly for the Bush administration, they were able to use 9/11 as a leverage point for their nearly monomaniacal plans for Iraq. They were able to conflate Al-Qaeda, “The War on Terror,” and Saddam Hussein, and they were able to use the phrase “weapons of mass destruction” within the context of all-too-vivid imagery of what a weapon of mass destruction can actually do. Whether or not Saddam actually had such weapons seemed almost beside the point.
And how fortuitous it was for them that the tragedy occurred less than two months prior to Election Day, so that, every year, they can trot out the same old slogans about the war on terror, play upon people’s fears, and market Republicans as the party that is “tough on terror.” Each September they can exploit the shocking imagery to the max without even directly referring to it (although they do that often enough) and without being accused of exploiting it, since it is already all over the media. They can use the debate about war, terrorism, and security as a distraction that allows them to push through legislation that gives tax cuts to the rich, irreversibly harms the environment, and short changes education and the country’s infrastructure (see New Orleans levees). They can cater to big business and the oil industry with nary a peep of critique because everyone, including the media, has their eyes fixed on Iraq and the ongoing (and almost by definition never-ending) “War on Terror.” Oil prices can go up, wages can remain stagnant, and the health care system can remain an expensive mess, because all we ever hear about is Iraq and terrorism. It is almost all that we have to respond to.
The neoconservatives have been able to use 9/11 as an exquisite justification for their Project for the New American Century. And the longstanding US, and particularly conservative, policy of nearly unconditional support for Israel seemed almost sensible in light of what Muslim extremists were actually capable of. Never mind that unconditional support for Israel is actually more part of the problem than part of the solution.
In short, all of the main policy agendas of the neocons, the Rumsfelds, the Cheneys, the Wolfowitz’s and the Kristols, have been justified or aided by the events of 9/11.
The Latin proverb says that it is the “victor [who] rewrites history.” The Bush administration was the clear victor in the 9/11 attack , and almost from day one they rewrote the history of that event, by linking Saddam Hussein and “the axis of evil” to it and, now, by purveying, through right-wing hacks and shills, shamelessly blatant propaganda in the form of “The Path to 9/11.”
And who were the biggest losers that day? The American people. Not only because they lost a cultural icon and 3000 souls, but also because they lost some of their freedom and privacy, some of their good sense, and a lot of the world’s good will.
In reference to yesterday’s post about Bush torture policy, it seems that the administration was truly playing a shell-game with the public. According to today’s NY Times, at the same time that the Pentagon issued the new interrogation manual, the Bush administration introduced legislation that would allow those practices outlawed by the Pentagon to continue to be practiced by the CIA.
“And the courts would be forbidden from intervening.” Eight very important words.
According to the article:
The proposal is in the last 10 pages of an 86-page bill devoted mostly to military commissions, and it is a tangled mix of cross-references and pregnant omissions.
The proposed legislation would provide retroactive immunity from prosecution to government agents who used harsh methods after the Sept. 11 attacks. And, as President Bush suggested on Wednesday, it would ensure that those techniques remain lawful.
Wow. Let’s see how they slip this one under the wire. Thus the importance of the midterm elections. The only way to keep these people in check is to unseat the Republican majority in Congress.
The Pentagon’s new policy directive and field manual on interrogations seems a step in the right direction and, indeed, Human Rights Watch has praised the move while condemning other Bush policies. These directives will apply to all branches of the military and so, it seems, they will be applied in locales under Defense Department control, such as Guantanamo.
But I’m wondering if, in the end, these new directives aren’t for the most part just more Bush administration sleight-of-hand. It is very important to note that these “new rules” apply only to interrogations that are conducted under the purview of the Defense Department. In other words, the CIA, in one of the newly-acknowledged secret prisons or “black sites,” can conduct interrogations as it sees fit, particularly if the interrogators are not on American soil and not subject to American law. And if the “interrogators” are citizens of a host country that allows torture, well, then, it seems to me that anything goes. As a Washington Post article stated,
But while the policies apply to all Defense Department employees and contractors, there are no safeguards in the event a CIA employee takes custody of a detainee and moves him into a separate, nonmilitary, facility.
One can imagine that the “14 top-level terrorism suspects” that were transferred from a CIA “secret prison” to Guantanamo have been thoroughly worked over and that nothing more can be wrung out of them, so it is no problem to give them prayer rugs and kinder, gentler treatment, especially since they will likely be locked up indefinitely.
Furthermore, the Defense Department reserves the right to “update” this manual; in other words, make amendments to it if they like, and it is unlikely that any such amendments will garner the media attention that was given to the initial publication.
And what about the timing of these announcements, right before the election? By acknowledging the secret prisons, but, at the same time issuing kinder, gentler rules of interrogation, the President gets to appear both “tough on terror” and reasonable. If any Democrat should stand up and criticize the secret prisons, Bush can refer to the techniques used in those prisons, as he did yesterday, as “harsh,” but not “torture.” What is the difference between a “harsh” interrogation method and a torturous one, in the President’s mind? I doubt that we will ever know for sure. But what I do know for sure is that any Democrat who stands up and critiques these prisons will be labeled by some Republican hit man, Bill Frist or the like, as “soft on terror.”
And doesn’t Bush get to stand on his terror soapbox now that the September 11th anniversary is coming up? It’s déjà vu all over again.
The 9/11 story, already mythologized and told and retold from a thousand different angles, will now be used as the latest propaganda tool by those who would rewrite history. According to some who have viewed and reviewed the series, it innacurately depicts some critical events and tends to place more blame on the Clinton administration for failings that might have led to the attack. One scene that presents the Clinton administration in a bad light is, by the producer’s own admission, completely fabricated.
According to the NY Times, Richard Ben-Veniste of the 9/11 commission reviewed part of the movie along with other commission members and stated:
As we were watching, we were trying to think how they could have misinterpreted the 9/11 commission’s finding the way that they had . . . They gave the impression that Clinton had not given the green light to an operation that had been cleared by the C.I.A. to kill bin Laden.
Richard Clarke, who knows better than anyone what actually happened, is apparently upset about the depiction. According to Think Progress.org, President Clinton’s, Madeline Albright’s, and Samuel Berger’s office have been denied advance copies of the film or script, but copies of the film have been given to Rush Limbaugh and a variety of bloggers and other folks, apparently for the purposes of promoting it. While ABC emphasizes that the miniseries is a “docudrama,” not a “documentary,” thus exculpating it from charges of inaccuracy, it apparently plans to widely distribute it to schools. One hopes that every schoolteacher who shows this series in his or her classroom will know all the facts and be able to place the depiction in its proper context, but that is a lot to hope for. The 9/11 Commission report is so thick and detailed, the best reader would never remember all of the facts that are outlined in it, and five or ten or more years from now, collective memory may rely almost solely on sources such as this program. Thus the importance of accuracy in popular and mass-marketed depictions of the events.
If all of this is correct, it smells pretty bad. Think Progress, which has reviewed the film, has posted an action alert on its website, asking people to use their form to send a message to ABC. The letter requests that ABC fix the inaccuracies in the program or not air it. Personally, I’m opposed to censorship, and that’s what asking ABC not to air this would amount to, in my opinion. Particularly if you have not seem the film yourself. How can you object to something that you have not even seen? This is what right-wing fundamentalists do all of the time.
But it doesn’t hurt to send a letter to ABC, criticizing their decision to air and distribute an inaccurate program. It might be even more effective to contact the program’s sponsors and tell them you will boycott them. This is a little bit different than telling ABC that they should not air the program. It’s more like saying, because you have shown something inaccurate and propagandistic, I’m not going to support you. That’s a decision that someone might make on their own, after viewing the program.
In this interesting New York Times Op-Ed piece, “Pack of Lies,” dog expert Mark Kerr finally issues a critique of the mighty Dog Whisperer and questions the validity of his techniques.
Cesar Millan is, without a doubt, charming and engaging, the embodiment of “tough love.” His results, as depicted on his program, are simply amazing. Yes, his techniques seem a little hard-assed at times, but if he can prevent a wayward dog from being disowned or euthanized, great. If he can prevent an aggressive dog from causing harm and mayhem, so be it. If he can encourage more people to work with their dogs rather than give up on them, well, that is simply wonderful. I enjoy watching The Dog Whisperer, perhaps because there is something satisfying about seeing hopeless cases rehabilitated, especially when they are cute and furry. Also, I believe that it is a noble endeavor to attempt to better understand animals and communicate with them.
But Kerr argues that Cesar doesn’t really understand dogs and that his philosophy of dominance and submission is highly problematic. He cites a wolf behavior expert in arguing that not all wolf packs are structured the way that Cesar suggests and that dominance contests are rare. Furthermore, he says, domestic dogs are not wolves. Their collective psyches have been irrevocably altered by 15,000 years of selective breeding and association with humans. They are more psychologically complex than wolves in a pack, more like individuals with individual “talents and limitations.” He argues that Cesar’s techniques, although mild compared to some, are punitive, regressive, and quick and dirty. Dominance and intimidation might work in the short run, he says, but much is sacrificed and overlooked in the process, including subtle factors that might be causing the unwanted behavior.
I admit that I have always felt a tad uncomfortable with Cesar’s methods and ambivalent about his results. In changing a neurotic animal into a “calm, submissive” one, how much of its spirit is broken? Since they can’t talk to us, we will never know for sure. While it is true that most dogs respond well to authority and clear limits, most also need the latitude to be the goofy and exuberant creatures that they are.
And the phrase “calm, submissive” often troubles me. I worry that these little reformed miscreants have become lobotomized zombies. And is a jumping Min Pin so bad any way? Is a feisty Chihuaha so out of the ordinary? I always thought that feistiness was part of the small package. And is it possible to control that feistiness rather than subdue it? Cesar’s results may make the dog’s people happier, but do they make the dogs happier? And I wonder about the recidivism rate of these creatures. A year later, are the animals back to their old tricks?
I was highly amused when I observed Cesar trying to settle a long-standing dispute between a family cat and dog, and, when he finally got them settled, he stated, “Now you have a calm, submissive dog and a calm, submissive cat.” I have known many, many calm cats, but I have never known a submissive one. The most passive of their kind will take their chances on the street rather than submit to your will, and this is only one of their many charms, in my opinion. What Cesar did not understand is that the cat was probably just weary of the whole game.
The notion of a “quick fix” is highly addictive. There is something appealing I think, even to the most liberal and independent among us, about having a strong and gentle authority figure come in and quickly and decisively set things right. There is something enormously comforting in knowing that no matter how tough the problem, there’s a big, strong guy out there who can solve it for you, even by using force, if necessary (and there is a political point mixed in here, in case you haven’t noticed) so that you don’t need to think about it anymore, so that you don’t need to wrangle and wrestle with it. Perhaps this is the fundamental appeal of The Dog Whisperer.