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Why is the US government selective about whom it classifies as a terrorist and about whom it condemns for targeting civilians?  Does it depend on which side they are fighting?   

From the NY Times: 

United Nations officials estimate that southern Lebanon is littered with one million unexploded bomblets, far outnumbering the 650,000 people living in the region. They are stuck in the branches of olive trees and the broad leaves of banana trees. They are on rooftops, mixed in with rubble and littered across fields, farms, driveways, roads and outside schools.As of Sept. 28, officials here said cluster bombs had severely wounded 109 people — and killed 18 others. Muhammad Hassan Sultan, a slender brown-haired 12-year-old, became a postwar casualty when the shrapnel from a cluster bomb cut into his head and neck. 

Why has Israel been allowed to use cluster bombs in civilian areas?  Unexploded cluster bombs basically function as land mines that are perilous to innocent civilians long after hostilities have ended.  Children are often the victims of unexploded cluster bombs because of their tendency to wander around in areas where they shouldn’t and to pick up things that look like toys. This has been a big problem in Afghanistan, where unexploded cluster bombs left there after the American attack have caused ongoing problems.  Cluster bombs are not very precise, so they’re not supposed to be used in civilian areas, but Israel used them when targeting civilian areas of

And from NPR this morning: 

Thirty years ago Friday, a Cuban airliner blew up in mid-air, killing all 73 people aboard.U.S. officials later concluded that a violently anti-Castro Cuban exile named Luis Posada Carriles helped plan the bombing. But Thursday the Justice Department refused to classify Posada, who is in jail for immigration violations, as a terrorist. 

Let me get this straight— The US government takes suspected terrorists, sometimes proved innocent, and locks them up in Cuba, denies them rights, and labels them enemy combatants.   

Then, the US government takes a notorious terrorist with a long resume, a Cuban, and locks him up in Texas where he is not only given access to US courts, but is held and charged as a criminal rather than a terrorist.   

What, precisely, does the “war on terrorism” mean in this context?  If it is a war against a “tactic” as some have said, rather than an entity, then it also seems to depend on who is using that tactic. Thus it is not only an open-ended war, but a war in which the enemy is selectively and subjectively defined.   


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.”


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.

the following tactic was applied, something that many Americans don’t know about because it was barely covered by the mainstream media:

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.”

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, 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.


Yesterday’s NY Times featured an article, followed by well over 200 comments, on the use of behavior observation to screen airline passengers.  Security personnel observe body language, facial expressions, and general signs of anxiety to single people out for further interview and search.  Paul Ekman, a psychologist who has devoted his life work to decoding facial expression and non-verbal communication, helped the TSA design this program. As I understand it, Ekman’s work has successfully linked facial movements and expressions and other non-verbal cues to precise emotions and behaviors such as lying, but has not made any connection between these non-verbal cues and subsequent behaviors or actions.  As far as I know, no studies have been done linking body language, particularly the body language of travelers or persons under stress, to subsequent behavior of any kind. 

Therefore, it seems that the basic premise behind this program is that if a person’s body language says that he is nervous or afraid, his nervousness or fear alone indicates he is a possible terrorist and worthy of further scrutiny. Numerous commentators on this article pointed out something that anyone who has traveled quite a bit already knows—that travel itself is stressful and, for some, frightening.  Many people look anxious and unhappy at airports, mostly due to the generally-acknowledged stresses and discomforts of traveling, compounded these days by security screening–necessary, yes, but sometimes extremely aggravating.  Add to this the fact that you KNOW that you’re being scrutinized as you wait in line, juggling your passport, your ticket, your bag, your shoes, and your child, and you become one anxious, harried, and highly self-conscious person to boot. (Or you are the rare person who behaves like “patience on a monument,” who, thanks to your superior character, escapes interrogation.  You are the person, who, when searched, thanks the security official for so thoroughly protecting you.  You smile broadly at him.  You are, you think proudly to yourself, not a “whiner”). 

I would argue that this program also promotes a class-based form of scrutiny.  The well-heeled business traveler, who arrived at the airport in a taxi or limo, handed his bag to a skycap, stood in line not for a second before boarding, and downed a very fine Scotch whiskey before walking through security, will more likely pass through wearing the expression of the just and righteous, and, given his status, will more likely be waved through any way, even if he doesn’t. 

Other commentators pointed out the culturally biased nature of non-verbal cues.  Well, Ekman claims that the cues he has identified are universal, sort of hard-wired into the brains of those of the human species, untainted by cultural and ethnic social norms.  Just as German-raised and Italian-raised dogs (or Rottweilers and Neapolitan Mastiffs, if you like) both wag their tails when they’re happy, so do German and Italian people both raise their eyebrows when frightened.  Fine, but we still have the image of the fidgeting German or Italian man at the airport, fidgeting because he is naturally impatient and antsy, being observed by a highly-trained individual and determined to be, well, fidgety and antsy, and thus being singled out for additional search and delay. Doesn’t seem very scientific to me, or very effective.  Perhaps a fidgeting young Arab man flying from London to Washington should be singled out?  Some would say that this is racial profiling and some would say that it’s just common sense.  But the real problem with singling any person out, as noted by some commentators, is that it addresses the symptom rather than the cause of the problem. 

Why do people want to blow up British airplanes, en route to America and full of mostly Anglos and Americans?  Why don’t they want to blow up planes flying from, let’s say, Oslo to Zurich filled with mostly Norwegians, Swiss, and sundry other more neutral Europeans?  Well, it’s fair to say that the people intent on blowing up planes have “issues” with Americans and Anglos, valid or invalid, far beyond “they hate us for our freedom.”  Maybe we need a government that is willing to study the nature of terrorist anti-Americanism and the forces that have shaped this phenomenon.  Maybe we need a government that is willing, not only to study this phenomenon, but to shape policy designed to address it and deal with it in a broader fashion. 

Add to this the fact that all of these elaborate security screening mechanisms cause the stressed to be further stressed, the discomfited to be further discomfited, and the harassed to be further harassed.  The indignity of being searched will be amplified by the indignity of being singled out (as in the kindergarten from hell), for a frown, twitch, smirk, or nervous giggle.  The sanctity of the individual and his individual space (an illusion, yes, but a necessary one), will be further violated.  Our free movement through public space will be further restricted, and those who would make war with us will have won the small battle.  The fear that is manipulated so skillfully by the Republicans will be reinforced by elaborate procedures that tell us (non-verbally, I might add) that we have reason to be afraid. 

Add further that Americans are, statistically, more  likely to die in a car accident than die in a plane blown up by a terrorist, even if they travel frequently.  As one vehement post, written by an Arab-American man who is tired of being pulled aside, put it: “you are 500 times more likely to die in a car accident — why don’t you start ‘profiling’ the three big ugly SUVs sitting in your big ugly suburban garage?”  Profiling a bit himself there, isn’t he, but, alas, is correct.   


This from Reuters: 

DUBLIN, July 26 (Reuters) – An Irish army officer in south Lebanon warned the Israeli military six times that their attacks in the area were putting the lives of U.N. observers at risk, Ireland’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

Four U.N. observers were killed in an Israeli air strike in southern Lebanon on Tuesday.”On six separate occasions he was in contact with the Israelis to warn them that their bombardment was endangering the lives of U.N. staff in South Lebanon,” a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said.”He warned: ‘You have to address this problem or lives may be lost’,” the spokesman said of comments by a senior Irish soldier working as a liaison officer between U.N. forces in South Lebanon and the Israelis. 

That Israel could, inadvertently or perhaps not so inadvertently, bomb a UN post, demonstrates how it could, inadvertently or not so inadvertently, bomb Lebanese civilians.  What are the rules of engagement here?  Are there any?  Does being attacked by those using terror tactics, under any circumstances, justify abandoning rules of engagement?  Israel and the US seem to believe so.    

Will this incident encourage countries to send peacekeeping forces to this region?   

A humanitarian crisis is brewing in Lebanon as Israel continues its indiscriminate bombardment, obviously meant to punish and subdue.  Civilians are leaving Beirut with white flags of surrender, fashioned out of t-shirts, attached to their cars.  Foreign nationals are being speedily removed, but what will become of Lebanese refugees? 

In a speech this week, Hillary Clinton sanctioned this bombardment, saying: 

I want us here in New York to imagine, if extremist terrorists were launching rocket attacks across the Mexican or Canadian border, would we stand by or would we defend America against these attacks from extremists?

This inane apples/oranges analogy completely disregards the decades of Arab/Israeli conflict that contextualizes this latest crisis, a context that would not apply to any hypothetical Canadian attack.  The history of Mid East conflict demonstrates that no one is faultless and that all actions occur within a complex web of relations and an endless series of vendettas.  Were terrorists to loom over the US at the Canada border and capture a couple of soldiers, I doubt that the US would respond by indiscriminately bombarding Canada.  I suspect that the counter attacks would be much more targeted.  The US has no history of conflict with Canada that would cause us to punish its citizens and such an action, anyway, would be absurd. 

If Hillary, as future presidential candidate, is already pandering to the right- leaning middle and applying empty rhetoric, the Dems need to find another player.

If I had to say that there was one underlying thread to this blog, it is that “language is important.” In editing and re-editing my post yesterday, I realized that I was muddling my thoughts, and, as I listened to Patrick Leahy this morning on NPR, discussing what to do with Guantanamo prisoners, I realized that he was, to a certain extent, muddling his thoughts, as well.

Why? Why is the issue of releasing those held at Guantanamo or providing them due process so problematic? Why don’t we know what to call those that are being held? Enemy combatants? Prisoners? Prisoners of war? Terrorists? Terrorist suspects? Alleged terrorists? I believe that all of the above terms have been used, sometimes interchangeably, depending upon the source. And, the fact is, with the possible exception of those that have had access to some legal recourse, we don’t know what to call them because little to nothing has been disclosed about them.

We don’t know where, exactly, most of them were captured (presumably Afghanistan). We don’t know the circumstances in which they were captured. We don’t know what specific charges are being held against them. We don’t know on what evidence they are being detained, and we don’t know how that evidence was obtained. We don’t know if it was obtained through coercive methods that would not be acceptable in a US or international court of law. If someone knows, please tell me.

How can we even ask the question about the appropriate method of trial for these individuals, if they don’t legally exist, if all information about them is “classified” because our government would have it so?

July 2018
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