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Feature Story September 20, 2001
 
Be Cool, America. War??? Think it Over
War??? Think it Over By Matt Taibbi Browse author
 
Page 2 of 2
 
Our situation is less enviable even than that of those colonial powers. Our enemy has proved he is willing to take the most extreme measures to demoralize us. What happened with the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is a joke compared to what might happen if the other side really gets angry.

Take this statement by Rep. Christopher Shays, Republican from Connecticut, who heads the House Government Reform Subcommittee on national security.

``In my judgement, it's not a question of if there will be a biological or chemical weapons attacks," he said, "but when -- and of what magnitude."

Think about that. Is there anything to gain from punishing Islamic terrorism that's worth risking a smallpox or anthrax epidemic in a place like New York? Or the specter of sarin or mustard gas attacks in Your Hometown? Do you want your parents, your kid sister, your kids to have to go to school in gas or surgical masks for the next ten years?

We have the illusion in the United States that we're impregnable. Even after the attacks last week, our people seem to have boundless faith in our military and technological superiority. Madeline Albright, when she went on CNN after the attacks, reinforced this view. "We have the best military in the world," she said, adding that the United States was equal to any enemy.

This is simply not true. It's a lie. The F-16 might very well be the best fighter plane in the world. But it can't stop a spy from poisoning the New York reservoirs with anthrax.

Before the war, Senator Sam Nunn told congress that a simulated smallpox attack left more than 1,000 people dead and 15,000 people contaminated after the first two weeks of the initial infection of 24 victims.

We stopped vaccinating Americans against smallpox in 1972. A whole generation of Americans have no immunity at all to the disease.

And if our stated strategy is to hunt down and destroy every last terrorist, what do they have to lose?

Nothing, that's what. If they're willing to risk what they risked on September 11 -- the condemnation of the entire "civilized" world -- then they're certainly willing to start a plague.

Americans should bear in mind that the form of the initial attacks by these terrorists was not designed to cripple or injure the United States, but to produce a symbolic impression, primarily for the terrorists' own followers and potential followers.

3 YEARS AGO IN THE EXILE

24.09.98, Issue 48, From the article entitled:

SEVEN MONUMENTS BEGGING FOR BOMBS

"#3, 4: The World Trade Center, New York. 1973

These two oversized housing projects designed by Minoru Yamasaki almost escaped this list, but the 1993 bombing attempt failed. Still, they are an appropriate symbol of New York: a couple of over-inflated phalluses which the architect jewed down to costing a mere $350 million. They remain perhaps the premier example of now reigning style of accountant's architecture, where a building is defined by its profitability. If it weren't for their size, nothing would distinguish these odes to minimalism-as-profit from the mass of failed post-war attempts at translating the utopian clean lines of the 1920's modernists into a fascist corporate architecture. But the World Trade Center's size (and location in the capital of the world) gave it instant landmark status. These twin terrors set the tempo in a city known for demolishing engaging buildings and replacing them with more economical, architecturally invisible beigist abominations. Yamasaki's fourth-rate status of speaks volumes about the project's ambitions; New York knew exactly what it was doing when it commissioned him to outdo current trends towards mediocrity. Even the talentless Phillip Johnson or I.M. Pei, whose uninspired lumps defined a vanilla generation of architects, were too famous to design such a monument to American anonymity. Only a wasn't could build such an epic tribute to conformity.

Maybe not by bin Laden, but these buildings ought to be leveled to the ground."

It was an extremely daring, high-risk assault on the symbolic centers of American power -- our financial capital, and our military command center. From the point of view of aggrieved Muslims (and we'll see later why they're aggrieved), this was a heroic suicide mission that hit not ordinary people, but the aristocracy of America, right where it lives.

If and when they decide to go after the general population -- the obvious next step -- the tactics will be very different. The targets will be nuclear power plants, our water and food supplies, and our air.

All it takes is a few motivated operatives to bring about that nightmare. We can't kill them all. Not in a month, not in a year, not in ten.

The fact of the matter is that the only way to defeat an enemy entrenched on foreign soil is through political and financial means. You have to appeal to the civil governments of foreign countries to control their own populations. And we will lose the ability to do that the instant we start bombing civilians in those countries. All our political capital will be staked on a doomed military gamble.

Ask the Israelis about their experience. The only time terrorist attacks against Israel slowed was when Yassir Arafat, motivated by the benefits of the peace process, cracked down on his own population. This brief grace period evaporated when Sharon came to power and began bulldozing Palestinian communities. Terrorism -- if you can call the violent response of an occupied people terrorism -- has been on the rise in Israel ever since the hardliners returned to power.

What about hunting down the guilty and eliminating them? In this case, too, we will be utterly reliant on local populations. A bunch of white American college grads unwilling or unable to endure years of dysentary will never be able to gather the intelligence on the ground in the countries where the hunt would need to take place. We will need allies in these places. And we'll have none, once we start bombing their people.

The terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center used a ploy that any halfway decent chess player would see through at first glance. They sought out our weakness as a people and dared us to stare it in the face, knowing we would not. That weakness is our belief in our ability to control the world absolutely by force. The truth is, you can't control anything, absolutely, by force. On the world stage, as in our day-to-day lives, we are completely dependent on the civility of other people. No amount of vigilance can prevent the man next to you on the subway from sticking a knife in your back. If you watch the first guy, the second will get you. The trick is to make it worth everyone's while to behave. That's what civilization is all about.

There will be no incentive for anyone to behave once the war starts. Our politicians will be safe. Our current administration, which swept into office with the support of about 25% of the population, will remain in office for as long as the war goes on, with a near 100% mandate, insulated from political risk by the insane idea that dissidence in times of war is equal to treason. The terrorists on the other side will be the last ones in their countries to suffer. In the meantime, it's the rest of us -- the people outside the presidential bunkers and the secret hideouts in the hills -- who will pay the price, spending the next decade or so eating bombs and smallpox and gas and rationed food, bought with the last of our increasingly worthless dollars.

The alternative? Swallowing the attack on New York and pursuing a political solution. As usual, it is the military people, the people with the most knowledge of what war is all about, who see this as the most logical, and least costly, way out. Here in Russia, it was former General Alexander Lebed who stopped the Chechen war in 1996 on the strength of a single insight -- that the Russian military simply could not win, when "winning" meant a nightmare far worse than surrender. In our case, the one sane member of our current administration, former General Colin Powell, believes the only way to fight terrorists is to do it without bombs.

``I hope there isn't going to be a war in the traditional sense. There isn't going to be a war against Arabs,'' he said this week.

``It's not a war in the usual sense of battle fought by the military. It's a war for intelligence. It's a war that will use legal means (and) financial weapons."

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?

"And where is Adolf Hitler, now that we finally need him? It is bad business to go into War without a target."

-- Hunter S. Thompson, September 19

Who was really behind the attacks on the World Trade Center? Are we really sure it was bin Laden? And even if it was bin Laden -- do we even know who he is, really?

As this issue of the eXile goes to print, the following bulletin was published on the website for Jane's Defense Weekly -- not exactly a dissident press outlet:

"Israel's military intelligence service, Aman, suspects that Iraq is the state that sponsored the suicide attacks on the New York Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington. Directing the mission, Aman officers believe, were two of the world's foremost terrorist masterminds: the Lebanese Imad Mughniyeh, head of the special overseas operations for Hizbullah, and the Egyptian Dr. Ayman Al Zawahiri, senior member of Al-Qaeda and possible successor of the ailing Osama Bin Laden.

"The two men have not been seen for some time. Mughniyeh is probably the world's most wanted outlaw. Unconfirmed reports in Beirut say he has undergone plastic surgery and is unrecognizable. Zawahiri is thought to be based in Egypt. He could be Bin Laden's chief representative outside Afghanistan."

Okay, you say, so maybe it wasn't bin Laden exactly, but some other towelhead in some other country. Same difference.

Same difference?

Are we really ready to start Armageddon -- in the wrong place, going after the wrong guy?

There was something incredibly suspicious about the rapid announcement on the part of the United States that Osama bin Laden, a figure the world had scarcely heard of before 1998, was responsible for the New York and Washington attacks. Less than eight hours after the attack, CNN -- acting on leaks from unnamed Washington sources that there were "strong indications" of bin Laden's guilt -- had already exonerated some six billion suspects of the crime, and settled on the shadowy cleric.

There are a great many reasons to question the American government's guilty verdict in this matter.

For one thing, there is the experience of Oklahoma City, when our government publicly pointed the finger at Islamic terrorists in the first hours after the bombing.

More importantly, there was the fact that so many of the people who were telling us that the culprit was bin Laden were long ago proven to be completely without credibility when it comes to terrorism and identification of the enemy. The first night of CNN coverage featured Richard Holbrooke, who lied to the world about Rambouillet, and a parade of ex -- Iran-Contra Defendants, who previously covered up their own ties to terrorist states. Osama bin Laden himself was once a beneficiary of U.S. government funding, a fact that is now being carefully covered up in the American media. Take, for example, this bio of the Enemy published in The Christian Science Monitor last week:

"All that changed in December 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and propped up a communist government in Kabul. Arriving in the mid-1980s, bin Laden became the main financier for Maktab al-Khidamat ("the Office of Services"), which recruited Muslims from local mosques around the world to fight against the Soviets as mujahideen, or "holy warriors." The contacts that bin Laden made at this time allowed him to organize an international network of motivated Islamic radicals, called Al-Qaeda (literally, "the base").

"When the mujahideen eventually forced the Soviet forces to leave Afghanistan in 1990, bin Laden returned to his home country, Saudi Arabia, where he found the rulers inviting in American forces."

Note that the biography basically skips from 1979 to 1990. In the intervening years, bin Laden and other anti-Soviet "resistance fighters" in Afghanistan received some $6 billion dollars in American support. In the years 1985 and 1986, these groups received an average of over 65,000 tons of arms every year. The coalition supported by the United States evolved into the Taliban and into terrorist groups like bin Laden's.

So the people who are telling us that bin Laden is to blame have lied to us before about their connections to Iranian terrorists; they lied to us two years ago about massacres in Serbia in order to get us into a war there; and they are lying to us now, by not making public our connection to the enemy we are about to attack. And yet we are being asked to enter into the ultimate sacrifice to execute a verdict that was handed down just hours after the most sophisticated terrorist attack of all time -- far too short a time period to even begin to make sense of what really happened.

The biggest reason to doubt the American accusation against bin Laden is the most obvious: bin Laden is the only terrorist of stature that America has singled out in recent years. Incompetent crime fighters invariably rely on their usual suspects. It was an intelligence disaster for America to allow the attacks to happen in the first place. But imagine how much worse it would have looked if we had not singled out a suspect so quickly. Is our government above being afraid to admit total failure? It never has been before; why would it be now?

Even now, as U.S. military forces mass steam toward Afghanistan, and the cream of our national press corps flocks to Dushanbe, such very likely suspects as Iraq, Iran, and Hizbollah have not been satisfactorily excluded from the explanation for the attacks. So what -- do we hit everybody and everybody? Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger went on television on the first night to say that we have to "kill a lot of these people," even if they aren't necessarily guilty of this particular attack.

We are already asking Pakistan to agree to the liquidation of thousands, perhaps even millions of people in neighboring Afghanistan, only a tiny percentage of which could possibly be guilty of terrorism. As Noam Chomsky said this week, this goes beyond vengeance -- it's on a much lower moral level even than that.

And this isn't even just a question of morality. If it's near impossible to fight a terrorist enemy we can identify and locate, imagine the difficulty in fighting a war against the wrong people, on a land mass that spreads almost all the way across Asia and the Middle East. What would constitute victory in that kind of campaign? What losses would be acceptable in pursuit of it? Are we really going to pull kids out of junior colleges and send them into the hills of Afghanistan -- on a hunch?

These are just the basic outlines of the first two reasons to think twice about going to war: we can't win, and we may not even know who we're fighting. Then there's the other problem -- are we even innocent before the people we're attacking? Do we even know why we were attacked?

WHY U.S.?

There was a ready-made answer for that question as well. But instead of a serious examination of anti-U.S. sentiment in the Middle East, the mainstream media offered little more than self-congratulatory rhetoric.

For instance, Charles C. Boyd in The Washington Post the morning after the attacks: "This nation symbolizes freedom, strength, tolerance, and democratic principles dedicated to both liberty and peace. To the tyrants, the despots, the closed societies, there are no alterations to the policies, no gestures we can make, no words we can say that will convince those determined to continue their hate."

Or George Will, same paper, same day: "[We] have drawn, like gathered lightning, the anger of the enemies of civilization. Those enemies are always out there.... Americans ... are targets because of their virtues -- principally democracy, and loyalty to those nations which, like Israel, are embattled salients of our virtues in a still-dangerous world."

The next day (Thursday the 13th) had Robert MacFarlane beating the same drum on the very same pages: "Our principled defense of individual freedom and our reluctance to intervene in the affairs of states harboring terrorists makes us an easy target."

That same day, Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity dared to ask some tough questions: "Are Americans afraid to face the reality that there is a significant portion of this world's population that hates America, hates what freedom represents, hates the fact that we fight for freedom worldwide, hates our prosperity, hates our way of life? Have we been unwilling to face that very difficult reality?"

On Sunday's "Meet the Press," Vice President Dick Cheney told Tim Russert why he thinks someone might be motivated to carry out such brutal attacks: "Obviously he's filled with hate for the United States and for everything we stand for... freedom and democracy. It must have something to do with his background, his own upbringing." In other words, Cheney would have us believe that freedom-envy and bad parenting are to blame. After all, it couldn't have been anything we did, right?

If these simplistic explanations sound reasonable to most Americans, the U.S. media is at least partially to blame. As Edward Herman has noted, "One of the most durable features of the U.S. culture is the inability or refusal to recognize U.S. crimes. The media have long been calling for the Japanese and Germans to admit guilt, apologize, and pay reparations. But the idea that this country has committed huge crimes, and that current events such as the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks may be rooted in responses to those crimes, is close to inadmissible." That these crimes are seldom discussed or considered in the United States does not change the fact that they are matters of record -- and as such are well-known elsewhere in the world, particularly among those who were most likely responsible for last week's attacks.

Below is a list of specific incidents of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Keep in mind that this list significantly minimizes the potential grievances against the U.S. inasmuch as it excludes long-standing policies, such as U.S. backing for authoritarian regimes (arming Saudi Arabia, training the secret police in Iran under the Shah, providing arms and aid to Turkey as it attacked Kurdish villages, etc.) and actions of Israel in which the U.S. is indirectly implicated because Israel has been the leading or second-ranking recipient of U.S. military aid for many years and has benefited from U.S. vetoes in the Security Council.

1949: CIA backs military coup deposing elected government of Syria.

Hatch-Murkowski Whore Powers Act Submitted to Congress

Orrin Hatch and Frank Murkowki

In the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) have submitted a revised version of the 1973 Whore Powers Act, now to be termed the Hatch-Murkowski Whore Powers Act, pending approval by congress. The act, which outlines the President's authority to solicit a prostitute in times of military conflict, would roll back many of the restrictions originally imposed by the Vietnam-era law.

In anticipation of the national debate over the resolution, the act is being published in newspapers and on websites across the United States, and in American expatriate communities. The eXile has agreed to publish excerpts of the law here:

Concerning the Whore Powers of Congress and the President
Resolved by the Senate of the United States of America in Congress assembled

PURPOSE AND POLICY

Sec. 2 (a) It is the purpose of this joint resolution to fulfill the intent of the framers of the Constitution and insure that the collective judgement of both the Congress and the President will apply to the solicitation of a prostitute on a whim, or into a situation where the introduction of a prostitute is clearly indicated by the amount of alcohol consumed, and to the continued reliance upon the services of prostitutes without guilt or, really, human feeling.

(b) Under article 1, section 8 of the Constitution, it is specifically provided that Sveta, telephone number 937-33-99 (anytime), speaks English.

(c) Under article 24, section 11 of the Constitution, it is specifically that ATTRACTIVE, SEXY YOUNG GIRLS (798-7940) are "from your dreams."

(d) The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to call a prostitute on a whim, or as clearly indicated by the volume of alcohol consumed, are exercised only pursuant to (1) the absence of his wife, (2) the presence of his wife, and (3) pressure from his friends, who may make insinuations.

CONSULTATION

Sec. 3. The President, in particular the current President, shall in every possible instance consult with Congress, the Vice-President, or the National Security Advisor before soliciting a prostitute; his choice shall be subject to approval by both houses of Congress; in respect to the abovementioned, everyone should run around in a circle.

EXCEPTIONS

Sec. 5

(1) In the event of the solicitation of a prostitute by the President as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces, the prostitute may not

(a) be a member of the President's immediate family;

(b) take too long in the shower;

(c) linger excessively afterwards;

(d) talk in any way except about subjects interesting to the President himself;

(e) ask to go to the Starlite Diner afterwards.

SEPARABILITY CLAUSE

SEC. 9. If any provision of this joint resolution or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the remainder of the joint resolution and the application of such provision to any other person or circumstance shall not be affected thereby, insofar as any provision of this joint resolution or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held invalid, and the remainder of the joint resolution and the application of such provision to any other person or circumstance is not affected.

EFFECTIVE DATE

SEC. 10. She sure was!
Sen. Orrin Hatch,
Chairman of the Senate Camel-Toe Affairs Committee
Sen. Frank Murkowski
Chairman of the Drunk Without Options Committee
Matt Taibbi, clerk
Kevin McElwee, clerk

1953: CIA helps overthrow the democratically elected Mossadeq government in Iran (which had nationalized the British oil company, later to become BP) leading to a quarter-century of dictatorial rule by the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi.

1956: U.S. cuts off promised funding for Aswan Dam in Egypt after Egypt receives Eastern bloc arms.

1956: Israel, Britain, and France invade Egypt. U.S. does not support invasion, but the involvement of NATO allies severely diminishes Washington's reputation in the region.

1958: U.S. troops land in Lebanon to preserve "stability."

Early 1960s: U.S. unsuccessfully attempts assassination of Iraqi leader, Abdul Karim Qassim.

1963: U.S. reported to give Iraqi Ba'ath party (soon to be headed by Saddam Hussein) names of communists to murder, which they do with vigor.

1967: U.S. blocks any effort in the Security Council to enforce SC Resolution 244, calling for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 war.

1970: Civil war between Jordan and PLO. Israel and U.S. prepare to intervene on side of Jordan if Syria backs PLO.

1973: U.S. military aid enables Israel to turn the tide in war with Syria and Egypt.

1973-75: U.S. supports Kurdish rebels in Iraq. When Iran reaches an agreement with Iraq in 1975 and seals the border, Iraq slaughters Kurds and U.S. denies them refuge. Kissinger secretly explains that "covert action should not be confused with missionary work."

1978-79: Iranians begin demonstrations against the Shah. U.S. tells Shah it supports him "without reservation" and urges him to act forcefully. Until the last minute, U.S. tries to organize military coup to save the Shah, but to no avail.

1979-88: U.S. begins covert aid to Mujahideen in Afghanistan six months before Soviet invasion. Over the next decade U.S. provides more than $3 billion in arms and aid.

1980-88: Iran-Iraq war. When Iraq invades Iran, the U.S. opposes any Security Council action to condemn the invasion. U.S. removes Iraq from its list of nations supporting terrorism and allows U.S. arms to be transferred to Iraq. U.S. lets Israel provide arms to Iran and in 1985 U.S. provides arms directly (though secretly) to Iran. U.S. provides intelligence information to Iraq. Iraq uses chemical weapons in 1984; U.S. restores diplomatic relations with Iraq. 1987 U.S. sends its navy into the Persian Gulf, taking Iraq's side; an aggressive U.S. ship shoots down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing 290.

1981, 1986: U.S. holds military maneuvers off the coast of Libya with the clear purpose of provoking Qaddafi. In 1981, a Libyan plane fires a missile and two Libyan planes were subsequently shot down. In 1986, Libya fires missiles that land far from any target and U.S. attacks Libyan patrol boats, killing 72, and shore installations. When a bomb goes off in a Berlin nightclub, killing two, the U.S. charges that Qaddafi was behind it (possibly true) and conducts major bombing raids in Libya, killing dozens of civilians, including Qaddafi's adopted daughter.

1982: U.S. gives "green light" to Israeli invasion of Lebanon, where more than 10,000 civilians were killed. U.S. chooses not to invoke its laws prohibiting Israeli use of U.S. weapons except in self-defense.

1983: U.S. troops sent to Lebanon as part of a multinational peacekeeping force; intervene on one side of a civil war. Withdraw after suicide bombing of marine barracks.

1984: U.S.-backed rebels in Afghanistan fire on civilian airliner.

1988: Saddam Hussein kills many thousands of his own Kurdish population and uses chemical weapons against them. The U.S. increases its economic ties to Iraq.

1990-91: U.S. rejects diplomatic settlement of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (for example, rebuffing any attempt to link the two regional occupations, of Kuwait and Palestine). U.S. leads international coalition in war against Iraq. Civilian infrastructure targeted. To promote "stability," U.S. refuses to aid uprisings by Shi'ites in the south and Kurds in the north, denying the rebels access to captured Iraqi weapons and refusing to prohibit Iraqi helicopter flights.

1991: Devastating economic sanctions are imposed on Iraq. U.S. and Britain block all attempts to lift them. Though Security Council stated sanctions were to be lifted once Hussein's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction were ended, Washington makes it known that the sanctions would remain as long as Saddam remains in power. Sanctions strengthen Saddam's position, while resulting in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.

1993: U.S. launches missile attack on Iraq, claiming self-defense against an alleged assassination attempt on former president Bush two months earlier.

1998 (to present): U.S. and U.K. bomb Iraq over weapons inspections, even though Security Council is just then meeting to discuss the matter.

1998: Claiming retaliation for terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, U.S. launches cruise missile attack on sites in Sudan and Afghanistan believed to be connected with alleged culprit Osama bin Laden. Sudan site revealed to have been factory producing half of the country's pharmaceutical supply (U.S. later acknowledges there is no evidence for the chemical warfare charge); missiles to Afghanistan not only miss bin Laden -- one even misses the country entirely, landing in neighboring Pakistan.

Being purely Middle East-oriented, the above list also ignores other, similar aspects of U.S. policy -- the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, long-standing interventionist policies in Central and South America and Southeast Asia, etc. Several of the items in the list involve civilian casualties well in excess of the potential death toll from last week's attacks. Taken cumulatively, we are talking about millions of innocent people in the Middle East alone who have died as a result of U.S. foreign policy. The massive numerical divide between the figures on the two sides has led to a chillingly appropriate marketplace analogy: Arab organizations have been responsible for isolated incidents of "retail" terrorism against the backdrop of ongoing U.S. state-sponsored "wholesale" terrorism practiced on the Third World. The difference, as in the marketplace, is one of order of magnitude.

Of course, these disturbing numbers do not justify last week's attacks on innocent civilians. No numbers ever could. They do, however, help to explain where such desperate anger comes from. The long history of U.S. crimes, on the other hand, can only be explained in terms of such empty phrases as "preserving the American way of life." Thus, while President Bush describes the United States as a beacon of freedom, democracy, and prosperity, is it any wonder that most of the rest of the world views us as the most dangerous source of terrorism there is?

To the extent that the U.S. media acknowledges this question at all, it answers with another question of its own: isn't it callous and insensitive to compare figures and talk about past crimes while families of the victims of these recent attacks are still grieving the loss? It certainly would be, if the U.S. response to this tragedy did not hold many more innocent lives in the balance.

Nothing can ever bring back the victims of terrorism on either side, but their collective memory can only be served by a new, more reasonable course of action. A continuation of our previous course will only add to their numbers.

THE FLIPSIDE OF THE WAR EFFORT AT HOME

Most Western countries have provisions in their constitutions allowing for the suspension of civil liberties in the event of war, but not the United States. It would be a redundant clause; the rollback on civil liberties has been marching forward even during peacetime. If anything, war simply helps publicize already existing norms.

Take the FBI's Carnivore internet surveillance system (recently renamed the completely meaningless -- and therefore benign -- DSC1000). When was the last time that device made headlines in anything but the newsletters of paranoid right wing veterans? Much less potent systems (like the FSB's SORM-2) might be worthy of an Op-Ed piece or two about new threats to an emerging democracy's commitment to freedom, even as Carnivore has been sorting through our emails for two years already, looking for potential threats to American security interests.

FEMA, an organization that completely bypasses the Constitution's checks and balances, existed in the shadows while gradually expanding its authority. Now, it processes an ill-defined, expansive authority and is answerable only to the President. The heads of this organization appeared on center stage on CNN before the Vice President and the Secretary of State.

Last season's Super Bowl employed biometric (?!) surveillance cameras to scan for security threats. These cameras, the equivalent of a subjecting anyone who passes under them to a police line-up, scan snapshots of crowds, trying to match faces with those of wanted men.

For five years, federal judges have given their stamps of approval to deportations of immigrants suspected of questionable activities. In a practice reminiscent of the judicial systems of last century's most vicious regimes, the deportees and their lawyers aren't even allowed to see the evidence against them. Pending the conclusion of the investigation, the immigrant can be jailed without probable cause. All it takes is a request by the INS, FBI or any of the U.S.'s numerous security agencies to indefinitely jail an immigrant.

All this makes only sense, though, so long as the logical foundations of the system remain unquestioned. Our media works on the assumption that American civil liberties are unassailable, therefore whatever enforcement mechanisms the government employs are necessarily benign. And since no rights are being violated, the individual offenses against personal freedom are not newsworthy. They aren't even offenses, insofar as offenses don't exist.

It took the spectacular destruction of the World Trade Center for any of these non-offenses to reach the mainstream media and, by extension, the American public. Suddenly troops in FEMA windbreakers make the primetime news (see CNN live coverage the day of the attacks) and banners on the Washington Post website link to the FEMA page; people learn that Carnivore has been shuffling through their email (see the Sept. 17 Boston Globe); legal experts agree that the courts are unlikely to dispute the deportations of immigrants who don't even know what they are charged with (see the Sept. 18 New York Times).

After the attack, we suddenly learn that two-thirds of Americans are willing to sacrifice their civil liberties (at least when asked in polls which link civil liberties to the length of airport lines). The political will exists to ram through new legislation that will protect us from terrorists -- among other things. Enforcement agencies that normally hide from the public stage suddenly turn out to be over-worked and under-funded. Editorials in the "What is to be done" vein hit the presses every day, each seemingly seeking the perfect balance between civil liberties and safety from barbarous enemies. Even the most liberal publications are seen conceding that certain sacrifices are necessary to preserve the American way of life.

But what nobody will notice is that none of the changes are actually changes. They are only changes of scale, of budget -- but this is bad enough. Enough to transform a state with totalitarian leanings into, quite possibly, a full-grown adult specimen of the real thing.

On the Sept 18, Attorney General Ashcroft called "upon the Congress of the United States to enact these important antiterrorism measures this week. We need these tools to fight the terrorism threat which exists in the United States." The proposals he described include measures that would give law enforcement officials expanded electronic surveillance powers, added search authority and new powers to seize assets of suspected terrorists, most of which they already have.

The Senate was criticized for its rapid passage of the Combating Terrorism Act of 2001. The act, which was proposed and passed in about an hour on the evening of the 13th (two days after the bombing), received criticism from the left not for its content so much as much as for the manner in which it was passed.

During the debate, in which only one Senator questioned the act's constitutionality, Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) proposed, "In the interest of time... I was wondering if we could reach a time agreement where anybody rising in opposition would be able to claim a half an hour, and then there would be a final 10 minutes which would be equally divided."

This act, which ostensibly was an urgent response to a terrorist threat, actually deals mainly with the limits of computer surveillance. And while the act is titled "Combating Terrorism," it actually does not distinguish between terrorist and criminal acts. Even more interesting is the fact that the act addresses the process of receiving court orders to use wiretaps, while the FBI already bypasses the need for court orders by using Carnivore, which indiscriminately scans email messages for suspicious content. Wiretaps in any case have never been particularly difficult to obtain. Law enforcement agents have to make case that the tap is part of a narcotics or organized crime or espionage investigation, but the judges, mostly federal appointees, have to rely on agents themselves to justify their inquiries. Requests for taps are seldom refused. The only thing the expanded wiretap mandate is likely to change is not the legal ease of obtaining permission for these intrusions of privacy, but the general perception of what kind of people are fair game to be listened in on. In a system that already permits hundreds of thousands of wiretaps (more than 3 million have been approved in the last 30 years), what that likely means is that the bar will be raised to include more and more ordinary people.

But the expansion of "crime-fighting tools" is only one part of the threat to what we usually call civil liberties. Also at stake are the public airwaves. Organized censorship of some form or another is almost a certainty. It looked very much like it had already been instituted on CNN on the night of the bombing. Certainly insofar as coverage of the war is concerned, information will be kept tightly under wraps by the government. America's "negative" experience with journalism in Vietnam (which led to an influential Freedom House report condemning the "excesses" of the free press, despite the fact that the media wholeheartedly supported the war until corporate America gave up on it after Tet), combined with the "positive" experiences of the Gulf War and Kosovo, will mean that almost none of the information Americans need to make a reasonable judgment about the war will be available to the public. The government has already announced that it is not going to allow journalists into the war theater.

In short, we will be watched, monitored, intruded upon, and denied the information we need to make any choice outside of supporting the war. That's already happening now, but it will be worse, and much harder to reverse if and when the war ends. The longer the war goes on, the more likely it will be that the only non-punishable activities in the United States will be work and public displays of patriotism.

All of which may or may not be necessary if we go to war. But it will certainly not be necessary if we don't go to war -- and at the moment, anyway, we still have that option.

The current debates on civil liberties have nothing to do with halting terrorism or even how far we are willing to advance the police state. Leftists only call attention to Senator Trent Lott saying, "When you're in this type of conflict, when you're at war, civil liberties are treated differently," in order to create the illusion of debate. The non-transgressions-cum-transgressions now being aired may be justified by public opinion, but really they've been in place for some time. Lott's offensive statement doesn't change that fact any more than Senator Joe Biden saying that nothing would more clearly signal the defeat of the United States than "the suspension of our civil liberties."

Meanwhile, we have another consensus forming in the media. We see the internment of the Japanese referred to repeatedly, as if the same might happen to turban-wearers now. Progressive magazines will also remind us of WWII detentions, or even how Lincoln had people jailed without trial. Of course nobody believes anything that blatant could happen now; the comparison is thus used as a yardstick on the state of our civil liberties. As long as they aren't rounding up Arabs, we can reason that we are still relatively well off, thereby legitimizing the continuing retraction of American civil liberties.

These debates might affect how much additional money will be spent financing various mechanisms of state control, but they will not change the underlying assumptions of what government has the right to do. Those issues were decided long before the first plane crashed into the north tower.

THE BIN LADEN WITHIN US

"Violence is as American as cherry pie!"

-- H. Rap Brown, shortly before a bomb he was transporting exploded in his lap

Then there's the other question. Is this just the chickens coming home to roost? The violence of our own society coming back to haunt us?

On December 9, 1987, David Burke, a 35-year-old American, boarded a PSA flight in Los Angeles bound for San Francisco. Using an old airline identification badge, he was able to bypass LAX security and sneak a handgun onboard. Burke had just been fired from USAir, PSA's new owner, for allegedly stealing $65 in cocktail receipts. He had begged his supervisor to reconsider the firing, pleading for his family, his future, his financial security. According to witnesses, his pleas for leniency were treated with total contempt. USAir had just bought out PSA six months earlier, in the spirit of the brutal, employer-take-all attitude of Reagan America.

The supervisor who fired Burke was on that flight to San Francisco.

Somewhere over San Louis Obispo, Burke scrawled a note on an air sickness bag and handed it to his former supervisor: "Hi Ray. I think it's sort of ironical that we end up like this. I asked for some leniency for my family, remember? Well, I got none and you'll get none." After Ray read the note, Burke popped two caps in his face, then walked towards the cockpit. The pilots radioed Oakland air traffic controllers: "There's gunfire aboard!" Burke burst in and shot both of them, then himself. The airliner plunged to earth, just outside of Paso Robles, killing all 43 crew and passengers aboard.

Sound familiar?

How about this. At a high school in the upper-middle-class suburb of Littleton, Colorado, two teenagers laid plans to kill hundreds, possibly thousands, in a desperate attempt to seek vengeance on a society they considered cruel and evil to its core. They entered their school armed with guns and bombs, murdered thirteen and injured scores more, before taking their own lives. According to The Denver Post, which got ahold of a long-suppressed report, "They rigged up 95 explosive devices -- enough firepower to wipe out their school and potentially hundreds of students. Forty-eight carbon dioxide bombs, or 'crickets.' Twenty-seven pipe bombs. Eleven 1-1/2 gallon propane containers. Seven incendiary devices with 40-plus gallons of flammable liquid. And two duffel bag bombs with 20-pound liquefied petroleum gas tanks." In other words, these two American boys, who came from nice two-parent homes, planned not just to pop a few jocks, but rather to bin-laden the whole miserable town that constituted their world, a town that was a synecdoche for America itself.

Subsequent op-ed pieces described them as "evil" and wondered "why?" Here's what Eric Harris, one of the Columbine Two, had to say as why: "We're going to kick-start a revolution, a revolution of the dispossessed." To his mother, he added, "I really am sorry about this, but war's war."

Earlier this year, just before the shootings at Santee High that killed three and sparked a wave of violence, threats and hysteria, a 19-year-old student at De Anza Community College in Cupertino, California -- the school where Ames's non-college-bound friends went to after high school -- was caught preparing to bin-laden that miserable suburb. Al DeGuzman, described as a "good kid from a good home," was busted with 30 pipe bombs, some booby-trapped to go off if handled, 20 Molotov cocktails, and several assault weapons and boxes of ammunition. He had drawn up plans to slaughter as many people as possible in a giant holocaust of fire and lead. While everyone scratched their head for the gazillionth time wondering "Why?", the obvious answer -- America -- lay in front of their faces.

We can go on and on here, from office and school shootings to Timothy McVeigh, to show that America citizens are just as capable of hating some part of this country, and just as willing to make large numbers of innocent American people pay in their war against everything they see as cruel, empty and scary about America.

Much has been made about the evil in other people's barbaric hearts, as compared to America's congenital decency, which makes the hijackers' actions completely incomprehensible.

While our inability to comprehend the obvious is a basic characteristic of the American soul, so is our ability to carry out acts of unbelievable barbarity. Not just abroad, on bony, dusky people, but right here at home, against our own innocent, peace-loving population.

In fact, we seem to have a lot more in common with our enemies than we'd imagined. For instance, earlier this year, American opinion-makers and religious leaders were appalled when the Taliban instituted a new law requiring all non-Muslims to wear a special colored tag identifying their religion. Americans were horrified, recalling the yellow Stars of David that the Nazis forced Jews to wear.

That was when we ruled the world and no one made a peep. According to a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 58 percent of Americans now support the notion that all Arabs, including U.S. citizens, should "undergo special, more intensive security checks before boarding airplanes in the U.S." Forty-nine percent think all Arabs, including U.S. citizens, should have to carry a special ID card.

And this is where it starts to get funny. The internal rage is now shifting towards local brown-skinned people, though it's not exactly the sort of efficient, well-executed rage that our enemies seem capable of. Two men, mistaken for ragheads, have been murdered so far-the first a Sikh, a religion which is singularly devoted to nothing but slaughtering Muslims; the second a Coptic Christian, a religion which... aw forget it. Americans are even capable of using vehicles on suicide missions. Take the dumbshit in Cleveland who, last weekend, rammed his Mustang at 80 MPH into a suburban Islamic Center. There were no ragheads in the center, which, considering that the suicide mission took place around midnight, should have been obvious. The driver of the car survived with a broken neck, and will likely be paralyzed for life.

Black comedy has long been a feature of American rebellion and uprisings. To give just one example, during John Brown's famous Bible-inspired uprising at Harper's Ferry, his feeble army managed to kill only one person -- a Free Negro bystander who happened to walk into a stray bullet. In other words, John Brown's Army only managed to kill the very people that God had sent them to save, before falling to Lee's federal troops in a massacre. Nat Turner's slave army was cut down by other slaves defending their masters' plantations, which brought about desertions among his own runaway slave army, and finally, defeat. During the Whisky Rebellion of 1791, the commander of the rebels was cut down by accident just as he was offering surrender terms to the badly outnumbered federal troops. Later, when Washington sent in a massive army to crush the Pennsylvania rebel movement, two were killed. Two very undignified rebels, far from the picture of evil that Washington and Hamilton had singled out for destruction. The first was an anti-rebel gimp who was unable to lay down quickly enough on orders of a commander, and was summarily shot; the second was a drunkard who burst into a bar full of armed federal troops, whom he mercilessly abused, to no avail, until finally he literally threw himself on one of the soldiers' bayonets, then uttered some kind of sentimental "Onward, Rebels!" speech before dying a horrible death.

Americans are not only capable and proven in bin-ladening their own people, as well as utterly ridiculous acts of cruelty and idiocy, but they're even hard to sympathize with. For example, do you want to fight and die for this guy, quoted in a Reuters article from a few days ago:

"You're damn right the firm is going to come back," said David Komansky, chairman and chief executive of America's powerful brokerage Merrill Lynch and Co. "This place did not get to be what it is by having a bunch of pussycats here.'"

We sure as hell don't. We'd be happy as clams to offer his rogained head up on a platter to any angry Islamic extremist out there, if it would save the lives of a few decent Americans, particularly those capable of saying the word "pussy" instead of "pussycat". But we definitely don't want to fight and die for him.

More ominously, NPR recently ran their man-on-the-street interviews, which included one man who spat out something to this effect: "Every Arab and Muslim person in this country should right this second turn themselves in to the FBI for questioning and interrogation. And if they don't, and they cannot prove that they have been interrogated and cleared, then they should be rounded up and exterminated."

That may be next, the point where what little comedy left comes to an end, and the tragedy turns to the dullest, most awful evil that any man is capable of committing in any country.

Americans love to talk about themselves as the beacon of enlightened civilization, but we're not showing that so far in this crisis. Civilization is not about strength, but about priorities. A civilized person seeks to avoid war at all costs because war is horrible, the very worst thing that can happen between people.

There is so much discussion going on right now in America about the war, and almost none of it is being focused in the right places. There ought to be a collective national scramble to think of some way out of this mess that doesn't involve killing millions of innocent people and putting our own lives at risk. Panelists should be preaching cowardice 24 hours a day on every television network in the country. Instead, every TV-addicted freak in every suburb is rising off his couch and raising his fat fist in the air to howl for blood.

It's too bad there aren't more World War I veterans around. They'll tell you: whatever it was we were fighting for, it wasn't worth it.

Smallpox. Anthrax. Nuclear War. A police state. Nothing is worth than those things. International humiliation and loss of status is a veritable strawberry milkshake in comparison with any of them. And they don't even have to happen. All we have to do is be cool. Just walk away.

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