Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 06 September 2010 13:16
Mullah Omar of Afghanistan must have been one of the last people in the world with a deep, abiding faith in the lawfulness of the American government. Certainly, the American people had long been accustomed to – and largely approving of – their government bending, twisting and breaking the rule of law, especially in matters of foreign policy and “national security.” And of course, the millions of people around the world on the receiving end of invasions, subversions and coercions from the Potomac potentates were well aware of America’s infinitely elastic notions of law.
Yet in the days after 9/11, there was Mulllah Omar -- the half-blind leader of a group of rural zealots who had stepped into the power vacuum left behind by decades of ruinous Great Gaming by foreign powers and vicious civil war – clinging firmly to the belief that the United States would never attack his country. After all, the Taliban had no prior knowledge of the attacks in New York and Washington – attacks which the Taliban had condemned unequivocally and publicly the next day, while calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. If the Americans suspected Osama bin Laden, the former CIA ally living in Afghanistan, then surely they would produce documentary evidence of his guilt. And if such incriminating evidence was forthcoming, then the Taliban, as publicly promised, would cooperate in finding ways to bring bin Laden to trial. Thus, America had no legal reason to attack Afghanistan; and so the country was safe.
This was the reasoning that Mullah Omar expressed to one of his top foreign affairs advisers, Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, as Jonathan Steele recounts in an excellent article in the latest London Review of Books. Omar simply could not conceive that the United States would simply shred all notions of law and due process to launch a devastating attack on an entire country, in order – ostensibly – to get revenge on handful of men: men whom the Taliban were more than willing to give up – in accordance with the rule of law and due process. But the dossier of “hard proof” of bin Laden’s guilt promised by Colin Powell in the few remaining days of peace after 9/11 never materialized (and still has not materialized). And so, despite Mullah Omar’s touching faith in the American system, the war came. -- Omar escaped the American onslaught (as did bin Laden, of course); but Zaeef was captured. Steele recounts his story:
The only detailed insider account of the Taliban is a memoir by Abdul Salam Zaeef, the movement’s former ambassador to Pakistan. ... My Life with the Taliban usefully shows that its leaders saw themselves as nationalists, reformers and liberators rather than Islamist ideologues.... Arrested after the Taliban collapse in 2001, Zaeef was sent to Guantánamo. On the way he spent time in US custody in Kandahar and Bagram, where he was kept in solitary confinement with his hands and feet tied for 20 days. In Kandahar – shades of the abuse in Abu Ghraib – Zaeef says he was stripped naked and mocked by male and female US troops, one of whom took photos. After three years in Guantánamo, he was offered release on condition he signed a statement that he had been a member of al-Qaida and the Taliban and would cut all ties with them. ‘I was a Talib, I am a Talib and I will always be a Talib, but I have never been part of al-Qaida,’ he retorted. Eventually they allowed him to go after signing a declaration: ‘I am writing this out of obligation and stating that I am not going to participate in any kind of anti-American activities or military actions.’
Zaeef maintains that he was shocked by al-Qaida’s attack on 9/11, of which he had no foreknowledge. He says he wept when he watched TV pictures of the burning buildings and people throwing themselves out and falling to the ground like stones: ‘I stared at the pictures in disbelief.’ He immediately saw the likely repercussions. ‘I knew that Afghanistan and its poverty-stricken people would ultimately suffer for what had just taken place in America. The United States would seek revenge.’ He admits that some of the Taliban watching the scene were jubilant and thought the US was too far away to retaliate. ‘How could they be so superficial?’ he asks.
Mullah Omar rang to consult Zaeef about how to react. Next morning Zaeef called a press conference in Islamabad and read a statement condemning the attacks. ‘All those responsible must be brought to justice. We want them to be brought to justice and we want America to be patient and careful in their actions,’ it said. Zaeef returned to Kandahar, where he found Mullah Omar blindly sure that the US was unlikely to attack. He tried to warn the Taliban leader. He told him Pakistan was urging the US to launch air strikes on Afghanistan and had already started talks with the Northern Alliance in the expectation that they would be the leaders of a post-Taliban government. But Omar claimed America could not attack Afghanistan without valid reason. He had asked Washington to deliver proof incriminating bin Laden and said the Taliban would take no further action until it was given hard evidence. Zaeef’s account seems plausible given that the Taliban made no preparations for war, but it shows how out of touch Omar had become.
Out of touch indeed. Scarcely two years before, the United States had launched a devastating – and patently illegal – war on a European nation, deliberately targeting its civilian infrastructure (which was expressly against the laws of war), unleashing chaos and ruin that led to the deaths of thousands and the suffering of hundreds of thousands. If it would do this to Serbia, to white Christian Europeans, what wouldn’t it do to swarthy exotic Muslims in the back of beyond? And for ten years before 9/11, the United States had been inflicting a genocidal stranglehold of sanctions on Iraq, leading directly to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children and other innocents, while constantly bombing the country in flagrant violation of any law.
Yet poor unlearned Omar actually thought the Americans would not attack his country “without a valid reason” – and of course no such a valid reason existed. – Nor does any valid reason exist today for the continuing – and expanding, and ever-more destructive – American operation in Afghanistan. The only thing the American presence is doing is delaying the start of what is sure to be a long and difficult process of national reconciliation. Yet almost every sector of Afghan society is calling for the beginning of such a process. As Steele reports:
Recent reports suggest that most Afghans, tired of the all-pervasive insecurity, want negotiations with the Taliban. A survey of 423 men in Helmand and Kandahar, carried out in May by the International Council on Security and Development, found that 74 per cent were in favour of negotiations. In Kabul in March, I interviewed several women professionals, the people who suffered most from the Taliban’s restrictions on girls’ education and women working outside the home. To varying degrees they all supported the idea of dialogue with the Taliban. They felt the top priority was to end what they saw as a civil war – not an insurgency, as Nato calls it. They saw the Taliban as authentic nationalists with legitimate grievances who needed to be brought back into the equation. Otherwise, Afghans would go on being used as proxies in a long battle between al-Qaida and the US. It was time to break free of both sets of foreigners, the global jihadis and the US empire. Shukria Barakzai, an MP and women’s rights campaigner, put it like this: ‘I changed my view three years ago when I realised Afghanistan is on its own. It’s not that the international community doesn’t support us. They just don’t understand us. The Taliban are part of our population. They have different ideas but as democrats we have to accept that.’
Yes, but there are other Democrats – and Republicans as well – who will not accept that. This is the bipartisan American foreign policy establishment, addicted to war and domination, and to their own pathetically inflated self-image as movers and shakers of the world. (Oh yes, and the power and privilege and loot that accrues to the leaders and lickspittles of empire, of course.) All-party negotiations are the only way forward, Steele notes. Straining to end on a note of optimism, Steele holds out the wan hope that Barack Obama – whose embrace of militarism has been as ardent and aggressive as any of his predecessors (and has outstripped many of them) – might recognize this reality and make the choice to “go into the 2012 campaign as a president who has started the endgame” of accommodation and negotiation.
Far more likely, however, is Steele’s alternative scenario: that Obama will instead “play the tough guy even though he must know any hope of defeating the Taliban militarily is doomed.” And why not? As we’ve noted here for years, the Terror War is a win-win situation for America’s militarists, among whom Obama now stands foremost: whether they defeat the designated enemy of the day or not, the aforementioned accrual of power, privilege, loot and self-aggrandizement that attends the imperial project remains the same.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 01 September 2010 10:47
On Tuesday night, Barack Obama gave a speech from the Oval Office on Iraq that was almost as full of hideous, murderous lies as the speech on Iraq his predecessor gave in the same location more than seven years ago.
After mendaciously declaring an "end to the combat mission in Iraq" -- where almost 50,000 regular troops and a similar number of mercenaries still remain, carrying out the same missions they have been doing for years -- Obama delivered what was perhaps the most egregious, bitterly painful lie of the night:
"Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility."
"We have met our responsibility!" No, Mister President, we have not. Not until many Americans of high degree stand in the dock for war crimes. Not until the United States pays hundreds of billions of dollars in unrestricted reparations to the people of Iraq for the rape of their country and the mass murder of their people. Not until the United States opens its borders to accept all those who have been and will be driven from Iraq by the savage ruin we have inflicted upon them, or in flight from the vicious thugs and sectarians we have loosed -- and empowered -- in the land. Not until you, Mister President, go down on your knees, in sackcloth and ashes, and proclaim a National of Day of Shame to be marked each year by lamentations, reparations and confessions of blood guilt for our crime against humanity in Iraq.
Then and only then, Mister President, can you say that America has begun -- in even the most limited, pathetic way -- to "meet its responsibility" for what it has done to Iraq. And unless you do this, Mister President -- and you never will -- you are just a lying, bloodsoaked apologist, accomplice and perpetrator of monstrous evil, like your predecessor and his minions -- many of whom, of course, are now your minions.
I really don't have anything else to say about this sickening spectacle -- which is being compounded in Britain, where I live, by the sight today of Tony Blair's murder-tainted mug plastered on the front of the main newspapers, as he makes the rounds pushing his new book, doling out "exclusive interviews" full of crocodile tears for the soldiers he had murdered in the war crime he committed and the "great suffering" of the Iraqi people which, goodness gracious, he never foresaw and feels, gosh, really bad about. All this laced with venomous comments about his former colleagues -- those who, like Gordon Brown, sold their souls to advance Blair's vision of aggressive war abroad and corporate rapine at home -- along with, of course, earnest protestations of his God-directed good intentions, and his unwavering belief that killing a million innocent human beings in Iraq was "the right thing to do." Pol Pot could not have been more blindly self-righteous than this wretched moral cretin.
I will say again what I have said here many, many times before: What quadrant of hell is hot enough for such men?
Words might fail me, but wise man William Blum has a few that put the "end of combat operations in Iraq" in their proper perspective. Let's give him the last word here [the ellipses are in the original text]:
No American should be allowed to forget that the nation of Iraq, the society of Iraq, have been destroyed, ruined, a failed state. The Americans, beginning 1991, bombed for 12 years, with one excuse or another; then invaded, then occupied, overthrew the government, killed wantonly, tortured ... the people of that unhappy land have lost everything — their homes, their schools, their electricity, their clean water, their environment, their neighborhoods, their mosques, their archaeology, their jobs, their careers, their professionals, their state-run enterprises, their physical health, their mental health, their health care, their welfare state, their women's rights, their religious tolerance, their safety, their security, their children, their parents, their past, their present, their future, their lives ... More than half the population either dead, wounded, traumatized, in prison, internally displaced, or in foreign exile ... The air, soil, water, blood and genes drenched with depleted uranium ... the most awful birth defects ... unexploded cluster bombs lie in wait for children to pick them up ... an army of young Islamic men went to Iraq to fight the American invaders; they left the country more militant, hardened by war, to spread across the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia ... a river of blood runs alongside the Euphrates and Tigris ... through a country that may never be put back together again.
II. Same Question, Same Answer
The piece below was written in the first few weeks after the invasion. Its scene is the same Oval Office where Barack Obama spoke last night. And the choice offered to the leader in this piece is the same one that Obama has been offered -- and his decision has been the same one taken here, not only for Iraq, but for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and many other places around the world.
The Karamazov Question
Variation on a theme by Dostoevsky
A man appeared in the doorway of the Oval Office. He wasn't noticed at first, in the bustle around the desk of the president, where George W. Bush was preparing to announce to the world that the "decapitation raid" he had launched on Baghdad a few hours before was in fact the beginning of his long-planned, much-anticipated invasion of Iraq.
A woman fussed with the president's hair, which had been freshly cut for the television appearance. A make-up artist dabbed delicate touches of rouge on the president's cheeks. Another attendant fluttered in briefly to adjust the president's tie, which, like the $6,000 suit the president was wearing, had arrived that morning from a Chicago couturier. As for the president's $900 designer shoes – which, as a recent news story had pointed out playfully, were not only made by the same Italian craftsman who supplied Saddam Hussein with footwear, but were also the same size and make as those ordered by the Iraqi dictator – they had been carefully polished earlier by yet another aide, even though they would of course be out of sight during the broadcast.
In addition to all of this activity, the president's political advisors and speechwriters were also making last-minute adjustments to the brief speech, while giving the president pointers about his delivery: "Keep your gaze and your voice steady. Project firmness of purpose. Confidence, calmness, character. And short phrases, lightly punched. Don't worry, the breaks and stresses will be marked on the teleprompter."
It's little wonder that no one saw the man as he advanced slowly to the center of the room. He stood there silently, until the sense of his presence crept up on the others. One by one, they turned to look at him, this unauthorized figure, this living breach of protocol. He was, in almost every sense, non-descript. He wore a plain suit of indeterminate color; his features and his skin betrayed no particular race. He had no badge, no papers; how had he come to be here, where nothing is allowed that is not licensed by power?
Then, more astonishing, they saw his companion: a two-year-old girl standing by his side. A mass of tousled hair framed her face; a plain red dress covered her thin body. She too was silent, but not as still as the man. Instead, she turned her head this way and that, her eyes wide with curiosity, drawn especially by the bright television lights that shone on the president.
A Marine guard reached for his holster, but the man raised his hand, gently, and the guard's movement was arrested. The aides and attendants stepped back then stood rooted, as if stupefied, their ranks forming a path from the man at the room's center to the president's desk. The president, brilliant in the light, alone retained the freedom to move and speak. "Who are you?" he asked, rising from his chair. "What do you want?"
The man put his hand tenderly on the back of the girl's head and came forward with her. "I have a question for you, and an opportunity," the man replied. "I've heard it said that you are righteous, and wish to do good for the world."
"I am," said the president. "I wish only to do God's will, as He in His wisdom reveals it to me. In His will is the whole good of the world. What is your question, what is your opportunity? Be quick; I have mighty business at hand."
The man nodded. "If tonight you could guarantee the good of the world – peace and freedom, democracy and prosperity, now and forever; if tonight, you could relieve the suffering of all those who labor under tyranny and persecution, all those who groan in poverty and disease; if tonight, you could redeem the anguish of creation, past and future, now and forever; if tonight, you could guarantee such a universal reconciliation, by the simple expedient of taking this" – here the man suddenly produced a black pistol and held it out to the president – "and putting a bullet through the brain of this little one here, just her, no one else: would you do it? That is my question, this is your opportunity."
With firmness of purpose, the president grasped the pistol and walked around the desk. With confidence, calmness, and steady hand, he pressed the barrel to the girl's head and pulled the trigger. Her eyes, which had grown even wider with her smile at the approach of the nicely dressed man and his rosy cheeks, went black with blood in the instant shattering of her skull. Her body spun round from the force of the shot – once, twice, three times in all – then fell, her mutilated head flailing wildly, in a heap on the floor of the Oval Office.
At that moment, the man faded, like a dream, into nothingness. The aides and attendants, unfrozen, stepped back into their tasks. The room was again a whirl of activity, like a hive. The president – the dematerialized gun no longer in his hand – strode confidently back to his chair. He winked at a nearby aide and pumped his fist: "Feel good!" he exulted.
The speech went off without a hitch. The hair was perfect, the voice steady, the phrases short and lightly punched. No one saw the blood and bits of brain that clung to the president's $900 designer shoes; they were, of course, out of sight during the broadcast.
First published in The Moscow Times on April 20, 2003.
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 03 September 2010 16:58
For your consideration: two stories, from opposite sides of the world, concerning the attitude of Power toward those who would question its wisdom:
GI's mental health questioned in WikiLeaks case (AP)
China accused of holding woman in mental hospital for challenging officials (Guardian)
The GI in question is, of course, Bradley Manning, the young soldier charged with leaking the video of American gunships killing civilians in Iraq, and suspected of involvement in passing thousands of war-related secret documents to Wikileaks.
Manning has been quoted by friends (and the false friend who betrayed him to the authorities) about his motives for his actions. He has said quite plainly that he wanted to show the American people the true nature of the hideous Terror War operations being carried out around the world by their government -- "incredible things, awful things." One of his genuine friends said: "He wanted to do the right thing." Concerning the video of the gunship atrocity, the friend, who had been in contact with Manning, said: "He didn’t want to do this just to cause a stir…. He wanted people held accountable and wanted to see this didn’t happen again."
These motives are entirely clear, understandable, and imminently sane. In fact, Manning's actions reflect a mind far more healthy and stable than the diseased brains in charge of the War Machine, who compulsively, continually distort reality to an extreme, pathological degree in order to justify -- to others and, presumably, to themselves -- their own murderous, brutal depravity.
Yet it is Bradley Manning who must be examined to see if he is mentally "unstable." Yes, of course, that's it: he must be crazy. Why else would anyone -- especially an American (and a real American, not one of those with, you know, funny names or dark skin), especially a soldier -- want to challenge the authority and embarrass the benevolent leaders who protect us and care for us? To those pathetic wretches afflicted with the pathologies of power, Manning's actions -- courageous, noble, humane -- literally make no sense. Therefore, he must be mentally diseased.
There are also some practical considerations at play here, of course. If Manning were to be declared criminally insane, he could be locked up indefinitely, right away -- no need for a messy trial that might cause more embarrassments for our imperial minders.
In any case, it's good for the prosecutors -- or shall we say, the persecutors -- of Bradley Manning to have the "nuthouse option" in hand among the vast array of "legal" weaponry they are bringing to bear against the young man. And even if the matter proceeds to trial, these stories about Manning's "shaky mental health" will help immunize any unseemly testimony he might give in the dock. Official shoulders will merely shrug at new revelations: "Well, what do you expect? He's crazy, isn't he? He'll say anything." And the corporate media will doubtless shrug along with them.
As the Guardian notes, the Chinese elite -- following the model of the old Soviet Union in its later years -- take the same approach to troublemakers:
They snatched Liao Meizhi on her birthday, dragging her off the street and into a dirty blue van as others held back her husband.
It was only two months later, when a stranger knocked on the door, that her family learned where she had been taken. The man said he had just been discharged from a nearby mental hospital – and that Liao was being held there against her will. Her husband insists she has no psychiatric problems ...
Researchers believe she is among a growing number of people wrongly detained in psychiatric institutions after clashing with local officials. One activist has compiled a database of more than 500 such cases.
Some victims have been held for a decade. Those freed describe being forcibly treated – with electro-convulsive therapy and powerful anti-psychotic drugs – for health problems they never had.
"In the last few years you have been seeing more and more cases involving petitioners and whistle blowers – 'the awkward squad' – [often when] the authorities have tried other punishments or sanctions to make them stop and nothing else has worked," said Robin Munro, author of China's Psychiatric Inquisition and a research associate at SOAS law school. "Finally they really try to scare them to hell by putting them in mental hospitals."
Well, it worked for Jose Padilla, the American citizen snatched, without charges, on American soil, and held, without charges, for years, while being subjected to mind-breaking tortures for his alleged terrorist activities. The charges against him began with dramatically broadcast claims of nuclear terrorism aimed at the US and ended with the broken man's conviction on lesser charges of aiding foreign groups involved in foreign conflicts, far from American shores. Yet even here, the judge in the case declared that "there was no evidence linking [Padilla] to specific acts of terrorism anywhere or that their actions had resulted in death or injury to anyone" -- even as she handed the torture victim a 17-year prison sentence, as Winter Patriot reports.
Manning will perhaps escape the extremities of torture doled out to Padilla; he has at least been formally charged and has access to legal counsel -- something denied to Padilla for years during this torment. But make no mistake: the depraved minds in charge of our morally insane empire seek to break him, one way or another -- as an example to us all.