Dear RN, Dan Brook, whose e-mail list I can recommend highly, sends us a thoughtful message below. I especially like that it asks some very obvious but difficult questions, and in a way that I hope will reach people who have been in agreement with this war up till now. all the best, Jan *********************************************************** Date: Fri, 21 Dec 2001 16:44:21 -0800 From: CyberBrook <•••@••.•••> Subject: Questions of War Questions of War Dan Brook We need some answers. I keep asking certain questions about what the US is doing in and to Afghanistan, because I’m the inquisitive sort, but the answers I get, when I get any at all, are uniformly lacking. I’ve asked the hawks, including those who fully support Bush and this war du jour, and those who reluctantly do so. I’ve asked the doves, including those who are pacifists and those who don’t support particular wars. It shouldn’t be so difficult to get answers to questions about matters literally of life and death, but it is. Here are some of the questions I’ve been asking: —Why didn’t people who support the war do so before 9/11, rather than waiting until Bush announced it? Are people who support the war just being reactionary in the face of terror, supportive in the face of perceived powerlessness, or acquiescent in the face of Bush? Surely the Taliban, a despicable and fascist biophobic gang of male thugs, was no more horrible in October 2001 than it was in May 2001, when the Bush administration gave them another $43 million on top of the perhaps $100 million already doled out. I’ve heard of corporate welfare, but terrorist welfare, misogynist welfare? It seems to me that the best way to have stopped totalitarians and terrorists like Al Qaeda and the Taliban was to not create them, not support them, not fund them, not give them weapons and explosives, and not glorify them, all of which the US did. I guess my curse is that I refuse to forget history, especially very recent history. Taking Santayana seriously, I don’t want us to repeat it. —If people now support the bombing of the Taliban for their atrocious human rights record and their harboring of terrorists, do they also currently support the bombing of other countries that have similar qualifications? Here I’m thinking of Saudi Arabia (e.g., 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11th were Saudi, as is Osama bin Laden, and Saudi Arabia refuses to release evidence of who financed that terrorism; it also heavily subsidizes moujahedeen training camps, Hamas, and other terror organizations), Pakistan (e.g., Pakistani General Mahumd reportedly wired $100,000 to hijacker Mohammed Atta), Uzbekistan (which harshly suppresses freedoms and dissent)—need I go on?—the UAE, Kuwait, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Russia, China, Indonesia, Turkey, Algeria, and Colombia, to name a few, and indeed the US itself. Tragically, all these countries qualify, as does the Northern Alliance. How willing are people to extend their beliefs to their logical conclusions? How willing are people to fight, or send their children to fight, in the wars they support? How willing are they to become its victims? —Is support for this war following or creating some principle, to be universally followed, or is it merely ad hoc, applying only to this case (just like the Supreme Court’s improper and infamous decision in Bush v. Gore)? If there is a principle involved, I’d like to hear it and, more importantly, hear it discussed. If, more likely, people are merely supporting this war as it steamrolls along, then it is more a case of responding to legitimate fear, government-induced hysteria, and military vengeance, with its kill and overkill, rather than responding with practical policies, legal strategies, and moral justice. —Does might makes right? If so, how can democracy and the rule of law be justified? If not, how can terrorism and war be justified? Might does not make right—whether by terrorists against civilians, nation against nation, majorities against minorities, men against women, bosses against workers, adults against children, humans against animals. Might makes force and power, but it does not confer authority and legitimacy. Indeed, it only makes more wrongs, more injustice, more alienation, and more suffering. Millions of people in the US and many millions more around the world easily recognize this basic reality. In fact, much of what motivates terrorists is exactly this phenomenon. Terrorists, frequently retaliating against previous use of force by a larger power, too often the US, in turn also illegitimately and immorally use violence. In both cases, almost invariably, ordinary people suffer for the crimes of others. —Are American lives, even three thousand of them, worth more than thousands or millions of Afghan or other non-American lives? Are the facts that the US has and uses weapons of mass destruction, supports and engages in terrorism, and breaks and flouts international laws simply to be ignored because it is the US and not another country? Can only “foreign” nations, following State Department dictates, be “rogue states”? Ethnocentrism and nationalism are powerful cultural and political forces. These deadly ideologies cause us to exaggerate others’ sins, while minimizing or taking for granted one’s own. Is this fair and just? How much should we blame and punish others for what we ourselves do? The people of Afghanistan are not fully responsible for their government’s actions in the same way that Americans are not fully responsible for theirs. There is absolutely no justification at all for someone to bomb US cities, regardless of what the US government is doing or has ever done. There are unequivocally no circumstances under which, as citizens and residents of America, our towns and cities could be legitimate targets of a terrorist attack or a bombing campaign. That type of terrorism would be wholly unacceptable. Likewise, there is positively no justification for bombing villages and cities in Afghanistan to achieve political goals, which is indeed the definition of terrorism. Same goes for Vietnam, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, and everywhere else. Worse still, the US use of radioactive depleted uranium ammunition and chemically-toxic bombs may also condemn future generations of humans and animals to disease and premature death. —Does it make sense to terrorize Afghanistan and to Talibanize the US in order to fight terrorism and the Taliban? Does the US have to act as viciously and violently as Osama bin Laden in an effort to vanquish him? Bush is launching a crusade against a jihad, making war abroad to bring peace, abrogating freedoms at home to bolster democracy. Which part of this Orwellian “logic” makes sense? In the war against Afghanistan, the US has bombed the UN (it was four UN minesweepers, in a country of some ten million mines, who were the first victims of the US bombing of Afghanistan), the Red Cross (which was hit twice, destroying food and clothing), mosques (one was hit on the first night of Ramadan), various villages, old age homes, people’s houses, and other civilian sites of everyday life for ordinary people, destroying their lives, families, and communities. In the US, there is a different sort of threat. Bush’s belief that “there ought to be limits to freedom” and his simplistic and polarizing warning of September 20th declaring that “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” sets the harsh tone for the rest of the administration, and indeed the country. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer followed up on September 26th, with his threat “to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do”. Attorney General John Ashcroft, not to be left out of the fascistic fun, admonished people concerned about rights and liberties on December 6th. Speaking to a Senate committee, he said: “to those who scare peaceloving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies, and pause to America’s friends.” What a baseless, horrible, and anti-democratic charge to level against citizens exercising their fundamental rights. This is precisely why we have, and should highly value, our First Amendment. How authoritarian and cruel to say to people who disagree or dissent, who are fearful or are already victims, that what they may be doing is comparable to terrorism and treason! Scores of people deemed “other”—Arabs and South Asians, Israelis and Central Asians, Muslims and Jews—have been xenophobically harassed and attacked by the state, corporations, and vigilantes in the US. There have been approximately 1,200 people held in secret detention—perhaps 50 or 60 of whom are Jewish Israelis—mostly held in solitary confinement and incommunicado, most likely with no connection to terrorism, all of whose names and charges are unknown to us, including one Pakistani who died in custody. Additionally, there is possibly 5,000 or more people—primarily Middle Eastern men, though anyone may be considered “fair” game—to be “questioned”. So secretive and duplicitous the Bush Administration has been that it won’t divulge the evidence against bin Laden it claims to have and promised to publicize. Even if we already reasonably assume his guilt due to circumstantial evidence, direct evidence and proof is still of course necessary. The administration also does not release the names, and other information, of those it detains, while the government alarmingly increases its powers of surveillance, search, and seizure. Further eroding of civil rights comes in the form of military tribunals, a form of judicial martial law. Speaking of the executive order signed by Bush to establish secret military tribunals, Rogers M. Smith says that The order allows military officials within the United States to arrest aliens on mere suspicion of terrorism, without having to show probable cause; to try them entirely in secret; to use any evidence against them that military officials judge to have ‘probative value,’ even if it is mere hearsay or illegally obtained; to convict them on simple preponderance of such evidence, rather than proof beyond a reasonable doubt; to convict them by a vote of two-thirds of the military judges, without a requirement of unanimity, much less trial by jury; and to sentence them to death, without appeal to the civilian courts. This is a grotesque Magna Charta for a new Star Chamber. Additionally, it is Bush himself who personally decides who gets charged in these kangaroo courts and it is Secretary of Defense (sic) Rumsfeld himself who personally has to OK the defense lawyer, keeping in mind that Rumsfeld and Bush are also the commanders of the judge and the prosecutor. And, according to Attorney General Ashcroft during Congressional hearings on this subject, Bush and Rumsfeld are the appellate process. The Bush Administration is sounding more and more like a monarchy everyday. William Safire, the conservative New York Times essayist, argues that each military tribunal would be empowered to “conceal evidence by citing national security, make up its own rules, find a defendant guilty even if a third of the officers disagree, and execute the alien with no review by any civilian court”. Cutting out the judicial branch of government altogether, it would be the executive branch alone that is the “investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury and jailer or executioner”. How convenient! This is what Bush calls a “full and fair trial”. This type of Orwellian authoritarianism is not entirely surprising, however, given that Bush has three times publicly said, as recently as last December 18th and this past July 27th, that things would be much easier if he were the dictator—for him, that is. Apparently, and ominously, things are starting to get easier for Bush, but that doesn’t bode well for the rest of us. Many legal experts have criticized the use of military tribunals. A letter signed by more than 300 law professors, for example, describes the military tribunals as “legally deficient, unnecessary and unwise”. The Wall Street Journal simply calls Bush’s military tribunals “indefensible”, arguing that we shouldn’t be “shredding the Constitution—which applies to all ‘persons,’ not just citizens”. In 1866, other legal experts also took issue with military tribunals. In Ex Parte Milligan, the Supreme Court ruled that “martial law, established on such a basis, destroys every guarantee of the Constitution and effectively renders the military independent of and superior to the civil powers...Civil liberty and this kind of martial law cannot endure together; one or the other must perish...Martial rule can never exist where the Courts are open...” Sent to Dachau by the Nazi Gestapo in 1938 and freed in 1945, Martin Niemoeller reminds us that First they came for the communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the homosexuals, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a homosexual. Then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, But I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, And there was no one left to speak up. It is never an inopportune time to assert one’s rights and to “speak up” on behalf of justice. The attacks of September 11th were clearly “crimes against humanity”, especially based on their scope and scale, their horror and human toll, the number of people killed and from so many countries, the number of survivors still terrified. Bush, however, is treating the terrorist attacks as “acts of war”, even though he earlier and correctly compared Al Qaeda to the mafia. It is an instructive comparison. When trying to stop and punish the mafia (not to mention mass murderers such as Kaczinski, Pinochet, McVeigh, and Milosovic), we appropriately attempt to locate, capture, arrest, arraign, impartially try, convict, and imprison the guilty people, giving them access to their accusers, the evidence, and an independent defense counsel, following the rules of law and the norms of justice. We do not, it should be needless to say, carpet bomb and destroy entire blocks, neighborhoods, towns, cities, and countries for the purposes of tracking down individuals or even groups of suspected criminals. The rule of law simply means that the rules need to follow the law—not the fear, not the fad, not the anger, and not the president—without exception. —Are we really toppling the Taliban for the sake of women? The war in Afghanistan is being fought for women the same way that World War II was fought for Jews and other religious minorities, Gypsies/Romani, gays and lesbians, people with disabilities, and leftists. That is to say, it is not being fought for women, only to some extent in women’s names. RAWA (the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan), one of the leading women’s organizations in that country and one of the bravest groups of people working under some of the harshest conditions, strongly opposes the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Northern Alliance, and the US bombing campaign against their country. Each of these, they assert, are violent and misogynist, regardless of whether or not the burqa is required. These Afghan women simply ask why more innocent women and others should have to suffer for the sins of criminal and illegitimate leaders—Bush, the Taliban, and the Northern Alliance included. They deserve an answer, but like me they do not get one. We probably wouldn’t like the answer anyway. It’s called “collateral damage”. Women always seem to be collateral damage, both during war and peacetime. Many people look to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, for example, where hundreds of thousands of US troops were stationed during the Gulf War, for “protection” and “liberation”, and are sorely disappointed to find that women still can’t vote in Kuwait and are still not allowed to even drive in Saudi Arabia, where schools are sex-segregated. Reuters reports that “Saudi women are generally barred from public life”. Amnesty International regularly writes of severe discrimination and rights violations for women in Saudi Arabia. Oil and geo-politics (read: capitalism and imperialism) are always more important than democracy and women, apparently, just as the security dogs in Washington, D.C. were considered more important and tested for anthrax before human postal workers, during the recent anthrax attacks. “A few privileged Afghan women have been caught smiling for AP cameras”, since the dislodging of the Taliban, Cynthia Peters reports, “but many Afghan women, men and children are silently dying behind the burqa of U.S. deceit”. We have a lot to learn from our government’s actions, regardless of its sometimes lofty rhetoric. —Who pays the price of this war, a war that Dick Cheney and Osama bin Laden (both presumably hiding in underground bunkers) say may go on forever, or at least will probably exceed our lifetimes? Clearly it is not those who decide to go to war. Is the frightening, displacing, and killing of civilians due to war—fully expected and foreseen even if not fully intentional and strictly deliberate, essentially a case of negligent homicide or involuntary manslaughter rather than murder—any different that the frightening, displacing, and killing due to terrorism? Both involve violent attacks against people for political purposes, even when those victimized people have little or no control over their political situation. Afghans have been victims of the British, the Russians, the Northern Alliance, the Taliban, and now the US bombing, and then will probably have to again suffer the wrath of the despicable Northern Alliance. War is terrorism on a grand and international scale. And, because this so-called war on terrorism is understood to be unjust by much of the world, at least outside the US, it will almost undoubtedly increase the threats and realities of future terrorism. It is no less a figure that Dwight Eisenhower, first a general and then US president, who eventually realized that Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. Terrorists are generally motivated by injustice, both real and perceived. Further injustice only fans the flames; justice would dampen the fire. —Who decides if the price of war is worth it? I guess people like Secretary of State Madeleine Albright does. When she was asked in May 1996 about the harsh sanctions against Iraq and the fact that some half a million kids had died due to them, she responded that “the price is worth it”. Many more have died since and presumably the price is still worth it to Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice, and the others who organize and support this war. Historian Howard Zinn, in A People’s History of the United States, asks “how can the judgment be made if the benefits and losses cannot be balanced because the losses are either unmentioned or mentioned quickly?” “We can all decide to give up something of ours”, Zinn challenges, “but do we have the right to throw into the pyre the children of others, or even our own children?” Besides being morally disgusting and outrageously cruel, Albright’s casual remark flies in the face of democratic theory which suggests that those affected by a decision have a say in that decision. At the very least, democracy requires informed consent. We have to decide—while we still can—whether we want to be a democracy. And remember: if we don’t decide, others most certainly will. —Why are people so unimaginable, and so quick to beat the drums of war, when there may be other and more effective courses of action? Anti-war activists do not oppose action. We just oppose the destructive paths of action chosen by the Bush Administration. Instead, we prefer paths of action that are consistent with the power of law not the law of power, with democracy not authoritarianism, indeed with justice not vengeance. Madeleine Bunting worries that “US ruthlessness may turn out to be a greater threat” than the fanaticism and terrorism of foreigners. Many of us should worry too, but only to the extent that our worry motivates—rather than paralyzes—us to take action. One major way that American citizens can help stop terrorism is to get our government to stop supporting and engaging in it. The US has actively supported—often politically, financially, and militarily—Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, the Northern Alliance (members of whom Cheney said are “not the kind of people we would invite to dinner or we would want as neighbors”, probably because of their recent and repugnant record of murder, torture, rape, sex slavery, child abuse, and drug dealing, as the US government well knows), the Saudi royal family, Kuwaiti dictators, Uzbek tyrants, Colombian human rights abusers, Pakistani Taliban-wannabes, Nicaraguan contras, Mozambiquan Renamo, Angolan Unita, Honduran military torturers, Salvadoran death squads, Indonesian genocide, Noriega, the Shah, Suharto, Marcos, Somoza, Batista, Mobutu, Savimbi, Duvalier, Pinochet, Pol Pot, Sharon, Saddam Hussein, and tragically many other brutal dictators and terrorists, both foreign and domestic. There are, of course, other ways to stop terrorism, but getting the US out of the game would no doubt go a very long way in the right direction. Present policy will unfortunately and almost certainly guarantee future repeats of dictators and dictatorship, terrorism and terror, war and warmongering, death and destruction. I am not predicting the future so much as reading the past. It’s there for all to witness. One of the other ways to stop war and terrorism is to take the words of some of our most acclaimed scholars seriously. In a statement recently signed by 100 Nobel laureates on the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize, it says that if “we permit the devastating power of modern weaponry to spread through this combustible human landscape, we invite a conflagration that can engulf both rich and poor. The only hope for the future”, it continues, “lies in co-operative international action, legitimized by democracy”. The statement concludes by cautioning us that “to live in the world we have transformed, we must learn to think in a new way. As never before, the future of each depends on the good of all”. One last question remains, then: Must we destroy something in order to save it? We need answers. It’s a matter of life and death.