November 28, 2007

Chasing the Phantoms of 9/11

It's unfortunate, to say the least, that the 9/11 hijackers chose a suicide route to carry out their horrific act of terrorism. This happens often in the mass murder situation: the "lone gunman" kills a lot of strangers and then in his final act of despair and madness, he turns the gun on himself. Aggrieved humanity is therefore left without a focus for their vengeance and emotional "closure." Something awful has happened and all you can say is that life's like that sometimes.

The United States might have responded differently to 9/11: to do nothing militarily, but to have explored what routes there were for standard police and counter-terrorism work. The hijackers, naturally, are all dead; you can't make them pay any greater price. But if they have living accomplices, let's see if we can track and capture them. I thought that's what Bush meant way back in 2001 when he said he was going to smoke the perps out of their holes, get 'em runnin, and bring 'em to justice. I assumed he was referring to Osama bin Laden and close henchmen, like Zawahiri and Atef, and, as we perhaps didn't know then, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the "Brain" or mastermind behind the attacks. KSM, as he's known in the 9-11 Report, was also instrumental in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. The Clinton Administration apprehended and convicted his nephew Ramzi Yousef, who's now doing a life stretch at the Supermax prison in Colorado. KSM is in Guantanamo, and will never see another free day in this life. And bin Laden and Zawahiri...?

After the dust settled at the World Trade Center, a decision was made within the Bush Administration that the Great War on Terror (GWOT) should be 10% anti-terrorism and 90% show biz. Thus and always in the media age. Slowly but surely, as we reduce the world to a set of electronic images, reality loses its familiar feel and internal logic and is reduced to...11110000001100001100001001011101100111111011101100000000111100.

I've been reading "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who served as the Washington Post's Baghdad bureau chief during the initial year of the American occupation. By now the ideas are familiar to me, having read "Fiasco" and "Cobra II." These books tightly converge toward an inescapable conclusion that the occupation was completely botched. I was struck by one image early on in the book: in the main mess hall of Saddam's palace in the Green Zone, which had been converted to Coalition Provisional Authority use, giant murals of the Twin Towers were painted on the walls. I suppose, when they were painted, these pictures were to remind the soldiers what they were fighting for - to avenge the attacks of 9/11. I have a feeling this didn't convince many members of the military, at least not after a few months in Iraq. It might serve as an operational definition of cognitive dissonance. Eventually, even their Commander in Chief, weary of the occasional questions at his staged press conferences, simply said Saddam had "nothing" to do with the attacks of 9/11. So from that point, I guess, the murals were just to remind the soldiers of life in New York.

More than six years after 9/11 we're still fighting two military wars in Aghanistan and Iraq to avenge the crimes of 19 Arabs from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Yemen and the UAE. The CIA tells us that the threat of terrorism has increased worldwide as a result. If you board a plane today at Chicago's O'Hare or at Los Angeles International, the chances are less than half that the poorly-paid TSA employees can spot bomb components taken on board in carry-on luggage. The ports, nuclear facilities and chemical plants in the country remain unguarded. The "security tax" added to airline tickets was not used to purchase screening devices for all cargo luggage in every major American airport, as required by legislation. The strength of the military and national guard units has deteriorated because of the unending battles. Because of the very bad ideas of gung-ho lawyers close to Bush and Cheney, the Geneva Conventions were abandoned in the treatment of detainees at Bagram in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib in Iraq and at Guantanamo, leading to the systematic commission of war crimes, including torture and murder. Congress then said that was okay, and exonerated all of it. As a result of all that, America's moral leadership in the world has taken a vicious pounding.

Ah hell -- if we had just caught the 19 Arabs in the act, as they boarded the four planes. As we could have, probably, given that the "lights were blinking red," as George Tenet said. The way we caught the German saboteurs in World War II, the ones tried in ex parte Quirin. All those lives saved, all that money not wasted.

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