Can a democracy fight a dictatorship? There is some logic to the belief that in a war a country must be all on the same page, particularly when it comes to sending men and women to possibly die defending it. However, it goes against everything we stand for if all of us are out of the picture regarding what our government is doing in retaliation for the horrible 9/11 attacks.
We are stronger if we have a free and open discussions on which way our country should go than if we merely follow a drumbeat for a bad idea.
While the latest war rages, the media are reverting to the form they displayed during the Persian Gulf War. An excellent example of this was seen with the Washington Post’s reaction (10/9/2001) to the Bush administration’s announcement that it was using Article 51 of the UN Charter as the pretext for bombing Afghanistan. (Newly appointed UN Ambassador John Negroponte, a fitting subject for a Halloween costume, delivered the news to the UN by letter.) The Post’s article quoted no one, not even a government source, on the legality of Negroponte’s letter. Instead, we were instructed that "Diplomats said they interpreted [Negroponte’s letter] as indicating that the United States did not feel the need to ask for UN endorsement of the military strikes against Afghanistan or against other countries."
Now, here’s what Article 51 says:
“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.” (emphasis mine)
So as our government made the critical decision to attack the country of Afghanistan the media was totally in their service. There was no dialogue on the subject in public. What the corporate media hasn’t broadcast is that many journalists and legal scholars dismiss the claim that the US can use Article 51 to justify the bombing campaign. One problem with the claim is that we are not presently under "armed attack." Another is that the Bush administration is not allowing the Security Council to take "measures to maintain international peace and security." (The Security Council, and UN Secretary Kofi Annan, have been really quiet with regards to the bombing.)
Still another problem with claiming self-defense is that we’re not bombing Afghanistan because the Taliban is accused of perpetuating the 9/11 atrocities. Instead, it is because they have supported bin Laden and request that the Bush administration show them the evidence of his guilt before extraditing him to a neutral country. (This is a common occurrence in extraditions.) Bush has issued ultimatums to the Taliban that they turn over Osama bin Laden without any evidence produced, or face more bombing.
These ultimatums received no critical scrutiny in the corporate media. A fair comparison to them would be if Cambodia, Chile, and East Timor were to demand that the US allow Henry Kissinger to be extradited to another country to face certain death. In this scenario, the US refuses until some evidence of his guilt has been put forward. In response to US foot-dragging, these countries get to bomb our major cities.
The Humanitarian Crisis
According to the UN’s World Food Program, there are 7.5 million Afghanistan civilians in danger of starvation this winter. (That is more people than the number of Jews who died during the Holocaust over a longer period.) The US media has generally been downplaying the potential catastrophe. However, when the Bush administration opted for a military response to the 9/11 attacks, they must have known that the military action would cause a disruption in the delivery of food, putting more Afghan civilians at risk.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the attacks are accelerating the hunger crisis. The more we attack Afghanistan the more innocent civilians may die as a result.
The Bush administration made a nice token gesture in having about 40,000 MRIs dropped from high latitudes. However, it was a publicity stunt, as many of the packages fell in mine fields that the Afghans won’t enter. It also only fed one meal to a fraction of those needing food.
The events of 9/11/01 were atrocities, and the perpetuators should certainly be punished. Hours after the attacks Bush was calling the atrocities "acts of war." The media never allowed the discussion of whether they should be called "crimes," which would have facilitated a legal, not a military, response.
Progressive UK reporter Robert Fisk, who has interviewed bin Laden, has written what I believe constitutes confirmation Fisk thinks our government is correct in saying that Osama bin Laden is the culprit. (Fisk and other writers can be read at
Counterpunch. So, for the sake of this discussion, I’m assuming Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda organization are responsible.
In my opinion, the Bush administration is making a grave blunder by launching a war essentially against the Afghan people. As Doug Ireland wrote in his excellent article "Taking The Bait" (In These Times, 11/12/01), "In bombing Afghanistan George W. Bush has handed Osama bin Laden a major victory." Bin Laden and his group use legitimate injustices to recruit new followers in their “Holy War” against the west. The bombing campaign, which is killing civilians outright as well as making it impossible for the UN’s World Food Program to deliver food into the area via truck convoys, is an enormous propaganda tool for bin Laden to utilize. Ireland metaphorically estimates that every bomb that falls on the already-battered Afghanistan is breeding a hundred desperate new terrorists filled with hate against the US.
The US government should make stabilizing the hunger crisis the top priority. We should use our military superiority to ensure that the UN can deliver food all winter long. In the meantime I think that Bush should halt the bombing and military operations in order to show the Taliban the evidence it has on Osama bin Laden. We can wait to see if they will refuse to extradite him to a neutral country where he can be tried in an international court of law. Only if the Taliban fail to extradite him should we consider launching a ground war against the Al-Qaeda group (preferably in the Spring to avoid their harsh winter). By this I mean sending armed forces to the caves where these guys are hiding; it does not mean bombing the entire country.
Summary: The Hatred is Growing
Osama bin Laden has denied involvement of the 9/11 attacks, but he supports them. In his video he offers three reasons why. They are not secret; the New York Times and Washington Post both make these points very quietly. They are:
I think it is imperative for the US to try to reduce the amount of hatred that those three policies are engendering in the Muslim world. Add to them the blame the Muslim world will have for the US if millions of Afghan civilians end up starving this winter. Add to this mix our ultimatums, rejections of international law and violent reaction in bombing Afghanistan—a country battered from 20 years of continual warfare. Stir this volatile mix, and you’ve got so much hatred for us that the possibility is very strong that more reprisal terrorism is on the way.
- The continuation of the economic sanctions on Iraq, which human rights groups have said have resulted in a million Iraqi civilian deaths;
- Unconditional support for Israel, which has been in violation of UN 242 for 34 years now (and in the opinion of most of the world) regarding its continued use of the occupied territories;
- The US’s supporting and arming of various dictatorships in the Middle East.
We cannot stand by and let our government just dictate what it will do next, with the media’s blessing. We have to organize, meet and have dialogues on what our reactions should be.
We must also fight with all of our strength the attacks on the US Constitution that are being undertaken in the name of "fighting terrorism".