the Rational Radical  

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The Daily Diatribe
November 1-15, 2001

Another Supposedly "Accidental" Bombing: U.S. Destroys Al Jazeera Office in Kabul

Media Buries Story

November 15, 2001

Two days ago a U.S. missile destroyed the Kabul offices of Al Jazeera, the only independent television station in the Arab world.

The mainstream U.S. media seem to have deliberately ignored or all but buried the story, with the exception of an AP report.

The Bush administration has frequently criticized Al Jazeera for broadcasting Osama bin Laden's videos, and for giving voice to those in the Arab world opposing the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan.  Secretary of Defense Colin Powell tried to convince the emir of Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based, to modify its news reporting.

The Bush administration recognized the importance of the 24 hour satellite channel recently by providing top administration officials for interviews.

Does anyone on earth really believe that the bombing was accidental?  A little deliberate payback and intimidation is more likely.

I guess Bush et al figured a little violence might accomplish what Colin Powell's pressure and some interviews couldn't.

The Al Jazeera attack brings to mind the bombings twice in a two week period of the same Red Cross warehouse in Kabul, supposedly from "targeting errors."

And remember during the Serbian conflict when we "accidentally" bombed the Chinese embassy, our excuse being that the CIA had an out-of-date map!

Do those excuses seem credible to anyone?

At least the bombings of the Red Cross warehouse and the Chinese embassy received appropriate publicity.  It's alarming that the attack on Al Jazeera's Kabul offices has been all but ignored, so Americans don't know about their own government's attack on freedom of speech abroad.

Exactly What the Doctor Did Not Order: Secret Military Trials of Suspected Terrorists

November 14, 2001

George Bush has signed an executive order that would allow secret military tribunals to try suspected terrorists who are not U.S. citizens.  The secret trials could take place in the United States or abroad.  The death penalty would be available as a sentencing option.  Only a two-thirds vote of a military panel would be required for conviction, even for application of the death penalty.

This order, which does not require Congressional approval, has been condemned across the political spectrum.  Perhaps no stronger indictment came than from the far right in the person of William Safire, who opened his New York Times column with these words:

Misadvised by a frustrated and panic-stricken attorney general, a president of the United States has just assumed what amounts to dictatorial power to jail or execute aliens.

In addition to the civil liberties concerns, there are two devastating practical consequences to this course of action:

First, utilizing secret trials would open us up to a never-ending stream of accusations from around the world that we have secretly tried and executed this person and that person and this person and that person.  How could anyone believe a denial that we have done so?

Second, aren't terrorists precisely the kind of defendants we want to try publicly?  Public trials would establish for the world the guilt of those we accuse of terrorism.  Public trials showcase our system of justice, with its checks-and-balances and concern for fairness.  Public trials distinguish us from the totalitarian systems we claim to oppose. 

Secretly trying those very defendants whom we accuse of attacking our American way of life is the ultimate irony, as we adopt the methods of the very people we are putting on trial.

With all due respect to the men and women of genius in the Bush administration: this may well be your worst idea yet.

Will the Northern Alliance Splash Blood on U.S. Hands?

November 13, 2001

Events are unfolding so rapidly in Afghanistan that as soon as I write a few paragraphs and check the news wires, what I've written has become obsolete.  Here goes again:

The Taliban have apparently withdrawn from the Afghan capital of Kabul and Northern Alliance forces have entered the city.

That's great news in the sense that it puts the ultimate defeat of the Taliban that much closer, and it means additional multitudes of Afghan civilians have been liberated from oppressive Taliban rule.

The problem is, most observers felt the Northern Alliance should not enter the city by itself.  Many elements of the Northern Alliance have a terrible human rights record. 

More specifically, the last time the Northern Alliance took over Kabul, widespread atrocities followed.  The citizens of Kabul are reported to hate the Northern Alliance even more than the Taliban, if that is possible. 

Already there are unconfirmed reports from U.N. officials of summary executions and abductions of civilians in Mazar-i-Sharif, which the Northern Alliance just took over.  It's not clear who are the perpetrators and who are the victims.

The New York Times has just reported that Northern Alliance forces summarily executed Taliban prisoners and engaged in widespread looting in an area under their control about 10 miles north of Kabul.  As the reporter dryly put it:

The killings here suggested that alliance soldiers might prove difficult to control as their victories build.

Were any Northern Alliance forces to commit atrocities in Kabul, that could precipitate a rallying of the Pashtuns in southern Afghanistan to the Taliban, making defeating the Taliban infinitely more difficult that it would otherwise have been. 

The Northern Alliance is made up primarily of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks, so even without any atrocities, the Pashtuns may well feel threatened enough simply by the Northern Alliance presence in Kabul to cause the Pashtuns to rally to the Taliban.

Many military analysts believe that in the best of circumstances at least a division of U.S. forces will be needed to achieve victory against the Taliban in their stronghold of Kandahar.  Were the Pashtun population there to vigorously support the Taliban, that would increase the requirement for U.S. troops and undoubtedly increase U.S. casualties.

Moreover, any innocent blood spilled by the Northern Alliance is also blood on U.S. hands.

Before the Afghan War started, the Northern Alliance controlled somewhere between 5-10% of the country, and they were being slowly squeezed out of the rest by the Taliban.  It is beyond doubt that the only reason the Northern Alliance is enjoying its current string of successes is because of the effect of sustained U.S. bombing on the Taliban, as well as new weapons, equipment and supplies just received by the Northern Alliance from our country and allies.

As the enablers of the Northern Alliance, we're responsible for what they do.

We can't enable an army and then disavow the consequences.

Remember the Sabra and Chatilla massacre?  General Ariel Sharon, commander of Israeli forces who had invaded Lebanon in 1982, allowed Christian Phalange militia allies of Israel to enter the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps, even though everyone knew from past history that massacres would result.  Over the next 38 hours 7-800 Palestinian refugees were massacred by the Christian militia.

We reportedly told the Northern Alliance not to enter Kabul until arrangements had been made for a government to replace the Taliban.  Northern Alliance officials agreed, but warned that they would have to enter the city were a "political vacuum" to develop.

In a statement that insults the intelligence of the American people, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that

it might be difficult to stop the Northern Alliance if they tried to seize the capital.

"We don't have enough forces on the ground to stand in their way," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

If the United States explicitly told the Northern Alliance not to enter the capital, does anyone believe they still would?

If the U.S. warned them of a cut-off of further assistance, would they Northern Alliance dare defy us?

If the U.S. merely parked a helicopter gunship in front of the advancing Northern Alliance troops, does anyone believe the Northern Alliance would fire on us?

Rumsfeld's statements are actually a public relations effort to avoid the appearance that the Northern Alliance is under U.S. control. 

The reality is, if the Northern Alliance has entered Kabul, it has done so with U.S. approval.

Pray for the civilians there that the Northern Alliance troops conduct themselves properly.

Earlier today, even before it was known that the Northern Alliance had taken Kabul, the U.N. issued an urgent call for

Afghan politicians to meet within days, make interim arrangements for the Afghan capital and provide the nucleus for a broad-based government to replace the Taliban.

Now that the Northern Alliance is already in Kabul, the urgency is magnified, and the U.S. -- as the creator of this new and highly volatile situation on the ground -- must work to ensure that the people of Kabul, and the rest of Afghanistan now under Northern Alliance control, are protected.

Is the Anthrax Terrorism Really the Work of a Disgruntled U.S. Loner?

November 12, 2001

I previously wrote that it seemed ridiculous, considering the timing and the level of expertise required, to think that the anthrax mailings were anything other than the work of Al Qaeda.

Now the FBI has issued a profile which indicates they believe the mailings were indeed an incidence of domestic terrorism, perpetrated by a disgruntled loner with access to, and skills to utilize, a laboratory which could produce such highly dangerous anthrax -- sort of a biochemical Unabomber.

Now that the letters have been made public, it does seem odd that they were dated September 11 but not postmarked until a week later, sort of like somebody was ex post facto trying to make it seem as if the letters were part of the September 11 plot.

Also, the text of the letters is simplistic, not characteristic of Al Qaeda's long, detailed tirades.

And, the phrase used in the letter "God is Great" is usually rendered "Allah is Great" by Muslims.

So these three factors would point to a domestic terrorist, trying to divert attention away from himself and point the finger at Al Qaeda.

Yet, I have my doubts.

There is still the extraordinarily coincidental timing.

Trenton, New Jersey ,where the letters were mailed, is not far from places like Newark where there are known terrorist cells.

Also, given the chess-playing nature of all this and the necessity to think many moves ahead, perhaps Al Qaeda operatives did send the letter, but wanted to make it look like a domestic terrorist himself was trying to make it look like Al Qaeda.

Remember, bin Laden hasn't claimed credit for the World Trade Center attack (or waited until now, two months later, if certain foreign press reports are to be believed).  So if his group perpetrated the anthrax mailings, he would want to deflect attention away from himself there also.

Perhaps the letters weren't mailed for a week because Al Qaeda operatives didn't want to risk being caught in the very first emotional days after the World Trade Center attack when everyone of Arab descent was most likely to be intensely watched on the street.  This would especially apply if they mailed the letters from a location different from where they lived.

I also heard another scenario, which seems plausible, to explain why the anthrax mailings were not on the scope of Al Qaeda's other attacks.  The mailings were a "'quickie" by Al Qaeda, merely intended to distract the authorities and drain security and investigative resources, so as to more easily enable the terrorist group to perpetrate another major assault on the scope of the World Trade Center destruction.  This could still be the case, and only our heightened security and/or the FBI roundup of hundreds of suspects prevented Al Qaeda from carrying out that second major attack.

This is all just speculation, but then, until the perpetrators are caught, so is the FBI profile.

With apologies to Ghostbusters...

U.S. Under Big Attack,
Mail Full of Anthrax,
Civilization May Be Whacked,
Who You Gonna Call?
Northern Alliance!

November 11, 2001

If your life were on the line, who would you want backing you up: the U.S. military, or the Northern Alliance?

If your entire country were in mortal danger, who would you want to protect it: the U.S. military, or the Northern Alliance?

If human civilization itself were threatened, who would you want to ride to the rescue: the U.S. military, or the Northern Alliance?

In his speech Thursday night, George Bush literally claimed that "We wage a war to save civilization itself."

That may be so, but judging from U.S. actions to date, the prevailing sentiment seems to be, "What's the big rush?"

There are unconfirmed reports in the last days that bin Laden has suitcase nuclear bombs that could easily be smuggled into the U.S.  Even if he doesn't have them now, he's certainly trying to get them.   Bin Laden's videos make clear that he is aware of current events on a day-to-day basis, and has the ability to quickly smuggle out videos to television networks.  He could also obviously smuggle out marching orders to set off the nukes.  Or to implement any other of a myriad of possible terrorist actions.

So shouldn't we be trying to overthrow the Taliban and neutralize bin Laden AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE?

Yet our war strategy is to let the Northern Alliance do the fighting at whatever pace it is capable of, and then if it ultimately can't do the job, then we'll step in with our own ground troops.

Can't we even equip the Northern Alliance decently?

A Pentagon briefer said today that some of the alliance's attacks involve cavalry charges against Taliban tanks. He said the United States was air-dropping horse feed to the alliance. [The New York Times, November 8, 2001]

This whole situation is ridiculous!  If civilization is at stake as Bush claims, if we're trying to head off a nuke attack on American cities, why on earth aren't we using not only U.S. high altitude bombers, but U.S. ground troops to get the job done immediately?!

I know the Northern Alliance has had great success in the past few days.  But that's due to the Taliban's decision to quickly retreat with the apparent intention of regrouping to defend Kabul and/or the Taliban's spiritual home and stronghold, Kandahar.

Hopefully the Northern Alliance will have swift success in those battles also.  Unfortunately, relative troop strengths and ethnic loyalties would indicate much tougher going for the Northern Alliance there.

Even if not, the bottom line is, all of this could have been wrapped up weeks ago has the U.S. used the military power readily available to it.

Instead, while bin Laden issues commands from his cave "command and control center," we're dawdling around and hoping the Northern Alliance can achieve victory fast enough to safeguard our national security.

It just makes no sense.

Why Aren't Reporters in Mazar-i-Sharif Yet?

November 10, 2001

It's heartening that the Northern Alliance took the strategic town of Mazar-i-Sharif from the Taliban.  The sooner the war is won, the sooner we are safer and the sooner the suffering people in Afghanistan can be helped.

What's strange to me is that the Northern Alliance has apparently not brought any reporters into Mazar-i-Sharif to witness its triumph.

The people of Mazar-i-Sharif hated that Taliban with a passion, not least because the Taliban massacred several thousand civilians when they captured the city.  (This massacre was vengeance for a Northern Alliance massacre of Taliban forces the previous time the Alliance had gained control of the city.)

Further, the population of Mazar-i-Sharif is made up of the same ethnic groups as the Northern Alliance, while  the Taliban are predominantly of a different ethnic group, the Pashtuns.  And among the Taliban are thousands of militants from Arab nations, who are widely unpopular in the city. 

So Mazar-i-Sharif would be expected to welcome the Northern Alliance with open arms.  Indeed, one reason the Taliban left the city without putting up much of a fight was because they feared the population would turn on them the first chance they got!

When Allied Forces in WWII liberated Paris from German occupation, there was dancing in the streets and flowers and kisses for the soldiers.  I was hoping to see something similar in Mazar-i-Sharif. 

Above all, it would have been wonderful to see a burqa-burning rally, with thousands of women ripping off those horrible emblems of enslavement, casting them into the flames.

Maybe we'll see something like this later on.  It just seems odd that some 48 hours after the first reports that the city had been taken, there are no reporters in there.

It's not that I doubt the city has been taken.  Even the Taliban have conceded that fact.  In a war where both sides are lying so much, however, it would be refreshing to receive some real-time information from independent sources.

The Taking of Mazar-i-Sharif Should Have Come Much Sooner

Many Lives Would Have Been Saved

November 9, 2001

As I write this evening, news reports are ever-more-conclusively confirming that the Northern Alliance has taken the strategic Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.  Most Taliban forces reportedly withdrew rather than fight the incoming Alliance troops.

While in past wars the city has changed hands many times, it will probably be quite difficult for the Taliban to launch a counter-offensive, since any Taliban troop concentrations would be easy targets for U.S. fighter jets and -- should we finally choose to introduce them on the Afghan battlefield -- helicopter gunships.

In addition to the tactical military advantages the capture of this city will have for U.S. war efforts, humanitarian efforts to feed starving Afghans will get a much needed boost.  About three-quarters of the people in need are in northern Afghanistan, and it should now be much easier to get them supplies by land, the much preferred method and the only real way to feed large numbers of people.

That's the good news.

The bad news is how unnecessarily long this military success took to achieve. 

At the beginning of the Afghan War, the U.S. took out all Taliban anti-aircraft sites in a day or two.  But then we flew relatively few bombing sorties, and utilized almost nothing but fighter jets.  And the targets were not Taliban troops, but suddenly discovered additional "strategic assets" of the Taliban, which were near civilians.  Mistakes and carelessness led to many civilian deaths for what many considered to be dubious military advantage.  Where were the B-52's, and why weren't the Taliban front-line troops being hit in the field, people began to ask.

After mounting public complaints by pundits and former military officials commenting on news programs, the B-52's came and started bombing the Taliban front-line troops.  But again, the sorties were few and results unclear.  Our Northern Alliance allies complained that the slow pace and inaccurate targeting were leaving Taliban troops relatively unscathed.

So we then dropped in some Special Ops forces to improve the targeting, ratcheted up the number of strikes dramatically, and as a result the Taliban started to hurt.

But still, the Northern Alliance complained about a lack of logistical support from us.  Once again, after the public complaints, the logistical support started in earnest.

The result: the capture of Mazar-i-Sharif.

If there had not been a public outcry about the feeble war effort at the beginning, and thereafter during each successive stage of not-enough incremental increase, I think we'd still be hitting a half-dozen Taliban "strategic assets" a day and that would be all that was happening.

What is shameful is that during this entire time period when it took public complaints to get the Bush administration to prosecute the war like they meant it, many civilians were killed by unnecessary bombing, and an untold number of civilians died from hunger or lack of medical care.  A more vigorous prosecution of the war from the beginning would have shortened the process considerably and spared many civilians, who wouldn't have had to be bombed, and saved the lives of many others, who could have been fed and medically treated.

It's wonderful that the people of Mazar-i-Sharif are no longer under harsh Taliban rule.

I only hope that -- unlike its strange, foot-dragging approach to date -- the Bush administration now makes a focused effort now to rapidly take over Kabul, so the overt bombing/heavy ground fighting phase of the war can be concluded, and the urgent humanitarian needs of the Afghan population can be attended to.

And of course, the sooner Kabul is taken from the Taliban, the greater the likelihood we'll also have of completing the uprooting of Al Qaeda and the capture of Osama bin Laden.  That's the real point of all this, isn't it?

Considering that Bush has said the fate of civilization is in the balance, it would not seem a time for him to continue his dawdling ways.

The Six Most Dangerous Words: "They Must Know Something We Don't"

November 8, 2001

One can support the goal of eliminating Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda group as threats to the United States -- and I do support that goal -- and at the same time still differ with the Bush administration on the proper tactics and strategy to achieve that end.

In the context of just such discussions -- not whether, but how to get rid of bin Laden and Al Qaeda -- I'm beginning to hear a certain six disquieting words that reverberate down from the days of the Vietnam War: "They must know something we don't."

Those of us protesting the Vietnam War were often told by our opponents that we did not have all the facts, that there was undoubtedly top secret intelligence-type information which would put a lie to our otherwise seemingly intelligent arguments.  Accordingly, our opponents told us, they would continue to support the Johnson or Nixon administration in prosecuting the war because, as the conveniently short, all-purpose, and conclusive (at least in their eyes) counter-argument went: "They must know something we don't."

As eventually became obvious, not only did "they" not "know something we don't," but they didn't even know what we knew: that the war was not winnable because we were on the wrong side, and that we never should have intervened in the first place.

The present situation with the Afghanistan War is quite different in that I believe the war is quite winnable, and that we are properly intervening there.  As I've written elsewhere, it is our war tactics and strategy that I vehemently object to.

And in that context of discussing the proper means to win the war, I've had "They must know something we don't" thrown in my face.

No, they don't know anything we don't that will support their position.  If they did, they would offer it to bolster their arguments.  I just don't buy this "national security concerns and a desire to protect our sources prevent our disclosing this information" line.  Bin Laden et al know we can intercept any and all of their electronic communications, so revealing the content of such intercepted communications doesn't compromise anything -- at least not according to any logical line of reasoning I've ever heard.

Indeed, to the extent "they know something we don't" is true, "what they know" would be precisely that information which discredits their position, and which they therefore simply don't want to reveal.

That this is the case is borne out by a recent revelation concerning the Gulf of Tonkin resolution.  After a reported attack on U.S. warships by North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, Congress authorized President Johnson "to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression."

This resolution was used by the Johnson administration as the basis for escalating the war.  As many historians have long concluded, and as the recent disclosure confirms, President Johnson knew at the time that the attack had never occurred.  So the only thing they knew that we didn't was a fact which would have undermined their entire authorization to fight the war in the first place.

In 2001, of course, in direct contrast, the attack on America did occur, and  -- as I apparently can't state often enough since many readers still accuse me of not wanting America to protect itself -- we do now have the right to go after bin Laden and al Qaeda.

But that doesn't mean that we have to accept everything the Bush administration tells us about the war effort as gospel, and follow in lock-step supporting every aspect of their war policy.  We have the right -- indeed the duty -- to think for ourselves. 

And if something doesn't smell right, if our own eyes and ears and sense of logic and propriety tell us something is seriously amiss with our war effort, those six most dangerous words -- "They know something we don't" -- should not be allowed to deter us from speaking out and achieving changes in U.S. policy.

Why Should We Be Surprised That When the Wealthy Design an Economic System, It Works to Enrich Them The Most?

November 7, 2001

I was trying to convince my friend to get health insurance.  Even before you reached your deductible, I told him, you would benefit greatly because of the "allowed amount" concept.  He didn't know what that was, so I explained:

Doctors who are signed up with the Blue Shield preferred provider system agree to accept as payment in full for each procedure an "allowed amount," which is established by the terms of the preferred provider contract between the doctors and Blue Shield.  The allowed amount is often a fraction of the doctors' usual (quite high!) fee.

Many people understand how they benefit from this after they have exceed their deductible for the year:  Assume you have reached your deductible for the year, and that you have a 20% co-payment responsibility.  If you then undergo a procedure for which the doctor usually charges $1000, the allowed amount might be, for example, $350.  So you would pay the doctor 20%, or $70.  Blue Shield would pay the doctor the remaining 80% of the allowed amount, or $280.

What many people don't understand, and I didn't fully realize until it benefited me, was that the allowed amount concept is of great benefit even before you reach the deductible.

In the example above, assume you had not met your deductible for the year even after the procedure.  So the insurance company would not pay any part of the bill.  The benefit, however, is that the doctor is still obligated to accept from you the allowed amount as payment in full!

So instead of you personally owing the doctor $1000 for the procedure, you only have to pay $350.

I recently had an in-patient hospital procedure and had not met my deductible, so my insurance didn't pay any of it.  But I saved so much money from only having to pay the allowed amount, that I more than covered an entire year of insurance premiums.

After I told my friend this, he was flabbergasted.  "You mean, people like you who can afford private health insurance pay a vastly reduced rate, and the people who can't afford insurance, who are usually very low-income, are stuck with the full, sky-high prices?" he rhetorically asked.

Since my friend is pretty politically savvy, I was surprised that he was surprised at this arrangement.

So I just rhetorically asked him in return, "Do you think that an economic system designed by the wealthy will do anything but benefit them?"

My friend agreed, "Yeah, I guess that makes sense," but was annoyed at the injustice of it all.

I mentioned to him one other such example among many, the fact that homeowners are allowed to take an income tax deduction for mortgage interest payments, while renters have no comparable benefit.  Of course, home owners, as a group, are more wealthy than most renters.

The wealthy became wealthy by devoting their time, intelligence and resources to amassing wealth.  One would assume that in a game where they make the rules, the rules will favor them, and indeed will serve to enhance their position -- that is, increase their wealth relative to others.

This applies internationally as well as domestically.  Could anyone seriously deny that the world economic system is deliberately set up in a way that will result in a net transfer of wealth from the Third World to the industrialized nations who set up the system?  Do you think those who own and control the world are interested in setting up a system to make them less wealthy and less powerful?

As our discussion neared an end, my friend was muttering in resignation about the injustice of it all.  While I didn't want to press the point at the time, I could have added that, if all we do is mutter, nothing will ever change.  Exactly what the powers that be want.

[To do more than mutter, check out the 50 Years is Enough campaign]

One Anti-Taliban Leader We Rescue, One We Don't: Our Way of Silencing a Critic of Bombing Campaign?

November 6, 2001

When anti-Taliban leader Abdul Haq called for help to avoid being captured by Taliban forces, the U.S. response failed.  Haq was executed by the Taliban shortly after his capture.

In direct contrast, when another rebel against the Taliban, Hamid Karzai, got into trouble with Taliban troops closing in on him, he was successfully rescued and whisked out of Afghanistan by U.S. soldiers.

Some might argue that after we failed to rescue Haq, we revised our procedures, devoted more resources and paid more attention, and that's why we were able to successfully rescue Karzai.

My suspicion is that's not the answer.

The answer, I would suggest, is that the U.S. was happy to get rid of Haq because he was a severe critic of the U.S. bombing campaign.

As reported last week,

Abdul Haq, a former guerrilla commander... was seen by some American officials as the potential leader of an anti-Taliban uprising.

...after Oct. 7, the day air attacks on Afghanistan began, his confidence seemed to erode. He said that the bombing was a terrible mistake, that it was rallying Afghans around the besieged Taliban.

Last week mourners paid their condolences to Haq's 16 year-old son, who lives in Union City, California. There, Haq's vocal anti-bombing stance was confirmed by Khusal Arsala, whom Haq raised in Pakistan after Arsala's father was killed fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

...Khusal Arsala, whose conversations with the uncle he thought of as a second father were both soul- baring and sophisticated, had much to say about Mr. Haq's position on the current bombardment of Afghanistan.

"Before that tragic event in New York and Washington, he was trying to form a coalition government to replace the Taliban," Mr. Arsala said. "Before that tragic event, there were lots of tribal leaders who wanted to defect, join the anti-Taliban forces. But once the U.S. bombardment began, the Taliban's position was strengthened. His position was clear: he believed the bombardment would backfire."

Mr. Arsala, who spoke with Mr. Haq two weeks before his death, said his uncle told him he had never seen such support for the Taliban as after the bombing.

The New York Times also intimates that Haq's death was considered avoidable, if not downright deliberate on the part of the U.S., by some of his supporters:

It is too soon, too difficult, for the family to discuss Mr. Haq's capture and execution. If they harbor opinions on the bitter tales told by his American associates (like Robert C. McFarlane, the national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan) who criticize the United States as failing to help Mr. Haq during his last desperate hours, they keep them to themselves. Questions on the subject were politely deflected.

It isn't hard to read between the lines of all this.  The U.S. is always happy to abandon an ally, like the Kurds, or even acquiesce in their murder, like Diem in Vietnam, when it suits our purposes.

We demand obedience from our Third World clients.  Those with an independent mind and a mouth we can't control do not fare well.

I believe Haq was just another such example of how U.S. foreign policy is, unfortunately, all too often conducted.

Post-War Requests for Help Establishing Democracy May Come Back to Haunt Us

November 5, 2001

The United States appears close to gaining rights to use airfields in Tajikistan, which borders northern Afghanistan.  Permission to use air bases is also being sought in two other neighboring countries.  Bombing raids, as well as Special Forces operations, could be launched from these airfields to strike at the Taliban in support of the Northern Alliance.

This is well and good now.  But what happens after the war?

All three countries -- Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan -- have horrible human rights records, and are essentially dictatorships.

After we help establish "democracy" (we'll see what form that really takes) in Afghanistan, I would expect that opposition groups in the three "stans" would come to us and say "Hey, you helped establish democracy across the border in Afghanistan.  Help us also."

Having become buddy-buddy with the "stans" dictators during the war, do we then turn on them and help the opposition groups?  We probably won't, because we'd be afraid other dictatorships wouldn't help us when we need their help in our next war.

Do we tell the human rights groups "Sorry, but you have enough democracy in your country already, so we really don't think we need to get involved"?  That would certainly open us up to charges of hypocrisy.  Of course, this really shouldn't bother us, because it never has in the past, as evidenced by our history of support for dictatorships all over the post-World War II globe.

There are also the opposition groups in some of our main "allies" in the war on terrorism -- Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt -- none of which countries have any democracy either.   Such opposition groups, or even revolutionary "freedom fighters" in these nations may well request our help also.

I'm sure we won't help any of them.  The best they'll get out of us is that "We are consulting with your government in order to open up the democratic space in your country."  But nothing will ever come of it.

We support democracy only when it's convenient to us.  And we support dictatorship whenever it's convenient to us.

But we talk a good game.

Truth of Our Murderous Intent Towards Afghan Civilians Leaks Out

November 4, 2001

In the most well-managed war, through the thickest veil of propaganda, the truth will leak out.

Despite the Bush administration's claim that it means the Afghan civilian population no harm, statements have recently started cropping up that put the lie to that assertion.

For example, there are these kind words from Admiral Michael Boyce, Chief of the British Defense Staff.  Speaking of the bombing campaign, he said

The squeeze will carry on until the people of the country themselves recognize that this is going to go on until they get the leadership changed.

In other words, we'll squeeze -- meaning blow up, starve and otherwise terrorize -- the people of Afghanistan until they get rid of the Taliban.  Note to Admiral: starving, sick people are unable to conduct a revolution.

Another example of loose lips sinking the Bush administration's propaganda ship comes from the Pakistani dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who until recently, of course, was the Taliban's (and hence Osama bin Laden's) main supporter.

Apparently feeling quite loquacious in a Reuters interview the other day, General Musharraf indicated that

heavier bombing, even if politically difficult to sustain in the short run, was the most likely way of weakening the Taliban to the point where widespread defections would occur.

"One has to achieve the objective of a military operation," he said, adding: "Afghanistan has suffered, the people are suffering so much that I am reasonably sure that there are many people who question the wisdom of suffering for somebody who is there and not an Afghan, like Osama bin Laden and his people."

All his verbiage boils down to: when the people suffer enough from the bombing, the Taliban will fall.

Finally, there is the following chilling example, which gets to the most basic truth of the matter.

Chowkar-Karez is a small farming village about 35 miles from Kandahar, the so-called "spiritual home" of the Taliban.  The village was demolished in a U.S. bombing raid October 22, with great loss of civilian life.

Witnesses talked to by the Western reporters claimed there were no Taliban troops in the village and that U.S. planes opened fire on people as they attempted to flee the bombs.

The Pentagon has confirmed that Chowkar-Karez was attacked by AC-130 Spectre gunships, which fly low and are armed with cannons. But it has made no further statements, even though the attack was raised in three different press briefings.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- asked again this week about the incident after the journalists visited the site -- professed ignorance. "I cannot deal with that particular village," he replied. [emphasis added]

This would be bad enough, deliberate gunning down of fleeing civilians.  Administration apologists, however, would say it was a mistake, or a rogue pilot.  But they couldn't get away with such dissembling after this admission:

Later, unidentified Pentagon officials told CNN that Chowkar-Karez was "a fully legitimate target" because it was a nest of Taliban and al-Qaeda sympathizers. "The people there are dead because we wanted them dead," an official said.

In other words, if unarmed civilians sympathize with the Taliban, we will kill them.  That morally repugnant concept violates every modern rule of warfare.

Our valid goal of eliminating the threat of Osama bin Laden and his group al Qaeda has been twisted by the Bush administration into a general attack on the Afghan civilian population.

[more: Bush's policies are cowardly]

Bush Has Perverted Our Just Cause Into a Dishonorable, Immoral and Cowardly Slow-Motion Slaughter of Innocents

November 3, 2001

Our use of military force to overthrow the Taliban would be just.

But instead, the Bush administration is crucifying a civilian population in order to keep our professional soldiers out of harm's way.  That's dishonorable, immoral and cowardly.

Only High Altitude Bombing

We won't let our airmen get close enough to the enemy to adequately identify what they are bombing. 

Instead, we keep them at 30,000 feet, beyond the range of any Taliban weapon, even though we know that many civilians will be killed by such a method of bombing because of known and consistent imperfections in the technology.

No Ground Troops

Afghanistan is on the verge of mass starvation.  Our bombing has prompted an ever-growing exodus of refugees, also at risk from lack of food and medical care.  Continued warfare will prevent aid from reaching those who desperately need it.  Only a quick end to the war will allow these people to be saved.

Yet we are unwilling to use our ground troops, who would win the war quickly and decisively. 

Kabul is defended by just six to eight thousand Taliban fighters with 20 year old weapons and absolutely no air cover.  They are located on a wide open plain north of the city.  We could easily amass enough U.S. soldiers and close-in air support to quickly destroy them and take the capital.

Soldiers engaged in direct combat on the ground could get hurt, however, so our leaders won't let them fight.

Even now, hunger and disease have begun to kill off the civilian population.  Because we fail to prosecute the war with the means readily available to us, the likelihood of a famine which will kill millions this winter grows ever more certain. 

Plausible Deniability

Richard Nixon utilized a tactic he called "plausible deniability."  He would take actions that most observers assumed were his doing, but Nixon would create just enough of a "cover" so he could deny responsibility with a straight face.

The Bush administration has a policy of plausible deniability with respect to its war against the Afghan population.

We're not directly "targeting" civilians, it claims.  Seemingly true as narrowly construed, but in reality we've chosen a bombing method that we know to a certainty will kill many civilians, and terrorize the rest.  So in effect, civilians are being targeted because they are within the known error range of the weapons we have chosen to use, instead of the more accurate low altitude bombing available to us.

It isn't out to starve them, the Bush administration claims, because it's dropping the Afghans food.  Of course, the food represents less than 1% of the need, and we refuse to even temporarily halt the bombing to allow truck convoys in, which is the only way, according to all aid groups, to prevent millions of famine deaths this winter.  Not to mention the fact that we're waging the war in slow-motion fashion -- e.g., it was three weeks before we even started bombing Taliban front-line troops -- thus prolonging the agony of the civilian population and guaranteeing the conflict extends into the harsh Afghan winter.

A War Against the Afghan People

We are waging war against the Afghan people.  We're doing it subtly, with plausible deniability, but we're doing it nevertheless.

We accuse the Taliban of using civilians as shields.  We should look in the mirror.  We're willing to kill civilians by bombs and starvation in order to keep our soldiers 100% out of harm's way.

In moral terms, the life of an Afghan child, old man or woman is worth no less than the life of a 19 year old American soldier.

For those of a religious persuasion: does God care more about the American soldier than the Afghan child?

How could it be a just war when scores if not hundreds of civilians die from our bombs, and not one of our soldiers?  When we're willing to cause mass starvation to avoid putting our ground troops in harm's way?

Our troops are undeniably brave and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country.  It is their leaders who are at fault.  I am certain that if you asked our troops, they would rather go in and directly fight and win the battle quickly and decisively.

I don't want any American casualties.  But basic decency demands that such a goal not be achieved by sacrificing innocent civilians. 

The Army Field Manual provides that commandos behind enemy lines can not execute prisoners, even if necessary to save their own lives. 

We shouldn't be "pulling the trigger" either against a defenseless Afghan civilian population which is effectively a prisoner to our high-tech warfare capability.

We shouldn't be willing to blow up women and children, and starve millions of innocent people, in order to keep our soldiers out of harm's way. 

Such a course of action is dishonorable, immoral and cowardly.

Will Financial Aid To World Trade Center Victims Get to Those Who Need It Most?

Bill O'Reilly, Who Has Been Monitoring the Disbursement of Monies Collected, Should Step Up to the Plate on This Particular Issue

November 2, 2001

Something like $1.2 billion has been collected by scores of charities to help the victims of the World Trade Center attack.

Much of the coverage I have seen has focused on the financial plight of the families of deceased financial industry workers.

I've seen very little concerning the economic difficulties that will face the families of the low-income service industry workers who lost their lives.

In addition, thousands of low-wage workers from just one union, the Hotel and Restaurant Workers, have been laid off as a direct or indirect result of the tragedy.

When a brokerage office was destroyed on September 11, by and large the surviving workers moved to different quarters.  But the service workers who supported them didn't move along with the brokerage firm.  Their jobs just vanished.

I certainly have as much emotional sympathy for the family who lost a well-paid bond trader as for the family who lost a minimum-wage dishwasher in the Windows on the World restaurant atop the World Trade Center.  But the financial ramifications for each are quite different.

Financial workers with six- or seven-figure salaries would likely have had hefty life insurance policies.  Companies like Cantor Fitzgerald are providing generous monetary support for the families of their deceased employees.  Such employees were often from solid middle-class backgrounds, and the surviving families will often have a network of financially solvent, if not equally well-to-do relatives and friends from whom to garner financial support.

None of this is true for the low-income service workers.  One recent account described how

An enormous number of low-wage workers, many without health or unemployment benefits... are finding themselves confronted by the horrifying parlay of hunger and imminent eviction from their homes.

I hope the charities involved are making a special effort to seek out and aid the low-income workers.  These are the people who, past experience shows us, will be least able to find such aid on their own.

Bill O'Reilly Can Help

Bill O'Reilly, star of the Fox News cable talk show "The O'Reilly Factor," has been doing a good job monitoring the various charities to make sure that all the money donated for World Trade Center victims goes directly to them, and not to the overhead or other programs of the charities.

O'Reilly also appropriately made a big stink when Cantor Fitzgerald was slow on the draw in disbursing its promised financial aid.  I recall him proudly noting that as the result of his efforts, the wife of a deceased bond trader soon received over $20,000 in assistance from the company.

What I haven't seen O'Reilly do is use his self-appointed "watching out for the little guy" role to really watch out for the little guys in this tragedy, the low-income workers with no financial cushion, for whom the tragedy may mean not just a decline in life-style, but hunger and homelessness.

The $20,000 the Cantor Fitzgerald widow received is nearly two years salary for a minimum wage worker!

So I hope O'Reilly gets on the case about this aspect of the tragedy, and helps ensure that generous financial assistance reaches those who need it most.

Any readers who want to make a donation to a charity that has been primarily focusing on aiding such low-income workers, can visit The Robin Hood Relief Fund.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that O'Reilly did do one segment before I wrote this on the family of a window washer who lost his life in the collapse of the World Trade Center.  O'Reilly did a follow-up on the family after I wrote this.  That's still not the level of low-income, minimum wage workers I'm talking about, but it's a step in the right direction.

Also, here's a link to a subsequent New York Times article on this subject.

Donald Rumsfeld Plays Word Games While Women and Children Suffer and Die

November 1, 2001

As someone who supports military action to eliminate Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist group, recent events are quite disconcerting.

At a press conference today, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked about recent criticism that the war was progressing too slowly.  Rumsfeld replied that we are only in the early stages of the war on terrorism, and that the president had repeatedly told the country that this effort could take a long time, years in fact.

Whom is Rumsfeld trying to kid?  The "war on terrorism" that everyone understood could take years was the entire global war against terrorists, which would involve, at the minimum, "smoking out" bin Laden from his hiding places in Afghanistan, destroying his terrorist cells there and in many other countries, and going after other terrorist groups which had global reach and could threaten us.

No one thought that when the president said the war on terrorism could take a long time, he meant the part of the war against the Taliban.  The talk before the war began was that Afghanistan was so target-deficient that we would run out of targets in a day or two.  The Taliban would fall in a few weeks, if not days.  It would be a complete walk-over.

That of course has not happened.  Some Bush administration officials would have us believe that they didn't know the Taliban were such tough fighters, and would hang on for so long.


The reason for the glacial pace of the war effort is that the Bush administration is conducting this war like it has all the time in the world.  It waited three weeks before beginning even minimally heavy bombing with B-52's of Taliban front line troops.  Without the public and pundit outcry about the lack of such heavy bombing, I doubt it would have started yet.

What disgusts me about this attitude is that it ignores -- indeed seems not to give a damn about -- what's happening to the civilian population of Afghanistan.  Hundreds of thousands, if not millions are being displaced, fleeing the bombing.  What untold misery these and other already impoverished Afghan men, women, children and babies are being subjected to, lacking adequate food and having no available medical care.

In addition to the steadily mounting toll of dead and wounded civilians from our bombs and missiles, it is impossible to believe that thousands of additional civilians are not succumbing to the deteriorating conditions as they flee, or cower in fear in their homes under the American onslaught.

Americans feel anxiety, not knowing when the next terrorist attack will hit.  But at least when Americans are in their homes, they can feel relatively safe.

But 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, no Afghan can feel safe at all.  It must induce mind-numbing terror to know that even in the sanctuary of one's home, at any moment an American bomb or missile can come crashing through and obliterate you and all you love.

This is not just in cities like Kabul, but even in remote villages, which have been hit by errant bombs, or sometimes apparently even deliberately targeted under the mistaken impression that they are Taliban hideouts.

The Bush administration's take-our-time attitude just needlessly prolongs civilian suffering in Afghanistan.  Plus in a geopolitical sense, the longer the bombing drags on, the more the Muslim world is enraged because the more it looks like it is the Afghan people, not the Taliban who are being made to suffer.  And of course, the longer the bombing goes on, the greater the number of previously pro-American Afghans who will rally to the Taliban, a phenomenon that has been reported in recent days.

Don't we want the Taliban out of power as soon as possible, so whatever resources that Afghanistan still possesses will be denied to bin Laden and Al Qaeda?   Shouldn't speed be one of our goals, since as long as bin Laden is still at large, he can be planning new assaults against us?

And shouldn't we want to wrap us this phase of the war before the fierce Afghan winter arrives, torturing even more brutally the Afghan people, and making any further military progress difficult?

Are we just going to bomb and bomb and use small numbers of Special Forces advisers, and hope the Northern Alliance can at some undetermined point in the future defeat the Taliban?  Polls show Americans are willing to suffer tens of thousand of Americans killed in order to defeat the terrorists.  No one wants to see American casualties, but shouldn't we be using massive numbers of ground troops to get the job done quickly, once and for all?

I can't help but think of the Vietnam War and the U.S. contra war against Nicaragua, where the American attitude seemed to be, if we can't defeat you militarily, we'll destroy your country as an example to the rest of the world of what happens when you dare oppose the United States.

Again, I want us to destroy the Taliban and Al Qaeda.  It's our interminably slow, almost lackadaisical effort that is so deeply disturbing.

The bottom line is: if, as the Bush administration claims, our war isn't against the Afghan people, then why are we conducting the war in a manner guaranteed to intensify and prolong their suffering?


the Rational Radical: Spit Drool Pablum: George Bush Needs to Get Tested!
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