A lone man on an airliner makes a badly botched attempt to ignite what appears to be some kind of hastily cobbled-together device that might or might not have caused some kind of unspecified but apparently non-crippling damage to the plane. The plane lands safely; no one is killed.
Yet the reverberations from this half-baked enterprise quickly roiled the entire world. Within hours, a whole range of new, even more intrusive and draconian security procedures were imposed on travelers across the globe. Governments hastened to launch "security reviews," and promise "tough new measures" not only to thwart terrorists but to root out nests of agitators and "radicalizers" clinging to the soft underbelly of our all-too-tolerant, too-nice-for-its-own-good Western world.
Perhaps most significantly, the non-igniting of the homemade device has "rejuvenated [the] debate ... over the proper balance between security and privacy," the New York Times informs us -- while quoting several "experts" who let us know just which way this "balance" is now going to tilt. These "experts" include Bush retreads like ex-Homeland Security commissar Michael Chertoff, who now dabbles profitably in the "risk management and security consulting" industry -- yet another of our great and good for whom every act of terror (real or imagined, successful or unsuccessful) means boffo box office.
The sudden insertion of Chertoff into the story gives us another example of a grim, enduring truth: the construction of "conventional wisdom" among our media and political elites is always driven, in large part or in whole, by raw, brutal self-interest. The new CW now being assembled before our eyes is a "rejuvenation" of one of the ruling tropes of the 21st century: "Liberty bad, security good."
Here is another story in the news: in an isolated rural province in Afghanistan, 10 people were killed in a raid by American-led forces. The Afghan government, installed and sustained in power by the United States, said the victims were all civilians -- including eight schoolboys.
But there was no international outcry about this incident; it barely garnered a few mentions in the global press. And even these were quickly shunted aside after a NATO official denied the claims of the Afghan government, and affirmed that all those killed in the raid were evil-doers. As the NYT reports:
A senior NATO official with knowledge of the operation said that the raid had been carried out by a joint Afghan-American force and that its target was a group of men who were known Taliban members and smugglers of homemade bombs, which the American and NATO forces call improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s. ... “When the raid took place they were armed and had material for making I.E.D.’s,” the official added.
Local officials on the scene in Kunar Province said otherwise. They said 10 civilians had been killed. They said eight of the dead were children:
The governor of Kunar, Fazullah Wahidi, said that “the coalition claimed they were enemy fighters,” but that elders in the district and a delegation sent to the remote area had found that “10 people were killed and all of them were civilians.”
But the NATO official said the Afghans were lying. We will never know the whole truth, of course, for the story will ultimately be controlled by the very force that carried out the attack: the American-led military occupation.
But what an instructive contrast. In one story, an attack which did not happen and which killed no one shakes the entire world. In another story, ten human beings, including eight children, were slaughtered in a sneak attack by night -- and the world can scarcely be bothered to notice.
What is the chief difference between the two? It's simple: the first story lines the pockets and increases the power of imperial elites. Thus it is important, monumental, emotion-ridden; it calls for immediate action. The second story, if it were pursued and publicized with equal vigor, might threaten, in some small way, the profits and power of imperial elites. Thus it is unimportant, run-of-the-mill, a humdrum case of cranky primitives making the usual wild charges against the defenders of civilization. Were children murdered by American forces way the hell over in the village of Ghazi Khan? Maybe, maybe not. Who the hell cares?
There is of course another element of the slaughter in Ghazi Khan that has gone largely unremarked -- although it might actually be quite important, and even have a bearing on cases like the failed attempt at something-or-other on the plane to Detroit.
You can find this intriguing element buried near the bottom the NYT story:
While some conventional American forces are deployed in Kunar, in the more remote areas most operations are carried out by Special Forces.
"Carried out by Special Forces..." Why does that ring a bell? Oh yes, it recalls a story that ran just two days ago in the same newspaper: Elite U.S. Force Expanding Hunt in Afghanistan.
Here we have a prominently displayed, almost entirely laudatory piece hymning the "success" of "secretive branches of the military's Special Operations forces" -- secret ops which will see "an even bigger expansion next year," the NYT reports.
The uncorroborated story of these great successes is told entirely by unnamed American officials involved in the operations -- yet another case of the NYT's innovative journalistic philosophy, as we noted here the other day: "Always let an anonymous source confirm his or her own claims -- as long as that anonymous source is a government or military official."
The Times notes that it is "not surprising" to see these secret raiders "playing such an important role in the fight." After all, Barack Obama's hand-picked warlord for Afghanistan is Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the long-time "dirty war" commander who ran death squads in both Iraq and Afghanistan for five years before Obama placed him in control of the Af-Pak legions.
As the Times notes -- or rather, tries rather wanly to imply -- the slaughterfest at Ghazi Khan has all the earmarks of one of McChrystal's old death squad ops. A house is targeted -- for what reason, based on what "intelligence" (or denunciation by a local enemy or paid informant), we never know -- and everyone in it and around it is blasted to kingdom come. Then, no matter how many bodies of how many dead children and women are produced, the U.S. military claims that only nasty supervillians -- imminently worthy of "extrajudicial assassination" by sneak attack -- were killed.
Want to see a clearer picture of how it's done? Here's an excerpt from a report in December 2006:
Mass death came again to the Iraqi town of Ishaqi last Friday. Nine months after an American raid that killed 11 civilians, including five children under the age of five, another ground and air assault on suspected insurgents in the area left behind a pile of corpses, including at least two children. As with the earlier incident, Friday's attack has produced conflicting stories of what really happened, but the end result is clear: a multitude of grieving, angry Iraqis further embittered against the American occupation.
The latest Ishaqi attack – with "only" 20 fatalities – is of course a mere sideshow in the garish carnival of death that is Iraq today. But in many respects it is a microcosm of the largely unseen reality of the war that grinds on day after day behind the obscuring fog of political rhetoric enshrouding both Washington and Baghdad. In this return to Ishaqi, we find many of the elements that have kept Iraq an open, gaping wound with little chance for healing: constant airstrikes on populated civilian areas, iron-fisted house raids, propaganda ploys, dubious intelligence, disdain for the locals – and the employment of mysterious units that may be blended with government-run (even American-run) death squads.
So what happened on December 9 in the village of Taima in the Ishaqi district, on the shores of Lake Tharthar? The official U.S. military version states that unidentified "Coalition Forces" entered the village shortly after midnight and targeted a location "based on intelligence reports that indicated associates with links to multiple al-Qaeda in Iraq networks were operating in the area." During a search, they took heavy fire from a nearby building. Returning fire, they killed "two armed terrorists" but couldn't quell the attack, so they called in an airstrike that killed "18 more armed terrorists," including two women. Of the latter, the military press release said that "al-Qaeda in Iraq has both men and women supporting and facilitating their operations unfortunately." The unspecified raiders then uncovered a cache of terrorist arms which they photographed and subsequently destroyed.
The identification of the victims as terrorists was made through a "battle damage assessment," said U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver. "If there is a weapon with or next to the person or they are holding it, they are a terrorist," he said.
Yet as Bloomberg News points out, almost every Iraqi keeps a gun – or several guns – in their homes. Indeed, the whole nation has long been armed to the teeth, with even heavy weaponry in private hands throughout the reign of Saddam Hussein. In fact, as Patrick Cockburn notes in his excellent new book, The Occupation, Saddam once had to resort to a national buy-back scheme to try to reduce the level of heavy weapons on the streets. One tribe even showed up with three tanks – "which they were prepared to turn over for a sizeable amount of money." This doesn't mean that the official report of the Ishaqi incident is necessarily wrong, of course. But neither is it a fact that every dead Iraqi found near a weapon in a bombed-out private house is a terrorist.
... Garver firmly refused to identify the troops involved in the raid; he wouldn't even say if they were American, Iraqi, or from some other Coalition ally, the Daily Telegraph reports. "There are some units we don't talk about," he said. But the conclusions of the official report were unequivocal: 20 terrorists killed, no collateral damage – an exemplary feat of arms that brought the Coalition "another step closer to defeating al-Qaeda in Iraq and helping establish a safe and peaceful Iraq."
But local officials from the U.S.-backed Iraqi government had a different view: they said the raid was a bloodbath of innocent civilians. Ishaqi Mayor Amir Fayadh said that 19 civilians were killed by the airstrikes that destroyed two private homes. Fayadh said that the victims included seven women and eight children. An official in the regional government of Salahuddin said six children had been killed. All Iraqi officials agreed that the victims were mostly members of the extended families of two brothers in the town, Muhammad Hussein al-Jalmood and Mahmood Hussein al-Jalmood, the NYT reports. Both Fayadh and Abdullah Hussein Jabbara, deputy governor Salahuddin, insisted that the families had nothing to do with al Qaeda. Locals claimed that the terrorist paraphernalia at the site, such as the "suicide belts," had been planted. American officials denied the charge.
Soon after the attack, reporters and photographers from Associated Press and Agence France Presse arrived on the scene. They took pictures, shot video and talked to grieving members of the al-Jalmood family. Local police gave them the names of at least 17 of the victims, which indicated they were from the same family. The names of at least four women were among them. Many of the bodies had been charred and twisted beyond recognition; some were "almost mummified," AP reports. However, AFP videotaped at least two children among the dead.
When shown the pictures later, Garver said: "I see nothing in the photos that indicates those children were in the houses that our forces received fire from and subsequently destroyed with the airstrike." He did not speculate on where the dead children being mourned by family members after being pulled from the rubble of the bombed-out houses might have come from otherwise. Perhaps the al-Jalmoods kept them in cold storage for just such a propaganda opportunity?
(For more on how McChrystal and others ran the dirty war in Iraq, see "Ulster on the Euphrates." For more background on the American way of terror in general, see "A Furnace Seal'd," and "Red in Tooth and Claw.")
What is the connection between these incidents -- in Ishaqi, in Ghazi Khan, and in countless other towns and villages across America's Terror War fronts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, etc.? You can find it in the first paragraph of the excerpt above -- "the end result is clear: a multitude of grieving, angry Iraqis further embittered against the American occupation."
A little tweaking will fit that passage to cover the entire Terror War, in which thousands upon thousands of innocent people have been killed, engendering an ever-renewing cycle of rage and despair -- a potent and fertile combination for engendering the kind of "radicalization" that allegedly drove the alleged attacker on the Detroit plane.
You want to stop the "radicalization" of young Muslims? It's simple: stop killing innocent Muslims in wars of domination all over the world. Stop running "covert ops" in every nation of the world (as Obama's "special envoy" Richard Holbrooke admitted last week) -- murders, kidnappings, corruption and deception that make a howling mockery of the very "civilized values" these wars and ops purport to defend.
But this will not happen. Because our elites do not want it to happen. They are not protecting values; they are "projecting dominance." And so these oh-so-profitable incidents and insurgencies will go on and on and on.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on December 29, 2009.