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the Terrorism of Everyday Life

by Alexander Cockburn

Gangbangers with dirty bombs! Now we’re talking. The big news about the latest suspected terror bomber is not that he now calls himself Al Muhajir but that he was formerly Jose Padilla, born a Puerto Rican, raised in Chicago. Padilla became a son of militant Islam in the slammer, the same way thousands of other young denizens in our Gulag do.

In the normal order of business suspected gangbangers don’t have much purchase on the Bill of Rights. Their rights of assembly, protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, were curtailed long since. Padilla’s current status could foreshadow a trend. Pending challenge in the courts, he’s classed as an “enemy combatant”, locked up in a navy brig in Charleston, S.C. with no rights at all.

Tuesday June 11, all the way from Moscow, Attorney General Ashcroft fostered the impression that that Padilla/Muhajir had been foiled pretty much in the act of planting radioactive material taped to TNT in the basement of the Sears Building, or the Commodities Exchange or the Field Museum or some kindred monument of Chicago. “U.S.: ‘Dirty Bomb’ Plot Foiled” exulted USA Today.

Wednesday brought us a modified climb-down. “Threat of ‘dirty bomb’ softened” muttered USA Today’s main head. It turned out Muhajir had ten grand in cash and maybe big dreams but nothing in the way of radioactive dirt or even TNT. Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told the press “I don’t think there was actually a plot beyond some fairly loose talk.” He should know. Nameless administration officials dumped on Ashcroft for grandstanding.

But at least we’re now sensitized to the “dirty bomb” menace. USA Today (which has the advantage of being a Friedman-free zone) ran an exciting graphic put together by the Federation of American Scientists displaying the long term effects of ten pounds of TNT wrapped around a “pea-size” piece of cesium 137 from a medical gauge being exploded at the National Gallery of Art.

Anyone standing within three blocks downwind from the Gallery would stand a one-in-a thousand chance of getting cancer, An easterly breeze would put the Capitol within this radius.

We should be worried about this? I’d say it comes pretty low on the list of Major Concerns. Now suppose Al Qaeda was to plan something really nasty like shipping spent nuclear fuels by rail from every quarter of the United States to a fissured mountain in Nevada not that far from one of America’s prime tourist destinations?

That’s the Bush plan of course. The House has voted Aye. It now awaits approval by the US Senate. You can check out your own proximity to the contemplated nuclear shipping routes by going to www.mapscience.org, put together by a public interest group.

Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Mo., and Salt Lake City will become hubs for the nuclear fuel shipments. Take Illinois. 1,063 schools will be within one mile of rail, barge and highway routes proposed by the Department of Energy. The White House is 1.1 miles from Union Station, through which shipments are expected to pass on the journey to Yucca Mountain.

But the scheduled Yucca Mountain nuclear dump is part of terror-as-normalcy, part of our domestic furniture.

What a gift to the powers-that-be the War on Terror is turning out to be as a subject-changer. Right now, across the United States from New York state to Oregon and Washington the final cut-offs for people on welfare are looming up. The guillotine blade ratcheted into position by Clinton’s welfare reform of 1996 is plummeting down.

Take Oregon. It has a terrible recession, the worst unemployment rate in the country and the largest deficit in the state’s history. Back in 1979, according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy, 39 per cent of poor Oregonians were getting public assistance. These days the percentage is below 10 per cent.

Does that mean that the previously destitute are now in regular jobs? No. It just means you have to be a lot poorer to get any sort of handout. It means the usual story: exhausted mothers scrabbling for petty cash, doing occasional starvation-wage work. Over the first 14 months of the current recession eight Oregon counties had their combined unemployment grow by 92 per cent. At the same time the number of welfare recipients went down by 16 per cent.

This is the Terrorism of Everyday Life, at the most elemental level, aimed at the weakest in our midst: no money for food, for shelter, for the kids, and a President who actually wants to stiffen the work requirements. Thus do we nourish the next generation of Enemy Combatants on the home front.

Dershowitz Says Baby Killing Plan Legitimate But Flawed

Nathan Lewin, a bigtime attorney in Washington DC, often tipped for a federal judgeship and legal advisor to several Orthodox organizations, told Forward, as reported there on June 7, 2002, that the families of suicide bombers should be executed, arguing that such a policy would offer the necessary deterrent against suicide attacks. Lewin magnanimously stipulates that family members would be spared if they immediately condemned the bombing and refused financial compensation for the loss of their relative.

According to the Forward’s reporter, Alan Dershowitz and Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, argued that Lewin’s proposal represented a legitimate attempt to forge a policy for stopping terrorism.

Foxman declined to take a stand on the actual proposal, citing his policy of deferring to Jerusalem on Israeli security issues. Exhibiting his habitual moral refinement, Dershowitz ­ also an advocate of judge-sanctioned torture here in the US –argued that the same level of deterrence could be achieved by leveling the villages of suicide bombers after the residents had been given a chance to evacuate.

Lewin argues that the biblical injunction to destroy the ancient tribe of Amalek serves as a precedent in Judaism for taking measures that are “ordinarily unacceptable” in the face of a mortal threat.

Those who care to consult the first book of Samuel will find the Amalekite precedent vividly described. First the divine injunction: “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass”

King Saul hastens to obey. “And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur, that is over against Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs.”

Even though the animals were scheduled for sacrifice to Him, God is furious at the breach of orders and prompts the prophet Samuel to berate Saul, which he duly does: “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.”

“Then said Samuel, Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites. And Agag came unto him delicately. And Agag said, Surely the bitterness of death is past. And Samuel said, As the sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.”

Now that’s what I call getting back to fundamentals!

 

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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