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Another Sign of America's Moral Decay

Remember Damadola

by Rev. WILLIAM E. ALBERTS

America appears to be losing its soul. Its humanity. Its democratic principles. The Bush administration’s apparent obliviousness to the reality of other human beings in its so-called "global war on terrorism," and arrogant self-righteousness in "staying the course" are undermining the very security of our country the administration professes to be protecting. The signs of America’s moral and democratic decay are alarming. All one has to do is turn on a television set.

In a January 13, 2006 predawn unauthorized airstrike, US missiles leveled three houses in Damadola, a remote Pakistan border village, blowing to bits 18 civilian inhabitants, mostly women and children, in an unsuccessful attempt to kill Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, rumored to be attending a Muslim religious observance there. "That’s our starting point tonight," said CBS Evening News anchor, Russ Mitchell, whose guest was Neil Livingstone, CEO of a Washington-based anti-terrorism consulting firm.

Russ Mitchell began, "Mr. Livingstone, at this point it looks like another one got away, but do you see any silver lining in this for the United States?" [italics added]. "Well," Livingstone replied, "I think there are a couple of silver linings, the first being that we probably nearly got him [italics added]. And," Livingstone continued, "the more that we force these guys to look over their shoulder and expect a Predator shooting Hellfire missiles at them, the less time they’re going to have to plan attacks against us."

One wonders whether Neil Livingstone sees any connection between violating another country’s sovereignty and murdering innocent women and children and men and the recruitment of countless outraged civilians in the Arab world to carry out far more attacks against the United States and its allies. Might Livingstone also now see any connection between the US-inflicted terror and death on Arab people and the anti-Americanism evidently fueling Muslim protests and violence in response to Western media cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad as a terrorist? And might this anti-terrorism consultant have foreseen how his own, internationally publicized, "silver linings" could intensify the dark cloud of hatred of the United States in the Arab world? Evidently not.

When CBS anchor Russ Mitchell asked what made Ayman al-Zawahiri "such a high-value target," Neil Livingstone answered, "He is the guy who really in the past has planned operations, executed them." Livingstone then added, "This would. . .have been, if we had hit him, one of the greatest victories to date in the war against terrorism." Mitchell ended the segment with, "Neil Livingstone in Washington, thank you so much for your insight." (CBS Evening News, Jan. 14, 2006)

Arrogant. Entitled. Heartless. Oblivious to the reality and rights of those in the way. The ingrained unconscious conditioning of assumed White American male superiority. Personified by a Neil Livingstone and aired as normal by a mainstream national television network-as were the similarly revealing comments of Senator John McCain, widely seen as a Republican candidate for president in 2008.

"It is terrible when innocent people are killed," Senator McCain said in an interview on CBS’s "Face the Nation." "We apologize, but [italics added] I can’t tell you that we wouldn’t do the same thing again. . . . This war on terror has no boundaries. . . . We have to go where these people are, and we have to take them out." (Jan. 15, 2006)

Senator McCain actually appears to be telling the American people that they can count on him to kill even women and children, to protect them from seemingly Bush administration-created bogeymen like Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden. Bogeymen whose danger seems to be exaggerated, and grievances distorted and dismissed, to produce fear and manipulate Americans into keeping the "tougher on terrorism" Republican party in power. The fact that aspiring presidential candidate John McCain can say "but," and readily assure US citizens that he would "do the same thing again" to women and children is believed to indicate the level to which American democracy is being undermined by the struggle for political power here and world domination abroad.

Senator McCain appears ready to take American democracy to an even lower moral level. He evidently could not say that "we wouldn’t do the same thing again" to Iran ­ that the United States is doing to Iraq. This apparent 2008 presidential hopeful also said on "Face the Nation" of Iran’s nuclear energy program, "There is only one thing worse than the United States exercising the military option. That is a nuclear-armed Iran. Now military option is the last option," he continued, "but cannot be taken off the table."

America’s moral decline is seen in the widespread mainstream acceptance of the murder of women and children and other persons by our government in our name. How little the lives of distant and different human beings seem to count reveals how much we are falling from grace.

A Boston Globe editorial expressed no outrage at the predawn killing of 18 Pakistani villagers as they slept. The editorial’s title suggests its concern: "PAKISTAN’S DINNER GUEST" not the murdered women and children and other villagers.. The editorial focuses first on the "play-acting" that "has accompanied the recent attack on a dinner attended by Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan." The "play acting" consisted of "Pakistani ministers and diplomats . . . pretending that the US violation of Pakistani’s territorial sovereignty was carried out without the prior knowledge and cooperation of President Pervez Musharraf and his intelligence establishment." The editorial said the "pretense is a bow to political necessity": the "dinner guest," Ayman al-Zawahiri, has called for the assassination of Musharraf for collaborating with the United States in the "war on terror" and has "considerable influence" among "Islamist radicals hostile to Musharraf."

The Globe editorial concludes that the Damadola "episode illustrates not only Musharraf’s need to camouflage his cooperation against Al Qaeda, but also the nasty byways [italics added] of what President Bush has called, all too grandly an epochal war on terrorism." The editorial concludes, "The failure to find out that Zawahiri would not attend the dinner and the killing of several civilians who were not part of Al Qaeda illustrates the ethical dilemmas [italics added] and the operational uncertainties of a war against terrorists that is waged less like a grand strategic struggle against an evil empire than a factional feud in Dante’s Florence." The editorial’s bottom line: "It is a dirty war between a small cult of reactionary fanatics and a high-tech superpower that has trouble locating the enemies it wants to eliminate." (Jan. 22, 2006)

To what degree would the "ethical dilemmas," in "the killing of several civilians," be resolved for The Boston Globe if Ayman al-Zawahiri had come to dinner and been eliminated? The editorial seemed to bury the 18 dead civilians under the "nasty byways" of "a dirty war"-without any moral indignation over the violation of their sovereign right to life, nor any apology to or compassion for their loved ones.

A New York Times editorial also seemed to be morally sidetracked by the "nasty byways" of a "dirty war." Following The Boston Globe storyline, the Times editorial also began by lamenting the game of pretense Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz and President Bush played with each other during Aziz’s visit to the White House within two weeks of the Damadola atrocity.

Called "Straight Talk Needed on Pakistan," the Times editorial directed "straight talk" to Aziz and Bush. Aziz "pretended that the people of Pakistan highly value their country’s close military relationship with the United States." And "President Bush reciprocated by pretending in his public comments that the American airstrikes that killed 18 Pakistani civilians earlier this month were not topic A in that relationship. Those

strikes," the editorial continued, "were legitimately aimed [italics added] at top fugitive leaders of Al Qaeda, but hit innocent women and children."

The editorial’s point: "Pakistan’s people deserve a good explanation [italics added], and since they haven’t heard one from their leaders, Mr. Bush should have provided it." The editorial stresses to the importance of the United States’ relationship with Pakistan in the "war on terrorism," states just how unpopular those ties have become, and concludes by repeating the need for "straight talk" from President Bush: "He needs to address the concerns of the Pakistani people. . . . A franker public discussion of the airstrikes would have been a good place to start." (Jan. 28, 2006)

What constitutes a "good explanation," for a US airstrike that indiscriminately killed 18 civilians, depends on which side of the graves one is on-that is, if one can find all the bodies’ parts. The Times’ editorial’s "straight talk" lacks moral outrage or sadness for the deaths of those 18 human beings. In fact, the "straight talk" seems to justify the violation of Pakistan’s national sovereignty and the killing of civilians in a border area in stating, "Osama bin Laden and his top deputies, the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks . . . that is where they are now, and where America’s war against them must be fought."

How many Arab and Muslim women and children and other innocent human beings must be killed to make up for the horrific tragic deaths of almost 2,800 Americans and other persons on 9/11? The estimated 228,558 people killed thus far in Afghanistan and Iraq and the 487,329 seriously injured in both countries? (UNKNOWN NEWS "Casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq," Most recent update; Feb. 7, 2006) How does 9/11 compare with US-championed UN economic sanctions against Iraq that contributed to the deaths of some 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five between 1991 and 1998 alone? And how many Iraqi people have died due to lack of medicine, food, electricity and clean water is unknown. The horrific US-controlled UN sanctions against Iraq, perpetrated by our government in our name, contributed to 9/11.

The blatant disregard for the countless civilian Arab and Muslim victims of US aggression and occupation-disguised as "spreading freedom and democracy"-and the continued willingness of our government to sacrifice young American lives (2,200 killed and 16,700 wounded-and counting) in staying such an immoral course, reveal the extent to which our country’s democratic principles of justice and belief in inalienable human rights are being compromised and lost.

Both The Boston Globe and The New York Times appear to be playing their own games of pretense. Both appear to be morally sidetracked in "the nasty byways" of "a dirty war"-a war of terrorism that demands far more "straight talk" than mainstream media seem ready to deliver at this point.

Damadola especially reveals how little President Bush apparently regards the lives of human beings killed as a direct result of his administration’s policies. His evident indifference is seen in a Guardian story which reported, as "thousands of angry protesters took to the streets across Pakistan . . . to condemn the airstrike . . . the White House has remained tight-lipped over the missile strike." In fact, White House spokesman, David Almacy "would not even confirm that the attack had been carried out by the US." ("Pakistanis vent fury over US attack," by David Teather in New York and Imtiaz Gul in Islamabad, Jan. 16, 2006)

Nor would President Bush dignify the lives of the dead villagers 11 days later when he entertained Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in a controlled meeting at the White House. Aziz told the Associated Press that "he expressed concerns to President Bush about a deadly missile attack that has increased tensions between the two countries." ("Pakistani PM, Bush Discuss Airstrike," AP, CBSNews.com, Jan. 24, 2006) But that was the extent of the reported "concerns" Aziz shared with Bush.

And President Bush continued to remain "tight-lipped." Earlier in the day of Prime Minister Aziz’s visit, the CBS-reported AP story stated that "Mr. Bush said the United States and Pakistan are working closely to defeat terrorism, but he did not comment on the Jan. 13 American airstrikes near the Pakistani-Afghan border . . . even as many in the Islamic nation are criticizing the U.S. for a Jan. 13 airstrike that was aimed at an al Qaeda leader but instead killed at least 13 civilians, including women and children." (Ibid)

And President Bush was described as remaining closed-mouthed when he and Prime Minister Aziz appeared before reporters after their private meeting. The president "did not take questions . . . and ignored shouted inquiries about whether they had discussed the attack. . . . Aziz also would not talk about their discussions on the air strike." (Ibid)

President Bush expressed no sympathy to the families and friends of the dead Damadola villagers. No apology to their loved ones, nor to the people of Pakistan. No restitution offered. No explanation given to morally concerned American citizens about the killing of innocent human beings. Apparently important to Bush was not recognizing the tragic deaths of villagers at US hands but how "vital . . .the relationship with Pakistan is. . .for [italics added] the United States . . . working closely to defeat the terrorists that would likely to harm America and harm Pakistan." (Ibid)

It is not believed to be about "defeat[ing] the terrorists that would likely. . . harm America and . . . Pakistan," but about constantly using that argument to justify harming so many innocent victims of US policies. President Bush is assumed to repeatedly use protecting Americans from "terrorists" to mask and justify his own administration’s terrorist policies-policies which are undermining America’s humanity and democracy, and fanning hatred of the United States in the Arab world. Not surprisingly, the AP story concludes, "Analysts have said the airstrike also undermined the goodwill cultivated in Pakistan by U.S. relief in the wake of October’s earthquake that killed over 80,000 people. Anti-American rallies in Pakistan are entering their second week." (Ibid)

President Bush is believed to personify the very characteristics he attributes to the "terrorists that would likely. . .harm America." His projections on to "the terrorists" of his administration’s own motives and behavior are apparent in his State of the Union address. He says, "The terrorists have chosen the weapon of fear . . . They murder children at a school in Beslan or blow up commuters in London or behead a bound captive . . . hop[ing] these horrors will break our will." ("We Strive to Be a Compassionate, Decent, Hopeful Society," State of the Union: The President’s Speech, The New York Times, Feb. 1, 2006)

Remember Damadola! And the siege of Fallujah! In November of 2004, the US military dropped 2000 pound bombs on the houses of civilians in Fallujah, attacking them also with air-to-surface missiles, cluster bombs, deadly burst of tank fire, and UN-banned napalm. This Iraqi city of some 300,000 people was literally wasted, with countless families crushed under the rubble of their roofs. Those fleeing were forced back into the attack by US soldiers. ("The siege of Fallujah: America on a killing spree," by Bill Van Auken, Nov. 18, 2004, wsws.org; "Fallujah Napalmed," by Paul Gilfeather, Political editor, Nov. 28, 2004, SundayMirror.co.uk)

"The terrorists have chosen the weapon of fear. They murder children . . ." There were eyewitness accounts in Fallujah of children and women being shot in their homes and on sight in the streets. Attacked also were medical facilities and staff and patients and ambulances-all in violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions. Tens of thousands were made refugees. ("Human Rights Day 2004: Women’s Organization Accuses U.S. of War Crimes in Iraq," Dec. 10, 2004, commondreams.org; "US Military Obstructing Medical Care in Iraq," by Dahr Jamail, Dec. 14, 2005, antiwar.com; "Stories from Fallujah," by Dahr Jamail, Feb. 9, 2005, zmag.org)

In his State of the Union address, President Bush also was actually talking about himself and his administration in stating, "Terrorists like bin Laden are serious about mass murder, and all of us must take their declared intentions seriously." (The New York Times, Feb. 1, 2006)

Remember The Lancet report! How many civilian deaths does it take for them to be called "mass murder?" Over a year ago, the well respected British medical journal, The Lancet published "the first reliable study" of Iraq’s civilian deaths since the US-led invasion: "about 100,000 . . . most were women and children . . . violent deaths were widespread . . . and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths." ("100,000 Iraqi civilians dead says study," Sarah Boseley, health editor, The Guardian, Oct. 29, 2004; "Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey," by Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta, Richard Garfield, Jamal Khudhairi, Gilbert Burnham, The Lancet, Oct. 30, 2004) The Lancet-published study, conducted by Les Roberts of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health with an international group of epidemiologists, assumes the Iraqi civilian death toll would be "far more" if it included those killed in the US forces’ November 2004 assault on Fallujah. (Ibid)

Nicolas J.S. Davies remembers The Lancet report. He writes that it has been buried: "We do not have a more precise picture," he states. But "soon after the study was published, U.S. and British officials launched a concerted campaign to discredit its authors and marginalize their findings without seriously addressing the validity of their methods or presenting any evidence to challenge their conclusions." Davies says an illusion was created "that the authors were suspect or politically motivated and discouraged the media from taking them seriously." And "today the continuing aerial bombardment of Iraq is still a dark secret to most Americans and the media present the same general picture of the war, focusing on secondary sources of violence." ("Burying The Lancet Report," Z Magazine, Feb. 2006)

Nicolas Davies writes that the US air war has intensified in attacks against Iraqi towns in provinces beyond the horizon of mainstream media glare. He says The Lancet-reported study provides "a clearer picture of the violence taking place in Iraq than that presented by ‘mainstream’ media." He allows "for 16 months of the air war and other deaths since the completion of the survey," and says, "We have to estimate that somewhere between 185,000 and 700,000 people have died as a direct result of the war." He then concludes, "Coalition forces have killed anywhere from 70,000 to 500,000 of them, including 30,000 to 275,000 children under the age of 15." (Ibid)

Where does "Operation Iraqi Freedom" end and mass murder begin? Last Christmas Eve Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, "escorted by Apache helicopters to the US regional headquarters in Mosul . . . lent a hand serving troops a dinner of lobster tails and steak" on Christmas Eve, and told them, "You folks have helped to liberate some 25 million people for whom hope was never there before." ("’Freedom prevails,’ Rumsfeld tells U.S. troops," Reuters, MSNBC, Dec. 24, 2005; The Boston Globe, Dec. 25, 2005)

"Amid great secrecy," Vice President Dick Cheney "paid a surprise," well-publicized pre-Christmas and -Chanukah visit to United States troops in Iraq, telling them, "The only way to lose this fight is to quit-and that is not an option. . . These colors don’t run." Ironically, "Mr. Cheney’s trip was arranged and carried out with an aim toward keeping the news from becoming public before he was on his way out of Iraq." (The New York Times, Dec. 19, 2005; "Vice President’s Remarks at a Rally for the Troops in Iraq," The White House, Dec. 18, 2005) A far cry from his pre-war statement to NBC’s Tim Russet: "I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators."

Both Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld would have been shot on sight if they had shown their faces in public in Iraq. "Operation Iraqi Freedom" or mass murder?

President Bush’s apparent revelations about himself and his administration are also seen in his own repeated use of "the weapon of fear" he accuses "the terrorists" of employing. He warns, in his State of the Union address, "They seek to impose a heartless system of totalitarian control throughout the Middle East and arm themselves with weapons of mass murder."

Two reports reveal that large majorities in the Arab and Muslim worlds see the United States as seeking "to impose a heartless system of totalitarian control throughout the Middle East." This widespread perception of predatory US policies is revealed in a public opinion survey conducted by University of Maryland Professor Shibley Telhami and Zogby International, in a joint polling of "samples of people in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates." They found that "75 percent" of "Arab citizens . . . did not believe that democracy was the real objective of American efforts to promote reform and change in the Arab world." Similarly, "58 percent of Arabs thought that the Iraq war resulted in less rather than more democracy in the region." And "very large majorities of Arabs-three out of every four persons-believed that the main motives of American policies in the Middle East were ‘oil, protecting Israel, dominating the region, and weakening the Muslim world.’" The above findings were reported by Daily Star staff writer Rami G. Khouri and led him to state, "The people in the Arab world already generally think the U.S. government is not a good or credible agent for democratic change in the Middle East." ("On democracy, Arabs mistrust the American messenger," The Daily Star, Feb. 4, 2006)

The widespread belief that the Bush administration, and not "the terrorists," is motivated by domination is even seen in the report of a Pentagon advisory panel on how America is viewed by the Islamic world. The report states that "Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies," that "when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy;" and that "in the eyes of the Muslim world, . . . ‘American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering.’" (The New York Times, Nov. 24, 2004)

These two reports strongly suggest that President Bush’s constant preachments about "spreading freedom and democracy" in the Arab world are not meant for Arab but for American consumption. Arabs are victims of the truth. What better way to maintain American support for domination, terror and death than by disguising them as "the march of freedom and democracy."

President Bush says, with a straight face, "The terrorists . . . seek to. . . arm themselves with weapons of mass murder." He is the one who gave the order for US-led coalition forces to launch 21,000 pound "shock and awe" bombs that has resulted in mass murder. In the run-up to his administration’s so-called "pre-emptive war," he is the one who repeatedly accused Saddam Hussein of "deception," of hiding terrible and threatening weapons of mass destruction from UN inspectors. Yet no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, their alleged existence being the key reason given by the Bush administration to justify launching its preemptive war against Iraq. And now there is another disclosure showing further that Bush, and not Hussein, was "deceiving" everyone.

Paul R. Pillar, Middle East national intelligence C.I.A. official between 2000 and 2005, is quoted as "accus[ing] the Bush administration of ‘cherry-picking’ intelligence on Iraq to justify a decision it had already reached to go to war, and of ignoring warnings that the country could easily fall into violence and chaos after an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein." Pillar also asserts that "the administration ‘went to war without requesting-and evidently without being influenced by-any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq. It has become clear,’" he says, " ‘that official intelligence was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions . . . [and] was misused publicly to justify decisions already made.’" (The Boston Globe, Feb. 10, 2006)

Remember what President Bush repeatedly said about Saddam Hussein during the run-up to the war! "I’m sick and tired of games and deception." (The New York Times,

Jan. 15, 2003) "How much time do we need to see clearly that he is not disarming?" (The New York Times, Jan. 22, 2003) "No doubt he will play a last-minute game of deception. The game is over." (The New York Times, Feb. 7, 2003)

A final glaring projection, that would seem to have been obvious long before now, is President Bush’s opening words on "Terrorism" in his State of the Union address: "No one can deny the success of freedom, but some men rage and fight against it. And one of the main sources of reaction and opposition is radical Islam, the perversion by a few of a noble faith into an ideology of terror and death" [italics added].

Remember President Bush’s own words! At his March 6, 2003 news conference, just two weeks before ordering the invasion of non-threatening and sanctions-weakened Iraq, a devout-appearing president told the American people, "I pray daily. I pray for wisdom and guidance and strength . . . I pray for peace. I pray for peace." (The New York Times, Mar. 7, 2003) Later, when no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, Bush apparently turned again to prayer, where he evidently found another justification for military aggression against Iraq: "Freedom is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to every man and woman in the world." ("Acceptance Speech to Republican Convention Delegates, The New York Times, Sept. 3, 2004)

President Bush has perverted a "noble faith." He has used America’s sacred belief in God (and country) to mask and justify the "terror and death" his own administration is inflicting in its invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan in pursuit of oil and empire.

If Western newspaper cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist can influence such widespread outrage in the Muslim world, where is the moral outrage of Christians toward the so-called leader of the Western world who has actually turned their god into a terrorist? Remember Damadola!

Rev. WILLIAM E. ALBERTS, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. He can be reached at william.alberts@bmc.org.