The US’s Stalled Out War

What’s a few (hundred) thousand Afghans?

I was a little taken aback to find that my recent column on the food situation in Afghanistan generated an unprecedented volume of hate mail. Interestingly enough no one contested the notion that countless Afghan civilians will starve thanks to the disruption of food aid wrought by the bombing campaign; the point, claimed one outraged correspondent after another, is that this is beside the point. “I read one of your editorials on how sorry we should be that we made bin Laden hurt us,” sneered one. Another wrote, “You have been raised and protected by a country that you now betray in thought and deed. It is because of the blood of many Americans that came before you that you can make your treasonous statements.”

Blah blah blah. In the last refuge of scoundrels, freedom of speech is a cherished thing until you use it. Meantime there’s a lesson here. For as much as we skeptics of the newly minted Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld perma-war against terrorism may want to believe that many Americans distrust the aims of empire on and off the battlefield, the majority clearly still lusts for blood and does not much care in the end whose it is, as long as it is not ours. Fly those flags high.

The October 29 issue of Britain’s The Economist contained a useful dispatch on the specifics of food aid, along with a map detailing the regions most affected by hunger, which is duly reproduced here. As I noted before, there is little problem in those regions of the north controlled by opposition forces. But most of the needy populace is elsewhere, and as you can see they are both far removed from the refugee camps of Iran and Pakistan and at the mercy of encroaching winter, which will shut off ground routes for aid delivery-which includes not only food but such staples as blankets and medicine-and complicate any air deliveries so long as the bombing campaign continues.


The UN Children’s Fund estimates that 300,000 Afghan children die needless deaths in an average winter, and that as many as 100,000 more will perish this winter thanks to the war for freedom. If the war carries on past that point, as seems likely, the hunger casualties will only multiply.

Drug companies: Patriotism for the many, profits for the few

Sunday’s New York Times featured an interesting overview of the pharmaceutical giants’ role in responding to anthrax and any future bioterror threats. Their line, from Cipro-maker Bayer AG on down, has been remarkably consistent. Proclaim any national policy you like, but tread on our patents and we’ll sue. Canada’s national health service learned as much when they dared to order generic Cipro substitutes from an Indian manufacturer. Bayer threatened a full frontal assault, and Canada blinked. The U.S., meanwhile, has tried a diplomatic end-around. In addition to negotiating a lower but still larcenous price from Bayer for Cipro, the government instructed the Centers for Disease Control to switch its drug of choice for treating anthrax exposure from Cipro to doxycycline, an antibiotic that is already outside patent protection. But the government steadfastly avoids invoking its statutory right to summarily override drug makers’ patents. That precedent would cause enormous troubles for pharmaceutical companies vis a vis the explosion of AIDS in Africa and Asia.

Concerning anthrax, the drug companies trumpet their willingness to do their patriotic duty, but at a substantial price that includes the override of normal FDA approval procedures for numerous medications. “Drug company executives have offered to send scores of industry scientists now on their payrolls,” notes the Times, “to work in government agencies in what the industry calls a gift to the nation, but critics say it is both a conflict of interest and a way for the industry to get a toehold in government.” Even prior to September 11, the pharmaceutical monolith held a privileged place at the public trough. It currently has 625 registered lobbyists in Washington, where it spent $177 million in 1999 and 2000-according to the Times, “a good $50 million more than its nearest rivals, the insurance and telecommunications industries.” Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld is a former CEO of G.D. Searle; White House budget director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. is an Eli Lilly alum.

Leave the last word to Jack Calfee of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “When you’ve got this access to high places, it will encourage these guys to coordinate instead of compete,” he said. “It’s more likely to forestall getting good products than to encourage it.”

Arabs in America: internment by degrees

Caught up short by the September 11 attacks, the American intelligence apparatus is using every legal trick in the book to make up for lost time. The result is a program of domestic internment that differs from the World War II round-up of Japanese mainly in its scale. The FBI has cast the widest of nets here at home, so far detaining some 1,200 or more Arab and Islamic immigrants on mostly indeterminate grounds. As the Sunday Washington Post demonstrates, any pretext for jailing Arabs indefinitely is good enough for the courts. Defense attorneys are routinely prohibited from viewing potentially exculpatory documents outside the courtroom. And the maximum seven-day holding period mandated in the new anti-terror bill is a chimera: A good many of these men have been held now for nearly two months without charges.

The paltry reality of the situation is obscured by all the attention devoted to a few men such as Zacarias Moussouai, the Moroccan man holding a French passport who was held in Minnesota after seeking flight lessons at a suburban training school. He appears an apt suspect in the 9/11 attacks and beyond. And the rest? Only nine of the thousand-plus detainees bear any direct or circumstantial connection to the September 11 bombers. The vast majority of the others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some found themselves the victims of their own public-spiritedness. Mustafa Abujdai, a Palestianian living in Emory, Texas, has been jailed indefinitely since going to the authorities to volunteer that he had made the brief acquaintance of one of the hijackers.

Most of the Arabs presently jailed are being held on immigration-related technicalities that strain even the expansive parameters of the new anti-terror bill. Osama Elfar, an Egyptian mechanic for the tiny carrier Trans State Airlines, was detained in Missouri for staying longer than his visa allowed. Elfar told investigators he had no sympathy for bin Laden or his ilk and voluntarily agreed to a search of his apartment and computer and an inspection of his phone bills. He subsequently passed a polygraph test as well, and passed, but government lawyers have blocked his efforts at obtaining bail on the grounds that the FBI “has been unable to rule out the possibility that [Elfar] is somehow linked to, or possesses knowledge of, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”

If you’re Arabic in descent or an adherent of Islam, guilty until proven innocent is the new watchword in American courts. Under that rubric you can expect to see the number of de facto internments multiply in the weeks and months to come. CP

Steve Perry writes frequently for CounterPunch and is a contributor to the excellent website, which offers incisive coverage of the current crisis. He lives in Minneapolis, MN.