What sort of moral monsters would crash airplanes into buildings and kill thousands of innocent people? Were they the same sort of moral monsters as those whose actions now may produce the death from starvation of perhaps three or four million people over the next several weeks?
The former group of terrorists, still largely faceless and many now dead, were representatives of the terror networks that the CIA founded a generation ago to trouble the USSR. In its most expensive operation in history, the CIA gathered the most savage and fanatical people it could find, trained and armed them, and set them loose in Afghanistan in the 1970s, even before the Soviets invaded that now ruined country. Unfortunately, like so many other CIA “assets,” these Mujahideen did not limit themselves to the task the CIA had in mind. Already in 1981 they assassinated the president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, and then went on to use the techniques and weapons supplied by the CIA (at the rate of half a billion dollars a year of our tax money) to kill in the name of their Islamicism around the world — in Chechnya, Bosnia, North Africa, Kashmir, the Philippines, and finally New York City.
When asked if he regretted organizing these terrorists, President Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, said in a 1998 interview, “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?” (In Brzezinski’s defense, perhaps, it may be noted that he said that in a 1998 interview, when the stirred-up Moslems were killing merely foreigners and not Americans on American soil.)
The latter group of terrorists are the American officials who complacently contemplate the starvation of millions of people in Afghanistan in the next few weeks in what United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson has called a humanitarian disaster on the scale of Rwanda in the mid-1990s. “Are we going to preside over deaths from starvation of hundreds of thousands — maybe millions — of people this winter because we didn’t use the window of opportunity before winter closes?” Robinson was calling for at least a halt in the American bombing of Afghanistan so that supplies could be put in place. Then on October 24 the NEW YORK TIMES reported that “senior Pentagon officials said for the first time today that they hoped to choke off fuel, food and other supplies …”
Remarkably enough, people who criticize the mass murder being undertaken by Washington are often confronted with the question, “Well, what would you do, after September 11?” My first response is, Try to dissuade my government from killing many, many more people than died on that day. But the questioner usually wants to know what’s to be done to stop terrorism. Of course there was another way. Rather than purposely flouting it, the US should have (a) used the resources of domestic and international law to apprehend and prosecute anyone left alive who was responsible for this crime; and (b) made an effort to understand the causes, motives, and reasons for the crime so that they can be removed, lessening the chance of a repetition. A practical program for (a) would have been:
Before killing anyone, take the matter to the UN Security Council, as the US is bound to do by treaty, and insist on the delivery to a court of justice of anyone responsible for the crimes. If no appropriate court could be found, then one could be created, as they were for the Lockerbie terrorist attack and the Balkan war crimes. If the US has evidence that a state was involved, it should be presented to the International Court of Justice, the World Court, which has declared states guilty of terrorism before and demanded that they make restitution. (Admittedly, it was the US that was judged guilty of terrorism.) Suppose that the effective government of Afghanistan, say, although it said that it was willing to turn over Osama bin Laden to a court if the US produces evidence, refuses the Security Council’s demand to do so. At this point a UN military force, drawn from disinterested countries — i.e., no Russians, Americans, Pakistanis, or Iranians, all of whom have territorial interests in Afghanistan — should be authorized by the Security Council to retrieve those people whom it denominates.
Instead, the US has launched a war that may result in the deaths of millions in the next few months. And then this week the FBI floated a trial balloon, suggesting that it might have to use torture on some of more than 1,130 people detained, many illegally, in the course of the investigation! CP
Carl Estabrook teaches at the University of Illinois and is the host of News From Neptune, a weekly radio show on politics and the media. He writes a regular column for CounterPunch.