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Evildoers in his backyard

By Lance Selfa | January 18, 2002 | Page 8

THE U.S. government's handling of last year's anthrax attacks in Washington and New York said a lot about Washington's priorities.

While the House of Representatives evacuated the Capitol and authorities made sure to vaccinate "essential personnel"--from President Bush to Capitol Police dogs--postal workers were told to remain at their jobs. As a result, two postal workers were the only ones killed by anthrax in D.C.

Three months later, the investigation into the anthrax terror reveals much the same about Washington's real priorities. In October, a parade of "terrorism experts" filled editorial pages with assertions that the attacks bore the fingerprints of al-Qaeda or Iraq. Bush said he "wouldn't put it past" bin Laden or Saddam Hussein to try to kill Americans with anthrax.

The case against Saddam defied logic. Why would the Iraqi government sponsor an attack that would hand the Texecutioner its own death warrant and lose any anti-sanctions support it had gained?

Most experts without an ax to grind said the attacks bore the hallmarks of domestic terrorists. But few in Washington were listening.

When bioweapons expert Barbara Hatch Rosenberg contended that the attacks most likely originated in a U.S. government laboratory, it was reported in a German environmentalist magazine in November. By late December, even the Bush administration admitted a domestic culprit was the most likely suspect.

The focus on foreign "evildoers" had its uses for Bush and Co., however. At the height of the anthrax hysteria, Congress pushed through the USA PATRIOT Act.

The focus on Saddam Hussein also diverted attention from what should have been a bombshell revelation. The U.S. military admitted to manufacturing weapons of mass destruction it said it had stopped producing in 1969. In fact, the U.S. Army acknowledged that it had manufactured "weaponized" anthrax since 1992.

What's more, the genetic structure of the anthrax found in the letters to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy matched the strain developed in U.S. labs. Yet a government that quickly rounded up more than 1,000 immigrants--most of whom have yet to be charged with crimes--has moved noticeably slower to apprehend the anthrax terrorists.

There are political reasons for the slow response. The likely suspects come from one of two places--a government weapons lab or the swamps of the far right.

An investigation of U.S. weapons labs would open a real can of worms. How would Bush and Co. answer enraged Americans demanding to know why the U.S. created weapons used against them?

On the other hand, a look at far-right outfits in the U.S. might have brought the feds a little too close for comfort for the likes of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Ashcroft received $26,500 for his failed 2000 presidential campaign from the executives of AmeriVision, a Christian Right version of the liberal Working Assets long-distance phone service, according to a Salon investigation.

Besides Ashcroft's presidential campaign, AmeriVision funds Prisoners of Christ, a support organization for anti-abortion zealots jailed for bombing clinics and murdering abortion providers. At its annual fundraising banquet, Prisoners of Christ auctions such souvenirs as the watch that timed a firebomb at an abortion provider.

The government has shut down several major Islamic charities on suspicion--not proof--of connections to Islamic fundamentalist groups. But don't expect action against the likes of Prisoners of Christ.

It's one thing to wage a "war on terrorism" against overseas or immigrant "evildoers." It's another to go after your campaign contributors.

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