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They used to be "freedom fighters"

By Lance Selfa | May 24, 2002 | Page 9

RIGHT-WING blowhard William Bennett looked like he was ready to burst a blood vessel. Appearing on CNN's American Morning, he was hard-pressed to explain the success of Noam Chomsky's bestseller 9/11.

"And when you think about the lead notion in this book, that the U.S. is a leading terrorist nation, you know, if one knew history, if one knew, for example, what we have done for Europe, what we have done against terrorism, what we have done for Muslims in the world," Bennett sputtered.

"What we have done is liberated Kuwait, helped in Bosnia and the Balkans. We have provided sanctuary for people of all faiths, including Islam, in the U.S. We tried to help in Somalia. I mean the historical record is clear that America is the great hope of the earth."

Apparently, Attorney General John Ashcroft isn't singing from the same hymnal as Bennett. Otherwise, he would know better than to lock up leaders of Islamic charities working in the Balkans and Somalia.

In its latest attack, the government imprisoned Enaam Arnaout, a Syrian-born U.S. citizen and director of the Palos Hills, Ill.-based Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). The government charged Arnaout with perjury for asserting that it had no evidence linking BIF to terrorism.

Arnaout made that statement in a lawsuit seeking damages for the government's freezing of BIF's assets as part of its post-September 11 crackdown. "This complaint alleges BIF was supporting violence secretly" in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia-Herzegovina, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald charged.

Many of the charges against Arnaout and BIF are based on little more than rumor and guilt by association. But leaving aside the flimsiness of the charges, the case blows a big hole in Bennett's pitch to win Muslim hearts and minds.

Suppose for a moment that the charges against BIF are true and they hold up in court. The BIF would be convicted of aiding "terrorism." Yet the U.S. supported the same forces in Bosnia, Chechnya and Kosovo that the BIF is accused of aiding.

There's obviously a contradiction here. No wonder the U.S. is having trouble getting Muslims to accept its claims at face value.

Perhaps it's a little hackneyed to point out that the CIA trained Osama bin Laden in guerrilla war and sabotage--by Washington's definition, "training in terrorism"--in the Afghan war against the former USSR in the 1980s.

Another of Washington's favorites was Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose politics mirror the Taliban's. Today, the U.S. claims of a link between Arnaout and Hekmatyar are being used to keep Arnaout in jail.

Then there's Washington's secret alliance with Islamist militants in Bosnia during the mid-1990s civil war there. A barely noticed chapter in the April Dutch government report on the country's failures to protect the Srebenica "safe haven" in 1995 details a vast Pentagon-run arms smuggling operation involving radical Islamists.

Officially, the U.S. supported an arms embargo against contending forces in the Bosnian civil war. Unofficially, the Pentagon's black operations forces, working with Turkish and Iranian secret services, imported tons of small arms for Bosnia through Croatia.

With Washington's support, Afghan war veterans and Iranian operatives set up training camps for Bosnian fighters. This arms pipeline relied on the same Islamist networks that are now being targeted in the "war on terrorism."

As soon as Washington engineered the 1995 Dayton accord ending the Bosnian civil war, it had no further use for the Islamists. As happened in Afghanistan, these "freedom fighters" became "terrorists" in Washington's book.

Chomsky and other critics of Bush's war assume that those who know the history of Washington's dirty deals will be more skeptical about Bush's crusade. That's not the kind of history that William Bennett wants anyone to know.

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