Uproar over what the White House didn't tell us
May 31, 2002 | Pages 6 and 7
AFTER MONTHS of riding high, George W. Bush and his gang are on the hot seat. Every day seems to bring more revelations that the administration missed warnings about the September 11 attacks before they happened.
Much of official Washington--from right-wing pundits to Democratic leaders of Congress--is calling for an investigation. But is this bunch likely to expose the Bush White House for the hypocrites and liars they are?
And while Washington blusters about tougher antiterrorism measures, no one will ask the deeper questions--about how the U.S. government's bloody record around the globe has stoked the violence and fury that produced September 11.
ALAN MAASS, NICOLE COLSON and LEE SUSTAR look at what's at stake.
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YOU KNEW the Bush administration was feeling the heat when Dick Cheney took to the airwaves to declare that another September 11-style attack on the U.S. was "inevitable." So much for the effectiveness of the "war against terrorism"--waged at home and abroad at the cost of billions of dollars, not to mention countless wrecked lives.
Shifting the spotlight from the scandal about what the White House knew about the September 11 attacks before they happened, Cheney's comment set the tone for a week of scare mongering.
FBI Director Robert Mueller warned of impending suicide bombings on U.S. soil. Then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed that Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and North Korea were all developing weapons of mass destruction--to supply to terrorists who would get them to the U.S. and set them off.
"Is there a way to read these disclosures other than as a ham-handed attempt to (1) change the subject from the pre-9/11 flap; and (2) fight off an investigation by buttressing the Cheney-Rice argument that an investigation could help the enemy?" wrote commentators Mark Halperin and Marc Ambinder on the ABC News Web site.
The ferocity of the counterattack shows just how concerned the White House is. After all, the administration has used every opportunity to exploit the tragedy of September 11--gaining almost unquestioned support for raining bombs on Afghanistan, whipping up a racist hysteria against Arabs and silencing opponents of its pro-business agenda.
Now it turns out that the post-9/11 bluster hid a pre-9/11 blunder--the administration had warnings that hijackings were being planned, but didn't take even elementary precautions.
At first, White House officials made fools of themselves when they claimed that the threat wasn't "specific." As Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice explained, "You would have risked shutting down the American civil aviation system" by making the hijacking threat public. So was the Bush gang more worried about the effect of a warning on the profits of their airline industry pals?
No wonder the administration kept quiet after September 11 about how much prior information it had. And no wonder Cheney and the boys seem willing to say just about anything to change the subject today.
From the first, Cheney denounced Democrats for using September 11 for "political gain." What a hypocrite! The White House and its allies have done just that for eight months running.
Just last week, when House Republican leaders were trying to win a key vote on Bush's emergency spending proposal, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) warned lawmakers, "If you vote no, you're voting against our military, you're voting against the people of New York."
Secretary of State Colin Powell--the supposed moderate dove of the administration--made the White House message crystal clear when he declared that the latest threats meant no one "has the luxury of remaining on the sidelines because there are no sidelines." In other words, keep doing what we say--or else.
Typically, the Democrats backed off in the face of the White House counteroffensive. But if anything, the frenzied warnings of imminent new attacks only exposes the fact that Bush's "war on terrorism" was a fraud from the start.
After carpet bombing one of the world's poorest countries, harassing and detaining thousands of Arab immigrants for no other reason than their race, and pouring huge sums down the Pentagon rat hole, Dick Cheney admits that the U.S. is no more secure from terrorism than it was on September 11.
Unwittingly, the White House line of attack leads to the deeper questions about September 11 that no one in Washington will ask. No antiterrorism measure can stop violence in a world where the most powerful country on the planet uses violence every day--carried out directly by the U.S. or indirectly by its allies and puppets--to maintain its interests.
If people in this country knew the full extent of what has been done in their name by the U.S. government in every corner of the world, it would turn their stomachs. This oppression and injustice--whether carried out in the jungles of Colombia, the refugee camps of Palestine or the strangled cities of Iraq--stokes hatred of the U.S.
We need to point the finger at the real source of misery and suffering in this world--the politicians and generals who run the U.S. government, in the service of Corporate America.
Washington wanted a war
IN THE outcry over what the Bush administration knew about possible attacks before September 11, one piece of news emerged that the media and politicians largely ignored: Washington had drawn up plans to wage war in Afghanistan before the attacks.
"The report was dated September 10 and was awaiting review by Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Adviser, when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were struck," the Financial Times reported last week. "The plan included an extensive proposal for arming Afghanistan's Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban forces to take on Mr. bin Laden's al-Qaeda fighters. Many of the options were later implemented in the course of the U.S. attack on Afghanistan."
In fact, the "war on terror" was a convenient label for a war that Washington had planned for years. The U.S. goal was to establish itself as the number one power in the gas- and oil-rich countries of Central Asia--the "stans" that were part of the old USSR--as well as the Caucasus region on the other side of the Caspian Sea.
Stephen Blank, a professor at the U.S. Army War College, wrote two years ago that Washington's role in the region was "intended to further the goal of breaking Russia's monopoly, demonstrate U.S. power projection capability, help tie the region to the West enhance local military capabilities for self-defense, prevent a military reliance upon Moscow and cement a local presence to defend U.S. energy interests." He concluded that the U.S. "strategy for the Caucasus and Central Asia as a whole is in fact, although we perhaps will not admit it, a quite provocative one."
The U.S. push into the region began in the 1980s, when Washington used Pakistan and wealthy Arabs like Osama bin Laden to arm a resistance to the former USSR's invasion of Afghanistan. After the collapse of the USSR, the U.S. quickly tried to bring Central Asian countries into the fold with economic aid, military cooperation and oil deals.
"The good Lord didn't see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratic regimes friendly to the United States," Dick Cheney, then CEO of the oil services giant Halliburton, said in a 1998 speech.
The problem for the U.S. is that the Central Asian oil and gas fields are hundreds of miles inland, and existing pipelines to the fields run through Russia and Iran. That's why Washington pressured a consortium of oil companies to build a pipeline from the Caspian Sea through Turkey--even though it would be much cheaper to build one through Iran.
That same year, John Maresca, vice president of the oil giant Unocal, outlined another alternative to a congressional subcommittee--working with the Taliban government in Afghanistan on a $2 billion pipeline project. "The route through Afghanistan is the one that would bring Central Asian oil closest to Asian markets and thus would be the cheapest in terms of transporting the oil," he said.
But when the Taliban proved unreliable, Unocal pulled out, and Washington changed horses. By then, however, the Pentagon's "theater preparations"--military jargon for war planning--had been underway for years.
In 1995, U.S. military chiefs met at NATO headquarters to discuss "extending Persian Gulf security guarantees" to Central Asia. Two years later, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Sheehan, then head of the U.S. Atlantic Command, joined the Army's 82nd Airborne unit in a parachute drop into Kazakhstan, after flying 19 hours from North Carolina. "The message is there is no nation on the face of the Earth that we cannot get to," he told reporters.
After September 11, the U.S. quickly established military "facilities" in the five Central Asian states formerly part of the USSR before attacking Afghanistan. And recently, the U.S. sent Green Beret military "advisers" to the former USSR republic of Georgia, which the pipeline through Turkey will cross.
In fact, the Bush administration is packed with oil industry veterans with ties to companies that are neck deep in Central Asia. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was on the board of Chevron, which has $20 billion stake in the Kazakhstan oil field. Zalmay Khalizad, an Afghan American who is Bush's envoy to Afghanistan, used to work for Unocal. Cheney's Halliburton last year gained a $30 million pipeline-building contract with an oil company in the former USSR republic of Azerbaijan.
"War against terrorism? Not really," journalist Pepe Escobar wrote recently. "Reminder: it's all about oil. A quick look at the map is all it takes."
Causing misery in Afghanistan
THE BUSH administration says that it "liberated" Afghanistan. You have to wonder if they include the Afghan civilians who were "liberated" out of existence by U.S. bombs during the past month.
Like the five people who were killed when U.S. troops raided the small farming village of Char Chine on May 12. Just before midnight, at least one warplane and up to a dozen helicopter gunships began firing on the town. Three villagers, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed as they hid in a wheat field.
"When we couldn't find them, we thought they had been arrested," Saleh Muhammad, whose brother and nephew were among the dead, told the New York Times. "It was only when we noticed the smell that we found them."
U.S. Central Command says that the casualties--as well as the 32 villagers detained for questioning--are Taliban and al-Qaeda soldiers. But survivors say that the victims were nothing of the kind--just farmers, harvest workers and war refugees.
Meanwhile, up to a dozen people were killed May 17 in the village of Bul Khil when American warplanes mistook a family wedding celebration for hostile guerrillas.
But don't expect the U.S. military to apologize. The Pentagon claims that the wedding party fired first. "Do I know if they were al-Qaeda? I don't know," sneered Maj. Bryan Hilferty. "But I have a right to self-defense if I am attacked."
For those who survive the terror of U.S. bombs, the promise of "liberation" looks increasingly hollow. The government of Hamid Karzai, a handpicked U.S. stooge, is a nest of corruption.
In cities across the country, rival warlords have set up their own private police forces--controlling roads with private "checkpoints" where travelers are expected to pay hefty fees to gunmen in order to pass.
But that's okay, says the Bush administration. Their grand plan for "rebuilding Afghanistan" includes assigning small teams of U.S. Special Forces to work with warlords--or "regional leaders," as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz politely refers to them. That's like sending a wolf to guard the fox that's guarding the henhouse.
The consequences can be seen in a city like Herat, where warlord Ismail Khan is in charge. Khan refuses to cooperate with the central government, claiming that one-man rule makes the city more orderly.
And as for the freedoms that the U.S. promised, Khan couldn't care less. "We should not expect freedom to be given right away," he told a reporter from the Washington Post. "The people are not ready for it."
That especially means Afghan women. Bush's gang spewed a lot of hot air about how the U.S. military operation would free women from the tyranny of the Taliban regime. But many women are still afraid to remove the burqa, according to reports--for fear of harsh penalties imposed by warlords like Khan.
In Kandahar, leaflets began appearing a few weeks ago threatening the lives of girl students and their female teachers attempting to return to school. "The leaflets were saying, 'We will kill you, we will burn down your house,'" Gulalli Sherzai, a teacher, told the Washington Post.
So much for "liberation." These days, the only thing being liberated in Afghanistan is oil resources.