America's morality has been distorted
by 11 September
by Robert Fisk
Independent Digital (UK) Ltd, March 2002
'It's as if all the lessons of history, in Afghanistan and
the Middle East, have been tossed into a bin.'
In Afghan fields, the poppies blow. Yes, even as the Americans
are moving deeper into the Afghan trap, the warlords and gangsters
running much of the western-supported Afghan government are ensuring
a bumper new crop of heroin for the world's markets.
The UN have warned of this, of course, but nothing is being
done. The "war against terror" comes first. The broken
roads and highways of Afghanistan are now ribbons of anarchy and
brigandage and murder across the country. The pathetic little
force of peace-keepers in Kabul cannot control all of the capital,
let alone the rest of the country. The Interim President, Hamid
Karzai, can scarcely control the street outside his office. But
the "war against terror" comes first.
Locked into their "war against terror" and
now discovering that their enemies want to fight them the
Americans remain equally indolent when confronted by the infinitely
more dangerous conflict 2,000 miles to the west of Kabul, in the
streets of Jerusalem, Ramallah, Tel Aviv, Nablus, Jenin and Gaza.
When the Israeli army goes on a shooting spree in the refugee
camps and kills 16 Palestinians, among them two children, the
US calls for "restraint". When a Palestinian suicide
bomber murders a crowd of Israelis in Jerusalem, including two
babies and a 10-year old, the US boldly blames Yasser Arafat for
not "stopping terrorism" by locking up the bad guys.
And Ariel Sharon? Why, he's busy destroying the police stations
and prisons to make sure Mr Arafat can't do what he's been ordered
And when Mr Sharon actually announces that Israel must "inflict
greater losses" in other words, kill more Palestinians
Washington is silent. Maybe it's not indolence. Maybe the
Bush administration actually believes that the man held "personally
responsible" by an Israeli commission of inquiry for the
murder of 1,700 Palestinian civilians in Beirut in 1982 really
is fighting America's "war on terror". Maybe America's
moral compass has become so skewed by the crimes against humanity
on 11 September that President Bush simply no longer cares what
Mr Sharon does.
It's as if all the lessons of history in Afghanistan
as well as the Middle East have been tossed into a bin.
Take ex-President Clinton. He arrives in Israel and what does
he do? He blames Mr Arafat. And what does his preposterous wife
say when she does the same thing? "Yasser Arafat bears the
responsibility for the violence that has occurred; it rests on
his shoulders ..." She says that her role as a US Senator
is "to support the Israeli people". Really? What's wrong
with supporting innocent Palestinians as well? Wrong religion?
Back-to-front writing? Wrong eye colour?
So a war against colonial occupation has been transformed
into an offshoot of the "war on terror", the language
of this war ever more infantile. We now have to learn by rote
the following words: tit-for-tat, cycle-of-violence, axis of evil,
bunker-buster, daisy-cutter ... Is there no end to this childishness?
No, there is not. For the latest little killer is the word "transfer"
or "resettlement". As in "the simple answer...
would be to create a vast separation from Israel, resettling the
Palestinians in Jordan, where 80 per cent of the population is
Palestinian." This comes from an article published in USA
Today. In Israel itself, an opinion poll asks Israelis how many
of them would support "transfer" of Arabs out
of their homes, of course, not Jewish settlers off Arab land
as a solution to the war.
This is incredible. "Transfer" is ethnic cleansing
and ethnic cleansing is a war crime. If American newspapers are
prepared to print such an option and if Israelis are asked to
give their opinion on it, what is Mr Milosevic doing in The Hague?
The moral collapse is already underway. Take the watering down
of the US government's latest report on human rights. In 2000,
it said that Egypt's hopelessly unfair military courts "do
not ensure civilian defendants due process before an independent
tribunal". In the 2001 report, however, that sentence has
been censored out. It has to be, of course, because Mr Bush is
now setting up his own military courts to try his prisoners at
Guantanamo Bay without due process.
And while the Americans are distorting the nature of the war
between Israel and the Palestinians, they are lying about Afghanistan.
General Tommy Franks, the head of the US Central Command, refers
in the following words to the mistaken killing of 16 innocent
Afghans at Hazar Qadam: "I will not characterise it as a
failure of any type." Sorry? Either General Franks
who on Tuesday managed to refer to his newly killed soldiers as
dying "in Vietnam" didn't read the facts or he
is a very disreputable man.
His boss, Donald Rumsfeld, refuses to use the word "mistake"
or even "investigation" after thousands of innocent
Afghans died under US bombs because the word "sometimes has
the implication of more formality or a disciplinary action".
When Washington's top military men are so dishonest, is it any
surprise that Israeli tanks can open fire on refugee camps without
any serious response from the US or blast cars carrying children
because they want to kill their father?
It is surely time that Europe became involved. It is surely
time that the EU held a summit about these terrible conflicts
and involved itself directly. We should be expanding the peace
force in Kabul to remove the weapons of Afghanistan and let America
move into the swamp of semi- occupation and guerrilla warfare
if that is what it wishes. We should be asking Israel to repay
the ¤17.29m (£10.5m) of European taxpayers' money
that has been destroyed by the Israeli army in its vandalisation
of EU-funded Palestinian infrastructure.
Since the Americans won't talk to Yasser Arafat, we should
take over from them. If Washington is too slovenly to halt this
terrible war between Arab and Israeli, we must try to do so. We're
asked to fund America's bankrupt policies with our euros. So now
it's time to demand that we have a say in them. Instead of that,
Downing Street, which over Christmas castigated those journalists
who predicted chaos and blood in Afghanistan myself included,
I'm glad to say feeds Mr Bush's fantasies by supporting
yet another war with Iraq.
I'm beginning to suspect that 11 September is turning into
a curse far greater than the original bloodbath of that day, that
America's absorption with that terrible event is in danger of
distorting our morality. Is the anarchy of Afghanistan and the
continuing slaughter in the Middle East really to be the memorial
for the thousands who died on 11 September?