Belaboring the Obvious

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Limiting the Debate....

It should probably be accepted as a given that any serious debate on the current "war" will have to wait until another party, or, at least, another person, is in the White House. Bush will not change course, nor will he alter his estimations of the situation, simply because delineating the situation as a "war on terror" is the source of his perceived power, both politically and governmentally.

Billmon reads the legalities of the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision in the context of a new kind of wartime, but, I think that's a mistaken approach to the debate--it's an acceptance of the terms as defined by the Bushies.

For practical purposes, there's been no extensive debate in this country about how to proceed against the people responsible for the events of 9/11. It's been assumed that Bush's military response was the only appropriate one. At the heart of this is the assumption that the Taliban government of Afghanistan actively colluded with al-Qaeda to harm the United States. That assumption has remained unchallenged, even though there's no evidence for the claim. In practical terms, Afghanistan in 2001 was a failed state. Only three countries at that time recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Who controlled Afghanistan was a matter still in flux--the warlords, primarily Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ismail Khan and Rashid Dostum, had been jockeying for power since 1996, when the Taliban took control. Various combinations of the warlords' forces had been shelling Kabul off and on since Hekmatyar was forced to flee after being forced out of the prime minister's office after a falling-out with the Taliban.

What complicates any assessment of Taliban/al-Qaeda joint assistance in 9/11 is that the U.S. had very mixed motives for invading Afghanistan. The U.S. had been courting the Taliban--even though the Taliban government had admitted bin Laden and his men after they departed Sudan--in support of a pipeline deal desired by UNOCAL. This was both before and after the bombings of the U.S. embassies in East Africa. This is not in question--there is film of Taliban representatives at UNOCAL offices in Houston. There is also a court case from the Fifth Circuit, in which an Argentine consortium, Bridas, claimed interference by a UNOCAL subsidiary, Turkmenneft, in its negotiations with the Taliban for a trans-Afghanistan pipeline deal. As is well-documented, the Bush administration, almost from the time of inauguration, began earnest negotiations with the Taliban, trying to get them to renege on the Bridas deal. That may explain the $42 million in-kind assistance package put together by the State Dept. in early spring of 2001. By the time of the infamous August 6th PDB, the Taliban were resisting and the Bushies were threatening, as Jean Charles Brisard and Guiliaume Dasquie wrote in bin Laden, The Forbidden Truth: "At one moment during the negotiations the US representatives told the Taliban, 'either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs.'"

With a Bridas/Taliban deal in place, the only way to undo that deal and allow UNOCAL to prevail would be to displace the Taliban government. Was this the basis for military action against the Taliban, or was 9/11? It would seem there would be no way to tell--except that a week after 9/11, a Pakistani diplomat by the name of Niaz Naik told the BBC that he had been told at a conference in mid-July in Berlin that the U.S. planned an invasion of Afghanistan with the purpose of removing the Taliban government, probably no later than mid-October.

We should consider the context, too, of the credentials of the people put in place by the U.S. in Afghanistan in 2001. Hamid Karzai, pro-U.S. and a former consultant to UNOCAL as interim president. Zalmay Khalilzad, a neo-conservative of some reputation and a former consultant to UNOCAL, as well, as the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan.

Is this significant? I think so. If the ostensible object were to bring the people responsible for 9/11 to justice, a military response would have been unnecessary. Military action, however, would have been required to remove the Taliban from power. More to the point, has military action in both Afghanistan and Iraq been counterproductive to those ends? There's a case for that assessment. After the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, ten people, including Ramzi Yousef, the bomb maker and attack planner, were eventually convicted and imprisoned on charges related to that attack. Most of the field investigation related to that case was done almost exclusively by the FBI.

The same situation existed with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa. Four men were tried and convicted and imprisoned, and others, including Osama bin Laden, were found complicit in absentia. There's a fundamental difference in this approach and in Bush's. We have straightforward public evidence that those responsible for planning and executing criminal acts were found, tried and convicted--and that they have thus been denied any opportunity to engage in future criminal acts.

The effects of Bush's military response have, instead, been shrouded in a secrecy that has become typical of his administration. We have no public evidence of progress, and a great many instances of tangential evidence suggesting that Bush's military "war on terror" has been both inept and counterproductive. See particularly Ron Suskind's assessment of the capture and torture of Abu Zubaydah in his The One Percent Doctrine, in which torture yielded from a decidedly mentally ill suspect hundreds of false leads, all of which had to be investigated. Even the interrogation and torture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed--including threatening him with harm to his young children--has not provided evidence useful for public trial. In fact, none of these bad actors will likely ever be brought to public criminal trial, as the evidence against them originates from testimony coerced by torture. And, given the tendency of Bush and his cohort to lie and exaggerate (as Bush did in his public description of Zubaydah, even though he had been briefed on the unimportance of Zubaydah to al-Qaeda two weeks prior), we can't depend upon them for an accurate depiction of progress, if any.

By involving the military, principally, in his "war on terror," Bush accomplishes three things which have nothing to do with administering justice. He can claim wartime Executive powers--although in a strict legal sense, he has none because there is no state enemy against which to declare war and the only person to declare that war has been Bush himself, in contravention of the Constitution--and he can then cloak all government actions under the rubric of national security. The last item, perhaps the most important to him, is that he can, as Commander-in-Chief, point the military in whatever directions he chooses (likely as advised by cronies Rumsfeld and Cheney), which means he can direct operations away from areas which might be politically sensitive.

This latter point is a crucial one. The Dept. of Defense is under the direct control of the President. The Justice Department and the FBI are quasi-independent agencies whose prosecutors and investigators are bound by rules established by the courts. Barring notable political pressure or interference (as likely happened in the Sibel Edmonds case), Dept. of Justice criminal prosecutors have the latitude--and the obligation--to pursue evidentiary trails wherever they may lead. Had Bush opted for a criminal investigation of 9/11 instead of wholesale militarization, criminal prosecutors likely would have seen, fairly quickly, that those evidentiary trails led to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the UAE and Pakistan--places which the United States would seek to co-opt in its military "war on terror"--and would have been obligated to pursue foreign nationals in or associated with those countries, something Bush would have been loathe to have happened.

So, should the debate be about the ways in which current law--and the latest Supreme Court decision--affect the military prosecution of the so-called "war on terror," or is the more proper debate one of whether or not military prosecution was the proper course of action in the first place? If we don't eventually have that debate, Bush's desires for endless war may become institutionalized, regardless of who occupies the Oval Office next.


Post a Comment

<< Home