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What would Obama do? Revisiting 9/11

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As American and global citizens look forward to President Obama’s historic and hopeful day today, I wonder how, or if or how much, the world would be different if Barack Obama had been President on September 11, 2001. This was before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and before “The War on Terror.” How might our world today be different had an Obama administration been in Washington over the past 8 years? How could/should have western nations responded differently? How could American and global citizens have responded differently? How could western media and journalists have acted differently? How will we all respond in the future? What have we learned? Below is an article I wrote for my Real News Network a week after 9/11 (September 18, 2001). [Note: a follow-up investigative article will be published on Semptember 18, 2011, 10 years later; and any comments/feedback/criticisms/thoughts readers have would be very much appreciated.]

 

TRUTH IN TERROR & IN WAR [September 11, 2001 - Written Ten Years Ago]
Providing the fullness of truth and understanding is vital for world peace and security

 

By Paul  D. Boin

 

It has been said that the first casualty in war is the truth. This usually pertains to the propensity for about-to-be warring nations to conjure up a pretext for war that can be justified in the public mind. Often this means that the truth is compromised prior to the shedding of blood. When terrorists strike, however, blood is drawn first, and the victim's pretext for retaliation is determined second. In the midst of both war or terror truth can be compromised by the selective exclusion of important information, the elevation of hearsay or opinion to the status of fact, or by the outright fabrication of misinformation. In this regard, our governments and our mainstream news media have much to answer for.

While it could be argued that the terrorist act already constitutes the pretext for a retaliatory response, any response is an exercise in decision-making. Even our basest and seemingly automatic human responses still inextricably involve a series of choices. Do we, in the case of the United States and its allies, respond immediately? Do we confirm, beyond a reasonable doubt, who the terrorists were? Do we retaliate (punish) in a manner that is equal to the initial terrorist act (crime)? Are we also going to sacrifice the lives of innocent civilians in our chosen response? Who is to participate in this retaliatory action? And what range of repercussions may follow from our chosen response?

When deciding among these monumental choices, if we are to have any hope of making good decisions, our elected representatives, and the citizens in whose name they act, must have access to and demand the full range of facts. In order to make good, or truth-based, decisions we require complete and accurate information which is grounded in a broad context that is appreciative of history, the present, and the future. What happened on September 11, 2001 was unspeakably evil and insane. Before we respond to this terrorist act however, we must first ensure that the truth, or at least as full a truth as possible, is provided. In a world where there are enough nuclear warheads to kill all of the world's 6 billion people dozens of times over, nothing less is acceptable.

GETTING TO "WHY?"

In times like these we not only need to work towards understanding what?, who, or how, but if we are truly concerned for future world peace and security, we must ask the most important question: Why? Many pro-democracy advocates (elsewhere referred to as 'anti-globalization protesters') have expressed fear that the new heightened sense of security, augmented by last week's US Congressional approval of $40 billion in new emergency and security spending, will be used to roll back civil liberties and crush out all forms of dissent. The very viewpoints that offer our best hope of eliminating terrorism.

 

Many critics of US foreign policy (both official and clandestine) will be, and have been, quick to conclude that September 11th was simply a case of "Chickens coming home to roost." By this, people will point to a litany of examples of the US role in imposing both incidental terrorism and systemic terrorism on countries - Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, East Timor, El Salvador, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Iran, Iraq, Panama, etc. The US government's own documents, recently declassified and meticulously catalogued by the non-profit National Security Archives (www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv), will serve as a valuable lesson on the real conduct of governments, so often kept from public knowledge. So, people will say that September 11th was, in the minds of the terrorists, a simple act of revenge for previous US government indiscretions. But while this analysis, and the evidence now available, is clearly important, it is still an analysis of a symptom. We must dig down to the roots of the problem.

The deeper and underlying cause of systemic terrorism, and the incidental terrorism that follows from it, is the unjust global economic system that rich Western governments (not just the US) have imposed on the poorer countries and, increasingly so, upon their own citizenry. This global system - from the colonial/mercantile period to its new incarnation of corporate-led globalization - is resulting in a world where an elite few nations and individuals benefit at the expense of an ever increasing number of poorer nations and people. Such an unjust and unsustainable system can only be held together by force (systemic terrorism), and will ceaselessly produce responses (incidental terrorism) to it.

 

In reacting to last week's events Thomas Homer Dixon, Director of the University of Toronto's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, stated "We have to step back and reflect on what's happening in the world that is leading to the kind of tensions that produce this kind of hatred against the west....There are disparities in this world, there are structural problems with the world economy that aren't being addressed. The envy, the frustration, and the anger that arises out of those problems will be directed against us." Homer Dixon goes on to say "We have to remember...this is a very small planet now...they can bring weapons everywhere. And other things like diseases, and pollution flow across boundaries. We have to recognize that the world has changed in a fundamental respect." {CBC Radio 2001}

 

In fact, the US and Canadian government's defense departments also quietly admit (more honestly than our politicians, who keep misleading us into believing that this globalization tide will "raise all boats".) that the present version of unjust corporate-led globalization is, and will continue to be, directly contributing to the escalation of terrorism. In a document entitled Global Trends 2015, jointly researched and produced by the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Intelligence Council, the US intelligence community states that the benefits of globalization "will not be universal. In contrast to the Industrial Revolution, the process of globalization is more compressed. Its evolution will be rocky, marked by chronic financial volatility and a widening economic divide....Regions, countries, and groups feeling left behind will face deepening economic stagnation, political instability, and cultural alienation. They will foster political, ethnic, ideological, and religious extremism, along with the violence that often accompanies it." {Central Intelligence Agency & National Intelligence Council 2001} In a 1999 document entitled Shaping the Future of the Canadian Forces: A Strategy for 2020, Canada's Department of National Defense concludes that "Ethnic unrest, religious extremism and resource disputes will likely remain the main sources of conflict, but environmental degradation and the threat to the nation-state by globalization may arise as new sources....Disparities between the developed and developing nations will remain." {Canadian Department of National Defense 1999}.

 

In 1999, the US Intelligence Community (the Central Intelligence Community, the National Intelligence Council, and the State Department) conducted a workshop entitled Alternative Global Futures: 2000-2015. This think tank-type workshop, couched within the framework of our present version of globalization, yielded four different scenarios or alternative futures. Scenario 1, somehow labeled 'Inclusive Globalization,' represents the best our world could expect. Even within this rosiest of scenarios, however, the US intelligence community holds that while "A virtuous circle develops among...a majority of the world's people," they go onto to say that "A minority of the world's people - in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and the Andean region - do not benefit from these positive changes, and internal conflicts persist in and around those countries left behind." This workshop, and the document that followed from it, then goes on to describe the other 3 scenarios - 'Pernicious Globalization' (Scenario 2), 'Regional Competition' (Scenario 3), and ' Post-Polar World' (Scenario 4) - each of which contain outcomes worse than our best hope of 'Inclusive Globalization.' {Central Intelligence Agency & National Intelligence Council 2001} If Scenario 1 represents the best we can derive from the present bill of goods (corporate-led globalization) our Western politicians keep selling us, it's about time we stopped buying it.

 

It would seem, therefore, that retaliatory responses to incidents of terrorism are simply Band-Aid 'solutions' at best. What is needed to truly "root-out the problem" is to fundamentally alter our disparity-creating and terrorism-producing model of globalization. While not given mainstream media recognition, there are inspiring alternative visions and versions of globalization that are being presented. Forums such as the International Forum on Globalization (www.ifg.org/index.html), the annual World Social Forum (www.forumsocialmundial.org.br/eng/index.asp), and initiatives like the Council of Canadians' Citizens' Agenda (www.canadians.org/actionlink/citizen_agenda.pdf) are expanding our imaginations and our range of possibilities. Collectively these organizations, and their initiatives, are providing blueprints for achieving a 21st century society that is economically sustainable, socially just, and environmentally responsible - a world that both nurtures, and is based on, world peace and security.

 

In the McCarthy era, government officials, and much of the general public for that matter, were jumping over themselves to pin the 'communist' label on anyone who questioned the simplistic and faulty notion of "My country right or wrong." After last week's attacks, there are those in authority and in the public who are eager to usher in a new anti-terrorist era which would see the label 'terrorist' pinned on anyone remotely critical of government actions, or the general state of global affairs. While people in the US, and worldwide, are experiencing incredibly intense and raw feelings of horror, sorrow, fear and anger, this anger is directed, understandably so, towards the perpetrators of this act, and most shamefully and unjustly towards innocent people of colour. This irrational and misplaced fear - towards any and all criticism and against people of colour - must be resisted vehemently and overcome. While the immediate impulse of governments is to put all people under surveillance and suspicion, it is the people themselves who must conjure up the courage and the consciousness to put our governments under the microscope. As our governments represent us in carrying out actions over this critical period, we must become ever vigilant and vocal.

 

INTERRUPTING THE DRUMBEAT FOR WAR

 

We must all realize that during times of would-be war, the full truth is severely bottlenecked. As we all watch, read, and listen to accounts coming from the leading media outlets in our respective countries, we must treat every story as an unconfirmed report. Our news media is, and will likely be for months to come, in the midst of extensive pressure and strategic editing. This editing usually serves to provide a strategic context that is in line with each government's 'national interest'. For example, Canadian viewers were shown repeated video footage of Yasser Arafat giving blood on September 12th, while American viewers were not. Russia has taken the atrocities to justify their own brutal treatment of Chechnya, and Israel has utilized the events to step up attacks against Palestinians. This, while India has used it to condemn its main political rival, Pakistan.

 

Earlier this year it was also revealed - and has since been reluctantly confirmed by CNN's President of News Gathering and International Networks, Eason Jordan - that the US Military's special Psy-ops unit [Psychological Operations Group based in North Carolina] had at least five of its personnnel working at CNN during the Serbia/Kosovo conflict. The Dutch journalist who brought this story to public attention, Abe de Vries, quoted Major Thomas Collins of the US Army Information Service as saying, "Psy-ops personnel, soldiers and officers, have been working in CNN's headquarters in Atlanta through our program, 'Training with Industry.' They worked as regular employees of CNN. Conceivably, they would have worked on stories during the Kosovo war. They helped in the production of news." Devries first became aware of the story by reading a French military newsletter, Intelligence On-line, which detailed Colonel Christopher St. John, commander of the US Army's 4th Psy-ops Group, speaking candidly at a military symposium this past February in Virginia. Intelligence On-line revealed that the colonel was discussing the use of the press in military operations when he stressed that the military needed even "greater cooperation between the armed forces and media giants." While CNN's Jordan claims that the five Psy-ops personnel did not contribute to the production of news, he was forced to admit, however, that they were indeed at CNN [2 in  television, 2 in radio, and 1 in satellite operations), and had only recently been terminated. {Cockburn 2001} One has to wonder, in the aftermath of last week, whether Psy-ops personnel have now been re-deployed.

 

On Friday (September 14) thousands gathered in New York's Union Square to mark the national day of mourning for the victims of the week's terrorism and to criticize plans to deploy massive military action, possibly consisting of tens of thousands of ground troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere. {NYC Indy Media 2001} Yet when this event, and similar gatherings throughout the US, was covered in the mainstream media, the peaceful sentiments of thousands were conveniently edited out. Earlier this year, Pacifica Radio and Democracy Now! journalist Amy Goodman asked CNN's veteran reporter and V.P. of Political Coverage Frank Sesno, the following question. "If you support the practice of putting ex-military men - generals - on the payroll to share their opinion during a time of war, would you also support putting peace activists on the payroll to give a different opinion during a time of war? To be sitting there with the military generals talking about why they feel that war is not appropriate?" Sesno's response - "We bring the generals in because of their expertise in a particular area. We call them analysts. We don't bring them in as advocates." {Cockburn 2001} - helps to explain why there doesn't seem to be any interruptions to the mainstream media's drumbeat for war.

 

Not only is CNN, with its gargantuan reach into over 150 countries, directly influential, but mainstream media outlets (with far fewer news resources) throughout the world follow CNN's lead. Whether it be through the re-airing of video images or the repeating of analysis, CNN's strategic framing of world issues and events is seen, heard and (mis)understood far and wide.

 

Last week, the US Senate voted 98-0 to make $40 billion available to President Bush, and a war resolution which states that "The president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons." It has already been reported that the $40 billion is just the start of an ever-growing war chest. According to Normon Soloman, of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), this resolution has given the Bush administration a "blank check" which will be "payable with vast quantities of human corpses." {Soloman 2001}

 

Since it is no secret that Republican administrations highly favour military solutions over diplomatic ones, we can expect President Bush to do his best to treat this war chest as one without a bottom. In fact, the UK-based investment journal Barrons reported in February of this year that "Defense stocks have surged mightily in the past year, partly on the expectation that the Bush administration would spend lavishly on traditional defense programs." Even though the S&P Index fell by 10%, the average share prices of the Big Five military contractors - Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon - "jumped 46% last year.," upon news of the controversial Bush election victory. Prior to last week, Pentagon spending for the current fiscal year was to total $293 billion, which amounts to roughly 3% of the US economy.{Arvedlund 2001} The $40 billion allotted last week puts the total well over $300 billion, and counting.

 

In an era of mutual-fund-mania, weapons manufacturers aren't the only companies set to profit from increased military spending and new (prolonged) wars. Former Reagan Administration Defense Secretary, Frank Calucci recently became the point man for an investment firm called the Carlyle Group, which specializes in holding stock in the weapons industry. According to Barrons, Carlyle, which has $12.5 billion in its investment portfolio, "boasts in its literature that it has generated annual returns of 34% for the past 10 years." Calucci, whose "plush Pennsylvania Avenue offices...are just a three-buck cab ride from either Capitol Hill or the White House," has regular working lunches with government officials, including the present Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Carlyle, which also has former Prime Minister of Great Britain John Major on its advisory board, was founded by William Conway Jr. in 1987. Conway, lamenting back in February on his firm's predicament, stated "The problem for investors is that it's impossible for President

Bush to fit all current weapons development programs into former President Bill Clinton's defense budget." {McTague 2001} It now seems that this problem has been solved.

 

While the mainstream media were quick to voice their absolute disgust at opportunistic, and small-time, T-shirt vendors in New York City (just days after the terrorist attack), they repeatedly fail to even question the obscene blood-profits made from the weapons industry.

 

In a May 2001 Congressional Statement, and plea for more funding for counter-terrorism measures, entitled the Threat of Terrorism to the United States, the FBI and Department of State list among its terrorism risks what they call "state sponsors of terrorism." Afghanistan aside, this list includes Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Cuba, and North Korea. {Federal Bureau of Investigation 2001} Does this mean the heinous events of September 11th will be used to carry out a "sustained war" against all of these nations? Or perhaps,

'America's New War' effort will be used to justify a concentrated and permanent presence in the Middle East - an area that President Eisenhower called the most "strategically important [i.e., Oil] area in the world." {Chomsky 1996}

 

If retaliation and/or war does occur, which all western governments and their media seem to keep telling us it will "soon," we can be sure of two things. One, is that innocent civilians will die; and two, that the mainstream media will keep the full impact of our actions from our eyes and ears. We need only to look back to the Gulf War travesty of journalism, when NBC journalist John Alpert was blacklisted from US media circles for submitting video footage of US bomb damage to civilians in Iraq. {Hazen & Winokur 1997: 11} Not only would these truth-based images have contradicted the US government's line that the Gulf War was an exercise using 'smart' bombs with surgical precision (of military targets), but it would have injected some much needed sobriety into the popular support for the war.

 

The terrorists of September 11th must indeed be brought to justice. But bringing the world to the brink of World War III, and risking a nuclear holocaust, is not a justified response.

 

TOWARDS WORLD PEACE AND SECURITY

 

In his book Necessary Illusions Noam Chomsky states that "Citizens of democratic societies should undertake a course in intellectual self-defense to protect themselves from manipulation and control and lay the basis for more meaningful democracy." {Chomsky 1989} While this is good advice for citizens at all times, it is especially relevant today. In this regard, people can turn to independent media sources - Democracy Now! (www.democracynow.org), Free Speech Radio News (www.freespeech.org), the Independent Media Centre (www.indymedia.org), Common Dreams News Center (www.commondreams.org), Rabble.ca (www.rabble.ca), The Straight Goods (www.straightgoods.com), the Media Channel (www.mediachannel.org), Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (www.fair.org), the New Internationalist (www.oneworld.org/ni), ZNet (www.zmag.org/ZNET.htm), and the media of countries that might be on the receiving end of a US-led response. These news sources will help us develop a fuller context, and hence, a fuller truth at this crucial time. My earlier warning, to take all media reports with critical grains of salt, also applies to independent media sites (or for that matter, this article). For example, after checking with the original sources of recent, and widely circulating, stories alleging that CNN used old (1991) footage depicting celebratory Palestinians last week, or that the hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93 were American citizens, I found both of these rumors to be baseless.

 

Last week President Bush stated that this "war on terrorism" would be "The First War of the 21st century." This, while NATO invoked, for the first time in its 52-year history, Article V, which effectively means that an act against one NATO nation is an act against all. While some NATO foreign ministers have attempted to deflect the gravity of this resolution, ludicrously stating that it is merely "symbolic", it is in fact a giant step towards world war. Thankfully, there are some NATO allies that have said that they will require solid proof before agreeing to any retaliatory action, and that they will not support an unjustified and overbearing use of force - which would only serve to create that (terrorism) which it is trying to destroy.

 

The 21st century does not belong to our government leaders, nor even to us. This new century, which we are just beginning, belongs to the world's children. Do we want our children, and their children, growing up in a

culture of war? Or do we want them to grow up in what former Secretary General of UNESCO Federico Mayor called a culture of peace. {Goodman Adelson 2000} If we hope to achieve a culture of peace, we will need our mainstream media to create a culture of truth. It's about time that our mainstream media got with the program - the truth program.

 

This most important choice is for each of us to make. We must do all that we can (e.g., call, e-mail, fax, teach, learn, protest) to hold our governments and our media to account. By not taking a stand for peace and restraint today, you are refusing to participate in the most important decision of your life. RNN

 

A Blog for Media Justice, By Paul D. Boin, is jointly sponsored by rabble.ca and the Media Justice Project.(www.MediaJustice.ca)(Follow: @MediatedJustice)

REFERENCES

1. CBC Radio, This Morning, September 13 2001.
2. Central Intelligence Agency and National Intelligence Council, "Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future with Nongovernment Experts," <www.cia.gov/cia/publications/globaltrends2015/index.html>, 2001.
3. Canadian Department of National Defense, "Shaping the Future of the Canadian Forces: A Strategy for 2020," <www.vcds.dnd.ca/cds/strategy2k/intro_e.asp>, June 1999.
4. Alexander Cockburn, Counterpunch March 26 2001, <www.counterpunch.org/cnnpsyops.html>.
5. NYC Indy Media, "Thousands of NYC Mourners Call For Peace," New York City IMC September 15 2001, <www.nyc.indymedia.org>.
6. Cockburn, CNN and Psy-ops.
7. Norman Soloman, "A Unanimous Triumph for Masters of War," <www.fair.org>, September 15 2001.
8. Erin E. Arvedlund, "Starship Troopers: New Weaponry Will Shake up the Defense Industry - and Investors," Barron's, February 12 2001, 23-26.
9. Jim McTague, "Ex-Pentagon Chief Targets Defense Plays," Barron's, February 12 2001, 26.
10. Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Threat of Terrorism to the United States: Congressional Statement," <www.fbi.gov/congress/congress01/freeh051001.htm>, May 10 2001.
11. Noam Chomsky, Powers and Prospects (Boston: South End Press, 1996).
12. Don Hazen and Julie Winokur, We the Media: A Citizen's Guide to Fighting for Media Democracy (New York: The New Press, 1997), 11.
13. Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions: Though Control in Democratic Societies (Boston: South End Press, 1989).
14. Anne Goodman Adelson, "The Culture of Peace and the Evolution of Human Beings" (Toronto, 2000).

 

© Copyright Paul D. Boin, 2001

"That to know and not to act is not to know."
Wang Yang-Ming, Chinese philosopher

A Blog for Media Justice, By Paul D. Boin, is jointly sponsored by rabble.ca and the Media Justice Project.(www.MediaJustice.ca)(Follow: @MediatedJustice)

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