by John Hawkins | January 13, 2005 12:29 am
The Los Angeles Times’ Robert Scheer thinks the global threat posed by al Qaeda is just a figment of our overactive imaginations. To back up his assertions, he relies on a documentary aired on the BBC:
“The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear,” a three-hour historical film by Adam Curtis recently aired by the British Broadcasting Corp., argues coherently that much of what we have been told about the threat of international terrorism “is a fantasy that has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It is a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services and the international media.”
So what “facts” do this ground-breaking documentary put forward to support the thesis that al Qaeda does not pose the global threat we think it is?
“If Osama bin Laden does, in fact, head a vast international terrorist organization with trained operatives in more than 40 countries, as claimed by Bush, why, despite torture of prisoners, has this administration failed to produce hard evidence of it?”
President Bush isn’t the only one claiming al Qaeda is a global threat. The United Nations also supports this claim, as does France, Germany, Britain, Israel, Russia, China, NATO and a host of domestic and international security experts. What exactly is the hard evidence he seeks? There is evidence, if he took time to read the 9-11 Commission Report. Much of the background information is taken from interrogations from Hambali, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and others. These men are al Qaeda terrorists with global ties in South East Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa and the United States. Perhaps he would have liked these terrorists (or are they just suspects to Mr. Scheer?) to be physically brought before the 9-11 Commission to testify in person?
Some other “hard evidence” exists of al Qaeda’s global reach. He should review al Qaeda’s attacks on 9-11, Madrid, Beslan, Bali, Jakarta, Iraq, the USS Cole in Yemen, the US Embassies in Kenya & Tanzania, the attacks on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the ongoing attacks by al Qaeda in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan…just for starters. Simply plotting these attacks on a world map will demonstrate the global reach of al Qaeda.
“How can it be that in Britain since 9/11, 664 people have been detained on suspicion of terrorism but only 17 have been found guilty, most of them with no connection to Islamist groups and none who were proven members of Al Qaeda?”
Prosecutions in terrorism cases are difficult to obtain in a court of law due to the high standards of evidence required for a conviction. Evidence in terrorism cases is often inadmissible in domestic courts due to the methods used by intelligence agencies to obtain the information. Intelligence gathering is a secretive business by it very nature, and exposing information from ongoing interrogations is dangerous business, as it can threaten ongoing investigations, operations, agents and methods. Intelligence agencies do not like to divulge information due to risks of operational security, and leaks can be very damaging. An example of the risk of using intelligence in domestic trials was the release of information in a federal case that US was tracking satellite phones of al Qaeda members. This alerted terrorists to methods of monitoring and forced them to change their methods of communication, harming future intelligence operations. In the case of Britain, there are documented reasons for the low number of convictions: problems with existing British laws, police and prosecutors “hamstrung” by laws and the harsh criticism of the detention of foreign suspects. As far as “none who were proven members of Al Qaeda” goes, perhaps Mr. Scheer would like for al Qaeda member to carry al Qaeda registration cards so we can easily confirm their identity. The very nature of al Qaeda and its organization of the International Islamic Front are designed to obscure the identity of its members.
“Why have we heard so much frightening talk about “dirty bombs” when experts say it is panic rather than radioactivity that would kill people?”
The threat from a “dirty bomb” – a radiological bomb – is not the immediate loss of life (except for those in close proximity of the detonation), but the inevitable contamination caused by its detonation. Large areas of cities could be “rendered uninhabitable” until the costly cleanup is completed and those exposed to radiological materials can have long term health problems. Dirty bombs are true terror weapons with serious psychological, physiological, economic and ecological impact that Mr. Scheer should intuitively understand but conveniently ignores.
“Why did Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claim on “Meet the Press” in 2001 that Al Qaeda controlled massive high-tech cave complexes in Afghanistan, when British and U.S. military forces later found no such thing?”
Because there were advanced cave systems that were discovered after the fall of the Taliban. The media ran extensive reports on this, based on the failures of the Soviets to root out Afghan fighters and items were found in caves after battles in Afghanistan, which included stockpiles of ammunition, food, water, communications equipment, weapons, vehicles, fuel and even tanks. Perhaps these caves were not sophisticated enough for Mr. Scheer.
Mr. Scheer concludes by stating the threat posed by al Qaeda is intentionally exaggerated by the U.S. government and refers to the tired “military-industrial complex” conspiracy theory – that the government and industry seek and maintain perpetual war for profit. (Note: a military-industrial complex does exist, but the motives attributed to it by antiwar activists do not.)
“Everything we know comes from two sides that both have a great stake in exaggerating the threat posed by Al Qaeda: the terrorists themselves and the military and intelligence agencies that have a vested interest in maintaining the facade of an overwhelmingly dangerous enemy.
Such a state of national ignorance about an endless war is, as “The Power of Nightmares” makes clear, simply unacceptable in a functioning democracy.”
Democrats try to comfort themselves by claiming the views of those like Mr. Scheer are on the fringe, but the reality is Mr. Scheer’s views are main stream within the party. Over the past year we have seen the respect given to Michael Moore and the willingness of Democratic candidates to embrace his rhetoric, the rejection of serious pro-war candidate Senator Lieberman and the ascendancy of antiwar candicates John Kerry, Wesley Clark and Howard Dean in the Democratic primaries, the embrace of antiwar groups such as Moveon.org, the reelection of Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, a willingness to refer to American soldiers as torturers by the likes of Senator Kennedy, the grilling of Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales over “torture” by Democratic Senators, and the excitement over Howard Dean’s intention to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and much more. This does not bode well for a party that aspires to regain power during a time of war.
There is no serious debate in the Democratic Party on how to fight the war on terror. When The New Republic’s editor Peter Beinart attempted to stimulate a discussion on the Democrat’s weakness in fighting terrorism and the need to shed the support of antiwar groups like Moveon.org, he was shouted down by the likes of Eric Alterman as a Neoconservative imperialistic stooge.
If the Democrats want to be serious about this war and enter into an honest debate about fighting terrorism, they should resoundingly denounce the rantings of Mr. Scheer and the pervasive conspiracy theories repeated by many of its party leaders and activists. So far, there is no indication they have the courage, will, desire or inclination to do this. Until the Democratic Party decides to distance themselves from the powerful, vocal and conspiracy-minded antiwar wing, they should get used to living in the political wilderness.
Content used with the permission of Bill Roggio from The Fourth Rail. You can read more of his work by clicking here.
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