Democratic Underground

Eating The Sword
October 31, 2001
by William Rivers Pitt

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"Pointed threats they bluff with scorn Suicide remarks are torn From the fool's gold mouthpiece The hollow horn plays wasted words Proves to warn That he not busy being born Is busy dying."

- Bob Dylan

On every car and every porch flutters an American flag, symbol of pride and strength for the people of this nation. Bumper stickers make declarations of unity, and lapel pins speak wordlessly for citizens who still weep at the thought of the dead and the lost. As the sun prepares to set on the second month of this war, however, it is becoming clear that those symbols, so proudly displayed, represent a nation racing towards ignominious defeat.

We are losing this war, not because of the actions of a clever enemy, but because of dangerously poor leadership in Washington D.C. As William Shakespeare said, "When valour preys on reason, it eats the sword it fights with." There is little reason for the actions George Bush's government has taken to date, valorous or otherwise. In the end, we may all be forced to eat the sword he is wielding in so cumbersome a fashion.

In the newest barrage of attacks upon Afghanistan, errant U.S. munitions struck yet another civilian village. Eight members of a family were wiped off the face of the earth while gathered at the breakfast table. The mother, lone survivor of the attack, was quoted by BBC reporters: "What shall I do now? Look at their savageness. They killed all of my children and husband."

This is but one instance of the ravaging effect of this war upon non-combatants in the region. United Nations relief workers are anticipating between 300,000 and one million refugees coming to them in dire straits as the winter begins to wind a death shroud around the country. These relief workers are helpless before the tide, trapped by the knowledge that they will be unable to do much of anything to prevent massive death and misery in the coming weeks.

Beyond the toll this horror will inevitably take upon the soul of this nation, the tactical outlook is bleak. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his generals have expressed surprise at the resilience and strength of the Taliban warriors who have been the main focus of our attacks. The fact that history has time and again proven Afghan warriors to be quite good at defeating foreign invaders while fighting barefoot in the snow apparently has made no purchase within the Pentagon.

Rumsfeld and his warriors have taken great pains to inform the Afghan populace that this war is not being waged against them. This message is blunted by an effective Taliban propaganda campaign that uses deaths like those described above to good effect. Many fighters in Pakistan do not even need to hear well-crafted messages within the media. They can look across the border to Afghanistan and see the thousands of civilians living in filth after fleeing the bombs.

10,000 Pakistani warriors have left their homes to join the Taliban forces. Armed with Klasnikov rifles, rocket launchers, missiles, grenades, anti-aircraft guns and even swords, members of a militant group called Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi have surged across the border and headed for Kabul. Joining their ranks are some 4,000 ordinary villagers who volunteered for duty.

This is the nightmare scenario, one whose rise was all too apparent. Every time we kill a civilian, every time we level a house, every time we strike terror into the innocents in Afghanistan and cause them to flee into misery and death, we give birth to new warriors for the Jihad. Every one of these new volunteers must be killed, according to the Bush battle plan, and their deaths will give rise to more and more warriors seeking revenge for a lost loved one.

The Greeks feared the Hydra for a reason. Every time one head was cut off, another rose snarling in its place. We are creating, every day, more enemies who will die in the fight against us. It is clear that the order of battle, comprised in haste and fear by the Bush administration, is not only failing to defeat the chosen foe, but is in fact making the task more difficult by orders of magnitude.

Even more disquieting is the waning moon, sign that the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is fast approaching. Our propaganda has failed to sway nations already hardened in hatred against us. Rumsfeld and Bush now seem prepared to continue the bombing right through this holy season. The wrath and vitriol aimed at us thus far will pale in comparison to what will come if we defile these sacred days. The ranks of the Taliban and Al Qaeda will swell yet again with men who become convinced by our actions that this is, in fact, a war against Islam itself.

Amazingly, the failures of leadership in Washington are even more evident on the home front. The administration, in concert with the CDC, decided to publicly play down the threat of anthrax contamination, despite the fact that a virulent strain made its way through the postal service to Senator Daschle's office. Two dead mailmen later, we see the result of this folly.

The envelope to Daschle was passed through the mail system, apparently spraying spores in all directions. Rather than rush to determine the scope of contamination possible when anthrax is passed through a major mail processing system, we were told to hush, relax, be at ease, shop. Mail carriers were specifically told there was no danger. The administration's priorities – calm and soothe before investigation and fact – are clearly not effective when facing a genuine threat. One wonders how far the contamination spread because of these priorities.

One wonders how well they will handle an attack with an agent like smallpox, which is decidedly more deadly and difficult to contain. Thus far, the actions of this administration do not bring a sense of safety and security. That in itself is a terrible defeat, one that is sure to be magnified if another attack does come.

In the rush to determine who is responsible for these anthrax attacks, administration officials have been quick to suggest that Iraq is a likely suspect. Certainly, the biological weapons program of that nation is of great concern, and the possibility that they or another nation might have had a hand in this attack. Focusing on that one possibility alone, however, may cause Federal investigators to miss what appears to be the most likely set of suspects: home-grown American extremists on the far Right.

The letters mailed to Daschle and to broadcaster Tom Brokaw were dated September 11th but mailed many days later, an apparently craven attempt to link their attack to the airplane bombers. The date itself is written in the American style, 9-11-01, rather than the European/Arabic fashion, 11-9-01. The handwriting on the letters slope from left to right; an individual schooled in the Arabic style would have handwriting that sloped from right to left.

The extreme American Right, represented by groups like the National Alliance, the Army of God, and the Aryan Nation, have long coveted biological weapons of mass destruction. Survivalist militiaman and microbiologist Larry Wayne Harris successfully placed an order for Yersinia pestis, the organism that causes bubonic plague, in 1995. Members of a group called the Minnesota Patriots Council were arrested in 1994 for making the toxin ricin. There are many examples of these groups making, or trying to make, weapons like anthrax.

These groups have greeted the attacks of September 11th with what can only be described as savage glee. Fearful of a Zionist world conspiracy, as hateful towards American multiculturalism as the narrowest fundamentalist Muslim cleric, many of these groups have decided that the enemy of their enemy is their friend. It is not so far out of bounds to believe that one group may have gone beyond angry rhetoric to action.

130 family planning clinics across the country, including Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation, received threatening letters that contained an unidentified powder during the week of October 15th. Several of the letters mentioned the Army of God, a virulent anti-abortion group that actively espouses the killing of doctors who provide abortions.

According to Attorney General Ashcroft, any act that threatens the use of anthrax shall be considered terrorism, and shall be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Clinics where women go for prenatal care and gynecological exams, as well as for abortions, received 130 of these threats. This is by far the largest terrorist act to take place in this country since September 11th. Despite his words, no action has been taken by Ashcroft to determine who is responsible, nor has the media reported on it at all.

Senator Barbara Boxer was forced to write Ashcroft a public letter demanding an investigation into these attacks. The fact that such a demand even needed to be made is a colossal failure, and quite possibly an indication of the true mindset of Ashcroft's Justice Department. Mr. Ashcroft is a known opponent of abortion, and has displayed in several publications his affinity for causes and ideals shared by many extreme right groups.

If his political predilections distract him from instigating an investigation into groups that could well be responsible for the anthrax threats leveled at Washington and these clinics, a deadly enemy within will be allowed to range about unpunished and unrestrained. It is difficult to imagine a worse failure.

Yet imagination is a terrible thing, especially when its darkest forebodings burst forth into reality. Calls for unity from the Republican leadership, in concert with an effort to quash any questions about their handling of this crisis, may shatter under the weight of their own hypocrisy. Partisanship must be laid aside, we are told, and the Democratic party has surged en masse to salute this ideal. They bear throats begging to be slashed by GOP profiteers who are too happy to wield the knife.

Bush and his allies in the House have passed a $100 billion 'stimulus package' that was wrapped securely in the flag and soaked with patriotic rhetoric. The package is needed, we are told, to bolster a weak economy further damaged by the September 11th attack. The fine print of this bill reveals it to be nothing more than the second half of a financial windfall promised to Bush's corporate campaign backers.

Only 30% of the money earmarked for this bill will go to individuals. The rest of the money is being delivered to General Motors, IBM, and scores of other corporations who were fairing well in the new economic climate. The effect of this stimulus plan will be felt most acutely by individual states, who will lose billions of dollars in tax revenue because of it. How this will generate an economic revival is a mystery, and a betrayal of all the states-rights arguments we have heard from the GOP for generations.

In fact, this package is nothing more than compensation to corporations and their lobbyists who supported Bush's enormous and irresponsible $1.35 tax cut bill last winter. That bill did not do for these corporations what they wanted, and they are being rewarded for their patience with this one. This has nothing to do with patriotism, national defense, or the revival of the economy. This is old-school patronage passed under the veil of national mourning, and it is a travesty.

This from the people who held up the defense appropriations bill in the Senate last week in an attempt to force the Democrats to accept right-wing judicial nominations. The attempt failed, as will many aspects of this stimulus bill once it reaches Daschle's desk. The very idea that such attempts are being made is nauseating, and dangerous. If our political unity in the face of this terrorist threat is shattered by the greed of the GOP, the nation's safety will be imperiled even further.

Speaking of imperiled safety, Bush and friends don't want airline security jobs to become Federally-controlled, because doing so would swell the ranks of the unions. This is, like the stimulus package, a partisan decision that affects the safety and well-being of millions of Americans. Federalized airport security teams would receive better training and pay, and would go a long way towards defending the country against attacks like those that came September 11th.

In Bush's mind, however, more people carrying union cards are a greater threat to America than airborne bombs made of jet fuel and people. Better to keep them free of union entanglements. Better to have people guarding our lives who would, in the words of Democrat Max Cleland, see a job at a fast food restaurant as a promotion.

In one wretched way, the terrorists have already won. The anti-terrorism bill that was recently passed under the horribly ironic euphemism of PATRIOT gives unprecedented access to personal phone calls and electronic messages to both the FBI and CIA. Warrants no longer shall require that a person is notified if his home and belongings are searched by Federal investigators. This brazen violation of privacy rights is something called a "sneak and peek" provision, codified in section 213 of the bill, and is in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The anti-terrorism bill deserves a close read by every American, for within it lies the death and destruction of so much we hold dear. In many ways, the bill marks the end of freedom and democracy in this country. We are no longer secure in thought, word and deed. Our homes are open to invasion and search without notification. Our email and internet habits are fodder for clandestine tapping.

We are losing this war. Our bombs in Afghanistan are not bringing to justice those who perpetrated the acts of September 11th, and are creating more enemies who will fight to see us die. We are stumbling about like fools trying to deal with the threat of anthrax while mailmen die and viable suspects evade investigation. Our tax dollars, vitally needed to defend the economy and the country, are being spent to reward corporations for their support of the GOP agenda. Our airports remain sieves through which more deadly threats may pour unchecked. Our homes and private communications are made of glass.

There is no guarantee that we will win this fight, no guarantee that our dead will be avenged by the steady hand of justice. If matters continue as the have to this point, we are sure to be defeated. The potential of the next American century, so bright a year ago, will fall to dust. Our children will never know the rights we so freely took for granted. Our dead will rest uneasily.

Elections matter.

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US bomb kills 10 in Kabul (BBC)

TNSM supporters head for Kabul (Dawn Newsgroups)

Playing Down Anthrax Risk Has Cost Us (Los Angeles Times)

U.S. fringe groups praising terrorist actions (Chicago Tribune)

Letter from Senator Boxer to Attorney General Ashcroft (Truthout)

An Economic Stimulus Bill With Corporations in Mind (New York Times)

Safeguard the sky (San Diego Union Tribune)

Cyber-liberties swept away by tidal wave of security concerns (MSNBC)