Restore Liberty, Peace

Don't kid yourself. The terrorists won.

Their assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon stopped the most powerful nation in the world in its tracks. They provoked us into a reaction against Arabs which showed our much-vaunted liberties to be hollow. And they made al-Qaeda a symbol for the struggle against western-oriented Islamic regimes around the world.

Osama bin Laden and his pals could not have succeeded without George W. Bush, who first stupidly called for a "crusade" against the terrorists, with all the history that word packs for Muslims. Then he pushed the draconian 342-page USA PATRIOT Act through Congress to give government agencies sweeping new powers to snoop and detain troublemakers.

Bush declared war on terrorism, but after giving the Afghan Northern Alliance the air support it needed to overwhelm the Taliban, he chose not to honor the rules of war in the treatment of its prisoners. Nor did he choose to follow the rules of criminal law and allow the prisoners due process of US courts. Instead, taking a page from the old Soviet Union's playbook, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld set up a gulag in Guantanamo for foreign prisoners while Attorney General John Ashcroft declared that US citizens suspected of consorting with terrorists would be held incommunicado in military brigs until he decided what to do with them. The government has rounded up hundreds of Arab immigrants, detained them without charges, closed once-public immigration hearings and encouraged bureaucrats to resist public records requests.

Some federal district courts have upheld constitutional rights, only to have their orders stayed by appeals courts. Whether the US Supreme Court will uphold the Bill of Rights remains to be seen, but Chief Justice Rehnquist has indicated he'll give the administration leeway in "time of war."

As if to endorse the loss of liberty for the sake of presumed security, the First Amendment Center and American Journalism Review in polling this past summer found that for the first time almost half of those surveyed said the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees. About 49% said we have too much freedom, up from 39% last year and 22% in 2000. The least popular First Amendment right is freedom of the press, with 42% saying the US press has too much freedom, roughly the same level as last year. (See www.freedomforum.org.)

At the same time, in the span of a year, Dubya has wasted the worldwide sympathy generated by the 9/11 attacks. As his approval numbers settle back down from a high of more than 90% last fall to the mid-60s and the electorate starts getting impatient about the lack of progress on al-Qaeda and the economy, Bush says "Let's start another war!" And the rest of the world says, "Huh?"

As we go to press Bush plans to make his pitch for the United Nations to endorse his plans to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. Bush is said to have "solid evidence" that Saddam is seeking weapons of mass destruction to persuade the other nations of the world to join the alliance with the USA.

Pardon our skepticism. The buildup to war with Iraq occurs as the US economy continues to deteriorate, corporations beat back efforts to reform and hold them accountable and US troops are unable to find neither hide nor hair of Osama bin Laden in or around Afghanistan. Islamic fundamentalists are settling in for a guerrilla war to retake Afghanistan, or at least make it ungovernable. In Pakistan, which certainly has nuclear weapons and was prepared to toss a few at India a few months ago in their dispute over Kashmir, we support a dictator rather than risk a fundamentalist Islamic takeover. In the "Holy Land," Bush supports a right-wing Israeli government's efforts to crush the Palestinian Authority. That fuels resentment against the US in surrounding Arab nations of the Mideast. None of them want an intervention in Iraq. Yet Bush decided that in this most volatile region in the world the USA will go in single-handedly, if necessary, to take out Saddam Hussein.

Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor reminds us that bad intelligence or outright disinformation often is used to justify war, and the previous Bush administration has a record of playing fast and loose with the facts to steer public opinion. For example, Peterson wrote, during the buildup to the first Persian Gulf war in 1990, George H.W. Bush's administration cited top-secret satellite images that reportedly showed 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks on the border, threatening to roll into Saudi Arabia, as a justification for the intervention. But when the St. Petersburg, Fla., Times acquired commercial Soviet satellite images of the same area, taken at the same time, no Iraqi troops were visible near the Saudi border -&endash; just empty desert. "It was a pretty serious fib," said Jean Heller, the Times journalist who broke the story. Three times Heller contacted the office of then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney for evidence refuting the Times photos or analysis. The official response: "Trust us." To this day, the Pentagon photographs of the Iraqi troop buildup remain classified.

You also may recall the tearful testimony of a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl who told a Congress members how, as a volunteer in a Kuwait maternity ward, she had seen Iraqi troops storm her hospital, steal the incubators, and leave 312 babies "on the cold floor to die." President George I invoked the incident five times, saying that such "ghastly atrocities" were like "Hitler revisited." Later, it was learned that the girl was in fact the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to Washington and had no connection to the Kuwait hospital. She had been coached &endash;- along with others who would "corroborate" the story &endash;- by senior executives of the Hill and Knowlton PR firm in Washington, which had a contract worth more than $10 million with the Kuwaitis to make the case for war.

"This administration is capable of any lie ... in order to advance its war goal in Iraq," a US government source in Washington with two decades of experience in intelligence told Peterson. "It is one of the reasons it doesn't want to have UN weapons inspectors go back in, because they might actually show that the probability of Iraq having [threatening illicit weapons] is much lower than they want us to believe."

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was determined to strike at Iraq within a few hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon. According to CBS News, Rumsfeld told his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq -- even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks. As evidence pointed toward bin Laden, Rumsfeld ordered the military to begin working on strike plans. Notes taken by aides who were with Rumsfeld in the National Military Command Center on Sept. 11 quote Rumsfeld as saying he wanted "best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H." &endash; meaning Saddam Hussein &endash; "at same time. Not only UBL" &endash; the initials used to identify Osama bin Laden. Nearly one year later, there is still very little evidence Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, CBS's David Martin noted. But that apparently didn't matter to Rumsfeld. "Go massive," the notes quote him as saying. "Sweep it all up. Things related and not."

Chris Matthews is giving up his column with the San Francisco Chronicle to become a TV gasbag full-time, but in his final column Sept. 1 he closed with this statement: "I hate this war that's coming in Iraq. I don't think we'll be proud of it. Oppose this war because it will create a millennium of hatred and the suicidal terrorism that comes with it. You talk about Bush trying to avenge his father. What about the tens of millions of Arab sons who will want to finish a fight we start next spring in Baghdad?"

We agree. Iraq is an oilfield to Bush, nothing more. We fight terrorism by supporting freedom -- not just oil companies -- but with an Iran-leaning majority in Iraq the CIA would never risk a free election there. So tell Saddam that his next adventure will be his last, but until his neighbors are willing to gang up on him, leave Iraq alone and let's find Osama instead. -- JMC

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