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This war is a failure: the anniversary of September 11 will be remembered with highly charged images, especially those of the grieving families of the victims; what will not be clear is the exploitation of their grief and of our memory of the great atrocity

11 September 2002

The anniversary of September 11 will be remembered with highly charged images, especially those of the grieving families of the victims.

The respect and sympathy owed to these suffering people will, or ought to be, unqualified and universal. That much is clear.

What will not be clear is the exploitation of their grief and of our memory of the great atrocity.

This may well be used as a means of distracting us from understanding the iniquitous behaviour of the Bush and Blair governments as they go about their current war plans and their dismantling of social democracy.

"I have directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and bring them to justice," said George W Bush on the night of September 11.

That was the first big lie.

What Bush dared not tell Americans was that his and the previous Clinton administration knew that al-Qaeda, an organisation spawned in an American client state, Saudi Arabia, was planning to attack America.

For example, in January 2000, the Central Intelligence Agency was told that a crucial meeting would take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at which al-Qaeda strategists discussed a series of operations, including the successful attack on American warship, the USS Cole, in Yemen.

Two of the men at this meeting, the CIA now admits, were almost certainly those who hijacked the American Airlines flight 77 and crashed it into the Pentagon on September 11. Using Saudi passports, the men had flown into Los Angeles and begun training for the attacks of September 11. At the same time, the FBI was aware of the trainers of other hijackers almost under their noses. One dutiful agent sent a report to his superiors in Washington. It was ignored.

"There is no question that if we had moved," an FBI official said recently, "we could have tied all 19 hijackers together."

Since then, the "full resources" of America's 13 competing intelligence agencies have failed to secure the arrest and conviction of a single person in connection with September 11.

Not a single leading member of al Qaeda has been captured or confirmed as killed.

None of the 22 men on the "Terrorists Wanted" poster produced by Bush with much fanfare, has been sighted, and not a penny of the 320million reward money has been claimed. As failures, the enormity of this has few historical equals.

Yet, the heads of the two principal agencies, the CIA and the FBI, have not been sacked or forced to resign, or shamed by the Congress.

Both agencies have long served as little more than Washington cash cows, with the CIA concentrating on secret, illegal activities, such as the overthrow of foreign governments and the manipulation of the drugs trade. The top jobs invariably go to what they call "friends of the company".

In order to justify their nepotism and now their criminal negligence, the FBI has enthusiastically swept up hundreds of innocent people, or those against whom they have insufficient evidence. Muslims have borne the brunt of this, "the guys with beards" as they are called. More than 1200 people have "disappeared", as people do under Latin American military regimes.

Farce has been close by. When 63-year-old Barry Reingold complained at his local gym in San Francisco that "this war is not about getting terrorists; it's also about money and corporate profits" - a pretty accurate analysis - he was visited at home by FBI agents, who interrogated him on his political views.

Other FBI sleuths "investigated" a college student in North Carolina who had displayed an "anti-American" poster. (The poster criticised Bush's support for the death penalty when he was governor of Texas).

Under the Patriot Act, which a supine Congress rushed through for Bush and effectively suspends the Bill of Rights, the FBI has the right to search the databases of public libraries and see what people are reading. Universities are told on the quiet to report outspoken students and their teachers. The connection has been spelt out - dissent, far from being a democratic right, is now part of an overall "security problem."

As in the 50s, at the height of America's paranoia about communists, the Justice Department recently urged people to spy on neighbours and friends and report "patterns of suspicious activity".

With rare black humour, Congressman Denis Kucinich of Ohio remarked: "It appears we are being transformed from an information society to an informant society. Do the maths. One tip a day per person and within a year the whole country will be turned in, and we can put up a big fence around America, and we'll be safe."

This nonsense has crossed the Atlantic unhindered. In the weeks following September 11, Scotland Yard was sent on a number of FBI-inspired missions which, as one police officer remarked: "Made us look bloody ridiculous."

The most notorious of these was the case of Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian- born pilot who, according to the FBI, had taught several of the September 11 hijackers to fly. The FBI claimed to have a videotape of Raissi with one of the hijackers. The man turned out to be his innocent cousin. A Bow Street magistrate threw out the American request for extradition.

The harassment of Muslims in Britain by the police and MI5 reached such a point that last month Home Secretary David Blunkett was forced to apologise to Muslim leaders for indiscriminate arrests of people based "documents" found in Afghanistan and which turned out to be mostly false or irrelevant.

The arrests are often conducted with accompanying American-style drama.

A computer analyst in Bradford told the Daily Telegraph: "They (the police) appeared at my desk with the managing director and made sure those sitting close to me could hear what was going on. What sort of future have I got in this company after being linked with Islamic terrorism even though the allegations were rubbish?" These are the ordinary people who have to bear the brunt of the incompetence of corrupt American institutions (and their willing British servants), which failed to protect their own people from what was probably the most advertised act of terrorism in modern times.

Since then, rather than a pursuit of justice, conducted professionally, injustice has reached epidemic proportions.

Among the 598 people being detained without charge at "Camp X Ray" on Cuba, 13 are Britons. According to an FBI official speaking privately, "only one of these guys is a genuine suspect". The Blair government is aware of this, yet says nothing about the mistreatment of British citizens.

In this country, David Blunkett, having first tried to force through too many repressive measures for Parliament to swallow at once, secured the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act, which allows unaccountable detention similar to that in America. Of 150 people arrested since September 11, only 10 await trial and none has been convicted.

Most are still in prison, their release date uncertain. These are our "disappeared".

The human rights solicitor Gareth Peirce described, "their bitterness at both the unfairness of the accusation, their frustration at their inability to combat such vague allegations". I've interviewed lawyers representing people held in dictatorships who have said almost identical words.

Most of those held are from the Asian community, which, believe many British Asians, raises the question of the disguised racism of this government. They say that when the Home Secretary is confident enough to abuse publicly those who speak up for Muslims attacked by racists as "bleeding heart liberals", the mask slips.

Abroad, the great crime of last September has been exploited most acutely in the use of violence against innocent people by the Bush and Blair governments. Up to 5,000 people were bombed to death by the Americans in Afghanistan, according to a University of New Hampshire study. These included 150 people killed at two engage-ment parties in Oruzgan and 69 people killed at prayer in a mosque in Kabul.

Hospitals and villages, which were not in Taliban areas, were destroyed. Professor Marc Herold, who conducted the probe, says they were not mistakes.

In a documentary film, Massacre at Mazar, the Irish film-maker Jamie Doran has assembled powerful evidence that 4,000 surrendered men were murdered in cold blood by the forces of Rashid Dostum, a leading member of the so-called Northern Alliance, a favourite of the Americans and now Afghanistan's deputy foreign minister.

The men were packed in sealed containers and taken to Shoberghan prison, which was under US control. They were murdered, say witnesses, and buried in the desert with the knowledge and complicity of up to 40 American special forces soldiers, including officers.

One witness, a truck driver, said he and others were forced to take hundreds of the men, many of whom were still alive, into the desert.

"Some of them were not fighters at all," said Doran, "but they were rounded up because of their ethnicity and were packed into the containers and stuck on the back of lorries.

"Many of them were left sealed in the heat. Another witness, a taxi driver stopped at a petrol station, said he smelt something awful.

"The guy from the petrol station said, `Look at that container parked behind you'. Blood and goo were leaking out of the container."

The United Nations and Physicians for Human Rights have found mass graves in the area. The Pentagon denies the allegations.

Doran is worried that, with no independent investigators on the scent, the graves will be tampered with, and the evidence destroyed.

If this gruesome story is half-true, its crime ranks with some of the worst of the post-Second World War period. But who will investigate? Such is the post-September 11 power of the United States across those parts of the world it considers its property that the United Nations has virtually no authority to intercede.

It makes all sense, from the point of view of the Bush gang, that they oppose the establishment of an International Criminal Court. They wisely remember Nuremberg. For the rest of us, the lesson of September 11 ought to be understanding the rampant nature of the dominant power in the world, of which the Blair government has made itself a part.

There is a threat to ordinary lives - people in aircraft, people going about their everyday routine - from Islamic extremism; that has been demonstrated. However, what is not generally known in the West is that numerically the longest suffering victims of terrorism are Muslims themselves; and that the far greater threat comes not from the Islamic world, but from the West.

Take two examples. In Palestine, the American-underwritten Israeli state has brutalised the Palestinian people for more than half a century. In Iraq, the US-driven embargo on civilian life in that country (and which has strengthened the tyranny of Saddam Hussein) has, according to two American researchers, caused the deaths of more people "than have been slain by all so-called weapons of mass destruction throughout history".

Extremism is not a word we like to associate with our own societies. But what is at work in the world now is Western, specifically American extremism, attended by British courtiers.

The extremism of the Bush gang is a matter of record since September 11. Bush's declared intention to attack Iraq (undoubtedly with weapons of mass destruction, like "bunker bombs" and depleted uranium) has been compared by the historian Correlli Barnett with the "tone and language used by an earlier leader hard at work stoking up a needless international crisis - Adolf Hitler in September 1938".

Indeed, Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and the rest are now so extreme that the likes of Henry Kissinger and "Stormin" Norman Schwarzkopf oppose their plans, along with almost all the leaders of humanity.

But not Britain's Tony Blair. This puzzles some people. How can this polite, church-going Englishman be called an extremist? A chameleon yes, an opportunist surely; but an extremist? By his own actions, the Prime Minister is probably the most ideological leader this country has had in the modern era. It is the ideology of an insidious totalitarianism, devoted to the rapacity of a rigged market and the militarism of the imperial overlord, though with the face of democracy and cultural freedom.

Blair's friends are the far right in the European Union, such as Berlusconi in Italy, who governs in alliance with crypto fascists. His closest friends are the Christian fundamentalists running the unelected government in Washington and who recognise in Blair a kindred spirit, and a useful one. He, after all, is their "coalition."

In 1917, in the great slaughter called the First World War, the great American sage Mark Twain described how the seduction into extremism worked. "Next," he wrote, "the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception."

In denying the pursuit of true justice to the families of the victims of September 11, in smashing the lives of thousands of innocent people in faraway dusty villages, in threatening the world with "endless war in order to protect the homeland," as Bush put it, the polite grey-suited extremists in Washington and London are creating more extremists on the other side of a divide of their own making.

In so doing, they endanger all of us. And they should be disowned by us, regardless of their democratic trappings. The difficult truth is that Osama bin Laden and Bush/Blair are two sides of the same coin. That is the lesson of September 11.

John Pilger © John Pilger

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