Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Non-Talking Head

The NYTimes reported that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was assassinated yesterday in Eastern Africa. Mohammed was the "mastermind" of the American Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. He was apparently killed "in a late-night shootout at a security checkpoint in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, Somali and American officials said Saturday" (NYTImes). There can be little doubt that his death was "a significant blow to al-Qaeda, its extremist allies, and its operations in East Africa," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is reported as saying, (The Sydney Morning Herald). 

Is this a significant blow to Al Qaeda in Africa? How do we know? 

It would seem that every week, for the past four of five weeks, that there has been headline news posted that the U.S. has found and assassinated yet another head of Al Qaeda in another sector of the world. Since Al Qaeda is the sworn enemy of the United States and the originators of the 9/11 attacks, it would seem that we have had a good run, as of late of finding and removing threats to the United States national security. Or are we?

Last week, it was reported that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was reported assassinated by an air raid in Baghdad last week. The news of the assassination was followed by a brief description of just how bad this guy was and what "a blow this would be to Al Qaeda" to borrow a line from Secretary Clinton. The news of his death was shown with his "head shot," as though to prove that he existed and that the showing of his face would confirm his identity for affirm that "he had it coming," as though these guys are the boogie man.

I have three specific problems with this narrative from our military, led by the CIA. One would be that we are only hearing about the search for these Al Qaeda leaders after the fact that they have been assassinated. We looked for Osama Bin Laden for ten years before we found him and that was with teams of special forces searching every nook and cave in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan. But now, we are finding Al Qaeda leaders on a weekly basis? That doesn't add up for me. In retrospect, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list before his assassination, so we have to assume that they had good intelligence on him that he was in fact involved in the embassy bombings in 1998. The problem is, that we have had "good intelligence" on some other "key Al Qaeda figures" that turned out to be wrong. And, there have been a couple of books written by very informed authors that referring to Al Qaeda as a single, structured, top-down organization is a fallacy. These authors say that Al Qaeda is more akin to "a group of fans of a professional sports team"(my analogy, not theirs). And that taking out "the head of the Philadelphia Eagles fans" with a mug shot of some dude with green and white face paint would make a compelling image and narrative,(again - my analogy, not theirs) but would be far from accurate. This is what I mean when we say that we took out the "mastermind" of Al Qaeda in Mogadishu or Baghdad. These guys might not have any education, special training or resources to speak of. And just because you take out the head in charge of that sect for now, doesn't mean that another one won't step up and take his place. It makes for great headlines in the media, but may not be entirely true.

Secondly, would be our newly adapted "kill/capture" method of rounding up terrorist targets. PBS Frontline ran an episode recently, showing that the raid on Bin Laden's compound was a "kill/capture" mission, with an emphasis on kill. It has been my understanding that we are a country based on laws and ethics and that if these men really are guilty of charges against the United States that they should be detained, arraigned, tried and imprisoned for their activities. But, dead men don't talk or proclaim their innocence or insight further violence against the United States, so I guess it is just easier to silence them once and for all. According to Frontline and The National Journal, the Joint Special Operations Command or JSOC has killed or captured  12,000 Taliban and Al Qaeda figures. 12,000! How do we all know that they were legit targets? Not hundreds, but thousands of them? Which leads me to my third point.

I wrote in another blog entry earlier this week that it would seem that the purpose of our Pentagon and our Industrial-Military complex is to keep our military services deployed infinitely. If that is even remotely true, then that would seem to be working pretty well for our current "war on terror" which will have no end. And even as the war in Afghanistan becomes less and less popular with the American people, the Afghans are growing tired of it as well. According to a BBC poll:
"Forty-seven per cent (of Aghans) have a favorable opinion of the United States as a whole – down from 83% in 2005 and 65% in 2007. And only 38% have a favorable view of Britain – a fall from 49% a year ago" (BBC)
And while it is reported by the BBC that Afghans see "political corruption" as their primary obstacle to growth and sustainability, they have become disillusioned by the prospect. 8,000 Afghani citizens have been killed in the past four years.  According to the UK news paper, The Guardian, "The Taliban and other anti-government elements have been blamed for 2,080 civilians who were killed in Afghanistan last year - a sharp rise of 28% on 2009. This accounted for 75% of all deaths whereas pro-government forces totaled 440 civilian killings" (Guardian). That means that the Taliban has inadvertently killed more of their own people by a wide margin than the coalition forces has. But, that might be cold comfort considering that the public opinion of U.S. and allied forces is growing dimmer, the longer that we stay in the conflict.

It is also easy to focus on Afghanistan, from our perspective, because it is "kind of" going well. Remember Iraq? Remember that one time? Although our occupation of Iraq has been deemed "non-combat" we still have 50,000 troops in the country conducting operations. What is more troubling, possibly so, is that according to Iraq Body Count's analysis of the Wikileak's war logs, somewhere between 101,000 - 110,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the beginning of the Iraq war. And again, while the filings show that many of those civilian deaths were caused by in-fighting between Muslim sects and Saddam Military Regime, the perception might now wash out that we over time. We can only hope that as time passes that we will be seen as "liberators" as President Bush prescribed. The problem is that we won't be the ones writing the Iraqi history books - they will. 

I hope and prey that the U.S. intelligence community and our military leaders are doing everything that they can to protect our country by whatever means at their disposal, within the limits of the law. But I also believe what Thomas Jefferson said, that "an informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will." We cannot rely on a BTW, after-the-fact, need to know, did you get the memo policy of informing us that the military has assassinated a target on foreign soil "on our behalf." That should never fly in this country. 

I don't think that we, the people, need to be privy of all things top secret. I do believe that if we were to alert the bad guys that we are coming for them that they will bolt. But, that is no excuse for poor interest on our part of what our military is doing and how they are doing it. I do not endorse our kill/capture policy by any means. You cannot convince me that we had our eye on 12,000 individual targets across the globe, and that they all "had it coming."

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