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IUK: How can the US bomb this tragic people?
By Robert Fisk
29/9/2001 3:29 am Sat
23 September 2001
Robert Fisk: How can the US bomb this tragic people?
We are witnessing this weekend one of the most epic events since
the Second World War, certainly since Vietnam. I am not talking
about the ruins of the World Trade Centre in New York and the
grotesque physical scenes which we watched on 11 September,
an atrocity which I described last week as a crime against
humanity (of which more later). No, I am referring to the
extraordinary, almost unbelievable preparations now under way for
the most powerful nation ever to have existed on God's Earth to
bomb the most devastated, ravaged, starvation-haunted and tragic
country in the world. Afghanistan, raped and eviscerated by the
Russian army for 10 years, abandoned by its friends - us, of
course - once the Russians had fled, is about to be attacked by
the surviving superpower.
I watch these events with incredulity, not least because I was a
witness to the Russian invasion and occupation. How they fought
for us, those Afghans, how they believed our word. How they
trusted President Carter when he promised the West's support. I
even met the CIA spook in Peshawar, brandishing the identity
papers of a Soviet pilot, shot down with one of our missiles -
which had been scooped from the wreckage of his Mig. "Poor
guy," the CIA man said, before showing us a movie about GIs
zapping the Vietcong in his private cinema. And yes, I remember
what the Soviet officers told me after arresting me at Salang. They
were performing their international duty in Afghanistan, they told
me. They were "punishing the terrorists" who wished to overthrow
the (communist) Afghan government and destroy its people. Sound
I was working for The Times in 1980, and just south of Kabul I
picked up a very disturbing story. A group of religious mujahedin
fighters had attacked a school because the communist regime had
forced girls to be educated alongside boys. So they had bombed
the school, murdered the head teacher's wife and cut off her
husband's head. It was all true. But when The Times ran the story,
the Foreign Office complained to the foreign desk that my report
gave support to the Russians. Of course. Because the Afghan
fighters were the good guys. Because Osama bin Laden was a
good guy. Charles Douglas-Home, then editor of The Times would
always insist that Afghan guerrillas were called "freedom fighters"
in the headline. There was nothing you couldn't do with words.
And so it is today. President Bush now threatens the obscurantist,
ignorant, super-conservative Taliban with the same punishment as
he intends to mete out to bin Laden. Bush originally talked about
"justice and punishment" and about "bringing to justice" the
perpetrators of the atrocities. But he's not sending policemen to the
Middle East; he's sending B-52s. And F-16s and AWACS planes
and Apache helicopters. We are not going to arrest bin Laden. We
are going to destroy him. And that's fine if he's the guilty man. But
B-52s don't discriminate between men wearing turbans, or
between men and women or women and children.
I wrote last week about the culture of censorship which is now to
smother us, and of the personal attacks which any journalist
questioning the roots of this crisis endures. Last week, in a national
European newspaper, I got a new and revealing example of what
this means. I was accused of being anti-American and then
informed that anti-Americanism was akin to anti-Semitism. You get
the point, of course. I'm not really sure what anti-Americanism is.
But criticising the United States is now to be the moral equivalent
of Jew-hating. It's OK to write headlines about "Islamic terror" or
my favourite French example "God's madmen", but it's definitely
out of bounds to ask why the United States is loathed by so many
Arab Muslims in the Middle East. We can give the murderers a
Muslim identity: we can finger the Middle East for the crime - but
we may not suggest any reasons for the crime.
But let's go back to that word justice. Re-watching that
pornography of mass-murder in New York, there must be many
people who share my view that this was a crime against humanity.
More than 6,000 dead; that's a Srebrenica of a slaughter. Even the
Serbs spared most of the women and children when they killed
their menfolk. The dead of Srebrenica deserve - and are getting -
international justice at the Hague. So surely what we need is an
International Criminal Court to deal with the sorts of killer who
devastated New York on 11 September. Yet "crime against
humanity" is not a phrase we are hearing from the Americans.
They prefer "terrorist atrocity", which is slightly less powerful. Why,
I wonder? Because to speak of a terrorist crime against humanity
would be a tautology. Or because the US is against international
justice. Or because it specifically opposed the creation of an
international court on the grounds that its own citizens may one
day be arraigned in front of it.
The problem is that America wants its own version of justice, a
concept rooted, it seems, in the Wild West and Hollywood's
version of the Second World War. President Bush speaks of
smoking them out, of the old posters that once graced Dodge City:
"Wanted, Dead or Alive". Tony Blair now tells us that we must
stand by America as America stood by us in the Second World
War. Yes, it's true that America helped us liberate Western Europe.
But in both world wars, the US chose to intervene after only a long
and - in the case of the Second World War - very profitable
period of neutrality.
Don't the dead of Manhattan deserve better than this? It's less than
three years since we launched a 200-Cruise missile attack on Iraq
for throwing out the UN arms inspectors. Needless to say, nothing
was achieved. More Iraqis were killed, and the UN inspectors
never got back, and sanctions continued, and Iraqi children
continued to die. No policy, no perspective. Action, not words.
And that's where we are today. Instead of helping Afghanistan,
instead of pouring our aid into that country 10 years ago,
rebuilding its cities and culture and creating a new political centre
that would go beyond tribalism, we left it to rot. Sarajevo would be
rebuilt. Not Kabul. Democracy, of a kind, could be set up in
Bosnia. Not in Afghanistan. Schools could be reopened in Tuzla
and Travnik. Not in Jaladabad. When the Taliban arrived, stringing
up every opponent, chopping off the arms of thieves, stoning
women for adultery, the United States regarded this dreadful outfit
as a force for stability after the years of anarchy.
Bush's threats have effectively forced the evacuation of every
Western aid worker. Already, Afghans are dying because of their
absence. Drought and starvation go on killing millions - I mean
millions - and between 20 and 25 Afghans are blown up every
day by the 10 million mines the Russians left behind. Of course,
the Russians never went back to clear the mines. I suppose those
B-52 bombs will explode a few of them. But that'll be the only
humanitarian work we're likely to see in the near future.
Look at the most startling image of all this past week. Pakistan has
closed its border with Afghanistan. So has Iran. The Afghans are to
stay in their prison. Unless they make it through Pakistan and wash
up on the beaches of France or the waters of Australia or climb
through the Channel Tunnel or hijack a plane to Britain to face the
wrath of our Home Secretary. In which case, they must be sent
back, returned, refused entry. It's a truly terrible irony that the only
man we would be interested in receiving from Afghanistan is the
man we are told is the evil genius behind the greatest
mass-murder in American history: bin Laden. The others can stay
at home and die.