Ignoring Post-9/11 Deaths of Innocents

On Sunday, amid tearful remembrances of 9/11, the U.S. news media avoided any serious criticism of how the U.S. government responded to the attacks with 10 years of slaughter that has left hundreds of thousands dead, the vast majority having had nothing to do with al-Qaeda. Gareth Porter looks at the reasons for this oversight.

By Gareth Porter

In the commentary on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the news and infotainment media predictably framed the discussion by the question of how successful the CIA and the military have been in destroying al Qaeda. 

Absent from the torrent of opinion and analysis was any mention of how the U.S. military occupation of Muslim lands and wars which continue to kill Muslim civilians fuel jihadist sentiment that will keep the threat of terrorism high for many years to come.

The failure to have that discussion is not an accident. In December 2007, at a conference in Washington, D.C. on al Qaeda, former State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin offered a laundry list of things the United States could do to reduce the threat from al Qaeda.

But he said nothing about the most important thing to be done: pledging to the Islamic world that the United States would pull its military forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq and end its warfare against those in Islamic countries resisting U.S. military presence. 

During the coffee break, I asked him whether that item shouldn’t have been on his list.

“You’re right,” he answered.  And then he added, “But we can’t do that.”

“Why not,” I asked. 

“Because,” he said, “we would have to tell the families of the soldiers who have died in those wars that their loved ones died in vain.”

His explanation was obviously bogus. But in agreeing that America’s continuing wars actually increase the risk of terrorism against the United States, Benjamin was merely reflecting the conclusions that the intelligence and counter-terrorism communities had already reached.   

The National Intelligence Estimate on “Trends in Global Terrorism” issued in April 2006 concluded that the war in Iraq was “breeding deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim World and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.”

It found that “activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.” And in a prophetic warning, it said “the operational threat from self-radicalized cells will grow in importance particularly abroad but also at home.” 

Given the way intelligence assessments get watered down as they ascend the hierarchy of officials, these were remarkably alarming conclusions about the peril that U.S. occupation of Iraq posed to the United States.  

And that alarm was shared by at least some counter-terrorism officials as well.  Robert Grenier, who had been head of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center in 2005-06, was quoted in the July 25, 2007 Los Angeles Times as saying the war “has convinced many Muslims that the United States is the enemy of Islam and is attacking Muslims, and they have become jihadists as a result of their experience in Iraq.”

As the war in Iraq wound down, the U.S. war in Afghanistan — especially the war being waged by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) — was generating more hatred for the United States. 

As JSOC scaled up its “night raids” in Afghanistan, it didn’t get the right person in more than 50 percent of the raids, as even senior commanders in JSOC recently admitted to the Washington Post. That indicated that a very large proportion of those killed and detained were innocent civilians. Not surprisingly, the populations of entire districts and provinces were enraged by those raids.   

If there is one place on earth where it is obviously irrational to antagonize the male population on a long-term basis, it is the Pashtun region that straddles Afghanistan and Pakistan, with its tribal culture of honor and revenge for the killing of family and friends.    

Meanwhile, after fleeing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in 2001, al Qaeda had rebuilt a large network of Pashtun militants in the Pashtun northwest.

As the murdered Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad recounted in Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, President Pervez Musharraf, under pressure from Washington, began in 2003 to use the Pakistani army to try to destroy the remnants of al Qaeda by force with helicopter strikes and ground forces. 

But instead of crushing al Qaeda, those operations further radicalized the population of those al Qaeda base areas, by convincing them that the Pakistani government and army was merely a tool of U.S. control.  

Frustrated by the failure of Musharraf to finish off al Qaeda and by the swift rise of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, the Bush administration launched a drone war that killed large numbers of civilians  in northwest Pakistan.  

An opinion survey by New American Foundation in the region last year found that 77 percent believed the real purpose of the U.S. “war on terror” is to “weaken and divide the Muslim world” and to “ensure American domination.” 

And more than two-thirds of the entire population of Pakistan view the United States as the enemy, not as a friend, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

The CIA and the Bush and Obama administrations understood that drone strikes could never end the threat of terrorist plots in Pakistan, as outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden had told the incoming President, according to Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars

And if Obama administration didn’t understand then that the drone war was stoking popular anger at the government and the United States, it certainly does now. Former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair has pointed out that “hatred of America is increasing in Pakistan” because of the drone strikes.

Yet the night raids and the drone strikes continue, as though the risk of widespread and intense anger toward the United States in those countries doesn’t make any difference to the policymakers. 

There is only one way to understand this conundrum: there are winners and losers in the “war on terrorism.” Ordinary Americans are clearly the losers, and the institutions and leaders of the military, the Pentagon and the CIA and their political and corporate allies are the winners. They have accumulated enormous resources and power in a collapsing economy and society.   

They are not going to do anything about the increased risk to Americans from the hatred their wars have provoked until they are forced to do so by a combination of resistance from people within those countries and an unprecedented rebellion by millions of Americans. It’s long past time to start organizing that rebellion.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.

7 comments for “Ignoring Post-9/11 Deaths of Innocents

  1. John Gerard
    September 14, 2011 at 18:38

    I’ve heard it claimed many times that Islamic terrorism is like the IRA on steroids. It’s a neat way of putting it, it sounds good, and on the face of it seems plausible. But consider this. The IRA were a political group, with a political aim, and a politically negotiable position. Political grievances drove their terrorism.

    The role that religion played in northern irish terrorism was as a polariser, a recruiting sergeant. Whatever religion you were determined what side you took irrespective of an objective analysis of the facts. You’re catholic, you’re on that side – you’re protestant, you’re on that side. But politics drove the actors.

    With Islamic terrorism, the opposite is the case – political grievances are the polarising, emotive recruitment sergeant as we’ve seen and continue to do so. The war in Afghanistan, invasion of Iraq, the so-called “Palestinians” versus Israel, or any number of western foreign policy gripes straight off the shelf. Take your pick. One’s as good as the other.

    The driver, however, is religion. This is the rational side of Islamic terrorism. The fudamental reason for Jihad is simply that they are religiously compeled to do so. It says so in Islamic doctrine itself. It is God’s command that they wage war against the non-Islamic world. And that word is perfect and unalterable. That makes it totally non-negotiable. How can you negotiate away the word of God? It’s as simple as that. Those who say we must negotiate with the terrorists don’t know what they are talking about; they’re fools, doomed to fail. Islamic doctrine itself says this is how it works. Let me tell you how ‘negotiation’ with Islam works. The non-Islamic side makes concessions in the interests of consensus, and the Islamic side does not. Islam keeps coming back for more and more concessions until it has everything it wants. It does this because this is what Mohammed did. All muslims must follow the example of Mohammed. Mohammed got everything he demanded eventually. When he died, there was not one person left in the Arabian peninsula who disagreed with him. This is because they had either fled, become slaves, or he had killed them – and he mostly killed them. This is the result of ‘negotiation’ with Islam. Islam is perfect, and has nothing to gain from the non-Islamic world. Why would they make concessions with the non-Islamic world, which is imperfect? When Islamic doctrine contains all the answers to every question imaginable – the sum total of man’s knowledge bestowed upon him by Allah? That would be irrational. Islamic doctrine is simple, and very easy to understand. It’s well written, coherent and logical. I would even go so far as to say it’s the most rational of the major faiths. It’s so simple that an eight year old goat herder from Afghanistan can understand it, or an illiterate farmhand from upper Egypt. But it seems that western policy makers, Ivy league or Oxbridge to a man, cannot. They presume that Islam is analagous with the western way of thinking, that it plays by the same set of rules as we do. It doesn’t. It’s a totally different civilization.

    Islam does not need western foreign policy to build a case against the non-Islamic world. Islam has its own reasons for despising the non-Islamic world. It made its case 1400 years ago before the idea of the west, let alone the actual west, ever existed. 1400 years before there were any American “boots on the ground” in any muslim countries. 1400 years before anyone thought of the phrase “western foreign policy”, much less carried it out. And it’s solely because we are not muslims. The case against the non-Islamic world has never changed, and never will. The case is already perfect, as it is written in Islamic doctrine itself. There’s nothing to add to it.

    Islam is a totalitarian, military/political ideology with religious components. At the Monday night poker game in hell between Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Lenin and Mussolini, they’re slapping their foreheads saying “OF COURSE! Make it a religion! That’s it!”. That was Mohammed’s genius.

    The purpose of Islam is to anihilate non-Islamic culture and replace it with Islamic culture wherever it finds it. It’s been doing this successfully for 1400 years in an endless war of anihilation against many religions and cultures. And it will continue until Islam dominates. For the last 328 years, the non-Islamic world has been too strong for it, and it has retreated under a ‘hudna’ or Islamic ceasefire. The purpose of a hudna is for Islam to lie low until it feels it is strong enough to take on the Kafirs again.

    It has correctly calculated that time is now.

    • B Caracciolo
      September 18, 2011 at 15:22

      You are wrong. Right off the bat you show just how wrong by describing jihad as the Quranic instruction to rid the world faiths other than Islam. Too bad you wasted so much psycho-babble on this. Apparently the twisted kool-aid tasted especially good to you.

      • John Gerard
        September 19, 2011 at 07:48

        Heh, heh. Spoken like a true multiculturalist who knows nothing about Islam. But then, mutlticulturalists don’t know anything about any culture do you? You simply have to approve of them, don’t you? You’ll be telling me it’s all America’s fault next! What, do you believe what some friendly muslim next door tells you about Islam? Or the NYT? Or some tenured professor? outstanding. I suggest you read the Koran, Hadith and Sira. How about reading the actual text itself? You will learn things you clearly don’t know. Islam is a total doddle to understand, so don’t be scared, now. There’s no excuse. You can get it on Amazon.

        No psychobable needed, my friend. It’s all there in black and white, plain as day – or do you not like facts? Sorry to burst open your cosy intellectual world where The West is the root of all problems. I realise it’s very comforting for you to think Islam isn’t a problem. It means you don’t have to do anything about it. Just carry on as normal.

        But it’s not your fault, so I don’t blame you. Read the Islamic doctrine itself, or continue to mug yourself off.

  2. September 13, 2011 at 10:13

    I am reply to your recent article by Gareth Porter and his mention of the Pluto Books Ltd, title on Al Quaeda by Syed Saleem Shahzad. It might be that you need a formal, committed, International Book publisher, if so come back to me.
    my best
    Roger van ~Zwanenberg

  3. John Partington
    September 12, 2011 at 17:33

    Americans remember 9/11 and yet many are oblivious to the death and destruction to others which followed. And Palestinians had their equivalent, when America did nothing. Forgotten is the fact that Palestinians in the Lebanese refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982 lost 3,000 citizens (1,500 definitely slain and 1,500 still missing), women, children and old men. Sharon had falsely informed his murderous Christian Phalange allies that Palestinians had murdered their leader prior to letting this brutal lot enter the unprotected camps. Some Israeli soldiers had informed senior staff what they heard the Phalange planned to do, or eye witnessed what was going on, but nobody higher up did anything, and Sharon had disappeared. For two days the massacre continued, with Israeli trucks being used to remove bodies.
    And then there is the case of the IRA bombing attempt on Margaret Thatcher in England. The U.S. still refused to clamp down on funding and arms export to the IRA, predominantly from New York after Thatcher asked and yet we are asked in return to 9/11 to do so much.
    Perhaps an underground war based on intelligence could have had a more positive outcome against al Qaeda than fighting amidst a plethora of family or tribal groups in a country not experienced in democracy.
    Tragically 9/11 happened but Americans must realise they are part and parcel of this world and have to get on with others. Oceans and stable neighbours no longer allow for isolationism or bullying.

  4. Ethan Allen
    September 12, 2011 at 15:47

    Gareth Porter enunciates a succinct and cogent synopsis of both the underlying cause and aftermath of “9/11”. The closing two paragraphs of his narrative, however, appear to parse what he construes as a “winners and losers” “conundrum” into a mix of ill-defined generalization and rhetorical abstraction, culminating in a call for popular “rebellion”. Any such “rebellion”, should it actually become organized or, more importantly, have a chance for success, would have to be informed by less timid expression of both the depth and degree of political and economic malfeasance at the core of this murderous decade. Sadly, amongst the American citizenry, it is the United States citizens that are more commonly uninformed and misinformed on these matters; and it is their Progressive intellectuals and activists that have yet to understand that continuing to sacrifice unvarnished truth on the alter of political correctness is not the language of honest “rebellion”.

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