The political psychotics were infused with new energy from the sparks given off at the 9/11 commission hearings. The stories about how George W. Bush was behind the destruction of the World Trade Center were themselves recirculated by the ardent nut cases who take nothing at face value. But then, these days you can mouth any kind of craziness between commercials on TV as long as you do it with your clothes half off.
The idea that a President, even this miserable excuse for one, would cause to have the Pentagon attacked flies in the face of perhaps the one constant in history, which is that the king never knowingly diminishes his own power. Nevertheless, 60 years ago much the same was said of Franklin Roosevelt. It was whispered that he had connived in some way to have the Pacific fleet sunk at Pearl Harbor.
Even if the men in the White House had nothing to do with the attacks, Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center do have at least one thing in common: They were both surprise attacks, and in both instances those charged with the responsibility of defending against such surprises failed. The excuses given are similar: It was inconceivable that the Japanese could successfully mount such an attack, and who in their wildest imagination could have guessed that the Arabs were smart enough or gutsy enough to convert passenger airliners into flying megabombs?
The 9/11 failure, which has cost the lives of thousands of people both on the day of the airliner attack and in the subsequent fighting around the globe, is chalked up to such items as the inability to “connect the dots,” intelligence “stovepipes,” interagency rivalries and feuds, lack of coordination, too little money/too much money/too much money improperly spent, poor communications, computers that couldn’t talk to each other, people on the wrong radio frequencies, and on and on and on.
One element is never mentioned-not, I suspect, because American officials are suppressing it, but because it has not occurred to them. That element is contempt for the enemy.
Without a doubt, contempt of the enemy played a part in the American defeat at Pearl Harbor. The accounts of the days and the hours leading up to the bombing of Battleship Row by the Imperial Japanese Navy reveal a relaxed attitude by the higher-ups in the American military. They didn’t take the “Japs” seriously, regarding them as an inferior lot afflicted with buck teeth, bow legs and a penchant for sneaking around posing as tourists, clicking off pictures of American inventions and then going back to Tokyo to make inferior copies thereof.
Although the military and political history of the Far East over the previous 50 years should have made it clear that Japan was a force to be taken seriously, it didn’t. Underlying all the other factors that contributed to the Pearl Harbor disaster was a disdain for the short, bandy-legged “Nips,” a disdain which robbed those in command of the sine qua for effective defense: a respect for the putative enemy and the damage they might do.
Since many officials high up in the American government consider Arabs little better than animals, the chances that they could imagine any kind of successful attack being launched by the Muslims were extremely small. If the word “animal” strikes you as over the top, please consider the following Reuters dispatch from mid-June: “The U.S. general in charge of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was told by a military intelligence commander that detainees should be treated like dogs.”
The cages at Guantánamo Bay’s Camp X-Ray look like dog runs. This less-than-elevated view of Arabs isn’t held only by the American military: Our Israeli comrades-in-arms are famous for their conviction that Arabs are slightly subhuman. But beyond what soldiers may think, the public air in the United States is saturated with contempt for all things Arabian. Arab and Muslim culture are routinely scored off as backward, mired in the Middle Ages, hidebound, rigid, dogmatic, intolerant, woman-oppressing and inflexibly unable to rise to the standards of the 21st (or even the 20th) century.
The low opinion of Arabs is reflected in the conduct of the Americans who ran the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Like the British Raj in India, the Americans have chosen to have as little contact as possible with the people they have been rulingÊin the past year. If that seems something of an exaggeration, consider the following from The Washington Post :
“Life inside the high-security Green Zone-what some CPA staffers jokingly call the Emerald City-bears little resemblance to that in the rest of Baghdad. The power is always on. Shiny shuttle buses zip passengers around. Outdoor cafes stay open late into the night. There is little effort to comply with Islamic traditions. Beer flows freely at restaurants. Women walk around in shorts. Bacon cheeseburgers are on the CPA’s lunch menu.
“‘It’s like a different planet,’ said an Iraqi American who has a senior position in the CPA and lives in the Green Zone but regularly ventures out to see relatives. ‘It’s cut off from the real Iraq.’”
If Arabs in general and Iraqis in particular are an inferior species, then “aggressive interrogation techniques,” as Americans say-or “torture,” as non-Americans call it-are permissible. The Iraqis are not subject to the same rules because they are not people in the sense that you and I are people. If they were, they would fight fair, which they don’t, and the laws and standards which apply in our conduct toward our fellow human beings do not apply to Arab dogs.
This principle was enunciated by John Yoo, a former Justice Department official who is a professor of law at the University of California in Berkeley. “This is an unprecedented conflict with a completely new form of enemy that fights in unconventional ways that violate the very core principles of the laws of war by targeting civilians,” he wrote. Only a law professor could be as wrong on the facts and the conclusions. It follows from Mr. Yoo’s premise that if the Arabs had jet airplanes, smart bombs and wore uniforms, it would be against his rules to torture them.
But since these camel jockeys do not own the tools of civilized warfare, under Yoo’s Rules questioning them by use of what we will call innovative inquisitorial strategies isn’t torture. To be guilty of torture, the torturer must have “specific intent,” which he does not have even if he “knows that severe pain will result from his actions, if causing such harm is not his objective …. ” Mr. Yoo and his colleagues make other distinctions, such as: Pulling out two fingernails is O.K., three is borderline excessive, and four might be considered cruelty by an animal-control officer, so be careful.
For C.I.A. agents, military intelligence officers or Department of Justice inquisitors who may be puzzled as to how far to go, do not consult the Geneva Conventions or any other international agreements which, according to the Yoo school of jurisprudence, are null, void and nonapplicable. Just Google up the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and be guided by what the ASPCA has to say about the treatment of Arabs.
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