What Americans need to know about the president's 'crusade'
Mainstream journalists in the United States often function more like a fourth branch of government than a feisty fourth estate.
Since the tragic events of Sept. 11, the separation between press and state has dwindled nearly to the vanishing point. If we had an aggressive, independent press corps, our national conversation about the terrorist attacks that demolished the World Trade Center towers in New York and damaged the Pentagon would be far more probing and informative.
Here are some examples of questions that reporters ought to be asking President Bush:
1. Before the attacks in New York and Washington, your administration quietly tolerated Saudi Arabian and Pakistani military and financial aid for the Taliban regime, even though it harbored terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. But now you say fighting terrorism will be the main focus of your administration. By making counter-terrorism the top priority in bilateral relations, aren't you signaling to abusive governments in Sudan, Indonesia, Turkey and elsewhere that they need not worry much about their human rights performance as long as they join America's anti-terrorist crusade? Will you condone, for example, the brutalization of Chechnya in exchange for Russian participation in the "war against terrorism"?
2. Four months ago, U.S. officials announced that Washington was giving $43 million to the Taliban for its role in reducing the cultivation of opium poppies, despite the Taliban's heinous human rights record and its sheltering of Islamic terrorists of many nationalities. Doesn't this make the U.S. government guilty of supporting a country that harbors terrorists? Do you think your obsession with the "war on drugs" has distorted U.S. foreign policy in Southwest Asia and other regions?
3. According to U.S., German, and Russian intelligence sources, Osama bin Laden's operatives have been trying to acquire enriched uranium and other weapons-grade radioactive materials for a nuclear bomb. There are reports that in 1993 bin Laden's well-financed organization tried to buy enriched uranium from poorly maintained Russian facilities that lacked sufficient controls. Why has your administration proposed cutting funds for a program to help safeguard nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union?
4. On Sept. 23, you announced plans to make public a detailed analysis of the evidence gathered by U.S intelligence and police agencies, which proves that Osama bin Laden and his cohorts are guilty of the terrorist attacks in New York and the Pentagon. But the next day your administration backpedaled. "As we look through [the evidence]," explained Secretary of State Colin Powell, "we can find areas that are unclassified and it will allow us to share this information with the public. ... But most of it is classified."
Please explain this sudden flip-flop. How can we believe what you say about fighting terrorism if your administration can't make its case publicly with sufficient evidence?
5. Exactly who is a terrorist, and who is not? When the CIA was busy doling out an estimated $2 billion to support the Afghan mujahadeen in the 1980s, Osama bin Laden and his colleagues were hailed as anti-communist freedom fighters. During the Cold War, U.S. national security strategists, many of whom are riding top saddle once again in your administration, didn't view bin Laden's fanatical religious beliefs as diametrically opposed to Western civilization. But now bin Laden and his ilk are unabashed terrorists.
Before he became vice president, Dick Cheney and the U.S. State Department denounced Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress, as a terrorist. Today Mandela, South Africa's president emeritus, is considered a great and dignified statesman. And what about Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who bears significant responsibility for the 1982 massacre of 1,800 innocents at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. What role will Sharon play in your crusade against international terrorism?
6. John Negroponte, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, says he intends to build an international anti-terrorist coalition. During the mid-1980s, Negroponte was involved in covering up right-wing death squad activity and other human rights abuses in Honduras when he served as ambassador to that country. Doesn't Negroponte's role in aiding and abetting state terrorism in Central America undermine the moral authority of the United States as it embarks upon a crusade against international terrorism?
7. What will you accomplish if you bomb Afghanistan? Wouldn't this galvanize Islamic fundamentalist movements that are already powerful in Algeria, Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan, the oil-rich Arab monarchies and the Balkans? Wouldn't a U.S.-led military onslaught against Afghanistan be the fastest way to create a new generation of terrorists?
Adept at manipulating real grievances, terrorist networks breed on poverty, despair and social injustice. Do you think you can wipe out or even reduce this scourge, Mr. President, without seriously and systematically addressing the root causes of terrorism?
Martin A. Lee is the author of Acid Dreams and The Beast Reawakens. This piece first appeared on AlterNet. You can contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.??