Robert Fisk :
The Independent,March 7, 2002
America's Morality Has Been Distorted by September 11
In Afghan fields, the poppies blow. Yes, even as the Americans are moving
deeper into the Afghan trap, the warlords and gangsters running much of
the western-supported Afghan government are ensuring a bumper new crop
of heroin for the world's markets.
The UN have warned of this, of course, but nothing is being done. The "war against terror" comes first. The broken roads and highways of Afghanistan are now ribbons of anarchy and brigandage and murder across the country. The pathetic little force of peace-keepers in Kabul cannot control all of the capital, let alone the rest of the country. The Interim President, Hamid Karzai, can scarcely control the street outside his office. But the "war against terror" comes first.
Locked into their "war against terror" – and now discovering that their enemies want to fight them – the Americans remain equally indolent when confronted by the infinitely more dangerous conflict 2,000 miles to the west of Kabul, in the streets of Jerusalem, Ramallah, Tel Aviv, Nablus, Jenin and Gaza. When the Israeli army goes on a shooting spree in the refugee camps and kills 16 Palestinians, among them two children, the US calls for "restraint". When a Palestinian suicide bomber murders a crowd of Israelis in Jerusalem, including two babies and a 10-year old, the US boldly blames Yasser Arafat for not "stopping terrorism" by locking up the bad guys. And Ariel Sharon? Why, he's busy destroying the police stations and prisons to make sure Mr Arafat can't do what he's been ordered to do.
And when Mr Sharon actually announces that Israel must "inflict greater losses" – in other words, kill more Palestinians – Washington is silent. Maybe it's not indolence. Maybe the Bush administration actually believes that the man held "personally responsible" by an Israeli commission of inquiry for the murder of 1,700 Palestinian civilians in Beirut in 1982 really is fighting America's "war on terror". Maybe America's moral compass has become so skewed by the crimes against humanity on 11 September that President Bush simply no longer cares what Mr Sharon does.
It's as if all the lessons of history – in Afghanistan as well as the Middle East – have been tossed into a bin. Take ex-President Clinton. He arrives in Israel and what does he do? He blames Mr Arafat. And what does his preposterous wife say when she does the same thing? "Yasser Arafat bears the responsibility for the violence that has occurred; it rests on his shoulders ..." She says that her role as a US Senator is "to support the Israeli people". Really? What's wrong with supporting innocent Palestinians as well? Wrong religion? Back-to-front writing? Wrong eye color?
So a war against colonial occupation has been transformed into an offshoot of the "war on terror", the language of this war ever more infantile. We now have to learn by rote the following words: tit-for-tat, cycle-of-violence, axis of evil, bunker-buster, daisy-cutter ... Is there no end to this childishness? No, there is not. For the latest little killer is the word "transfer" or "resettlement". As in "the simple answer... would be to create a vast separation from Israel, resettling the Palestinians in Jordan, where 80 per cent of the population is Palestinian." This comes from an article published in USA Today. In Israel itself, an opinion poll asks Israelis how many of them would support "transfer" – of Arabs out of their homes, of course, not Jewish settlers off Arab land – as a solution to the war.
This is incredible. "Transfer" is ethnic cleansing and ethnic cleansing is a war crime. If American newspapers are prepared to print such an option and if Israelis are asked to give their opinion on it, what is Mr Milosevic doing in The Hague? The moral collapse is already underway. Take the watering down of the US government's latest report on human rights. In 2000, it said that Egypt's hopelessly unfair military courts "do not ensure civilian defendants due process before an independent tribunal". In the 2001 report, however, that sentence has been censored out. It has to be, of course, because Mr Bush is now setting up his own military courts to try his prisoners at Guantanamo Bay without due process.
And while the Americans are distorting the nature of the war between Israel and the Palestinians, they are lying about Afghanistan. General Tommy Franks, the head of the US Central Command, refers in the following words to the mistaken killing of 16 innocent Afghans at Hazar Qadam: "I will not characterize it as a failure of any type." Sorry? Either General Franks – who on Tuesday managed to refer to his newly killed soldiers as dying "in Vietnam" – didn't read the facts or he is a very disreputable man.
His boss, Donald Rumsfeld, refuses to use the word "mistake" or even "investigation" after thousands of innocent Afghans died under US bombs because the word "sometimes has the implication of more formality or a disciplinary action". When Washington's top military men are so dishonest, is it any surprise that Israeli tanks can open fire on refugee camps without any serious response from the US or blast cars carrying children because they want to kill their father?
It is surely time that Europe became involved. It is surely time that the EU held a summit about these terrible conflicts and involved itself directly. We should be expanding the peace force in Kabul to remove the weapons of Afghanistan and let America move into the swamp of semi- occupation and guerrilla warfare if that is what it wishes. We should be asking Israel to repay the €17.29m (£10.5m) of European taxpayers' money that has been destroyed by the Israeli army in its vandalization of EU-funded Palestinian infrastructure.
Since the Americans won't talk to Yasser Arafat, we should take over from them. If Washington is too slovenly to halt this terrible war between Arab and Israeli, we must try to do so. We're asked to fund America's bankrupt policies with our euros. So now it's time to demand that we have a say in them. Instead of that, Downing Street, which over Christmas castigated those journalists who predicted chaos and blood in Afghanistan – myself included, I'm glad to say – feeds Mr Bush's fantasies by supporting yet another war with Iraq.
I'm beginning to suspect that 11 September is turning into a curse far greater than the original bloodbath of that day, that America's absorption with that terrible event is in danger of distorting our morality. Is the anarchy of Afghanistan and the continuing slaughter in the Middle East really to be the memorial for the thousands who died on 11 September?
© 2002 lndependent Digital (UK) Ltd