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September 28, 2001

Narco News 2001

War on Terrorism: a

Recipe for Disaster

Washington and the U.S. Press

Declare War (Again) without

Defining the Enemy

"War on Terrorism"
...a test-tube clone of the "War on Drugs"

By Al Giordano

Special to the Narco News Bulletin

Part I of a Series

``There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is.''

- White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer

MEXICO CITY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2001: Is there a doctor in the house? Among the injured in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks is the United States press corps. American journalism has sustained a broken arm from patting itself on the back. The soldiers of the Fourth Estate don't admit it, but they are ecstatic to be the center of attention again. What journalists have failed to provide in hard information they have compensated for with pure adrenaline and self-praise. They are Media; hear them roar.

Whatever whimpers of self-criticism can be heard through the din are restricted to discusions of wartime ettiquette (such as what is "appropriate" to say "at a time like this") and of fashion, such as whether TV news anchors should wear American Flag lapel pins or not. (Narco News suggests to our colleagues: Yes, wear those flags, wear them wide and high, for that would offer the full disclosure that authentic journalism requires; really, based on recent behavior, you ought to wear uniforms, too.)

But on the basics of journalism - the who, the what, the where, the when, the why - the mediators-in-chief have so far failed.

It's the drug war all over again: Same script, same faceless ever-morphing "enemy," same lack of definable goals, same eternal shadow-boxing and same detour of resources from real human needs… Except the drug war itself hasn't gone away. To the contrary, the "war on terrorism" is the cloned test-tube baby of the "war on drugs." (Is that what the editors of the San Francisco Examiner and the Village Voice meant by their single-word banner headlines titled Bastards? Does it take one to know one?)

We start with the question to which miles of column inches, video, and audiotape have already been dedicated: Whodunit? Atrocious crimes have been committed. There is a search for two levels of criminals: The "material authors" (the suicide bombers, some of whose identities are known based on reported evidence), and the "intellectual authors." The material authors are dead. Whether an intellectual author or authors who orchestrated the work of the material authors exist at all is itself speculation, but it is stated every hour on the hour as fact.

Welcome to the all-speculation-all-the-time networks. These have been dark days for journalistic practice. Did you see it on the news? We're going to teach those terrorists a lesson! We're going to blow them up! Oh, they already blew themselves up? That's okay, the president will find somebody to blow up! Don't touch that dial, América! This has been the story, the only story, and it drives the polling data, which in turn drives the press, and a vicious cycle has already ensued.

Six years ago, it was the government and the media, together, that drove the early speculation after the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City toward dark, bearded, foreign perpetrators of, they told us, Middle Eastern descent: Government statements and documents, repeated obediently by the press as authoritative word.

On April 20, 1995, one day after what was then the single-largest "terrorist attack" on U.S. soil, FBI Special Agent Henry C. Gibbons filed a sworn affidavit that eyewitnesses "saw two individuals running from the area of the federal building toward a brown Chevrolet truck prior to the explosion… males, of possible Middle Eastern descent… one of the persons was further described as approximately 25-26 years old, having dark hair and a beard. The second person was described as approximately 35-38 years old, with dark hair and a dark beard with gray in it…"

The FBI put out an "all points bulletin," repeated verbatim on TV and radio, looking for a "middle eastern male." The Oklahoma highway patrol's bulletin instructed police to look for a Chevy "occupied by Middle Eastern male subject or subjects…."

The rush to blame foreigners was not simply, as the revisionist history of today implies, the result of pre-existing public prejudices. Official statements were broadcast as unquestioned facts by the mass media. Only when the official party line changed did the press sing a new tune that led to the single-bomber theory and a vilified, now executed, blonde and beardless perpetrator.

To be fair, there are still those today who do not believe that the Oklahoma City bombing was carried out exclusively by Desert Storm vet Timothy McVeigh, any more than the majority of people believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the Kennedy assassination of 1963. Those views are simply discounted. The press loves to hate conspiracy theories, in part, because it is precisely the poor job done by the press that leaves fertile ground for such hypotheses to thrive for years, even decades.

The dynamic of the World Trade Towers attacks has wrought an emotional furor that is far greater in gale force in its windy hunt for someone to blame, anyone to retaliate against, so that for years to come it seems that solving this crime will be like Dallas 1963 times Oklahoma City 1995 squared: Long after the bombs have been dropped, after the wars have been waged and victors declared, we may never know.

As with the drug war, the behavior of the media and its professional mediators discounts any search for root causes. When radical views are so timely that they can't be marginalized, they are demonized. The few commentators who have suggested any analysis outside of the party line in recent days - from Bill Maher to Susan Sontag - have been vilified, much as Gary Webb was unfairly attacked by the mediators-in-chief for having suggested that the United States government was complicit in the cocaine and crack trades. History has been kinder to Webb and will be kinder to Sontag (Maher's apology was, ahem, as cowardly as the Gulf War; but at least he provoked the advertising class - in this case Federal Express and Sears - to remind us of who exactly runs the televised show.)

Yet, the very kinds of perspective that are discounted and attacked by the current media mania are precisely what are needed at this hour.

To all the newly-minted patriots, put down your shiny Made-in-Taiwan flags for a moment and try to attack this: The Pakistan government reports that right now, along the Afghan-Pakistani border, there are an estimated one million Afghani civilian peasants who, based only on their rational fear that a bloody war is about to be waged in their territory, are trying to leave the country. Pakistan officials have sealed the border. Already malnourished and impoverished, many of these people - who were not responsible for the attacks of September 11th- are likely going to die, stuck in the place with no exit, many of them slowly, painfully. This, before a single Raytheon-brand missile is fired. The mere threat of war has already sealed the fate of innocents. The threat was delivered, like a Son-of-Sam letter, by the media.

If I point out that these deaths are foreseeable, preventable, and will likely constitute, in pure numbers, a greater death toll than that of September 11th, well, I have just invited the same kind of vilification that others have faced in recent days. So be it. For I have simply repeated verifiable facts and commented part of my opinion as to their likely tragic consequences. That is my job, journalist, and if you use that title, too, it ought to be yours. You will only know that you are doing your job at the moment the Sunshine Patriots attack you. Until then, you are wasting ink, electricity and talent.

A less emotional comparison, because it has no clear perpetrator to blame, comes from this North American Ground Zero of sixteen years ago: On September 19, 1985, two earthquakes struck Mexico City. The minimum estimated death toll was 10,000 (Peter Arnett recently cited a figure of 25,000 deaths). Six thousand buildings were destroyed. 100,000 families lost their homes on a single day. Mexico City was not inalterably changed or destroyed; in fact it grew bigger, more populated, by 1997 it gained the kind of statehood representation that Washington DC still craves, and today it has more true spirit of democratic debate and participation in a single block than can be found on all the United States TV networks combined.

The World Trade Center attacks were horrible. But they do not constitute the single-largest loss of human life in a single day in North America in the past century nor in recent decades. Nor do they necessarily mean the end of democracy as we know it - that is up to you, and you, and you, and me.

There are other human tragedies of the 20th century that do have material and intellectual authors: Those of Dresden, of Hiroshima, of Nagasaki, of a prior September 11, 1973 in Chile (when, in a military coup backed by Washington, tens of thousands of Chileans were rounded up in a stadium and elsewhere, tortured and assassinated). What about a single day in the Gulf War in Iraq, where the civilian death toll has reached a half-million? Here, on these (web) pages, we have reported the death and misery index of the war on drugs in America, a preventable atrocity caused by the very public policies that claim to combat its ills. Colombia and Mexico each lose more than 10,000 lives annually to assassinations driven by the imposition of a foreign power: the US-mandated policy of drug prohibition.

To offer these historic realities as context is not intended to demean nor minimize the shock or horror over what happened this month in New York or Alexandria. Nor does it attempt to justify it. The feeding of more information to the public, of factual information, is, however, still subversive to men of power. Perspective and reason tend to put the brakes on hasty and bellicose decisions.

Now is the hour to be that kind of seditionary. Because without efforts by good journalists and citizens to jam the frequencies of the shrill march to war, the media and government will lead us to more atrocity. Two related emotions - that which views U.S. lives as more important or valuable than those of others, and that which answers one human tragedy with the base desire to inflict the same or worse on others - are converging, right now, into a mutually-assured massacre on and by all sides.

The media uses the term "war" recklessly, just as Washington has identified a word to define the enemy: "Terrorism."

But as with the war against "drugs," the war on terrorism has been made unwinnable by the manner in which its commanders and publicists have failed to define it.

We live in the kind of moment parodied by Groucho Marx upon taking the helm of the mythical Freedonia: To War! To War! Unfortunately, Groucho is not with us today to offer an appropriate response to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer's warning that Americans had better watch what we say. It falls upon the rest of us to assert that being American is defined precisely by not watching what we say, especially during times of crisis.

The current quagmire also brings to mind the words of the "intellectual author" of the construction of the World Trade towers, the former Port Authority of New York-New Jersey director, David Rockefeller: "We are on the verge of a Global Transformation. All we need is the right major crisis and the nation will accept the New World Order."

To War? To War? Against whom shall it be waged? Against terrorists, they say? Well, then, who are the terrorists?

The Oxford American Dictionary says that terrorism is the "use of violence and intimidation especially for political purposes." To terrorize is "to fill with terror, to coerce by terrorism." A terror, according to the dictionary, is an "extreme fear," "a terrifying person or thing," or, in its informal form, "a formidable person, a troublesome person or thing." Nothing in the definition indicates that "terrorism" is carried out by non-governmental organizations alone.

Based on these definitions, the one million peasants now lined up along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border have the same right and reason to view the terror they face as a violence and intimidation by "terrorists" from the United States.

Terrorist, terrorize thyself? From my perspective as a citizen of the United States, I will speak, very briefly, of "we," but specify that I mean we citizens, and the government that is, ideally, our extension. We are, in effect, terrorizing ourselves, and guaranteeing future terror aimed upon the civilians of the United States and the world.

The suicide bombers did not leave a note, at least in terms of any statement of political demands. If there are intellectual authors of the September 11 attacks who seek to "destroy America," or "American freedom," as so many media commentators have speculated, they are right now succeeding beyond dream. They are not winning because of their actions, but because they accurately counted on a predictable response by the U.S. media and government. They must be laughing, these faceless and still unidentified beings from the realm where reality meets fantasy, as they watch the United States destroy itself from within.

And for those who do not wish to see America self-destruct, this is the time to state inconvenient opinions, and to report inconvenient facts, Mr. Fleischer. It is always the time to dissent and always will be. Who the hell are you to suggest otherwise? You are a mere functionary, a press secretary for an illegitimate president, whose major weakness in trying to "lead" a "war effort" by his country in self-proclaimed defense of democracy is that he, George W. Bush, was not democratically elected. You are the mouthpiece for a regime, not for a nation.

As for the sleeping giant in immediate American history - the Stealing of the President 2000 - the following news organizations have just made folly of themselves and their own stated missions to inform the public: the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, Newsday, CNN, the Tribune Company, the St. Petersburg Times, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post. These are the news organizations that participated in a million dollar recount of the ballots in the state of Florida for the last presidential election.

According to journalist Seth Mnookin of, the data of this important study is ready to report. But the "news organizations" have decided not to report it, not now, because, as Mnookin reports their motive, "now is not the right time to publish information that could well question the legitimacy of the nation's commander in chief."

The results of a project this big, this costly, this worthy, will not be able to remain hidden for long. News about the self-censorship of the news found its way to Mnookin, and the hand of mediating power is now forced: The information will come to light -- as soon as the mediators-in-chief figure out how to minimize its impact. The game, however, will be to time the release of this obviously bad news for democracy (if the results weren't inconvenient, there would be no need to withhold them), to save it for a moment when other events distract from or lessen the impact of the facts. As Narco News has often pointed out, the timing of when the news is reported constitutes one of the media's central methods of manipulating opinion and policy. (Remember when the New York Times and its inauthentic journalist Larry Rohter withheld the news about the El Salado massacre in Colombia for more than three months, until the day after Clinton signed the Plan Colombia $1.3 billion military intervention?)

The prototype for the "War on Terrorism" - and the media's enlistment in it - is the "War on Drugs." Anybody who wants to understand how the media will play the power game with industry and government during "wartime" need only review the press's behavior in covering the drug war, abroad and at home. The script is already written: Pretexts for gutting Civil Liberties at home, the trampling of democracy and human rights abroad, violent atrocities explained by euphemism, media censorship and corruption, persecution of the remaining free press (including on the Internet), refusal to discuss the root causes of the atrocities in any meaningful way, the glamorization of "official" sources, and a convenient, faceless, ever-shifting "enemy" that guarantees eternal expenditure for a war that can not be won, that does not want to be won, because it accomplishes so many other agendas of power in its course.

"Wars" against concepts are perpetual by definition - until their roots are dug up and held up to the sunlight. These wars - against terrorism, against drugs - are aided and abetted by a commercial media, the great majority of whose journalists are the illegitimate sons and daughters of the First Amendment. If you feel yourself to be an exception to these class clones - as a journalist, as a citizen, as a vintage patriot, as a human being - now is the time to ask and to answer the inconvenient question of the day: Who are the "bastards" here?

Part II of this Series Now Online:

Washington's "Terrorist" List:

The Road Through Afghanistan Leads to Colombia

More Narco News, click here

Vintage Patriotism, Authentic Journalism