Sunday, January 4, 2009

The "Dark Side" Began Under President Clinton

The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War On Terror Turned Into A War on American Ideals, By Jane Mayer is chilling and masterful. It was a finalist for the National Book Award and one of Ten Bests across most major News papers as well as other major awards of journalism.

I am about half way through and it is so chilling as to curdle the blood and keep you up at night. It makes me not fear the mafia so much or bad neighborhoods or even terrorism, but instead my own country. This is also not a book of opinion, it is a book of journalism. Ms. Mayer is a highly respected journalist with the New York Times and the New Yorker. She is by the way, a masterful story teller.

It goes through much of the sordid details after 9/11 of how we got here, it describes a frightened white house of men who were taken completely by surprise by the attacks. It then goes on to describe the brutal details of how we began to detain Muslim men, torture them and ship them off to other countries surely to be tortured and to participate in that torture. It tells us how we got to Guantanamo Bay and that truly the two men responsible for all of this are Dick Cheney and his assistant, David Addington.

It helps me to see that we were not living in a democracy anymore, we had a weak, intellectually incurious, some said "not very bright" President that was taken advantage by these two men and that this is primarily how we got here. What I found interesting is that the "Dark Side" did not just begin under this regime, however, but surely as the players discuss "there was a war on terrorism before 9/11 and then after 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves came off."

But, a procedure called "Extraordinary Rendition" began under Bill Clinton. It is a procedure where terrorists or shall I say suspected terrorists (this does not seem to mean much anymore) are rounded up in which they are taken to a country outside the laws of the United States, flown in the middle of the night in most cases, gagged and thrown in a body case, until landed. The suspects find themselves in one of several countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, etc. where human rights laws have been disobeyed for centuries, where human rights are not taken seriously and things like the Geneva Convention are not taken too seriously. In a word, the suspects are tortured. This process became a staple of the Bush Administration and is surely still going on, but it began under Bill Clinton.

Granted, the reason it was done was because Clinton would not authorize the CIA to kill Bin Laden. The CIA had been studying Al Qaeda and its terrorist operations and they knew they were serious and Richard Clarke, head of the operations, in charge of counter terrorism for the NSA wanted it done. They went to the White House and asked for it to be done and then it was authorized. Just like that. No legal procedures, nothing.

The team was granted an indictment of Bin Laden in 1998 and for this Bin Laden could be legally tendered to the United States to stand trial, but the CIA was reluctant to give terrorists the due process of American Law. I guess we are too soft over here for other Americans. These 'renditions' began before that, however so the explanation doesn't make much sense. The renditions were authorized by either George Tenet under Clinton, or head of the NSA each and every one of them. At least under Clinton they had procedures.

One such case, I found extraordinary. One of Bin Laden's top lieutenants was captured in Albania. He was actually the top lieutenant's brother named Mohammed Zawahirri. His partner, named Shawki Salama Attiya was captured, others were killed. The captured suspected terrorists were "bound, blindfolded, and taken to an abandoned air base and flown to Cairo." He claims he suffered electrical shocks to his genitals, was hung from his limbs, and was kept in a cell in filthy water up to his knees. Two other suspects were hanged. Another suspect disappeared and was thought to have been executed. Meanwhile what became to be known as the "Albanian Returnees" became a rallying cry for the Muslim world. For we may not know about this, but the Arab and Muslim worlds do.

Jane Mayer goes on to describe what happens next: On August 5, 1998, a month after the Albanian rendition, a London based Arab newspaper published a letter from Bin Laden's top deputy, Zawahiri threatening retaliation against the United States - "in a language they will understand." He warned, that American's message has been received and that the response, which we hope they will read carefully, is being prepared." Two days later, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blown up, killing 224 people.

This is the fear of all that is happening. When America becomes like the terrorists, engaging in acts that are against our own ideals, we radicalize the Arab world against us. These ideals are not just to be written about, they are to be practiced and they are not just for academics to debate, they are also in place to protect us. We have lost who we are as a people. This is very evident in the current Israeli - Palestinian conflict. This conflict radicalized the Arab world like nothing else, yet we give our unwavering support to a colonialist regime that degrades and humiliates the people of Palestine on a daily basis.

What will become of us after January 20, 2008? Will we continue these outrageous policies of human rights violations or will we see a different future? The jury is completely out on this question.

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