Tuesday, May 3, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, new housing in Iraq . . . for some, the Parliament gears up for their month long vacation, a US Congressional Committee hears testimony on the VA's infecting patients, US House Rep Bob Filner observes to a government official testifying: "We're both going to review your testimony in St. Louis because it's contrary to what you just said now" and more.
Online at the Washington Post, Aaron C. Davis looks back
at the month of April and examines the month's trend of targeting officials, noting that both Shi'ites and Sunnis appear to be taking part in the assassinations and that government vehicles that have government markings are being referred to (by "some police officers") as "caskets" due to the targeting. Davis notes, "Iraq's overall homicide rate is now lower than in most American cities." I may be reading that sentence wrong but as I understand it says, "The country's total homicide rate is now lower than that rate in most American cities." I'm not sure which American cities we're speaking of. Using Davis' figure "of about 251 violent deaths in Iraq last month," what city are we speaking of? Chicago had 435 murders in 2010, NYC had 536 and Los Angeles had 297 (thank you to the mayor's office in each city) -- NYC, Chicago and LA are the most populous cities in the US. So 251? That's a lot. And that's forgetting the population issue. The CIA estimates 30.39 million people live in Iraq (not counting contractors and troops). Iraq hasn't had a census in decades. Speaking to 3 NGOs, it was suggested 28.5 million is a better guess. So we'll use that. 28.5 million people. The US population? According to the 2010 census 308 million. If you take just the top 15 most populated US cities, you've pretty much got Iraq's total population. I may be misunderstanding the sentence or I may be overly sensitive to the claims of US reporters -- the United States being the primary force behind the Iraq War and the United States being the country continuing the Iraq War -- about violence in Iraq, thinking, "Lower? Lower was before the war started, wasn't it?" I think each month should include an analysis and I think Aaron C. Davis has done a strong one -- except for that sentence about US cities. I also think that sentence falls apart when you grasp that if, for example, 50 government officials were killed in one month -- in targeted killings -- in the US, there would not be an outcry, a frenzy and much more in this country. And, again, our population is approximately 10 times that of Iraq's. So make it 500 US officials. 500 US officials are assassinated in one month, you don't think that would be alarming?
And why is Iraq being compared to US cities to begin with? If it's for comparison, I think I've belabored the point above that it's a faulty one. If Iraq's going to be compared, do so on the terms of the Bush and Barack administrations: Iraq is or will be a beacon in the region. Okay, compare it to the countries in that region. That doesn't happen for two very good reasons. First, homicide rate would have Iraq leading the region. Second, reporters and news outlets would have to note that maybe the government of Saudi Arabia (or any other country in the region) wasn't being fully honest about their country's murder rate and noting that possibility might open up questions about the 'official' figures the ministries in Iraq release. However, to measure anything at all, the comparison would have to be to Iraq's regional neighbors.
Richard Engel: It is an incredible -- when you look back at it, ten years, America's war on terrorism, and how costly it has been. A trillion dollars, thousands of American families, American soldiers, who have lost their loved ones in this fight and it has just been a war that has set the tone for American society for the last decade. After 9-11, the United States mobilized for war seeking justice and revenge. Troops invaded Afghanistan almost immediately. Within two months, al Qaeda's hosts, the Taliban, were thrown out of power. Osama bin Laden got away. But regime change in Afghanistan, done with few troops and high technology, seemed so easy the Bush White House tried it again in Iraq. US officials said Saddam Hussein was developing Weapons of Mass Destrucstion and linked Iraq to 9-11 and bin Laden.
Footage of Bully Boy George W. Bush: Well the reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.
Richard Engel: Afghanistan and Iraq were lumped together in what was called a "Global War On Terrorism." The truth was: There was never a connection between Iraq and Osama bin Laden. There were no weapons of mass destruction either. But when civil war in Iraq broke out, American troops were struck. Deployment after deployment, trying to stop the daily carnage. The cost was enormous -- more than 4,400 American troops dead along with 150,000 Iraqis. And it was a distraction from the United States' original mission to find bin Laden, stop al Qaeda and preent another 9/11. With American troops tied down in Baghdad, al Qaeda and the Taliban slipped back into Afghanistan, a fight the United States is still waging.
So why is the US still in Iraq?
The Speaker of the US House of Representatives doesn't appear to wonder. AP reports
that Speaker John Boehner has declared that the US should keep a small (undefined number) of US troops on the ground in Iraq past 2011. Reuters quotes
him stating, "I think a small, residual force should remain."
What remains currently in Iraq is the violence which continued today. Most notably a car bombing by a Baghdad market. Reuters counts
9 people dead and twenty-seven injured. Emal Haidary (Los Angeles Times) notes
, "The blast occurred in front of a cafe, according to news reports. Many of the dead and injured were young people, police and medical officials said." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observes
, "Overall, violence is down in Iraq from high peaks between 2005 and 2007. Yet assassinations, bomb explosions, gunfire and mortar attacks remain regular occurrences across the country." Reuters notes
a Baghdad sticky bombing which injured Hassan Ibrahim ("grain board director") and a passenger while killing Ibrahim's driver, a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured three people, another Baghdad roadside bombing which injured one person, a second Baghdad sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 "Baghdad municipality female employee," a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left five more injured, and, dropping back to yesterday for both of the following, 1 person shot dead in front of his Mosul home, a Baghdad drive-by (with assailant on a motorcycle) in which 2 people were shot dead. In addition, Aswat al-Iraq notes
that 1 Integrity Commission employee was wounded in a Basra bombing.
Dar Addustour reports
that Sunday there was an assassination attempt on an Al-Hurra reporter in Baghdad. The assailant used silencers and rode in a taxi. The journalists survived but it's only the latest attack on journalists. Today is World Press Freedom Day. Al Sabaah notes
the day was started in 1993 by the United Nations and calls for a free and independent media throughout the world due to the importance of a free press to democracy. Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi issued a statement of congratulations and stated the bedrock of democracy was a free press. Noting the violence they have faced in Iraq, al-Nujaifi praised their dedication in the face of such odds. The Committee to Protect Journalists lists the deaths of journalists in Iraq here
. In general terms, Danny O'Brien details "The 10 Tools of Online Oppressors
." The US is hosting World Press Freedom Day this year, hosting it in DC, and the theme is 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers. For more information visit World Press Freedom Day
. You can also visit the WPFD's YouTube channel
. Aswat al-Iraq notes
that the event was celebrated in Baghdad and that Dr. Abdulameer Faisal states, "Iraqi media has become free that gained it a new identity." The outlet also quotes reporter Imad Jassim stating "the Iraqi journalists have the bigger role in making the changes in Iraq on the levels of freedom of opinion and achievment of social justice."
Different topic, Alsumaria TV reports
the good news: "Iraq Ministry of Housing said on Monday that the Iraqi government approved its plan to build housing units with low prices in the provinces for the employees of the ministry and the public servants." Well . . . good news if you work for the Cabinet. In a country where the people feel the government is not representing them, it is really smart to be promoting projects that benefit the government? And is this really that different from the earlier scandal where land was being given to government workers? Something that outraged many Iraqis? From the April 27th snapshot
, "Al Sabaah reports
that the Cabinet has put an end to employees of 'the three presidencies' (Iraq's president and two vice presidents) grabbing up residential land plots. Dar Addustour calls
it a 'private ownership scheme'."
Ayas Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports
that State of Law (Nouri al-Maliki's coalition) is very touchy about criticism Iraqiya (political slate headed by Ayad Allawi) has been making regarding Nouri's continued inability to name a Minister of Defense, a Minister of National Security an a Minister of Interior. State of Law insists that the criticism is unfounded. (Nouri was supposed to have named these posts -- per the Constitution -- by the end of December. Staffing a complete Cabinet was how you move from prime minister-designate to prime minister. However, he was waived through without naming a full Cabinet.) State of Law maintains Nouri will make nominations any day; however, Acommok points out that the posts need to be completed this week because the Parliament is about to begin a month long vacation.
Starting with rumors. Press TV reports
that a "prominent Iraqi cleric [in] Muqtada al-Sadr's group" states he saw "Israeli jet fighters" drilling on a US base in Iraq for the last week at night. The source states the base was al-Asad Airbase. That base is in Al Anbar Province and before the start of the Iraq War was Qadisiyah Airbase. Global Security notes
, "Qadisiyah Airbase is named after the great battle of May 636 at Al Qadisiyah, a village south of Baghdad on the Euphrates. The Iranians, who outnumbered the Arabs six to one, were decisively beaten. From Al Qadisiyah the Arabs pushed on to the Sassanid capital at Ctesiphon, enabling Islam under Caliph Umar to spread to the East. During the 1980s, Baathists publicly regularly called the Iran-Iraq War a modern day 'Qadisiyah' exploiting the age-old enmity in its propaganda and publicizing the war as part of the ancient struggle between the Arab and Persian empires." During the first Gulf War in the 90s, the CIA says
, housed alcohol bombs and HD bombs. Since the start of the ongoing Iraq War, the base has been used (first) by the Australians and (now) by the US. Global Security notes
it is Iraq's "second largest airbase." In 2008, Eric Talmadge (AP) reported
the base was "big enough to support 20,000 troops), was also called "Camp Cupcake" and housed "a Burger King, a Pizza Hut, and round-the-clock Internet access." The Jerusalem Post picks up
on the story and adds, "Officials in Iraq were not notified of the military drill, which was reportedly conducted in coordination with US armed forces." Reuters notes
the Israeli military's denial of the story and also notes, "Washington's ally Israel accuses Tehran of using its declared civilian nuclear reactor programme to conceal a plan to develop atomic bombs that would threaten the Jewish state. Israeli leaders have not ruled out military action against Iran."
covers the story here
. Dar Addustour adds
an on the record denial from Lt Gen Anwar Ahmed, commander of Iraq's airforce, who states the rumors aren't true and that Iraq will not allow its soil to be used as a launching ground for attacks on neighboring countries. And Lt Col Dave Lapan, Pentagon spokesperson, is quoted calling the rumors "ridiculous."
What if, from the beginning, everyone killed in the Iraq and Afghan wars had been buried in a single large cemetery easily accessible to the American public? Would it bring the fighting to a halt more quickly if we could see hundreds of thousands of tombstones, military and civilian, spreading hill after hill, field after field, across our landscape?
[. . .]
I can't help but wonder: Where are the public places for mourning the mounting toll of today's wars? Where is that feeling of never again?
And so it still goes. Today's high-flown war rhetoric naturally cites only the most noble of goals: stopping terrorists, eliminating weapons of mass destruction, spreading democracy and protecting women from the Taliban. But beneath the flowery words, national self-interest is as powerful as it was almost 100 years ago. Does anyone think that Washington would have gotten quite so righteously worked up in 2003 if, instead of having massive oil reserves, Iraq's principal export was turnips?
Someday, I have no doubt, the dead from today's wars will be seen with a similar sense of sorrow at needless loss and folly as those millions of men who lie in the vast military cemeteries that spread along the old front line in France and Belgium -- and tens of millions of Americans will feel a similar revulsion for the politicians and generals who were so spendthrift with others' lives. But here's the question that haunts me: What will it take to bring us to that point?
Conducting wars with the CIA, wars never end -- over eight years in Iraq and going on 10 years in Afghanistan.
Back home, war doesn't bother people. There is no sacrifice. We've always paid for our wars -- but no longer. I introduced a tax to pay for Iraq, but the White House put out the word my bill was "dead on arrival," and I couldn't get any co-sponsors. We keep the troops happy with short tours, showing the recent movies, and calling home every evening. The Pentagon stays quiet with promotions -- over 100 generals and admirals appointed since 9/11. A retired admiral friend told me that now the Navy has more admirals than ships.
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, we're bogged down trying to change a culture. In Iraq, we're waiting for the Sunnis to like the Shiites, the Shiites to like the Sunnis, and the Kurds to like either one of them.
From a former US senator to the Congress . . .
"I'd like to pretend that I'm looking forward to today's hearing," declared US House Rep Bob Filner this morning as the House Veterans Affairs Committee, "but I'm not. These are not easy questions. And frankly, Mr. Chairman, the issues go beyond just the-the incidents themselves. They go to the communication within the VA. It took a long time for the right people to know what was going on in each of these incidents. It goes to communication with our VA patients. Sending a letter that says basically, 'You may have HIV,' is not the way to deal with these issues." Filner is the Ranking Member on the Committee but what was he talking about? HIV?
The VA's had several problems of contaiminating and infecting patients they were supposed to be treating. In his opening remarks, Filner noted several such incidents.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: In December 2008, we were notified of improper reprocessing of endoscopes which put thousands of veterans in Murfreesboro, Mountain Home Tennessee and Miami, Florida at possible risk of hepatitis and HIV. In February 2009, another 1,000 veterans in Augusta, Georgia received notifcations that they were at risk for hepatitis and HIV because of improper processing of ear, nose and throat endoscopes. In July 2010, this Committee held a field hearing in St. Louis, Missouri, a hearing you attended Mr. Chairman, along with many of our colleagues today after we had learned of lapses in protocol with the cleaning of dental equipment which put at risk 1,800 veterans.
Background, June of 2009, attorney Mike Ferrara (Cherry Hill Injury Board) was stating
, "Since April, we've been letting people know about the medical errors at VA hospitals that have caused at least five patients to contract HIV from contaminated endoscopic equipment
." Last June, CNN reported
, "John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis has recently mailed letters to 1,812 veterans telling them they could contract hepatitis B, hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) after visiting the medical center for dental work, said Rep. Russ Carnahan." A field hearing took place (Congress holds a hearing outside of DC, they call it a field hearing -- think field trip) July 13, 2010 and Betsy Bruce (KTVI-TV) reported
, "Petzel promised he would have a rapid response procedure for future medical concerns ready in a month. Chairman Filner interrupted telling him, 'Why not right now?'"
In the 2010 November mid-terms voters gave Republicans the majority in the House and Bob Filner became Ranking Member instead of Chair. At at the start of the hearing today, he would point out, "As far as I know, and maybe the panel can correct me, with all these incidents, we have never been told -- I don't think so, Mr. Chairman -- of any -- of any personnel changes as a result. The only way to send a message is firing or whatever."
Appearing before the Committee were two panels. The first panel was composed of VHS' Dr. Robert Petzel, Dr. John Daigh, Jr. (Assistant Inspector General for Healthcare Inspections, VA) and Randall Williamson, US Government Accountability Office's director of health care). The second panel was HHS's Dr. Michael Bell and HHS' Anthony Watson. Petzel began the hearing (reading his opening statement word for word) appearing combative. From that first panel, we'll note this exchange with Petzel and Committee Chair Jeff Miller and Ranking Member Bob Filner.
Committee Chair Jeff Miller: Let me -- and my time is run out -- but comments in your opening statement: continuous improvement, dozens and dozens of reviews annually, careful assessments, you talked about levels of oversight, I think GAO talked about inability to follow guidelines, the need for unfettered input for employees, they found disturbing deficiencies in systematic problems, you said you've begun a process of certification -- If you do all of those things, and your managers don't follow the rules, what do you do with those people?
Dr. Robert Petzel: We would discipline them.
Committee Chair Jeff Miller: Have you?
Dr. Robert Petzel: We have.
Committee Chair Jeff Miller: Have you fired anybody?
Dr. Robert Petzel: We have proposed removal in a number of instances and almost invariably the individual has resigned or retired as a result of the proposed removal.
Committee Chair Jeff Miller: Can you give us a number, I mean, of individuals that you've proposed removal of?
Dr. Robert Petzel: There are, I believe, 3 physician or dental level people that that's occurred with. Several chiefs of SPD where that's happened. We've also reprimanded individuals, suspensions and letters of counseling.
Committee Chair Jeff Miller: And I think one of the dentists was in his eighties, is that correct?
Dr. Robert Petzel: Close. Yes.
Committee Chair Jeff Miller: Mr. Filner.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Dr. Petzel, you're here as the representative of the VA. We've gone through this before, sir. It seems to me your job here should have been -- and we have Congress people from all the districts that have been effected -- was to begin to restore some trust and confidence in your institution. I'd hate to take a poll. If I did, and I said, "How many people now have confidence everything is fine in your VA hospital?," I doubt if anyone would raise their hand. You said everything is fine. It's not true. Simply not true. You talk about all of these transparent procedures and these-these Journal --
New England Journal best practices, and yet every time something happens, we have disaster. We don't have a way of communicating. We don't have a way of dealing with the personal concerns. We don't have any knowledge that anybody's been reprimanded. Now you've got three. We've been going over this for years and now we've got three. And we still -- You have never told this committee those figures before as far as I know. But, Dr. Petzel, we've gone through this before. We've raised concerns in our opening statements. You read your opening statement as if we never said anything. So you never addressed issues of accountability, you never addressed issues of communication -- whether within your agency or with veterans or with this Committee.
I-I-I-I've gone through the time lines with almost every one of these [Congress] members here and their hospitals. You say panels get together to decide "should we disclose, what should we disclose, who should we --?" It looks to many of us like they get together to decide "What do we keep secret from our" -- You know, you keep shaking your head "no." But why did it take 8 weeks at St. Louis -- where Mr. Carnahan will raise the issues -- why did it take 8 weeks for that panel to decide, we're going to tell people that we have almost 2,000 people infected -- possibly infected with HIV? It took two months before you guys decided that. I would have -- And the Secretary [of the VA, Eric Shinseki] wasn't notified, as far as I know, in his words to me, in that whole period of time. So it sounds like you're sitting there deciding, "What's the minimal amount of information that we can give out so people don't get upset with us?" Rather than the maximum. I would have -- that first day -- I would have had the Secretary had a press conference that said, you know, "We have a possibly of X-hundred or thousands of people, we're going to get to you right away, we want to make sure this is happening." And put pressure on yourselves to become public. Because there's no pressure for you to do anything. We didn't know anything. The Secretary didn't know anything. I don't know if you knew anything. Because these guys are going, "How do we keep this secret for as long as possible? Maybe we don't have to disclose at all?" Because your question was: "Should we disclose?" Not how to do it. And then, as I said, your whole disclosure process is as if everybody knows all your acronyms and your-your initials for everything, all these SPDs and RMEs, as if the patients know what's going on. They get a letter. I've seen these letters. It says basically -- it's not this bald, but almost -- "You may have HIV." They get a letter. It may have even gone to a wrong address. For 1500 people, as I said to you earlier at a hearing, you should have had 1500 of your 250,000 employees, assigned each one to somebody, call them, call them, go visit them, find out where can they come back, when can they get their blood tests, treat them as if they may have HIV. And they're scared to death they're going to die and you send them a letter. And there's no one there necessarily to answer a phone call when they call back cause you don't have people working this like case managers and one person to five people. I think you should do one-on-one. But what you described as this open, transparent process does not come through. And everyone of these people [points to members of Congress] has constituents which I bet confirm what I just said. And even if it's perception and not reality, that, that's just as bad. That you took forever, you weren't very personal in your notification, you weren't very clear about what it is that they might have, you didn't follow up in a way that was very quick and then we don't know anything about accountability. We know nothing from basically what you said today. And you guys have got to develop a new system. Whether it's talk -- You know, we just killed Osama bin Laden and they notified 8 members of Congress and the Committee and they kept that. Well maybe you should notify all the Chair and Ranking Member of the Veterans Committees about what you're doing about your personnel. But there is no sense that you have done anything. And we don't know -- Nobody in Dayton, nobody in St. Louis, nobody in Miami, nobody in New Jersey, nobody in Tennessee knows anything about that accountability. And I doubt anybody in the system knows anything about it, so they don't think there's any accountability. So I wish you would address these issues. We've gone over them for several years. You and I have gone over these exact issues several times in hearings and you do the exact same thing. You give me a prepared statement. 'Everything's fine.' You move the discussion into these arcane things about SPDs and RMEs and you neglect the basic issues of communications and accountability that are at the heart of the confidence that our people have in your system. You may comment in any way you want.
Dr. Robert Petzel: Uh, thank you, Mr. Filner. The, uhm . . . What I want to do is, uh, first talk about our, uh, notification process. The, uh, the process by which we determine who ought to be notified or who might be at risk, as I said before, is an industry standard. I will stand by that process under any circumstance. It takes some time but it is transparent and it is weighted heavily in the favor of --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Nobody knew about St. Louis for 8 weeks.
Dr. Robert Petzel: I'm --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Eight weeks.
Robert Petzel: Sir.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: And I'm if that's industry standard, we shouldn't be following industry standard.
Dr. Robert Petzel: Sir, I'm not talking about the communication, I'm talking about the process that we go through. It is very thorough and it's weighted on the side of being abundantly cautious to be sure that we take into account every possible risk. The process by which we disclose to patients involves letters, phone calls and case managers. Particularly in the instance of St. Louis, every single individual that was effected was called, they were offered a case manager, there was a case manager that involved -- in fact, in some instances, the leadership of the medical center. I will admit that we've learned figuratively since --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Sir, that conflicts exactly with what you said to me at St. Louis. The Chairman was there, Mr. Carnahan was there, Mr. Lacy -- Clay [US House Rep William Lacy Clay] was there, sorry, sir. Mr.[John] Shimkus was there. You never mentioned the word case manager, you never mentioned mentioned that they were called. Is that right, Russ? [Carnahan nods his head in agreement.] We-we went through this discussion with you. The first word I said to you was case manager. I said to you, "Why don't you have case managers?" You said, "Yeah, we'll look at that." We're both going to review your testimony in St. Louis because it's contrary to what you just said now.
Petzel never grasped it -- or never showed any indication that he did. He came in combative and remained that way throughout leading to the larger question of why VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has not either asked for Petzel's resignation or relieved him of his duties? Even when Committee Member US House Rep Phil Roe -- also Dr. Roe, and that's medical or we wouldn't note the "Dr." -- attempted to walk through reality with Petzel, Petzel refused to budge, refused to see the light. He wanted to bicker and dicker and bluster. "I can assure you that in the private sector, had this occurred," US House Rep Roe noted, "like this just occurred, and a medical legal case had resulted out of it, you just get your pencil out and start writing commas and zeroes, I can tell you, and get the check book out because this private system would not tolerate this." It went beyond Petzel's apparent grasp.
US House Rep Phil Roe: One of the things that we have to sell in medicine is trust. Our patients need to trust us. They need to trust the VA that that's where the quality of care and transparency, Mr. Filner is absolutely 100% correct. I can assure you that when I had a problem go wrong in my shop when I practiced medicine, not the clerk that answered the phone made the call to the patient, I made the call to the patient. I called them up. I explained to them. I had them come in and tell them what was going on. And I can tell you, with 1500 people, that could have been in a large institution with multiple people, I would have had the highest level people contacting someone when they think they have HIV or a potential life threatening condition.
Petzel wanted the Committee to know that they'd learned a lot since 2008. These are not steps you learn late in your career. What Rep Roe was referring to is learned early in your medical career. That Petzel and the VA have to play catch up is an indictment of the lack of leadership and accountability. And let's talk about the three Petzel thinks they 'forced out' -- resigned or retired. Is there anything following them around? Since they weren't fired, it's doubtful. The nearly 80-year-old is presumably retired; however, he may be doing some part-time work. Is there anything following him or the other two around alerting other medical facilities to the problem at the VA that resulted in the person leaving the VA? The answer's no. By allowing them to resign or retire, the answer is no. So not only did they put veterans at risk, but who knows who they're putting at risk currently.
If you're not getting how combative Petzel was, we'll note US House Rep Bill Johnson. Johnson, a Republican from Ohio, is always very low key in the Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. Quoting Petzel's own words to him, to ask a question, Johnson was greeted with Petzel insisting he hadn't said that (he had) and cutting Johnson off repeatedly. When Petzel came up for air, Johnson noted his time was up, that he agreed with Filner and, "If there's anything that it appears the VA is expert in it's talking around these problems and kicking the ball down the stream."
I called out Michael D. Shear in yesterday's snapshot for being too quick to allow his fantasies to run free instead of sticking to the factual record. I stand by that. He's writing about the same topic today at the New York Times blog and is sticking to the facts so we'll include a link -- in part, because a friend with the paper asked for it. The White House has changed their story on a non-Iraq issue (Osama bin Laden's capture). And on that topic, we'll close with this from Phyllis Bennis' "Justice or Vengeance?" (ICH):
There was an unprecedented surge of unity, of human solidarity, in response to the crime of 9/11. In the United States much of that response immediately took on a jingoistic and xenophobic frame (some of which showed up again last night in the aggressive chants of "USA, USA!!" from flag-waving, cheering crowds outside the White House following President Obama's speech). Some of it was overtly militaristic, racist and Islamophobic. But some really did reflect a level of human unity unexpected and rare in U.S. history. Even internationally, solidarity with the U.S. people for a brief moment replaced the well-deserved global anger at U.S. arrogance, wars, and drive towards empire. In France, headlines proclaimed "nous sommes tous Américaines maintenant." We are all Americans now.
But that human solidarity was short-lived. It was destroyed by the illegal wars that shaped the U.S. response to the 9/11 crime. Those wars quickly created numbers of victims far surpassing the 3,000 killed on September 11. The lives of millions more around the world were transformed in the face of U.S. aggression -- in Pakistan alone, where a U.S. military team assassinated bin Laden, thousands of people have been killed and maimed by U.S. drone strikes and the suicide bombs that are part of the continuing legacy of the U.S. war.
These wars have brought too much death and destruction. Too many people have died and too many children have been orphaned for the United States to claim, as President Obama's triumphantly did, that "justice has been done" because one man, however symbolically important, has been killed. However one calculates when and how "this fight" actually began, the U.S. government chose how to respond to 9/11. And that response, from the beginning, was one of war and vengeance -- not of justice.
The president's speech last night could have aimed to put an end to the triumphalism of the "global war on terror" that George W. Bush began and Barack Obama claimed as his own. It could have announced a new U.S. foreign policy based on justice, equality, and respect for other nations. But it did not. It declared instead that the U.S. war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and beyond will continue.