Tuesday, January 13, 2009

USS Cole, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and The War on Terror

The War on Terror started on
  • September 11, 2001, when terrorists flew airliners into New York City's World Trade Center and the Pentagon
  • October 12, 2000, when two "Islamic extremists" blew themselves up, and put a 40-foot hole in the USS Cole
  • February 26, 1993, when a car bomb exploded under New York City's World Trade Center
Or even earlier: when the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were hit (1998); or Khobar Towers were destroyed (1996); or back when Ayatollahs overthrew the shah (1979).

When Did the War on Terror Start?

I think that September 11, 2001, will remain as the generally accepted milestone that marks the start of the War on Terror. Aside from the enormous death toll, that was the date at which the American government began acting as if organized terrorists were a military threat, not a law enforcement issue.

Most of the other events, including the attack that killed 17 American sailors on the USS Cole, didn't have that sort of an effect. For that matter, the 9/11 attack doesn't seem to have convinced some congresspersons that the FBI and CIA aren't America's biggest threats. But that's another issue.

If I were to choose an earlier date to mark the start of the War on Terror, it would be the first successful Al Qaeda-financed attack on New York City's World Trade Center.

That car bomb attack only killed six people, took out three concrete floors in the WTC's underground parking, collapsed part of a subway station, and sent smoke through one of the towers. Although the damage was relatively minor, and the death toll low, it was a moderately successful attack by Al Qaeda on a civilian target on American soil.

I think that may count as an act of war:
  • A foreign power killing people
    • And quite possibly trying to destroy a national landmark
  • In one of America's major cities
The fact that American authorities decided to treat it as a matter for law enforcement is a little embarrassing, in hindsight.

Of course, the whole 'death to the great Satan America' thing wasn't taken too seriously until America had another president, and airliners started flying into buildings, almost a year later.

USS Cole: Not Just Another Milestone

Still, I think I understand how Former Navy Commander Kirk Lippold sees the October, 2000, attack on the Cole. He was in command of that ship at the time.

"...'The biggest thing people fail to realize is they look at 9/11 as the start on the War on Terror,' said Kirk Lippold, former commander of the Cole. 'The reality is that the war on terrorism started not on 9/11, but 10/12.'... "

For him, and the crew of the USS Cole, there's a genuine emotional reality to that statement. However, the USS Cole was far from the first American target hit by terrorists. From the embassy in Tehran to the Khobar Towers and African embassies, those self-styled lions of Islam have been busy for a long time.
Remember the Cole?
I think there's a real danger that follow-up to the attack on the USS Cole won't get the attention it deserves. I'm also worried that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and others responsible for the attack, may not be held accountable. Or, in close to a worst-case scenario, be released because someone decides that 'these things happen,' and feel magnanimous. And no: I don't think that's likely.

Right now, the USS Cole is back in the news. Mainly because Barack Obama will soon be president, and we don't know quite what he'll decide to do about the prisoners held at Guantanamo (or Guantánamo, and I'd bet there are other spellings).
Unbiased, Objective, Reporting
And, despite what people who believe Code Pink has a centrist philosophy may think, national news media in America isn't likely to treat the Cole with "Remember the Main" headlines. for example, here's what a respected, major, American news magazine had to say in its article on the Cole incident, and how the CIA and the Bush administration bungled the aftermath:

"...Nashiri was one of three 'high-value detainees' who was 'waterboarded'—a diabolical technique in which subjects are strapped to a board and then doused with water to simulate drowning...."
(Newsweek) [emphasis mine]

"Diabolical?" I know that President Bush is thoroughly hated in some circles, to the point where an otherwise-sensible person I know asserted that he's "diabolical." But waterboarding? Sure, it's unpleasant, but if it's "diabolical," then demonstrators who waterboarded each other for the news cameras were practicing diabolical techniques.

I'm getting off-topic. I listed more posts about waterboarding below.

Fairness and Fairly Silly Attitudes

America is a nation of law. This country's respect for human rights and due process is something to be proud of: even though I think the last several decades of creative Supreme Court decisions need to be fixed, ASAP. But that's a whole different topic.

The point here is that in civilian courts it doesn't seem too unusual for a major case to take the better part of a decade to come to trial. So, I'm not all that surprised that a trial of one of the Cole masterminds hasn't happened yet.

And, I think that due process should be followed in that trial: including allowing the accused to mount a reasonable defense.

That's the way we work.

Just the same, I think that the nature of the crime, and of the War on Terror, should be recognized.
Terrorists Aren't Nice People
There's very good reason to believe that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is responsible for talking a couple of people (Muslims, probably) into taking a boat up to the USS Cole and turning themselves into shrapnel: along with many American sailors.

I don't think that's very nice: even if the two lions of Islam thought they'd get an all-expense-paid ticket to the 72 Virgins celestial social club.

I might be more concerned about the matter of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri's being waterboarded, if it weren't for all the hysterical objections to using the technique. Since protesters quite willingly waterboarded each other, and the American armed forces includes waterboarding as part of its training, I can't take it seriously as being a "torture" technique.

Protesters might, possibly, torture each other - but I find it extremely difficult to believe that the American military tortures its own soldiers, as a matter of policy.

So, I hope that people accused of terroristic activity get fair trials: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri included.
Remembering the Dead
Let's not forget the sailors who died, serving on the USS Cole.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Kenneth Clodfelter was as close as any to the center of the blast. He was 21 at the time, and he and his wife had a child. He was buried in installments. His parents aren't happy with how either of the administrations handled the Cole incident.

Back to the former commander of the Cole: "...Lippold says the rights of terrorists are being given more priority than the rights of his sailors who died as Americans for their country. 'When you say "we need to treat detainees fairly," what about my crew?' he asked.

"The Clodfelters buried their son more than once. The Navy kept finding more of his remains in the sea...."

I do not, thank God, understand first-hand what Former Commander Lippold, and the survivors of the Cole, are going through. It's obviously a very stressful, emotional experience. I can try to sympathize.

The USS Cole Attack, Terrorists, and America's Military

One of America's strengths is that it respects the rights of people who don't deserve them. That's annoying, at best, but I'd rather live in this system, than in one where trials - at least in theory - involve a systematic examination of evidence to arrive at a true verdict.1

I hope that accused terrorists are exposed to that process.

I also hope that, whether they're victimized tools of the military-industrial complex, or (my view) brave Americans, dedicated to defending the right of people back home to call them puppets of Big Oil: the people in America's military are extended the same courtesy.

Thanks for the Right to Write This

Finally, a personal 'thank you' to everyone who serves, or has served, in the American military. Whether it was by sitting behind a desk somewhere, or by sacrificing your life, you all have helped make it possible for Code Pink to protest, and for me to post opinions that not all Americans agree with.

News and views: Related posts: Posts related to waterboarding: Background:
1With bizarre exceptions: Like the fellow on Texas death row, whose conviction was reversed recently.

Even so, I've talked with enough people who escaped their homelands to know that I'd rather live here.


Brigid said...

"That's annoying, at best, but I'd rather live in this system, than in one where trials - at least in theory - involve a systematic examination of evidence to arrive at a true verdict."

I'm a little confused by this sentence. Is it what you meant to write?

Brian H. Gill said...

That isn't the best prose I've written, but I'm letting it stand for now.

Yes, it's what I meant to write. On a strictly gut level, I find it irritating when "people who don't deserve them" - or don't seem to - receive the same treatment and due process as people whose cases aren't so extreme.

However, I'd rather live in system like this, than in one where people get to express their feeling with stones and clubs.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.