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by international syndicated columnist
& broadcaster Eric Margolis

Sept. 16, 2001


Where to begin writing about the crime of the century, which occurred in nightmarish slow motion before our eyes last Tuesday? Grief, horror, fury, and revenge jostle for emotional primacy. I wondered if we hadn't seen a second Sarajevo that could spark World War I of the 21st Century.

For me, grief finally won out. Manhattan is my home town. I was brought up believing that `New York's Finest' - our firefighters and policemen - were the best and bravest of men. Over 300 of these underpaid, often unrecognized heroes gave their lives to rescue people trapped in the collapsing World Trade Center. My heart aches for them and their families.

I recall many visits to the World Trade Center, and, during my Army days, to the Pentagon. And I can certainly feel the terror of the passengers aboard the four airliners that were hijacked this week and turned into cruise missiles. In 1993, I was hijacked by an Ethiopian madman on a Lufthansa flight to Cairo. The hijacker said he intended to crash the A-310 jumbo jet into New York City. He only changed his mind on the very last minute and allowed the plane to land.

When Bush finally got back to the White House after his absence from Washington, he echoed America's thirst for revenge, calling for a multi-national crusade against any nations linked to the attacks, and the crime's purported mastermind, the showy Islamic militant, Osama bin Laden. As I write, the US appears to be preparing massive military strikes against Afghanistan, which harbors bin Laden. War fever has gripped America, propelled by intense anti-Muslim hatred and fanned by a jingoistic press and self-serving politicians. The few voices urging calm have been shouted down. America, understandably, wants revenge.

Pakistan is at the epicenter of this crisis. Last week, Washington gave Islamabad an ultimatum: either cooperate fully with US war plans or face isolation, charges of terrorism, and cut-off of loans that would plunge the nation into bankruptcy. The Israel lobby and its new ally, India, are is calling for virtual war against Pakistan. Russia, enraged by the assassination of its important Afghan ally, Ahmad Shah Massoud, is again discussing with the US joint commando raids into Afghanistan.

The attacks in New York and Washington on Tuesday were not traditional terrorism aimed at forcing a nation to change its policy, but something new: pure, maniacal punishment of the United States by fanatics who literally hated it to death.

These criminals were from Mideast and South Asian nations, an international brigade united by their hatred of Israel, America, and its pervasive influence in their region.

The respected British Mideast specialist, Robert Fisk, wrote this week that a `crushed, humiliated population struck back with the wickedness and awesome cruelty of a doomed people.' In fact, the perpetrators of this monstrous crime were small in number, likely no more than three score, possibly an unknown, American-based cell, perhaps without direct links to any known terrorist organization. Most appear to have been long-time US residents and at least five had been in the American military forces. Far from wild-eyed mountain fanatics, the these multi-ethnic Muslims seem to have been young, well-education, Americanzied Muslims.

Curiously, the attackers did not leave a statement explaining the reasons for their horrendous crimes. Why commit such a massacre without at least indicating the reason? Perhaps a message was found, but has not been revealed.

The assailants may have had some tenuous liason with bin Laden's Al-Qaida organization, an umbrella anti-American group that has become Washington's bete noire. But bin Laden has been isolated by his Taliban hosts for over a year, denied communications equipment, and ordered to avoid any aggressive acts. The Saudi militant, who has embarked on a lonely struggle to end American domination of his oil-rich homeland, is under 24 hour surveillance by foreign intelligence agencies. It's hard to believe a man hiding in a cave in Afghanistan can mount a complex, high-tech terror operation 9,000 miles away. Many intelligence people believe bin Laden, like the notorious Abu Nidal, is merely a front for so far unseen groups.

While carpet bombing bin Laden's headquarters - or even mounting commando raids against him - may assuage America's fury, even if he is killed or arrested, growing anti-American terrorism will persist. Terrorism is not some independent evil, like a tornado or plague, but blowback, to use CIA terminology, from America's policies in Asia and Africa. Lashing out in blind rage will make most Americans feel better, but won't lower the threat or reverse hatred of the US.

The most effective counter-terrorist policy is not military action but covert intelligence operations. However, US security agencies are woefully lacking in skilled field agents and foreign language speakers capable of infiltrating hostile groups. Even when good data is provided, its proper use is often thwarted at senior levels by domestic political pressures.

By now, not even the stupidest potential terrorists use open phone lines or email to broadcast their plans to NSA's chain of big electronic ears. As a result, the US too often relies on foreign agencies, such as Israel's Mossad, or Egyptian, Saudi and Turkish intelligence, whose information is invariably self-serving. Israel, for example, is pushing hard to convince the US that Iraq, its most worrisome enemy, was responsible for the attacks. India is telling the US its foe Pakistan was involved, and so on.

Interestingly, US intelligence was expecting terrorist attacks as a result of the Bush Administration's open backing of the iron-fisted policies of Israel's new rightwing government. But US security was deceived by false transmissions that led it to believe attacks would be made on US military installations abroad.

Frightful as things were last hellish week, they could get worse. Bush, whose grasp of foreign affairs is questionable, may be about to lead his nation on am aimless crusade against a foe that is nearly invisible, largely unknown, and elusive. Bombing the usual suspects won't be enough this time. Enraged Americans are consumed by war fever. There are calls for a crusade against all Muslims, even, absurdly, and nuclear strikes against Mecca. Blood demands blood. But where will it all end?

Copyright: Eric S. Margolis 2001

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For Syndication Information please contact:

Eric Margolis
c/o Editorial Department
The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East
Toronto Ontario Canada
M5A 3X5

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