9/11 (Noam Chomsky) [2001]


Detta är en samling av några frågor som ställts till Noam Chomsky i samband med 9/11 och hans svar på dessa. De som redan är bekanta med Chomskys texter kommer inte att hitta mycket nytt, jag tror att boken är skriven främst för nya läsare. Jag tycker inte om att vara cynisk, men terrordåden i New York presenterade ett bra tillfälle att hitta nya läsare för många. Det gäller såväl de som stödjer USA:s utrikespolitik som bättre pålästa människor som är starkt kritiska till den, däribland Noam Chomsky. Jag tänker inte i detalj diskutera boken, utan nöjer mig med att dela med mig av ett par citat.

Citat 1:

The United States continues international terrorism. […] Everybody here was quite properly outraged by the Oklahoma City bombing, and for a couple of days the headlines read, “Oklahoma City Looks Like Beirut.” I didn’t see anybody point out that Beirut also looks like Beirut, and part of the reason is that the Reagan administration had set off a terrorist bombing there in 1985 that was very much like Oklahoma City, a truck bombing outside a mosque timed to kill the maximum number of people as they left. It killed 80 and wounded 250, mostly women and children, according to a report in the Washington Post 3 years later. […] I don’t know what name you give to the policies that are a leading factor in the death of maybe a million civilians in Iraq and maybe a half a million children, which is the price the Secretary of State says we’re willing to pay. Is there a name for that? Supporting Israeli atrocities is another one.

Citat 2:

Or take the destruction of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, one little footnote in the record of state terror, quickly forgotten. What would the reaction have been if the bin Laden network had blown up half the pharmaceutical supplies in the U.S. and the facilities for replenishing them? We can imagine, though the comparison is unfair: the consequences are vastly more severe in Sudan. That aside, if the U.S. or Israel or England were to be the target of such an atrocity, what would the reaction be? In this case we say, “Oh, well, too bad, minor mistake, let’s go on to the next topic, let the victims rot.” Other people in the world don’t react like that. When bin Laden brings up that bombing, he strikes a resonant chord, even among those who despise and fear him; and the same unfortunately, is true of much of the rest of his rhetoric.

Though it is merely a footnote, the Sudan case is nonetheless highly instructive. One interesting aspect is the reaction when someone dares to mention it. I have in the past, and did so again in response to queries from journalists shortly after the 9-11 atrocities. I mentioned that the toll of the ”horrendous crime” of 9/11, committed with ”wickedness and awesome cruelty” (quoting Robert Fisk), may be comparable to the consequences of Clinton’s bombing of the Al-Shifa plant in August 1998. That plausible conclusion elicited an extraordinary reaction, filling many web sites and journals with feverish and fanciful condemnations, which I’ll ignore. The only important aspect is that that single sentence — which, on a closer look, appears to be an understatement — was regarded by some commentators as utterly scandalous. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that at some deep level, however they may deny it to themselves, they regard our crimes against the weak to be as normal as the air we breathe. Our crimes, for which we are responsible: as taxpayers, for failing to provide massive reparations, for granting refuge and immunity to the perpetrators, and for allowing the terrible facts to be sunk deep in the memory hole. All of this is of great significance, as it has been in the past.

About the consequences of the destruction of the Al-Shifa plant, we have only estimates. Sudan sought a UN inquiry into the justifications for the bombing, but even that was blocked by Washington, and few seem to have tried to investigate beyond. But we surely should. Perhaps we should begin by recalling some virtual truisms, at least among those with a minimal concern for human rights. When we estimate the human toll of a crime, we count not only those who were literally murdered on the spot but those who died as a result. That is the course we adopt reflexively, and properly when we consider the crimes of official enemies – Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, to mention the most extreme cases. Here, we do not consider the crime to be mitigated by fact that it was not intended but was a reflection of institutional and ideological structures: the Chines famine of 1958-1961, to take an extreme case, is not dismissed on grounds that it was a “mistake” and that Mao did not “intend” to kill tens of millions of people. Nor is it mitigated by speculations about his personal reasons for the orders that led to the famine. Similarly, we would dismiss with contempt the charge that condemnation of Hitler’s crimes in Eastern Europe overlooks Stalin’s crimes. If we are even pretending to be serious, we apply the same standards to ourselves, always. In this case, we count the number who died as a consequence of the crime, not just those killed in Khartoum by cruise missiles; and we do not consider the crime to be mitigated by the fact that it reflects the normal functioning of policymaking and ideological institutions – as it did, even if there is some validity to the (to my mind, dubious) speculations about Clinton’s personal problems, which are irrelevant to this question anyway, for the reasons that everyone takes for granted when considering the crimes of official enemies.

With these truisms in mind, let’s have a look at some of the material that was readily available in the mainstream press. I disregard the extensive analysis of the validity of Washington’s pretexts, of little moral significance in comparison to the question of consequences.

A year after the attack, “without the lifesaving medicine (the destroyed facilities) produced, Sudan’s death toll from the bombing has continued, quietly, to rise… Thus, tens of thousands of people – many of them children – have suffered and died from malaria, tuberculosis, and other treatable diseases… (Al-Shifa) provided affordable medicine for humans and all the locally available veterinary medicine in Sudan. It produced 90 percent of Sudan’s major pharmaceutical products… Sanctions against Sudan make it impossible to import adequate amounts of medicines required to cover the serious gap left by the plant’s destruction… The action taken by Washington on August 20, 1998, continues to deprive the people of Sudan of needed Medicine. Millions must wonder how the International Court of Justice in The Hague will celebrate this anniversary” (Jonathan Belke, Boston Globe, August 22, 1999).

Germany’s Ambassador to Sudan writes that “It is difficult to assess how many people in this poor African country died as a consequence of the destruction of the Al-Shifa factory, but several tens of thousands seems a reasonable guess” (Werner Daum, “Universalism and the West,” Harvard International Review, Summer 2001).

“The loss of this factory is a tragedy for the rural communities who need these medicines” [Tom Carnaffin, technical manager with “intimate knowledge” of the destroyed plant, quoted in Ed Vulliamy, Henry McDonald, Shyam Bhatia, and Martin Bright, London Observer, August 23, 1998, lead story, page 1].

Al-Shifa “provided 50 percent of Sudan’s medicines, and its destruction has left the country with no supplies of chloroquine, the standard treatment for malaria,” but months later, the British Labour government refused requests “to resupply chloroquine in emergency relief until such time as the Sudanese can rebuild their pharmaceutical production” [Patrick Wintour, Observer, December 20, 1998].

The Al-Shifa facility was “the only one producing TB drugs – for more than 100,000 patients, at about 1 British pound a month. Costlier imported versions are not an option for most of them – or for their husbands, wives and children, who will have been infected since. Al-Shifa was also the only factory making veterinary drugs in this vast, mostly pastoralist, country. Its specialty was drugs to kill the parasites which pass from herds to herders, one of Sudan’s principal causes of infant morality” [James Astill, Guardian, October 2, 2001].

The silent death toll continues to mount.

These accounts are by respected journalists writing in leading journals. The one exception is the most knowledgeable of the sources just cited, Jonathan Belke, regional program manager for the Near East Foundation, who writes on the basis of field experience in Sudan. The Foundation is a respected development institute dating back to World War I. It provides technical assistance to poor countries in the Middle East and Africa, emphasizing grassroots locally-run development projects, and operates with close connections to major universities, charitable organization, and the State Department, including well-known Middle East diplomats and prominent figures in Middle East educational and developmental affairs.

According to credible analyses readily available to us, then, proportional to population, the destruction of Al-Shifa is as if the bin Laden network, in a single attack on the U.S., caused “hundreds of thousands of people – many of them children – to suffer and die from easily treatable diseases,” though the analogy, as noted, is unfair. Sudan is “one of the least developed areas in the world. Its harsh climate, scattered populations, health hazards and crumbling infrastructure combine to make life for many Sudanese a struggle for survival”; a country with endemic malaria, tuberculosis, and many other diseases, where “periodic outbreaks of meningitis or cholera are not uncommon,” so affordable medicines are a dire necessity [Jonathan Belke and Kamal El Faki, technical reports from the field for the Near East Foundation]. It is, furthermore, a country with limited arable land, a chronic shortage of potable water, a huge death rate, little industry, an unserviceable debt, wracked with AIDS, devastated by a vicious and destructive internal war, and under severe sanctions. What is happening within is largely speculation, including Belke’s (quite plausible) estimate that within a year tens of thousands had already “suffered and died” as the result of the destruction of the major facilities producing affordable drugs and veterinary medicines.

This only scratches the surface.

Human Rights Watched reported immediately reported that as an immediate consequence of the bombing, “all UN agencies based in Khartoum have evacuated their American staff, as have many other relief organizations,” so that “many relief efforts have been postponed indefinitely, including a crucial one run by the U.S.-based International Rescue Committee (in a government town) where more than fifty southerners are dying daily”; these are regions in “southern Sudan, where the UN estimates that 2.4 millon people are at risk of starvation,” and the “disruption in assistance” for the “devastated population” may produce a “terrible crisis.”

What is more, the U.S. bombing “appears to have shattered the slowly evolving move toward compromise between Sudan’s warring sides” and terminated promising steps towards a peace agreement to end the civil war that had left 1.5 million dead since 1981, which might have also led to “peace in Uganda and the entire Nile Basin.” The attack apparently “shattered… the expected benefits of a political shift at the heart of Sudan’s domestic crises, to end support for terrorism, and to reduce the influence of radical Islamists (Mark Huband, Financial Times, September 8, 1998).

Insofar as such consequences ensued, we may compare the crime in Sudan to assassination of Lumumba, which helped plunge the Congo into decades of slaughter, still continuing; or the overthrow of the democratic government of Guatemala in 1954, which led to 40 years of hideous atrocities; and all too many others like it.

Huband’s conclusions are reiterated three years later by James Astill, in the article just cited. He reviews “the political cost to a country struggling to emerge from totalitarian military dictatorship, ruinous Islamism and long-running civil war” before the missile attack, which “overnight (plunged Khartoum) into the nightmare of impotent extremism it had been trying to escape.” This “political cost” may have been even more harmful to Sudan than the destruction of its “fragile medical services,” he concludes.

Astill quotes Dr. Idris Eltayeb, one of Sudan’s handful of pharmacologists and chairman of the board of Al-Shifa: the crime, he says, is “just as much an act of terrorism as at the Twin Towers – the only difference is we know who did it. I feel very sad about the loss of life (in New York and Washington), but in terms of numbers, and the relative cost to a poor country, (the bombing in Sudan) was worse.”

Unfortunately, he may be right about “the loss of life in terms of numbers,” even if we do not take into account the longer-term “political-cost.”

Evaluating “relative cost” is an enterprise I won’t try to pursue, and it goes without saying that ranking crimes on some scale is generally ridiculous, though comparison of the toll is perfectly reasonable and indeed standard in scholarship.

The bombing also carrier severe costs for the people of the United States, as became glaringly evident on September 11, or should have. It seems to me remarkable that this has not been brought up prominently (if at all), in the extensive discussion of intelligence failures that lie behind the 9-11 atrocities.

Just before the 1998 missile strike, Sudan detained two men suspected of bombing the American embassies in East Africa, notifying Washington, U.S. officials confirmed. But the U.S. rejected Sudan’s offer of cooperation, and after the missile attack, Sudan “angrily released” the suspects (James Risen, New York Times, July 30, 1999); they have since been identified as bin Laden operatives. Recently leaked FBI memos add another reason why Sudan “angrily released” the suspects. The memos reveal that the FBI wanted them extradited, but State Department refused. One “senior CIA source” now describes this and other rejections of Sudanese offers of cooperation as “the worst single intelligence failure in this whole terrible business” of September 11. “It is the key to the whole thing now” because of the voluminous evidence on bin Laden that Sudan offered to produce, offers that were repeatedly rebuffed because of the administration’s “irrational hatred” of Sudan, the senior CIA source reports. Included in Sudan’s rejected offers was “a vast intelligence database on Osama bin Laden and more than 200 leading members of his al-Qaeda terrorist network in the years leading up to the 11 September attacks.” Washington was “offered thick files, with photographs and detailed biographies of many of his principal cadres, and vital information about al-Qaeda’s financial interests in many parts of the globe,” but refused to accept the information, out of “irrational hatred” of the target of its missile attack. “It is reasonable to say that had we had this data we may have had a better chance of preventing the attacks” of September 11, the same senior CIA source concludes (David Rose, Observer, September 30, reporting an Observer investigation).

One can scarcely try to estimate the toll of the Sudan bombing, even apart from the probably tens of thousands of immediate Sudanese victims. The complete toll is attributable to the single act of terror – at least, if we have the honesty to adopt the standards we properly apply to official enemies. The reaction in the West tells us a lot about ourselves, if we agree to adopt another moral truism: look into the mirror.

Or to return to “our little region over here which never has bothered anybody,” as Henry Stimson called the Western hemisphere, take Cuba. After many years of terror beginning in late 1959, including very serious atrocities, Cuba should have the right to resort to violence against the U.S. according to U.S. doctrine that is scarcely questioned. It is, unfortunately, all too easy to continue, not only with regard to the U.S. but also other terrorist states.

You said that the main practitioners of terrorism are countries like the U.S. that use violence for political motives, When and where? I find the question baffling. As I’ve said elsewhere, the U.S. is, after all, the only country condemned by the World Court for international terrorism-for ”the unlawful use of force” for political ends, as the Court put it-ordering the U.S. to terminate these crimes and pay substantial reparations. The U.S. of course dismissed the Court’s judgment with contempt, reacting by escalating the terrorist war against Nicaragua and vetoing a Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe international law (and voting along, with Israel and in one case El Salvador, against similar General Assembly resolutions). The terrorist war expanded in accordance with the official policy of attacking ”soft targets”-undefended civilian targets, like agricultural collectives and health clinics-instead of engaging the Nicaraguan army. The terrorists were able to carry out these instructions, thanks to the complete control of Nicaraguan air space by the U.S. and the advanced communications equipment provided to them by their supervisors. It should also be recognized that these terrorist actions were widely approved. One prominent commentator, Michael Kinsley, at the liberal extreme of the mainstream, argued that we should not simply dismiss State Department justifications for terrorist attacks on ”soft targets”: a ”sensible policy” must ”meet the test of cost-benefit analysis,” he wrote, an analysis of ”the amount of blood and misery that will be poured in, and the likelihood that democracy will emerge at the other end”-”democracy” as the U.S. understands that term, an interpretation illustrated quite clearly in the region. It is taken for granted that U.S. elites have the right to conduct the analysis and pursue the project if it passes their tests. Even more dramatically, the idea that Nicaragua should have the right to defend itself was considered outrageous across the mainstream political spectrum in the United States. The U.S. pressured allies to stop providing Nicaragua with arms, hoping that it would turn to Russia, as it did; that provides the right propaganda images. The Reagan administration repeatedly floated rumors that Nicaragua was receiving jet fighters from Russia- to protect its airspace, as everyone knew, and to prevent U.S. terrorist attacks against ”soft targets.” The rumors were false, but the reaction was instructive. The doves questioned the rumors, but said that if they are true, of course we must bomb Nicaragua, because it will be a threat to our security. Database searches revealed that there was scarcely a hint that Nicaragua had the right to defend itself. That tells us quite a lot about the deep-seated ”culture of terrorism” that prevails in Western civilization. This is by no means the most extreme example; I mention it because it is uncontroversial, given the World Court decision, and because the failed efforts of Nicaragua to pursue lawful means, instead of setting off bombs in Washington, provide a model for today, not the only one. Nicaragua was only one component of Washington’s terrorist wars in Central America in that terrible decade, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and four countries in ruins. During the same years the U.S. was carrying out large-scale terrorism elsewhere, including the Middle East: to cite one example, the car bombing in Beirut in 1985 outside a mosque, timed to kill the maximum number of civilians, with 80 dead and 250 casualties, aimed at a Muslim sheikh, who escaped. And it supported much worse terror: for example, Israel’s invasion of Lebanon that killed some 18,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, not in self-defense, as was conceded at once; and the vicious ”iron fist” atrocities of the years that followed, directed against ”terrorist villagers,” as Israel put it. And the subsequent invasions of 1993 and 1996, both strongly supported by the U.S. (until the international reaction to the Qana massacre in 1996, which caused Clinton to draw back). The post-1982 toll in Lebanon alone is probably another 20,000 civilians. In the 1990s, the U.S. provided 80 percent of the arms for Turkey’s counterinsurgency campaign against Kurds in its southeast region, killing tens of thousands, driving 2-3 million out of their homes, leaving 2,500 villages destroyed (7 times Kosovo under NATO bombs), and with every imaginable atrocity. The arms flow had increased sharply in 1984 as Turkey launched its terrorist attack and begin to decline to previous levels only in 1999, when the atrocities had achieved their goal. In 1999, Turkey fell from its position as the leading recipient of U.S. arms (Israel-Egypt aside), replaced by Columbia, the worst human rights violator in the hemisphere in the 1990s, and by far the leading recipient of U.S. arms and training, following a consistent pattern. In East Timor, the U.S. (and Britain) continued their support of the Indonesian aggressors, who had already wiped out about 1/3 of the population with their crucial help. That continued right through the atrocities of 1999, with thousands murdered even before the early September assault that drove 85 percent of the population from their homes and destroyed 70 percent of the country- while the Clinton administration kept to its position that ”it is the responsibility of the government of Indonesia, and we don’t want to take that responsibility away from them.” That was September 8, well after the worst of the September atrocities had been reported. By then Clinton was coming under enormous pressure to do something to mitigate the atrocities, mainly from Australia but also from home. A few days later, the Clinton administration indicated to the Indonesian generals that the game was over. They instantly reversed course. They had been strongly insisting that they would never withdraw from East Timor, and they were in fact setting up defenses in Indonesian West Timor (using British jets, which Britain continued to send) to repel a possible intervention force. When Clinton gave the word, they reversed course 180 degrees and announced that they would withdraw, allowing an Australian-led UN peacekeeping force to enter unopposed by the army. The course of events reveals very graphically the latent power that was always available to Washington, and that could have been used to prevent 25 years of virtual genocide culminating in the new wave of atrocities from early 1999. Instead, successive U.S. administrations, joined by Britain and others in 1978 when atrocities were peaking, preferred to lend crucial support, military and diplomatic, to the killers-to ”our kind of guy,” as the Clinton administration described the murderous President Suharto. These facts, clear and dramatic, identify starkly the prime locus of responsibility for these terrible crimes of 25 years-in fact, continuing in miserable refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor. We also learn a lot about Western civilization from the fact that this shameful record is hailed as evidence of our new dedication to ”humanitarian intervention,” and a justification for the NATO bombing of Serbia. I have already mentioned the devastation of Iraqi civilian society, with about 1 million deaths, over half of them young children, according to reports that cannot simply be ignored. This is only a small example. I am, frankly, surprised that the question can even be raised-particularly in France, which has made its own contributions to massive state terror and violence, surely not unfamiliar. [Editor’s note: Chomsky is being interviewed by French media here, thus the references to France.]

Citat 3:

In the background there are other minefields that planners must step through with care. To quote Arundhati Roy again, ”The Taliban’s response to U.S. demands for the extradition of bin Laden has been uncharacteristically reasonable: produce the evidence, then we’ll hand him over. President Bush’s response is that the demand is non-negotiable.” She also adds one of the many reasons why this framework is unacceptable to Washington: ”While talks are on for the extradition of CEOs, can India put in a side request for the extradition of Warren Anderson of the U.S.? He was the chairman of Union Carbide, responsible for the Bhopal gas leak that killed 16,000 people in 1984. We have collated the necessary evidence. It’s all in the files. Could we have him, please?”

We needn’t invent examples. The Haitian government has been asking the U.S. to extradite Emmanuel Constant, one of the most brutal of the paramilitary leaders while the (first) Bush and Clinton administrations (contrary to many illusions) were lending tacit support to the ruling junta and its rich constituency. Constant was tried in absentia in Haiti and sentenced to life in prison for his role in massacres. Has he been extradited? To be sure, there are good reasons for the negative answers: extradition might lead to exposure of links that could be embarrassing for Washington. And after all, he was a leading figure in the slaughter of only about 5,000 people-relative to population, a few hundred thousand in the United States.

Citat 4:

There are proper and lawful ways to proceed in the case of crimes, whatever their scale. And there are precedents. A clear example is the one I just mentioned, one that should be entirely uncontroversial, because of the reaction of the highest international authorities. Nicaragua in the 1980’s was subjected to violent assault by the U.S. Tens of thousands of people died. The country was substantially destroyed, it may never recover. The international terrorist attack was accompanied by a devastating economic war, which a small country isolated by a vengeful and cruel superpower could scarcely sustain, as the leading historians of Nicaragua, Thomas Walker for one, have reviewed in detail. The effects on their country are much more severe even than the tragedies in New York the other day. They didn’t respond by setting of bombs in Washington. They went to the World Court, which ruled in their favor, ordering the U.S. to desist and pay substantial reparations. The U.S. dismissed the court judgment with contempt, responding with an immediate escalation of the attack. So Nicaragua then went to the Security Council, which considered a resolution calling on states to observe international law. The U.S. alone vetoed it. They went to the General Assembly, where they got a similar resolution that passed with the U.S. and Israel opposed two years in a row (joined once by El Salvador). That’s the way a state could have set up another criminal court. Those are the measures the U.S. could pursue, and nobody’s going to block it. That’s what they’re being asked to do by people throughout the region, including their allies.


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