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Skeptimedia is a commentary on mass media treatment of issues concerning science, the paranormal, and the supernatural.

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A Blot on America's Record

"The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind." -- H. L. Mencken

May 13, 2009. The whole world now knows that the Bush/Cheney regime argued that the invasion of Iraq was necessary to protect America. The U.S. had been "attacked" by terrorists in an "act of war." Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Al-Qaeda in planning and executing the attack on America. Iraq was concealing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs from international inspectors and could share those weapons with terrorists. We were in grave danger.

We now know that Saddam Hussein and Iraq had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda and 9/11, nor did Iraq possess weapons of mass destruction just prior to our invasion of that country. We know our agents tortured people to get information about "chief Al-Qaeda operatives," "war plans," and "likely future attacks." We know we tortured some people in countries like Egypt, but the CIA records have been destroyed and their agents are not likely to reveal anything about the practice of "rendition."

We now know that the U.S. was not attacked in an act of war, any more than we were attacked by an illegal militia when Timothy McVeigh and his patriotic pals bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. The terrorists who hijacked commercial airplanes were not sent by a foreign country to attack us. They were a bunch of criminals who committed one of the most high-profile crimes ever. This was not the first act in a long list of acts that some mastermind in a foreign state was designing and controlling. This was, we might say, a black swan among crimes. Whatever terror was evoked by watching the twin towers collapse and seeing the wreckage at the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field, that terror pales in comparison to the terror our own government leaders would arouse in order to justify a series of irrational acts, including invading Iraq and torturing captives in foreign countries. As a nation, we were led by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell and others to be, in the words of Daniel Gardner, "terrified of terrorism." We were also led to believe we were fighting a War on Terror—as if terrorism were a nation, not a tactic.

We should remember 9/12 as vividly as we remember 9/11. It was on 9/12 that President George W. Bush told the nation that the murderous and suicidal acts of 19 Islamic fanatics were "acts of war" and that "freedom and democracy are under attack." A few days later the UK's Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed that terrorist warmongers "would, if they could, go further and use chemical or biological or even nuclear weapons of mass destruction."* Bush, his cronies, and his allies have never looked back from that initial irrational and unjustified framing of the events of 9/11. Looking back over the past seven years and eight months, how many democracies have fallen to terrorists? None. The Patriot Act threatens our democracy and freedom more than Al-Qaeda does. How many lives have been taken by terrorists around the world? Under 400 a year. How many lives have been taken in Iraq? How much destruction has been done in Iraq? More U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq than were killed on 9/11 by the Egyptian Mohammed Atta and his gang. Estimates of Iraqis killed vary wildly. Some put the death toll at over 1,000,000. I have no idea how many Iraqis have died because of the U.S. invasion, but it's undoubtedly many more than Atta's crew killed. Let's not even mention the wounded and maimed for life.

Unless you live in Israel, your chance of being killed in a terrorist act is negligible. Why? It is not because the Bush regime has made the world a safer place. If anything, it made the world less safe. Furthermore, on 9/11 it looked as if our leaders were asleep at the wheel and could not be trusted to protect us. How could 19 Muslim fanatics armed with box cutters pull off their crime? Bush's answer was that Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden had help from Saddam Hussein. (Maybe they had help from aliens in space ships, too.) That answer is as false as the answer that Bush and his cronies planned and executed 9/11 themselves.

One way the Bush crew tried to convince the world that the Saddam connection and the threat of a more devastating "attack" on our country were real was to have Secretary of State Colin Powell go before the United Nations Security Council. Powell would testify that the U.S. had reliable intelligence of the Saddam connection and that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. A key element of Powell's argument came from "testimony" gathered from Ali Mohammed Abdelaziz al-Fakhry, known as Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (son of the Shaykh, the Libyan).Ali Mohammed Abdelaziz al-Fakhry According to U.S. Intelligence reports, Ali Mohammed Abdelaziz was a Libyan who had trained Al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and was captured in Pakistan in late 2001. Our intelligence was that Ali Mohammed Abdelaziz testified that Iraqi agents trained Al-Qaeda operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons.

Ali Mohammed Abdelaziz's testimony, it turns out, is a bit tainted. He seems to have been a victim of the Bush era practice known as "rendition," a euphemism for imprisoning and torturing those captured on the battlefield or arrested as terrorist suspects anywhere in the world where we have allies. Ali Mohammed Abdelaziz recanted his account after the invasion, claiming he was tortured, perhaps in Egypt. He said what he did to curry favor with his "harsh interrogators." No other evidence supports the Powell testimony, which he now refers to as "a blot on my record."* Stacy Sullivan, a counterterrorism adviser for the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, says that Ali Mohammed Abdelaziz's allegation was "pivotal" to the Bush administration's case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.*

Somehow, Ali Mohammed Abdelaziz ended up in a Libyan prison where, it was reported a few days ago, he committed suicide. For some reason, he was never transferred to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp with other top Al-Qaeda captives. According to the Libyan newspaper Oea, Ali Mohammed Abdelaziz al-Fakhry, known to U.S. intelligence as al-Libi, had been getting regular visits from his family before his reported suicide.

CNN reports:

As early as February 2002, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency warned that al-Libi "was likely intentionally misleading his debriefers," the Intelligence Committee report states. The CIA supported al-Libi's account, but added language to its January 2003 assessment noting that he would not have had first-hand knowledge of any weapons training, according to the committee.

Al-Libi might have had an interesting story to tell about a period of American history none of us should be proud of.

Meanwhile, as proof of the fairly successful job the Bush regime did in terrorizing the nation about terror, pollsters report that between 30 and 40 percent of American adults think we did the right thing in invading Iraq. Five years after the invasion, it was widely reported and should have been well known that Saddam Hussein was not involved in training Al-Qaeda terrorists or supplying them weapons, was not involved in 9/11, and did not have weapons of mass destruction. He was no more a threat to the United States than half a dozen other dictators around the world from Iran to North Korea. Saddam was no more a threat to the U.S., or to democracy and freedom, than the many militias that exist on our own soil. Yet, five years after the invasion, 43% of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11. Such a belief would help in the rationalization that we were morally justified in invading Iraq and killing Saddam (after a fair trial, of course). We were, after all, only protecting ourselves by a preemptive strike. Seven years after the invasion, 37% of U.S. adults still believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Many of us apparently accept the Bush administration's thinking that the absence of evidence is the evidence of existence.*

How many believe al-Libi committed suicide? Don't expect the Republicans or their press secretaries from Fox News or The Wall Street Journal** to concern themselves with this question. They're too busy maintaining their image as our protectors against terrorism. On the other hand, the non-Fox media have done their fair share in keeping the terror of terrorism alive. The mass media didn't orchestrate the terror of terrorism propaganda, but they continue to pass it on without much critical comment. Maureen Dowd spoke for many in the media when she wrote in July 2007 that "we're more vulnerable to terrorists than ever." Not everyone agrees. Canadian journalist Daniel Gardner expresses a very different point of view:

Terrorists are not formidable foes. If they were, they would fight using other means. It is precisely their weakness that lead them to carry out the slaughter of innocents—the one form of attack available to even the feeblest combatant. In itself, such slaughter is unlikely to deliver a serious blow to the enemy. But it does generate fear, and fear can inspire reactions that terrorists hope will advance their cause. (Gardner, p. 280).

Who knows? If the terrorists are lucky, they will be blamed for the collapse of the world economy, global warming, the exorbitant price of an inferior latte at famous coffee shops, and any outbreaks of influenza that occur on this or any other planet.

further reading

reader comments

Obama Moves to Bar Release of Detainee Abuse Photos (The President reverses "his position on the issue after commanders warned that the images could set off a deadly backlash against American troops." I wonder what led him to that conclusion?)

Pyszczynski, Thomas A. Sheldon Solomon, and Jeff Greenberg. 2002. In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror. American Psychological Association.

** Does Carl Rove really think he can evade the issue of torture as the official policy of the Bush administration by trying to divert attention to Nancy Pelosi? What did she know we were doing and when did she know it? Crawl back under your rock with Rush, Carl.

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