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Congratulations, America. You have made bin Laden a happy man
22 January 2002
'We are turning ourselves into the kind of deceitful, ruthless people whom bin Laden imagines us to be'
Shackled, hooded, sedated. Taken to a remote corner of the world where they may be executed, where the laws of human rights are suspended. Sounds to me like the Middle East. Shackled, hooded, threatened with death by "courts" that would give no leeway to defence or innocence. In fact, it sounds like Beirut in the 1980s.
I've written this story before. Last time, I remember writing about the threats to my kidnapped journalist friend Terry Anderson of the Associated Press, tied up, hooded, always threatened by his "Islamist" captors in Lebanon. That was between 1986 and 1991 and Terry let us remember this distinction was no man of violence. He was a journalist, a comrade, a friend. But he was most cruelly treated, allowed no contacts with his family, held in cold confinement, threatened with death every bit as absolute as the American military courts that know they hold the fate of al-Qa'ida's men in their hands.
And then I remember the revolting prison of Khiam where Israel locked up its Lebanese adversaries real and presumed, none tried by a court and where prisoners were brought, shackled, hooded, sedated, for questioning. Their interrogation included electric torture electrified metal attached to penis and nipples (there were women prisoners, too) which could never happen at Guantanamo Bay, as America's Israeli allies taught their Lebanese militia men in 1980. They in turn taught it to their Lebanese Shia militia enemies who used electricity on their captives.
America, Israel's friend, could have closed down this sick, disgusting prison if it had insisted. But Washington remained silent. The Lebanese Shia prisoners were left to face the men who applied electrodes to their testicles. The nation that would later declare a war of good against evil didn't see much wrong at Khiam.
And now, a trip down memory lane. In the 1980s, when I was covering the war in Afghanistan between the brave mujahedin guerrillas and the Soviet occupiers, Arab fighters armed by the Americans, paid by the Saudis and the West would occasionally be captured by the Russians or by their Afghan communist satrap allies. For the most part, the Arabs were Egyptians. They would be paraded on Kabul television and then executed as "terrorists". We called them "freedom fighters". President Reagan claimed that their masters were not unlike the Founding Fathers.
From time to time, these revolutionary forces would sally forth across the Amu Darya river to attack the Soviet Union itself. The "Arab" Afghans would attack a foreign country from Afghanistan. They would do so in their war against occupation. We supported them. For, yes, they were "freedom fighters". Now, having opposed America, having dared to oppose US forces inside Afghanistan, in order to destroy US forces "occupying" part of the Arab world in Saudi Arabia, in Kuwait they have become "unlawful combatants", "battlefield detainees". That, in essence, is what the Russians called them in the 1980s. It justified their detention in the hideous Pol e-Chowkri prison outside Kabul, their incarceration like animals partly exposed to the elements before their appearance in front of unfair, drumhead courts.
Minus the torture, the United States is now doing what most Arab regimes have been doing for decades: arresting their brutal "Islamist" enemies, holding them incommunicado, chained and hooded, while preparing unfair trials. President Mubarak of Egypt would approve. So would King Abdullah of Jordan. So would the Saudis, whose grotesque, hopelessly unfair system of Islamic "justice" would be familiar to America's prisoners. The jails of Saddam would be far worse - let us keep things in proportion but in most of the Arab world and Israel, al-Qa'ida would receive similar treatment.
And whether we like it or not, many Saudis believe that American troops are occupying their country, that the very presence of US soldiers in the Kingdom is a crime. King Fahd, of course, invited the Americans into Saudi Arabia in 1990, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. President Bush senior promised the Arabs they would leave when the threat of Iraqi occupation was over. But they are still there. Several years ago, I reported in The Independent that Crown Prince Abdullah the effective ruler now that the King is so badly incapacitated wanted the Americans to leave. Much jeering there was from American commentators. But now the Washington Post, no less, has reported that the Saudis want the Americans to quit and the commentators are silent. Not so US Secretary of State Colin Powell. For him, the American presence in Saudi Arabia may last until the world turns into "the kind of place we dreamed of". American troops in Saudi are not only a deterrent to Saddam, he said at the weekend, they are a "symbol" of American influence.
Could al-Qa'ida have a more potent reason for continued resistance? The "occupation" of Saudi Arabia remains the cornerstone of Osama bin Laden's battle against the United States, the original raison d'Ítre of his merciless struggle against America. And here is Mr Powell proving, in effect, that Washington had ulterior motives for sending him into the Gulf. When he added that "we shouldn't impose ourselves on the Government beyond the absolute minimum requirement that we have", the phrase "beyond the absolute minimum" tells it all. The United States will decide how long it stays in Saudi Arabia not the Saudis; which is exactly what Mr bin Laden has been saying all along.
Now we learn that US troops arrested six Arabs when they were released from a prison in Bosnia. The Bosnians announced that, since the Americans would not disclose the evidence that might be used against them in a trial to protect US "intelligence sources" the men should be released from their Bosnian prison. Which they were only to be seized by the Americans. And what did the Washington Post tell us in all seriousness? That, the operation was reportedly conducted by US troops acting independently of the Nato-led force (in Bosnia)."
Really? Is the Washington Post that stupid? Are we? Is that what law and order is all about? Yes, the West is fighting a cruel enemy. Anyone who has read the full video statement by Osama bin Laden in December must realise that the war against him indeed the conflict in Afghanistan has only just begun. But already we are turning ourselves into the kind of deceitful, ruthless people whom Mr bin Laden imagines us to be. Shackled, hooded, sedated. Prepared for a trial without full disclose of evidence. With a possible death sentence at the end, we are now the very model of the enemies Mr bin Laden wants to fight. He must be a happy man.