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Tackle Terror at Its Roots

12 November 2001

The war against terrorism, the prime minister tells us, could last for years and, although only one country has been bombed so far, it has been made clear that any country which is suspected of harboring terrorist groups could be attacked. President Bush has said that "those who are not with us are against us" which defines the enemy even more broadly.

Initially these operations were described as a crusade, but we are now told that this is not a "holy war" against Islam, although the Archbishop of Canterbury, on his visit to the Middle East, has pronounced it to be a "just war" that good Christians can and should support.

Osama bin Laden has been named as the man behind the atrocity in New York but there is no question of him being brought to trial because the United States is opposed to any international war crimes tribunal which would have the authority to try US citizens. In any case, ex-president Clinton and President Bush have already ordered that he be assassinated on sight.

It is easy to see why the US does not want Bin Laden brought to court. In his own defense he would, no doubt, point out that he was armed and financed by the CIA as a freedom fighter (or terrorist) to oust the Russians when they invaded Afghanistan. Apart from a UN security council resolution condemning terrorism, the procedure for dealing with threats to peace under the UN charter have been set aside. By invoking Article 5 NATO did not absolve itself from the responsibilities laid down in the NATO treaty to abide by the provisions of the UN charter.

People who have been campaigning against the bombing at massive demonstrations all over the world - another big one takes place in London on November 18 - have been compared to those who appeased Hitler, or accused of lacking moral fiber (a wartime phrase used to describe cowardice in the face of the enemy), or of somehow having forgotten the horrific scenes in New York that day.

Paul Marsden, in his remarkable but wholly credible account of his meeting with the Labour chief whip, was apparently told that opposition to war was not accepted as a matter of conscience. Strenuous efforts were made to prevent any vote against the war from taking place in the House, and the government has so far refused to seek a positive vote for its policy in the Commons.

Meanwhile B-52s are carpet bombing the Taliban lines in the hope that the Northern Alliance will seize the opportunity thus created to break through and save the lives of US troops who might otherwise be sacrificed in battle - a questionable strategy which would create huge political problems were the Northern Alliance to take over the whole country.

Despite all the war-like statements emerging every day from No 10, Britain's military role has been minuscule, apparently limited to firing a few missiles from a submarine, providing logistic support and keeping some British soldiers on standby.

The real value to Washington of the prime minister's involvement is that he is providing political cover for whatever the president wants to do, thus breathing life into that popular phrase the "international community" which helps to divert attention from the fact that this is not a UN war.

And so, as winter approaches with the possibility that hundreds of thousands of people may starve or freeze to death, we are being reassured that this is a just war that we must and can win.

Perhaps we should be asking ourselves whether by our silence, we may be acquiescing in the perpetration of crimes against humanity in that those who have already suffered so much are now suffering even more because their land is urgently needed for a pipeline to get Caspian oil to the US market.

Some people, who are very unhappy about all this, do ask the question: "what would you do?" But if terrorism is ever to be eliminated it must be tackled at its roots, by forcing Israel to accept a Palestinian state, ending the bombing of Iraq and the killing of its citizens by sanctions, withdrawing US forces from Saudi Arabia and establishing a truly international court of justice able to deal with terrorism. Bush's recent refusal to meet Arafat means Washington is not serious about a settlement.

Perhaps the most important lesson of all is that our best hope of building a safer and more peaceful world lies in reconstructing our policy around the UN and authorizing it to control the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the multinational corporations which now dominate the global economy and expect the Pentagon to step in to defend their interests from any national liberation movements that might threaten their profits.

Tony Benn.
Published in the Guardian.
Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001.

Index page on Response to attacks in US


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