Acts of War

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The Washington Post reports that

Former FBI counterterrorism chief Bob Blitzer said it is difficult to say who planned the attack, but he was certain it was designed to capture the world’s attention.

“It has great impact and dovetails well with the upheaval in Israel,” Blitzer said. “It adds fuel to the fire. Whether it was planned to coincide or not, it keeps the pressure on in the Middle East.”…

With U.S. military installations on a heightened state of alert, Blitzer said yesterday’s blast could be followed by more violence directed at Americans. “You don’t know if this is a prelude to something else,” Blitzer said.

By the way, Blitzer is not talking about the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. As Blitzer concluded, “It is an act of war, blowing up a U.S. ship. It is absolutely an act of war.”

Blitzer was talking about the USS Cole, attacked October 12, 2000, in port in Yemen.

Have Americans already forgotten about the Cole? If so, shame on us. It happened less than a year ago.

For those in search of a legacy for ex-president Bill Clinton, a question: was Osama bin Laden responsible for attacking the Cole? If so, why did the United States do nothing? On November 22, 2000, the Washington Post reported that the Joint Chiefs were planning retaliation for the Cole.

And yet the retaliation never came.

Did Bill Clinton’s inaction embolden bin Laden to stage attacks on American soil?

The Cole was a military target. The attack on the Cole was an act of war, as surely as the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were acts of war.

(As an aside, will the United States declare war on Israel for its 1967 attack on the USS Liberty which killed 34 and injured 171, as reported most recently by James Bamford in his book Body of Secrets?).

A mere week before the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the Post reported that American investigators were heading back to Yemen to follow-up on the Cole attack (eleven months after the attack). On September 4, 2001, the Post reported that

FBI agents have been trying to determine whether bin Laden is linked to the bombing but have yet to announce a definitive relationship. Bin Laden, a fugitive in Afghanistan, has been indicted in New York for orchestrating the August 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. Shortly after the FBI pulled its agents out of Yemen, a new bin Laden videotape began circulating in the Middle East in which the exiled Saudi millionaire hailed the bombing of the Cole.

In the attack on the Cole, two men apparently piloted a rubber raft packed with explosives next to the Cole and blew themselves up, nearly destroying the ship. They may have acted as if they were tying a line to the Cole, or ferrying supplies, or they may have simply sailed next to the ship and detonated.

At any rate, the pattern is similar to that in the American attacks. Conventional means, designed not to arouse suspicion, aimed precisely where the greatest damage could be done.

As was reported at the time, the Cole’s attackers hit near center ship, and very near the gas turbines. Had they hit the turbines, the ship would have been cut in two and sunk, if not disintegrated. Clearly, the Cole’s attackers knew what they were doing.

But, of course, they had ample opportunity to prepare, since the attack had originally been planned for the USS The Sullivans in January 2000, but failed when the boat sank from the heavy load of explosives.

A few other issues. First, how is it that our intelligence agencies have let us down so dramatically? Consider how many attacks have gone on despite the billions we spend on “intelligence”: the January attack on the Sullivans, the October attack on the Cole, and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Although the Cole attack involved two men (at least, two men were in the boat, however many may have helped them), there were reportedly 18 hijackers in the attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Those are a lot of people to characterize as having “slipped through the cracks.” The FBI recently admitted allowing an innocent man to stay in prison for 30 years. Have we been too lenient in chasing down terrorists in order to develop better leads?

Second, the Washington Post reports that

Two senior federal officials said today that concerns about terrorism will cause Washington’s Reagan National Airport to remain closed indefinitely…Reagan National’s close proximity to the White House and other government buildings prompted the decision to close the airport.

It’s a shame that this wasn’t considered when the decision was made to spend around $1 billion on renovations to the airport. As the Post reported in 1997, prior to the renovations, safety was a concern, not terrorism. As things stand today, how will the construction bonds be paid off?

Two final notes. First, Osama bin Laden has also been linked to the events soon to be shown on the big screen in Black Hawk Down, namely, the deaths of the US Army Rangers in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993.

For two reasons, one hopes that Americans have not forgotten the scenes of dead American servicemen being dragged through the streets, while crowds celebrated. First, those soldiers died serving their country, and should be honored. Second, if the United States is not careful (perhaps even if is careful) in retaliating for the events of September 11, the scenes of Mogadishu may soon be repeated on live television – only this time, from Afghanistan or the West Bank.

Second, to pre-empt the expected moronic charges that I am either “anti-Israeli” or unpatriotic, I have nothing against Israelis, and I most certainly love my country. I respect the Jewish people for their culture and achievements in the same way that I respect the Arab peoples for their culture and accomplishments.

That being said, the current policies of the Israeli government can only lead to continuing violence. Assassinating Palestinian leaders as a matter of official policy cannot lead to peace over the long term. No matter how many are killed, such actions shall only encourage more violent resistance. Additionally, although I want to see those responsible for the Cole, World Trade Center, and Pentagon attacks brought to justice, I do not believe that a full-scale war is the best way to do this, nor do I believe that Americans should become even more unfree than they have already become. I urge only caution, thought before action, and a careful consideration of consequences, both short-term and long-term.

The more people we kill in retaliation, the more people who will burn with an unquenchable hatred of the United States. The danger lies in selecting prudent courses of action between genocide (which is immoral, and not at all “retaliation”) and surgical strikes, which may not succeed.

Human life is sacred. Millions of lives may ride on the decisions made now. See the photo at right? Imagine that is your house, rather than an unknown house in the Balkans, being obliterated. That is nothing to cheer about.

The stakes are very high, and we dare not blunder.

Additional Reading

Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

© 2001 David Dieteman

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