Grieve Christina with Care

Christina Taylor Greene, born at 12:50 p.m. on September 11, 2001; died at 10:10 a.m. on January 8, 2011.

Dear Christina,

I wanted to talk to you before you become a face on plastic amulets in our convenience stores, before the struggle over the meaning of your birth, life and death becomes a fight over political territory. I know I am appropriating your birth and death for myself. I do it with good intentions and in the hope that it would make you happy.

You were born in a moment of your nation’s despair, hatred, fear and rage. You knew none of that but you, as all of us, have lived in its grip for your whole life. It sounds as though your family didn’t let it hold you too hard. You were life for them when their country-people focussed on death. You were beauty and innocence and, little doubt, hope. Someone even put your face in a book called Faces of Hope, so you became a symbol for a larger circle of people than those who knew you and nurtured you.

That circle has failed you, Christina. Perhaps against our own wills we allowed your birth and the nourishment of your young life to be overtaken by our own selfish wishes for revenge, our desire to take back our own innocence by force, by our anger and rage and childishness. We moved from the terrible day of your birth too quickly, forgetting to mourn, forgetting what mourning means. We stayed in our rage and bitterness too long and polluted your environment so that it could no longer sustain you. We are famous for making this kind of mistake.

In the time since you were born we have killed many children like you. We thought we were doing that to protect you, so that you could grow up whole and strong and give us those gifts I see in your eyes. We forgot how easily and quickly we could destroy those gifts if we didn’t prepare ourselves to accept them.

We grew scabs over the pain caused us on the day of your birth. But they were scabs made of fear and a need for retribution and they allowed poisons to fester beneath them. We allowed our wounds to become fuel for violence. We have spent years spitting at each other. For all that I am against war and for peace, people have felt my spit on their faces too, I have been in such a rage about the killing. I know I am part of what killed you.

Yesterday, you went to hear and see Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords because you were interested in the workings of government and your curiosity caused a neighbour to invite you to meet her. Your interest, your neighbour’s interest in you, these are such good things. But we didn’t give you a good or safe place to explore your interests and curiosities. We gave you adults shouting inanities back and forth. We gave you insulting and hurtful and painful chatter. We made fun of people who called the rhetoric hurtful and insulting. We gave you words as weapons and vehicles to carry the poison of those festering injuries we sustained back on the day you were born. And long before that.

I’m not a romantic or an idealist, Christina. It’s become very difficult to say the words “all you need is love” and be taken seriously. Perhaps because we have never really understood what we meant when we said those words. Maybe we thought those words just meant “don’t worry, be happy”. Though even that is hardly a bad thing.

We seem to have forgotten that wise women and men (and children) have pondered the meaning of those words for centuries and only understood them fleetingly and through a dark glass. We don’t think those words are “useful” in “real” life which is harsh and hard and technical and practical and scientific and rational and emotionless. Many people sneer at those words, Christina, and think they are nice enough in a song but of no useful significance. Others think they can use them in their churches and synagogues and mosques and decide what they mean in those limited places and forget what it means to bring them out into the world – the real world that often doesn’t look as though it was made for love but was.

I’ve had a bad year myself, Christina. I watched a livestream of some very vengeful men hurting some peace-loving, gift-bearing people on a ship bound for a place called Gaza and it affected me profoundly even though I wasn’t quite sure how. I watched a bunch of vengeful men, and probably some women, intimidate, corral, beat and imprison some friends of mine in Toronto and it affected me profoundly even though I wasn’t quite sure how. It has seemed in the past year that everything I’ve always worked for and towards was in tatters and that the world was going from bad to worse. I wondered if there was anything I could really hope for, or in, any more. I’ve been pretty angry and have often felt embittered. I use that word, “embittered”, because I felt someone made me bitter, I didn’t take responsibility for choosing bitterness. That was dumb of me. I take that back. I am not bitter, I was just being stupid for awhile. You have caused me to wake up a bit.

I want this bad death that has been inflicted upon you by all of us to lead to something better, if not something good. Like a world where kids can admire and respect and actually learn some wisdom from their elders because their elders have taken the trouble to be respectable and wise. A world where it’s actually sensible to participate in the ways we govern and nurture ourselves and look after others because we do our best at it and respect ourselves and others who try. Hey Christina – a world in which we’ve taken the trouble to know ourselves and understand what a good life might be and care enough to work for it. If we got that for ourselves, if we thought enough of ourselves to demand it, we wouldn’t be able to help being good to each other, because that’s what being good to each other requires.

We need to grieve you now, child. I admit, I’m trying to get on the grief bandwagon here quickly and take over. I know I’m going to be angered by the way your death gets exploited and people tread either too hard or too lightly on your life and its meaning. I know I’m going to get it wrong too. I just hope I can stay committed to a gentle path of grieving you, one on which I don’t cling too hard and fast to anything in particular and don’t respond too nastily to others who think they know what you meant and what you mean. I do think I know something though. I’ll try to hold onto it and share it, in your honour, without wearing my rage.

You are so beautiful. I’m glad to know you. And so sad you are gone.

Tortuous Debates

This op-ed by Frank Rich at NYT should put an end to them.  But won’t:

Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to “protect” us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from “another 9/11,” torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House’s illegality.

Read the whole thing here

A Time for War?

Norman Solomon at CommonDreams:

The United States began its war in Afghanistan 88 months ago. “The war on terror” has no sunset clause. As a perpetual emotion machine, it offers to avenge what can never heal and to fix grief that is irreparable.

For the crimes against humanity committed on Sept. 11, 2001, countless others are to follow, with huge conceits about technological “sophistication” and moral superiority. But if we scrape away the concrete of media truisms, we may reach substrata where some poets have dug.

W.H. Auden: “Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return.

Stanley Kunitz: “In a murderous time / the heart breaks and breaks / and lives by breaking.”

And from 1965, when another faraway war got its jolt of righteous escalation from Washington’s certainty, Richard Farina wrote: “And death will be our darling and fear will be our name.” Then as now came the lessons that taught with unfathomable violence once and for all that unauthorized violence must be crushed by superior violence.

The U.S. war effort in Afghanistan owes itself to the enduring “war on terrorism,” chasing a holy grail of victory that can never be.

Read the whole thing here

We need to  get out of Afghanistan.  Instead, Barack Obama’s going inwith his own version of a “surge”, also known as counterinsurgency.  So there’s an insurgency in Afghanistan – as always.  Afghanistan will be Obama’s war.

I don’t like to harp on the number of Canadian soldiers who have died for the US in Afghanistan.  After all, many more Afghans have died.  Still.  108.

greenfield_090131

Sean Greenfield

Age: 25 years

UPDATE:  From Jim Lobe at CommonDreams -

In a new report released Tuesday by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Gilles Dorronsoro, a French expert on South Asia, argued that adding troops would actually be counter-productive because the mere presence of foreign soldiers in Pashtun areas has fueled the Taliban’s resurgence and that the best way to weaken it is to reduce military confrontations. In that respect, “the only meaningful way to halt the insurgency’s momentum is to start withdrawing troops.”
Indeed, Dorronsoro argues, as do other critics, that most effective way to ensure that Afghan territory is not used as a base to attack the U.S. is to “de-link” the Taliban from al Qaeda, “which is based mostly in Pakistan.”
“We will be in a much better position to fight al Qaeda if we don’t have to fight the Afghans,” he said. “We have to stop fighting the Taliban because it is the wrong enemy.”

 

Has anyone noticed that the terms of US engagement in Afghanistan as endorsed by the UN specify fighting al Qaeda and not the Taliban?  The Taliban isn’t just “the wrong enemy”, it’s not the legal enemy.  The Taliban did not attack America.

… the Taliban appears to be evolving from a creation of the U.S., Saudi Arabian, and Pakistani intelligence agencies during Afghanistan’s war with the Soviet Union, to a polyglot collection of dedicated Islamists to nationalists. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar told the Agence France Presse early this year, “We’re fighting to free our country. We are not a threat to the world.”

Those are words that should give Obama, The New York Times, and NATO pause.

The initial invasion in 2001 was easy because the Taliban had alienated itself from the vast majority of Afghans. But the weight of occupation, and the rising number of civilian deaths, is shifting the resistance toward a war of national liberation. 

No foreign power has ever won that battle in Afghanistan.

Obama & 9/11

From Paul D. Boin at rabble:

It has been said that the first casualty in war is the truth. This usually pertains to the propensity for about-to-be warring nations to conjure up a pretext for war that can be justified in the public mind. Often this means that the truth is compromised prior to the shedding of blood. When terrorists strike, however, blood is drawn first, and the victim’s pretext for retaliation is determined second. In the midst of both war or terror truth can be compromised by the selective exclusion of important information, the elevation of hearsay or opinion to the status of fact, or by the outright fabrication of misinformation. In this regard, our governments and our mainstream news media have much to answer for.

While it could be argued that the terrorist act already constitutes the pretext for a retaliatory response, any response is an exercise in decision-making. Even our basest and seemingly automatic human responses still inextricably involve a series of choices. Do we, in the case of the United States and its allies, respond immediately? Do we confirm, beyond a reasonable doubt, who the terrorists were? Do we retaliate (punish) in a manner that is equal to the initial terrorist act (crime)? Are we also going to sacrifice the lives of innocent civilians in our chosen response? Who is to participate in this retaliatory action? And what range of repercussions may follow from our chosen response?

Written September 18, 2001

Read Boin’s article, What Would Obama Do? Revisiting 9/11 here

Facist Bureaucrat

From “An Oral History of the Bush White House: Politics and Power” at Vanity Fair:

We had this confluence of characters—and I use that term very carefully—that included people like Powell, Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, and so forth, which allowed one perception to be “the dream team.” It allowed everybody to believe that this Sarah Palin–like president—because, let’s face it, that’s what he was—was going to be protected by this national-security elite, tested in the cauldrons of fire. What in effect happened was that a very astute, probably the most astute, bureaucratic entrepreneur I’ve ever run into in my life became the vice president of the United States.

He became vice president well before George Bush picked him. And he began to manipulate things from that point on, knowing that he was going to be able to convince this guy to pick him, knowing that he was then going to be able to wade into the vacuums that existed around George Bush—personality vacuum, character vacuum, details vacuum, experience vacuum.

Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later Chief of Staff to Colin Powell

And this:

That night, on 9/11, Rumsfeld came over and the others, and the president finally got back, and we had a meeting. And Rumsfeld said, You know, we’ve got to do Iraq, and everyone looked at him—at least I looked at him and Powell looked at him—like, What the hell are you talking about? And he said—I’ll never forget this—There just aren’t enough targets in Afghanistan. We need to bomb something else to prove that we’re, you know, big and strong and not going to be pushed around by these kind of attacks.

And I made the point certainly that night, and I think Powell acknowledged it, that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. That didn’t seem to faze Rumsfeld in the least.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It really didn’t, because from the first weeks of the administration they were talking about Iraq. I just found it a little disgusting that they were talking about it while the bodies were still burning in the Pentagon and at the World Trade Center.

Richard Clarke, chief White House counterterrorism adviser

And this:

October 7, 2001 American and British forces begin an aerial campaign against Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda has its base, followed weeks later by a ground invasion. The Taliban government falls and al-Qaeda is routed from some of its strongholds. One person captured is John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban. His handling proves to be a harbinger. The Defense Department’s general counsel, Jim Haynes, authorizes military intelligence to “take the gloves off.”

I was called with the specific question of whether or not the F.B.I. on the ground could interrogate [Lindh] without counsel. And I had been told unambiguously that Lindh’s parents had retained counsel for him. I gave that advice on a Friday, and the same attorney at Justice who inquired called back on Monday and said essentially, Oops, they did it anyway. They interrogated him anyway. What should we do now? My office was there to help correct mistakes. And I said, Well, this is an unethical interrogation, so you should seal it off and use it only for intelligence-gathering purposes or national security, but not for criminal prosecution.

A few weeks later, Attorney General Ashcroft held one of his dramatic press conferences, in which he announced a complaint being filed against Lindh. He was asked if Lindh had been permitted counsel. And he said, in effect, To our knowledge, the subject has not requested counsel. That was just completely false. About two weeks after that he held another press conference, because this was the first high-profile terrorism prosecution after 9/11. And in that press conference he was asked again about Lindh’s rights, and he said that Lindh’s rights had been carefully, scrupulously guarded, which, again, was contrary to the facts, and contrary to the picture that was circulating around the world of Lindh blindfolded, gagged, naked, bound to a board.

Jessalyn Radack, ethics adviser at the Department of Justice

And this:

When I arrived in New York, in July 1998, it was quite clear to me that all the members of the Security Council, including the United States, knew well that there was no current work being done on any kind of nuclear-weapons capability in Iraq.

It was, therefore, extraordinary to me that later on in this saga there should have been any kind of hint that Iraq had a current capability. Of course, there were worries that Iraq might try, if the opportunity presented itself, to reconstitute that capability. And therefore we kept a very close eye, as governments do in their various ways, on Iraq trying to get hold of nuclear base materials, such as uranium or uranium yellowcake, or trying to get the machinery that was necessary to develop nuclear-weapons-grade material.

We were watching this the whole time. There was never any proof, never any hard intelligence, that they had succeeded in doing that. And the American system was entirely aware of this.

Sir Jeremy Redstock, British Ambassador to the U.N. and later the British special representative in Iraq

[...]

November 4, 2002 Defying precedent, the Republicans make decisive gains in the midterm elections; the White House interprets the results as an across-the-board green light. In an interview with Esquire released in December, John J. Dilulio Jr., the former head of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, complains that the “compassionate conservative” agenda is dead and that politics alone drives the White House.

I happened to be in the stairwell of the West Wing when the president was walking down, and he goes, Hey! He goes, Dilulio piece. He goes, Is this true? Is this … I mean, is this stuff … is this, is he right? What the hell’s goin’ on?

And whoever was with him at the time—it was probably Andy Card, Andy and Karl—they were like, Oh, no, no, no, no, no, it’s fine. We’ll get back to it. That afternoon we get a call from Josh Bolten, who was at the time the head of domestic policy, saying, O.K., we need to have a “compassion” meeting.

I’ll never forget the discussion—we’re sitting around the table, and someone says, I know what we should do. We should tackle chronic homelessness. I hear there are like 15,000 homeless people in America.

What can you say to that?

David Kuo, deputy director to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives [more]

I can think of a few things to say.  In all likelihood, I’ve said them all.

It’s not okay to let all of this go and move on, as Barack Obama has said.  The Bush administration needs to be held accountable before moving on can be healthy and wise and can lead to new restrictions on executive power that will make future administrations accountable.  It’s called democracy; it’s called the rule of law.

QotD

From Glenn Greenwald:

What happened in the U.S. over the last eight years is about much, much more than what “the Bush administration” did.  It begins there, but responsibility in the post 9/11-era is much more diffuse and collective than that.  Shoveling it all off on the administration that is leaving, while exonerating our culpable media and political institutions that remain, isn’t merely historically inaccurate and unfair, though it is that.  Allowing that revisionism also ensures that the critical lessons that ought to be learned will instead be easily and quickly forgotten when similar episodes occur here in the future.

“The Mourning Parents” – September 11, 2008

In Memory of all those killed in New York City on 9/11 and all those killed in their memory since then – men, women, children; American; Iraqi; Afghan; Canadian; British; French and all earth’s children everywhere.  For Peace.

Kathe Köllwitz