"Security" in the Aftermath of "Nine-Eleven"

Monday, September 11, 2006

Written by Scott Gilbert

On the fifth anniversary of the infamous “nine-eleven” many of us think about the innocent lives lost in the horrendous attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. It is important to remember these people and mourn them. However times like this present the opportunity for us to reflect on what this historic event has brought us and to ask critical questions. For instance, was the response by the Bush Administration (and the international community) appropriate and effective? Have the ensuing wars over the past five years accomplished the good deeds they were touted to fulfill? Has our security been increased as a result of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of troops devoted to the War on Terrorism? I argue here that the answer to all three is a resounding “No”.

The immediate response from the Bush Administration in the following days was to begin preparations for attacking Afghanistan, with the stated goal of ousting the Taliban. This was supposed to eliminate terrorist training camps and bring peace and democracy to a country so torn by war and so crippled by the rule of fundamentalist thugs. Few dispute that the Taliban had to go, but to suggest that the current situation (of which Canada is growing ever more involved in) is an example of progressive “regime change” borders on delusional. For example, uncounted numbers (likely tens of thousands) of Afghans have been rounded up and held captive in “secret prison”, inaccessible by human rights organizations such as the Red Cross. Numerous reports indicate that the vast majority of these detainees are innocent (in the case of Iraq, even US intelligence suggests that 70 – 90 percent of detainees were arrested by “mistake”). Of those detained in the prisons we do know about and that are accessible to third party monitoring groups, we have been exposed to some of the most horrific images available of torture and abuse. It is unimaginable that such a climate could do anything less than breed more “terrorism”. Most students in elementary school could understand that you don’t win the hearts and minds of a population with such tactics.

Although Al-Qaeda may fit the flaunted definition of a terrorist organization, the operations carried out in Afghanistan (and now Iraq) create a much different situation. They create an atmosphere where civilian populations feel so deeply lied to, violated, exploited - and in the event a family member is needlessly disappeared, maimed or killed - outright rage and a deep desire for revenge. The existence of people in this situation is a vital component of Al-Qaeda’s operations and provides the group with the human resources to carry out further attacks.

While I personally condemn terrorist acts such as suicide bombings, I can clearly see how some people would feel driven to respond in such a way to the situation Canada is helping present them with. When an occupying country doesn’t even count the number of civilians they kill, hearing the voice of the average citizen in crisis will never happen and leaves behind the foul taste despair. Suicide bombing is understandably then seen as a viable option in the limited arsenal of response tactics. If our Prime Minister can call Israel’s recent bombing of Lebanon a “measured” response to the kidnapping of 2 soldiers, what might a measured response be for a 16 year old whose house was destroyed by a cruise missile, whose innocent father was arrested and taken to an undisclosed location for an indefinite period without charge or trial, or who has close friends who have been needlessly killed by an occupying force?

Far beyond the personal tragedy endured by those directly on the receiving end of the War on Terrorism, there are much longer lasting crimes being committed against the civilian populations of these countries. The United States now routinely uses what is called Depleted Uranium (DU) weapons – a radioactive metal - in its Middle East wars. DU bullets are 1.7 times the density of lead, so they can penetrate almost any “enemy” armour. It is usually described as “like a knife cutting through butter”. Thousands of these bullets are being sprayed all over the place, and many of them miss their targets so get buried deep in the ground (about a meter down). The radioactivity of this metal – a by-product of the nuclear fission process – is so persistent that it has a half life of 4.5 billion years. With no attempt being made to record where this radioactive waste is ending up – let alone remove it - the use of these weapons in such an indiscriminate way can legitimately be called nuclear war. Since these weapons came into use in the early 1990s, there have been countless cases of cancer – on both sides of the fighting - as a result. Most disturbing though is the fact that the effects of exposure can be passed along to children, causing some of the worst imaginable birth defects. The use of DU weapons is yet another reason many in the recently invaded countries feel that the promises of peace, democracy and security are so far from the truth. The reasons for hatred of the West are in many cases quite legitimate. We must seriously reconsider our role in these affairs, and the effects they may have on our future security.

Although it is important to mourn those civilians who were needlessly murdered five years ago today, we mustn’t forget the trauma and grief created in our name since then. Mahatma Gandhi once said: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." Three thousand deaths in New York was a lot, but tens of thousands of detainees in secret prisons, well over 100, 000 dead civilians in the ensuing wars, and the pollution of entire regions with radioactive material for the rest of human existence is so far worse that the two can barely be compared. When we turn on the television or open a newspaper today and are reminded about the tragedies of September 2001, let us also think about the other part of this equation – the human cost to those we have attacked in what many feel is a measured response.

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