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November 2000

Acts Of War?


By Jim Scanlon

Recently a small fiberglass skiff launched from a boat trailer rammed a US Guided Missile Destroyer in the Gulf of Aden and exploded, tearing a twenty by forty foot hole in the hull. Seven US sailors were killed outright and ten more were missing. Two men reported standing and waving in the small boat were also missing. In all 17 sailors perished in the blast.

News report after news report said government sources "suspected a terrorist attack" and cautioned that "no group had claimed responsibility." Since small boats with outboard motors are not known for carrying explosives, if terrorism was only "suspected," it seemed absurd to think it could have been anything else.

Nevertheless President Clinton vowed to hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice. It is frightening to think what might happen if the terrorist conspirators were actually caught: how would they be tried? Would, perhaps Johnny Cocharan and another dream team represent the alleged terrorists? What might it cost to provide that elusive American dream,---a fair trial? A real a nightmare!

President Clinton characterized the suicidal attack as "cowardly." While one can call someone who kills himself for a cause a lot of names, "coward," is ridiculous. Our high ranking military officers are always invoking the selfless spirit of our (underpaid) servicemen and women, who are allegedly always ready to lay down their lives for their country. Altruistic suicide fits squarely into the American tradition of Nathan Hale: "I regret that I have only one life to give for my country." And Colin Kelly who crashed his B-17 into a Japanese cruiser in 1942. The clever , cunning or perhaps "sneaky" Arab kamikaze might be crazy, or fanatical, but hardly cowardly?

Putting an advanced, billion dollar, high tech guided missile warship out of commission with an outboard motor boat and a quarter ton of high explosives has to rank as highly unusual in the annals of naval warfare---probably the greatest disaster in naval history.

The New York Times reported that grief counselors and dozens of FBI agents were rushing to Yemen, where the disaster took place. It was daunting to think of how FBI agents might conduct an investigation in a poverty stricken, Arabic speaking, semi-feudal country on the edge of the Arabian Peninsula. Might they not be highly conspicuous and maybe even targets for kidnapping and ransom. Yemen has a long history of assassinations and kidnappings and is still listed as "a safe haven for terrorists."

The total number of American experts involved was given as 3,000 by the Times with some of the FBI agents coming from their office in Saudi Arabia. What is the FBI doing with an office in Saudi Arabia? Weren't they restricted to investigating crimes in the US? Louis Freech the FBI director visited the president of Yemen and praised the Yemeni police for their investigation. It seems very strange for the head of a federal agency to meet with the head of a foreign state. Perhaps Janet Reno will show up or maybe New York Police Detectives. Who, one might ask, is in charge?

Something odd is going on: there seems to be a blurring of distinctions. The crippled destroyer was called a "crime scene," which seemed odd and out of place. A twenty by forty hole in a powerful warship is a disaster, a defeat! It might be called a "big, big, big" or a "mega crime." But to call it a "crime" diminishes the special horror of the ordinary violent crime we experience in our daily lives. Billion dollar disasters are special.

At the same time, it was reported that George Tennant the head of the CIA was negotiating with Palestinian officials in Gaza on the Mediterranean coast which may or may not belong to Israel. (Egypt doesn't want it.) What is going on here? Isn't our country represented by the State Department?

Has "globalization' progressed to the point that the FBI is all over the world and the CIA isn't working in undercover anymore? Will CIA be negotiating trade pacts? Are they tripping over one another? Did the Navy know that State had designated Yemen a safe haven for terrorists? Did he Navy care? Does the Navy know how t tell time?

The State Department has reportedly been greatly concerned about security after a laptop full of secrets disappeared in Washington. The President's special representative in the Middle East, Martin Indyk recently had his security clearance suspended for careless handling of classified information. Inuk, who is Jewish, was until recently an Australian citizen until his appointment by the president, when the US congress made him an instant US citizen. What qualities does this man have for him to be appointed over worthy American citizens, native born or naturalized?. Is there something in the job description that requires a heavy accent, like Henry Kissenger, or Zbigniew Brezinski.

There is a lot of trouble right now in what used to be called the "Near East." There is "violence" and "fighting" going on, mostly between stone throwing Palestinian young men and well equipped young Israeli soldiers. The number of dead and wounded between the two sides is totally lopsided. The violence isn't senseless like in America, it is highly directed.

In 1953 when East Germans demonstrated and rioted against oppression and foreign occupation and threw stones at Russian tanks they were heroes. In 1956 when poorly equipped Hungarians revolted and the revolt was crushed by well-equipped Russian and East Block troops, they were called "Freedom Fighters."

Three Israeli soldiers were reported "kidnapped" from their post in a disputed sliver of land along the Lebanese border. Since they were armed and on patrol, one would have thought they had been "captured" by guerrillas. Israeli commandos have done this sort of thing from time to time to collect "bargaining chips" or hostages. This ancient practice was even given limited approval by the Israeli Supreme Court.

There is also a strange distinction between 'live" ammunition and "rubber bullets." Rubber bullets are bullets covered with a coating of rubber or plastic which make it easier for the shooter to shoot at and intimidate people since the people being shot at don't know what, if any, coating is on the projectile coming at them. Small wonder that so many stone throwing teenagers are being killed. Even blank cartridges can kill if the muzzle is close.

The murder of two Israeli soldiers taken from police custody by a mob of irate Palestinians who may have been led to believe the soldiers who were in a civilian automobile, were part of an assassination or kidnapping squad. The televised mutilation of the dead soldiers was immediately called a "lynching" which it wasn't quite exactly. It was really an atrocity. As US B-29s were destroying Japanese cities in firebombing attacks, airmen shot down were often beaten to death by civilians. Some French civilians who survived bombing attacks, beat up downed allied airmen . Lynching was, and is, a terrorist act committed by mobs of racist cowards. Men committing lynchings and atrocities are all vile, sadistic, dangerous cowards but there is a distinction. Now, it is almost as if soldiers and sailors were considered innocent bystanders, like civilians caught in a cross fire. Their job is to kill and terrorize the enemy. US missile ships are no doubt getting ready right now to launch cruise missiles against Osama bin Laden's suspected hideouts and allies wherever they may be in an unannounced sneak attack as happened just a short time ago against Afghanistan and the Sudan.

And everybody is calling the remains of "the former Yugoslavia," "Yugoslavia" again. First Slovenia broke away (or was broken away), then Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia. And then Kosovo or Kosova as Albanians and Bill Clinton call the place. Well no, Kosovo wasn't really broken away. In name it is still formally part of Yugoslavia along with Serbia and Montenegro.---you know, let's pretend! The Europeans don't want to carry balkanizing the Balkans too far. That might give the Kurds, the Basques and maybe even the Scotts, the Bretons and the northern Italians ideas. Who knows, even the Sioux and the Iroquois and Pomo might get ideas.

The Times reported a few days after the explosion, "Divers had been unable to find any trace of the 10 survivors." The sailors had been on duty, and then there was an explosion, and they were not there. Did the navy expect to find any of them alive under the surface of the water or in the twisted wreckage?

"Survivor" is a modish word but this seems to twist even our twisted language too far!

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