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Knowledge (and Power) | The Nation

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Knowledge (and Power)

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For Senator Clinton to flourish a copy of the New York Post--the paper that has called her pretty much everything from Satanic to Sapphist--merely because it had the pungent headline "Bush Knew" is not yet her height of opportunism. (The height so far was reached last fall, when she said she could understand the rage and hatred behind the attacks on the World Trade Center because, after all, she had been attacked herself in her time.) But the failure of her husband's regime to take Al Qaeda seriously is the clue to the same failure on the part of the Bush gang.

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Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens, longtime contributor to The Nation, wrote a wide-ranging, biweekly column for the magazine...

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Clinton's only "serious" move against Osama bin Laden came in 1998, with his wag-the-dog missile attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan. Those attacks, which followed the blowing up of two US embassies in Africa, had (as well as appalling consequences for the economy and society of Sudan) Inspector Clouseau-like consequences for the "war on terror." The supposed nerve-gas facility in Khartoum proved to be a pharmaceutical plant, while the cruise missiles fired at Afghanistan managed to kill some Pakistani intelligence officers who were training Al Qaeda forces to infiltrate Kashmir. In that moment, a whole nexus between Islamabad, the Taliban and bin Laden was accidentally exposed. And the political establishment in this country decided to look away.

The failure to protect our society from well-organized and long-planned atrocities last September is no doubt replete with further Clouseau-like moments on the part of the bureaucracy. One might have thought it hard to improve on the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which finally granted the relevant visas to Atta and his comrades, and thoughtfully mailed them to the relevant flying school, exactly six months after the applicants had flown with savage joy into the Twin Towers. Still, the FBI and the CIA have been doing their best to match this record. And the Federal Aviation Administration will provide future students of institutional cretinism with astonishing seams of material. But the true failure is and was a political one.

The bin Laden/Mullah Omar crime family was trained in Afghanistan by the Pakistani secret police and paid for by Saudi Arabian money. The American "national security" class looked (and looks) upon the Pakistani secret police and the Saudi Arabian royal family as friends and allies. The most glaring example of this collusion was to be seen on September 11 last [see "Minority Report," January 21], when the FBI helped Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador, fly several members of the bin Laden clan out of the country with no questions asked.

If you remember, dear reader, you yourself were unable to fly anywhere that day. Which brings me to the second point that is being occluded by this sham argument over who knew what and when. Without a moment of serious debate, the very institutions that had so signally failed to protect us, and which had been so friendly with the regimes that incubated the assault, were given near-absolute power over American citizens and residents. Several of the nineteen suicide-murderers were already on a "watch list" for terrorism, but scornfully bought their own tickets in their own names. The general awareness that there was a hijacking risk had not led to the securing of cockpits. But now look at the vigilance and energy with which law-abiding passengers are treated like criminals as well as fools, and deprived of their in-flight cutlery and their nail-scissors. (The FAA has made sure of one thing. The next suicide-murderer who manages to get on a plane will find that his victims have been thoroughly and efficiently disarmed. No improvised resistance will be possible, unless experts in unarmed combat happen to be among the passengers. And I hesitate to mention even that, in case some bright spark in authority decides to disqualify such people from flying at all in their "weaponized" condition.)

Neither within our borders nor outside them are we protected by security forces who are trained to recognize an enemy. Pakistan--friend and client and purchaser of sophisticated weaponry--obviously OK. Saudi Arabia--ditto. In order to attract unwelcome attention last year, the murderers-in-training would have had to come from a recognized "rogue state." Then they could have earned the sort of unsleeping invigilation that has recently brought Marilyn Meiser, a 75-year-old retired Wisconsin schoolteacher, a fine of $1,000 for taking a bicycling holiday in Cuba.

The worst of it is that this high-level collusion still goes on. The Saudi royal family has refused to share any police information on the fifteen of its citizens who immolated themselves and others. It openly acts as the theocratic and financial and military patron of the Islamic Jihad group, which has done such awful damage both to Israeli civilians and to the credit of the Palestinian revolution. But Bush continues to fawn on this disgusting dynasty, while for the oil executives who make up his inner circle the same dynasty fulfills the useful function of being the only Arabs they know or care about.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan it is difficult to argue that General Musharraf has exactly earned the enormous stipend given to him, his army and his police. Frustrated British and American officers in Afghanistan, combing the hills for the gangsters, have recently become convinced that their targets have relocated across the Pakistani border. Independent reportage supports this interpretation, which does not require much by way of an imaginative leap.

In a ridiculous recent book titled The Clash of Fundamentalisms, Tariq Ali begins by saying that "there exists no exact, incontrovertible evidence about who ordered the hits on New York and Washington," and then goes on to state, exactly and incontrovertibly enough, that with these hits, "the subjects of the Empire had struck back." Wrong. Wrong twice. As wrong as could be. These attacks came from the servants and satraps of the Empire, and the Empire's managers are culpable for a little bit more than their failure to foresee them.

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