Monday, January 11, 2010

McGovern: Answering Helen Thomas on Why They Want to Harm Us

Hi. This is a clear, incisive article on an important subject. It's also
pretty long, especially for a monday morning. So here's 2/3 of the
original, sent with hopes it will intrigue enough to click on the rest. -Ed

Answering Helen Thomas on Why They Want to Harm Us

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical
Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst,
he prepared and briefed the President's Daily Brief and chaired National
Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran
Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

By Ray McGovern: Saturday, January 9, 2010

Thank God for Helen Thomas, the only person to show any courage at the White
House press briefing after President Barack Obama gave a flaccid account of
the intelligence screw-up that almost downed an airliner on Christmas Day.

After Obama briefly addressed L'Affaire Abdulmutallab and wrote "must do
better" on the report cards of the national security schoolboys responsible
for the near catastrophe, the President turned the stage over to
counter-terrorism guru John Brennan and Department of Homeland Security
Secretary Janet Napolitano.

It took 89-year old veteran correspondent Helen Thomas to break through the
vapid remarks about channeling "intelligence streams," fixing "no-fly"
lists, deploying "behavior detection officers," and buying more body-imaging

Thomas recognized the John & Janet filibuster for what it was, as her
catatonic press colleagues took their customary dictation and asked their
predictable questions. Instead, Thomas posed an adult query that spotlighted
the futility of government plans to counter terrorism with more high-tech
gizmos and more intrusions on the liberties and privacy of the traveling

She asked why Abdulmutallab did what he did.

Thomas: "Why do they want to do us harm? And what is the motivation? We
never hear what you find out on why."

Brennan: "Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton
slaughter of innocents... They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab
and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of
religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and
has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he's (sic) able to attract these
individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death."

Thomas: "And you're saying it's because of religion?"

Brennan: "I'm saying it's because of an al Qaeda organization that used the
banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way."

Thomas: "Why?"

Brennan: "I think this is a - long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to
carry out attacks here against the homeland."

Thomas: "But you haven't explained why."

Neither did President Obama, nor anyone else in the U.S. political/media
hierarchy. All the American public gets is the boilerplate about how evil al
Qaeda continues to pervert a religion and entice and exploit impressionable
young men.

There is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world
object to U.S. policies so strongly that they are inclined to resist
violently and even resort to suicide attacks.

Obama's Non-Answer

I had been hoping Obama would say something intelligent about what drove
Abdulmutallab to do what he did, but the President limited himself to a few
vacuous comments before sending in the clowns. This is what he said before
he walked away from the podium:

"It is clear that al Qaeda increasingly seeks to recruit individuals without
known terrorist affiliations ... to do their bidding. ... And that's why we
must communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that al Qaeda offers
nothing except a bankrupt vision of misery and death ... while the United
States stands with those who seek justice and progress. ... That's the
vision that is far more powerful than the hatred of these violent

But why it is so hard for Muslims to "get" that message? Why can't they end
their preoccupation with dodging U.S. missiles in Afghanistan, Pakistan,
Yemen, and Gaza long enough to reflect on how we are only trying to save
them from terrorists while simultaneously demonstrating our commitment to
"justice and progress"?

Does a smart fellow like Obama expect us to believe that all we need to do
is "communicate clearly to Muslims" that it is al Qaeda, not the U.S. and
its allies, that brings "misery and death"? Does any informed person not
know that the unprovoked U.S.-led invasion of Iraq killed hundreds of
thousands of Iraqis and displaced 4.5 million from their homes? How is that
for "misery and death"?

Rather than a failure to communicate, U.S. officials are trying to rewrite
recent history, which seems to be much easier to accomplish with the
Washington press corps and large segments of the American population than
with the Muslim world.

But why isn't there a frank discussion by America's leaders and media about
the real motivation of Muslim anger toward the United States? Why was Helen
Thomas the only journalist to raise the touchy but central question of

Peeking Behind the Screen

We witnessed a similar phenomenon when the 9/11 Commission Report tiptoed
into a cautious discussion of possible motives behind the 9/11 attacks. To
their credit, the drafters of that report apparently went as far as their
masters would allow, in gingerly introducing a major elephant into the room:

"America's policy choices have consequences. Right or wrong, it is simply a
fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and
American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across
the Arab and Muslim world." (p. 376)

When asked later about the flabby way that last sentence ended, former
Congressman Lee Hamilton, Vice-Chair of the 9/11 Commission, explained that
there had been a Donnybrook over whether that paragraph could be included at

The drafters also squeezed in the reason given by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as
to why he "masterminded" the attacks on 9/11:

"By his own account, KSM's animus toward the United States stemmed ... from
his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel."

Would you believe that former Vice President Dick Cheney also has pointed to
U.S. support for Israel as one of the "true sources of resentment"? This
unique piece of honesty crept into his speech to the American Enterprise
Institute on May 21, 2009.

Sure, he also trotted out the bromide that the terrorists hate "all the
things that make us a force for good in the world." But the Israel factor
did slip into the speech, perhaps an inadvertent acknowledgement of the
Israeli albatross adorning the neck of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Very few pundits and academicians are willing to allude to this reality,
presumably out of fear for their future career prospects.

Former senior CIA officer Paul Pillar, now a professor at Georgetown
University, is one of the few willing to refer, in his typically understated
way, to "all the other things ... including policies and practices that
affect the likelihood that people ... will be radicalized, and will try to
act out the anger against us." One has to fill in the blanks regarding what
those "other things" are.

But no worries. Secretary Napolitano has a fix for this unmentionable
conundrum. It's called "counter-radicalization," which she describes thusly:

"How do we identify someone before they become radicalized to the point
where they're ready to blow themselves up with others on a plane? And how do
we communicate better American values and so forth ... around the globe?"

Better communication. That's the ticket.

Hypocrisy and Double Talk

But Napolitano doesn't acknowledge the underlying problem, which is that
many Muslims have watched Washington's behavior closely for many years and
view pious U.S. declarations about peace, justice, democracy and human
rights as infuriating examples of hypocrisy and double talk.

So, Washington's sanitized discussion about motives for terrorism seems more
intended for the U.S. domestic audience than the Muslim world.

After all, people in the Middle East already know how Palestinians have been
mistreated for decades; how Washington has propped up Arab dictatorships;
how Muslims have been locked away at Guantanamo without charges; how the
U.S. military has killed civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere; how
U.S. mercenaries have escaped punishment for slaughtering innocents.

The purpose of U.S. "public diplomacy" appears more designed to shield
Americans from this unpleasant reality, offering instead feel-good
palliatives about the beneficence of U.S. actions. Most American journalists
and politicians go along with the charade out of fear that otherwise they
would be accused of lacking patriotism or sympathizing with "the enemy."

Commentators who are neither naïve nor afraid are simply shut out of the
Fawning Corporate Media (FCM).'s Glen Greenwald, for example, has
complained loudly about "how our blind, endless enabling of Israeli actions
fuels terrorism directed at the U.S.," and how it is taboo to point this

Greenwald recently called attention to a little-noticed Associated Press
report on the possible motives of the 23-year-old Nigerian Abdulmutallab.
The report quoted his Yemeni friends to the effect that the he was "not
overtly extremist." But they noted that he was open about his sympathies
toward the Palestinians and his anger over Israel's actions in Gaza.

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