The Next Casualty: Bill of Rights?
Los Angeles Times Editorial, 9/13/01
By Alexander Cockburn
Alexander Cockburn writes for the Nation and other publications.
Tuesday's onslaughts on the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon are being likened to Pearl
Harbor. The comparison is just. The attacks were
near miracles of logistical calculation, timing,
execution and devastation inflicted on the targets.
There may be another similarity. The possibility of
a Japanese attack in early December 1941 was
known to U.S. naval intelligence and to President
Roosevelt. On Tuesday, derision at the failure of
U.S. intelligence was widespread. The Washington
Post quoted an unnamed top official at the
National Security Council as saying, "We don't
know anything here. We're watching CNN too."
Are we to believe that the $30-billion annual
intelligence budget, immense electronic
eavesdropping capacity, thousands of agents
around the world, produced nothing in the way of
In fact, the editor of the London-based Al-Quds
al-Arabi newspaper, said he heard three weeks
ago that Osama bin Laden, now the prime
suspect, planned "very, very big attacks against
The lust for retaliation traditionally outstrips
precision in identifying the actual assailant. By early
evening Tuesday, the U.S. national security
establishment was calling for removal of all
impediments on the assassination of foreign
leaders. Led by President Bush, they were
endorsing the prospect of attacks not just on the
perpetrators but on those who might have
harbored them. From the nuclear priesthood
comes the demand that mini-nukes be deployed
on a preemptive basis against the enemies of
The targets abroad will be all the usual
suspects—the Taliban or Saddam Hussein, who
started off as creatures of U.S. intelligence. The
target at home will be the Bill of Rights.
Less than a week ago the FBI raided Infocom, the
Texas-based Web host for Muslim groups such as
the Council on Islamic Relations, the Islamic
Society of North America, the Islamic Assn. for
Palestine and the Holy Land Foundation.
Palestinians have been denied visas, and those in
this country can, under the terms of the
counterterrorism policy during the Clinton years,
be held and expelled without due process.
Tuesday's explosions were not an hour old before
terror pundits such as Anthony Cordesman,
Wesley Clark, Robert Gates and Lawrence
Eagleburger were saying that these attacks had
been possible "because America is a democracy,"
adding that now some democratic perquisites
might have to be abandoned? What might this
mean? Increased domestic snooping by U.S. law
enforcement and intelligence agencies? Ethnic
profiling? A national ID card system?
Tuesday did not offer a flattering exhibition of
America's leaders. President Bush gave a timid
and stilted initial reaction in Sarasota, Fla., then
disappeared for an hour before resurfacing in at a
base in Barksdale, La., where he gave another
flaccid address with every appearance of being on
tranquilizers. He was then flown to a bunker in
Nebraska, before someone finally had the wit to
suggest that the best place for the U.S. president
at time of national emergency is the Oval Office.
One certain beneficiary of the attacks is Israel.
Polls had been showing popular dislike here for
Israel's recent tactics, which may have been the
motivation for Colin Powell's few bleats of reproof
to Israel. We will be hearing no such bleats in the
weeks to come, as Israel's leaders advise the U.S.
how exactly to deal with Muslims.
"Freedom," said Bush in Sarasota, "was attacked
this morning by a faceless coward." That properly
represents the stupidity and blindness of almost all
of Tuesday's mainstream political commentary. By
contrast, the commentary on economic
consequences was informative and sophisticated.
Worst hit: the insurance industry. Likely outfall in
the short term: higher energy prices, a further drop
in global stock markets. Bush will have no trouble
in raiding the famous lock-box, using Social
Security trust funds to give more money to the
Three planes are successfully steered into three of
America's most conspicuous buildings and
America's response will be to put more money in
missile defense as a way of bolstering the