Helen Thomas. (Photo: mtkr)
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 scanners.
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 public.
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.”
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
There is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to
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
But why it is so hard for Muslims to “get” that message? Why can’t they end their preoccupation with dodging
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
Rather than a failure to communicate,
But why isn't there a frank discussion by
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:
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 all.
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
Would you believe that former Vice President Dick Cheney also has pointed to
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
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
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.
After all, people in the Middle East already know how Palestinians have been mistreated for decades; how
The purpose of
Commentators who are neither naïve nor afraid are simply shut out of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM). Salon.com’s Glen Greenwald, for example, has complained loudly about “how our blind, endless enabling of Israeli actions fuels terrorism directed at the
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
Former CIA specialist on al Qaeda, Michael Scheuer, has been still more outspoken on what he sees as
Scheuer added that the
More to the point, Scheuer asserted:
“For anyone to say that our support for
Beyond loss of work, those who speak out can expect ugly accusations. The Israeli media network Arutz Sheva, which is considered the voice of the settler movement, weighed in strongly, branding Scheuer’s C-SPAN remarks “blatantly anti-Semitic.”
As for media squelching, I continue to be amazed at how otherwise informed folks express total surprise when I refer them to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s statement about his motivation for attacking the United States, as cited on page 147 of the 9/11 Commission Report. Here is the full sentence (shortened above):
“By his own account, KSM’s animus toward the
One can understand how even those following such things closely can get confused. On Aug. 30, 2009, five years after the 9/11 Commission Report was released, readers of the neoconservative Washington Post were given a diametrically different view, based on what the Post called “an intelligence summary:”
“KSM’s limited and negative experience in the United States — which included a brief jail-stay because of unpaid bills — almost certainly helped propel him on his path to becoming a terrorist … He stated that his contact with Americans, while minimal, confirmed his view that the United States was a debauched and racist country.”
Apparently, the Post found this revisionist version politically more convenient, in that it obscured Mohammed’s other explanation implicating “
An unusually candid view of the dangers accruing from the
“Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States.
“Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.”
Getting back to Abdulmutallab and his motive in trying to blow up the airliner, how was this individual without prior terrorist affiliations suddenly transformed into an international terrorist ready to die while killing innocents?
If, as John Brennan seems to suggest, al Qaeda terrorists are hard-wired at birth for the “wanton slaughter of innocents,” how are they also able to jump-start a privileged 23-year old Nigerian, inculcate in him the acquired characteristics of a terrorist, and persuade him to do the bidding of al Qaeda/Persian Gulf?
As indicated above, the young Nigerian seems to have had particular trouble with
Moreover, it appears that Abdulmutallab is not the only anti-American “terrorist” so motivated. When the Saudi and Yemeni branches of al Qaeda announced that they were uniting into “al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula,” their combined rhetoric railed against the Israeli attack on
And on Dec. 30, Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, a 32-year-old Palestinian-born Jordanian physician, killed seven American CIA operatives and one Jordanian intelligence officer near
Al-Balawi’s mother told Agence France-Presse that her son had never been an “extremist.” Al-Balawi’s widow, Defne Bayrak, made a similar statement to Newsweek. In a New York Times article, al-Balawi’s brother was quoted as describing him as a “very good brother” and a “brilliant doctor.”
So what led al-Balawi to take his own life in order to kill
Al-Balawi’s widow said her husband “started to change” after the American-led invasion of
When al-Balawi volunteered with a medical organization to treat injured Palestinians in
It was after that arrest that the Jordanian intelligence service apparently coerced or “recruited” al-Balawi to become a spy who would penetrate al Qaeda’s hierarchy and provide actionable intelligence to the CIA.
“If you catch a cat and put it in a corner, she will jump on you,” the brother said in explaining why al-Balawi would turn to suicide attack.
“My husband was anti-American; so am I,” his widow told Newsweek. Her two little girls would grow up fatherless, but she had no regrets.
Are we starting to get the picture of what the
Does Helen Thomas deserve an adult answer to her question about motive? Has President Obama been able to assimilate all this?
Or is the
Is the reported reaction of a CIA official to al-Balawi’s attack the appropriate one: "Last week’s attack will be avenged. Some very bad people will eventually have a very bad day.”
Revenge has not always turned out very well in the past.
Does anyone remember the brutal killing of four Blackwater contractors on March 31, 2004, when they took a bad turn and ended up in the wrong neighborhood of the Iraqi city of Fallujah — and how U.S. forces virtually leveled that large city in retribution after George W. Bush won his second term the following November?
If you read only the Fawning Corporate Media, you would blissfully think that the killing of the four Blackwater operatives was the work of fanatical animals who got – along with their neighbors – the reprisal they deserved. You wouldn’t know that the killings represented the second turn in that specific cycle of violence.
On March 22, 2004, Israeli forces assassinated the then-spiritual leader of Hamas in
That murder, plus sloppy navigation by the Blackwater men, set the stage for the next set of brutalities. The Blackwater operatives were killed by a group that described itself as the “Sheikh Yassin Revenge Brigade.”
Pamphlets and posters were all over the scene of the attack; one of the trucks that pulled around body parts of the mercenaries had a large poster photo of Yassin in its window, as did store fronts all over Fallujah.
We can wish Janet Napolitano luck with her “counter-radicalization” project and President Obama with his effort to "communicate clearly to Muslims," but there will be no diminution in the endless cycles of violence unless legitimate grievances are addressed on all sides.
It would certainly also help if the American people were finally let in on the root causes for what otherwise gets portrayed as unprovoked savagery by Muslims.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city
This article was previously published on Consortiumnews.com.
Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. He was an analyst at the CIA for 27 years, and is on the Steering Group of VIPS.
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