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November 30, 2001

Public relations, propaganda campaign, vague language, inconsistent standards of evidence, pin guilt for 9-11 on immigrants, shield CIA

In this morning's installment of NPR reassurances that our civil rights are in good hands under Ashcroft/Cheney/Bush, Greg Allen tells us of a new poll showing 64% of Americans feel confident that the civil rights of those 600 - 1200 individuals secretly detained after 9/11 are being protected. Nothing in the report suggests that the poll merely reflects the success of the Bush Administration's PR campaign and the media's uncritical reporting of the detentions and other recent encroachments on civil rights. To the contrary, one lawyer for a detainee said just because an immigrant pumped gas for Muhammed Atta is no grounds for holding him responsible for the attack on 9/11.

Language games figure significantly in the current anti-terror propaganda. Media reports and Attorney General Ashcroft defend the detentions by claiming the individuals are "linked" to the events of 9/11 - or are "tied" to al-Qaeda, or are "connected" to bin Laden, or other vague grounds for suspicion, all falling far short of the standard of "probable cause" required by US law and the Constitution. According to Bush's angry statements, people may be accused who unwittingly aid terrorist by contributing to Middle East charities that have branches which indirectly fund terrorist groups. Iraq, Iran, and Sudan are mentioned as possible targets for future US attacks based on secret evidence of terrorist associations. (The PR campaign avoids using the word "associated," since freedom of association is expressedly protected under the First Amendment to the US Constitution).

On the other hand, when it comes to grounds for holding the US CIA responsible for aiding terrorism, specifically for providing training and support for Ossama bin Laden, William R Harlow, Director of Public Affairs for the CIA, rejects any official responsibility on the basis of a very different standard. In a letter to The Nation (12/10/01), Harlow admits the CIA "supported the Afgan mujahedeen in its fight against Soviet forces and that bin Laden was in Afganistan during that time frame raising money and recruiting Arab fighters to fight the Soviets in the Afgan cause." However, "that activity does not equate with the CIA maintaining a relationship with bin Laden, and it is time for that well-worn canard to be put to rest."

Harlow's defensiveness is in response to an article in The Nation ( 10/15/01, "Blowback" ) by Chalmers Johnson. In answer to Harlow (The Nation, Letters, 12/10), Johnson points out that in 1986 the CIA constructed the training complex outside the Afgan city of Kost which was used by bin Laden to train 35,000 Arab fighters to become mujahedeen. In order to avoid direct confrontation with the USSR, the CIA funneled its support through Pakistan's version of the CIA. The Kost complex, built with US funds, was that very same installation destroyed in 1998 by US cruise missiles after the terrorist attacks on US embassies in Africa (for which bin Laden was indicted). Johnson says, "It is barely conceivable that Milton Reardon, the CIA official in charge of this 'covert' operation, never shook hands with bin Laden, but it is simply not true that they did not have a relationship."

If there is to be a credible standard of legal responsibility used to judge the guilt or innocence of alleged supporters of terrorism, there remains a lot of work to do just cleaning up the way language is being used, both by the media in its propagqnda campaign and by the government in its efforts to bring legal prosecutions. So far there hasn't been a serious attempt to define "terrorism," and even the familiar concept of responsibility seems to have acquired new meanings, depending on who is being blamed. If the US (still secret) case against bin Laden and al-Qaeda for the 9-11 attacks is no better that the flimsy links, ties, and connections being used to identify suspects, it is not surprising Bush wants secret trials in military tribunals under special rules made to order by Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.