by Fahad Ansari (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 7, Shawwal, 1432)
As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks draws near, prepare to be bombarded with propaganda in the form of repeated television footage of the hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower of the World Trade Centre with the North Tower already in flames.
As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks draws near, prepare to be bombarded with propaganda in the form of repeated television footage of the hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower of the World Trade Centre with the North Tower already in flames. Endless tributes to the 2,977 people who lost their lives that day in the attacks will be repeatedly aired; countless personal stories of the dead by their families and loved ones, tales of ambition, romance, courage and happiness will be aired. There will also be footage of the same mourning families gathering at Ground Zero on the morning of 9/11 and now cheering, chanting and waving American flags in patriotic fervour in celebration at the news of the assassination of Osama Bin Laden.
Get ready! The propaganda machine will be invading your television screens very soon. And propaganda it is, not information. As opposed to impartially disseminating information, propaganda, by definition, is a systematic form of purposeful persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specified target audiences for ideological, political or commercial purposes through the controlled transmission of one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual) via mass and direct media channels.
We will be subjected to propaganda because the victims of 9/11 will be manipulated to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions and actions of the public in the Western world to further US political agenda in the Muslim world. We will be shown the 9/11 attacks — the beginning of history —and the assassination of Bin Laden ten years later — the justification for all that occurred in the interim and all that is yet to be unleashed on defenceless people in the future. We will not be exposed to the political reasons and history which motivated 19 men to convert their bodies into instruments of death and destruction on that day; no, there could be no reason, they were insane, fanatical, and “hated our way of life.” As insane and fanatical as a repeatedly battered housewife who eventually snaps and murders her husband. No, we will not be told of the decades of death and destruction that successive US governments have inflicted on the Muslim world. For that would somehow be to justify, rather than understand, the attacks.
Hidden from our screens will be the haunting tales of the decade of brutality that we have come to know as the War on Terror. Also shoved under the carpet will be the suspension of the rule of law; the kidnapping, detention and torture of thousands of innocent men, women and even children in secret prisons all over the world, something dressed up in fancy emotionless labels such as rendition and torture; the policy of assassination as a method of prosecution; and the now almost daily usage of murderous drones which have slaughtered thousands of innocents in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia, in what has become a play-station mentality devoid of any human distress over terminating an innocent life. But this is no video game; this is real life, and it is very, very real.
Since the propaganda fest will deliberately choose to ignore the tales of the hundreds of thousands of nameless victims of this war, allow me to elaborate over some of this fine print which most of us failed to read when signing up for this war.
Let us begin with something we are all familiar with — Guantanamo Bay, the notorious detention facility which has come to symbolize the moral and legal bankruptcy of this crusade. Could we have imagined that in the 21st century, the leader of the “civilized world” would abduct, imprison and torture hundreds of innocent men and children on a remote island thousands of miles away from any legal jurisdiction, outside the rule of law? Yes — these people are innocent for our values dictate that a man is innocent until proven guilty; the presumption of innocence is the bedrock of the rule of law and due process. Yet, in the hysterical propaganda that followed the 9/11 attacks, the moral compass of the leaders of the world became warped and has never fully been straightened.
Almost a decade after the first detainees were flown there from Pakistan, shackled, gagged and hooded, Guantanamo Bay remains open with almost 200 men still imprisoned without charge, despite President Barack Obama’s February 2009 promise to close it down. Obama promised change but the only change he has brought is a change of rhetoric.
Among the remaining detainees are Shaker Aamer and Omar Khadr. Aamer is a British resident who has spent almost a decade in the prison, away from his wife and four children, the youngest of whom he has never seen, despite being cleared for release in 2007. Khadr is a Canadian citizen who was only 15 when he was first abducted and transferred to Guantanamo Bay. Nine years on, the boy has turned into a man but without the intellectual growth he has been denied in the Guantanamo gulag.
However horrific Guantanamo may be to our senses, it remains something tangible, something our eyes can see. Far more horrendous are those secret prisons, CIA black sites, dotted all over the world, where thousands of men, women and children have been detained and tortured, their whereabouts unknown to the entire world save a few. These ghost detainees have been renditioned from country to country, brutalized and abused, passed from torturer to torturer, with nobody even aware of their situation to speak on their behalf. These are not just nameless or faceless victims; they simply do not exist.
While most are nameless and only God knows their condition, there are some whose tales have partially come to light. Take for example the case of Ali al-Fakhiri — better known to the world as Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi. Captured in November 2001, his detention was not announced until January 2002. After his initial detention by US forces in Bagram and the USS Bataan, al-Libi was sent to Egypt where, under the authority of intelligence head Omar Suleiman, dubbed the “CIA’s man in Cairo” and “Egypt’s Torturer-in-Chief”, al-Libi “confessed” to working with Saddam Husain to obtain Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). This lie was perpetrated by the US to invade Iraq. Shortly after the Iraq war got under way, al-Libi recanted his story. But it was too late — for Iraq and for al-Libi.
In 2007, when death and destruction were the norm in Iraq which was experiencing its own 9/11 on a daily basis, al-Libi was transferred to Libya to be personally tortured by the sons of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, the same people America is now using military might to destroy. Al-Libi was sentenced to life imprisonment. In May 2009, Washington’s man in Egypt, Suleiman travelled to Tripoli for the first time. By the time he left Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi had officially committed suicide by hanging in the notorious Abu Salim prison, where thousands of Libyans have been tortured and murdered. Those who were in prison with al-Libi testify to his being tortured to death and dying in prostration to Allah (swt).
We also will not hear the heart-wrenching story of the mother of three, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a woman who was detained at a US military base in Afghanistan for more than five years, where she was repeatedly tortured, raped and abused. It is difficult to pinpoint the most horrific aspect of her detention. Was it the fact that she was forced to walk naked over pages of the Qu’ran that the guards had ripped up and strewn all over the floor? Or was it the fact that her three young children were also in detention, albeit in completely separate cells from her?
After emerging from the darkness, following groundbreaking investigative research by Yvonne Ridley to try and locate her, Siddiqui was falsely accused of attempting to murder US soldiers in Afghanistan and shot in the stomach. In what is surely the greatest miscarriage of justice in our time, Siddiqui was sentenced to 86 years in prison despite complete lack of ballistic and forensic evidence linking her to the shooting and contradictory testimony from the prosecution witnesses. Even though the jury found she had no links to al-Qaeda or any terrorist group, Siddiqui was the victim of virulent Islamophobia in the media where she was slandered as “al-Qaeda mom”. Siddiqui is likely to die in prison. Although two of her children have resurfaced, her youngest son Suleiman, who was only five months old when he was kidnapped, is still missing and presumed dead.
No matter how prejudiced and unfair Siddiqui’s trial was, she did have a trial. Which is more than can be said of the almost 3,000 killed in murderous drone attacks by the US in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the last seven years, most of whom had no reason to even be tried — ordinary villagers, men, women and children, whose only crime was to live in a region where those fighting the American occupation of Afghanistan also live. The deaths of hundreds are celebrated because the repeated strikes succeed in killing one militant — without any due process. It is the same Machiavellian mentality which inspired former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to describe the decade long economic sanctions on Iraq which murdered half a million children as a “price worth paying.” But we are not allowed to remember such statements lest we be accused of justifying 9/11.
These are just a handful of the real stories of the last decade which most of the world will never know about — for those who attempt to expose these realities are ironically accused of spreading propaganda for al-Qaeda. There is a difference; we are not afraid to have a frank, open and honest discussion on all these issues. The US is. Deep down, the Americans know the brutal truth of this War on Terror, all of the above and much more, but they are not even willing, until circumstances compel them to, to publicly admit these people exist. This is propaganda.
So when the Ministry of Disinformation begins churning out half-truths and blatant lies this month, be brave enough to dare and ask the questions they do not want to answer. If we do not, we are every bit as complicit in this war as those who continue to wage it relentlessly.