by Robert Fisk
November 10, 2002
"A clean shot" was The Washington Post's revolting description of the murder of the al-Qa'ida leaders in Yemen by a US "Predator" unmanned aircraft. With groveling approval, the US press used Israel's own mendacious description of such murders as a "targeted killing" -- and shame on the BBC for parroting the same words on Wednesday. How about a little journalistic freedom here? Like asking why this important al-Qa'ida leader could not have been arrested. Or tried before an open court. Or, at the least, taken to Guantanamo Bay for interrogation.
Instead, the Americans release a clutch of Guantanamo "suspects", one of whom -- having been held for 11 months in solitary confinement -- turns out to be around 100 years old and so senile that he can't string a sentence together. And this is the "war on terror"?
But a "clean shot" is what President Bush appears to want to take at the United Nations. First, he wants to force it to adopt a resolution about which the Security Council has the gravest reservations. Then he warns that he might destroy the UN's integrity by ignoring it altogether. In other words, he wants to destroy the UN. Does George Bush realize that the United States was the prime creator of this institution, just as it was of the League of Nations under President Woodrow Wilson?
"Targeted killing" -- courtesy of the Bush administration -- is now what the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon can call "legitimate warfare". And Vladimir Putin, too. Now the Russians -- I kid thee not, as Captain Queeg said in the Caine Mutiny -- are talking about "targeted killing" in their renewed war on Chechnya. After the disastrous "rescue" of the Moscow theatre hostages by the so-called "elite" Russian Alpha Special forces (beware, oh reader, any rescue by "elite" forces, should you be taken hostage), Putin is supported by Bush and Tony Blair in his renewed onslaught against the broken Muslim people of Chechnya.
I'm a cynical critic of the US media, but last month Newsweek ran a brave and brilliant and terrifying report on the Chechen war. In a deeply moving account of Russian cruelty in Chechnya, it recounted a Russian army raid on an unprotected Muslim village. Russian soldiers broke into a civilian home and shot all inside. One of the victims was a Chechen girl. As she lay dying of her wounds, a Russian soldier began to rape her. "Hurry up Kolya," his friend shouted, "while she's still warm."
Now, I have a question. If you or I was that girl's husband or lover or brother or father, would we not be prepared to take hostages in a Moscow theatre? Even if this meant -- as it did -- that, asphyxiated by Russian gas, we would be executed with a bullet in the head, as the Chechen women hostage-takers were? But no matter. The "war on terror" means that Kolya and the boys will be back in action soon, courtesy of Messrs Putin, Bush and Blair.
Let me quote that very brave Israeli, Mordechai Vanunu, the man who tried to warn the West of Israel's massive nuclear war technology, imprisoned for 12 years of solitary confinement -- and betrayed, so it appears, by one Robert Maxwell. In a poem he wrote in confinement, Vanunu said: "I am the clerk, the technician, the mechanic, the driver. They said, Do this, do that, don't look left or right, don't read the text. Don't look at the whole machine. You are only responsible for this one bolt, this one rubber stamp."
Kolya would have understood that. So would the US Air Force officer "flying" the drone which murdered the al-Qa'ida men in Yemen. So would the Israeli pilot who bombed an apartment block in Gaza, killing nine small children as well as well as his Hamas target, an "operation"--that was the description, for God's sake -- which Ariel Sharon described as "a great success".
These days, we all believe in "clean shots". I wish that George Bush could read history. Not just Britain's colonial history, in which we contrived to use gas against the recalcitrant Kurds of Iraq in the 1930s. Not just his own country's support for Saddam Hussein throughout his war with Iran. The Iranians once produced a devastating book of colored photographs of the gas blisters sustained by their soldiers in that war. I looked at them again this week. If you were these men, you would want to die. They all did. I wish someone could remind George Bush of the words of Lawrence of Arabia, that "making war or rebellion is messy, like eating soup off a knife."
And I suppose I would like Americans to remember the arrogance of colonial power. Here, for example, is the last French executioner in Algeria during the 1956-62 war of independence, Fernand Meysonnier, boasting only last month of his prowess at the guillotine. "You must never give the guy the time to think. Because if you do he starts moving his head around and that's when you have the mess-ups. The blade comes through his jaw, and you have to use a butcher's knife to finish it off. It is an exorbitant power -- to kill one's fellow man." So perished the brave Muslims of the Algerian fight for freedom.
No, I hope we will not commit war crimes in Iraq -- there will be plenty of them for us to watch -but I would like to think that the United Nations can restrain George Bush and Vladimir Putin and, I suppose, Tony Blair. But one thing is sure. Kolya will be with them.
Robert Fisk is an award winning foreign correspondent for The Independent (UK), where this article first appeared. He is the author of Pity Thy Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon (The Nation Books, 2002 edition)