Columns - Inside the glass house

When truth and rights are crucified for US security

By Thalif Deen at the united nations

NEW YORK - The time-honoured cliché is that the first casualty in any war is truth. To put it more bluntly, most wars are justified on the strength of blatant lies deployed by both warring parties in any conflict.
If insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan resort to pure political hogwash to bolster their cause, are the US and NATO forces, presided over by legitimate governments, justified in resorting to similar tactics in lying about the successes and failures in the battlefield?

The Bush administration, not surprisingly, has been peddling untruth and half-truths to cover up civilian deaths, euphemistically called "collateral damage," in the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or it has justified the killings by giving it a sinister political twist.

In fact, some of the stories planted in mainstream newspapers, mostly by the Pentagon, defy credibility and, at times, insult the intelligence of readers.

Activists of Pakistan Tahrik-e-Insaf (PTI) protest in Lahore last week for the release of US detained Pakistani woman Aafia Siddiqui. AFP

When US forces, for example, nab suspected armed insurgents inside Iraq, the Pentagon claims that some of the insurgents were carrying passports -- specifically Iranian passports (obviously an attempt to accuse Iran of complicity in the insurgency).

How credible is a story about insurgents going to battle carrying their passports along with them? If that defies logic, it is pure stupidity on the part of insurgents to be armed both with a deadly weapon and a passport at the same time? Mercifully, there have been no stories so far of potential suicide bombers being caught with their foreign passports.

When some of the insurgents were killed in US attacks, the Pentagon has also been artificially boosting its victory by claiming that the insurgents were "senior leaders" of al-Qaeda. But were they so in real fact? If US forces did destroy all those "senior leaders" in Iraq, how come al-Qaeda insurgents still continue with their attacks after more than five years of devastation in Iraq? They seem to be coming off a human assembly line.

During the first few months of the US invasion of Iraq, some of the stories had a different twist. Every Iraqi Baathist official who was killed was invariably described either as a "senior aide" to Saddam Hussein or "a right hand man" of Saddam Hussein. The Baath leadership was being decapitated. Or so we were told.
The stories, put out by the Pentagon, came with such monotonous regularity that one cynic rightly asked: "What if Saddam Hussein was left-handed?" Was the body count less important?

Last month there was yet another incredible story about a US-educated Pakistani neuro-scientist, Aafia Siddiqui, 36, who was apparently nabbed "lingering" outside the house of the governor of Ghazni province in Afghanistan.

The woman, who was educated in the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was apparently carrying with her not only recipes for explosives and chemical substances but also documents describing New York city landmarks ripe for bombing.

How inane is it for an MIT graduate to walk the streets of Afghanistan carrying incriminating documents detailing bomb making equipment and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York city? Is it the ultimate insult to MIT?
Siddiqui has also been charged with another offence: while she was in Afghan custody, she had apparently grabbed an "unsecured rifle" and taken shots at several US intelligence agents who were present in Afghanistan to question her. But several questions remain unanswered: why wasn't such a high profile terror suspect not handcuffed? Or even kept in a prison cell?

At the New York court house, her lawyer, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, posed another logical question, raising howls of laughter. "An 85-pound woman going after six guys with an M-4 rifle?" she asked sarcastically.
The story just doesn't pass the sniff test, she added, ridiculing the charges brought against the frail Pakistani woman accused of having links to al-Qaeda.

The credibility of the story is expected to be challenged in a New York court house in the next few months. The biggest mystery is that the woman disappeared in Pakistan about five years ago around the time that US agents wanted to question her -- and suddenly surfaces in Afghanistan where she is arrested and brought to New York to face charges of terrorism.

In the fight against global terrorism, Western nations continue to ride roughshod over civil liberties, human rights and the rule of law. In a report released last week, Amnesty International said that since the September 2001 attacks on the US and in other countries, a wide range of counter-terrorism laws, policies and practices have eroded human rights protection.

These include violations of freedom of expression and the use of torture -- "as governments claim the security of some can only be achieved by violating the rights of others."

The UN Security Council, in pushing for the criminalisation and suppression of terrorism worldwide without taking due care for the protection of human rights, must also take some responsibility for the adverse consequences, AI said.

The London-based human rights organisation also called on the Security Council to address the human rights deficit in its work by adopting strong human rights language in its resolutions dealing with terrorism and giving greater importance and resources to the protection of human rights in its counter-terrorism work.

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