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Thom Hartmann: The Crime Of The Century

Published on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 by

The Crime Of The Century:
A Never-Ending "War Against Terrorism"

by Thom Hartmann

During this lull in the fighting between the 2002 election cycle Iraq conflict and the soon-to-come 2004 election cycle conflict, it's a good time to (anonymously) sit in a library or bookstore and browse "The Turner Diaries" and Gore Vidal's "Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace."

The former was the inspiration for Timothy McVeigh; the latter includes his self-written eulogy. Together, they show how terrorist McVeigh choose the wrong administration - and terrorist Osama bin Laden, by luck of the draw, chose the right one - to harm American democracy.

The Turner Diaries is an apocalyptic novel that opens with a convenience store robbery and ends with an Armageddon-style worldwide holocaust leaving only white Anglo-Saxon Protestants standing. The government of the United States responds to a terrorist attack (the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma) by cracking down on dissent, expanding the power of the Executive Branch, and shredding constitutional civil rights protections. White "patriots" respond by declaring war against the government that had once tried to take away their guns. Thus begins the cycle of violence that ends with the ultimate worldwide war, a vision straight out of the Book of Revelation.

But Tim McVeigh's expectation of a repressive federal reaction to his right-wing terrorism ran into a snag: Bill Clinton knew the difference between a rogue nation and a rogue criminal.

Like every President since George Washington, Bill Clinton knew that nations only declare war against nations. While armies deal with rogue states, police deal with criminals, be they domestic or international.

Like Germany's response to the Red Army Faction, Italy's response to The Red Brigades, and Greece's response to the 17 November terrorist group (among others), Clinton brought the full force of the criminal justice system against McVeigh, and even had Interpol and overseas police agencies looking for possible McVeigh affiliates. The result was that the trauma of the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing was limited, closure was achieved for its victims, the civil rights of all Americans were largely left intact, and the United States government was able to get back to it's constitutionally-defined job of ensuring life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for its citizens. (Although the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996 did begin the process of eroding civil liberties, it was nowhere near as draconian as the Patriot Act, and was only passed after a full year of careful Congressional deliberation.)

Every President from Washington to Clinton understood the logic expressed by our founders when James Madison, on April 20, 1795, wrote: "Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.

"In war, too," Madison continued, "the discretionary power of the Executive [Branch of Government] is extended. Its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds are added to those of subduing the force of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war...and in the degeneracy of manners and morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

Although numerous recent presidents have declared "wars" on abstractions like poverty, illiteracy, drugs, and a variety of other social ills, all were well aware that these so-called "wars" were, in truth, just politically useful rhetoric. Real war can only be declared by one nation against another: it's not possible to declare a war against an abstraction.

The crime of 911 has been often cited to rationalize the loss of civil liberties and the ongoing traumatizing of the American people with daily "Terror Alerts" and a never-ending "war on terror."

But 911 wasn't an act of war, because it wasn't done against us by a nation. It was, instead, a crime, perpetrated by a criminal and his followers.

It was a horrific crime, certainly. A crime that required strong, swift, and sure response. A crime that other nations, corporations, and individuals may have abetted and must be held accountable for both domestically and in the international venues of the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. A crime deserving a thorough investigation (which has yet to begin).

But Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda are not nations. Bin Laden was a criminal, and his group was a Middle Eastern sort of mafia with terrorist ambitions, initially funded by Poppy bin Laden, who was coincidentally a business partner with Poppy Bush. And, according to most of the world's police and intelligence agencies, Osama is dead (or dying) and his organization is in tatters.

To continue using our military against a criminal organization will only compound the horrific crime of 911, because armies aren't particularly good at police work.

It's time to restore civil liberties to Americans; rein in an Executive Branch intoxicated by warfare; and hand over to American and international police agencies the very real and very big job of dealing with the remnants of al Qaeda around the world, and prevent a recurrence of 911 by investigating who was involved and how they pulled it off in the first place.

Anything less will simply perpetuate this crime of the century.


Thom Hartmann (thom at is the author of "Unequal Protection: The Rise Of Corporate Dominance And The Theft Of Human Rights" and hosts a nationally syndicated daily radio talk show on the i.e. America Radio Network. and This article is copyright by Thom Hartmann, but permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog, or web media so long as this credit is attached.


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