Our view of 9/11; Their view of Fallujah...
By Ernest A. Canning on 1/8/2010, 3:40pm PT  

Guest essay by Ernest A. Canning

"The terrorist of yesterday becomes the hero of today, and the hero of yesterday becomes the terrorist of today." --- Eqbal Ahmad

Irrespective of whether one accepts the government's official explanation or one of the multiple "inside job/false-flag" theories advanced by the "9/11 Truth" movement, or even if you simply regard the current state of public information about 9/11 to be inadequate to arrive at any hard-and-fast conclusions about that seminal event, the mere mention of it evokes the word "terror" in some way for all Americans.

But the word "terror" is rarely applied to Donald Rumsfeld's "shock and awe" assaults on the city of Fallujah. Why?...

'Terrorism' and 'State Terrorism' defy definition

When Eqbal Ahmad said "The terrorist of yesterday becomes the hero of today, and the hero of yesterday becomes the terrorist of today," in his lecture, “Terrorism, Theirs and Ours,” he was referencing, among other issues, the transition of the Afghan Mujahideen, once described by President Reagan as the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers, into Osama Bin Laden’s al Qaeda, and the fact that Menachem Begin, at one time officially listed as a "terrorist" by the British, emerged as the Prime Minister of Israel.

As recognized by Wikipedia, the "politically and emotionally charged" word "terrorism" has no internationally agreed upon definition.

The concept of terrorism may itself be controversial as it is often used by state authorities to delegitimize political or other opponents, and potentially legitimize the state's own use of armed force against opponents (such use of force may itself be described as "terror" by opponents of the state).

"Terrorism" is frequently applied by governments and by the corporate media to "guerrilla warfare," which is the traditional response of a weaker opponent who tactically seeks out soft targets rather than frontal military assault, e.g. the French Resistance fighters whom the Nazis referred to as "terrorists."

The concept of "state terrorism" is likewise controversial.

As noted by Michael Stohl, a terrorism scholar quoted by Wikipedia:

The use of terror tactics is common in international relations and the state has been and remains a more likely employer of terrorism within the international system than insurgents....Not all acts of state violence are terrorism....In terrorism the violence threatened or perpetrated, has purposes broader than simple physical harm to a victim. The audience of the act or threat of violence is more important than the immediate victim.

Perception of terror depends on point of view

9/11 was sudden; unexpected. Thanks to the immediacy of television, the images of planes striking buildings, jet fuel explosions, people leaping to their deaths, the collapse of the massive buildings, official confusion, and dust-covered civilians running for their lives, all of us were in a position to not merely see but experience the trauma.

That immediacy is nowhere to be found when we, a nation possessing the most powerful arsenal ever assembled, inflict terror on others.

There is a significant difference between how war is seen through the camera lens of a "smart bomb" and from the point of view of those upon whom the bombs are falling.

The deadly aerial assaults on Baghdad during Gulf War I and at the outset of the 2003 invasion of Iraq were depicted as surreal, florescent green over black light shows on CNN, Fox and MSNBC, who, acting as cheerleaders, did so over displays of "Countdown Iraq," "SHOWDOWN IRAQ," and "Target Iraq" plastered on their screens nonstop. But those images did not begin to display a brutal reality that is apparent only to those of us who have had the misfortune to serve in combat.

Viewed from a safe distance, even graphic images of war fail to reveal what Chris Hedges, in War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, describes as the critical element --- fear:

There is, until the actual moment of confrontation, no cost of imagining glory...the experience is sterile. We are safe. We do not smell rotting flesh, hear the cries of agony, or see before us blood and entrails seeping out of bodies. We view, from a distance, the rush, the excitement, but feel none of the awful gut-wrenching anxiety and humiliation that come with mortal danger. It takes the experience of fear and the chaos of battle, the deafening and disturbing noise, to wake us up, to make us realize that we are not who we imagined we were...

State terror and Fallujah

In "This Is Our Guernica," independent journalist, Dahr Jamail, along with The Guardian's Jonathan Steele wrote:

In the 1930s the Spanish city of Guernica became a symbol of wanton murder and destruction. In the 1990s Grozny was cruelly flattened by the Russians; it still lies in ruins. This decade’s unforgettable monument to brutality and overkill is Fallujah, a text-book case of how not to handle an insurgency and a reminder that unpopular occupations will always degenerate into desperation and atrocity.

In November 2004 the United States laid siege to the City of Fallujah, an Iraqi town about the size of Cincinnati --- the second such siege in seven months. The city was sealed off to relief workers and un-embedded reporters. While the American forces contend that a large insurgent force was trapped inside, a significant question exists as to whether most of the insurgents had fled the city in advance of the deadly assault --- an assault which Jamail contends resulted in the massacre of between 4,000 and 6,000 civilians.

Ali Fadhil, one of the first independent journalists permitted to enter the city some two months after the siege had ended, noted how shocked he was by the devastation:

I couldn’t believe it. The whole city is destroyed. It was a big shock. I wasn’t prepared for this much destruction. I was here just before the American attack. It’s hard to believe this is the same city. Falluja used to be one of the modern Iraqi cities, and now there is nothing.

Mr. Fadhil claimed that those killed were mostly civilians:

They were men who stayed behind in the city to protect their homes. I say this because we found bodies in groups of two or three or four. It was Ramadan, and people naturally gather together for Iftar, the first meal after fasting. We found bodies right behind their front doors. It looked to me as if they had opened their front doors to the Americans and had been immediately shot dead.

Dahr Jamail’s comparison of Fallujah to Guernica is both troubling and exceedingly poignant.

As Chalmers Johnson recounted in The Sorrows of Empire, “Guernica, a small Basque village in northern Spain, was the site Adolf Hitler [then allied with Francisco Franco] chose on April 27, 1937, to demonstrate his air force’s new high-explosive and incendiary bombs....The hamlet burned for three days, and sixteen hundred civilians were killed or wounded.”

The event’s modern significance is such that the United Nations prominently displays “a tapestry reproduction of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica,” a “depiction of the atrocity,” which Chalmers Johnson informs us, “is perhaps modern art’s most powerful anti-war statement” --- so powerful that the U.S. government took pains to cover the tapestry reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica with a large blue curtain in advance of the key pre-invasion address by then Secretary of State Collin Powell. Johnson notes that the “government decided...the carnage wrought by aerial bombing was an inappropriate backdrop for its secretary of state and its ambassador to the United Nations when they televised statements that might lead to the bombing of Iraqi cities.”

Prior to the first seige, in April 2004, Fallujah stood out as a symbol of the Iraqi resistance. It was the site where the four Blackwater mercenaries were killed and where their bodies were burned and left hanging on a bridge. Given the “shock and awe” mentality of the US military and especially Donald Rumsfeld, and considering the devastation that followed, there is every reason to believe that the US military and Rumsfeld had intended, by means of the two assaults on Fallujah, to apply such a deadly and massive display of force as to strike fear in the hearts of Iraqis everywhere: Resist and we will destroy you, your cities, your families.

The last thing a military bent on such a course would want is some independent, un-embedded journalist to, in the words of many Holocaust survivors, “bear witness;” to display the truth of the violent and bloody Fallujah assault for the entire world to see, especially since “collective punishment” and “the retributive destruction of cities in response to enemy actions” violate express provisions of the Geneva Convention.

Despite the best laid plans to seal off the city, a small team of brave journalists from al Jazeera, including correspondent Ahmed Mansur and cameraman Laith Mushtaq, found a way into the city where they remained, un-embedded for the duration of the first siege. On Feb. 22, 2006, the ghastly reality of the first Falluja seige was exposed as the two men discussed what they witnessed when interviewed on Democracy Now.

Mushtaq said:

The...first two days...we were unable to go even to the bathroom, because in Fallujah...the bathroom is usually outside the rooms, so whenever we opened the door to the bathroom, we see the laser pointed at us...I saw an elderly lady...with her children, going on a big truck to leave Fallujah. After a quarter of an hour later, she came back in pieces.

Mushtaq spoke of a man named Hamudi, whose house had been bombed along with the entire neighborhood, “and they brought the corpses and bodies to the hospital,” where the scene was “like a sea of corpses...mostly children.... I was...forcing myself to take photographs, while I was at the same time crying.” Hamudi was the only survivor in his family. Mushtaq took pictures of Hamudi speaking to his infant son Ahmed, who was asleep with a toy car in his hand. “Half his head was gone.... I could not really find any one human being in one piece or intact.... It’s bombing of airplanes."

Mansur said:

When we reached the heart of the city at the hospital, I almost lost my mind from the terror that I saw, people going in each and every direction. Laith was with me and also another colleague, and I felt like we need 1,000 cameras to grab those disastrous pictures.... We were trying to move this picture to the whole world, and we felt we are responsible for all these civilians being bombed from the planes..., so we have to transfer this picture of suffering to the whole world.

Did Bush want to kill the messenger?

The April 9 and 10, 2004, images broadcast over al Jazeera for all the world to see did not sit well with the U.S. military’s media minders. On April 11, General Mark Kimmit, a senior military spokesman for the US forces in Iraq, said, “The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and that is lies.” According to Mansur, General Kimmit singled him out by name for criticism. An al Jazeera colleague, Hamoud Krishen, then asked General Kimmit, “Ahmed Mansur only transfers pictures. Do pictures themselves lie...?” General Kimmit did not respond.

On April 15, 2004, when asked by a reporter if he could “definitely say that hundreds of women and children and innocent civilians have not been killed,” Rumsfeld replied, “I can definitively say that what al Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.”

April 16, 2004, was the day of a Bush-Blair summit. On November 22, 2005, the London tabloid Daily Mirror exposed the existence of a five-page memo stamped “Top Secret” which had found its way to the offices of former Labor MP Tony Clarke. According to the Daily Mirror account, the memo reflects that during the summit --- a summit which took place one day after Rumsfeld’s “what al Jazeera is doing is vicious” diatribe --- President Bush “made clear that he wanted to bomb al Jazeera in Qatar and elsewhere” and that Prime Minister “Blair replied that would cause a big problem. There’s no doubt what Bush wanted to do --- and no doubt Blair didn’t want him to do it.”

The allegation, if true, merely underscores the length to which our leaders are prepared to go to insure that the truth remains concealed.

As Glenn Greenwald so aptly observed during his Dec. 31, 2009, appearance on Democracy Now, where we Americans assume we are better informed than Muslims whom we perceive as living in backward countries under the spell of religious fanaticism, the reverse is true. The people upon whom the bombs fall are well aware of the fact that "we routinely slaughter innocent men, women and children" --- a basic reality that almost never appears in the U.S. corporate-owned media, according to Greenwald, who added:

And so, when there’s anger and hostility and hatred in the Muslim world towards the United States, they understand why, but we are confused and bewildered, because the facts about why that is are generally kept from us.

Peace depends on our understanding their point of view

If we are to put an end to what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., described as the "madness," the American public must, en masse, acquire the point of view of those upon whom the bombs are falling. For it is only by acquiring their point of view that Americans can appreciate and answer the poignant question posed by Greenwald and recounted by Brad Friedman as to the "why" growing numbers of Middle East residents just might be motivated to attack us. Without that understanding, peace will always remain beyond our grasp.


Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).

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