Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The criminals amongst us, Part II

I was going to add this as an Addendum to the post on the release of Dr. Germ and Mrs. Anthrax, "The criminals amongst us," but decided it was worth its own post. The title of my earlier post was deliberately meant to impugn the integrity of many scientists in this country who work to make bioweapons. I view them as I do the Iraqi low-lifes, Dr. Germ and Mrs. Anthrax. Then Cervantes (our esteemed blogger colleague of Stayin' Alive) drew my attention to this superb piece by Tom Engelhardt in TomDispatch.com on the anthrax attacks of 2001. Here is a long excerpt germane to the issue I raised:
If, as an editor of a major newspaper, you were to draw a single conclusion from [the anthrax attacks of 2001], it might be: Despite what we've heard, the greatest WMD danger to Americans comes not from impoverished Third World or rickety Middle Eastern rogue states, but from the arsenals and weapons labs of the two former Cold War superpowers. But nothing in the media coverage since then has indicated anything of the sort. While, prewar, reporters prowled Iraqi nuclear facilities, wrote major pieces on Iraq's "Dr. Germ," and brought down whole forests of trees in the service of WMD programs at Iraq's Tuwaitha or North Korea's Yongbyan, or on gassed dogs in Afghanistan and the Iranian bomb that also wasn't, the Soviet and American weapons labs, the Soviet and American Dr. Germs, the Ames anthrax strain, and the anthrax killer hardly took out a tree or two.

When was the last time you read a major report on the state of American biowarfare work? When was the last time you encountered a significant story about the weapons labs at Fort Detrick in suburban Maryland where the Ames strain was evidently first researched or the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah where it was produced and tested? How much attention has been given to recent contracts linked to Dugway that signal a desire on the part of the U.S. military to "buy large quantities of anthrax, in a controversial move that is likely to raise questions over its commitment to treaties designed to limit the spread of biological weapons"? When was the last time you read an article on whether the Homeland Security Department or the Pentagon is attending to the potential dangers of the American WMD arsenal? How much attention has gone into the decrepit system for locking down Russian WMD stocks? The odd news piece, nothing more. And while this administration spends about a billion dollars a week on its war in Iraq, it has hardly had the will or interest to raise the few billion dollars a year needed to help lock-down the Russian arsenal. Imagine that. If, of course, the President had chosen to launch his "war" on terror against the anthrax killers, this might have been our top priority.

Since September 11, 2001, weapons of mass destruction have been dealt with purely as a danger from the peripheries, not as a heartland issue. In fact, the Bush administration has successfully focused all our WMD attention and fears out there, not in here. The Iranian bomb -- at best, years away according to the latest National Intelligence Estimate -- has been the singular focus of the world's attention; while the nuclearized "global strike force" the Pentagon has been preparing for future use in Iran, North Korea, or elsewhere is barely attended to.

Now, here's the interesting thing: Because this administration had its eyes set on the Middle East from the beginning, it essentially chose its terror war from column A (the September 11th attacks), not column B (the anthrax attacks, once it became clear that they were connected not to al-Qaeda but the American arsenal). Hence our control group. Here, for instance, is a very partial list of actions not taken by this administration in relation to the anthrax attacks:

Our President never swore to get the killer(s), "dead or alive." He kept no profile of the possible killer or killers in his desk drawer, so he could cross him/them off when caught. The President, Vice President, National Security Adviser, and others did not warn the public and Congress regularly of the possibility of "clouds of anthrax" being released in our major cities (though this had, after a fashion, already happened) even as they were issuing dire warnings about fantasy Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs that might at any time spray biological or chemical weapons over east coast cities. (Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, for example, said that he voted for the administration's resolution authorizing force in Iraq because "I was told not only that [Saddam had weapons of mass destruction] and that he had the means to deliver them through unmanned aerial vehicles, but that he had the capability of transporting those UAVs outside of Iraq and threatening the homeland here in America, specifically by putting them on ships off the eastern seaboard.") No American planes swooped down to bomb the weapons labs of Fort Detrick or the Dugway Proving Grounds; the only suspect publicly identified, while hounded for a period, was never declared an "enemy combatant." No one seized and rendered him; no CIA agents swept him from the street, cut off his clothes, shot him up with drugs, slipped him into an orange jumpsuit, whisked him onto an unregistered plane, and took him to a secret prison in Egypt or elsewhere to have "the truth" beaten or waterboarded or otherwise tortured out of him. Nor did he end up incarcerated in Guantanamo for years, trial-less and beyond the reach of the courts. Quite the opposite, Hatfill is suing former Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Justice Department, and others for violating his constitutional rights and the New York Times for defaming him.

Nor, in the wake of the anthrax attacks, was any kind of global war declared on the killer or killers, or troops deployed anywhere. In fact, no drastic actions of any sort were taken. In the wake of the attack, the post office became more careful; U.S. weapons labs were assumedly better secured; and remind me what else occurred in response to one of the most dangerous attacks in our history? Beyond the dead and injured, the panic of the moment, and the monumental costs of cleaning up congressional offices, newsrooms, and post offices, what were the costs?

As it turns out, the Bush administration acted in response to 9/11 in every wild and extraordinary way -- and in response to the anthrax attacks in next to no way at all. Put the two together and what you can see is the degree to which the costs of 9/11, whether in Iraq or at home, are the responsibility not of the attackers, whose damaging acts were violent in the extreme, spectacular, and limited, but the Bush administration.
Read the whole thing. Worth it.