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They came, they killed
« on: September 17, 2006, 05:12:49 PM »
Terror Flicks
Movies do a better job covering the war than the news media do.

Friday, September 15, 2006

"An event of this consequence is very hard to understand." The event former Congressman Lee Hamilton was describing earlier this week is September 11, 2001. But of course September 11 itself is not hard to understand. They came, they killed.

For many people this is sufficient understanding of 9/11. They believe the job now is simple: Resist and stop more of their killing. However, unlike the proponents of apocalyptic Islam, most normal people in time seek a degree of understanding, even of an enemy who fights by the rules of pre-civilization. Mr. Hamilton, the vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, was commenting on ABC's now-controversial movie, "The Path to 9/11." The hard-to-understand path to which Mr. Hamilton alluded is obviously not a single event but the origins and organization of the Islamic terrorist movement that began years back and besets the U.S. and the world today.

One can only agree with Mr. Hamilton. The war on terror is more complex, nuanced and indeed more interesting than the general public has been given to believe.

For instance, one oft-cited benchmark of its progress is the status of Osama bin Laden. That he is presumably still alive and at large is taken to mean that President Bush's offensive against the post-9/11 terrorists has "failed," as John Kerry noted this week on the eve of September 11. The Bush administration, Mr. Kerry told CNN, "failed to capture and kill Osama bin Laden when they had him in the mountains of Tora Bora. And that's why we are more threatened today with an al Qaeda that has reconstituted itself in some 65 countries."

This is the Alien vs. Predator model of fighting terror. Bin Laden himself has picked up on the tendency of our political culture to reduce complexity to melodrama. For 9/11, al Qaeda released a propaganda documentary on al-Jazeera this week, depicting masked men training, while Bin Laden walks among them. The New York Times described bin Laden in the 9/11 tape as "looking almost regal."

As to the war in Iraq, daily readers of first-line Internet news services such as Yahoo News know that this event has been reduced simply to body-count headlines. Yahoo News's homepage at mid-day Wednesday: "Bombings, mortar attacks kill 39 in Iraq."

If this is the available public context, then serious people have to assemble an understanding of terror as best they can. It isn't easy. In his comment on the ABC movie, Lee Hamilton said that "news and entertainment are getting dangerously intertwined." But given the alternative, it makes sense to me if people seek a better sense of the obsessions and compulsions inside Islamic terrorism in movies such as "United 93" or ABC's remarkable "The Path to 9/11."
The narcissistic whining of the Clinton coterie over how they're reflected in "The Path to 9/11" was an irrelevant diversion from its real value. The word "Clinton" isn't heard in the film's first 90 minutes, which recreates with startling realism the thunderous basement bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, an explosion stunning to many of us seated at our desks at the Journal's offices across the street that day.

Screenwriter Cyrus Nowrasteh and director David L. Cunningham deserve thanks not obloquy for trying to give us a palpable feel for the terrorist's terrain--Pakistan, Afghanistan, Brooklyn--the world of Ramzi Yousef, the 1993 bomber, and his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or "KSM," identified in the 9/11 Commission Report as the main architect of September 11 and some 3,000 deaths.

KSM is one of the 14 al Qaeda captives whom President Bush revealed last week had been transferred from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo to await trial. Congress, in the wake of the Hamdan decision, is now arguing over which panoply of legal rights given to accused U.S. soldiers at court martial will be extended to these prisoners if tried by a military commission.

Read through the 14 Guantanamo detainee biographies posted on the White House Web site, and one gets a rare feel for the events that distinguish the lives of these individuals from the daily goals of everyone else in the world--lives simply dedicated to the mass murder of innocents, and not just in lower Manhattan. Indeed, the narrator of Bin Laden's 9/11 tape conveys their milieu: "Planning for September 11 did not take place behind computer monitors or radar screens . . . but was surrounded with divine protection in an atmosphere brimming with brotherliness . . . and love for sacrificing life."

Here are some of the brothers, now at Guantanamo:

• Hambali. Indonesian. Learned radical Islam in Malaysia. Co-planned Bali resort bombing (200 killed); financed Jakarta Marriott bombing; tried to assassinate Philippine ambassador; involved in bombing 30 Indonesian churches on Christmas eve.

• Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. Tanzanian-born forger. Complicit in 1998 East Africa embassy bombings (well-depicted in "The Path to 9/11"). He was also Osama's cook.

• Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, a k a Lillie. Architecture degree, Polytechnic University Malaysia; later studied bombmaking with Dr. Azahari bin Husin (deceased). Hoped to achieve martyrdom in post-9/11 attack on Los Angeles.

• Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Planned 2002 bombing of USS Cole. Involved in planned attacks in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Qatar, the Strait of Hormuz, the Strait of Gibraltar and Port of Dubai.

Read all 14 of these histories devoted to "sacrificing life" to put in context the denunciations of warrantless wiretaps and the Swift financial monitoring program.

These and the others await the divine protections of American law that Senators Warner and Graham wish to give them. Republicans are also arguing among themselves over the degree of access to classified intelligence this group should receive at trial. Democrats, other than saying they'll support the more liberal version, are contributing almost nothing to the new system. If a Democrat wins the White House in 2008, we may assume she or he will receive, as payback, a similar level of limp support from the GOP in the same war on terror.

Say this for the Guantanamo 14: They have unity of purpose. Long term, our disunity could prove to be a big advantage to them.
"The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal." -- Aristotle