Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Path to 9/11 and the Destuction of Truth

When the South Tower was hit the broadcast repeaters that the “rabbit ears” attached to my TV relied upon were knocked out, so when I switched on my TV that morning at nine a.m. my first inkling that something unusual had happened was the static on the screen as I began searching for a signal. And then there it was--the WTC billowing smoke.

The only reason I was getting any TV news at all was because there was just one New York station that broadcast via the Empire State Building and that was Channel 7, WABC. As that awful day unfolded Peter Jennings did the most extraordinarily professional job—no one could have done better.

So how does ABC choose to depict 9-11 upon the advent of the fifth anniversary? By airing a “docudrama”called "The Path to 9-11" supposedly based on the 9-11 Commisions report that Bush fought tooth and nail to prevent ? What the fuck do we need a “docudrama” for? The news footage wasn’t dramatic enough?

And it’s becoming evident from pre-release reviews that the “documentary” aspect of this enterprise is riddled with fiction dressed as fact.
It was sickening enough when Bloomberg (who I think is a very practical mayor) pimped Manhattan to the RNC and Bush, back at the scene of his criminal negligence, proclaimed himself a hero as his sycophantic audience spat and shit on New York’s citizens in their applause.

I remember the events of that day and the days and weeks and months that followed well enough and not just through witnessing it on TV.
There was the regular roar of combat jets as they circled overhead providing pointless “air-cover”.
There was the endless convoy of emergency vehicles lighting up the night as they stretched for miles along the Pulaski Skyway that feeds the Holland Tunnel and downtown Manhattan.
There were the photos and fliers and messages that were plastered on the walls at Journal Square Plaza. There was the unusual quiet of my neighborhood as police, fire and ambulance crews abandoned their usual routes past my apartment and concentrated on the Hudson and Manhattan.
There was the shutting-down of the Holland Tunnel to all but official traffic that lasted a year and to this day still disallows commercial vehicles for fear of a massive truck-bomb.
I queued with thousands at Madison Square Garden for half a day, given food and drink by the Red Cross as we all waited for our chance at a couple of hundred jobs.
I went downtown and wandered around Wall Street and Vesey and Church where everything was coated in dust and debris as though a vast overstuffed vacuum cleaner bag had been emptied over the city, turning everything grey.
When I finally found a job I worked pretty much every other week in Manhattan and forced to drive through the Lincoln Tunnel on every trip I could see the vast emptiness of the WTC’s absence. At home, at night, when I went to the local store I could see the huge columns of light piercing the sky that marked where the towers had been. When the WTC PATH station re-opened the train curved around what was once an undergorund mall and was now a rectangular crater open to sky, grey and vacant and as we circled the scene with all the blackberries and cell phones and people packed cheek by jowl, there was no sound.

I wasn’t actually there when the buildings were struck, when they collapsed, I wasn’t on the streets. I knew one person who worked in the WTC, Henry Jennings, who broke his arm trying to squeeze out of a jammed elevator. I wasn’t a victim, I don’t have nightmares or health problems nor was I financially ruined—I was just a peripheral witness.

But if I want to recall 9-11 I have my own memories and the documentary footage stored on my computer. If I want to “understand” it I can re-read the 9-11 Commission report also on my PC along with other documents I’ve saved for reference and review. And I have wealth of visible and invisible reminders of the event and it's aftermath. I for one don’t need some fucking “docudrama” to explain it all for me.

The very fact that ABC has chosen to dramatize the most dramatic and important event the US has experienced for a century and attempted to give the effort some authority by claiming documentary support in the re-telling of the event, its causes and effects, already suggests unnecessary and callous manipulation of a national tragedy that is already a matter of well documented record. Does anyone need a fucking "docudrama" of 9-11? Certainly New Yorkers don't.

With 4 days to go until the first airing, ABC-7 has yet to promote in its 5-7 local news what ought to be a significant program of great interest to New Yorkers as well as to the nation. Is ABC being sensitive? Why, if the show is going to be an honest appraisal five years after the event? Perhaps instead of producing something scholarly and relevant, something to be proud of, they've ended up with a melodrama, a mockery of a reality and fact that still shapes our lives today?

If ever there was an example of how far TV news and analysis has fallen this unnecessary "docudrama" is surely it. Dan Rather was fired, Ted Koppel is retired as is Tom Brokaw a long time favorite of mine and IMHO the best of those three. Phil Donahue was blackballed, Bill Moyers has quit, having nothing to lose but he's still active and David Broncacccio and the NOW team are doing good work. 60 minutes and 20-20 are shadows of their former selves.

On 9-11 I was forced to watch ABC first and then was able to switch between it and WNET Channel 13 who had arranged to piggy-back off the ABC signal. I pretty much stuck with Peter Jennings. He simply amazed me with his insight and inquistion. He functioned as both a real "anchor" and as an investigate reporter functioning "on the fly" as he gathered and applied his personal and professional resources as he quizzed his guests and informed the public calmly, sometimes emotionally, but professionally and responsibly.

So much was damaged or destroyed on 9-11. Symbols, property, lives, families, faith, hope, confidence, freedom, honesty and trust. ABC still promotes itself as "the most trusted" in broadcast news. They owe that claim to Peter Jennings and his team. Though some at ABC still do sterling work with Jennings no longer at the helm there is no one left to champion that claim and there is no more obvious proof than this "docudrama". It''s mere existence is an insult to New Yorkers, to the nation and to responsible journalism. It is theater masquerading as fact, national tragedy made product and maniplated to satisfy a niche market.

I may be wrong but I doubt Peter Jennings would have made a "docudrama'' about 9-11. Like me he wasn't directly involved, but he was there and it was all too real for him, for me, for some 40 million people in the tristate area and Washington D.C.

That's a lot of potential critics with actual experience and intimate knowledge of 9-11, ABC/Disney! I don'tt doubt you'll get great Nielsen ratings ( I'll certainly watch it) , but I'd keep an eye out on the "put" options on your stock if I were you.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Of Cluster Bombs and Cluster-Fucks

F-16I--Israel-specific version of the US manufactured F-16 includes upper fuselage mounted external fuel tanks for increased radius/time over battlefield that also "free-up" the two largest capacity underwing hardpoints for increased bombload. The IAF has approx 330 Fighter-Bombers (F-15 and F-16) s and 50 A-4 ground attack aircraft.

The F16I is wicked gorgeous IMHO (but only as long as you are the pilot) . If you are the recipient of its capablities, it has to be terrifying.

When Hezbollah conducted a cross-border ambush of an Israeli patrol, killing 8 and capturing two, Israel could have responded they way usually do (and the way Hezbollah expected them to) —by launching a public, token punitive raid of their own whilst developing negotiations and formulating a rescue plan in private.

Instead Ehud Olmert took the radical decision of launching a war intended to “smash” militant Hezbollah and force the return of the two military captives.
In other words, because a militant group over which the one-year old Lebanese government had little control had engaged in a criminal act against military personnel, the entire Lebanese nation would have to pay for the transgressions of a few.

After bombing national entry and exit points (the airport, sea-ports and border crossings), the IAF (Israeli Air Force) then bombed communications centers, transportation facilities and roads--anything that served an urban society that might also serve an urban military. This strategy hindered or prevented externally-sourced re-supply and support as well as movement for Olmert’s declared target Hezbollah, which, were it a discrete military force with clear logistical communications would make perfect military sense by confining Hezbollah militants to one areas and subjecting them to a siege that would be relieved either by surrender or destruction.

As the militant Hezbollah were not a discrete military force with easily identifiable military bases, personnel and equipment but instead a militia integrated with the general population in towns and villages, the ‘containment’ strategy also meant containing civilians too, in the geographic arena where Hezbollah was supposed to be ‘smashed’.

In an effort to separate civilians from militants Olmert allowed the southern Lebanese some 24 hours to evacuate from the declared target area. This magnanimity however risked undermining the military containment strategy, so whilst bombing suspected Hezbollah-riddled civilian centers was temporarily halted no such moratorium was applied to the potential escape routes; thus civilians were given a day to decide whether to be bombed at home or bombed when they left.

Apart from preventing civilian evacuation to clear the way for classic military-vs-military warfare, Olmert’s military strategy also hindered ordinary humanitarian aid both from within Lebanon and especially from without. It also hindered the evacuation of foreigners, many of whom were citizens of Israel’s traditional allies, and I suspect it was those people that the 24-hour warning was meant to serve more than anyone else, but thanks to the strategy in place even that concession to civilians and innocents fell short of the practical, let alone the ideal.

The US government didn’t voice actual approval of Olmert’s actions but it didn’t condemn them either and that should come as no surprise to anyone. What was surprising to me (sort of) was that the US gave tacit approval not through the usual guff of “we’re analyzing the situation” but by essentially stating that Olmert had at least two weeks to “defend itself”. The continued launching of large salvoes of retaliatory Katyusha rocket attacks by Hezbollah gave a clear indication of the ineffectiveness of the IAF’s bombing campaign. Instead of changing the patently flawed strategy, it was decided that more bombs were needed which, as the IAF had already expended much of its supplies, were quickly provided by the US.

As soon as the shaky ceasefire went into effect, NGO’s, UN personnel and reporters were able to move in and assess conditions on the ground. But though the air strikes had stopped, the bombing campaign in essence was still ongoing courtesy of the cluster bombs--supplied in significant part by the US.

A recent report by the BBC showed reporter Orla Guerlin (possibly the world’s most experienced television reporter of armed conflict) pointing out a dozen bomblets scattered around the remains of a Lebanese home. The bomblets shown appeared to be of an American anti-armor type, dull grey and about the size of a soda-can (US anti- personnel bomblets resemble the typical tuna-can, squat and wide).

Now why would the IAF use anti-tank cluster-bombs when Hezbollah doesn’t have any tanks? Because that’s what was most readily available from the US? Because dropping anti-personnel bomblets in civilian areas would be a clear violation of international law governing their use?

Manufacturers of CBU (Cluster Bomb Unit) bomblets claim they will explode on impact (as they are supposed to) 95% of the time, but in the real world the failure rate has proven to be 70% to 90%. CBUs release anywhere from around 200 to 600 bomblets, meaning that anywhere from 10 (5% of 200) to 200 (30% of 600) won’t explode on impact but may well explode upon being disturbed later on.

Regardless of whether cluster-bombs are configured with anti-armor or anti-personnel bomblets they are ONLY allowed to be used against distinctly military targets and NOT in civilian areas. Clearly the IAF has disregarded this restriction (just as the US has in Iraq).

According to Jan Egelund of the UN the IAF dropped the majority of their cluster bombs in the last three days leading up to the ceasefire. The US had been supplying the IAF with more cluster bombs for nearly two-weeks by that time. And since the ceasefire UN investigators report having found approximately 100,000 unexploded bomblets at 359 sites. Even when one allows for exaggeration ther is still the potential that as many people could be killed afte the cease-fire as before it, and most of them will be civilians.

The US State Department is now investigating how US-supplied cluster-bombs came to be used by our steadfast ally Israel on civilian areas (against an enemy they couldn’t see that didn’t have any tanks) which would be a contravention of US policy and law. Given the US government’s record thus far regarding illegal actions by the military and “wrongdoing” by the military’s suppliers I wouldn’t expect anything to come it.

It’s pretty obvious that both Olmert’s strategy and execution was conducted with a calculated disregard of civilian casualties especially towards the Lebanese but also in part towards Israeli civilians too; and let’s not forget his sledgehammer campaign also risked the lives of the two IDF hostages (and encouraged large scale retaliation against Israeli civilians). Added to this is the US complicity not just in Olmert’s craptacular strategy that couldn’t possibly deliver on its promised aims, but also in the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas. With the evidence of a two-week bombing campaign already common knowledge, for the US to supply anti-tank CBUs to the IAF upon urgent request against targets that had no armor, on some assurance that they would not be used against civilians is beyond naivety or stupidity, it’s just criminal .

Hezbollah’s initial raid violated all kinds of statues and Israel had every right to use similar force to redress the situation. Instead Israel effectively went to war against Lebanon as a whole, though they did not engage the Lebanese army (who remained notably absent throughout the conflict). The strategy of simply bombing an enemy dispersed amongst civilians and near impossible to distinguish from them guaranteed both significant civilian deaths and the failure of the declared mission.

Olmert’s strategy failed to smash Hezbollah and recover the two soldiers. Israel had enough problems with Syria, the Palestinians and Hezbollah anyway. Now it has bolstered support for Hezbollah and given the rest of the Lebanese cause for revenge.
The regular Israeli population unsurprisingly supportive of the initial response soon realized the dangers of Olmert’s war and are now calling for his head. The IDF was given goals it simply couldn’t achieve despite its long proven effectiveness so now with its reputation diminished Israel’s national security has been compromised.

The parallels between Bush’s and Olmert’s strategies and execution are remarkable and the lesson is pretty clear: universal use of cluster-bombs (rhetorical, metaphorical and actual) to solve perceived problems invariably results in a cluster-fuck.