Socialist Worker

Noam Chomsky on the hypocrisy of the US 'war on terrorism'

Noam Chomsky is one of the leading opponents of US foreign policy. He is the author of many books which attack the hypocrisy and violence of US governments. Here we print extracts from a talk he gave at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last mo

Issue No. 1775

What happened on 11 September was a historic event-not, unfortunately, because of its scale. It is unpleasant to think about, but the scale was not that unusual. It's a historic event because there was a change in the direction in which the guns were pointed.

The last time that the national territory of the United States was under attack was when the British burned down Washington in 1814. There have been many recent references to Pearl Harbor. But that's not a good analogy. The Japanese bombed military bases in two US colonies-colonies which had been taken from their inhabitants in not a very pretty way.

During these close to 200 years since the last attack on the national territory the US expelled or mostly exterminated the indigenous population (that's many millions of people), conquered half of Mexico, carried out depredations all over the region (the Caribbean and Central America) and sometimes beyond, and conquered Hawaii and the Philippines, killing several hundred thousand Filipinos in the process.

Since the Second World War the US has extended its reach around the world. But it was always killing someone else. This is the reason why most of the rest of the world looks at the 11 September crime quite differently, not lacking sympathy for the victims of the atrocity or being horrified by it-that's almost uniform-but viewing it from a different perspective.

The 'war against terrorism' has been described in high places as a struggle against a plague, a cancer which is spread by barbarians, by 'depraved opponents of civilisation itself'. The words I'm quoting, however, happen to be from 20 years ago. Atrocities

They are from President Reagan and his Secretary of State. The Reagan administration came into office declaring that the war against international terrorism would be the core of our foreign policy. The Reagan administration responded to this plague spread by 'depraved opponents of civilisation' by creating an extraordinary international terrorist network. It was unprecedented in scale and carried out massive atrocities all over the world.

I'll just mention one case, which is totally uncontroversial. It's uncontroversial because of the judgements of the highest international authorities-the International Court of Justice, the World Court and the UN Security Council. I'm talking about the Reagan-US war against Nicaragua, which left tens of thousands of people dead and the country ruined, perhaps beyond recovery. Nicaragua didn't respond by setting off bombs in Washington. It responded by taking the US to the World Court-it had no problem putting together evidence.

The World Court accepted its case, ruled in its favour, condemned what it called the 'unlawful use of force' (which is another word for international terrorism) by the US, and ordered the US to terminate the crime and pay massive reparations.

The US, of course, dismissed the court judgement with total contempt and announced that it would not accept the jurisdiction of the court. Then Nicaragua went to the UN Security Council, which considered a resolution calling on all states to observe international law. No one was mentioned but everyone understood. The US vetoed the resolution. It now stands as the only state on record which has both been condemned by the World Court for international terrorism and has vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on states to observe international law.

Nicaragua then went to the General Assembly, where there is technically no veto, but a negative US vote amounts to a veto. It passed a similar resolution with only the US, Israel and El Salvador opposed. The following year the US could only rally Israel to the cause. Nicaragua tried all the measures. They don't work in a world that is ruled by force.

The US responded to the World Court and the Security Council by immediately escalating the war very quickly. Official orders were given to the Contra terrorist army to attack what are called 'soft targets', meaning undefended civilian targets. Terrorism, like other means of violence, is primarily a weapon of the strong. It is held to be a weapon of the weak because the strong also control the doctrinal systems, and their terror doesn't count as terror.

So even the Nazis claimed they weren't carrying out terror in occupied Europe-they were protecting the local population from the terrorism of the partisans. After the war the US army did extensive studies of Nazi counter-terror operations in Europe and began carrying them out itself, often against the same targets-the former resistance.

Another illustration of how we regard terrorism is happening right now. The US appointed an ambassador to the United Nations to lead the war against terrorism a few weeks ago. His name is John Negroponte. He was the US ambassador in the fiefdom-which is what it is-of Honduras in the early 1980s.

There was a little fuss made about the fact that he must have been aware of the large-scale murders and other atrocities that were being carried out by the security forces in Honduras that we were supporting. As proconsul of Honduras, as he was called there, he was the local supervisor for the terrorist war based in Honduras.

It was happening elsewhere in the world too-take, say, Africa. During the Reagan years alone South African attacks, backed by the US and Britain, against neighbouring countries killed about a million and a half people, and left $60 billion dollars in damage and countries destroyed. And if we go around the world we can add more examples.

Now, that was the first war against terror. The worst human rights violator in the 1990s is Colombia, by a long shot. It's also by far the leading recipient of US military aid (excluding Israel and Egypt, which are a separate category). It overtook Turkey in the 1990s. Why was Turkey getting such a huge flow of US arms? It's strategically placed, a member of NATO, and so on. But the arms flow to Turkey went up very sharply in 1984.

It didn't have anything to do with the Cold War-Russia was collapsing. And it stayed high from 1984 to 1999. What happened from 1984 to 1999? Well, in 1984, Turkey launched a major terrorist war against Kurds in the south east of the country. And that's when US aid went up-military aid. And this was not pistols. This was jetplanes, tanks, military training, and so on. And it stayed high as the atrocities escalated.

The peak year was 1997. In 1997 US military aid to Turkey was more than in the entire period 1950-83. This led to two to three million refugees-some of the worst ethnic cleansing of the late 1990s, tens of thousands of people killed, 3,500 towns and villages destroyed-way more than Kosovo, even under NATO bombs.

And Turkey is very grateful. Just a short time ago prime minister Ecevit announced that Turkey would join the coalition against terror. Algeria too is very enthusiastic about the US war against terror. Algeria is one of the most vicious terrorist states in the world, and has been carrying out horrendous terror against its own population in the past couple of years. And if you look at the coalition that is being formed against terror it tells you a lot more. A leading member of the coalition is Russia, which is delighted to have the US support its murderous terrorist war in Chechnya instead of occasionally criticising it in the background.

China is delighted to have support for the atrocities it's carrying out in its western provinces against what it calls Muslim secessionists. One reason why people in the Middle East, even though they hate Bin Laden and despise everything he is doing, nevertheless support him is that they are very angry at the US because of its support for authoritarian and brutal regimes.

They remember, even if we prefer not to, that the US and Britain supported Saddam Hussein right through his worst atrocities, including the gassing of the Kurds. Bin Laden brings that up constantly. And, of course, the US supports the Israeli military occupation. The US government says it is hunting down Bin Laden because he is a killer of innocent civilians.

For the last several years Haiti has been requesting the US to extradite Emmanuel Constant. He is a major killer. He is one of the leading figures in the slaughter of maybe 4,000 or 5,000 people in the years in the mid-1990s, under the military junta, which incidentally was supported by the Bush and Clinton administrations. They have plenty of evidence. He has already been brought to trial and sentenced in Haiti, and they are asking the US to turn him over.

Haiti renewed the request a couple of weeks ago. It wasn't even mentioned. Why should we turn over a convicted killer who was largely responsible for killing 4,000 or 5,000 people a couple of years ago? In fact, if we do turn him over, who knows what he would say? Maybe he'll say that he was being funded and helped by the CIA, which is probably true. We don't want to open that door. And he is not he only one.

For about the last 15 years Costa Rica has been trying to get the US to hand over John Hull, a US landowner in Costa Rica who they charge with terrorist crimes. He was using his land, they claim with good evidence, as a base for the US war against Nicaragua. Hear about that one? No.

If you open the door to questions about extradition it leads in very unpleasant directions. So that can't be done. We certainly want to reduce the level of terror. There is one easy way to do that, and therefore it is never discussed-namely, stop participating in it.

For the full text of Noam Chomsky's speech, or to listen to it, go to: »

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Sat 17 Nov 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1775
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