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Time to demand full disclosure on U.S. war policy


It appears to me more every day that the U.S. government has in effect silenced criticism of its activities in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The press almost never discovers the total number of dead or wounded in Afghanistan. The media seldom, if ever, press the Pentagon about where it thinks Osama bin Laden is hiding or what the United States expects to do with the ever more numerous detainees in Guantanamo, Cuba.

It appears that revenge or retaliation for the 3,000 who died on Sept. 11 trumps every other concern. The United States acts like the Lone Ranger, disregarding the opinion of European leaders and almost impervious to the protests of international scholars.

It is impossible even to find out how many persons the Justice Department is detaining in jail as suspected terrorists. The government tries to justify these acts by recourse to the frightening provisions of the anti-terrorist law enacted by the Congress shortly after Sept.11.

How soon will the American people realize that the United States is involved in the morass of Afghanistan with the warlords fighting each other amid corruption and chaos? How many billions will the United States invest in this chaotic nation of some 25 million people?

Attempts to apply the venerable just war theory seem futile since who can possibly make any judgment about one of the seven requirements -- that the good to be achieved will predictably outweigh the harm?

The Pentagon never seems to have any responses to key questions. The assumption is that somehow military tactics will win the war against terrorists. Such a premise is patently false since the war against the terrorists will not be won in the mountains or caves of Afghanistan but in the minds and hearts of the 1.2 billion Muslims who reside in the world’s 48 predominately Islamic nations. Millions in these countries find America’s conduct objectionable, and a few fanatics want to harm America by violence.

Is there a plan to seek to communicate with every fifth human being who is Muslim? The Voice of America has had this task for many years. In a recent appearance on the Voice of America -- on both audio and video -- I heard voices from several countries reveal the misgivings or even the hostility that countless millions have toward the colossus of the American empire. They know that Americans are only 4 percent of the universe but they seem to dominate or desire to dominate the 6.1 billion people on the planet.

The European solidarity that coalesced after Sept. 11 is now deteriorating. Europeans fear the belligerence behind President Bush’s “axis of evil” rhetoric, which singles out three nations. It has been pointed out that these nations, Iran, Iraq and North Korea are not the only proliferators of weapons; Russia and China are much worse. People everywhere fear an American bombing of Iraq at a time that would be politically advantageous to the Bush White House.

Europeans also perceive a defiance of international law by the United States. It was assumed that every nation including the United States would comply with the four Geneva conventions initiated and adopted by this country in 1948 and by virtually every country in the world since that time.

Europeans, like a growing number of Americans, increasingly feel that the Pentagon and the White House have not announced an organized plan to combat terrorism because they don’t have one. They will spend the new appropriation of $45 billion on weapons that will not be useful in bringing peace and justice to the world.

How long will it take for the American people to change from the role of the cheerleader to that of a constructive critic? When will they demand a coherent plan designed to curb and, we hope, eliminate terrorism?

A constant reexamination of the moral principles regulating the use of violence should prompt a fundamental change in the way Americans look at the manner in which their government has employed incredible force against the people of Afghanistan. It is difficult for political figures to speak out against the military practices of the United States. Such remarks would almost certainly be used against them by their political opponents. Unfortunately church leaders have not been active or articulate in questioning the actions of America.

Unwise conduct has almost always been adopted when America goes to war. The anti-sedition laws enacted during World War I, the internment of 120,000 Japanese in World War II and the deception by the government about its activities in Chile, Nicaragua and Vietnam have eroded the faith of the American people in the trustworthiness of their government.

Powerful political officials are exploiting Sept. 11 for their own purposes. It is time to demand accurate and full information. Only after such disclosure will Congress and the country come to any judgment as to the soundness of the policy now being followed by the Pentagon and the White House.

Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan is a professor at Georgetown University Law School. His e-mail address is drinan@law.Georgetown.edu

National Catholic Reporter, March 8, 2002