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Public Eye



On Tuesday, the president of the United States called the work of the terrorists in New York and Washington an act of cowardice. His comment echoed those of other leaders and pundits who denounced the horrific destruction and loss of lives in both cities.

Let's see. A group of terrorists simultaneously hijack and commandeer four commercial U.S. airplanes and fly them, along with the passengers inside, into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- the nerve center of the country's defense operations. They make a failed effort to possibly steer the fourth into the U.S. Capitol building or the White House. They kill possibly tens of thousands of people in the process. How, exactly, is this ballsy move an act of cowardice?

Tuesday's events were outrageous, horrifying, devastatingly sad. But why did our leaders -- and why do we -- believe that the United States, unlike every other nation in the world, should be immune from acts of terrorism? And even though we classify it as "military action" or "surgical strike," is the result not the same when we bomb innocent people in Kosovo or Iraq or Yugoslavia?

For the past 10 years, all the way back to when George W.'s daddy was in office, the United States has been regularly bombing the citizens of Iraq, two or three times a week. Six months ago, the United States dropped bombs inside the country's no-fly zone and President Bush -- who was in Mexico at the time of the surprise attack -- explained that it was just a "routine" bombing.

A routine bombing.

The bombings, combined with a decade of economic sanctions, have wiped out the middle class in Iraq -- the professionals and intellectuals who might affect meaningful political reform but instead who are now just struggling to survive.

We have destroyed the country's basic infrastructure. Iraq's electrical, transportation, agricultural and industrial production systems -- severely damaged during the 1991 Gulf War -- have never been fixed.

Worst, the very worst, thousands of people die in Iraq from preventable disease every week. Infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world. Less than half the population has access to clean water. UNICEF estimates that 5,000 children a month are dying from malnutrician and disease as a result of the sanctions.

Five thousand children every month.

Or how about this one: Three years ago -- seemingly to get Americans' minds off his affair with Monica -- President Bill Clinton ordered the bombings of Afghanistan and Sudan. One of the targets was a facility in Sudan that was the supposed site where terrorist Osama bin Laden was manufacturing chemical weapons. The building was actually a pharmaceutical plant that produced half of the entire, severly impoverished country's medicine.

Noted dissident Noam Chomsky derided those bombings as an act of international terrorism. By not getting authorization from the U.N. Security Council to take action against the targets, he said, the United States violated international law.

Since the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the leader of the free world has bombed 25 countries at least once -- and in Iraq's case, one country regularly for 10 years. Countless innocent citizens have perished at our hands.

Considering what the United States has done -- and continues to do -- why do we cling to the belief that we are immune from the kind of terrorist acts that occur every day around the globe?

This week's terrorism was the first of such massive scale in the United States -- made even more shocking because so many people probably perished and the targets were such globally recognizable landmarks. On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain sadly and rightly noted that our lives will never be the same again -- particularly for people who are frequent flyers.

Sandy Berger, the former national security advisor for Bill Clinton opined, "This is not just an attack against the U.S., but an attack against the free world."

Bottom line, one lesson from Tuesday's terrorist acts is that we are not immune. And such blustery claims -- that the United States needs to dump more money into high-tech defense equipment like Star Wars to keep the enemies out -- are absurd. Indeed, if people, allegedly armed with nothing more than knives can simultaneously hijack four airplanes and fly one of them into the most secure facility in the country, the entire notion of national security is a bit of a myth.

In coming weeks, then, it's going to be up to all of us to make sure our government leaders don't take the opportunity to let our government seize unprecedented power by extending the tentacles of police powers.

The last thing Americans need is to be forced -- thanks to terrorists -- to live under martial law.

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