6/12/2006

Terror Porn


There are two issues I want to treat separately here. One is the "progress," per se, of "The War on Terror." The other is the increasing brutality of our public discourse on it, and the likely impact of this on the war effort, itself.

The death of Zarqawi, as I've said elsewhere, is, in my opinion, not a major victory in the war, regardless of whose terms you're applying to it. The fact that it dominated the news for three days last week, and through the weekend as well, is a sad comment on how far the media is willing to go to appease the administration's shrill cries for "more good news" from the Iraq campaign, even if the good news is really bad news in the long run.

We have every indication that the more the US and its media crow about having killed Zarqawi the more energized that loose confederation of international jihadists we think of erroneously as a salient conspiracy called Al-Qaeda, becomes. And the more we dwell on the methods of the hit (the eerie shot from thousands of feet above and the video game-like scene of the smart bomb blowing its target to smithereens), and parade his corpse for the television cameras, the more jihadists we recruit to their cause.

The so-called war on terror has become little more, as far as we can tell from media coverage, than a mafia-like game of tit-for-tat, where revenge-killing is heaped on revenge-killing. Within a year there will likely be another terror attack somewhere in the world, and the perpetrators will publicize it as revenge for Zarqawi's killing. By then, a new Zarqawi will have taken the old one's place.

And I'm obviously not the only one who thinks so. But when I tuned in to the CBS Early Show Saturday, an expert was telling us it didn't matter that in the big scheme of things this will only add fuel to the fire. He said the hit had merit on its own, regardless. "[Zarqawi] is a bad person, and he's been put into his grave, and that's where he belongs," the expert said. What are we, a nation of four-year-olds?

But this childlike summation of the Zarqawi hit caps a parade of images of the terrorist's corpse that, however they may be viewed as proof of Zarqawi's death by the US, will most assuredly be viewed as proof of US barbarism by those whose hearts and minds are supposedly at stake in all of this.

On the home front, complacency about the public parading of enemy corpses and the coarsening of our national discourse marks a moral departure of sorts. We are becoming the enemy. Rather than promoting justice and the rule of law, a world in which civility must prevail, we are engaged in a war of vengeance without end. And these images, and the dwelling on the lurid details of Zarqawi's death do nothing but contribute to this downward spiral.

This morning details from the autopsy were released and broadcast around the world. The reason we must assume for doing so is to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Zarqawi is indeed dead. But this is both somewhat irrelevant, as those who believe he is dead will believe, and those who don't won't, but it also shows the desperation of the US to have something definitive to show for the over a quarter of a trillion dollars they've spent in Iraq so far.

The AP story on the autopsy paints a gruesome picture, in case you didn't get the point:

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi lived for 52 minutes after a U.S. warplane bombed his hideout northeast of Baghdad, and he died of extensive internal injuries consistent with those caused by a bomb blast, the U.S. military said Monday.

"Blast waves from the two bombs caused tearing, bruising of the lungs and bleeding," [a military spokesman] said. "There was no evidence of firearm injuries."

The al-Qaida in Iraq leader also suffered head and facial wounds, bleeding in his ears and a fracture of his lower right leg.

[The spokesman] said an F-16 dropped a 500-pound bomb on the house at 6:12 p.m. A second bomb followed immediately after.

U.S. troops arrived at 6:40 p.m. and found Iraqi police at the site. He said a coalition medic treated al-Zarqawi, who lapsed in and out of consciousness.

"At 7:04 p.m. on 7 June, Zarqawi was dead," [he] said.

He added that no decision had been made on what to do with the remains of al-Zarqawi and his spiritual adviser, Sheik Abdul-Rahman, who also was killed instantly in Wednesday's airstrike.

"These autopsies were performed to make a definitive determination as to the cause of both Zarqawi's and Rahman's deaths," [he] said. "The scientific facts provide irrefutable evidence regarding the deaths of terrorists will serve to counter speculation, misinformation and propaganda."

We now routinely hear politicians, journalists, and talking heads on TV calling for hits, talking about killing (sometimes "eradicating") individuals. When a hit is executed we are then treated to extensive details as to the condition of the body and the means of death. Offered up as proof, it is really the same gloating we see in the enemy when they get one of ours, just without the ululating.

We know that mafia-style hits aren't going to end the war on terror, only perpetuate it. The parading of dead and mutilated bodies by US forces mirrors the same inflamatory methods of al-Qaeda. There will be a reciprocal act on their part soon.

More terror will not win the war on terror.

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