One of the most deceptive and disturbing aspects of America’s political culture is the assumption that by having a free press and a democratic government, our country has erected a bulwark that restrains our leaders from committing the type of atrocities committed by our nation’s enemies.
This worldview, which has widespread bipartisan support in and outside the halls of Congress and the mainstream media, has limited the spectrum for debate in our country by providing the illusion of a government that is somewhat accountable to its citizens and a feisty, adversarial liberal media dedicated to speaking truth to power. While certain members of the press deserve plaudits for their bravery while covering war, the idea of a plucky press challenging our nation’s power structures in an unabashedly liberal way is mostly a mirage.
The media’s refusal to accept the universal principles and moral truisms we correctly apply to other countries pretty glaring if one subjects it to careful scrutiny. This phenomenon should be called irrational rationality because it feels comforting to correctly excoriate the crimes of others while ignoring or failing to recognize one’s own crimes.
One small example of this unwillingness to hold our country to the same set of principles we hold others to occurred when the Clinton administration fired a U.S. Tomahawk cruise missile on the Al-Shifa pharmaceuticals factory in North Khartoum, Sudan in 1998.
Administration officials believed the Al-Shifa was part-owned by Osama bin Laden and was producing nerve gas, but they never demanded an inspection of the plant. The missile attack was in response to the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania that killed hundreds of Kenyans, Tanzanians and Americans of African descent.
This horrifying attack by a fundamentalist group that believes the ends always justify the means certainly merited a response, but the consequences of America’s rash actions based on faulty intelligence was terrible for ordinary Sudanese who were already having to live under a genocidal government flush with Islamic fundamentalists.
Jonathan Belke, the regional manager of the Near East Foundation in Cairo, Egypt, at the time of the bombing, wrote an article that was published in the Boston Globe, which read, “this factory provided affordable medicine for humans and all the locally available veterinary medicine in Sudan. It produced 90 percent of Sudan’s major pharmaceutical products. Sanctions against Sudan make it impossible to import adequate amounts of medicines required to cover the serious gap left by the plant’s destruction.
“Thus, tens of thousands of people — many of them children — have suffered and died from malaria, tuberculosis, and other treatable diseases.”
Another carefully documented study by Michael Barletta estimated the strike destroyed 50 to 60 percent of the country’s pharmaceutical supplies.
“Al-Shifa was one of only three medium-sized pharmaceutical factories in Sudan, and the only one producing TB drugs — for more than 100,000 patients. ... Costlier imported versions are not an option for most of them or their husbands, wives, and children, who will have been infected since,” James Astill of the Guardian writes. “Al-Shifa was the only factory making veterinary drugs in this vast, mostly pastoralist country. Its specialty was drugs to kill parasites which pass from herds to herders, one of Sudan’s principal causes of infant mortality.”
“People have gone back to doing without,” Dr. Idris Eltayeb, one of Sudan’s handful of pharmacologists and chairman of Al-Shifa’s board, told the Guardian.
The Sudanese government, which was and is unbearably cruel to black Christians, animists and Muslims that don’t subscribe to its point of view; did request a United Nations investigation into the missile strike, but the request was blocked by the U.S. So any estimate on the loss of life indirectly caused by the strike is mere speculation.
The idea that anyone should be held accountable for this strike based on bad intelligence was not even discussed in the American press, which illuminates its inability to examine or even recognize our own crimes. This example is prescient because more current atrocities like the illegal invasion of Iraq and drone strikes that have killed hundreds of civilians, including children, rescuers and people attending funerals in Pakistan and Yemen, have also passed without any powerful officials being held accountable for their legally dubious actions.
“The CIA’s drone campaign has killed dozens of civilians who have gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals,” an investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for Sunday Times revealed.
To suggest the supporters of these policies should be subject to a fair trial and possible imprisoned would invite howls of ridicule from the mainstream press and accusations of being a fringe leftist.
Yet, putting aside our patriotism for a second, Americans should ask themselves what our government would do if, assuming the most minimum percentage offered, Iran or Al Qaeda destroyed half of American’s medical supply with missile attacks? Or how our government would respond if aggrieved Pakistanis planted retaliatory bombs meant for those supporting or participating in the drone attacks that have killed hundreds of their civilians and actually succeeded in their attempt?
The answer to both questions would almost certainly be a declaration of war against the country or terrorist group. But when the roles are reversed, and our country is the one brandishing the clubs and the bombs, the idea that the victimized country or group has a right to self-defense would be dismissed without a second thought by most of the influential members of the media.
The United States is the greatest country in the world and has many things to be proud of, but if we continue to accept a culture that refuses to even recognize our own crimes then we will continually be scratching our heads and asking ourselves why people don’t like us.
Andy Heintz is a political commentator. He previously was a Herald staff writer, now a sports reporter at the Ottumwa Courier, Ottumwa, Iowa. Read his blog at http://www.orble.com/just-one-mans-vision/ and follow @heintz23 on Twitter.