Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 3, Number 30 August 31 - September 6, 2003 Quezon City, Philippines
Marriott hotel in Jakarta was still burning when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono,
Indonesia's security minister, explained the implications of the day's attack
"Those who criticise about human rights being breached must understand that
all the bombing victims are more important than any human rights issue."
In a sentence, we got the best summary yet of the philosophy underlying Bush's so-called War on Terror. Terrorism doesn't just blow up buildings; it blasts every other issue off the political map. The spectre of terrorism - real and exaggerated - has become a shield of impunity, protecting governments around the world from scrutiny for their human rights abuses.
have argued that the War on Terror is the US government's thinly veiled excuse
for constructing a classic empire, in the model of Rome or Britain. Two years
into the crusade, it's clear this is a mistake the Bush gang doesn't have the
stick-to-it-ness to successfully occupy one country, let alone a dozen. Bush and
the gang do, however, have the hustle of good marketers, and they know how to
contract out. What Bush has created in the WoT is less a "doctrine"
for world domination than an easy-to-assemble toolkit for any mini-empire
looking to get rid of the opposition and expand its power.
War on Terror was never a war in the traditional sense. It is, instead, a kind
of brand, an idea that can be easily franchised by any government in the market
for an all-purpose opposition cleanser. We already know that the WoT works on
domestic groups that use terrorist tactics such as Hamas or the Armed
Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (Farc). But that's only its most basic
application. WoT can be used on any liberation or opposition movement. It can
also be applied liberally on unwanted immigrants, pesky human rights activists
and even on hard-to-get-out investigative journalists.
Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was the first to adopt Bush's franchise,
parroting the White House's pledges to "pull up these wild plants by the
root, smash their infrastructure" as he sent bulldozers into the occupied
territories to uproot olive trees and tanks to raze civilian homes. It soon
included human rights observers who were bearing witness to the attacks, as well
as aid workers and journalists.
franchise soon opened in Spain with the prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar,
extending his WoT from the Basque guerrilla group Eta to the Basque separatist
movement as a whole, the vast majority of which is entirely peaceful. Aznar has
resisted calls to negotiate with the Basque autonomous government and banned the
political party Batasuna (even though, as the New York Times noted in June,
"no direct link has been established between Batasuna and terrorist
acts"). He has also shut down Basque human rights groups, magazines and the
only entirely Basque-language newspaper. Last February, the Spanish police
raided the Association of Basque Middle Schools, accusing it of having terrorist
appears to be the true message of Bush's war franchise why negotiate with your
political opponents when you can annihilate them? In the era of WoT, concerns
such as war crimes and human rights just don't register.
those who have taken careful note of the new rules is Georgia's president,
Eduard Shevardnadze. Last October, while extraditing five Chechens to Russia
(without due process) for its WoT, he stated that "international human
rights commitments might become pale in comparison with the importance of the
president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, got the same memo. She came to power pledging
to clean up Indonesia's notoriously corrupt and brutal military and bring peace
to the fractious country. Instead she has called off talks with the Free Aceh
Movement, and in May invaded the oil-rich province in the country's largest
military offensive since the 1975 invasion of East Timor.
did the Indonesian government think it could get away with the invasion after
the international outrage that forced it out of East Timor? Easy post-September
11, the government cast Aceh's movement for national liberation as
"terrorist" - which means human rights concerns no longer apply. Rizal
Mallarangeng, a senior adviser to Megawati, called it the "blessing of
Philippines president, Gloria Arroyo, appears to feel similarly blessed. Quick
to cast her battle against Islamic separatists in the southern Moro region as
part of the WoT, Arroyo - like Sharon, Aznar and Megawati - abandoned peace
negotiations and waged brutal civil war instead, displacing 90,000 people last
she didn't stop there. Last August, speaking to soldiers at a military academy,
Arroyo extended the war beyond terrorists and armed separatists to include
"those who terrorise factories that provide jobs" - clear code for
trade unions. Labour groups in Philippine free trade zones report that union
organisers are facing increased threats, and strikes are being broken up with
extreme police violence.
Colombia, the government's war against leftist guerrillas has long been used as
cover to murder anyone with leftist ties, whether union activists or indigenous
farmers. But things have got worse since President Alvaro Uribe took office in
August 2002 on a WoT platform. Last year, 150 union activists were murdered.
Like Sharon, Uribe quickly moved to get rid of the witnesses, expelling foreign
observers and playing down the importance of human rights. Only after
"terrorist networks are dismantled will we see full compliance with human
rights," Uribe said in March.
WoT is not an excuse to wage war, but to keep one going. The Mexican president,
Vincente Fox, came to power in 2000 pledging to settle the Zapatista conflict
"in 15 minutes" and to tackle rampant human rights abuses committed by
the military and police. Now, post-September 11, Fox has abandoned both
projects. The government has made no moves to reinitiate the Zapatista peace
process and last week Fox closed down the office of the under-secretary for
is the era ushered in by September 11 war and repression unleashed, not by a
single empire, but by a global franchise. In Indonesia, Israel, Spain, Colombia,
the Philippines and China, governments have latched on to Bush's deadly WoT and
are using it to erase their opponents and tighten their grip on power.
week, another war was in the news. In Argentina, the senate voted to repeal two
laws that granted immunity to the sadistic criminals of the 1976-1983
dictatorship. At the time, the generals called their campaign of extermination a
"war on terror," using a series of kidnappings and violent attacks by
leftist groups as an excuse to seize power. But the vast majority of the 30,000
people who were "disappeared" weren't terrorists; they were union
leaders, artists, teachers, psychiatrists. As with all wars on terror, terrorism
wasn't the target; it was the excuse to wage the real war on people who dared to