Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Ground Zero: The Anatomy of an Honest Mistake

Original version published in The Moscow Times, Jan. 30, 2004.

A man in Lawrence, Kansas, walks into a day-care center. He has a gun in his pocket but nobody sees it. He goes up to the second floor, where the preschool kids are having their afternoon snack of cookies and juice.

He pulls out the gun and shoots a little boy in the head, leaving his face a gob of bone-flecked goo. Then he fires into the chest of the girl in the next chair; she dies still clutching the stuffed rabbit she brings with her every day. Another boy is hit while running for the door. The man is using special bullets, tipped with depleted uranium; the shot explodes the boy's shoulder in a spray of red mist and sends his gangly body hurtling down the concrete stairwell.

A day-care worker grabs the man, tries to wrestle him down. He turns, jams the gun barrel against her womb and fires. She dies, eviscerated, clinging to his shoulders. The other children have run away screaming, except for one little girl who's fallen in the slick of blood. She tries to scramble to her feet, slips again, can't find her footing, claws at the floor in a wild panic. The man fires into her back, obliterating her spine, the heavy bullet drilling through the polished wood below.

The room is filled with smoke and the sharp tang of freshly gutted meat. The man takes a desultory look around, shrugs his shoulders, then sits down on the snack table. When the police come and ask him why he did it, he answers forthrightly, without a shred of guilt or unease, as if it were the most natural thing in the world:

"Somebody said the guy who runs this place might attack me someday. I had questions that needed to be answered: did he have a gun or a knife – or nothing? We must be prepared to face our responsibilities and be willing to use force if necessary."

The cops roll their eyes – another nutball. "So," says an officer, humoring him, "did he have any weapons?"

The killer shakes his head. "Nah, don't look like it. But he could have had some. What's the difference? – Say, you fellas aren't going to lock me up, are you? It was an honest mistake. I just got bad advice, that's all. "

This fable is the precise moral equivalent of the Bush Regime's murderous misadventure in Iraq. Last week, the Regime's own duly-appointed, CIA-paid weapons hunter, David Kay, finally coughed up a dinosaur-sized bone and admitted, openly, publicly, what the sane world has long known: that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction before the war – and in fact hadn't had any since George Bush Senior stopped supplying Saddam Hussein with the money and material to make them many years ago.

The existence of Iraqi WMD and the dire threat it posed to America and the world was the publicly stated cause for the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. The utter falsity of this claim has now been established beyond rational dispute. Likewise, it is impossible for a rational person to believe that, in the absence of any real weapons, a substantial body of credible "evidence" for this phantom stockpile could have been amassed by the Anglo-American intelligence services. You can't have real evidence of something that isn't there.

Thus we come to this unavoidable conclusion: the Bush Regime launched a war of aggression on the basis of evidence that had to be, by its very nature, insubstantial, insufficient, false. That's the only kind of evidence they could have had. What does this mean? It means they have killed hundreds, perhaps thousands of children – blown them to pieces, shot them, crushed them, terrorized them, rendered them into hunks of rotting meat – in an act of moral insanity no different from that of a nutball in Lawrence, Kansas, shooting up a day-care center to "protect" himself from imaginary threats.

And they've reacted to the consequences of their crime with the same kind of moral nullity. Colin Powell – the "moderate" Bushist – simply shrugged his shoulders at Kay's revelations. "We had questions that needed to be answered," he said, while flying to Moscow to tell the Russians they must resolve all their problems peacefully, within the strict rule of law. "What was it [Saddam had]?" mused Powell. "One hundred tons, 500 tons or zero tons" of WMD? "Was it so many liters of anthrax, 10 times that amount, or nothing?"

Nothing, as it turns out. All those children – each one of them an individual human being, each one a unique and irreplaceable vessel of consciousness, a single coalescence of the blind, churning forces of nature into a starpoint of awareness, brief but incandescent, worthy beyond measure, and every bit as valuable as any mother's tow-headed darling in Lawrence, Kansas or Crawford, Texas – killed, eliminated, snuffed out…for nothing. For zero.

Yet Powell dismissed these pointless killings, echoing George W. Bush's Solomonic declaration on the question of existing weapons versus hypothetical ones as a basis of war: "What's the difference?" Powell said the decision to kill the children was "based on the best intelligence we had at the time" – intelligence which, as we've seen, could not possibly have been substantial or convincing. But who cares? We heard rumors. "We had questions." We killed children. We found nothing. We're not guilty. It was bad advice, an honest mistake.

That's all they have left as a public defense: the ravings of a man who killed for no reason, who sits in the ghoulish mire he's created and calls himself good.

Chris Floyd