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What is an appropropriate response?
Political and philosophical considerations after the attack on the Word Trade Center


Greg Palast
Sunday September 23, 2001

There [are] two people you ought to know: Greg O'Neill and Clinton Davis. 
They are exceptionally important because, according to Rana Kabbani, 
writing in my British sister paper The Guardian, they are "two symbols of 
American hegemony." Technically, she was referring to the two towers of 
the World Trade Center. But it was not American hegemony which fell 50 
floors into horrid, crushing oblivion. Nor was it just some architectural 
artifact which was instructed with the "painful lesson" about US foreign 
policy described by Kabbani with unapologetic glee.

For four years, I've brought you tales from Inside Corporate America - 
from pig swill price-fixing conspiracies ripping off Asia to Texas power 
pirates turning off the lights in Rio. And when the profit hunt turned 
from goofy to cruel, I've told you the names of victims from Argentina to 
Tanzania.  Now the victims are inside America itself, from what US 
television hair-do Tom Brokaw, happy to play the emblem game, called,
"The symbols of American capitalism."

Davis worked in the basement of the Trade Center. O'Neill on Floor 52 of 
the South Tower. (And until I started spending too much time in London, 
my office was on the 50th floor of the North Tower.)

Here's what O'Neill did in Suite 5200. When the Exxon Valdez grounded, he
fought British Petroleum and Exxon to get compensation for the natives of 
Alaska.  When he learned a power company had faked safety reports on a 
nuclear plant, O'Neill, a lawyer, hit them with a civil racketeering suit 
and ultimately helped put these creeps out of the nuclear business.

Davis worked in the cops' division of the state's Port Authority. Neither
Davis nor O'Neill would be my first choice for a symbol of US imperial 
might, to target for retaliation for "terror by Jewish groups," to use 
Kabbani's bone-head words.

If anything, the Trade Center was a symbol of American socialism. These 
towers were built by New York state in the 1970s, when 'government-owned' 
became quite unfashionable in Britain. One tower, still owned by Davis' 
employer, the Port Authority, generates the revenue which pays the bonds 
which keeps the city's infrastructure - subways, tunnels, bridges, and 
more - out of the hands of the ever-circling privatizers. Convincing 
capitalists that publicly-owned operations are as good an investment bet 
as General Motors fell to government securities market-makers, Canter 
Fitzgerald (100th floor, 700 workers, no known survivors).

I have a request for Britain's Left. Today, George W. Bush is beating the
war drum against Osama Bin Laden, a killer created in our President's very 
own Cold War Frankenstein factory. During the war in Vietnam, thousands 
filled jails (including me) to resist it - we may have to again. It would
help those of us Americans ready to stop the killing machine if Europeans 
would stop the lecturing.

In a sickening but not unique commentary, The Guardian's Seumus Milne 
wagged his finger at Americans still gathering corpses. "They can't see 
why they are hated." He demands, as do too many of my otherwise 
progressive colleagues, that Americans must 'understand' why O'Neill and 
Davis were the targets of blood-crazed killers. Hey, if you're government
backs Israel, well, just get used to it, baby.

(And what do you mean 'they are hated,' Seamus? When did the developing 
world fall in love with the Imperial conquerors of Iraq, Palestine and the
Khyber Pass?)

After London's Canary Wharf was attacked, I don't remember America's Left 
suggesting this was a just revenge for the Queen's occupation of Ireland; 
a time to cuddle up to the berserkers with bombs.

Commentators like Kabbani and Milne have a great advantage over me. While
Bin Laden hasn't returned my phone calls, they seem to know exactly the 
killers' cause. We have to "understand" that the terrorists don't like 
America's foreign policy. Well, neither do I. But I also understand that
the bombers are not too crazy about America's freedom of religion nor 
equality of women under the law. And they're none to happy about our 
reluctance, despite televangelists' pleas, that we cut off the hands of 

On my journalistic beat investigating corporate America, I've heard every 
excuse for brutality and mayhem: "We met all the government's safety 
standards," "We never asked for the military to use force on our behalf."

The excuses and bodies pile up.

Maybe I just have to accept that killing is in fashion again, for profit, 
for revolution, to protect American interests or to take vengeance on 
American interests.

Baroness Thatcher thinks we should understand Pinochet; the Bush family 
ran their own little jihad against Communism I was supposed to understand;
now some Britons - sadly, the one's I like and respect most - want us to 
understand a new set of little Pinochets with beards.

Afghan-American Tamim Ansary suggests we understand victims, not 
victimizers. He wrote in a personal note from Texas, "The Taliban are 
ignorant psychotics. When you think Bin Laden, think Hitler." But now we
come to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble 
is, says Amsary, "that's been done. Level our houses? Done. Turn our 
schools into piles of rubble? Done." Bombing would just stir the ruins 
and kill crippled orphans the Taliban will abandon in Kabul.

To prevent an unelected US President from ordering up this new atrocity, 
grieving Americans don't need nasty admonitions about the causes, just or 
unjust, of our killers.

What's missing is an alliance against the murder of civilians. Serbians 
themselves turned over Milosevic. Why not demand that the Moslem world 
turn over Bin Laden and his hounds, not as part of a 
give-him-up-or-we-blow-you-up ultimatum, but as a statement of our 
humanity and expectation of theirs.

That terrible Tuesday evening, I had to call O'Neill's home. He answered 
the phone. "My god, you're safe!"

O'Neill replied, "Not really." I hope that doesn't disappoint Ms Kabbani.

Davis was safe too, in the towers' basement. But he chose to go up into 
the building to rescue others. Today, this symbol of American capitalist 
hegemony is listed as missing.

Inside Corporate America,