Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix V Segment 4/33
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Turning to the Middle East, the primary locus of international terrorism according to state doctrine and the media, the major single terrorist act of 1985 was a car-bombing in Beirut in March that killed 80 people and wounded 200. The target was the Shi'ite leader Sheikh Fadlallah, accused of complicity in terrorism, but he escaped. The attack was arranged by the CIA and its Saudi clients with the assistance of Lebanese intelligence and a British specialist, and specifically authorized by CIA director William Casey, according to Bob Woodward's account in his book on Casey and the CIA.23

It follows that the United States easily wins the prize for single acts of international terrorism in the peak year of the official plague. The U.S. client state of Israel follows closely behind. Its Iron Fist operations in Lebanon were without parallel for the year as sustained acts of international terrorism, and the bombing of Tunis (with tacit U.S. support) wins second prize for single terrorist acts, unless we take this to be a case of actual aggression, as was determined by a U.N. Security Council resolution, with the U.S. abstaining.24

In 1986, the major single terrorist act was the U.S. bombing of Libya -- assuming, again, that we do not assign this attack to the category of aggression. This was a brilliantly staged media event, the first bombing in history scheduled for prime-time TV, for the precise moment when the networks open their national news programs. This convenient arrangement, which the media pretended not to comprehend, allowed anchor men to switch at once to Tripoli so that their viewers could watch the exciting events live. The next act of the superbly crafted TV drama was a series of news conferences and White House statements explaining that this was "self-defense against future attack" and a measured reaction to a disco bombing in West Berlin ten days earlier for which Libya was to blame. The media were well aware that the evidence for this charge was slight, but the facts were suppressed in the general adulation for Reagan's decisive stand against terrorism, echoed across the political spectrum.

Media suppression began from the first moment, when the journalists at the televised press conference loyally averted their eyes from evidence readily at hand that raised very serious doubts about the claims they were hearing, such as the report from Berlin, half an hour before the U.S. attack on Libyan cities, that U.S. and West German officials had no evidence of Libyan involvement in the disco bombing in Berlin, only "suspicions," contrary to administration claims of certain knowledge ten days earlier; at the TV press conference, none of the intrepid members of the White House press corps asked how it could be that Washington had certain knowledge ten days earlier of what remained unknown to U.S. and West German intelligence. Within weeks, it was published prominently in Germany -- and in obscure publications here -- that the West German police intelligence team investigating the bombing had no knowledge, and had never had any knowledge, of any "Libyan connection." Again, the facts were suppressed, even by journalists interviewing the high German officials who were providing the information to anyone who wanted to hear. Further evidence about U.S. government lies was published abroad but silenced here apart from marginal publications. Thus, the dramatic stories of high administration officials about the alert called in West Berlin after the alleged Libyan "intercepts," which failed by only fifteen minutes to save the victims at the bombed disco, were revealed to have been complete fabrication; no alert had been called, West Berlin police informed the BBC. It was finally conceded quietly that the charges of Libyan involvement had little if any substance, though they continue to be presented as fact; thus, the Business Week Pentagon correspondent writes that "by ordering the 1986 bombing of a West Berlin disco in which two American servicemen were killed, Qadaffi provoked a violent response -- a massive air raid"; the practice is quite common. But despite the occasional concession in the small print that there is no basis for the tales that are still widely relayed, no conclusions were drawn about the U.S. bombing itself, hitting civilian targets, with about 100 reported killed in "retaliation" for a bombing in which two people had been killed, one an American serviceman. Nor were conclusions drawn about the conscious media collusion in this act of large-scale terrorism, which goes well beyond what is sampled here.25

In this case too, the discipline of the specialized class has been impressive throughout, particularly when we bear in mind that the media had been subjecting themselves to disinformation campaigns concerning Libya from the first months of the Reagan administration,26 recognizing each time that they had been "fooled," but eagerly returning to savor the experience on the next round.

For 1986 too the United States appears to win the prize for international terrorism, even apart from the wholesale terrorism it sponsors in Central America, including what former CIA director Stansfield Turner describes as our "state-supported terrorism" in Nicaragua.27

The full range of terrorist actions by the United States and its clients in the 1980s is remarkable. In Central America alone, tens of thousands of murdered, tortured, and mutilated victims can be charged directly to the account of the Reaganites and their accomplices. It is therefore only to be expected that Reagan should be lauded for his contribution to the cause of human rights, one of his major "triumphs," we read in the New Republic -- without great surprise, considering the meaning of the phrase "human rights" in a journal that urged Reagan to support state terror in El Salvador "regardless of how many are murdered, lest the Marxist-Leninist guerrillas win." At the liberal extreme, editor Hendrik Hertzberg lists the "things about the Reagan era that haven't been so attractive, like sleaze, homelessness, Lebanon [meaning, presumably, dead Marines, not dead Lebanese and Palestinians], yuppie scum," and other forms of ugliness and lack of taste. Tens of thousands of tortured and mutilated bodies in Central America do not qualify as "not so attractive."28

International terrorism is, of course, not an invention of the 1980s. In the previous two decades, its major victims were Cuba and Lebanon.

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23 Woodward, Veil (Simon & Schuster, 1987, 396f.).

24 See chapter 5. Recall that aggression is a far more serious crime than international terrorism.

25 For details, see my "Libya in U.S. Demonology," Covert Action Information Bulletin, Summer 1986, expanded in Pirates and Emperors, chapter 3; William Schaap, CAIB, Summer 1988. Dave Griffiths, Business Week, Sept. 19, 1988. Though no credible information about the terror attack at the disco has been forthcoming, suspicions have been voiced in Germany that the bombing at this Third World bar, killing a Turkish woman and a Black GI (later a second Black American soldier died), may have been drug-related or even perhaps a Klan operation.

26 The first exposure of a "disinformation" campaign was in Newsweek, Aug. 3, 1981.

27 Turner, testimony before House Subcommittee on Western Hemispheric Affairs, April 16, 1985, cited by Peter Kornbluh in Walker, Reagan vs. the Sandinistas.

28 Fred Barnes, TNR, May 30, 1988; editorial, TNR, April 2, 1984. For a longer excerpt see Turning the Tide, 167-68; and notes, on the efforts by editor Hendrik Hertzberg to evade the facts. Hertzberg, TNR, Feb. 6, 1989. Recall also the laudatory comments on Reagan's dedication to human rights during the propaganda exercises at the Summits, already discussed.