My Very First Fisk

Ta-daa! In ritual obeisance to the customs of the blogosphere, I now
perform my very first fisking. Of Der Fisk himself, in his 8 Nov 2002 column
“Bush fights for another clean shot in his war”.

“A clean shot” was The Washington Post’s revolting description of the
murder of the al-Qa’ida leaders in Yemen by a US “Predator” unmanned
aircraft. With grovelling approval, the US press used Israel’s own
mendacious description of such murders as a “targeted killing”
— and shame on the BBC for parroting the same words on Wednesday.

One wonders which word in the phrase “targeted killing” Mr. Fisk is
having problems with. Since he avers that the phrase “targeted killing”
is “mendacious”, we can deduce that he believes either the word “killing”
or the word “targeted” to be false descriptions.

We must therefore conclude that in Mr. Fisk’s universe, either (a)
members of al-Qaeda can be reduced to patch of carbonized char without
the event properly qualifying as a “killing”, or (b) the drone
operators weren’t targeting that vehicle at all — they unleashed
a Hellfire on a random patch of the Hadrahamaut that just happened
to have a half-dozen known terrorists moseying through it at at the moment
of impact.

How about a little journalistic freedom here? Like asking why this
important al-Qa’ida leader could not have been arrested. Or tried
before an open court. Or, at the least, taken to Guantanamo Bay for

One imagines Mr. Fisk during World War II, exclaiming in horror
because the Allies neglected to capture entire divisions of the Waffen-SS
intact and subject each Aryan superman to individual criminal trials.

Mr. Fisk’s difficulty with grasping the concept of “warfare” and
“enemy combatant” is truly remarkable. Or perhaps not so remarkable,
considering his apparent failure to grasp the terms “targeted” and

Instead, the Americans release a clutch of Guantanamo “suspects”, one
of whom — having been held for 11 months in solitary confinement —
turns out to be around 100 years old and so senile that he can’t
string a sentence together. And this is the “war on terror”?

Yes, Mr. Fisk, it is. It’s a war in which our soldiers gives
individual enemy combatants food, shelter, and medical care for 11
months while their terrorists continue mass-murdering innocent
civilian women and children.

But a “clean shot” is what President Bush appears to want to take at
the United Nations. First, he wants to force it to adopt a resolution
about which the Security Council has the gravest reservations. Then he
warns that he might destroy the UN’s integrity by ignoring it
altogether. In other words, he wants to destroy the UN. Does George
Bush realise that the United States was the prime creator of this
institution, just as it was of the League of Nations under President
Woodrow Wilson?

Interesting that Mr. Fisk should mention the League of Nations. This
would be the same League of Nations that collapsed after 1938 due to its
utter failure to prevent clear-cut aggression by Nazi Germany? One wonders
how Mr. Fisk supposes the U.N. can possibly escape the League’s fate
if it fails to sponsor effective action against a genocidal, murdering tyrant
who has stated for the record that he models himself on Hitler.

I congratulate Mr. Fisk — the phrase “destroy the U.N.’s
integrity”; it is very entertaining. In other news, George Bush is
plotting to destroy Messalina’s chastity, William Jefferson Clinton’s
truthfulness, and Robert Fisk’s grasp on reality.

Supposing that the U.S. was the prime creator of the U.N., and
supposing that was a mistake, is Mr. Fisk proposing that we should not
have the integrity to shoot our own dog?

“Targeted killing” — courtesy of the Bush administration —
is now what the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon can call
“legitimate warfare”. And Vladimir Putin, too. Now the Russians
— I kid thee not, as Captain Queeg said in the Caine Mutiny
— are talking about “targeted killing” in their renewed war on
Chechnya. After the disastrous “rescue” of the Moscow theatre hostages
by the so-called “elite” Russian Alpha Special forces (beware, oh
reader, any rescue by “elite” forces, should you be taken hostage),
Putin is supported by Bush and Tony Blair in his renewed onslaught
against the broken Muslim people of Chechnya.

We note for the record that should Mr. Fisk be captured by
terrorists, he would prefer to be rescued by non-elite forces; perhaps
a troop of Girl Scouts waving copies of The Guardian
would satisfy him. I would defer to Mr. Fisk evident belief that “non-elite”
rescuers would increase his chances of surviving the experience, were
it not that I dislike the sight of dying Girl Scouts.

I’m a cynical critic of the US media, but last month Newsweek ran a
brave and brilliant and terrifying report on the Chechen war. In a
deeply moving account of Russian cruelty in Chechnya, it recounted a
Russian army raid on an unprotected Muslim village. Russian soldiers
broke into a civilian home and shot all inside. One of the victims was
a Chechen girl. As she lay dying of her wounds, a Russian soldier
began to rape her. “Hurry up Kolya,” his friend shouted, “while she’s
still warm.”

In other words, Russian soldiers behaved like al-Qaeda terrorists, and
this is a bad thing. Excellent, Mr. Fisk; you appear to be showing some sign
of an actual moral sense here.

Now, I have a question. If you or I was that girl’s husband or lover
or brother or father, would we not be prepared to take hostages in a
Moscow theatre — Even if this meant — as it did —
that, asphyxiated by Russian gas, we would be executed with a bullet
in the head, as the Chechen women hostage-takers were — But no
matter. The “war on terror” means that Kolya and the boys will be back
in action soon, courtesy of Messrs Putin, Bush and Blair.

Ahh. So, Mr. Fisk is taking the position that the Russians’ atrocious
behavior in Chechnya justifies hostage-taking and the cold-blooded murder of
hostages in a Moscow theater. Very interesting.

Let’s follow the logic of just retribution here. If the rape of a dying
girl in Chechnya by Russian soldiers justifies terrorizing and murdering
hostages in a Moscow theater, then what sort of behavior might the murder of
3000 innocent civilians in Manhattan justify?

We gather that Mr. Fisk thinks it does not justify whacking half a
dozen known terrorists, including the organizer of the U.S.S. Cole
bombing, in the Yemeni desert. We conclude that Mr. Fisk concedes the
righteousness of retribution, all right, but values the life of each
al-Qaeda terrorist more than those of five hundred unsuspecting
victims of al-Qaeda terrorism.

Let me quote that very brave Israeli, Mordechai Vanunu, the man who
tried to warn the West of Israel’s massive nuclear war technology,
imprisoned for 12 years of solitary confinement — and betrayed,
so it appears, by one Robert Maxwell. In a poem he wrote in
confinement, Vanunu said: “I am the clerk, the technician, the
mechanic, the driver. They said, Do this, do that, don’t look left or
right, don’t read the text. Don’t look at the whole machine. You are
only responsible for this one bolt, this one rubber stamp.”

Mr. Fisk apparently believes that Mr. Vanunu had no responsibility
to betray his country’s defensive capabilities in the presence of
enemies bent on its utter destruction. Or did I somehow miss the
incident in which Israel aggressively atom-bombed a neighbor?

Kolya would have understood that. So would the US Air Force officer
“flying” the drone which murdered the al-Qa’ida men in Yemen. So would
the Israeli pilot who bombed an apartment block in Gaza, killing nine
small children as well as well as his Hamas target, an “operation”
— that was the description, for God’s sake — which Ariel
Sharon described as “a great success”.

Mr. Fisk, whose love for legalism and international due process
commends giving al-Qaeda terrorists individual criminal trials, seems
curiously unaware of that portion of the Geneva Convention relating to
the use of non-combatants as human shields.

One wonders if he would be persuaded by the Geneva Convention
language assigning responsibility for these deaths not to Israel, but
to Hamas.

One suspects not. In Mr. Fisk’s universe, it’s clear that there is
one set of rules for Israelis and another for terrorists. Hamas
terrorists committing atrocities are justified by Israeli actions,
while Israelis committing what Mr. Fisk prefers to consider atrocities
are evil and the behavior of Hamas completely irrelevant.

But we know, from Mr. Fisk’s famous report of his beating in Afghanistan,
what his actual rule is: hating Americans justifies anything.

These days, we all believe in “clean shots”. I wish that George Bush
could read history. Not just Britain’s colonial history, in which we
contrived to use gas against the recalcitrant Kurds of Iraq in the
1930s. Not just his own country’s support for Saddam Hussein
throughout his war with Iran.

This would be the same Iran that belligerantly and unlawfully seized
the U.S. Embassy in 1979, correct? And held Americans hostage for 120
days, committing an act of war under the international law Mr. Fisk
claims to so scrupulously respect?

It would be entertaining to watch Mr. Fisk argue that Saddam Hussein
was not then fit to be an ally of the U.S. against its enemies, but is now
— after twenty years of atrocities aggressive warfare — such
an upstanding citizen of the international community that we should
stand idly by while he arms himself with nuclear weapons.

The Iranians once produced a devastating book of coloured photographs
of the gas blisters sustained by their soldiers in that war. I looked
at them again this week. If you were these men, you would want to
die. They all did. I wish someone could remind George Bush of the
words of Lawrence of Arabia, that “making war or rebellion is messy,
like eating soup off a knife.”

I wonder if Mr. Fisk can point to any instance in which George Bush ever
stated that he expected the war with al-Qaeda to be “clean”? If I recall
correctly. “clean shot” was the Washington Post’s phrase.

Can Mr. Fisk fail to be aware that the Post’s editorial board is
run by ideological enemies of George Bush, persons who would, outside
of wartime, hew rather closer to Mr. Fisk’s positions than George

Mr. Fisk, I don’t think any American policymaker doubts that war is hell.
Nor that terrorism is even worse.

And I suppose I would like Americans to remember the arrogance of
colonial power.

We have quite vivid historical memories of the arrogance of Mr. Fisk’s
particular colonial power, in fact. We recall fighting a revolution to
deal with it.

If Mr. Fisk could point out any American colonies in Iraq, or Iran, or
Palestine, or Chechnya, we would be greatly educated.

Here, for example, is the last French executioner in Algeria during
the 1956-62 war of independence, Fernand Meysonnier, boasting only
last month of his prowess at the guillotine. “You must never give the
guy the time to think. Because if you do he starts moving his head
around and that’s when you have the mess-ups. The blade comes through
his jaw, and you have to use a butcher’s knife to finish it off. It is
an exorbitant power — to kill one’s fellow man.”
So perished the brave Muslims of the Algerian fight for freedom.

Ah. Did I miss the part where American were using guillotines as a method
of execution, then?

No, I hope we will not commit war crimes in Iraq — there will be
plenty of them for us to watch — but I would like to think that
the United Nations can restrain George Bush and Vladimir Putin and, I
suppose, Tony Blair. But one thing is sure. Kolya will be with them.

Mr. Fisk’s surety that American troops will while away their time
in Baghdad raping dying Iraqi girls appears to come from the same
eccentric brain circuitry that supposes U.S. to be a “colonial” power and to
be in imminent danger of performing botched executions with guillotines
and butcher knives.

Mr. Fisk neglects an important difference between U.S. soldiers and
al-Qaeda terrorists.

Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, U.S. soldiers found
guilty of such behavior can be — and, on the rare occasions it
has occurred, frequently have been — court-martialed and shot.
Not that it seems Mr. Fisk would be likely to acknowledge the
existence of this law, or that it is ever applies.

To Mr. Fisk’s inability to grasp the terms “targeted” and “killing”
we may therefore add an inability to grasp the terms “barbarism” and

Blogspot comments

5 thoughts on “My Very First Fisk

  1. I don’t know if you track really old posts, but this post caused me to wonder if you might be interested in ‘A Desert Called Peace’ by Tom Kratman. You seem to have _somewhat_ similar views on how to prosecute a war, be it declared or undeclared. I would add that I have similar views myself, but the only political party I’ve been affiliated with just described itself as a ‘Classical Liberal’ party.
    Frankly, I don’t know what label to apply to myself, politically, but I’m saddened that Israel has been constantly halted from removing those groups who have publicly denounced Israel’s right to exist.

  2. I must say that the Chechnya report does sound somewhat hard to believe without some rather serious evidence backing up the claims (particuarly since I remember rather clearly similar reports during the ’48 Israeli war that had later been revealed to have been fabricated in order to stir put the local population -and far from being unsuccessful actually managed to accomplish the opposite effect-). After all, necrophilia isn’t exactly what I would connect to a serious military action conducted by a professionally trained army. In the context of warfare, it seems like an almost suicidal distraction while conducting an operation in an enemy territory. Does the Russian army explicitly condone this type of behavior? I think that deciding if it’s an aberration of deviated psychos or the result of explicits orders from above would be rather important if we want to make the moral equivalence between that, or any, state, and Al Quaeda.

    At the very least, I would say that a-priori it doesn’t seem like something that would be done following explicit orders, or even with the approval, of the military command, if only out of simple self preservation: it doesn’t seem to me that it would bring any advantage tactically, and in addition to being almost suicidally reckless in the course of an operation -I would be expecting professional military to be on their guard and ready to face any unexpected threat-, the sheer bad press it would bring makes it rather insane for it to be something that their defence department would actually want and encourage to happen… so I would chunk it up to the aberration of psychopathic behaviour at the botton of the command chain rather than the result of an explicit order or directive from the top. Essentially, the same argument I would make in the American case when it comes to stories such as Abu Grahib -pernicious deviations, to condemn but not to be used to make general statements about the whole armed forces-.

    We return to the points of aberrations and unrestrained behaviour versus cases in which such behaviours and outcomes are endorsed or even explicitly pursued (i.e. the terrorist that takes an “infidel” as a slave and rapes her with the endorsment of his organization, which actively encourages such behavior). Put it another way, while atrocities are statistically unsurprising in a war, it does make a difference if certain kinds of behavior are done consciously (to spread terror or simply as a result of a barbaric worldview in which such acts are condoned and justified, say, by appealing to religious arguments or other similar fanatical systems, such as nazism or communism), or if they are result of the behavior of evil psychopaths.

    In any case, it seems rather clear to me that if a specific blond man kills my dog, it wouldn’t make much sense for me to retaliate by killing another random blond person on the streets. In the same way, without even needing to get into the details of the legitimacy of vengeance or retaliation, it seems pretty obvious to me that killing off random civilians because they are “Russians” doesn’t quite count as an act of “vengeance” at all -you are killing unrelated individuals, that have nothing to do with the specific soldiers that allegedly committed atrocities: they simply happen to have been born in the same place, which they had as much say in as the fact that they happened to be born with blond hair-.

    It seems to me that the relationship with the Jihadists is pretty clear, as the fact that they chose to engage in terroristic activity is in fact *not* af fact outside of their control. To underline the distinction, it wouldn’t be justified to target them because they were born in Yemen, as the terrorist did with the Russian victims, but they were not targeted because of their nationality, but rather because of their involvement with a group that directly attacked the United States.

  3. After researching the topic, I have to say that the story does seem more plausible, as atrocities were committed by both sides and the handling of such cases from the point of view of criminal law was not up to a good standard. Still, I don’t quite see the explicit endorsement of, say, a regime or organization that sets into law the stoning of homosexuals, for example. That’s an istitutionalization of the evil principle of such acts, whereas in the other cases one might at most talk about a cover up in a rather messy situations (various amnesties and extra judicial killings, etc.). The point about civilians of the same nationality being targeted not even being worthy of being called a “vengeance” (just a random act of stupidity and brutality) remains the same. In general, sob stories are no justification of brutality, having suffered a slight does not endow one with any special, additional “rights”, certainly not with the right of behaving irrationally. It would be one thing to target the one actually responsible, in case he got away with it, but turning to a random stranger of the same nationality makes about as sense as turning to someone of the same eye color -you grab the easy target as a scapegoat-.

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