Is the U.S. a Terrorist State?

This is an extract from an interview with Noam Chomsky on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program Hot Type with Evan Solomon, April 16, 2002, as edited by Sunil Sharma and published July 28, 2002, in Dissident Voice as "Noam Chomsky on the Middle East and the US War on Terrorism".


Chomsky: On October 12th [2001], a couple of days after the bombing [of Afghanistan] started, [George W.] Bush publicly announced to the Afghan people that we will continue to bomb you, unless your leadership turns over to us the people whom we suspect of carrying out crimes, although we refuse to give you any evidence. That's probably because they don't have any. And we dismiss without comment the offers of your leadership for negotiations about extradition.

Notice that is a textbook illustration of international terrorism, by the US official definition. That is the use of the threat of force or violence, in this case extreme violence, to obtain political ends through intimidation, fear and so on. That's the official definition, a textbook illustration of it.

Three weeks later, by the end of October, the war aims had changed. They were first announced as far as I can find out, by the British Defense Minister, Sir Admiral Boyce. Admiral Boyce informed the Afghan population that we will continue to bomb you until you change your leadership. Well, that's an even more dramatic illustration of international terrorism, if not aggression. And that was the goal that was followed. This had nothing to do with finding the criminals and bringing them to justice.

ES: You say one of the great hypocrisies here is that the United States, as you say, is a leading terrorist state.

Chomsky: Well, these two examples illustrate it. And these are minor ones. You know there are much more serious ones than this.

ES: The question that arises is if the United States is a leading terrorist state, if as you say, Britain is another example of a terrorist state, how do you distinguish between what you describe as terrorism and what they are saying — Osama Bin Laden who's a terrorist? Make the distinction.

Chomsky: It's very simple. If they do it, it's terrorism. If we do it, it's counter-terrorism. That's a historical universal. Go back to Nazi propaganda. The most extreme mass murderers ever. If you look at Nazi propaganda, that's exactly what they said. They said they're defending the populations and the legitimate governments of Europe like Vichy from the terrorist partisans who are directed from London. That's the basic propaganda line. And like all propaganda, no matter how vulgar, it has an element of truth. The partisans did carry out terror, they were directed from London. The Vichy government is about as legitimate as half the governments the US has installed around the world and supports, so yes, there was a minor element of truth to it, and that's the way it works. If somebody else carries it out, it's terror. If we carry it out, it's counter-terror. I think perhaps one of the most dramatic examples right at this moment is a place where I just was a couple of weeks ago, southeastern Turkey. Southeastern Turkey is the site of some of the worst terrorist atrocities of the 1990s.

ES: This is the attacks on the Kurds.

Chomsky: The attacks on the Kurds created a couple of million refugees. It left much of the countryside devastated. Tens of thousands of people killed. It was every imaginable barbaric form of torture you can dream of. It's all well documented in Human Rights Watch reports and so on. How did they do it? Well, they did it with a huge flow of U.S. arms, which peaked in 1997. In that one year, the arms transfers to Turkey from the United States were higher than the entire Cold War period. You know up until the counter-insurgency started. But look at the way it's treated. This massive international terrorism run and supported by the United States is considered a great triumph of counter-terrorism.

If you read the State Department reports on terror they praise Turkey for its success in showing how to counter terror. You read a front page article in the New York Times and it praises Turkey for showing how to deal with terror. Turkey was selected as the country to provide the forces for what they call the international force for Afghanistan. Actually it's for Kabul alone. It's Turkey that's being paid by the United States extensively to carry out the repression of terror, thanks to their achievements in countering terror — namely by carrying out some of the worst terror of the 1990s. Massive ethnic cleansing and atrocities with U.S. support. Now you know this is a real achievement of the intellectual culture to be able to do this. But it illustrates very well the answer to your question. Terror and counter-terror. If some enemy state did this, we'd be not just outraged, we'd be bombing them.

ES: Is Bush justified in calling Bin Laden a terrorist when, as you say, he's running a terrorist state himself?

Chomsky: Yeah, I agree that he should call him a terrorist.

ES: But you say even Jonathan Swift would be baffled at the irony of that?

Chomsky: To say that Bin Laden is a terrorist, a murderous terrorist is certainly correct, but what about Clinton [and Bush]? I just described one of his [Clinton's] minor escapades in Turkey [and Bush's terrorism in Afghanistan]. This example is particularly striking, not only because of the massive atrocities, but because of the way it's treated, and because remember this was at the same time when there was an orgy of self-congratulation among Western intellectuals because of their magnificence in opposing terrorism by bombing Serbia because of what Milosevic had done in Kosovo.


Noam Chomsky is an internationally renowned Professor of Linguistics at MIT, and is America's leading dissident intellectual. He is the author of many books, including most recently 9-11 (Seven Stories Press, 2001), A New Generation Draws the Line (Verso, 2000), The New Military Humanism (Common Courage, 1999) and The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & the Palestinians (South End Press, new edition 1999).


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