'This is not freedom': a militarized US Capitol is being called a ‘war zone’ - AMEBO ONLINE NEWSPAPER

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'This is not freedom': a militarized US Capitol is being called a ‘war zone’

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In early 2003, as government buildings across Iraq were being looted, Donald Rumsfeld told reporters, “Freedom’s untidy.” Iraq was “being liberated”, he said. “Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things.”

Iraqi journalist Ali Adeeb Alnaemi was in Baghdad at the time. “I was driving around and seeing looting and burning while American soldiers were standing there, and they would say to me, ‘We have no orders to interfere,’” he said.

He knew what he was seeing: “This is not freedom.”

Almost two decades later, supporters of a different Republican president invaded and looted the US Capitol and left five people dead. Amid a huge security crackdown in the aftermath, a secure “Green Zone” has even been created in the heart of Washington DC – just as the US military did in Baghdad.





Alnaemi watched the news coverage in shock. It was like “living a nightmare again”, he said.

Also as in 2003, the chaos and violence he was witnessing had originated from lies spread by the US president and his administration. The invasion of Iraq had been justified by false claims about weapons of mass destruction. “Now it’s, ‘take back your country’, ‘Stop the steal’,” Alnaemi said. “Different lies, but they have similar effects.”

In the past week, tens of thousands of National Guard troops have filled Washington DC. There are checkpoints to get into government buildings, fortified by fences and concrete barricades, and troops with rifles patrolling street corners downtown.

The images of a heavily militarized Washington have left local residents disoriented, and prompted condemnation from military veterans in Congress

“I expected this in Baghdad. I never imagined this in Washington,” said Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts congressman who fought in Iraq, to the Guardian.

“It’s hard to see the pantheon of our democracy fortified like the war zones I used to know,” tweeted Jason Crow, a Colorado congressman, saying that he had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan “so we could enjoy peace at home”.

Other American veterans said the images from Washington were surreal, but not exactly surprising. Matt Gallagher, a writer and Army veteran who served in Iraq, described “this strange sense of inevitability”, as he looked at the photographs of concertina wire and traffic control points and “young national guardsmen, many of whom were probably born around 9/11”.

“Their America has always done this elsewhere,” he said. “Now it’s happening here.”

Captioning a photograph of troops on Capitol Hill, he wrote, “We’ve done forever-warred ourselves.”

There’s been plenty of pushback to attempts to compare the current state of Washington DC to a war zone.

“The troops are not speaking a foreign language, manning checkpoints, traveling in convoys so secure that they would be authorized to shoot cars that drive in between them. They’re not raiding homes. Let’s not trivialize military occupation,” Laila Al-Arian, an American journalist, wrote last week.

Tom Porter, a policy spokesman for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the Guardian that veterans had been making plenty of dark jokes about Washington’s Green Zone, asking whether the city was now disposing of trash and human waste by setting it on fire with jet fuel in giant “burn pits”, as the military has done in the Middle East.

“Those that have actually been to a war zone know that our city and Capitol does not actually resemble a war zone,” he said, adding that he thought officials should have chosen a different name for the secure area of Washington during inauguration.

“When we established the Green Zone there were for years questions about the amount of money we were spending fortifying the central part of the city,” Porter said. “There were questions about, ‘How long are you staying?’ ‘Is this an invasion?’ ‘Are you going to be here forever?’ I don’t think that’s what our security personnel and the secret service and the federal government want Americans thinking about.”

Gallagher said veterans had reacted with “great amusement” to the concern Americans had expressed at seeing members of the National Guard sleeping on the floor of the Capitol building.

“I mean, they’re indoors, they’re fine,” he said. “You know, if you’re worried about them, think about the ones in Afghanistan still getting shot at.”

For some Iraqis, the impulse to compare Washington to occupied Baghdad was infuriating, and all too familiar.

“There are many people who will always associate Baghdad or Iraq with violence and instability,” Hamzeh Hadad, an Iraqi political analyst, said. “When something politically inevitable but shocking happens in the US, the first thought is to compare it to the place that they think is exceptionally bad.”

But the experience of dictatorship, invasion, and stark internal division is not “exclusively Iraqi”, Hadad said. “Democracy is fragile everywhere and needs to be maintained. The fact that they don’t realize this, means that they misunderstand both Iraq and the United States.”

The US government response to Trump supporters storming the Capitol is already beginning to mirror the tactics of America’s global war on terror, with discussions of placing the invaders on “no fly” lists, and a former intelligence official suggesting that the lessons learned fighting al-Qaida could now be used against domestic terrorists.

For some Americans, including the Muslim and Arab Americans who have faced decades of government surveillance and suspicion, the war on terror has always been operating at home. But the reaction to the 6 January attack may represent a new stage of the “imperial boomerang”, in which tactics developed by empires to maintain control abroad end up being used against the residents of the homeland.

It’s not simply that the wars gave “training and operational experience to insurrectionists like the Navy SEAL and Iraq/Afghanistan veteran who posted to the internet that he breached the Capitol”, Spencer Ackerman, a former Guardian national security reporter and author of the forthcoming Reign of Terror: How The 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump, said.

The War on Terror also created “a paranoid, racist and militarized atmosphere of permanent emergency”, he added. And because the war on terror has never ended, it creates a “volatile atmosphere” for people obsessed with American invincibility, fueling frustration that “the war’s failure is due to internal subversion”.

“When you tell people for an entire generation that their enemies are among them, some of them are going to act accordingly,” Ackerman said.

America’s foreign wars have fueled waves of racist extremism at home for at least a century, including a huge resurgence of Ku Klux Klan membership in the wake of the first world war.

Historian Kathleen Belew has also documented how white veterans of the Vietnam war, and non-veterans obsessed with the war’s failure, played a crucial role in violent white power movements in the 1970s through the 1990s. The deadliest domestic terror attack in recent decades, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, was carried out by Gulf war veteran Timothy McVeigh.

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