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18 November 2001 | #48

Nature of Terror and Terrorism

911+ Questions in Seeking UnCommon Ground (Part 4)

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Part 4 of 911+ Questions in Seeking UnCommon Ground and protecting the Middle Way from Binary Thinking (2001)


Ubiquity of "terrorism" and definitional game-playing

Is it not the tragedy of modern civilization that no fundamental transformation of socio-political reality - including the independence of USA, Israel and many developing countries -- has been achieved in history without attacks that could be labelled by those in power as "terrorism" and "evil"?

How many modern states have been headed by people who could be legitimately described as having engaged in terrorist activity? What then is the nature of the "entire western world" of which "terrorists" are the "enemies" (Tony Blair, 14 September 2001)

An act of resistance is very different from an act of terrism. Would key nation-builders such as George Washington (USA), Nelson Mandela (South Africa), Oliver Cromwell (UK), and Charles de Gaulle (France) not be labelled as "terrorists" according to current criteria? Can President Charles de Gaulle, who fought for the liberation of France, be accused of being a terrorist? Should those people resisting occupation be defined as terrorists? (Syrian President to Tony Blair, 30 October 2001)

From the British point of view in the 1770s, were independence fighters in America terrorists? From the Yankee point of view in the 1860s, were Confederate soldiers guerrillas engaged in acts of terrorism?

How is a "terrorist" to be distinguished from a "freedom fighter"?

How many modern states, including the USA, have sanctioned or supported terrorism in one form or another -- at least in the eyes of others?

How is it that all members of the United Nations condemn "terrorism" unequivocally and yet there is no universal agreement on what it is they condemn as "terrorism"? Does this in fact parallel, in reverse, the situation with regard to support for the pursuit of "peace", "health", "sustainability", "security", "education" and other such goals?

Should military attacks by armed forces of any state be deemed acts of terrorism when civilians are killed?

To what extent were NATO bombings of the former Yugoslavia acts of terrorism and violations of the national sovereignty of a UN member state? Is not the assassination of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to be considered as acts of state terrorism?

How is the USA to provide a satisfactory legal definition of "terrorism" to cover its intended targets -- but which will avoid including official US support for state violence and extra-judicial assassination (even by its closest allies), or US assistance to IRA terrorists (including failure to extradite duly convicted terrorists as requested by one of its closest allies), or its training of Contra terrorists for action in Nicaragua?

As a key feature of the definition of "terrorism", will it not be difficult to characterize "violence or the threat of violence against civilian populations" in a way that will avoid including some aspects of past, present and currently planned US-led operations in the Middle East?

Given that there is as yet no universally accepted definition of "terrorism" (even within Europe), will those disagreeing with the USA's definition be necessarily considered as antagonistic to the USA in its "war on terrorism"? Will traditionally neutral countries, such as Switzerland, be considered as pro-terrorist if they fail to participate in the US-led coalition?

Why do efforts to define "terrorism" exclude the terror experienced by vulnerable people exposed daily to violence and threats of violence in their own neighbourhoods? Would such "terrorism" become "international" if the perpetrators carried foreign passports or if they belonged to "international networks"?

If "violence is as American as apple pie" (H. Rap Brown), then what of "terrorism"?

If no policy that the USA has ever pursued can be construed as "terrorism" -- or support for "terrorism" -- what universal agreement is possible on the meaning of "terrorism"?

Is it not curious that the US-led "war on terrorism" has been qualified by George Bush (18 September 2001) as a war against those forms of "terrorism" that affect the interests of the USA? How is it possible to form a worldwide coalition against terrorism which fails to take account of forms of "terrorism" which do not affect American interests -- even though their supporters may have bases and networks within the USA, or within the coalition countries (Tamil Tigers, IRA, ETA, etc)?

Is war not terrorism? Is a warrior a terrorist?

Depending on the time, the place and the cause in which it is comitted, is "terrorism" an expression of the absence of dialogue, the failure of negoitation or a determination of a few to undermine the popular will -- or a mixture of all three? (Gary Younge, Guardian, 15 October 2001)

How is it that violent movements with only local ambitions are "on a different list" (as Colin Powell puts it)?

Is the USA's definition of "terrorism" designed to exclude people and actions which would require it to proceed against citizens of the USA whom others would perceive as acting in support of "terrorism"? Is this why it has withdrawn its support of the International Criminal Court?

In a country that refuses to pay reparations for slavery, the FBI spent the equivalent of $500 million to "neutralize" black leaders -- with frightening success. At a time when the FBI is arresting everyone whose first name rhymes with Osama, the Klu Klux Klan is operating openly and legally in 50 states of the USA. Would black Americans have strong justification for perceiving the KKK as being America's own al-Qaida? (Jonathan D Farley, Guardian, 17 November 2001)

Is it in the interests of the USA to avoid a definition of the term since any definition will only serve to curtail the legitimization of their own resort to terrorism in the future -- at least in the eyes of the world at large? Or are such actions to be sanitized under some definition of state-sponsored violence, permitting the continuation of resort to military means where other means have failed?

Condolezza Rice, George Bush's national security adviser declared (23 September 2001). "We are not going to declare that there are good terrorists and bad terrorists. There's terrorism. And if you sponsor terrorism, you are hostile to the United States." Does this deny any significance or legitimacy to the perception in many other countries that the USA has engaged in state-sponsored terrorism? Or does this imply that there are some people hostile to the USA within its administration?

Donald Rumsfeld (20 Sept 2001) declared: "There are a number of nations on the official public list of terrorist nations, nations that either have sponsored terrorism or been involved in it." Is that an international "official" list? How is "terrorism" defined for inclusion on that list? Have not some credible international groups argued that the USA itself has "either sponsored terrorism or been involved in it"?

For Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defense: "Terrorism, of course, has a lot of definitions and people have different views as to what it means precisely. For myself, I think of the word as meaning an act whereby innocent people are involved and killed. (Interview with Al Jazeera, 20 October 2001). What does that include in practice?

Less than 24 hours before the USA came under terrorist attack, the United Nations was celebrating the fact that 83 of its 189 member states had ratified some 12 existing UN conventions against international terrorism. Why has the USA signed 11, but refused to ratify any of these treaties -- adopting a "sign yes, ratify no" policy?

The 1996 Declaration of Lima To Prevent, Combat and Eliminate Terrorism refers to terrorism as "a serious form of organized and systematic violence, which is intended to generate chaos and fear among the population, results in death and destruction and is a reprehensible criminal activity." The 1998 Commitment of Mar del Plata calls terrorist acts "serious common crimes that erode peaceful and civilized coexistence, affect the rule of law and the exercise of democracy, and endanger the stability of democratically elected constitutional governments and the socio-economic development of our countries." What acts are carefully excluded from such definitions?

Addressing the UN's Ad Hoc Committee on Terrorism (February 2001), US delegate Robert Rosenstock said the proposed major international conference to combat terrorism would have no practical benefits. He raised the question whether the issues suggested as possible subjects at such a conference had historically confounded a practical solution?

In extending definitions of involvement in "terrorism" to include those who recommend violence, or who express their hatred and radical opposition to governments in power, how are those acting against "terrorism" to exclude their own military advisors and instructors, directors of military academies, and those who articulate strategies to overthrow governments (cf the Henry Kissinger case)? Can such people be subsequently held responsible for the application of these lessons by their students in "terrorist" activities (cf US responsibility in the Noriega case)? Or is deniability of involvement in "terrorism" to be considered plausible by one class of policy advisor but inadmissible by another?

Is it not the case that any group that feels excluded will find a way to punish those who have left it behind? For those with no other options, is terrorism not one of the few acts in which they can engage in a hostile modern civilization -- especially when they have nothing to lose but their lives?

Given the unambiguous manner in which George Bush has defined his opposition to terrorism and those associated with it, how is it that his choice for a major diplomatic role -- as under secretary state for the western hemisphere -- was a Cuban exile found by the Comptroller General in 1987, during his previous government role, to have "engaged in prohibited, covert propaganda activities" on behalf of the Nicaraguan Contras then engaged in a guerilla war against an elected government? (Duncan Campbell, Guardian, 28 November 2001)

Following attacks on students by paramilitary police, Zimbabwean students have circulated a petition declaring that the "Zimbabwe national army is now a terrorist organization" which has effectively declared war against students (Michael Hartnack, Guardian, 28 November 2001). What other national armies might be labelled as "terrorist" from this perspective?

Evidence of American intelligence agency involvement in "terrorism" is widely reported, documented and rumoured -- as well as being extensively fictionalized. Former CIA directors and operatives freely admist to having hired terrorists as part of their operations in Latin America -- notably prior to the 1995 "scrub order"? How should the different degrees of such involvement, purportedly in defence of national security, be distinguished from the forms of involvement that are currently subject to extreme sanction by the Bush administration through executive orders and new legislation? Is the distinction to be made on the same basis as that between possession of weapons of mass destruction (by the USA) and possession of such weapons by other countries (such as Iraq)?

Contradictions

If the US-led coalition is to act, as proposed, without distinction against both terrorists, and the governments and bodies who tacitly or actively provide "haven, support, information, financial and other assets" (Colin Powell, 14th September 2001) to them, how will it respond to the support of "terrorism" in Northern Ireland by groups within the USA -- or to US support for activities in Latin America labelled there as "terrorist"? Why is there no media discussion of this?Why do neither George Bush nor Tony Blair make any mention of this major example of "terrorism" within the coalition countries?

The US Congress has authorized the use of force against any individuals or countries the President determines to be involved in the attacks. How would Congress have reacted if Nicaragua had adopted this doctrine after the USA had rejected the orders of the World Court to terminate its highly destructive "unlawful use of force" against Nicaragua and had vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe international law?

How is it possible to comprehend the stigmatization of the perpetrators as an "enemy waging a war by stealth" (14th September 2001) by the president of the country that is the proud inventor of "stealth technology" for use in a "Stealth" Bomber scheduled for extensive use in Afghanistan? To what degree was the bombing of Hiroshima an act of stealth? What of the "covert" and "clandestine" operations extolled in every American spy novel and movie?

The key anti-terrorist unit of the US is the Delta Force (based at Fort Bragg) whose existence is never formally discussed. They are trained to attack with stealth in small teams. Would it be correct to characterize the operations of US Special Forces in action in Afghanistan as primarily dependent on such "stealth"?

Why is it that US General Franks has been subject to criticism for being too hidebound by military doctrine to lead special forces campaign requiring guile and stealth? (Guardian, 6 November 2001)

How is it that a "peace-loving country", acclaimed as the "home of freedom and democracy", is so well-served by the conflicts around the world -- that it happily exacerbates through massive arms sales to its own commercial advantage?

Given that the coalition members all claim to be "peace-loving" (Tony Blair, 7 October 2001), to what extent is the action against Afghanistan a demonstration of use of military equipment against an unruly population in order to promote -- to countries faced with that problem -- the arms sales on which the economies of the most industrialized "peace-loving" countries are so dependent?

Arundhati Roy lists (Guardian, 23 October 2001) the countries wtuh which America has been at war, or has bombed, since 1945: China (1945-46, 1950-53), Korea (1950-53), Gyuatemala (1954, 1967-69), Indonesia (1958), Cuba (1959-60), Belgian congo (1964), Peru (1965), Laos (1964-73), Vietnam (1961-73), Cambodia (1969-70), Grenada (1983), Mibya (1986), El Salvador (1980s), Nicaragua (1980s), Panama (1989), Iraq (1991-99), Bosnia (1995), Sudan (1998), Yugoslavia (1999). How is it that in announcing the air strikes against Afghanistan (2001), George Bush was able to declare "We're a peaceful nation"?

Tony Blair argues (Embargoed version of speech for 30 October 2001, as provided to journalists): "Whatever faults we have, Britain is a very moral nation with a strong sense of right and wrong. That moral fibre will defeat the fanaticism of those terrorists and their supporters". Does he truly believe that the extensive support by his government for the UK arms industries is the mark of a "very moral nation" with a strong sense of "right"? What "moral fibre" has he demonstrated to "defeat the fanaticism" of UK arms manufacturers and their supporters? [The quoted statement was omitted from the speech as finally given, which instead focused on Brtain as a "principled nation" engaged in a "principled conflict"]

"Since what is good for business is good for America", to what degree is the defence of "freedom" equated indistinguishably with "freedom for US business interests" to implant themselves in any country whether or not this constrains the population's degrees of freedom in ways of which they disapprove?

How is it that the "home of freedom and democracy" (George Bush, 13th September 2001) trains people for activities perceived elsewhere as "terrorism", has a reputation for political assassination, openly manufactures instruments of torture for profit, and prides itself on its arms industry -- and yet is astounded at some of the "irrational" reactions and hatred that this evokes?

The slaughter of 5,000 people is a reasonably common occurrence in developing countries, as the massacres in Cambodia and Rwanda demonstrated. Is there not some danger that the dramatic efforts to mobilize in response to the WTC attacks may be seen as highly conditioned by the privileged position that the victims held in society? Would the calls for "justice" have been so intense if the deaths had been in an urban slum area, or in a developing country?

In the light of the massacres of over 500 people at Mazar-i-Sharif following its takeover from the Taliban by the Northern Alliance (supported by US special forces), how is it that a superpower can kill so easily and proudly from on high -- but can claim to be so totally impotent to stop massacres on the ground that result from that bombing?

A century ago, most leading Muslim intellectuals was in love with the West. So what happened in the intervening years to transform all that admiration and respect into the hatred that incited the acts of heinous terror of 11th September? (Karen Armstrong, Guardian, 13 October 2001)

In 1979, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA and Pakistan's ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) launched the largest covert operation in the history of the CIA. Their purpose was to harness the energy of Afghan resistance to the Soviets and expand it into a holy war, an Islamic jihad, which would turn Muslim countries within the Soviet Union against the communist regime and eventually destabilise it. Is it possible that the Russian enthusiasm for the US-led coalition against a jihad in a somewhat different way?

In freezing the assets of Islamic groups suspected of links to terrorism, why was no consideration given to freezing the assets of other groups in the USA linked to terrorism in other countries -- notably those in the US-led coalition? In justifying the tracking of the finances of the Islamic groups, why was this not extended to other groups suspected of terrorist links?

For a government that proudly came to power with the objective of reducing government interference in American society, is it not curious that the Bush administration is engaging in massive bail-out measures and massively increasing legislation to constrain civil liberties? What happened to the market mechanism acclaimed as the prime mechanism in capitalist societies -- or does it only work when a society is problem-free?

Why, if the USA has in recent years repeatedly warned of the danger of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, does it refuse to support the draft protocol that would strenthen an iknternational agreement prohibiting and preventing the proliferation of biological weapons? In asserting that it will use "all possible measures" to "wage war on terrorism", surely this is one such measure? (Helen Hughes, Guardian, 18 October 2001)

Who benefits financially from security scares? Who benefits financially from the anthrax scare? How is a market-oriented society vulnerable to unscrupulous promotion of remedial products and services?

When black Freedom Riders challenged America's apartheid laws, they were firebombed and beaten. Why did the police and FBI not hunt down the "evil-doers" responsible for these crimes -- rather than assist them, as they often did? (Jonathan D Farley, Guardian, 17 November 2001)

Who is America fighting? On 20 September, the FBI said that it had doubts about the identities of some of the hijackers. On the same day President George Bush said, "We know exactly who these people are and which governments are supporting them." Does the president know something that the FBI and the American public do not?

From an Arab perspective, when Americans have enemies they are "terrorists" or "madmen" or "evildoers". When Arabs have enemies, they are asked to compromise with them. They have bin Laden as their friend. People like bin Laden are trained and supported by the Americans as "freedom fighters" to topple regimes in the Arab world unfriendly to America -- and then condemned as "terrorists" when they become dangerous to American interests. The Americans have Sharon as their friend. Whose hand does George Bush shake?

Is it not curious that a US Republican administration, imbued by its own role in supporting freedom and democracy, that should see the only means of resolving the political situation in Afghanistan as being through the reinstallation of a monarchy -- in the name of democracy and freedom?

Why is it that a major international coalition is sought to bring the Muslim Osama bin Laden to justice "dead or alive", whilst efforts to bring the prime Christian suspects of the Kosovo massacres to justice have been notably dilatory -- as with the heads of international criminal networks? Insufficient bodies or wrong passports?

How is it that Radovan Karadzic, who signed the Dayton peace agreement in December 1995 -- after sanctioning the Srebrenica massacre that cost 7,500 Muslim lives in July 1995 -- has not been brought to trial? Given that NATO forces have had control of the region in which he is hiding since that time, what does the coalition hope to achieve in gaining similar control of the much vaster region of Afghanistan in its pursuit of bin Laden? (Henry Porter, Guardian, 17 October 2001)

To what degree has the establishment of the coalition itself been unfortunately manipulative? Is the war that America's allies thought they had signed up for going to be different from what they understood?

How is it that Tony Blair was so precise in his explanation of the coalition's targets (the al-Qaida network in Afghanistan alone) on the day the riposte was launched -- but the following day was confronted by the formal communication of John Negroponte (US Ambassador to the UN) to the UN Security Council that "We may find that our self-defense requires further actions with respect to other organizations and other states"? If this was indeed "nothing new" (as subsequently claimed by a White House spokeman, since President Bush had already stated that the hunt for those responsible might lead to suspects outside Afghanistan), does this imply dangerous miscommunication within the coalition?

We have seen a slippage from bin Laden to the Taliban as supposedly justified targets. How can we be sure there will not be a further slippage to other countries or perhaps to aspects of Islam, despite the pious words? (Sarah Cemlyn, Guardian, 29 October 2001)

Richard Perle, Chairman of the US Advisory Defence Policy Board, argued (BBC, 11th October 2001) that the prime objective in the tresponse to terrorism was taking the weapons out of the hands of terrorists in order to protect the citizens of the USA. However in the case of the attack, the prime weapons were box cutters and these, with other sharp objects of any kind, are indeed now being removed from the hands of air travellers. However, curiously, US citizens are themselves the most heavily armed in the world, and little is said of how to distinguish between a heavily armed citizen and a terrorist. And much to the embarrassment of the USA, one of those citizens, Timoth McVeigh was responsible for a home-grown terrorist disaster through the Okaloma bombing -- using as weapons argicultural chemicals. What weapons are to be removed from the hands of whom?

How is it that the US Defense Secretary on the same day first asserted that it might improve difficult, if not impossible, to capture Osama bin Laden, and then "clarified" this to mean "I think we are going to get him" (Independent, 27 October 2001)

How does the Bush administration reconcile the USA's strong attitude to patent protection -- as emphasized in the early response to the desperate needs of the African AIDS crisis -- with the subsequent turnaround reflected in its policy with regard to drugs under patent needed in response to the anthrax and smallpox crises in the USA? Why should not the American patent-holders be allowed to charge whatever price they can get from the richest -- according to market principles -- rather than accede to requests to charge a more accessible price?

After snubbing Europeans and others on every major global issue, is it not ironic that the Bush administration now pleads imperiously for "world" unity on a "global" issue that has just emerged as a priority for the USA -- although carefully reframed by George Bush (18 Sept) as limited to "terrorism" affecting "interests of the USA"?

On the day he announced the bombing, George Bush declared "If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murders themselves. And they will take that lonely path at their own peril". How is it that for 55 years the USA has been operating what amounts to a "terrorist training camp" whose victims massively outnumber the people killed by the 11th September attacks? Among the graduates of what has been renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (previously the School of the Americas) are many of the most notorious torturers, mass murderers, dictators and state terrorists of Latin America (George Monbiot, Guardian, 30 October 2001)? Were the attacks of 11th September one of the perils on this lonely path?

Two weeks previously the US military announced that they had "run out of targets in Kabul". How is it that they now announce that Kabul had been subjected to "the two heaviest nights of bombing so far"? What sort of new targets did they find? (Mark Steel, Independent, l November 2001)

The responsibility of the USA in ensuring the original success of the Taliban, as opponents of the Russians, is well-recognized. Is it appropriate then to point to them as proof of the backwardness of Islam in general? How come there are then so many Afghan women professionals in the opposition in the north of Afghanistan? (Ahdaf Soueif, Guardian, 6 November 2001)

Evoking and amplifying terror

The aim of "terrorists" is to ensure that a population experiences terror -- violence being one of the means of achieving this. They only cause terror through the manner in which people allow themselves to become fearful -- or to fear their own fear. Whose "terror" is it?

In the absence of the 24-hour daily media focus, would the "terror" have been so widely evoked in the US population and around the world?

Have irresponsible media been trapped in the mindsets of the advertising hype they normally purvey and committed themselves to competitively escalating the level of terror they evoke?

Could media be sued by businesses for irresponsible incitement to terror and consequent loss of consumer confidence?

If governments are highly concerned with population panic in response to disaster of any kind, why were the media (such as CNN) encouraged to serve the terrorist cause so effectively by evoking terror by as many means as possible over such an extended period?

How have different governments struck a balance between evoking more terror in order to justify mobilization in response to the attacks, and calming the population to avoid exacerbating terror and further eroding population confidence? How responsible have been the statements of George Bush and Tony Blair in this regard?

In time of "war" is it not usual to limit information causing unnecessary panic? Why has the focus been instead on limiting information relating to security issues?

The only country in the US-led consortium not to have experienced attacks on its own soil for more than 150 years is the USA itself. The populations of its European allies have had to come to terms with the experience of bombing, widespread urban destruction, and the terrors of anticipating unpredictable attacks (such as the V2 bomber attacks on London). Many have more recently had to come to terms with terrorist bombing -- some by groups funded from the USA (cf Canary Wharf). This has not evoked widespread terror or paralyzed their countries. In fact the effects have been constrained to local urban blocks. Why has terror spread so rapidly amongst Americans?

Why do Americans need exposure to their "terror" to be spread worldwide, to the point of effectively blackmailing the world's population into an inappropriate American revenge agenda through sympathy with the victims of horrendous attacks? Are Americans aware that others experience variations on such existential terror relatively frequently?

On a global scale over the last 50 years people were much more likely to die from weaponry developed by the arls manufacturers of the US-coalition than by a terrorist bomb? Many more die annually from road accidents within the US-coalition than from the attack on the WTC. Why so much deafeatist nervousness? (Tom Paterson, Observer, 4 November 2001)

Would the terror have become so rapidly global in a non-globalized world? Does anti-globalization foster terrorism -- as some are proposing opportunistically? Or does globalization foster terrorization of much larger populations -- as others might respond?

Who really believes that we will never switch on a TV and see again scenes of once unimaginable hooror in western cities -- which will be translated as al-Qaida saying "we told you so"? (Mark Lawson, Guardian, 17 November 2001)

Citizens of many countries are frequently exposed to terrorism which they bear with fortitude. They do not abandon their civil liberties or turn their existence into some anthrax stew of panic. The Spanish have exposed and jailed ministers for illegally organizing state assassination squads. They have learnt to do the best they can without deluding rhetoric (Peter Preston, Guardian, 12 November 2001). Why have the USA and the UK demonstrated such relative immaturity in this crisis?

Who is more responsible for the irresponsible globalization of terror in the mind of public opinion around the world -- the attackers, government leaders stressing the vulnerability of civilization, or the media stressing public vulnerability worldwide? Who has been most responsible for public loss of confidence -- leading to business failures and loss of jobs? As a marketing campaign "tied in" to the actual attack, how successfully has media action served the terrorists' interests?

When systemic effects can be rapidly amplified around the globe in the absence of the buffers and bulkheads that inhibited such processes in the past, is there not a case for reviewing arguments against "protectionism" and reframing some of them as necessary "buffering" -- notably against the spread of destabilizing panic? Should irresponsible globalization be reframed as irresponsible "debufferization"?

What credence can be given to George Bush's claim (6 November 2001) that al-Qaida was seeking biological, chemical and nuclear weapons? To what extent is this claim a manufactured threat (with "evidence" from colluding states in the coalition) to force other nations into conformity with the US world view? How is the world to distinguish between genuine claims of threats and those made solely in support of self-interested national objectives? What credibility will be given to a genuinely catastrophic emergency if fabricated threats -- hoaxes -- are increasingly used by government?

Is the USA progressively desensitizing the public to the level of destruction now taking place in Afghanistan -- from medium-sized missiles, to bunker-busting bombs, to carpet bombing using cluster bombs, now followed by the daisy cutter ordnance? Are Bush and Blair scaremongering when they claim that Osama bin Laden has acquired access to nuclear weaponry? (Rizwan Ahmed, Guardian, 8 November 2001)

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