VI. War on Terrorism: Following the Wrong Path

Some aspects of the War on terrorism have been covered in prior blogs, such as President Obama’s heavy use of pilotless drones and restrictions on civil liberties. This blog will focus on definitions of terrorism, why nation-states are the major terrorists, how the FBI initiates terrorism plots, the exaggerated danger posed by detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the slipshod way in which a U.S. citizen can be designated as a terrorist, a further examination of military commissions and concludes with a Rand corporate report on what works to quell terrorism.

In 1981, the U.S. State Department defined terrorism “as the threat of force for political purposes in violation of domestic or international law.” For decades, the U.S. representatives at the United Nations have been adamant that “state terrorism” is a near impossibility. Private cars packed with dynamite are evil, while guided missiles launched from government jet fighters that blow up cars driven by terrorist suspects are good as gold regardless of how many children are in the back seat at the time of the “surgical strike.”

James Bovard, author of “Terrorism and Tyranny,” writes that from 1980 to the year 2000, international terrorists killed 7,745 people. In that same period, governments killed more than 10 million people in ethnic cleansing campaigns, mass executions, politically caused famines, wars and other “slaughters.” Bovard’s point is that nation-states are by far the biggest terrorists.

The American Friends Service Committee has defined terrorism in three easy pieces: 1) We good, they bad; 2) We normal, they crazy; and 3) We bad, they worse.

There is another definition of terrorism found in the broad language of the Patriot Act and other laws that bar refugees and asylum seekers from living and working in the United States if they were members of an armed group in their homelands. They’re considered to be terrorists or supporters of terrorists.

The national government can grant waivers but no effective program has been set up, although the Department of Homeland Security claims to have granted 10,500 waivers.

Army Lt. Colonel Dennis Chapman, who was the chief of a military transition team in the Kurdish region of Iraq, says rejecting someone who has proven to be a helpful ally of the United States “deprives the the word ‘terrorist’ of any meaning.”

According to Trevor Aronson, writing in the September/October 2011 issue of “Mother Jones,” counter-terrorism has become the FBI’s number one priority, consuming $3.3 billion of its budget, versus $2.6 billion for organized crime. The FBI now has a roster of 15,000 spies.

Except for the shoe bomber, the underpants bomber and the Times Square bomber, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings. The FBI instigated the plots and then “sold” them to targeted individuals or groups. Those targeted would, almost certainly, not have done anything if not kicked in the ass by government agents.

One of the FBI’s favorite tactics was to have targeted individuals and groups recite a recorded oath to Al Qaeda and then make that one of the criminal charges. In the case of an impoverished group of men in Florida, who were eventually charged with a plot to blow up the Sears building in Chicago, having the men recite the Al Qaeda oath became a very involved process because the audio recording of it reveals that the men had no idea of the meaning and consequences of reciting the oath.

Muslims are the main targets of these sting operations, and, thus, the FBI feeds the paranoia about the dangerous nature of having Muslims living in a community.

The danger posed by those detained at Guantanamo Naval Base has long been in question due to the haphazard ways many of them wound up there. After reviewing 517 of Guantanamo detainee cases in depth, Seton Hall University law students and lawyers concluded that only eight percent were alleged to have been associated with Al Qaeda; 55 percent were alleged to have not been engaged in any hostile act against the U.S.; and the remainder were charged with dubious wrongdoing, including trying to flee from U.S. bombers. All but five percent had been captured by non-U.S. players, many of whom were bounty hunters.

On April 6, 2010, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration had approved the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was living in Yemen. It is a violation of rule-of-law ideals for the president to use secret procedures and secret authorities to kill its own citizens.

In May 2011, the Obama administration authorized the firing of a missile from a Predator drone to kill Awlaki. That attempt failed but a missile fired in late-September 2011 hit its target, killing Awlaki and an untargeted U.S. citizen.

The process by which a U.S. citizen can be marked for death is murky, disputed and a perversion of due process, in any case. Under one description of the process, the Treasury Department designated Awlaki a “specially designated global terrorist” and thus it became illegal for an attorney to represent him without permission from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, a most unusual source for a denial of one of the U.S. citizen’s most basic rights.

A different scenario is offered for this great crime of a  targeted killing. Unspecified employees in the National Security Council (NSC) make the initial decision to kill someone. Higher-ups in the NSC approve the decision and then the president can approve the decision or turn it down.

Writing in “Salon,” Glen Grenwald says, “the most amazing aspect is that the U.S. public will stand and cheer the U.S. Government’s  new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government.”

President Obama changed his position on military commissions because he said reforms put in had eliminated the commissions’ most objectionable features. Critics contend that the validity of military commissions will continue to be challenged due to relatively loose rules of evidence, absence of a civilian jury and restrictions on the ability to examine classified information used against defendents. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers says the military commission system is “not about seeking justice as much as it is about obtaining convictions.”

Finally, instead of relying so heavily on military force in the War on Terrorism, a RAND corporate report issued in 2008 posits a more positive approach to dealing with terrorist groups. The RAND study found that terrorist groups are usually thwarted through political processes and effective law enforcement, not the use of military force.


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