|Picture credit: Reuters
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration declared a worldwide "war on terror," involving open and covert military operations, new security legislation, efforts to block the financing of terrorism, and more. Washington called on other states to join in the fight against terrorism asserting that "either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." Many governments joined this campaign, often adopting harsh new laws, lifting long-standing legal protections and stepping up domestic policing and intelligence work.
Critics charge that the "war on terrorism" is an ideology of fear and repression that creates enemies and promotes violence rather than mitigating acts of terror and strengthening security. The worldwide campaign has too often become an excuse for governments to repress opposition groups and disregard international law and civil liberties. Governments should address terrorism through international cooperation, using international law and respecting civil liberties and human rights. Governments should also address the root causes of terrorism, notably political alienation due to prejudice, state-sponsored violence and poverty.
This site deals with the idea and practice of the "war on terrorism." Materials critically analyze the "war" and its consequences. The site looks at terrorism's history and root causes and how the concept has been used and abused.
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The recent targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen by the US has started a renewed debate over US counter-terrorism policies. The targeted elimination of US citizen and radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki for his alleged role as a terrorist affiliate raises troubling international legal questions. This demonstrates how the US justifies any means in the name of security, similar to the justifications used to explain the detainee interrogation practices used after 9/11. Critics of the killing have focused heavily on Awlaki’s US citizenship, and the obligation of the government to protect its citizens for harm. (Al Jazeera)
The death of Osama bin Laden is being celebrated across the US. This article however highlights how the extra-judicial killing of bin Laden by the US military undermines the rule of law and paints an ugly picture of the Obama administration. Whether or not a trial would have provided satisfaction to the victims of 9/11, this article argues that retribution through killing will only exacerbate tensions and destabilize the judicial process. (Open Democracy)
Afghanistan modestly reduced its poppy cultivation this year in Helmand province though nationwide production has remained the same or increased. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that the decrease is mainly the result of blight, despite a government initiative and Western aid. The report states that increasing poppy prices could undercut the efforts to reduce cultivation in the coming year. Nearly all cultivation occurs in the country's least secure provinces. (The New York Times)
While the US spends $12bn every month indicting its "war on terror," it has so far pledged pocket change to aid the 20 million displaced Pakistani's. In this article from Al Jazeera, Mark Levine argues that if a peaceful future is to be secured for Pakistan and the wider world, relief aid is an ill advised area for the US to be fiscally prudent. He suggests the US "war on terror" needs to be fundamentally rethought to consider relief, rebuilding and the struggle against poverty and hardship. And in the "multigenerational" campaign against Al-Qaida, more resources should be allocated towards reconstruction, than are used for purposes of destruction. (Al Jazeera)
In Afghanistan, secret military teams have been given a mandate to pursue alleged members of "terrorists" and are seen as "manhunting" operations with the units assigned to them as "capture/kill" teams. Wikileaks has published the mass of secret U.S. military and intelligence documents that reveal how capture/kill teams have left a trail of dead civilian bodies. The covert "joint" teams involving the CIA and various military special operations forces are a key part of a new military "doctrine" developed in 1980 and came to be known as "find, fix, finish, and follow-up" missions, denoting how alleged terrorists are to be dealt with. Military experts are disquieted by the creation of such global hunter-killer teams who regularly kill civilians in their raids on supposed "targets." (Alternet)
The shadow “war against terrorism” began in the Bush administration but expanded under President Obama, who ironically became popular due to his early opposition to the invasion of Iraq. The United States has increased military and intelligence operations in a dozen countries. These shadow wars have fuelled anti-American rage; blurred the lines between soldiers and spies;weakened Congressional oversight and led to a reliance on authoritarian foreign leader. (The New York Times)
Four "high-value" prisoners were flown out of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility just months after they arrived in 2003, before the Supreme Court could grant them access to lawyers. They were transferred to a CIA "black site" for two years of interrogation, during which time they could not speak with attorneys or human rights observers. The AP discovered that top White House, Justice Department, Pentagon and CIA officials were involved in the prisoner transfer, which law professor Jonathon Hafetz called "a shell game to hide detainees from the courts." This incident suggests that Washington is willing to go to great lengths to keep "valuable" prisoners outside the US court system. (Huffington Post)
A TIME Magazine cover featuring a young Afghan woman whose nose had been cut off by the Taliban sparked fierce debate about the issue's message. The cover's title suggested that such crimes against women would increase if the US-led military force were to leave Afghanistan prematurely. Many have claimed that TIME engaged in "emotional blackmail" and exploited "gender politics to pitch for the status quo-a continued US military involvement." Women's lives have not improved overall as a result of the war (read GPF's previous posting on this issue, below). Telling Aisha's story may raise awareness about the plight of women in Afghanistan, but drawing a connection between her situation and the US occupation is both inaccurate and manipulative. (BBC)
More than 170 men who have not been convicted, or in some cases even charged with a criminal offense, are being kept in indefinite detention in Guantanamo Bay. As the Obama administration moves forward with the military trials at the detention facility, it is difficult to see how the President is fulfilling his commitment to "re-establishing our [US] credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law." For all of President Obama's rhetoric about closing Guantanamo and providing fair trials for the detainees, he has been unable to translate these promises into reality. The maintenance of Guantanamo is just one of the ways in which this administration continues to resemble that of George W. Bush. (Crimes of War Project)
The Time Magazine's cover story on the plight of Afghan women contributes to justifying the war on humanitarian "civilizing" grounds instead of criticizing it on the same grounds. Military solutions to social problems fail to make the distinction between Islam and the Taliban or explain how women's rights can be attained by such means. This author suggests that "the war to liberate the women of Afghanistan," is more concerned with promoting "men's wars" rather than women's rights, whilst Muslim women are being progressively silenced in this discursive battle. (Al-Jazeera)
This author suggests Pakistani women are central to the ideological battleground between the Taliban and the US military: the former using Islamic extremism to exclude women from the public sphere, the latter using western notions of liberation and progress to orchestrate women's unveiling. Although driven by contrasting ideologies, both serve to further disempower women from decision making. Security Council Resolution 1325 highlighted the contributions that women can make to conflict prevention and resolution, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Yet this suppression of female agency in Pakistan denies the importance of women's equal and full participation as active agents in peace and security. (The Express Tribune)
A photograph on the cover of a recent issue of TIME Magazine depicts an Afghan woman whose nose and ears were cut off by the Taliban when she was caught trying to escape from abusive family members. The image is intended to remind the reader of "what happens if we leave Afghanistan." An accompanying article argues that women's rights would be destroyed if the US military settled with the Taliban and left the region. However, despite the lofty rhetoric about "freeing" the women of Afghanistan, the US-supported government of Hamid Karzai has not implemented policies to help women in any substantial way. In this Brave New Films video, numerous experts show that conditions for women have actually deteriorated as a result of the US-led occupation. (Huffington Post)
The CIA uses unmanned drones to carry out targeted killings in Afghanistan and Pakistan raising serious questions of legality. Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapportuer on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions will deliver a report on June 3 to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva which argues that drone use should be restricted to the US military. The report says that the "life and death" power of drones should be entrusted to regular armed forces and not intelligence agencies like the CIA which have much less transparent oversight. It is unlikely that the Obama Administration will alter its policy, as drone attacks have become an increasingly important tactic in US "counter terrorism operations" in Pakistan and Afghanistan. (IPS)
In a commencement speech at the US Military Academy at West Point, President Obama set out a new national security doctrine which attempts to distance his administration from George W Bush's policy of "distinctly US internationalism." Obama pledged to shape a new "international order" based on diplomacy and engagement to resolve such global challenges as "violent extremism and insurgency", nuclear weapons, climate change and preventing conflict. However, as he calls for global cooperation, Obama has intensified the US war in Afghanistan and secret operations in the Middle East. (Washington Post)
A US Court of Appeals ruled that three men, who were captured outside Afghanistan and have been detained for years without trial, have no right to habeas corpus hearings in US Courts as Bagram is "on the sovereign territory of another government." If the precedent stands, it will provide further justification for the Obama Administration's policy of detaining terrorism suspects overseas for indefinite periods to avoid judicial oversight. (New York Times)
U.S. drone attacks continue to devastate civilians in Pakistan yet remain shrouded in secrecy. Pakistanis learn nothing of the attacks, and U.S. newspaper reports mention no more than a few words on the location of the strike and the estimated death toll. Victims and witnesses of these attacks openly question the legitimacy of a strategy that kills many innocent civilians and only serves to instill anti-American hatred in the local population. These victims link indifference and inaction on drone warfare to the state of U.S. democracy: "What kind of democracy is America where people do not ask these questions?" (CommonDreams)
Six former Guantanamo Bay prisoners are claiming civil damages against the UK Government alleging that the MI5 and MI6 "aided and abetted their unlawful imprisonment" at numerous locations around the world, including Guantanamo Bay, where they were tortured. Controversially, the UK Government asked for the trial to be heard under the "closed material procedure" meaning that the claimants would not see large parts of the evidence being used by the Government to defend the allegations. The High Court denied the Government's request, with Lord Neuberger stating that "it would undermine one of the most fundamental principles of the common law," the right of a party to know the case again him. (The Times)
After his inauguration, President Barak Obama signed an Executive Order mandating more humane conditions for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the closure of the prison within a year. With the January 22 deadline passed, the detention camp reflects the Obama Administration's failure to change US national security policy from the framework of the Bush Administration's "War on Terror." While the new administration has prohibited torture and inhuman treatment, the defining injustice of Guantanamo - the indefinite imprisonment of individuals without charge or trial - remains. (The American Prospect)
On taking office, President Obama pledged to close Guantanamo Bay prison and abolish many of the detainee practices of the George W. Bush administration. The Obama administration is currently drafting "classified guidelines" to determine whether new captured terrorist suspects should be placed in long-term detention or whether they should be prosecuted. The guidelines will also provide answers on where to hold them and how to interrogate them. Bagram air base in Afghanistan appears to be the favoured location, in part because prisoners there are denied access to United States courts. (LA Times)
Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, has revealed that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up the imprisonment of hundreds of innocent men in Guantánamo Bay. According to Wilkerson, they feared that releasing these prisoners would jeopardize their push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror. This is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush administration. Wilkerson made the accusations in support of a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee against a list of American officials. (The Times)
On June 9, 2006, three prisoners at Guantanamo died suddenly and violently with Rear Admiral Harry Harris quick to declare the deaths "suicides." According to the US Naval Criminal Investigative Serivce documents, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and t-shirts, was able to bind their own hands, stuff rags into their throats and tie the noose to the top of the cell's eight-foot-high steel-mesh walls. Evidence suggests that the Obama administration has failed to seriously investigate the deaths and may have continued a cover-up of the possible homicides of these prisoners. (Harpers Magazine)
The US Government has detained an unknown number of prisoners at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan since 2002, some of whom have been held for up to six years without charge or a fair hearing. Concerned that Bagram has become the new Guantanamo, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed habeas corpus petitions to allow four prisoners access to lawyers and the opportunity to challenge in court the legality of their detention. (IPS)
According to Senator Lindsey Graham, the White House is again considering a "preventative detention" statute to govern persons held at Guantanamo Bay. The proposed statute would assist in the closing of Guantanamo Bay and govern the detention of persons, by the US government, outside the criminal justice system. There is concern from Human Rights Watch that the statute would "turn the anomaly of Guantanamo Bay into a permanent legal norm" and would give future President's the unfettered authority to detain people without trial "not because they were captured on a military battlefield but because they are considered a threat against national security." (Politico)
A study conducted by a group of UN Special Rapporteurs has concluded that "secret detention in connection with counterterrorist policies remains a serious problem." The study, conducted by four independent UN human rights experts, details secret detention practices used by the US in the "Global War on Terror" and expresses concern over the fate of dozens of persons still held in secret CIA run prisons. (Truthout)
The US administration has been exploiting a recently foiled terrorist coup, the Najibullah Ziza case, to justify the Patriot and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Acts. Such fear mongering resembles the behavior of the previous administration. By publicly connecting the Patriot Act with prevented terrorist attacks the administration misleadingly suggests that the plot could not or would not have been thwarted without recourse to such extreme surveillance measures. (Salon)
In 2006 the British police thwarted a terrorist plot with the help of US and British electronic surveillance. Some polemicists used this to justify illegal government surveillance programs. However the information used in 2006 had been obtained legally, thus invalidating this justification. This foiled attack shows that governments do not need to resort to illegitimate activities to successfully fight terrorism. (Salon)
Russia recently agreed to allow US troops and weapons to fly over its territory on the way to war in Afghanistan. Russia apparently believes that US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are effectively defending Russia's southern flank. Washington's war in Afghanistan is likely to last longer than the Soviet Union's war in the country, which began in late 1979 and ended in early 1989.(CommonDreams)
General David McKiernan was suddenly fired earlier in May over his failure to stop the escalating violence in Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal, a former US Special Forces commander, officially took charge of the nearly 90,000 US and NATO-led troops fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. General McChrystal, also known as "the Pope," is notorious for promoting torture techniques in counterterrorism. He has brought together military and intelligence operations to produce controversial battlefield results. The decision of the Obama administration to appoint McChrystal reflects a commitment to large scale, long term "special operations" involving further global military escalation. (Esquire)
Barack Obama promised a major shift in U.S. foreign policy. However, after five months in office, Obama's policies seem to reflect considerable continuity with earlier administrations. He has raised U.S. military spending and has added more than 20,000 troops in Afghanistan. It is clear that U.S. foreign policies are largely formed by long-standing economic and political interests and not so much by the electoral process. (Zmag)
During a speech in Mumbai, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband criticized the "war on terror" and qualified it as "misleading and mistaken." Miliband stated that instead of reducing potential terrorist threats, the military reaction created more resentment and backlash. He praised diplomacy over a military response contrary to the position he held four years ago (Guardian)
The author of this article draws parallels between the attacks on Pearl Harbor by Japan in 1941 and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor because it perceived the US as a threat to its national interest. According to the "preemptive war" doctrine, which the US used to justify the 2003 attack, the US has the right to use force whenever its interests may be threatened. Both actions are breaches of international law, as the use of military force is illegal unless used in response to a prior attack. (Truthout)
In 2004 president George Bush issued an executive order authorizing military action in Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and several other Persian Gulf states. Using this order, the US military has conducted nearly 12 previously undisclosed attacks. This broadened the ground rules in the "Global War on Terror" and also removed sensitive military operations from the previous process of oversight and review. (New York Times)
The Bush administration assaults civil liberties under the guise of the "war on terror," and not many US citizens express alarm. With vague definitions of "terrorist" and "enemy combatant," police can arrest and imprison any US citizen based on suspicion and without evidence. President Bush also abuses power in the executive branch by sidestepping the Supreme Court, weakening Congress, and disregarding the Constitution. With his exercise of arbitrary and undefined power, the US is "sliding toward dictatorship" and falling away from democracy. (Counterpunch)
The US military holds detainees on secret "floating prisons", before transporting them to undisclosed detention centers, according to human rights organization Reprieve. The US uses ships such as the USS Bataan, Peleliu and Ashland to hold prisoners without legal representation or a right to trial. Reprieve reports that the US military keeps many of the prisoners in cages and subjects them to physical abuse. Since 2001, the US has held approximately 80,000 detainees, 26,000 of which remain in secret prisons. (Guardian)
This Global Research article argues that propaganda for the "war on terrorism" disregards the historical link between al-Qaeda and the US. The CIA created al-Qaeda during the Soviet-Afghan war in 1979 and also brought the heroin drug trade to Afghanistan. Further, the CIA used the Pakistani military intelligence apparatus (ISI) as a "go-between" to provide funding, arms, and training to groups in Chechnya, Kashmir, Kosovo, and China. The author argues that the "war on terrorism" is instead an excuse to expand US military domination.
"Only when we put terrorism in proper perspective can we start to think about appropriate solutions," argues this Foreign Policy in Focus article. With regard to its "acuity, its scope, and its likely duration," terrorism does not pose as great a threat as global warming, nuclear proliferation, disease, and conventional war. The authors claim that the Bush administration has used US citizens' fear to amplify the threat of terrorism and initiate a preventative war against it – a campaign as "meaningless" as "declaring war on serial murderers." Instead, they suggest that Washington tackle detrimental political and economic injustices.
This excerpt from the book "Selling US Wars" by Tariq Ali analyzes the theories and mechanisms employed by the US to "ensure indirect domination" worldwide. One of the justifications the US gives for the extension of its sphere of influence is the "global war on terror," which the author states is an unacceptable form of "political violence terror." Ali also asserts that Washington's selectivity in enforcing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is another tactic in its pursuit of regional and global ambitions. Moreover, the author criticizes the use of "humanitarian intervention" and "democratization" as reasons for military invasions. (Transnational Institute)
This Foreign Policy in Focus article cites a growing trend towards unilateral military action as opposed to multilateral diplomacy in solving conflicts. The US and Israel have justified "preventative war" under the "War on Terrorism." Meanwhile, Japan threatens to preemptively attack North Korea, jeopardizing its "peace constitution." This dangerous policy threatens to undermine the institutions of international law and global agreements such as the Geneva Conventions.
This Oxford Research Group report argues that the main causes of conflict stem from global climate change, competition over resources, "marginalization of the majority world," and global militarism. These issues, combined with a military approach to terrorism, and the spread of fear-inducing propaganda, detract from realistic peace-building solutions. The authors report that unless world leaders tackle these four causes and refrain from promoting global militarism and waging wars on terrorism, the global system will become irrevocably unstable.
This interview from the American Conservative showcases expert Robert Pape's detailed analysis of the roots of suicide terrorism. His central finding is that, overwhelmingly, "suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel [foreign occupiers] to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland." A "demand-driven" phenomena, Pape notes that "the suicide terrorists have been produced by the invasion" in Iraq and other countries.
The intelligence services are working hand in hand with industries who profit from war to create a dangerous environment of paranoia. These "merchants of fear" have filled the post-cold war "vacancy for a subversive global conspiracy" with a new enemy, Islam. Their own obsessions and the desire to justify their continued power have led to the framing of community tensions and other social issues as security threats, and a pervasive climate of distrust. (Le Monde Diplomatique)
Richard Goldstone, first chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, says the global "war on terror" threatens international justice. He points to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisoner abuse as reasons for more judicial oversight, and suggests UN Security Council reform as a way of "protecting the rule of law." (Toronto Star)
The State of the World 2005 Report from the Worldwatch Institute argues that the "war on terror" is diverting world's attention from more serious threats to global instability. Poverty, infectious disease and environmental degradation create conditions in which extremism thrives and new conflicts emerge. Dealing with these challenges requires preventive engagement rather than use of brute military force.
This Guardian article states that a general consensus between governments, security services and the media has created a "terror myth," an imagined danger of organized terrorism, maintained through a "jittery media-driven democracy."
This article compares al Qaeda to a transnational business organization with a "promising future as a brand name." It gives several examples illustrating that the terrorist organization's reputation acts as self-recruiting function for activist groups wishing to commit acts of violence in its name. (Le Monde diplomatique)
The discourse of hate is an ongoing theme in the "war on terrorism." More than a motive it now comprises an ideology justifying all actions against entities representing the ever-growing category of "terrorists." The article claims that this has created a new right for "great powers" "to convert phony wars into real ones." (Dissident Voice)
Michael Ignatieff believes that the use of pre-emptive war, assassination, limited torture and indefinite detention without trial might be "the lesser evil" in the fight against terrorism. In this review, Ronald Steel charges that Ignatieff's latest book lacks "any serious political analysis" of terrorism, and ultimately amounts to "an elegantly packaged manual of national self-justification." (New York Times)
Governments that divert aid relief funds to anti-terrorism efforts exacerbate the suffering of the world's poorest people, argues Christian Aid. This report points out that the US government diverted a US $2.2 billion aid program for Afghanistan in 2004 to military projects and emergency relief.
G7 officials are discussing ways to tackle cross-border cash movements as part of the "war on terror." According to the Financial Action Task Force, the proposal includes making international travelers file currency declarations and X-ray scan for cash, as well as weapons at airports. Will these attempts really help preventing terrorist attacks? (International Relations and Security Network)
This article seeks to explain the concept of terrorism during different periods of time stretching back to the 20th century. The author argues that terrorism is a global problem in cause and in impact; therefore, understanding the background of terrorism is one of the important ways in addressing this world security threat. (OpenDemocracy)
World Bank President James Wolfensohn highlights an increasing imbalance in world governments' spending, noting that governments spend $900 billion annually on defense and only $56 billion on development assistance. Wolfensohn argues that changing spending priorities focusing on development of poor countries would help to defeat terrorism. (New York Times)
As Al-Qaeda becomes "brand-name terrorism," many other groups commit themselves loyally to bin Laden's idea of "global jihad against the US and its allies." (Time Magazine)
The author argues people often use and abuse the word "terrorism" by applying it to "whatever they hate," as a way of "avoiding rational thought and discussion and, frequently, excusing their own illegal and immoral conduct." (International Herald Tribune)
This article argues that informed debate about suicide bombing is "long overdue." The author suggests the phenomenon warrants neither sympathy nor blanket condemnation but a better understanding of the motivations of suicide bombers. (Arab Media Watch)
The "war on terror" reformulates many aspects of world politics and the international NGO sector. In the US and elsewhere, ultra-conservative thinktanks have recently set up units to monitor and investigate the NGO sector. NGOs operating in "war on terror" conflicts feel pressured to either act as "sub-contractors for the superpower or pull out." (Guardian)