The 9/11 terrorist attacks by the al-Qaida on American soil brought out the weakness of the Government’s fight against terrorism and resulted in a shift, in the major paradigm shift in the counterterrorism tactics and policies. Initially America had played a very passive role in the war against terrorism because the government never thought that terrorism would affect America (Adams, Nordhaus and Shellenberger). In other words, America, being a super power, felt indisposed and safe from any terrorism. “In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush declared a global war on terror and initiated a series of militarized responses” (Cortright, p.197). This was the turning point in America’s counterterrorism policies and tactics from the more passive approach to an active and military approach.
However the war on terror attracted significant debate and controversy on the legality and the morality on the counterterrorism measures adopted by the United States and her allies. “The controversial tactics included ‘enhanced ‘interrogation, preventative detention, expanded use of secret surveillance without warrants, ethnic/religious profiling, the collection and mining of domestic data, and the prosecution of terror suspects in military tribunals” (Adams, Nordhaus and Shellenberger, p.4). This paper will review the controversial counterterrorism tactics and argues that militarization of the counterterrorism measures has done little to deter terrorism and thus is not the best way to go in the war against terror. The paper agrees with Cortright, “the greatest threat to U.S. security in Asia and Africa is not the presence of al-Qaida, but rather the misguided strategy of countering terrorism with military means” (p.203)
- Controversial counterterrorism measures
Counterterrorism is defined as “operations that include the offensive measures taken to prevent, deter, preempt, and respond to terrorism” (Rineheart). These operations have changed over time and continue to evolve according to the dynamic nature of terrorism threats. The aim of counterterrorism tactics is not to eradicate terrorism because it is impossible to do so, but to dismantle, disrupt and eventually defeat groups that employ terrorism for whatever reasons (Rineheart). Al-Qaida is one such organization that brought terrorism to the global platform by carrying out multiple terrorism attacks, often at the same time in different locations (sometimes in different cities). In fact, al-Qaida is a global outfit that is synonymous with terrorism, and whose mention arouses memories of devastating acts of terror.
The organization came to the spotlight following the 2001 September 11 attack executed on American soil. Al-Qaeda used passenger planes to cause deaths of over 3000 people and massive casualties and property damage. Of significance importance was the meticulous manner in which the organization carried out the attack after planning for years. This was not only a turning point in the history of extremism and political violence but also in the counterterrorism tactics employed by the U.S. the boldness with which Al-Qaeda carried out the attacks made it clear to the world that terrorists had declared war on modern civilization. Security experts now believed that terrorists were willing and capable of to use weapons of mass destruction to cause maximum destruction and more so casualties. It is in the backdrop of this international terrorist environment that the U.S and her allies declared war on terror. This never-ending war called for more militarization of counterterrorism tactics. America developed counterterrorism policies that pushed the country to the “dark side” and further from the values that were held by the founding fathers of the nation (Cortright, p.198).
Congress and the president enacted sweeping counterterrorism legislation and amended existing ones to give the government more power to act where terrorism was suspected. The PATRIOT Act (uniting and strengthening America by providing appropriate tools required to intercept and obstruct terrorism) was signed into law about 5 weeks after 9/11. The foreign intelligence surveillance Act (FISA) was also revised significantly. Albeit some of the provisions in the amended acts and the new legislation being acceptable, most of the counterterrorism policies and tactics raised a lot controversy on the legality, morality and efficacy grounds (Adams, Nordhaus and Shellenberger). Most of the tactics were considered to be going against the spirit of the First Amendment and other constitutional provisions. Some of the controversial counterterrorism tactics are discussed below.
2.1 Expanded search and surveillance tools
The enactment of the PATRIOT Act and the revision of FISA marked a new era in the government surveillance on citizens as well as foreigners. The legislative changes essentially lowered/eliminated the threshold requirements law enforcement agencies must meet to search, surveil and seize the assets of American citizens that are suspected to be involved in terrorism (Adams, Nordhaus and Shellenberger, p.16). In addition, the shift in the said legal provisions expanded the legal surveillance tools previously available. This effectively allowed the investigation agencies to use such tools as wiretapping and reading emails of suspected American citizens and thus spy on Americans. The National Security Agency had a leeway, under executive order, to monitor communication where NSA believes that one of the parties is foreign (even if is in the U.S) and to search the property of a person suspected of terrorism all without a warrant. This terrorist surveillance program instituted by the Bush’s administration was an infringement on the privacy of Americans, which led to several civil suits against the government.
2.2 Ethnic/Religious and Behavior profiling
After the 9/11 attacks by Al-Qaeda, the FBI and other law enforcement authorities used race and religion as a parameter in determining who to investigate or question. Members of the Islamic religion and Arabic origin were treated with suspension and even became victims of unwarranted harassment and hate crimes. Law enforcement spied on Muslim students and other Muslim Americans. At the airports, customs and border patrol units questioned travelers on their national origin, religion and immigration status. In addition, there are also reports that visa applicants from some citizens of some countries, especially from Asia, Africa and the Arabic world, as well as from those with Islam names were denied without legal merit. The FBI also attempted to force people to spy on members of their communities and religion, particularly the Arabic and Asian communities and Islamic religion (Luker; Rhoads; Sohrabji).
The government introduced several programs such as the special registration run by the customs and immigration units, the interview project by the FBI and computer assisted passenger screening. These programs were aimed at curtailing those that the authorities considered would most probably carry out a terrorist attack. The special registration project required the male Muslim immigrants to undergo special registration and eventually a number of them were deported on the basis of very minor immigration violations. Those who were not deported were required to regularly report to immigration authorities. These programs raised a lot of debate regarding their constitutionality and morality
The racial/ethnic and religious profiling was widely condemned as a violation of human rights and discrimination bases on race and religion. The profiling sent against the provisions of the 14th amendment that prohibited discrimination on any ground (Adams, Nordhaus and Shellenberger, p.23). This tactic was counterproductive, rather than facilitate cooperation from the Muslims and the Arabic and Asian communities it caused rebellion and mass protests. In fact, it pushed many young people of the said communities into terrorism in a bid to fight the injustice and discrimination.
It is also essential to mention that the profiling has generated both false positive, as well as, negative outcomes that have had profound implication. A case in point is that of Brandon Mayfield who was both investigated and detained by the FBI simply because he had converted to Islam some years before the Madrid bomb attack and that his fingerprints were somewhat similar to those left by the suspect in the said incidence. Eventually Mayfield turned out to be innocent and he sued the government leading to the government paying him 2 million dollars in an out of court settlement (Adams, Nordhaus and Shellenberger, p.25). A false negative outcome of the profiling has occurred when terrorists have recruited attackers from communities and religions that are “less expected” to participate in terrorism. In fact, because of the profiling, terrorist organizations have engineered recruitment activities targeting communities and religions that are “less suspected”. For instance, the shoe bomber Richard Red was a British national with Jamaican and Caucasian origin and David Headley took up a Judeo-Christian name. As such, racial/ethnic profiling has largely not achieved the intended outcomes and as earlier stated it has also inspired a shift in recruitment strategy of terrorist organizations (Adams, Nordhaus and Shellenberger, p.26).
2.3 Enhanced interrogation
Following the 9/11 attacks the investigative authorities (FBI and CIA) embraced “enhanced interrogation techniques” in a bid to gather more information and even get confessions from terrorist suspects. The techniques employed in interrogating suspects include the water-board, walling, wall standing, facial hold, stress positions, attention grasp, facial/insult slap, insects placed in a confinement, cramped confinement and sleep deprivation. The argument of the authorities and the proponents of these techniques are that terrorists and extremists are hardened and not forthcoming with information hence the need for enhanced interrogation techniques.
In 2002, the Assistant Attorney General, Jay Bybee, and his deputy, John Yoo advised the white house on the condition under which the enhanced interrogation techniques could be used and why they were legally accepted. Critics of this counterterrorism tactic argued that the interrogation techniques were equivalent to torture, which is against the United Nation convention on torture. On the other hand, the government legal advisors argued that the when used in moderation, the probability of the techniques causing long-term psychological and physical damage was low. However, even the short-term effects of the cruel techniques such as the use of electrical shock and the water-board, are a significance violation on the U.N convention on torture. They also stated that the techniques were used as in the military’s survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SARE) training and had no negative effect on the military men and women.
2.4 The detention and prosecution of Terrorism suspects
Following the 9/11 attacks President Bush’s administration, through an executive order, sought to treat terrorism suspects as “unlawful combatants” rather than criminals or prisoners of war. This effectively meant that the government could be detain suspects for longer before prosecution and prosecuted in military tribunals. This was in pursuant the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) Act. AUMF allowed the head of state employ “all necessary and appropriate force against those persons, organizations or nations he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons” (Hathaway et al., p.3). AUMF did not expressly give the president the power to detain the suspects but was interpreted to mean that the president could anything to punish those who were involved in planning and executing the 9/11 attacks and to protect America against future attacks.
Many human rights activists and lawyers of the detainees have taken the government to court on this very issue. This has resulted to the detention of the suspects in foreign soil, where the laws of the U.S are not applicable. Recently (2012) the government enacted the National Defense Authorization Act that expressly authorized the president to detain terrorism suspects (Hathaway et al., p.4). The law also allows the government to indefinitely detain the terrorism suspects without being tried as a preventive measure. In addition, the 2005 Military Commission Act allowed the military tribunals to admit rumors and information gathered through enhanced interrogation techniques as evidence. The indefinite detention of terrorism suspects is against the stipulation international law on war detention. The same international laws limits the use of military force and detention to situations where the security council has authorized, there is a consent by the host state, and it is necessary for purposes of self defense. The detentions should only go on until hostility is over, and if the detainees are not charged, they ought to be released. The U.S is signatory to the intentional human rights laws and thus should comply (Hathaway et al., p.4).
3.0 Effective and friendly alternatives in war on terror
There is no significant evidence that the controversial counterterrorism tactics could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. In addition, there is no evidence that counterterrorism measures have significantly deterred terrorists. There is also no evidence that the tactics are more effective than the previously used tactics. Instead, there is enormous evidence that the counterterrorism measures have done harm on a greater extent and have been so far been counterproductive. Since the introduction of the discussed counterterrorism measures after the 9/11 attacks the terrorist organizations have developed new recruitment tactics and retaliatory attacks (Adams, Nordhaus and Shellenberger, p.4-5). As such, the war on terror ought to be pursued through other less controversial measures.
The alternative approach in the war on terror that has been suggested is counterinsurgency rather than counterterrorism. Counterinsurgency includes the civic, political, economic, paramilitary and military actions by the authorities to defeat insurgencies (Rineheart; Cortright, p.208). Albeit being a slow approach, counterinsurgency is more effective because it is all-encompassing and targets the hearts and minds with the aim to gain legitimacy in the public eye and to promote good governance (Rineheart). Intelligence sharing and cooperation among global police agencies is vital in fighting terror. The political front is the best and most effective front in which to wage war on terror.
More often than not, terrorist organizations are born out of political dissent and thus political strategy is necessary in winning the war. It has been argued that there is the need to open up the democratic space to as an alternative to aggrieved parties to voice their political demands and thus reduce the probability of the said parties to turn to militancy and extremism. Participation in making of political decisions is essential in the promoting democracy, as well as, human rights. The said freedom of expression and participation could help to bring security and order (Cortright, p.224).
Another important pillar of counterinsurgency is the expansion of socioeconomic opportunities. Lack of these opportunities has proved to a very good breeding ground for extremism and subsequently terrorism and thus the need to promote equitable distribution of resources and sustainable development. The wealthy nations like the U.S could use their resources to foster development and to create socioeconomic opportunities in Muslim world. The increased investment and trade opportunities could go a long way in reducing poverty, which has been implicated in the causation of terrorism (Cortright, p.225).
In conclusion, the war on terror is likely to be lost because of the counterterrorism measures that have been employed since the 9/11 attacks. There is growing evidence that the said measures have not born the intended fruits and instead have been counterproductive. The war on terror is ultimately not a military war but a war for the minds and hearts of Muslims. The values of the founding fathers (equality, rule of law and justice) provide the necessary tools in the fight on terror and thus should not be assaulted in the name of security of the nation. As such, the war on terror should be demilitarized, and international cooperation should be encouraged.
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