We must make war on terrorists abroad and be willing to give up many of our freedoms to allow the authorities to fight terrorists here in America.
Elsewhere on this website, I have suggested that President Bush made a tragic mistake by declaring the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as acts of war rather than crimes. Traditionally, wars are a conflict between nations, although Americans have been quick to declare a War of Poverty, a War on Drugs, and now, a War on Terror. We even speak of a War on Women and a War on Christmas. War seems never far from our minds, when war, in almost all cases, is the most costly, least constructive solution to the problems we all face.
Clearly, we have had some difficulty identifying our enemy in the War on Terror, since there is no Terror Republic or Union of Terror. So the War of Terror initially identified Iraq as the enemy even though they had no involvement in the 9/11 attacks, nor were they planning to make war on the USA.
Some in the USA were willing to shift the enemy to the Islamic religion, and some Muslims in the Middle East were willing to support that reframing, calling themselves the only True Islamic Caliphate.
Soon the world was confronted with a movement known in the Middle East and parts of Europe as Daesh–often translated as “to trample and crush.” It is intended as an insult and a denial of the nationhood suggested by the the term Islamic State in the abbreviations, ISIS or ISIL. Ironically, whenever we use the terms ISIS or ISIL, we are granting statehood to the terrorist movement known as Daesh by those more directly confronting it.
Was the Problem Real?
Terrorism is real, especially in the Middle East and less extensively in Europe. However, the chance that you will be killed by “Islamic terrorists” in the USA is dwarfed by the likelihood of your dying at the hands of “Christian terrorists,” drive-by shootings, drunk drivers, lightning, or prescription-drug overdoses. While the risk is above zero, it is tiny.
One of the early consequences of the declaration of war on terrorism was the Patriot Act, passed by Congress on October 26, 2001, with the official title of “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.” It was and remains controversial. Here are just a few of the actions allowed by the Act.
The Patriot Act allows “sneak and peek” searches of homes and businesses without the knowledge, let alone permission, or those who live or work there. Libraries can be forced to tell government agents what books you have taken from the library–and they are prohibited for letting you know that happened. The Act provides for sophisticated monitoring of telephones and emails.
“Suspected” terrorists can be arrested and held without an attorney indefinitely. If such suspects are brought to trial, those trials can be held in secret military tribunals. There is no guarantee of a trial by jury, no right to examine evidence, and an absense of other rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
The Operation TIPS program initially encouraged Americans to report anyone they thought might be a terrorist, though that program has evidently been cancelled. However, this illustrates the paranoia and hysteria engendered by putting the defense of terrorism on a wartime footing.
Some law enforcenent officials say the provisions of the Patriot Act have allowed them to prevent some acts of terrorism. Obviously, I am not in a position to verify or deny such claims, but I would point out that criminal acts, even acts of terrorism, have been dealt with effectively prior to the Patriot Act. In an earlier post on the US Invasion of Iraq in 2003, I reminded us of the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. In that instance, President Clinton chose to frame the attack as a crime, and the existing law enforcement agents went into action. Eventually, the attackers were identified, arrested, tried, and punished. No Constitutional rights were set aside in that instance.
No one wants us to be defenseless against foreign or domestic acts of terror, but framing that defense as a War on Terror creates more problems than it solves. Except for the creation of a War on Terrorism, there would been no justification for invading Iraq, no destruction of Saddam Hussein’s heavy-handed control of radicals there, and very likely no Daesh. Thousands of American deaths and countless thousands of Iraqi deaths would have been avoided. It is hard to fathom the amount of devastation that has resulted from the “War on Terror”–so far.
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