17 Years of the War On Terrorism

Seventeen years after the 9/11 attacks, it is time to ask: Will America ever politically recover?  Politicians have exploited those day to seize so much power and launch attacks on so many foreign nations. Will this constitutional travesty never end?

This is also the 15th anniversary of the publication of Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace To Rid the World of Evil.   The last sentence of the first chapter asked: “What are the prospects for the survival of American liberty from an endless war against an elusive, often ill-defined enemy?”

Here is a link to the transcript of my C-SPAN Booknotes interview on that book.

Here is a link to the Introduction chapter of Terrorism & Tyranny.

Here are the reviews the book spurred.

Here’s some of the epigrams from the book:

*The Patriot  Act treats every citizen like a suspected terrorist and every federal agent like a proven angel.

*Most of the homeland security successes in the war on terrorism have been farces or frauds.

*Nothing happened on 9/11 that made the federal government more trustworthy.

*The worse government fails, the less privacy citizens supposedly deserve.

*The U.S. government is far more efficient at making enemies than at defending Americans.

*Killing foreigners is no substitute for protecting Americans.

*Perpetual war inevitably begets perpetual repression. It is impossible to destroy all alleged enemies of freedom everywhere without also destroying freedom in the United States.

*A lie that is accepted by a sufficient number of ignorant voters becomes a political truth.

*Citizens should distrust politicians who distrust freedom.

*In the long run, people have more to fear from governments than from terrorists. Terrorists come and go, but power-hungry politicians will always be with us.

*The word ‘terrorism’ must not become an incantation that miraculously razes all limits on government power.

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Following are some early skeptical articles on the War on Terrorism:

Investor’s Business Daily October 2, 2001

Government Trust Grows Despite Its Inability to Protect

by JAMES BOVARD

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Americans’ trust in government is soaring after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The number of people who trust the government to do the right thing has doubled since last year, and now is more than three times higher than in 1994. According to a Washington Post poll released on Sept. 27, 64% of Americans now “trust the government in Washington to do what is right” either “just about always” or “most of the time.”

Ronald Brownstein, a Los Angeles Times columnist, declared on Sept. 19: “At the moment the first fireball seared the crystalline Manhattan sky last week, the entire impulse to distrust government that has become so central to U.S. politics seemed instantly anachronistic.” Brownstein’s headline – “The Government, Once Scorned, Becomes Savior” – captured much of the establishment media’s response to the attacks.

It is puzzling that trust in government would soar after the biggest intelligence/law enforcement failure since the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. At least in the first weeks after the attack, the federal government’s prestige appears higher than at any time since the start of the Vietnam War.

The Post poll also revealed that the disastrous attacks of Sept. 11 greatly increased Americans’ confidence that government will protect them against terrorists. From 1995 through 1997, the results consistently showed that only between 35% and 37% of Americans had “a great deal” or “a good amount” of confidence that the feds would deter domestic attacks by terrorists. In hindsight, the public was far more prescient than were the Washington policy-makers who chose not to make defending against such attacks a high priority. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, confidence in government’s ability to deter terrorist attacks has soared – clocking in at 66%, almost double the percentage in the most recent previous Washington Post poll on this question in June 1997.

The bigger the catastrophe, the more credulous many people seem to become. The worse government failed to protect people in the past, the more certain most people become that government will protect them in the future.

Prominent liberals are capitalizing on the new mood to call for razing the restraints on government power. Wall Street Journal columnist Al Hunt says it’s “time to declare a moratorium on government-bashing…. For the foreseeable future, the federal government is going to invest or spend more, regulate more and exercise more control over our lives,” he rejoices.

“There is no real debate over expansion (of government power) in general.” Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland snipped, “Ideologues on the right saw government as an evil to be rolled back.” In a breathtaking leap of logic, he reasons: “The terror assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon … should profoundly shake the less-is-more philosophy that was the driving force for the tax-cut politics of Bush and conservative Republicans.”

But there is no evidence that Osama bin Laden targeted the U.S. because of ire over George Bush’s proposal to reduce the estate tax. Hoagland’s effort is reminiscent of liberal efforts after the assassination of John F. Kennedy to paint right-wingers everywhere as unindicted co-conspirators in Kennedy’s killing.

It is difficult to understand how the failures of the CIA, the FBI, and the Federal Aviation Administration could generate a blank check for all other federal agencies to exert more control over 270 million Americans. The success of the disastrous attacks of Sept. 11 were due far more to gross negligence and a shortage of competence than to a shortage of power. The federal government needs sufficient power to protect Americans against terrorist attacks and to harshly punish the perpetrators of the recent attacks. But such power shouldn’t place a golden crown on the head of every would-be bureaucratic dictator, from the lowest village zoning enforcer to the most deluded federal agency chieftain.

The blind glorification of government, now popular, puts almost all liberties at grave risk. At least for the time being, people have lost any interest in government’s batting average – either for actually protecting citizens or for abusing power. The best hope for the survival and defense of liberty is that enough Americans will recall the type of history lessons that public schools never teach.

At this time of national crisis, we must forget neither our political heritage nor the inherent limits of any governmental machinery. Government has a vital role in defending Americans from deadly foreign threats. But nothing that happened on Sept. 11 or since changed the fundamental nature of American government.

James Bovard is the author of “Feeling Your Pain: The Explosion & Abuse of Government Power in the Clinton-Gore Years”(St. Martin’s Press, 2000).

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from a Reason magazine . In late September 2001, Reason magazine asked a handful of folks “to discuss which civil lliberties they thought were most at risk in what has been called America’s first 21st century war.” They published the responses in an article entitled, Guarding the Home Front: Will civil liberties be a casualty in the War on Terrorism?” in their December 2001 issue.

Here was my take a few weeks after 9/11:

Lessons Never Taught Jim Bovard

The blind glorification of government currently prevailing puts almost all liberties at grave risk. Most of the media and most of the poilticians are stampeding behind the notion that the greatest danger is any limit on federal power. The Justice Department wish list of remedies invokes the danger of terrorism to seek sweeping new powers to be used against all classes of alleged criminals.

The determination of some members of the Bush administration to use the terrorist attacks to wage wars against a laundry list of “rogue nations” could mean that aggressive military action continues indefinitely–along with the pretext to suppress Americans’ freedom of speech and movement. And if there is another successful terrorist attack that kills many Americans, the pressure for severe crackdowns will probably be irresistible–regardless of how badly government agencies screwed up in failing to prevent the attack. At least for the time being, people have lost any interest in government’s batting average–either for actually protecting citizens or for abusing power.

The best hope for the survival and defense of liberty is that enough Americans will recall the history lessons that public schools never teach.

Jim Bovard is the author, most recently, of Feeling Your Pain: The Explosion & Abuse of Government Power in the Clinton-Gore Years (St.Martin’s Press).

USA TODAY, January 10, 2002

 Don’t bed down with tyrants to fight terrorism

By James Bovard

President Bush recently declared: “So long as anybody’s terrorizing established governments, there needs to be a war.” Bush rightfully sought international support for the campaign to put the al-Qaeda terrorist network out of business. But the war on terrorism threatens to become a license for tyranny.

The United Nations is concerned that an expansive call for governments to crack down on terrorism — a crime that is not clearly defined — is spurring a surge of oppression around the world. Los Angeles Times writer William Orme detailed some of the ways governments are exploiting the new war to repress their citizens:

The Cuban government, as part of its war on terrorism, added a new law allowing the death penalty for anyone who uses the Internet to incite political violence.

Zimbabwe’s war on terrorism includes a proposal to criminalize any critical comment about President-dictator Robert Mugabe.

Syria bragged to the U.N. that financial support for terrorists was effectively curtailed by the absence of any private banking system or independent charities, Orme reported. In other words, a government that totally destroys freedom expects to be applauded as an anti-terrorist superstar.

Bacre Waly Ndiaye, a chief U.N. human-rights officer, recently complained: “In some countries, non-violent activities have been considered as terrorism, and excessive measures have been taken to suppress or restrict individual rights, including the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial, freedom from torture, privacy rights, freedom of expression and assembly, and the right to seek asylum.”

Here at home

Many of these complaints, in fact, apply to the actions of the Bush administration. A new law decimates individual privacy by giving the FBI the de facto right to vacuum up practically anyone’s e-mail. Permanent resident aliens who publicly criticize the U.S. government’s war on terrorism can be banned from re-entering the United States. Some have floated the suggestion that permitting the torture of suspects could help avert future terrorist attacks. And Bush’s executive order for military tribunals threatens to bring unsavory aspects of Third World “justice” to American shores.

A myopic focus on private-sector criminals risks giving a green light to more dangerous government abuses. A core fallacy of the war on terrorism — as opposed to attacking and destroying al-Qaeda — is that terrorism is worse than anything else imaginable. Unfortunately, governments have committed far worse abuses than al-Qaeda or any other terrorist cabal.

Official murderers

Mass murder was the most memorable achievement of some 20th-century governments. The Black Book of Communism, a 1997 scholarly French compendium, detailed how 85 million to 100 million people came to die at the hands of communist regimes in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia and elsewhere. In Death by Government, R.J. Rummel declared that some 170 million people were killed in one of “the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners.”

By raising terrorist attacks to the pinnacle of political evil, the war on terrorism implicitly sanctifies whatever tactic governments use in the name of repressing terrorism. But, in the long run, people have far more to fear from governments than from terrorists.

Bush’s labeling of attacks on any “established government” as a justification of counterterrorism ignores the fact that some governments are little more than criminal conspiracies against their victims. The United States was created as a result of popular uprisings and attacks on an established government that was far less oppressive than many current regimes in Africa and Asia.

The Bush administration must find a way to fight terrorism without sanctifying tyranny. The word “terrorism” must not become an incantation that miraculously razes all existing limits on government power. The fact that governments such as Syria and Zimbabwe can justify their oppression by invoking the war against terrorism is an embarrassment to anyone who both opposes terrorism and favors human rights.

James Bovard is the author of Lost Rights and Freedom in Chains.

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Playboy April 2002

HEADLINE: Terrorizing the bill of rights.

BYLINE: BOVARD, JAMES

How do you find a needle in a haystack? Set fire to the haystack.

Following the September 11 attacks, Congress joined the largest manhunt in history by passing a 342-page bill called the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. The bill’s acronym, USA PATRIOT, revealed the depth of feeling, if not thought, that had gone into the measure. In support of the bill, House Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner declared, “The first civil right of every American is to be free of domestic terrorism.”

USA PATRIOT rewrote laws that had been put in place to curb past government abuses. It gave Attorney General John Ashcroft powers that would have been unthinkable a few months before. Lawmakers claimed they were bringing the Bill of Rights up to date, allowing law enforcement to operate efficiently in the age of the cell phone and laptop.

Thanks to USA PATRIOT and the flurry of executive orders that have followed, our government now can more easily conduct secret trials, listen to privileged conversations between prisoners and their counsel, imprison people indefinitely on minor charges without even confirming they are being held, eavesdrop on any telephone that a suspect may use (including those in public places such as airports), sort through thousands of private e-mails while promising not to read “content” (a term left undefined), conduct “sneak and peak” searches for physical evidence without notifying the suspect at the time, rummage through school records of foreign students and appoint bank clerks and employers as deputy counterterrorists (with no training). The CIA and other intelligence groups have been allowed back into the domestic arena. All manner of checks and balances, of oversight, have been tossed onto the bonfire.

In some cases, agencies seeking wiretaps in criminal investigations no longer need establish probable cause. A month after Bush signed USA PATRIOT, the administration went even further. It proposed “fill-in-the-blank” wiretaps on suspects when federal agents do not know the person’s name. The Bush administration also wanted to allow agents up to 72 hours after conducting an “emergency” wiretap or search to request ex post facto permission from a judge for the intrusion.

USA PATRIOT is a classic bait and switch. Although its stated purpose is to defeat domestic terrorism, the government’s new power reaches far beyond box cutters. For starters, the law defines domestic terrorism as activities involving “acts dangerous to human life” that, among other things, may “appear to be intended to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” Perhaps the lawmakers saw only images of airliners flying into skyscrapers, but the language is broad enough to encompass many less-extreme activities. It may take only a few scuffles at a rally to transform a protest group into a terrorist entity. The new thinking would allow the government to drop the hammer on environmental extremists (even those who are not spiking trees), anti-trade fanatics (even those who don’t trash Starbucks) and anti-abortion protesters (even those who don’t attack doctors). Even if the violence at a rally is initiated by a government agent provocateur–as happened at some Sixties antiwar protests–the feds could still reap the power to treat all of a group’s members as terrorists.

And it will not be necessary to have participated in a rowdy street demonstration to be indicted under this act. If you provide a demonstrator with a place to sleep, you could be found guilty of aiding and abetting terrorism. Likewise, if you donate to an organization that may in the future be classified as a terrorist entity–including Greenpeace, the Gun Owners of America and Operation Rescue–you could face prison. Are such concerns far-fetched? Unfortunately, no. The Philadelphia Inquirer examined terrorism prosecutions from 1997 to 2001 (before the definition of terrorism was expanded). Among the supposed acts of terror were a tenant who impersonated an FBI agent in a call to his landlord protesting an eviction, an airline passenger who got drunk on a flight from China and demanded more liquor in an unruly fashion and a guy who asked his shrink for medicine because voices were telling him to kill George W.

Many of the bill’s provisions are not bound by definitions of terrorist. New powers can be used against those suspected of breaking a criminal law, be it wearing the fur of an endangered species or being less than truthful to an IRS agent. As for the roving wiretaps and e-mail surveillance, you don’t even have to be a suspect to have your right of privacy sacrificed.

The idea that sacrificed civil rights are the price we pay for security in times of crisis is hardly new. Such thinking seeks to justify the perpetual detention of terrorist suspects and the incarceration of those who criticize homeland security or disagree with Ashcroft’s designation of certain groups as terrorists. There are historical precedents. President John Adams used sedition laws to lock up dissenting newspaper editors and the occasional congressman. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. World War I gave us the Espionage Act, which made it illegal to “willfully utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language about the form of government of the United States.” And the list goes on. How far will we go?

The Bill of Rights does not distinguish between citizens and immigrants; it protects individual rights, not those of a privileged class. But the Attorney General now needs only to certify that he has “reasonable grounds to believe that the alien is engaged in any activity that endangers the national security” to detain an alien. But, we were proud to learn, those who are in custody still have some rights. When the Justice Department refused to disclose the names of its detainees, Ashcroft explained that the silence was necessary to protect their privacy.

Speaking before Congress, Ashcroft defended the secrecy of military tribunals thusly: “Are we supposed to read them their Miranda rights, hire a flamboyant defense lawyer, bring them back to the U. S. to create a new cable network of Osama TV or what have you, and provide a worldwide platform from which propaganda can be developed?” Well, yes. Better that than taking them into a soccer stadium and executing them without a trial, without evidence–or, worse, with secret evidence. The Bill of Rights was designed to protect individuals (not just citizens) from such overzealousness–or is it arrogance?

USA PATRIOT treats every American as a potential suspect, every federal agent as an angel. It asks us to ignore such dark episodes as the surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr., Cointelpro, the murder of Black Panther Fred Hampton and the Red files of the McCarthy era. Ashcroft scoffs at criticism and says simply, “Trust me.” But already, the definition of the enemy has changed. In the hearing before Congress, the attorney general chastised potential critics, saying, “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends.”

The Bush doctrine that “you’re with us or with the terrorists” has come home.

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USA TODAY
August 14, 2003

By accident or design, Bush hyped case for war
BYLINE: James Bovard

President Bush, in his July 30 press conference, declared: “I take personal responsibility for everything I say, of course. Absolutely.” Bush made this declaration in response to a question about wrong information regarding Iraq’s attempt to purchase uranium in Niger. He hoped it would end a controversy that is eating away like an acid drip on his administration’s credibility. But the “16 words” — as Bush defenders characterize his reference to the attempted uranium purchases in his State of the Union address — were not the most brazen example of trampling the truth on the road to war.

From January onward, Bush constantly portrayed the United States as an innocent victim of Saddam Hussein’s imminent aggression. His repeated claims that war was being “forced upon us” was the biggest, most consistent scam Bush used to convince the American people that their government had no alternative but to invade another nation. Examples:

* Jan. 28, in his State of the Union address: “If war is forced upon us, we will fight in a just cause and by just means, sparing, in every way we can, the innocent. And if war is forced upon us, we will fight with the full force and might of the United States military, and we will prevail.”

* Feb. 10, in a speech to the National Religious Broadcasters in Nashville: “If war is forced upon us — and I say ‘forced upon us’ because use of the military is not my first choice — I hug the mothers and the widows of those who may have lost their life in the name of peace and freedom.”

* Feb. 20, at a Kennesaw, Ga., school: “If war is forced upon us, we will liberate the people of Iraq from a cruel and violent dictator.”

* Feb. 26, at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington: “If war is forced upon us by Iraq’s refusal to disarm, we will meet an enemy who . . . is capable of any crime.”

The longer Bush continues warring, the more vital it is for Americans to learn the lessons of the Iraq war. Simply because Saddam was evil did not purify this war against Iraq. Certainly, a military victory does not automatically absolve the Bush administration of the falsehoods it told prior to launching an unprovoked and unnecessary war. If victory is justice’s only measure, then the U.S. government could lie about almost any other government and — after the U.S. military assaulted the country into submission — it would be another triumph for “the American way.”

Shortly after his inauguration, Bush joked to a crowd of Washington insiders: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and those are the ones you need to concentrate on.” It would be naive to assume that all of Bush’s false statements are accidents or oversights. White House senior policy adviser Karl Rove explained to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward how the war on terrorism would be judged by the American public: “Everything will be measured by results. The victor is always right. History ascribes to the victor qualities that may or may not actually have been there. And similarly to the defeated.”

Lies regarding the use of government power are almost never harmless errors. The more lies officials are allowed to tell, the less chance citizens have of controlling the government. And the more power a politician seeks, the more dangerous his lies become.

The fact that Bush went to war against Iraq based on false charges and a deceptive strategy is the key to knowing what to expect from the remainder of the Bush presidency. There is no reason to presume that Bush was more deceptive and manipulative on the war on Iraq than he is on the war on terrorism or other subjects. Whether Bush and his appointees will be held personally liable for their falsehoods is a grave test for American democracy.
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James Bovard is the author of the forthcoming Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to Rid the World of Evil.

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USA TODAY
October 9, 2002

Moral high ground not won on battlefield

BYLINE: James Bovard

As the Bush administration raises prospects of war with Iraq, USA TODAY asked writers to explore critical military, diplomatic and political factors involved and the possible consequences. This is part of that occasional series.
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Freedom is one of President Bush’s favorite reasons for going to war. In his September speech to the United Nations, Bush proclaimed: “Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause and a great strategic goal.” A day earlier, in his 9/11 anniversary speech from New York, Bush announced: “We fight, not to impose our will, but to defend ourselves and extend the blessings of freedom.” On Monday night, he promised that the USA would “create the institutions of liberty in a unified Iraq.”

Bush justifies a military invasion of Iraq based on his assertion that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the freedom of the world. But a desire to spread freedom does not automatically confer a license to kill.

The USA should not pre-emptively attack Iraq unless it wants to inspire similar attacks in the coming years by other governments on alleged threats far from their borders. Wars are far more likely to liberate governments to use unlimited force than to free citizens from oppression.

As much or more than any previous president, Bush glorifies American military power. On June 18, he informed Congress that the “Department of Defense has become the most powerful force for freedom the world has ever seen.” In a speech a few weeks earlier at West Point, Bush proclaimed: “Wherever we carry it, the American flag will stand not only for power but for freedom.”

He talks as if freedom is personified by American military dominance. In a Fourth of July speech, Bush announced: “Once again, history has called America to use our overwhelming power in the defense of freedom. And we’ll do just that.” After bragging about American victories in Afghanistan during his January State of the Union address, Bush proclaimed: “We have shown freedom’s power.”

Bush’s own words indicate that he sees the conflict between the United States and the terrorists and/or Saddam as a simple question of evil vs. the greatest force for goodness in the history of the world. This dogmatic attitude, combined with his rosy-colored view of military force, encourages Bush to believe that only good things happen when he orders the U.S. military to kill bad guys.

Historically, U.S. bombs have not always been a wonderful fertilizer for freedom. Few recent U.S. interventions have been followed by the blessings of liberty.

* Operation Desert Storm in 1991 pulverized Iraq but did nothing to free the Iraqi people. At the war’s end, the first Bush administration effectively blessed Saddam’s crushing of revolts by the Kurds in the country’s north and the Shiite Muslims in its south.

* Operation Restore Hope in 1992-93 resulted in U.S. troops battling the forces of a Somali warlord — killing hundreds of Somalis but suffering 18 high-profile casualties that devastated the Clinton administration’s image. After the USA withdrew, Somalia reverted to chaos, and its misery is unabated.

* The 1994 Operation Restore Democracy invasion of Haiti sent 20,000 U.S. troops to tidy up one of this hemisphere’s most repressive countries. After they left, the old political violence resurfaced, and Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whom the U.S. government put back in power, is now being compared to “Papa Doc” Duvalier by Haitians bitter about oppression and corruption.

* Operation Deliberate Force in 1995 featured heavy U.S. and NATO bombing of Serbian forces in Bosnia. After the bombing ended, a fragile peace agreement was crafted, and U.S. troops remain in the area. But the situation continues to be a powder keg and, once foreign troops leave, the locals will likely begin butchering each other with all of the enthusiasm they showed in the early 1990s.

* Operation Allied Force in 1999 bombed Belgrade, Yugoslavia, into submission purportedly to liberate Kosovo. Though Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic raised the white flag, ethnic cleansing continued — with the minority Serbs being slaughtered and their churches burned to the ground in the same way the Serbs previously oppressed the ethnic Albanians.

Now, Bush’s claim of “liberating” Afghanistan is premature at best. The Afghan puppet government is one assassin’s bullet away from collapse. Most of the country remains either lawless or under the control of warlords, some of them brutal and bloodthirsty.

Bush declared last month that “there is a line in our time . . . between the defenders of human liberty and those who seek to master the minds and souls of others.” But if the USA attacks the people of any foreign regime that refuses to swear allegiance to the latest U.S. definition of liberty, then the world will see America as the aggressor shackling the minds and wills of people around the world. The more nations America attacks in the name of liberty, the more millions around the globe will perceive America as the greatest threat to both their peace and their ability to run their own lives.

At an Aug. 5 Republican fundraiser, Bush declared: “We’re fighting the first war of the 21st century. I say ‘the first war’ — there’s no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in the homeland.”

Perpetual war will inevitably mean perpetual repression. When Bush attacks foreign nations, his administration will also be striking against American freedoms.

On the homefront, the Bush administration “defends” freedom by destroying the power of judges to release innocent detainees, by refusing to inform Congress of how new federal powers are being used and by seeking to impose an iron curtain of secrecy around federal agencies. Not so long ago, Attorney General John Ashcroft proclaimed that “those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty . . . give ammunition to America’s enemies.”

The USA will betray the cause of freedom if it attacks every tinhorn despot and group of malcontents who disparage American ideals. Rather than seek to whip the world into an anti-Saddam frenzy prior to launching a new war, the Bush administration should admit that dropping 15,000-pound “Daisy Cutter” bombs on foreign lands does not automatically create political utopias. The United States’ military superiority does not confer a magic wand on its presidents to solve all of the problems in every corner of the globe.

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James Bovard, the author of Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty, is finishing a book on the war on terrorism.

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Los Angeles Times

A terrorist on every corner?

February 08, 2006|JAMES BOVARD | JAMES BOVARD is the author of “Attention Deficit Democracy” and eight other books.

PRESIDENT BUSH and Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales insist that the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping of American citizens is a necessary “terrorist surveillance program.” And polls show that most Americans support permitting the government to tap the phone calls and e-mails of those considered “suspicious.”

But what exactly does that mean? A close look suggests that the feds’ definition of a “suspected terrorist” may not meet the laugh test.

In the mass roundup of more than 1,200 people shortly after 9/11, for example, it took very little for a Muslim or Arab illegal immigrant to be considered a “suspected terrorist,” according to a 2003 report by the Justice Department’s inspector general. Arab students were locked up as suspected terrorists for working at pizza parlors (in violation of their student visas); a Pakistani immigrant was jailed after attracting attention because he and his Queens housemates let their grass grow long and hung their underwear out to dry on the fence; and one Muslim was arrested because “he had taken a roll of film to be developed and the film had multiple pictures of the World Trade Center on it but no other Manhattan sites,” the inspector general noted. Some FBI agents were even instructed to look in phone books to find Arab- or Muslim-sounding names, according to Newsweek columnist Steven Brill.

The Department of Homeland Security in May 2003 urged 18,000 local and state police departments to treat critics of the war on terror as potential terrorists, according to a confidential DHS memo made public in 2004. Suicide bombers, the feds told local lawmen, could be detected by such traits as a “pale face from recent shaving of beard”; they “may appear to be in a ‘trance’ “; their eyes may “appear to be focused and vigilant”; and their clothing may either be “out of sync with the weather” or just “loose.”

The Transportation Security Administration is also extremely arbitrary in how it designates names for its “no-fly” list. There are an estimated 70,000 names in the registry — many of them stuck there for reasons that even the government cannot explain. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) were placed on the list. Everyone with the common name of “David Nelson” is treated like a would-be bomber — as are 4-year-old children unlucky enough to have a name matching one on the list.

Since December, according to media reports, TSA agents have been chatting up airline passengers to determine if they are terrorists, looking for such warning signs as “involuntary physical and psychological reactions” — including whether people appear stressed out, frightened or deceptive. The number of people who fear flying outnumber Al Qaeda associates by at least a few thousand-fold, yet visible anxiety will be enough for the TSA to justify taking people aside for far more intensive examination.

And the Pentagon has its own catchall definitions of suspicious and/or terrorist-related behavior. Its “counterintelligence field activity” program, ostensibly set up to protect domestic military bases and personnel, has been covertly gathering information on Americans who have done nothing more suspicious than protest against the Iraq war, including at last year’s antiwar rally at Hollywood and Vine. Names gathered in such fishnets are being added to a Pentagon database involving the “terrorism threat warning process,” according to Newsweek.

When Americans hear Bush say “terrorism surveillance program,” they should recognize that the crosshairs may very well be on them. The more expansive and arbitrary the definition of “suspected terrorist,” the more of our rights the feds can violate. Invoking the word “terrorism” must not raze all limits on the government’s power to target citizens who pose no threat to public safety.

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USA TODAY, July 6, 2015
We need to know: Did Saudis help fund 9/11 attacks?

by James Bovard

Classified 28 pages of 9/11 report need to be released.

Do Americans have the right to learn whether a foreign government helped finance the 9/11 attacks? A growing number of congressmen and senators are demanding that a 28-page portion of a 2002 congressional report finally be declassified. The Obama administration appears to be resisting, and the stakes are huge. What is contained in those pages could radically change Americans’ perspective of the War on Terror.

The congressional Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001, completed its investigation in December 2002. But the Bush administration stonewalled the release of the 838-page report until mid-2003 — after its invasion of Iraq was a fait accompli — and totally suppressed a key portion. Former senator Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the investigation, declared that “there is compelling evidence in the 28 pages that one or more foreign governments was involved in assisting some of the hijackers in their preparation for 9/11.” Graham later indicated that the Saudis were the guilty party. But disclosing Saudi links to 9/11 could have undermined efforts by some Bush administration officials to tie Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks.

Suppressing the 28 pages was intensely controversial at the time. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., ​the vice chairman of the joint inquiry, urged declassification of almost all of the 28 pages because “the American people are crying out to know more about who funds, aids and abets terrorist activities in the world.” Forty-six senators, spearheaded by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and including almost all the Democratic members, signed a letter to President Bush urging the release of the 28 pages.

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., revived the push to declassify those pages in 2013. Jones is a conservative stalwart best known for coining the phrase “freedom fries” in 2003 when France opposed invading Iraq. He has since become one of the most outspoken opponents of reckless U.S. intervention abroad. Jones explained that he introduced a resolution because “the American people deserve the truth. Releasing these pages will enhance our national security, not harm it.”

Last month, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., fresh from a bracing filibuster against the renewal of the Patriot Act, joined the 28-page fight. Paul introduced the Transparency for the Families of 9/11 Victims and Survivors Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. The suppressed pages are another wedge between Paul and other Republican presidential candidates; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie rejects declassification, instead urging deference to the president’s judgment on the issue.

Members of Congress can read the still-classified pages in a special secure room on Capitol Hill if they get prior permission from the House or Senate Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., one of the few members to go read the report, was shocked: “I had to stop every couple of pages and just sort of absorb and try to rearrange my understanding of history for the past 13 years and the years leading up to that. It challenges you to rethink everything.” Massie is one of 18 co-sponsors ofJones’ resolution in the House.

Why is the Obama administration continuing to suppress a report completed more than a dozen years ago? It is not as if the White House’s credibility would be damaged by revelations of Saudi bankrolling the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor (15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis).

And it is not as if the Saudis became squeaky-clean Boy Scouts after 9/11. Saudi sources are widely reported to be bankrolling Islamic State terrorists throughout the Middle East; Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate committee last September that “I know major Arab allies who fund” ISIS.

President Obama just ordered more U.S. troops to Iraq to seek to rebuff the ISIS onslaught. If the Saudis are helping sow fresh chaos in the Middle East, that is another reason to disclose their role in an attack that helped launch conflicts that have already cost thousands of American lives and more than $1.6 trillion, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“Don’t confuse me with the facts” should not be the motto of the War on Terror. Self-government is an illusion if politicians can shroud the most important details driving federal policy. If Americans have learned anything since 9/11, it should be the folly of deferring to Washington secrecy.

James Bovard is the author of Public Policy Hooligan and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.

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Future of Freedom Foundation, June 2011

America’s Sham War on Terrorism
by James Bovard

Almost a decade after the 9/11 attacks, the war on terrorism continues chugging along. Despite the trillions of dollars that the U.S. government has spent supposedly in response to 9/11, few people have raised questions about the fundamental definition of what the United States is fighting. The U.S. government’s definition of terrorism almost guarantees that the so-called war on terrorism will be a failure — and will last forever.

Federal agencies have an array of definitions for “terrorism”:

*The Defense Department defined terrorism as “the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a revolutionary organization against individuals or property, with the intention of coercing or intimidating governments or societies, often for political or ideological purposes.”

*The Federal Bureau of Investigation defined terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

*The State Department defined terrorism as “the use or threat of the use of force for political purposes in violation of domestic or international law.”

Since government use of force (based on government edicts and sovereign immunity) is almost automatically lawful, governments by definition cannot commit terrorist acts. For decades, U.S. representatives to 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, regardless of how many children are in the back seat at the time of the “surgical strike.”

When the UN General Assembly tried to enact a convention to advance the international war on terrorism in 2002, the effort was paralyzed by conflicts over how to define terrorism. “The United States, backed by most European nations, says the convention should not apply to any acts of violence against civilians committed by the military forces of recognized states — a provision fought by Arab states and others that insist that ‘state terrorism’ should also be penalized,” the Los Angeles Times reported on April 16, 2002.

Double standard

The United States’s official definition of terrorism — that terrorism is a private, not a governmental, crime — drives the U.S. government’s perception of the Middle East conflict. The New York Times noted on April 7, 2002, “Israel, as American officials often note, is a democracy accountable to the norms of international law. The practical effect is that only the Palestinians, who lack a state, are generally labeled terrorists.”

Former President Bill Clinton fully embraced this absurd double standard when he declared in 2009 that “‘terror’ means killing and robbery and coercion by people who do not have state authority and go beyond national borders.” That is the same standard tactic invoked by tyrants and authoritarian regimes throughout history. A few years ago, after the Ethiopian government brutalized protesters, Ethiopian Minister of Information Bereket Simon warned, “Anyone who incites violence, other than those elected, will have to face the law.”

The same double standard has long permeated the thinking of the American ruling class. In the days after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the Clinton administration launched a full-court press to whitewash federal action two years earlier at Waco. When a journalist stated in April 1995 on CNN that he considered the 1993 federal attack on the Branch Davidians a terrorist act, Labor Secretary Robert Reich rushed to distinguish between what the feds did at Waco and the bombing at Oklahoma City: “We are talking about acts of violence that are not sanctioned by the government — that are not official.” Reich sounded as if the government has a moral magic wand that can automatically absolve law-enforcement officials of any abuse, regardless of how many dead babies are left when the smoke clears. Atrocities committed by the government cannot really be considered to be atrocities — instead, they are merely policy errors — or, more accurately, public-relations mistakes.

The notion that “states cannot be terrorists” extends back at least to the early 20th century. The League of Nations in 1937 defined terrorism as “criminal acts directed against a State and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons or the general public.” The League’s efforts to build an international consensus against private terrorists ended after Hitler’s seizure of Czechoslovakia and invasion of Poland.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government is continually creating new definitions of terrorism in order to more easily prosecute those it disfavors. The USA PATRIOT Act created the new crime of “domestic terrorism,” defined as violent or threatening private actions intended “to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” That definition reaches far beyond the box-cutter crowd. It could take only a few scuffles at a rally to transform a protest group into a terrorist entity. It could allow the government to drop the hammer on environmental extremists (even those not spiking trees), anti-trade fanatics (even those not trashing Starbucks), and anti-abortion protesters (even those not attacking doctors). If the violence at a rally is committed by a government agent provocateur — as happened at some 1960s anti-war protests — the government could still treat all the group’s members as terrorists. Likewise, anyone who donates to an organization that becomes classified as a terrorist entity — be it Greenpeace, the Gun Owners of America, or Operation Rescue — could face long prison terms.

The PATRIOT Act also included a different definition of terrorism for aliens than for U.S. citizens. Aliens are now considered guilty of terrorism if they are convicted of “the use of any explosive, firearm, or other weapon or dangerous device (other than for mere personal monetary gain), with intent to endanger, directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals or to cause substantial damage to property.” As Micah Herzog noted in the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal, “The parenthetical frees common thieves from classification as a terrorist, but the angry boyfriend who intentionally harms his former girlfriend’s car is now in a different class of crime.”

The denunciation of terrorism is often an exercise in demonology — converting a semantic distinction into a pretext for denying the nature of government or the reality of oppression. One grave danger in letting politicians define evil is that they will exempt their own crimes from any onus.

Terrorists cannot compete with governments when it comes to persistently wreaking mass carnage. By raising terrorist attacks to the pinnacle of political evil, the war on terrorism implicitly sanctifies whatever tactics governments use in the name of repressing terrorism. Exaggerating the risk from terrorists puts people at greater risk of destruction from their political overlords. Unleashing governments to fight terrorists is like opening the lion cages at the zoo in the hope that the lions will devour some pesky squirrels. If the squirrels have rabies, they need to be exterminated. But there are better ways to suppress such threats.

“Under color of law”

Government is the only institution that has the privilege of investigating and judging its own killings. It is routine for governments to block external or independent investigations of its actions. Government killings are almost never considered to be murders because government officials have the final word in labeling a shooting as accidental or justified. Even when a government “self-investigation” report is openly derided as a “whitewash” — as the New York Times characterized the first Justice Department report on Waco — the report’s conclusions about the government’s innocence are still repeated far and wide.

Intentions are the great exonerator of government action. Governments almost always conclude that the motives of their own agents are exculpable, regardless of how many people they killed. But a focus on motive as the prime determinant of the morality of action is inherently flawed when judging state actions because politicians and governments routinely misrepresent their motives. It is far easier to count the dead than to determine the thoughts in the minds of the killers.

What a government says to justify its killing is also important. “Under color of law” is a phrase that magically transforms senseless violence into public service. All that is necessary for a government killing to become blameless is for the government to announce — preferably before the funeral or memorial service — that the killing was accidental. For many statists, the only “wrongful government killing” occurs when a government agent shoots someone different from the person he was aiming at.

Any action taken by private citizens that would be considered terrorism should also be considered terrorism if taken by government agents. If a government persistently slaughters innocent civilians, then it is morally equivalent to evil gangs that blow up buses and airplanes. A consistent definition of terrorism will not end the terrorist threat or suddenly make al-Qaeda operatives around the world turn themselves in and plead for mercy. Nor will it lessen the grief of the survivors and relatives of those slain by senseless violence. But it will help citizens better understand the danger of unleashing government agents to scourge terrorists — and anyone else politicians or bureaucrats decide needs whacking.

It is unlikely that either Congress or federal agencies will rush to adopt this proposed definition of terrorism. Instead, citizens will be at risk from rulers who continually create new definitions to sanctify their own power and delegitimize any resistance. Sixteen years ago, FBI Director Louis Freeh announced, “Terrorism is the work of people and groups seeking to further their causes through fear and intimidation.” If that definition had been accepted, then much of the fear-mongering out of Washington since 9/11 would itself have been labeled a terrorist offense.

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy [2006] as well as The Bush Betrayal [2004], Lost Rights [1994] and Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil (Palgrave-Macmillan, September 2003) and serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation

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