Ending the War on Terror
In response to the attacks of 9/11/01, Congress passed the Authorization For Use Of Military Force in Response to the 9/11 Attacks (AUMF) on 9/14/01, which President Bush signed into law on 9/18/01. It passed 98-0 in the Senate and 420-1 in the House of Representatives.The AUMF has been used since becoming law as justification for the steps taken in the War on Terror by both President Bush and President Obama.
Last Thursday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Forces held a hearing regarding this law and the implications of its broad provisions in justifying subsequent actions as legal without further Congressional approval in the years since its enactment. Some Senators (and others) have become concerned with the broad scope of the document and far-ranging actions which have been deemed appropriate in carrying it out.
The War on Terror began as a direct response to the 9/11 attacks on the US by al-Qaeda and has since been a motivating force behind the wars in Iraq (rightly or wrongly) and Afghanistan. The drone program begun under President Bush and dramatically expanded under President Obama to include targeted assassination of terrorist suspects in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere has also been justified on these grounds. The indefinite detention of purported terrorist suspects without charge or trial at the American military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has as well. Treatment of prisoners, either by Americans or foreign captors, to include alleged torture (sometimes euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques”) has also been cited as a human rights violation.
Because of the pervasive and ever-changing nature of the terror threat, elimination of such figures as Osama bin Laden and many of his subordinates in al-Qaeda in the years following 9/11 have left the military and Administration officials alike unwilling and/or unable to claim “victory” over the forces of terror. New threats are constantly coming into existence. No end to the conflict seems to be in sight. This was specifically verified by none other than Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, Michael Sheehan, at the hearing on Thursday. The conflict is seen as possibly taking at least another 10 to 20 years.
The War on Terror has become global in scope. The Wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan seem to have spawned as many new potential terrorists as it eliminated, without really improving security in either of those nations or the United States. Other nations, which have governments deemed friendly to the US, are being bombed in the targeted assassination campaign against terrorists. Many billions of dollars and thousands of lives have been lost in an avowed effort to regain a sense of safety that was shown to be illusory on 9/11 and remains beyond our ability to attain at any time in the foreseeable future, even in the eyes of the supposed national security experts.
In addition to the AUMF, the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act have been enacted and renewed with various degrees of opposition by some in Congress and many in the general public. Provisions that seem to severely restrict civil liberties of American citizens and human rights of suspected terrorists, as well as the definitions of what exactly makes one subject to being treated as a terrorist have been sources of debate when reauthorization has been required. Though more reservations and opposition have been expressed, both in Congress and by President Obama, reauthorization has occurred in each instance as required and the laws remain in force.
It seems like almost every day, I hear on the local news about someone being charged with making “terroristic threats” or threatening to use “weapons of mass destruction” – something never heard before 9/11. One good example is a phoned in bomb threat at a school. These have been happening for longer than I can remember, but now they take on a whole new meaning. Such acts are no more or less serious now than they ever were, they are just depicted that way and send more fear through the populace than ever before because they are given new names designed to do just that. This also justifies more severe penalties and fewer protections for the alleged perpetrators of the crimes. Ethnic profiling is seen as essential by many in government as a means of detecting potential terrorist threats.
We cannot pass background checks or prevent the inappropriate purchase of military style assault-weapons, but if someone is found to possess the ingredients that could be made into a pipe bomb in the vicinity of a factory explosion, many jump to the conclusion that they are a terrorist who caused that explosion. Instead of feeling more secure, we are left feeling more vulnerable, despite all the added precautions being taken. Is spending so much money and clamping down on individual liberties to the extent that has happened in our society since 9/11 with so little added sense of security worth the cost?
The terror bombing in Boston in April was in no way unprecedented in US history, even before 9/11. Terrorism was not invented on that date, even here. The response has changed significantly, however. Some in Congress call for cracking down even further on civil liberties in order to make it easier for law enforcement and homeland security to prevent any future attacks from taking place. To do so would only serve to further erode the civil liberties and human rights we have so long prided ourselves on defending at all cost. Turning our government into a totalitarian police state to protect us from potential terrorist attacks is not the answer. A balance must be struck that provides safety without making us prisoners in our own land. The government must be accountable for its treatment of all people, citizen and non-citizen alike, who are suspected of planning or carrying out criminal acts.
Congress needs to revisit the AUMF, Patriot Act and NDAA to insure that they do not improperly impair the basic human and civil rights of all people subjected to them. More transparency on the part of the Administration, military and civilian law enforcement/intelligence agencies is necessary. Appropriate oversight of them by both the legislative and judicial branches of government needs to take place to ensure that abusive policies are reigned in as quickly as possible. Making most activities in the Homeland Security arena classified as secret in the interests of national security is unacceptable in a free and open society.
The lives and billions of dollars thrown at the problem of global terror have really done little to ease it. If anything, the military violence and occupations seem to have increased hatred of the US in much of the world, particularly those parts of it we have decided to indiscriminately bomb into oblivion for no humanly defensible reason. Bush may have started two of the worst of these actions, but Democratic presidents and members of Congress have certainly participated in continuing them as well as other military actions. The War on Terror has provided a pretext for terrorizing many innocent people both here and abroad. This must end and be replaced by more consistently humane policies designed to initiate peace and not punish the innocent along with the guilty. We must never again begin a war with no concretely defined achievable and acceptable outcome.
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