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    Middle East
     Jul 13, 2007
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The core misconceptions in the 'war on terror'
By John Feffer

In September 2002, Maher Arar was passing through JFK airport in New York. He was expecting a simple transit. A Syrian-born Canadian citizen and wireless technology consultant, Arar was traveling home to Ottawa after a vacation with his family in Tunis. The stopover in New York was the best deal he could get with his frequent flyer miles. He had no inkling of what would happen next. He didn't know that he would spend the next 10 months being

tortured in a secret jail.

At the airport immigration line, officials pulled Arar aside. They fingerprinted and photographed him. They didn't let him make any phone calls. They didn't let him contact a lawyer. Interrogated about his connections to another Syrian-born Canadian, a bewildered Arar did his best to answer the questions. The authorities were not satisfied. They transferred him to New York's Metropolitan Detention Center where he spent more than a week.

Then, based on evidence that they would not share with him, US immigration officials informed Arar that he would be deported to Syria. He objected that he was a Canadian citizen, that the United States couldn't just send him to another country, particularly not Syria, where they might well torture him. Heedless, officials loaded him onto a private plane and flew him to Jordan, where he was beaten before being driven across the border into Syria.

In Syria, Arar was imprisoned in a cell that was just large enough for him to stand. He was repeatedly tortured and forced to sign a false confession. Only as a result of outside pressure - by his wife, by human-rights organizations, by the Canadian consulate - was he finally released and returned home. Two years later, a Canadian commission of inquiry cleared Arar of all charges of terrorism. Yet the United States still bars him from visiting the country. An innocent man caught up in the machinery of fear created by the "global war on terror", Arar will bear the scars of his experience for the rest of his life. [1]

Arar's story illustrates the key problems with the George W Bush administration's approach to terrorism and how it has defied legal standards at all levels. In the United States, the administration suspended key civil liberties. It imprisoned over 5,000 foreign nationals, subjected 80,000 Arab and Muslim immigrants to fingerprinting and registration, sent 30,000 "national security letters "every year to US businesses demanding information about their customers, and justified the large-scale, warrantless wiretapping of citizens. [2] It denied the right of habeas corpus to both American and non-American detainees and plans to continue to restrict the legal rights of terrorism suspects by trying them in military tribunals rather than civilian courts.

At the international level, the administration rationalized the use of torture and rendition. It presided over gross human rights violations in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Camp Delta at Guantanamo, Cuba, a series of rendition sites in Europe, and elsewhere. At the geopolitical level, it broke international law by pursuing a preventive war against Iraq. It failed to capitalize on the international goodwill directed at Washington after September 11, 2001, by brokering a broad, multilateral effort against terrorism.

Instead, the United States ignored promising overtures from longstanding adversaries, rejected the advice of previously close allies, and set dangerous precedents that will haunt US foreign policy for decades. Through it all, American policymakers either relied on or hid behind the excuse of faulty intelligence, which contributed to the failures to track the September 11 perpetrators prior to the attacks and continued to entrap innocent victims like Arar in the post-September 11 era.

The "global war on terror" has been going on now for over six years. Its emphasis on military responses - in Afghanistan and Iraq - has only swelled the ranks of terrorist organizations. The erosion of civil liberties has undermined democracy at home and raised serious doubts abroad about US credibility. The failure to put adequate funds into homeland security - particularly port and border protection - has put too great a burden on local governments.

The hostility to international mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court has weakened the very institutions that can properly address terrorist organizations. And the refusal to address the root causes of terrorism - economic inequality, repressive regimes, foreign occupation - has ensured that the conditions continue to flourish that produce if not the terrorists themselves then the communities of anger and alienation that support terrorist organizations.

A just counter-terrorism policy would shift the focus away from military solutions, which have done so little to improve the security of the United States and have sent Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia into tailspins of insecurity. It would focus on strengthening homeland security and the international mechanisms that hold terrorists accountable. And it would attack the enabling conditions that are laid out in this document - economic inequality, the international health crisis, unjust dictatorships, and regional wars.

The Chinese have a saying: before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves. The US pursuit of vengeance, rather than justice, has been similarly self-defeating.

Core misconceptions
Fear disables rational thinking. In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell describes how rapid heartbeat and adrenaline rush distort the immediate perceptions of frightened people. They make mistakes. They see guns where there are no guns. They misread facial expressions. They come to the wrong conclusions. [3]

Since September 11, the United States has been kept in an artificially prolonged state of fear. The Bush administration has used this fear to advance a fundamentally irrational and un-American agenda. As a result, America has misidentified terrorists, seen weapons of mass destruction where they don't exist, and supported quick-draw military solutions when diplomacy would have been more appropriate.

Such fear has paralyzed the US system in the past - during the McCarthy period of the Cold War, during the Red Scare after World War I, in the era of Jim Crow legislation in the South, in 1798 when Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. Today, by contrast, the paranoia behind the Bush administration's counter-terrorism campaign threatens to sustain a global crusade of unlimited scope and duration.

Even during the Cold War, the United States negotiated with the object of its worst fears. The current regime of fear is more theological in nature. "We don't negotiate with evil," Vice President Dick Cheney famously remarked. "We defeat evil." [4] In such a struggle against "evil", all means can be justified, as they were during the Crusades and the Inquisition. By putting the "fear of the Devil "into the American public, the Bush 

Continued 1 2 3 4 

Suicide video gets Taliban message across (Jul 11, '07)

Al-Qaeda's new talent in Afghanistan (Jul 6, '07)

Al-Qaeda message aimed at US living rooms (May 10, '07)

1. Pakistan's post-mortem

2. $10bn scramble for India's fighter deal     

3. The Chinese dollar hoard thunders forward

4. A fallacy that bombs - literally   

5. Death from above

6. Pakistan's iron fist is to US's liking

7. Moody's blues

8. Let's talk about sex

(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, July 11, 2007)


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