Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Human rights in the war on terror

NEITHER SIDE in this year's presidential election got it right in the recent exchange over a more "sensitive" war on terrorism. Dick Cheney knocked down a straw man by suggesting falsely that John Kerry wants more sensitivity to Al Qaeda. Kerry spoke not of Al Qaeda but of sensitivity "to other nations [that] brings them to our side and lives up to American values."

However, behind that thought Kerry seems concerned mainly with better diplomatic relations. He too has indicated a willingness to sacrifice the respect for international standards that make the counterterrorism effort more effective.

A campaign against terrorism that is sensitive not just to other nations but to the values they share would pay greater attention to international human rights and humanitarian law. These laws embody the restraints on war and law enforcement that the nations of the world have collectively agreed to, even in times of serious security threats.

The Bush administration, however, has fought terrorism as if these restraints don't apply. It has summarily detained Americans in this country as "enemy combatants," ripped up the Geneva Conventions at Guantanamo, and used military commissions that lack basic due process guarantees. It has misused laws on immigration and material witnesses to detain criminal suspects without granting them criminal justice rights and deployed coercive interrogation techniques that amount to torture and mistreatment. The administration has also backed repressive allies -- Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghan warlords, the Indonesian military -- so long as they join the war on terrorism.

Far from making us safer, this rejection of human rights has aggravated the terrorist threat. Admittedly, some terrorist suspects have been killed or detained, while others have revealed information of varying reliability under "stress and duress" interrogation. But even Donald Rumsfeld acknowledges that the real test of success is whether the administration neutralizes more terrorists than it breeds. So far, the signs are ominously negative.

Suppose we judge the counterterrorist effort in terms of a "swing vote" in the countries that have produced most of today's terrorists. Some citizens of these countries are committed terrorists beyond persuasion. Others -- the vast majority of people -- would never resort to terrorist violence. But what about those in between, the swing voters who could be persuaded to act on their political grievances either peacefully or violently?

To dissuade them from violence, they must be given a reasonable opportunity to pursue their concerns through legitimate political processes. That means opening the political systems of such countries as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Their citizens must be free to launch independent newspapers, establish political parties and civil associations, elect their government, and hold its officials accountable.

Such swing voters are also affected by the culture around them. Because targeting innocent civilians is antithetical to the most basic rights, a strong human rights culture makes terrorist recruitment harder. But if the fight against terrorism undermines human rights standards, terrorist recruiters will have a field day.

The Bush administration has rhetorically recognized the need to promote democracy, but in fact has been more eager to build ties with cooperative security agencies, even if they are repressive. What ever the short-term gain, that approach carries dangerous long-term consequences.

Take, for example, the administration's embrace of Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf. Before Musharraf overthrew an elected civilian government in 1999, Pakistanis voted overwhelmingly for one of two secular parties. Since the coup, the Bush administration has acquiesced in Musharraf's systematic destruction of those parties. With these moderate avenues of dissent increasingly foreclosed, many voters have flocked to more radical political parties.

The Bush administration could have vowed to fight terrorism by scrupulously respecting human rights, in part to build broad public rejection of any arbitrary violence. But the administration eschewed this "sensitivity" to international standards. America's plummeting esteem throughout most of the world -- and the apparent ease with which terrorists are attracting new accomplices -- suggest this approach hasn't worked.

Kerry, however, doesn't seem to have learned this lesson either. When he speaks of sensitivity, he seems to have in mind better relations with other governments, which is not the same as adherence to international standards. In a May interview with The Washington Post, he suggested that human rights would take a second seat in the fight against terrorism, saying he would play down the promotion of democracy as a leading goal in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, China, and Russia. That would only replicate the shortcomings of current policy.

Sacrificing rights for "security" may seem tough and pragmatic, but it is fraught with peril. By breeding new resentments, foreclosing avenues of peaceful dissent, and undermining the international standards that help explain why terrorism is wrong, it risks exposing us to still greater dangers. It is time for the right kind of sensitivity.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

War Or Terror: What's Worse?

When the US death toll in Iraq crossed 1,000 last week, the number seemed like a shocker. However, that figure pales in comparison with the 30,000 Afghans and Iraqis estimated to have died in the War on Terror.

While there isn't anyone keeping official count - Iraq Body Count, an independent website that keeps track of only media-reported civilian deaths, states that a minimum 11,798 Iraqi civilians have died in the war so far. Independent estimates of Iraqi military deaths puts their toll close to 5,000.

Afghanistan was an even more skewed story. The number of US military deaths in Afghanistan was 132. Once again, though there wasn't anyone keeping official track of the Afghan death toll, a study by an American academic estimated that at least 3,800 civilians died in Afghanistan and independent estimates suggest that military deaths could be close to 10,000.

The total figure of 30,000 is more than the number of people killed in terrorist acts in the last 35 years - studies show 22,000 people have been killed in terrorist incidents since 1968.

The cost of reconstruction and related aid has been estimated at $23 billion in Iraq and $30 billion in Afghanistan which seems much smaller than the $100 billion loss caused by the WTC attacks. But while the WTC losses translate to 0.91% of US GDP, it amounts to 59% of Iraq's GDP and 150% of Afghanistan's GDP in 2003.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

War against terror is a failure, ex-White House official says

The Bush administration has bungled the war on terrorism, doing little to provide security at home while breeding legions of new enemies abroad, the government's former anti-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke, told a large Berkeley audience Tuesday night.

Clarke, who made international headlines last spring when he emerged as the highest-ranking whistle-blower from inside the White House's war on terrorism, painted an alarming picture of a White House still pursuing a losing strategy while America's safety hangs in the balance.

"The pool of people who really hate us is so much greater than it was on 9/11 because of this needless and counterproductive war in Iraq," Clarke said to applause from nearly 2,000 people at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach auditorium.

On the home front, except for improved airline safety, little or nothing has been done to protect the many other vulnerable targets such as trains, chemical plants, Wal-Marts and financial headquarters, said Clarke, who served as counterterrorism czar under both Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, he and other counterterrorism officials urged a wide range of protective actions, such as security for commuter trains vulnerable to the type of backpack bombs that later blew up a train in Madrid.

"That could happen in the BART system today," he said. He described most homeland-security measures in the past three years as "token efforts."

He also called the war on terrorism a misnomer.

"We're not engaged in a war on terrorism, a war against a tactic," he said. "We're not concerned here with all terrorist groups." There are many terrorist organizations around the world that the U.S. government is not actively fighting, he noted.

The enemy, he said, consists of about 100,000 members of about 14 jihadist groups, loosely linked to al Qaeda and representing "a virulent strain of Islam." This strain, he said, is a violence-embracing form of the Sunni fundamentalist movement known as Wahabism.

America needs to confront such enemies directly, but it also needs to wage a "war of ideas" with the hundreds of millions of Muslims who currently support the hardcore fanatics, he said.

Clarke was a senior White House adviser to the last three presidents and was the government's "foremost expert on al Qaeda," in the words of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner writing in the New York Times last week.

Clark's bombshell book earlier this year, "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror," became a No. 1 New York Times best-seller. The book says the Bush team failed to give sufficient attention to the al Qaeda threat both before and after Sept. 11, focusing instead on a preoccupation with Saddam Hussein and invading Iraq.

Clarke, who left the White House in frustration in February 2003, issued high-profile criticisms as a star witness before the national Sept. 11 commission and on CBS News' "60 Minutes," both in March this year.

He had been dissatisfied before he left. In what Clarke viewed as a sign of the Bush administration downgrading counterterrorism, for example, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told him that he could stop attending the "principals" meetings of the National Security Council.

His book provoked strong reactions from the White House, with Vice President Dick Cheney saying Clarke hadn't been "in the loop," and others suggested he resented working for Rice.

Hoping to avert another Vietnam, he began a career in Washington in 1973, working for the Pentagon for five years before joining the State Department. He worked on security in the Reagan administration and, as assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs under President George H.W. Bush, he coordinated international support for the Persian Gulf War.

Clarke's appearance at Berkeley was sponsored by UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy, the campus Institute of International Studies and the chancellor's office.

He was interviewed on stage by Michael Nacht, dean of the Goldman School, and Steven Weber, director of the Institute of International Studies.