FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama’s War on Terror

“I don’t think there’s any question but that we are at war,” said Eric Holder at his confirmation hearing in January, referring to al Qaeda attacks on US targets from the 1990s onward.

When asked by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina whether someone arrested in the Philippines who is suspected of financing al Qaeda could be considered “part of the battlefield” of that war, Holder answered yes.

Disappointing many who expected the Obama administration to mark a clean break from the Bush presidency’s world view, the attorney general-designate signaled his apparent approval of the “war on terror” paradigm. A month later, in a set of four cases involving detainees held at the US military prison in Afghanistan, the views he endorsed were reflected in government papers filed in federal court in Washington.

The petitioners in two of the four cases, Haji Wazir v. Gates and Amin al-Bakri v. Obama, sound very much like the hypothetical suspects mentioned by Senator Graham. Both Wazir and al-Bakri were well-off businessmen, not terrorist operatives, and they were both arrested in friendly countries far from any battlefield. Wazir was picked up in Dubai in 2002, and al-Bakri was seized later that same year in Thailand.

They have now been held for more than six years as “enemy combatants” without charge or trial, most of that time in military custody at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. When legal challenges against their indefinite detention were filed in federal court, the Bush administration tried to get the cases dismissed, claiming that the courts have no jurisdiction over enemy combatants held in Afghanistan.

In papers filed last Friday, the Obama administration agreed. “Having considered the matter,” said the Department of Justice, in a curt response signed by Acting Assistant Attorney General Michael Hertz, “the Government adheres to its previously articulated position.”

“The War Paradigm is Misconceived”

If the new administration decides to reconsider the matter, which one can only hope it does, it should pick up a new report by a prominent group of international jurists. The report, Assessing Damage, Urging Action, is the result of the three years of investigation by the Eminent Jurists Panel, an eight-member panel of judges and lawyers established by the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists.

The report explores the global impact of recent counterterrorism measures on human rights. Although it examines violations committed all over the world, it dedicates an entire chapter to assessing the US-led “war on terror.”

The report’s conclusions are unequivocal: “The ‘war paradigm’ is misconceived, and has been applied in ways that have violated core principles of international humanitarian and human rights law.”

Applying basic principles of the laws of war, the report concludes that the war paradigm lacks a credible legal basis. “Neither the nebulous operation of a ‘war’ on terrorism, nor the engagement against particular groups that commit terrorist acts, such as al-Qaeda, warrant characterisation as an armed conflict within the meaning of international humanitarian law,” it explains.

The report is especially critical of the U.S. practice of detaining terrorist suspects without trial as “enemy combatants.” Calling such detentions “utterly arbitrary under human rights law,” it affirms that such prisoners should be treated as criminal suspects.

The report is clear and persuasive in explaining that terrorism and armed conflict should not be conflated. But it is the British director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, who—in a statement quoted in the report—makes the argument in even more compelling terms. Referring to the 2005 terrorist attacks in London, he says:

London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7, 2005 were not victims of war …. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a war on terror …. The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement.

JOANNE MARINER is a human rights attorney based in New York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

JOANNE MARINER is a human rights lawyer living in New York and Paris.

November 20, 2018
John Davis
Geographies of Violence in Southern California
Anthony Pahnke
Abolishing ICE Means Defunding it
Maximilian Werner
Why (Mostly) Men Trophy Hunt: a Biocultural Explanation
Masturah Alatas
Undercutting Female Circumcision
Jack Rasmus
Global Oil Price Deflation 2018 and Beyond
Geoff Dutton
Why High Technology’s Double-Edged Sword is So Hard to Swallow
Binoy Kampmark
Charges Under Seal: US Prosecutors Get Busy With Julian Assange
Rev. William Alberts
America Fiddles While California Burns
Forrest Hylton, Aaron Tauss and Juan Felipe Duque Agudelo
Remaking the Common Good: the Crisis of Public Higher Education in Colombia
Patrick Cockburn
What Can We Learn From a Headmaster Who Refused to Allow His Students to Celebrate Armistice Day?
Clark T. Scott
Our Most Stalwart Company
Tom H. Hastings
Look to the Right for Corruption
Edward Hunt
With Nearly 400,000 Dead in South Sudan, Will the US Finally Change Its Policy?
Thomas Knapp
Hypocrisy Alert: Republicans Agreed with Ocasio-Cortez Until About One Minute Ago
November 19, 2018
David Rosen
Amazon Deal: New York Taxpayers Fund World Biggest Sex-Toy Retailer
Sheldon Richman
Art of the Smear: the Israel Lobby Busted
Chad Hanson
Why Trump is Wrong About the California Wildfires
Dean Baker
Will Progressives Ever Think About How We Structure Markets, Instead of Accepting them as Given?
Robert Fisk
We Remember the Great War, While Palestinians Live It
Dave Lindorff
Pelosi’s Deceptive Plan: Blocking any Tax Rise Could Rule Out Medicare-for-All and Bolstering Social Security
Rick Baum
What Can We Expect From the Democrat “Alternative” Given Their Record in California?
Thomas Scott Tucker
Trump, World War I and the Lessons of Poetry
John W. Whitehead
Red Flag Gun Laws
Newton Finn
On Earth, as in Heaven: the Utopianism of Edward Bellamy
Robert Fantina
Shithole Countries: Made in the USA
René Voss
Have Your Say about Ranching in Our Point Reyes National Seashore
Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail