FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

An Endless War on Terror?

It might seem an odd moment for the War on Terror to expand.  The 9/11 terrorist attacks are now ten years in the past; Osama bin Laden is sleeping with the fishes; and all of the alleged 9/11 perpetrators who are not dead are in custody awaiting trial.

President Obama—the man who ran for president promising to end the Bush Administration’s signature methods of fighting terrorism—is still in office.

Ten years after America’s entry into World War II, to make an imperfect but still telling analogy, the country had moved on to other global conflicts.  The Japanese and Japanese-Americans who were held in internment camps had been released, albeit without an apology, and Germany was an ally, not an enemy.

But the War on Terror has not only stayed with us, it’s growing.  Bills currently in Congress go well beyond the already broad bounds of the Bush Administration’s War on Terror policies.

Yes, the timing is odd, but only if one cares about evidence, logic, cause-and-effect relationships, and other possibly outmoded concepts.  Seen through the lens of politics, fear-mongering, and the election cycle, the timing of these bills is understandable.  Call it election fever.

An Irresponsible Congress

The combination of hungry Republicans and cowardly Democrats—and the uniquely horrible Joe Lieberman—makes for a perfect legislative storm. While apparently unable to agree on a payroll tax cut or other economic measures that might help struggling Americans, members of Congress are working in model bipartisan fashion to pass dangerous and irresponsible counterterrorism legislation.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which contains provisions that would rip holes in the Constitution, passed the Senate last week on a 93-7 vote.  An equally awful though somewhat different version of the bill passed the House of Representatives several months ago.  Unless the end product is radically improved during conference committee negotiations—an unlikely outcome—some alarming mix of House and Senate NDAA provisions will reach President Obama’s desk very soon.

It is hard to overstate how bad this legislation is. It would essentially make Guantanamo permanent, and enshrine the Guantanamo approach to fighting terrorism as the country’s default counterterrorism policy. Detention without trial would become a normal feature of US law, and the military would become the presumptive detaining and prosecuting authority in entire categories of cases. The bill’s broad powers would even threaten American citizens arrested on U.S. soil.

These provisions wouldn’t just take the country back to the War on Terror framework, they would, in many ways, expand it beyond its earlier boundaries.  During the Bush Administration, even as Guantanamo attracted public scrutiny, hundreds of terrorism suspects were prosecuted in the US federal courts.  Defendants like Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid are now serving life sentences after court proceedings governed by the same rules as other criminal cases.

This brings me to another important point.  As any review of the record will show, it is not just human rights and civil liberties that the bill shreds.  From the standpoint of effectiveness, the law is a disaster.  It takes responsibility for bringing terrorists to justice away from the federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities that have the necessary expertise in investigating and prosecuting terrorism, gravely handicapping future counterterrorism efforts.

A Weak President?

The crucial remaining question is how President Obama will react to this congressional affront.  Back in May, when the House was debating its version of the bill, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy that threatened a veto. Using strong and principled language, the White House objected to provisions of the bill that threatened to establish a never-ending War on Terror, and that foreclosed Obama’s stated plans to shut down Guantanamo.

Although President Obama’s record on human rights and national security issues has not been terribly consistent, there have been recent encouraging signals that he is planning to follow through on his veto promise.  Last week, just after the Senate approved the NDAA package, a National Security Council spokesman issued a statement that renewed the president’s threat of a veto.

If ever there was a moment when presidential leadership was needed, this is it. Not only is a veto necessary to stop a damaging bill from becoming a pernicious law, it is needed to change the larger political dynamic.

The president needs to seize the initiative on these issues, instead of leaving them to the political hacks and conservative ideologues in Congress.  It is the current policy stagnation—marked by Obama’s failure to challenge the Guantanamo status quo of detention without trial—that leaves the door wide open to bills such as these.

With Republican positions on these issues growing ever more extreme (witness Senator Lieberman’s recently-introduced citizenship-stripping bill, and Senator Kelly Ayotte’s shameful efforts to bring back torture), it is long past time to say no.

Joanne Mariner is the director of Hunter College’s Human Rights Program. She is an expert on human rights, counterterrorism, and international humanitarian law.

This column previously appeared on Justia’s Verdict.

More articles by:

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

February 20, 2019
Anthony DiMaggio
Withdrawal Pains and Syrian Civil War: An Analysis of U.S. Media Discourse
Charles Pierson
When Saudi Arabia Gets the Bomb
Doug Johnson Hatlem
“Electability” is Real (Unless Married with the Junk Science of Ideological Spectrum Analysis)
Kenneth Surin
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Another Boondoggle in Virginia
John Feffer
The Psychology of the Wall
Dean Baker
Modern Monetary Theory and Taxing the Rich
Russell Mokhiber
Citizens Arrested Calling Out Manchin on Rockwool
George Ochenski
Unconstitutional Power Grabs
Michael T. Klare
War With China? It’s Already Under Way
Thomas Knapp
The Real Emergency Isn’t About the Wall, It’s About the Separation of Powers
Manuel García, Jr.
Two Worlds
Daniel Warner
The Martin Ennals and Victorian Prize Winners Contrast with Australia’s Policies against Human Dignity
Norman Solomon
What the Bernie Sanders 2020 Campaign Means for Progressives
Dan Corjescu
2020 Vision: A Strategy of Courage
Matthew Johnson
Why Protest Trump When We Can Impeach Him?
William A. Cohn
Something New and Something Old: a Story Still Being Told
Bill Martin
The Fourth Hypothesis: the Present Juncture of the Trump Clarification and the Watershed Moment on the Washington Mall
February 19, 2019
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard
Patrick Cockburn
She Didn’t Start the Fire: Why Attack the ISIS Bride?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Literature and Theater During War: Why Euripides Still Matters
Maximilian Werner
The Night of Terror: Wyoming Game and Fish’s Latest Attempt to Close the Book on the Mark Uptain Tragedy
Conn Hallinan
Erdogan is Destined for Another Rebuke in Turkey
Nyla Ali Khan
Politics of Jammu and Kashmir: The Only Viable Way is Forward
Mark Ashwill
On the Outside Looking In: an American in Vietnam
Joyce Nelson
Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuelan-Border PR Stunt
Ron Jacobs
Day of Remembrance and the Music of Anthony Brown        
Cesar Chelala
Women’s Critical Role in Saving the Environment
February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
Thomas Knapp
The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC
Mitchel Cohen
A Tale of Two Citations: Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Michael Harrington’s “The Other America”
Jake Johnston
Haiti and the Collapse of a Political and Economic System
Dave Lindorff
It’s Not Just Trump and the Republicans
Laura Flanders
An End to Amazon’s Two-Bit Romance. No Low-Rent Rendezvous.
Patrick Walker
Venezuelan Coup Democrats Vomit on Green New Deal
Natalie Dowzicky
The Millennial Generation Will Tear Down Trump’s Wall
Nick Licata
Of Stress and Inequality
Joseph G. Ramsey
Waking Up on President’s Day During the Reign of Donald Trump
Elliot Sperber
Greater Than Food
Weekend Edition
February 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies
Chris Floyd
Pence and the Benjamins: An Eternity of Anti-Semitism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail