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Published on Monday, June 19, 2000 in the Los Angeles Times
National Commission on Terrorism Report: 'Not A Document To Be Cast Aside Lightly; It Should Be Flung With Full Force Across The Room'
by Hussein Ibish and Salam Al-marayati
 
The National Commission on Terrorism was charged by Congress with proposing measures that would make the United States safer. But the recommendations in its recently released report instead create new dangers for core American values.

These recommendations include more wiretaps on Americans, using the Army to replace civilian law enforcement, encouraging the CIA to employ known human rights abusers and terrorists and stigmatizing foreign students who switch their majors to science.

The overall thrust of the commission's report is this: Give the federal government a strengthened national security state apparatus aimed primarily at individuals and oblivious to their legal rights. Most of what is proposed would damage civil liberties without providing any obvious increase in security or even addressing the serious challenges demonstrated by this country's experience with terrorism.

For example, the report strangely is silent about measures to increase security at U.S. facilities overseas, sites where several of the most dramatic terrorist attacks occurred, such as at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. It also fails to define terrorism or identify its likely perpetrators.

Instead, the report relies on extremely general statistical observations, such as a supposed increase over the last 10 years in average casualties per terrorist incident--although how this would help plan against terrorist acts is unclear. Much of the report also dwells not on the pattern of real incidents at home and abroad in recent years but on the possibility of terrorist attacks using weapons of mass destruction. The report admits that it is "difficult to predict the likelihood" of such an attack yet makes this a centerpiece of its concerns.

The commission suggests radical measures, some of which would overturn core principles and deeply established traditions of American democracy.

It calls for the armed forces to be designated the lead federal agency for law enforcement and disaster management in case of a "catastrophic attack," which it does not define, even before such an attack actually occurs. The tradition of separating the military from domestic law enforcement is deeply rooted in the United States--and for good reason. Soldiers are not organized, trained or oriented toward the rule of law, especially where the rights of individuals are concerned. While we have seen the increasing militarization of law enforcement and repeated efforts to create a domestic role for the armed forces, if Americans allow the Army to become the police, citizens' rights will inevitably suffer.

The commission calls for information on all international students to be collected and monitored, not only for visa status, but for academic interest. The report suggests that it is sinister for foreign students to change their majors from English to physics. Such information is obviously of no help in thwarting a terrorist attack, but it would allow the U.S. government to identify young scientists based on their national origin and single them out for long-term surveillance. Such measures would have a chilling effect on university life and flout principles of academic freedom and the universality of scientific knowledge.

It is high time we reasserted the principle that law enforcement should focus solely on criminal behavior and conspiracy, and not on anybody's lawful, 1st Amendment-protected political, religious or academic pursuits.

The report encourages the FBI to wiretap more Americans and the CIA to employ the most unsavory characters. There is no acknowledgment of the "blowback" phenomenon, unintended consequences from excessive CIA covert operations and consorting with thugs and killers. The commission seems blissfully unaware that much of the terrorism it cites as most troubling can be seen as direct fallout from the massive CIA covert war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, in which figures such as Omar Abdel Rahman (blamed for the World Trade Center bombing) and Osama bin Laden (blamed for the embassy bombings in Africa) were nurtured and promoted by our own government.

Terrorism requires a more creative approach to deal with unexpected scenarios. Unfortunately, anyone who disagrees with the prevalent thinking is accused of being soft on terrorism if not an outright sympathizer.

One of the authors of this piece, Salam Al-Marayati, was nominated to this commission last year, only to have his nomination withdrawn after protests from Zionist organizations. It is clear now what the reasoning was for the expulsion: He represents that dissenting voice calling for a need to enhance social engagement in the Arab and Muslim worlds and to explore the root causes of terrorism. That voice of dissent needs to be heard for a serious counterterrorism policy to have any chance of success.

Instead, the commission's new Cold Warriors would encourage a return to reckless CIA activities that, in the long run, have harmed Americans and damaged the national interest.

Benjamin Franklin long ago warned Americans that those who would sacrifice their liberty to gain temporary security deserve neither. The National Commission on Terrorism proposes we begin to do exactly that, and its recommendations should be vehemently rejected.

As another great American, Dorothy Parker, might have put it, this report is not a document to be cast aside lightly; it should be flung with full force across the room.

Hussein Ibish Is Communications Director for the American-arab Anti-discrimination Committee. Salam Al-marayati Is Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Based in Los Angeles.

Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times

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