The War on Terror's Grand Snafu

The story was so compelling, I sat in the driveway listening to it, hand hovering over the ignition, for almost half an hour. It turned out to be an update of This American Life's Peabody-Award-winning 2006 piece "Habeas Schmabeas". The goofy title completely undersells this blockbuster investigation of our government's horrifying treatment of Guantanamo detainees). What was particularly striking about the piece--beyond the bone-chilling description of an environment so bleak it is designed to provoke suicidal despair--was the complete incompetence of the U.S. government in apprehending people with no connection whatsoever to terrorist groups. Despite President Bush's repeated assertions that Guantanamo detainees are enemy combatants "swept up by the U.S. military on the fields of battle," only about 5 percent turn out to fit that description. Among the other 90 percent are people like Badr Zaman Badr and his brother, the Pakistani satirists interviewed on the show, who wrote an Onion-like spoof of the wrong government official and found themselves turned over to U.S. custody for supposed ties to Al Qaeda. Bounty hunters in Afghanistan have turned in their neighbors under similarly suspicious circumstances. And then there are the soft-spoken Chinese dissidents, whose only political crime appears to have been opposing the Communist government of China.

The conservative U.S. attorney who finally won the release of the Chinese detainees has a theory that part of what's driving Administration secrecy at Guantanamo is sheer embarrassment at the nonthreatening nature of its detainees there. Not only are these people tortured, refused access to the evidence against them, and hidden from the world indefinitely at our government's whim, many of them also appear to be totally unconnected to terrorism or any plot against the United States or its citizens. Worse still, the fact that they are giving up so little information of any use has, perversely, prompted our government to use harsher and harsher interrogation techniques against its schlub captives.

In addition to being a perversion of American and international norms of justice, It is a SNAFU of breathtaking proportions.

And here's another one: The State Department released a report this week that shows how the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan is increasing the number of terrorist attacks globally. In other words, the War on Terror's main effect has been to generate more terror.

According to the Bush Administration's own State Department analysts, "International intervention in Iraq has brought measurable benefits. It has removed an abusive totalitarian regime with a history of sponsoring and supporting regional terrorism and has allowed a new democratic political process to emerge. It also, however, has been used by terrorists as a rallying cry for radicalization and extremist activity that has contributed to instability in neighboring countries."

Leaving aside the happy talk about a functioning government, let alone anything that could be called a "democratic political process" in Iraq, the report finds that terrorist attacks against noncombatants have nearly doubled there since 2005.

"Afghanistan remains threatened by Taliban insurgents and religious extremists," the report notes--not to mention "the surge in narcotics cultivation."

The most notable finding, pointed out by The New York Times today, is that the two countries with the largest U.S. troop presence have seen the biggest jump in terrorism. "The numbers underscore the ineffectiveness of battling terrorism with conventional military means," the Times quotes a Naval Postgraduate School terrorism expert, John Arquilla, as saying.

They also underscore the tragic waste of lives by this Administration, which invokes fear of terrorism to justify policies that damage our conscience and make us less safe.

Ruth Conniff covers national politics for The Progressive and is a voice of The Progressive on many TV and radio programs.

(c) 2007 The Progressive

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