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The Fatal Flaws in George Bush’s “War on Terrorism” - as Told by those Who Have Participated in it [View All]

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jun-21-07 08:15 PM
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The Fatal Flaws in George Bush’s “War on Terrorism” - as Told by those Who Have Participated in it
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Ignoring human rights helps recruit terrorists, justifies terrorism, and defeats the best thing we have going for us – the fact we stand for something better: for freedom, tolerance, and laws that protect all – Stephen Grey, from the last sentence of his book, “Ghost Plane – The True Story of the CIA Torture Program”

In his book “Ghost Plane”, Stephen Grey, Amnesty International Award-Winning Journalist for Excellence in Human Rights Reporting, meticulously documents the illegal and horrendous system of torture and other human rights abuses that George Bush has perpetrated upon the world as part of his so-called “War on Terror”. That system has three major components: Known U.S. operated prisons at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq and Afghanistan, where torture and other grave abuses of human rights occur routinely; Secret U.S. prisons throughout the world where similar or worse abuses occur routinely; and worst of all, the program of “extraordinary rendition”, whereby U.S. officials kidnap (or otherwise gather into their custody) men or boys and transport them to prisons in countries where few or no barriers to the most horrendous kinds of torture exist, in full knowledge that those men are likely to be systematically tortured and never released until dead, with no access to any kind of a system that attempts to determine their guilt or innocence. In his book, copyrighted in 2006, Grey estimates that 11 thousand have encountered such a fate since the onset of George Bush’s “War on Terror”.

In the last chapter of his book, titled “Conclusion: Winning the War, Grey explains how George Bush’s “War on Terror” has only increased the terrorism risk, and he notes that “it is imperative that an informed debate begins on whether the West’s approach, conducted largely in the shadows, is the right one”. Introducing his recommendations for radically changing our approach, Grey says:

I’ve spoken both to those who waged this war – those closely connected to the CIA and the U.S. government – and to those caught up in its operations, including many former prisoners. Despite describing things from different poles, I’ve found that most have described a similar story. Few on either side doubt, for instance, the scale of torture implemented within many of the jails where America has sent its prisoners…

I have leveled few criticisms broadly against those in the CIA… As we’ve seen, the CIA took its orders from the White House. The men involved were handcuffed from deploying other options through political and legal restrictions.

Instead, the only conclusions I would seek to offer are positive in nature, tentatively answering the question: what should then be done instead? … I have sought the advice of both those who have followed this conflict most closely and those who, through their past experience of covert and overt warfare, seem to me to offer the wisest counsel for how the West should proceed. Many of these individuals, unwilling to lose their security clearances, are not named here… What follows is, what seems to me, a distillation of sound advice…

But before proceeding to Grey’s four recommendations, here is a basic summary description of the U.S. torture program, from Grey’s introduction to his book:

Comparing George Bush’s “War on Terror” with Stalin’s Gulag System

Please keep in mind that Grey makes every effort in his book to avoid exaggeration or any statement that might be seen as an exaggeration. Here are excerpts from his basic description of the U.S. torture program in his introduction:

As I continued my reporting in Washington, I heard whispers that there was something much bigger going on: a system of clandestine prisons that involved the incarceration of thousands of prisoners, not just the few hundred in Cuba. While the president spoke of spreading liberty across the world, CIA insiders spoke of a return to the old days of working hand in glove with some of the most repressive secret police in the world…

Much later, when more pieces of the puzzle were in place, I thought of the work of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the dissident writer. When he described the Soviet Union’s network of prison camps as a “Gulag Archipelago” he was portraying a parallel world that existed within physical reach of everyday life but yet could remain unseen to ordinary people. After years of persecution, Solzhenitsyn described a jail system that he knew from firsthand experience had swallowed millions of citizens into its entrails. At least a tenth never emerged alive.

The modern world of prisons run by the United States and its allies in the war on terror is far less extensive. Its inmates number thousands not millions. And yet there are eerie parallels between what the Soviet Union created and what we, in the West, are now constructing.

Solzhenitsyn’s works were a gift to those engaged in the ideological struggle of the cold war. He described Russia’s darkest secrets… As a relentless chronicle of human depravity, stretching to more than nineteen hundred pages, his three-part Archipelago was an uncomfortable and challenging journey for any reader, liberal or conservative. For like British author George Orwell, Solzhenitsyn described not only the evils of a totalitarian society but explored what Orwell called the “double-think” that persuaded ordinary human beings to ignore the atrocities perpetrated so close to their midst…

With the cold war now over, it is this description of the Soviet system’s surreal quality that still resonates. The Gulag was so very vast and extensive, and yet still it could be hidden in people’s minds. Ordinary citizens could persuade themselves that all was normal even as their next-door neighbor disappeared… for most in society the Gulag had a dreamlike, fantasy quality because it was a world that had yet to be experienced… Solzhenitsyn wrote of it as an “amazing country” which “though scattered in an Archipelago geographically, was, in the psychological sense, fused into a continent…” Yet there were many who did not even guess at its presence and many, many others who had heard something vague…

How much more than surreal, more apart from normal existence, was the network of prisons run after 9/11 by the United States and its allies? How much easier too was the denial and the double-think when those who disappeared into the modern gulag were, being mainly swarthy skinned Arabs with a different culture, so different from most of us in the West? How much more reassuring were the words from our politicians that all was well?

Four recommendations on how to fight terrorism much more effectively

We must understand what we are fighting and adjust accordingly
Grey notes that George Bush has expanded his “War on Terror” to include “almost all militant Islamic groups that use the weapons of terrorism to achieve their ends”. These various groups do not by any means constitute a single entity, and they have a wide variety of motives and specific goals. By treating them all as our enemy we “ignore what many of these groups are fighting for, and it creates the danger of driving these organizations into a common front against us”.

Bush’s “war on terror” may succeed tactically from time to time by capturing individual terrorists. But there are far more terrorists continuing to spring up than the numbers we are removing. In other words, the key to our “war on terror” should be seen not as a war against widely disparate individual terrorists – rather, it should be seen as a war of ideas. Grey notes:

The lesson from this analysis is not defeatist. It does not suggest that the war on terror is unwinnable. Rather, it suggests that the key battleground is the realm of ideas; that the effort to win the hearts and minds of the Arab world, and counter militant Muslim thinking, outweighs the illusory short-term advantages of resorting to the tactics of repression… Winning this war of ideas… means getting the policies right. Western policies and ideas must be the ones that inspire people in the Middle East… At the heart of the Western message must be the promotion of what the West does best – democracy and a pluralistic society.

Defending democracy
Grey notes that the absence of democracy in the Middle East provides fertile grounds for the recruitment of terrorists. Yet, despite all the rhetoric, we are doing nothing to promote democracy there:

In his 2005 State of the Union address, President Bush committed the United States to a strategic goal of establishing democracy in the Middle East… Yet, as we’ve seen in this account, the tactics of rendition employed in the war on terror have involved close cooperation with the worst aspects of the regimes that stand against democracy. It is a counterproductive strategy… It is not difficult to see how these relationships foster the impression that our concern for human rights and democracy is shallow rhetoric… As America has enlisted these regimes to become allies in the war on terror, its silken words of praise for the “progress” of Arab dictatorships amount to the same kind of appeasement…

Much of the Arab world’s anger against the United States, an anger that recruits young men to violence… is directed at some more basic U.S. foreign policies… Many also feel deep anger over the U.S. treatment of Iraq… confronting a wider Islamic insurgency against the West will require a radical rethinking of many of its public stances in the Middle East. Here, for instance, is an example of how intelligence analysts view the effect of these policies. A secret assessment by Britain’s joint intelligence committee of the effect of the Iraq invasion, written in April 2005, stated:

We judge that the conflict in Iraq has exacerbated the threat from international terrorism and will continue to have an impact in the long term. It has reinforced the determination of terrorists who were already committed to attacking the West and motivated others who were not.

The need for effective allies
By repeatedly showing his contempt for international law and through his routinely repressive and cruel policies, George Bush has squandered and reversed the good will towards the United States that was widely evident immediately following the 9/11 attacks on our country, even among Arab countries. This has been fatal to our fight against terrorism because we desperately need the support of allies throughout the world. Grey explains:

America has become unrecognizable to many of its oldest, most devoted friends abroad… We need to reacquaint ourselves with some of the hard lessons of the Cold War, where we at times undercut our own long-term interests by making common cause with the wrong side simply because it was vocally anti-Communist… When we make it easy to hate us, we are also hastening the next attack.

Stop the torture and abuse of human rights
Although torture produces a great deal of information, it is rarely useful information, and it is generally subject to great suspicion regarding its credibility. Furthermore, the rare instances when it produces tactically useful information are greatly outweighed by the strategically negative effects:

Torture also recruits prisoners to support greater extremism… For the inmates of these dungeons, their prison experiences will be the most formative of their lives. Innocent or guilty when captured, few will emerge without a burning hostility to the United States and the West… After their release from Guantanamo, and from jails across the world, what new jihad will the new generation of tortured prisoners inspire?...

But to my own mind, the reason torture is wrong to employ is not for the pain or anger it causes, nor for its poor intelligence value. It is wrong because it degrades our own societies. It must be concealed with a corroding and hypocritical secrecy, and it undermines the rule of law and our own morality.

My own take on George Bush’s “War on Terror” and Stephen Grey’s book

I believe that we owe Stephen Grey and others like him a great debt of gratitude for all the work they’ve done to expose the U.S. torture system for Americans and the rest of the world to see. Of all the impeachable offenses committed by the Bush – and there are a great many – I believe that it’s abuse and torture of its prisoners is the worst.

I do have one important disagreement with Grey’s presentation, however. Nowhere in his book did he talk about the motives of George Bush and others who have perpetrated this outrage on the world. Rather, he was almost perfectly neutral on the issue of motives, and almost made it sound at times as if he believes that George Bush’s approach to his “War on Terror”, though greatly misguided, is nevertheless well intentioned. It’s the same kind of thing that we hear over and over again from our corporate news media and almost all the Democratic politicians. Even when they vehemently disagree with George Bush’s policies they give him credit for good intentions.

Not that I necessarily blame Grey (or others) for that. Motives can be very difficult to ascertain; and more important, sometimes by taking a stand on a highly controversial subject one can thereby cause his or her main message to be discounted or ignored. Even Michael Moore, in his great film Fahrenheit 9-11, chose to virtually ignore the question of whether or not the Bush administration willfully allowed the 9-11 attacks to occur (LIHOP) or perpetrated them itself (MIHOP).

But I have no hesitancy myself in declaring that George Bush’s motives for his “War on Terror” are not in the least motivated by any honorable intentions, but rather are motivated solely by his lust for power, if not by worse impulses such as sadism. I’ve discussed this issue elsewhere many times, and I won’t dwell on it more here, except to say why I believe that this is an issue that is important for us to discuss.

Why discuss motives?

Why is it important to discuss motives, as Dennis Kucinich courageously did when he explained to our nation that a major motivation for our Iraq war was to steal the Iraqis’ oil? Why not just criticize the policies and forego speculation about motives?

In the case of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney I think it should have been abundantly clear a long time ago that they have no good intention whatsoever – ever. With respect to their “War on Terror”, their dark intentions should be quite evident, among other reasons, by virtue of the fact that they make little or no effort to distinguish the guilty from the innocent. Stephen Grey pointed to many examples in his book of innocent men being thrown into prison and tortured for months on end; Major General Antonio Taguba, charged with investigating the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, said that “A lack of proper screening meant that many innocent Iraqis were being detained (in some cases indefinitely) and that 60% of civilian prisoners at Abu Ghraib were deemed not to be a threat to society; and the International Red Cross said that between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake.

The Bush administration claims those whom it imprisons in their “War on Terror” are the “worst of the worst”. But how can they be believed on this? Worse yet, how can they believe it themselves? Forget about the fact that our prisoners have no access to counsel or opportunity to see the evidence against them. The great majority of them are never even charged with a crime! One of the most basic rights that we Americans were provided in our Constitution was the right to challenge the government’s detention of us. Any government that routinely abrogates that right has no right to call itself anything but a dictatorship.

By hanging on to the fiction that the Bush administration is incompetent but well intentioned, though most Americans may eagerly await a change of presidential administration in 2008, they nevertheless have little or no understanding of the magnitude of the threat that this administration poses to our country, to its Constitution, and to our democracy. As long as that understanding eludes the majority of Americans our future continuation as a democracy remains in grave danger.
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