Time to Rethink the War on Terror

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When Eric Holder eventually steps down as Attorney General, he will leave behind a complicated legacy, some of it tragic, like his decision not to prosecute Wall Street after the financial crisis, and his all-out war on whistleblowers like Edward Snowden.

But if there's one thing Eric Holder has done right as Attorney General, it's his commitment to trying terrorism suspects in civilian courts.

As the New York Times pointed out yesterday,

[A]s Mr. Holder prepares to leave office, his success in reversing the Bush administration's emphasis on trying terrorism suspects in secret prisons or at offshore military tribunals may be one of his most significant achievements. While he did not end the debate... the Justice Department can now point to a string of courtroom victories that his liberal supporters, as well as many law enforcement officials, believe has reshaped the government's approach to prosecuting terrorism.

This really is a positive change. Trying murderers like Benghazi plotter Abu Khattala in civilian courts doesn't just bring justice to their victims, it also sends a message to the rest of the world that America won't sacrifice its core values in the fight against terrorism.

That's really important because when the terrorists we're trying to stop will do anything to make America look like a tyrannical force for evil, we need to preserve our principles or risk becoming the very thing the terrorists want us to be.

That's something the Bush administration never really understood.

George Bush didn't just lie us into Iraq or spend the first nine months of his presidency ignoring the 9/11 plotters, he also responded to the tragedy that was 9/11 in a totally inappropriate way.

Instead of rallying the world around America and working with international agencies like Interpol to track down and then bring to justice the people responsible for 9/11, he decided to fight terrorism with war, which, when you really think about it, is just another form of terrorism.

This was a huge mistake, and it has costs us lives both at home and abroad.

4,500 dead Americans and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and Afghanis later, Iraq and Afghanistan are still nowhere near democracy and are both far worse off than they were before we invaded.

Meanwhile, the $4.4 trillion we've spent on Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade could have easily been used to send everyone in America to college for free for a decade.

At the same time, we now have surveillance state that's as powerful and invasive as anything out of the former East Germany.

But the worst part is that this was all totally unnecessary. If George Bush had just accepted the Taliban's offer to hand Osama Bin Laden over to a third country for prosecution in 2001, we would have been able to bring him to justice without wasting all that blood and treasure on two stupid and needless wars.

Instead, Bush did exactly what the terrorists wanted him to do. As Bin Laden himself said in a 2004 video message to the American people, "All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations."

Thirteen years after 9/11, it's clear who the losers are in "the War on Terror": the American people and our freedoms. Which makes it all the more important that the Obama administration finish what it started by trying terrorist suspects in civilian courts, and ending the "War on Terror" as we know it.

Just over a year ago during his big speech at the National Defense University here in Washington, President Obama actually talked about winding down Bush's War on Terror.

But with the rise of ISIS and Republicans trying to out-hawk each other during an election year, he's been drawn back into another war in the Middle East. This President has put more thought into this war than Bush did into his, but it's still a war, and thus the wrong approach to fighting terrorism.

Ultimately, war only fuels more terrorism abroad and erodes freedom at home. That should be obvious to everyone, given this administration's failed drone campaigns in Yemen and Somalia and its ongoing support for mass surveillance.

James Madison once said that "No nation [can] preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare," and when you look at the past 13 years of American history, it's pretty clear he was right.

So let's stop this "War on Terror" business once-and-for-all and start fighting terrorism with law enforcement like sensible people.

We're the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Let's start acting like it.




Hephaestus's picture
Hephaestus 8 years 33 weeks ago

Very, very sadly "the land of the free and the home of the brave" has become a lost ethos

What I name facsim runs the land of america

Corporatins and business interests influence every aspecect of life

Wars have been fought against this when the monster was in your face

Now the monster has diguise

With knowing intention to fool the unaware


Kend's picture
Kend 8 years 33 weeks ago

Today in Canada we deal with terrorists the best way you can. With enough bullets in him to kill him.

RFord's picture
RFord 8 years 33 weeks ago

Suspending the right of habeus corpus, the right to anyone held by a government agency to have their day in court, Is one of the most wrong and stupid things G W Bush did besides getting us into two unnessessary wars. Arresting someone and saying they are not criminals but terrorist instead. so the law doesn't apply to them is insane. Terrorism is a crime so a terrorist suspect should be charged with the crime and brought into court for justice. If a person is a POW, that is different and may be held for prisoner swaps or until the war is over but must be treated properly according to Geneva covention rules. If the government finds a person innocent they should be let go. If you were arrested for suspected terrorism because someone said you were a terrorist, put in prison for an indefinate period of time, never charged with a crime, and never having your day in court, would it be ok? Is it ok if it happens to someone else? It happened to our Gwantanamo Bay prisoners and if it's wrong for you, it's wrong for them. You don't have to believe in God or government to know when some things are just wrong.

RichardofJeffersonCity's picture
RichardofJeffer... 8 years 33 weeks ago

el Presidente Transpencia is a total war hawk with complete dedication to the constant war economy. Obama's Orwellian targeted assassination drone program will be creating future enemies to justify war budget.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 32 weeks ago

The “war on terror” is nothing but a hoax. It serves three purposes that I can see: Under false pretense, justifies ongoing, endless war, great for weapons manufacturers and other war profiteers; under equally false pretense, justifies U.S. hegemonic abuses worldwide; also “justifies” the creation of a police state here, depriving U.S. citizens of their freedom and civil liberties, while at the same time, subjecting them to intrusive and unconstitutional surveillance practices. It’s hard to imagine any better “excuse” than 9-11 for creating a fascist police state at home, while trampling all over other countries in a perpetual, unholy quest for world domination. - AIW

richinfolsom 8 years 32 weeks ago

I watched the first of two hour Frontline exposé recounting the largest war of choice since 55,000 men and women died in Vietnam. Many of the high level decision makers gave interviews to Frontline, some offering advice contrary to the decisions of president Chaney and the silent oil men warming the drilling rigs with an expectation of gushing oil. Only several days after Paul Bremmer took power, order number two was to disband the army, all 300,000 troops along stockpiles of weapons and instruments of war. Imagine, 300,000 heavily armed, suddenly jobless soldiers wondering the streets desperate to repulse the American invaders. Omg,

Alqueda arrived in the midst of the chaos and incited a brutal and bloody clash between the Shia and the Sunniand the Kurds. The American answer for peace is pay the factions $465,000 ,000 not to fight each other.

What happened to truth hearings? Congressional hearings.

What could have $465.000,000 brought in the USA?

Doesn't is seem that religion has closer ties with war and hate than with god and love?


stecoop01's picture
stecoop01 8 years 32 weeks ago

It's been thirteen years since 9/11 and I can still remember President Bush saying to the American people, "We must not allow terrorists to change who we are!"

Ironically, that's exactly what he did.

George_R's picture
George_R 8 years 32 weeks ago

The whole of this subject is fictitious and factitious: "terror" is a methodology, not an enemy.

I believe that there is a much more erudite discussion of the matter available:

"The war, therefore if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture. It is like the battles between certain ruminant animals whose horns are incapable of hurting one another. But though it is unreal it is not meaningless. It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that the hierarchical society needs. War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair. In the past, the ruling groups of all countries, although they might recognize their common interest and therefore limit the destructiveness of war, did fight against one another, and the victor always plundered the vanquished. In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word "war," therefore, has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist. The peculiar pressure that is exerted on human beings between the Neolithic Age and the early twentieth century has disappeared and has been replaced by something quite different. The effect would be much the same if the three superstates, instead of fighting one another, should agree to live in perpetual peace, each inviolate within its own boundaries. For in that case each would still be a self-contained universe, freed forever from the sobering influence of external danger. A peace that was truly permanent would be the same as a permanent war. This--although the vast majority of Party members understand it only in a shallower sense--is the inner meaning of the Party slogan: WAR IS PEACE"

George Orwell, 1984.

The only thing that Orwell got wrong was the year - and, not by very much.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 31 weeks ago

I haven't read Orwell's book, but I've heard so much about it that it feels as though I have. The guy sounds spot-on in his predictions.... unfortunately. - AIW

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