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With the war against the Taliban nearing conclusion, many in Washington are urging Bush to expand the current conflict into a vast, open-ended campaign against assorted terrorist groups and "rogue" states like Iraq. The President has encouraged such thinking. The current struggle in Afghanistan is "just the beginning on the war against terror," he told US soldiers the day before Thanksgiving. "There are other terrorists who threaten America and our friends, and there are other nations willing to sponsor them. We will not be secure as a nation until all of these threats are defeated."
Originally, in his address to Congress on September 20, he said the war would extend to every terrorist group that has "a global reach" and to states that knowingly aided or harbored such groups. But on November 26 he expanded the target list to include states that "terrorize" other nations by secretly pursuing the manufacture of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, a category that conceivably could include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and North Korea.
With the door open to so many options, hawks and hard-liners of many stripes have been arguing for a wide range of punitive military strikes. At the top of the list is a campaign to kill or oust Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Other oft-mentioned targets include Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, Hamas and Hezbollah in the West Bank and Lebanon and assorted rebel groups in Somalia.
With fighting still under way in Afghanistan, the White House is reluctant to provide any specifics about the next stage of the war. But various officials have suggested that the Pentagon is already gearing up for a wider range of attacks, including a stepped-up campaign against Saddam Hussein. From all that can be discerned these plans envision far more extended and risky operations than those now under way in Afghanistan.
Many signs point to preparations for an expanded war. Most conspicuous, of course, are the threatening comments by senior Administration officials. "The objective is to dismantle the global terrorist networks and state support for terrorism," said Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on November 18. "There are a number of states that support terrorists. Saddam Hussein [leads] one of them." Equally suggestive is the Defense Department's continuing mobilization of forces for deployment to the Persian Gulf area even as the Taliban regime appears to be disintegrating. Several aircraft carrier battle groups have already been stationed in the area, and at least one other group is on the way. "We want to continue planning, so that we can...provide the President of the United States with credible military options," Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the US Central Command, said on November 8.
A war with Iraq would conceivably jeopardize the flow of oil from the Gulf, so it is particularly significant that George W. Bush has ordered the Energy Department to completely fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the first time ever. The reserve is designed to provide the United States with a secure supply of oil in the event of war or a major national emergency.
Although none of this evidence can be considered definitive, it makes it increasingly apparent that the Administration plans to start a new round of attacks once the fighting in Afghanistan is over. This could entail an intensified air campaign against Iraq or commando raids on suspected terrorist camps in Somalia, the Bekaa valley of Lebanon or other sites in the greater Middle East or Asia. Stepped-up US involvement in the Philippines' counterinsurgency campaign against Muslim rebels in southwestern Mindanao is also likely. (US military advisers have already been assigned to the government forces involved in this effort.)
Whatever the immediate outcome of these engagements, the United States is likely to find itself embroiled in one bloody and uncontrollable conflagration after another. Except possibly in the Philippines, where support for the rebels is limited, US intervention will provoke a hostile reaction from at least some segments of the local population, leading to a larger conflict and/or new outbreaks of terrorism. It will also divert resources from the effort to track down surviving offshoots of Al Qaeda--groups that most directly threaten the United States. In addition, an expanded US war effort will alienate our partners in the global antiterror coalition, most of whom insist that the current campaign be confined to attacks on Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
A US attack on Iraq presumably would be justified on the grounds that Iraq is manufacturing weapons of mass destruction that threaten the world community. But there is no clear evidence of such activities. The only way to find such evidence is by sending UN arms inspectors to Iraq--a step Saddam has opposed since 1998. The best way to compel him to let inspectors in is to impose "smart" sanctions of the sort proposed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and by others who oppose the current regime of sanctions, which inflicts great suffering on ordinary Iraqis. Any US military action that pre-empted such an effort would invite worldwide condemnation.
The Bush Administration enjoys strong support from Americans and the international community for the campaign against Osama bin Laden. As Richard Falk suggests in this issue ["In Defense of 'Just War' Thinking"], a war limited to the destruction of Al Qaeda can be considered a just and proportionate response to the September 11 terror attacks. But a larger effort, aimed at any number of states and individuals with no apparent connection to September 11, must not be viewed in that light. Such a campaign should be denounced as a dangerous example of "mission creep," intended to further the ambitions of certain strategists and politicians in Washington while exposing US soldiers and the American people to additional bouts of deadly violence.
Europe and the United States have begun to follow diverging scripts on the war.
"It is almost impossible even now to describe what actually happened in Europe on August 4, 1914," Hannah Arendt wrote in 1950, in words that also seem to apply, with uncanny aptness, to September 11, 2001. "The days before and the days after the first world war are separated not like the end of an old and the beginning of a new period but like the day before and the day after an explosion.... [That] explosion seems to have touched off a chain reaction in which we have been caught ever since and which nobody seems to be able to stop." The chain reaction was the abrupt, unstoppable plunge into the protracted, unprecedented savagery of the two world wars and the two great totalitarian regimes, Soviet and Nazi, of the century's first half. It's still too soon to know whether September 11 (let us avoid the trivializing, disrespectful notation "nine eleven") will touch off a comparable--or worse--spiral of violence in the twenty-first century. An "explosion" we have definitely had; whether an unstoppable "chain reaction" of violence has been triggered we do not know. Yet already the elements of not one but at least three distinct possible kinds of disaster have appeared with astonishing swiftness.
First (to list them briefly), is the threat of a much wider conventional war. Even as the war in Afghanistan still rages, voices in and out of government are calling for new wars against new countries. The targets and justifications for attacking them shift with dizzying rapidity. The war most often mentioned is one to overthrow the regime of President Saddam Hussein of Iraq. The justification first given was a possible connection to the September 11 attack or the anthrax attack that followed; but when this justification seemed to fade (hard facts are impossible to come by), a new one--Saddam's refusal to let UN inspectors into his country to search for weapons of mass destruction--was brought forward. Next, we were hearing from inside sources that the targets might in fact be Somalia or Sudan. (The attack on Iraq would be considered later.) Meanwhile, other crises are sucked into the vortex. In the latest round of violence between Israel and Palestine, Israel, seeking to associate its own war on terror with the American one, has responded to the suicide bombings by the Islamic organization Hamas by attacking the head of the Palestinian Authority, Yasir Arafat. If this development leads to the collapse or expulsion of Arafat from Palestine and definitively ends hopes for a Palestinian state, it could rouse the fury of the Islamic world against the United States and Israel alike, and bring on the full-scale "clash of civilizations" predicted by the political scientist Samuel Huntington.
Second, the Bush Administration has responded to the terrorist threat with executive measures that some are calling the most serious threat to civil liberties in recent memory. The list already includes a roundup of more than a thousand people without charges; eavesdropping on conversations between terrorism-related suspects and their attorneys; a huge, ill-defined expansion of wiretapping in the United States; and, of course, the creation by presidential order of military tribunals that try and execute noncitizens in secret by majority vote. If, as George W. Bush says, we must not allow terrorists to use our freedom to attack us, then how much less should we destroy our own freedom in order to attack the terrorists? Freedom is not some glittering abstraction that hovers in the air; it is the Constitution and the rights it guarantees to citizens. To lose these will be to lose the war no matter how many terrorists the United States kills in Afghanistan.
Third, looming over all these developments is a threat unknown in 1914--the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, by the United States, or both. Osama bin Laden has stated that he possesses nuclear weapons ("as a deterrent"), and Administration sources are telling reporters that there is reason to fear that he may have radiological weapons (which use conventional explosives to spread radioactive materials across a wide area). Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has pointedly declined to rule out first-use of nuclear weapons by the United States at some point in the conflict.
What protection does the world have now against a new chain reaction, in which these dangers will feed on and produce one another? To the people--a large majority, according to the polls--who favor present policy, the protection probably seems adequate, or as good as it can be, but to someone like me, who, as this Letter has made clear, opposes both the war abroad and the inroads on liberty at home, Arendt's description of a world in which events are outrunning understanding and response seems frighteningly current. Neither widening war abroad nor loss of liberty at home nor the danger of mass destruction seems to have stirred a response anywhere near the level of the danger. We seem to be gliding in a kind of glassy calm toward a multitude of horrors. There is incontrovertible evidence--including a shocking series of photographs in the New York Times--that our new ally the Northern Alliance has been executing prisoners of war, but there is little reaction in the United States. Serious allegations have also been made that the Alliance, with the help of American bombers, has massacred hundreds of prisoners in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. The Administration has shown no interest in discovering the truth. The nation's shock was intense when Americans were killed in the September 11 attacks. But reports that villages have been destroyed by US bombing in Afghanistan go uninvestigated. Asked about the press coverage of the subject, Brit Hume of Fox News commented, "The fact that some people are dying, is that really news? And is it news to be treated in a semi-straight-faced way? I think not." The Administration is clearcutting constitutional protections, but few legislators take an interest.
It's one thing to face possible disasters; another to let them draw near without protest or action, as if in a trance or dream. "Nothing which was being done...no matter how many people knew and foretold the circumstances, could be undone or prevented," Arendt wrote of the earlier period. The question now arises whether an opposition today can find the ground on which to take its stand. Or will "every event," as Arendt wrote of the earlier time, "have the finality of a last judgment, a judgment that was passed neither by God nor by a devil, but looked rather like the expression of some unredeemably stupid fatality"?
As envisioned by the Administration, it's unilateralism with a multilateral face.
What times. Give the government the power to assassinate terrorists, comes the call on chat shows. Don't burden citizens with the obligation of serving on juries for people who hate us, say the TV audiences. Spare us the circus of long public trials, say the letters to the editor. According to most polls, approximately 60 percent of Americans wholeheartedly endorse such measures through the vehicle of President Bush's recently ordered military tribunals. The figures also show that many of those same Americans seem to feel that such measures will affect only a few noncitizens and that the real subject of such tribunals will be Osama bin Laden. "They had to do it this way because you can't make a law against just one person," opines a friend.
Yet there are about 17 million noncitizen residents in America. By the terms of President Bush's order of November 13, all those people are now effectively living under martial law. I think that's a tad overbroad, although I concede that my opinion is currently in the minority. Rather, I wish to pursue my concern that the practical divide between "aliens" and "citizens" is a very thin one, one that is melting away quickly beneath the sun of this go-for-the-throat, to-hell-with-human-rights rage.
If Osama bin Laden is the icon by which noncitizens are deprived of constitutional protections, my sense is that O.J. Simpson has re-emerged as the justification for doing the same to certain citizens. "We wouldn't want Johnnie Cochran trying Osama," I keep hearing. "He'd end up in Florida, playing golf with O.J."
The Simpson case, a wholly anomalous piece of bread and circus, has come to symbolize a widely shared and unfortunately politicized understanding of the criminal justice system. "O.J." means: the misuse of public resources, the helplessness of prosecutors, the predatoriness of defense lawyers in particular and of trial lawyers generally, the cravenness of judges and the bias of black jurors. The case remains an object lesson in the sensational potential of reality TV. And in the fallout, the English language gained an ugly new phrase--"playing the race card"--that has been used to pulverize any constructive discussion of race or civil rights ever since.
The problem is that this rendering of the Simpson case is deeply misleading. And its reappearance in the context of whether Osama bin Laden should be tried or just "offed" is dangerous.
To back up a bit: When Simpson was acquitted of murdering Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, the big question was why a very racially mixed jury (it intrigues me that people always think of that jury as "all black") acquitted him when the whole rest of the world wanted to hang him. Most people blamed the supposed stupidity of the jurors. But I think Simpson was acquitted not so much because defense lawyers befuddled the wits of the jury--however much the media bemoaned Alan Dershowitz's and Johnnie Cochran's theater--but more because the prosecution's chief witness, officer Mark Fuhrman, lied on the stand, was caught at it and was ultimately convicted of perjury for it. There really are very few cases where you can ever get a conviction if the credibility of a major prosecution witness is as shaky as that.
Moreover, LA residents--the jury pool in other words--were perhaps more aware than the rest of the nation of the LAPD's history of flagrant frame-ups, particularly racialized ones. The now-notorious revelations of corruption in the LAPD's Rampart division grew out of this precise concern: Hundreds of criminal cases had to be dismissed in Los Angeles in the past few years because of officers so eager to convict that they suppressed relevant evidence, or relied too heavily on snitches intent on plea-bargaining their way to lighter sentences, or lied, framed and even attacked minority defendants.
To this day, few people recognize the relation between the attitudes of the jury pool in the Simpson case and the Rampart scandal. My only point is that the practiced corruption--of lowered evidentiary standards, of self-interested witnesses and of shortcuts to conviction--poisons not just individual cases but the public trust and perception of fairness upon which all else rests.
To bring this back to military tribunals, such trust-eroding "street justice" is precisely the "cure" now being proposed in the name of "avoiding" more O.J.-like trials: indefinite detention in undisclosed locations, less than unanimous decisions to convict, execution without right of appeal, unidentified informants paid with promises of expedited American citizenship, ethnic profiling, etc. And therein lies the unsettling meeting point between the fates of those who dwell in the "mean street" and those in the "Arab street." People who have been marked as "suspect," or "other," whether citizens or noncitizens, understandably want--yes, even deserve--the Johnnie Cochrans of the world out there making sure the prosecution lives up to its burden of proof rather than just sending out a posse because a CNN poll says you did it.
I sometimes wonder if the historical role of defense attorneys has become too hard to see in our culture. It's about becoming an extension of the defendant. A "mouthpiece" in the literal sense. It is democratizing to have an advocate who knows the law and, theoretically at least, can present one's side as nominally well as the prosecution. Alas, it is also true that none of this makes us feel better about the fact that celebrity status, extreme wealth and not one but teams of lawyers can sometimes whip up a script--much like those hardworking Hollywood propagandists we are told the government has hired--that no one could resist.
What's that proverb about the exception proving the rule? It is as wrongheaded to think that O.J. Simpson represents the mass of citizens who are viewed as suspect profiles (and who are overwhelmingly poor, who are already convicted with far too much dispatch and who can rarely afford even one lawyer, never mind a dream team) as it is to think that Osama bin Laden represents the 20 million resident aliens in the United States, who if summoned before a military tribunal--just to begin with--would not have even the right to choose their own lawyers.
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Research support provided by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.
We are all multilateralists now, or so President George W. Bush would have us believe.
The United States of America has just succeeded in bombing a country back out of the Stone Age. This deserves to be recognized as an achievement, even by those who want to hasten past the moment and resume their customary tasks (worrying about the spotty human rights record of the Northern Alliance is the latest thing). The nexus that bound the Taliban to the forces of Al Qaeda and that was symbolized by the clan relationship between Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, has been destroyed. We are rid of one of the foulest regimes on earth, while one of the most vicious crime families in history has been crippled and scattered. It remains to help the Afghan exiles to return, to save the starving and to consolidate the tentative emancipation of Afghan women.
There is a link between our own cultural conflicts and the logic of jihad.