Underlying George W. Bush’s remarkable “torture works” speech on September 6 were two trademark themes: The American people are still vulnerable to a terrorist attack, and the Administration has succeeded in protecting us.
The President has it half right–we are still vulnerable to a terrorist attack. In fact, we may be more vulnerable than ever. But that is in large part because of–not in spite of–the Administration’s so-called “war on terror.” By employing illegitimate means–from renditions to disappearances to torture to a war against a country that did not attack or threaten us–in the name of protecting us from terrorist attacks, the Administration has played into Al Qaeda’s hands. It has given the enemy the best recruiting propaganda it could ever have hoped for, created a state-of-the-art terrorist training camp in the streets of Iraq and fostered the growth of a loose-knit global band of fanatic criminals who are willing to do unspeakable violence to teach the United States a lesson.
But there hasn’t been a terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11. Surely the Administration deserves credit for that? When former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge noted this absence of terrorist attacks at a press conference upon stepping down from his post, he knocked on wood. It was a fitting gesture, because the Administration is hard-pressed to point to its initiatives as a cause for that fortuitous fact.
More than 5,000 foreign nationals within the United States were locked up in anti-terrorism initiatives in the first two years after 9/11–yet as I have noted before, not a single one has been convicted of a terrorist crime. The Special Registration program also came up short. It required 80,000 immigrants from countries with predominantly Arab and Muslim populations to come into immigration offices for interviews, fingerprinting and photographing. Yet it failed to identify and convict a single terrorist.
The Administration boasts of indicting more than 400 people in terror-related cases since 9/11, and of obtaining more than 200 convictions. But the vast majority of these cases feature no charges of terrorism at all–only routine charges of credit card fraud or false statements on a federal form. Virtually all of those who actually faced a “terrorism” charge are accused not of any terrorist act, nor even of conspiracy to engage in terrorism, but of “material support” for a group labeled as terrorist, under a law so overbroad that it requires no proof of intent to support terrorist activity. The Justice Department recently invoked this law to arrest a Staten Island man for selling satellite broadcasts from Al Manar, a television station owned by Lebanon’s Hezbollah.