Among Washington insiders the odds of war with Iraq rise and fall daily–60-40, 50-50, 40-60. What seems clear, though, is that war or no war, the collateral damage to this country at home and abroad from the Administration’s war policies has already been considerable. Let’s put aside for the moment the Administration’s exploitation of the conflict to ram through unwise domestic laws unrelated to war. Here we’ll focus on injuries inflicted by alleged war-related policies:
§ Civil liberties. A federal court upheld the government’s assertion that it could strip Yasser Esam Hamdi of his rights as a US citizen. He was allegedly taken prisoner on the battlefield while fighting with the Taliban. The conservative judges ruled that the courts have no role in reviewing the government’s claim that a prisoner was fighting for the enemy; also, that the war on terrorism does not end until the President says it does and that the “battlefield” can be anywhere. Under this decision a citizen accused of being a member of Al Qaeda may be imprisoned indefinitely, without a lawyer or judicial review of the evidence against him.
§ Condoning torture. A December Washington Post report, which has provoked disturbingly little outrage, revealed that US intelligence officers have been torturing Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects. The techniques include sleep deprivation, beatings, imposing painful positions over long periods and withholding medical attention; they blatantly violate the Geneva convention. US forces have also handed over Al Qaeda suspects to foreign police, who subject them to even crueler tortures. Such a policy debases this country’s ideals of justice under law.
§ Immigrant dragnets. The INS launched a “special registration” campaign that requires men from nineteen heavily Muslim countries and North Korea here on temporary visas to register. The program has resulted in hundreds of arrests and widespread injustices. Many of the men had paperwork violations; some had pending applications for permanent residency that had been delayed by INS inefficiency. Under this latest INS Catch-22, those who voluntarily register may be jailed and deported.
§ Expanded secrecy. The most secretive Administration in years is steadily closing off journalistic access to information. It is also shrinking public information on government agencies and policies, and censoring or altering websites for ideological reasons. For example, a report on condoms now attempts to discourage their use by casting doubt on their efficacy.
§ Curtailing union rights. In setting up the Department of Homeland Security, Congress handed to the President the power to override union bargaining and workplace rights in the interest of “national security.” Contrary to pledges by Secretary-designate Tom Ridge that he would work with unions, the head of the Transportation Security Administration recently blocked an attempt to unionize 56,000 airport baggage screeners.
Add to these the foreign repercussions: The Administration’s bellicose posture has strained relations with allies who oppose war on Iraq. It also provoked North Korea into its own bellicosity in the belief that even if it complies with United Nations inspections, it may be attacked by the United States–like Iraq. And according to Human Rights Watch, some countries are using US human rights abuses as an excuse for violations of their own.
None of these make us more secure from terrorism. They curtail democracy at home and make America hated abroad.