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becoming our own worst enemy

becoming our own worst enemy

I was directed by a college classmate to this Ted Koppel editorial. The post title is mine, my summary of Koppel’s argument. We are threatened. We live in a world that is not safe. We do have enemies. But it is most unfortunate when we do our enemies’ job for them. Then it is us, not them, putting the well-being and security and peace of mind and quality of life of our own citizens at risk.

By Ted Koppel
Sunday, September 12, 2010

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, succeeded far beyond anything Osama bin Laden could possibly have envisioned. This is not just because they resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths, nor only because they struck at the heart of American financial and military power. Those outcomes were only the bait; it would remain for the United States to spring the trap.

The goal of any organized terrorist attack is to goad a vastly more powerful enemy into an excessive response. And over the past nine years, the United States has blundered into the 9/11 snare with one overreaction after another. Bin Laden deserves to be the object of our hostility, national anguish and contempt, and he deserves to be taken seriously as a canny tactician. But much of what he has achieved we have done, and continue to do, to ourselves. Bin Laden does not deserve that we, even inadvertently, fulfill so many of his unimagined dreams.

It did not have to be this way. The Bush administration’s initial response was just about right. The calibrated combination of CIA operatives, special forces and air power broke the Taliban in Afghanistan and sent bin Laden and the remnants of al-Qaeda scurrying across the border into Pakistan. The American reaction was quick, powerful and effective — a clear warning to any organization contemplating another terrorist attack against the United States. This is the point at which President George W. Bush should have declared “mission accomplished,” with the caveat that unspecified U.S. agencies and branches of the military would continue the hunt for al-Qaeda’s leader. The world would have understood, and most Americans would probably have been satisfied.

But the insidious thing about terrorism is that there is no such thing as absolute security. Each incident provokes the contemplation of something worse to come. The Bush administration convinced itself that the minds that conspired to turn passenger jets into ballistic missiles might discover the means to arm such “missiles” with chemical, biological or nuclear payloads. This became the existential nightmare that led, in short order, to a progression of unsubstantiated assumptions: that Saddam Hussein had developed weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons; that there was a connection between the Iraqi leader and al-Qaeda.

Bin Laden had nothing to do with fostering these misconceptions. None of this had any real connection to 9/11. There was no group known as “al-Qaeda in Iraq” at that time. But the political climate of the moment overcame whatever flaccid opposition there was to invading Iraq, and the United States marched into a second theater of war, one that would prove far more intractable and painful and draining than its supporters had envisioned.

While President Obama has, only recently, declared America’s combat role in Iraq over, he glossed over the likelihood that tens of thousands of U.S. troops will have to remain there, possibly for several years to come, because Iraq lacks the military capability to protect itself against external (read: Iranian) aggression. The ultimate irony is that Hussein, to keep his neighbors in check, allowed them and the rest of the world to believe that he might have weapons of mass destruction. He thereby brought about his own destruction, as well as the need now for U.S. forces to fill the void that he and his menacing presence once provided.

As for the 100,000 U.S. troops in or headed for Afghanistan, many of them will be there for years to come, too — not because of America’s commitment to a functioning democracy there; even less because of what would happen to Afghan girls and women if the Taliban were to regain control. It has to do with nuclear weapons. Pakistan has an arsenal of 60 to 100 nuclear warheads. Were any of those to fall into the hands of al-Qaeda’s fundamentalist allies in Pakistan, there is no telling what the consequences might be.

Again, this dilemma is partly of our own making. America’s war on terrorism is widely perceived throughout Pakistan as a war on Islam. A muscular Islamic fundamentalism is gaining ground there and threatening the stability of the government, upon which we depend to guarantee the security of those nuclear weapons. Since a robust U.S. military presence in Pakistan is untenable for the government in Islamabad, however, tens of thousands of U.S. troops are likely to remain parked next door in Afghanistan for some time.

Perhaps bin Laden foresaw some of these outcomes when he launched his 9/11 operation from Taliban-secured bases in Afghanistan. Since nations targeted by terrorist groups routinely abandon some of their cherished principles, he may also have foreseen something along the lines of Abu Ghraib, “black sites,” extraordinary rendition and even the prison at Guantanamo Bay. But in these and many other developments, bin Laden needed our unwitting collaboration, and we have provided it — more than $1 trillion spent on two wars, more than 5,000 of our troops killed, tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans dead. Our military so overstretched that one of the few growth industries in our battered economy is the firms that provide private contractors, for everything from interrogation to security to the gathering of intelligence.

We have raced to Afghanistan and Iraq, and more recently to Yemen and Somalia; we have created a swollen national security apparatus; and we are so absorbed in our own fury and so oblivious to our enemy’s intentions that we inflate the building of an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan into a national debate and watch, helpless, while a minister in Florida outrages even our friends in the Islamic world by threatening to burn copies of the Koran.

If bin Laden did not foresee all this, then he quickly came to understand it. In a 2004 video message, he boasted about leading America on the path to self-destruction. “All we have to do is send two mujaheddin . . . to raise a small piece of cloth on which is written ‘al-Qaeda’ in order to make the generals race there, to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses.”

Through the initial spending of a few hundred thousand dollars, training and then sacrificing 19 of his foot soldiers, bin Laden has watched his relatively tiny and all but anonymous organization of a few hundred zealots turn into the most recognized international franchise since McDonald’s. Could any enemy of the United States have achieved more with less?

Could bin Laden, in his wildest imaginings, have hoped to provoke greater chaos? It is past time to reflect on what our enemy sought, and still seeks, to accomplish — and how we have accommodated him.

“christian hate” should be an oxymoron!

“christian hate” should be an oxymoron!

I attach below an excerpt from a forwarded e mail I received the other day …

… when I hear a story about a brave marine roughing up an Iraqi terrorist to obtain information, know this: I don’t care.

When I see a fuzzy photo of a pile of naked Iraqi prisoners who have been humiliated in what amounts to a college-hazing incident, rest assured: I don’t care.

When I see a wounded terrorist get shot in the head when he is told not to move because he might be booby-trapped, you can take it to the bank: I don’t care.

When I hear that a prisoner, who was issued a Koran and a prayer mat, and fed “special” food that is paid for by my tax dollars, is complaining that his holy book is being “mishandled,” you can absolutely believe in your heart of hearts: I don’t care.

And oh, by the way, I’ve noticed that sometimes it’s spelled “Koran” and other times “Quran.” Well, Jimmy Crack Corn and – you guessed it – I don’t care ! ! ! ! !

… Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you:

1. Jesus Christ
2. The American G. I.

One died for your soul, the other for your freedom.


This was my response:

It is hardly Christian to say that you don’t care at all … about any other human being. What was it Jesus said? “Love your enemies …”

When terrorism teaches us to hate, terrorism wins. When we disparage the value of the life of any other human being, we have turned from Jesus’ way. People who know Jesus, really know Jesus, know better!

general petraeus’ letter to the troops

general petraeus’ letter to the troops

It is good, very good, to hear General Petraeus talk about dignity, respect, and integrity, values, law, and doing what is right. It is good to hear him take an unequivocal stand against torture, both because it is wrong and because it serves no useful purpose. It is good to hear him emphasize the first reason, stating clearly that war is not just about doing what works, not just about gaining the upper hand by whatever means necessary, but about doing the right thing the right way.

We need voices like his in leadership, in the military and in government. The threat of terrorism — both real and imagined — has engendered a fear among us that has clouded our commitment to “the moral high ground.” We have granted our tacit approval to tactics of warfare and interrogation and homeland security that just a few short years ago would have been considered unthinkable, the tactics of a people without values, a people with no regard for human dignity.

I applaud his plea for honor and respect — and righteousness — among the armed forces deployed in Iraq. Yet, even so, even in his letter, some jarring contradictions remain.

We are, indeed, warriors. We train to kill our enemies. We are engaged in combat, we must pursue the enemy relentlessly, and we must be violent at times. What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight, however, is how we behave … While we are warriors, we are also all human beings.

Yes, we are human beings, but making war brings to the surface what is inhuman in us — killing and violence, relentless and merciless pursuit. War as such is about destruction, taking life, reckoning your own life or the lives of your companions or the lives of your compatriots — or even a cause, whatever cause it may be — as more valuable than other lives. Torture and disregard for human dignity may not be a necessary adjunct to war, but they differ from “just war” practices only in degree, not in kind.

If there is a better way than torture, there is also a better way than war.

Here is the text of General Petraeus’ letter:

10 May 2007

Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen serving in Multi-National Force—Iraq:

Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right. Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy. This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we—not our enemies—occupy the moral high ground. This strategy has shown results in recent months. Al Qaeda’s indiscriminate attacks, for example, have finally started to turn a substantial portion of the Iraqi population against it.

In view of this, I was concerned by the results of a recently released survey conducted last fall in Iraq that revealed an apparent unwillingness on the part of some US personnel to report illegal actions taken by fellow members of their units. The study also indicated that a small percentage of those surveyed may have mistreated noncombatants. This survey should spur reflection on our conduct in combat.

I fully appreciate the emotions that one experiences in Iraq. I also know firsthand the bonds between members of the “brotherhood of the close fight.” Seeing a fellow trooper killed by a barbaric enemy can spark frustration, anger, and a desire for immediate revenge. As hard as it might be, however, we must not let these emotions lead us—or our comrades in arms—to commit hasty, illegal actions. In the event that we witness or hear of such actions, we must not let our bonds prevent us from speaking up.

Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary. Certainly, extreme physical action can make someone “talk”; however, what the individual says may be of questionable value. In fact our experience in applying the interrogation standards laid out in the Army Field Manual (2-22.3) on Human Intelligence Collector Operations that was published last year shows that the techniques in the manual work effectively and humanely in eliciting information from detainees.

We are, indeed, warriors. We train to kill our enemies. We are engaged in combat, we must pursue the enemy relentlessly, and we must be violent at times. What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight, however, is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. While we are warriors, we are also all human beings. Stress caused by lengthy deployments and combat is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign that we are human. If you feel such stress, do not hesitate to talk to your chain of command, your chaplain, or a medical expert.

We should use the survey results to renew our commitment to the values and standards that make us who we are and to spur re-examination of these issues. Leaders, in particular, need to discuss these issues with their troopers—and, as always, they need to set the right example and strive to ensure proper conduct. We should never underestimate the importance of good leadership and the difference it can make.

Thanks for what you continue to do. It is an honor to serve with each of you.

David H. Petraeus
General, United States Army

some thoughts on terrorism

some thoughts on terrorism

Some thoughts provoked by a lecture I heard last Monday evening delivered by Dr. Louise Richardson. Her latest book: What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat

  • Dr. Richardson spoke of the importance of “following our own rules.” I agree. It is beyond foolish to jettison our highest principles — our esteem for the rule of law and our commitment to human rights for all people — for the sake of protecting ourselves and “our way of life.” We are only dooming our way of life in the process, as well as severely undermining any international credibility we might have had in calling other nations and leaders to account.
  • “Terrorism” has become a catchall term, used to define — and defame — any “enemy” of any sort. When we refer to “The Terrorists” without any further elaboration, as if “The Terrorists” were a monolithic, coordinated opposition, it only confuses things. We are threatened not by “The Terrorists,” but by a variety of terrorists groups, each with their own distinct grievances, ideologies, political objectives, and modes of behavior: Al Qaeda, Hamas, Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias, etc. It is critical that we understand our enemies and what it is that drives their rage, even when it may mean acknowledging the legitimacy of some of their complaints.
  • Dr. Richardson defines terrorism as the “deliberate targeting of non-combatants for the sake of some political objective.” It seems to me that an additional element of any terrorist organization is a perception of powerlessness. Terrorism is a tactic adopted by those who cannot “win” a fair fight, the response of the “little guys” to the “big bully,” resorting to cheating or trickery or unfair fighting to strike back at the bully. In this regard, it is interesting to note that as Hamas gained some legitimate political power, it began to back off somewhat from its terrorist rhetoric and tactics. Terrorism is the “weapon” of the oppressed and the weak (unwarranted and morally unjustifiable), just as militarism is the “weapon” of the oppressor and the strong (just as unwarranted and just as morally unjustifiable!).
  • In that case, it is clear why a “bullying” response to terrorism is useless. It merely confirms the terrorist’s point of view and redoubles the determination to go on. The only way to defuse or contain terrorism is to stop the bullying … and to share power! But that is the one thing we are not prepared to do. We want to dictate the terms for the rest of the world. Unfortunately, as long as we insist on doing so, we provide a ripe environment for the growth of terrorism.
inexcusable behavior

inexcusable behavior

When will we take responsibility for the horrors perpetrated on our behalf? When will we firmly repudiate the “anything goes when fighting the war on terrorism” mentality? When our leaders leave so much room for error — so much room for criminal and inhuman behavior — we must speak up and say, “No more!”

Today new revelations were published about prisoner abuse at Guantanamo …

By Thomas Watkins
Associated Press

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Guards at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba, bragged about beating detainees and described it as common practice, a Marine Corps sergeant said in a sworn statement obtained by The Associated Press.

The two-page statement was sent Wednesday to the Inspector General of the Department of Defense by a high-ranking Marine Corps defense lawyer.

The lawyer sent the statement on behalf of a paralegal who said men she met on Sept. 23 at a bar on the base identified themselves to her as guards. The woman, whose name was blacked out, said she spent about an hour talking with them. No one was in uniform, she said.

A 19-year-old sailor referred to only as Bo “told the other guards and me about him beating different detainees being held in the prison,” the statement said.

“One such story Bo told involved him taking a detainee by the head and hitting the detainee’s head into the cell door. Bo said that his actions were known by others,” but that he was never punished, the statement said. The paralegal was identified in the affidavit as a sergeant working on an unidentified Guantanamo-related case.

The statement was provided to the AP on Thursday night by Lt. Col. Colby Vokey. He is the Marine Corps’ defense coordinator for the western United States and based at Camp Pendleton.

A Guantanamo Bay spokesman said the base would cooperate with any Pentagon investigation. A Pentagon spokesman declined immediate comment. A call to the inspector general’s office was not immediately returned.

Other guards “also told their own stories of abuse towards the detainees” that included hitting them, denying them water and “removing privileges for no reason.”

“About 5 others in the group admitted hitting detainees” and that included “punching in the face,” the affidavit said.

“From the whole conversation, I understood that striking detainees was a common practice,” the sergeant wrote. “Everyone in the group laughed at the others stories of beating detainees.”

Vokey called for an investigation, saying the abuse alleged in the affidavit “is offensive and violates United States and international law.”

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand condemned abuse or harassment of detainees and said he would cooperate fully with the inspector general.

“The mission of the Joint Task Force is the safe and humane care and custody of detained enemy combatants,” he said.

Guantanamo was internationally condemned shortly after it opened more than four years ago when pictures captured prisoners kneeling, shackled and being herded into wire cages. That was followed by reports of prisoner abuse, heavy-handed interrogations, hunger strikes and suicides.

U.S. military investigators said in July 2005 they confirmed abusive and degrading treatment of a suspected terrorist at Guantanamo Bay that included forcing him to wear a bra, dance with another man and behave like a dog.

However, the chief investigator, Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, said “no torture occurred” during the interrogation of Mohamed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who was captured in December 2001 along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Last month, U.N. human rights investigators criticized the United States for failing to take steps to close Guantanamo Bay, home to 450 detainees, including 14 terrorist suspects who had been kept in secret CIA prisons around the world.

Described as the most dangerous of America’s “war on terror” prisoners, fewer than a dozen inmates have been charged with crimes.

detainee bill passes senate

detainee bill passes senate

John Kerry (Democrat): This bill gives an administration that lobbied for torture exactly what it wanted.

No, this administration did not lobby for torture. It lobbied for a free and unfettered hand in conducting its “war on terrorism” by whatever means it deems necessary and effective … which may include means that most people would consider torture. The problem here is not leaders that advocate cruelty, but leaders that believe that they should be given “extraordinary” and unilateral latitude in getting the job done. Getting it done is more important than how it is done.

But one of the cornerstones of democracy is that how it is done is of utmost importance!


John Warner (Republican): Enemy combatants are unlawful by all international standards in the manner in which they conduct war, and yet this great nation … is going to mete out a measure of justice.

A measure of justice? Why just a measure? Is “liberty and justice for all” mere hyberbole? Is justice to be meted out conditionally, depending on the perceived merits of the accused? Depending on the accused’s presumed political allegiances … religious allegiance … nationality … race? Is our “lawfulness” contingent on the “lawfulness” of our enemies? Of whomever we say is our enemy?

Do you see the very dangerous road down which such rhetoric — and such legislation — is leading us? A road that leads us not toward, but away, from liberty and justice?

more debate over interrogation guidelines

more debate over interrogation guidelines

From the Boston Globe, September 18, 2006:

In the fight over rules for the interrogation and trials of terrorism suspects, there is a split — not so much between Republicans and Democrats or the White House and the Senate, but between leaders like President Bush with no combat experience and those like Colin Powell who know combat and want to maintain the Geneva Conventions as a protection for US troops. Powell prefers the bill before Congress sponsored by Republican Senators John McCain, John Warner, and Lindsey Graham, all of whom have considerable military experience. Their bill, which the Senate Armed Services Committee approved Thursday, has deep flaws of its own, but it is a better basis for legislation than Bush’s proposal to gut the Geneva Conventions.

The military has to take the long view because it knows that if the United States strays from the Geneva Conventions, other countries will, too. As McCain said yesterday on ABC-TV, “We are more exposed than any other nationality because we have more people all over the world.” The military also knows that harsh interrogations often yield false information from prisoners eager to say anything to win better treatment. One terrorism suspect, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, “confessed” knowledge of links between Al Qaeda and Iraq after the Central Intelligence Agency handed him over to Egyptian authorities. According to the recently released Senate report on prewar intelligence, Libi had made up the information to avoid cruel treatment by the Egyptians.

Neither Bush’s bill nor the Senate committee’s deserves passage as written. Each would strip the 400 or more detainees at Guantanamo of any right to appeal their cases to federal courts. Except for a handful of them, none has been charged with war crimes or terrorism. Some undoubtedly would present a threat if released and should be held longer, but others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. All of them deserve recourse to courts to challenge their continued detention.

At his press conference Friday, Bush challenged Powell’s statement that Bush’s redefinition of the Geneva Conventions would encourage the world to “doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.” Bush construed this to suggest a comparison between US behavior and that of “Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.” The proper comparison, though, is not with the conduct of terrorists but with the principles the United States has maintained in every war it has fought since adoption of the Geneva Conventions.

Those are the principles the Supreme Court upheld in June. Congress should follow suit by passing an amended version of the Senate committee bill that does not subject detainees to the limbo of Guantanamo with no access to the courts.