Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Terrorism: Things to Do and Not Do

Most of the commentaries to date on the National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism, portions of which have been released by the President ( have focussed on questions such as whether we are "winning" or "losing" the war on terrorism, and whether the war in Iraq is creating more terrorists than it is killing, but there is a more important point made by the NIE that seems to have escaped notice.

The NIE concludes that the "jihadist movement" is spreading among muslims, and will continue to spread "for the duration of the timeframe of this Estimate" for the following reasons:

Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement: (1) Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; (2) the Iraq “jihad;” (3) the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and (4) pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims—all of which jihadists exploit.

The current policies of the Bush administration actually add to those factors:

1. The U.S. currently supports some of the most corrupt and unjust muslim governments, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and continues to try to exert more and more military power in the mid-east, leading to greater fears of Western domination.

2. The U.S. allows the Iraq jihad to continue by maintaining troops and military operations there.

3. See #1. The U.S. does nothing to help reforms in Muslim nations, and actually hinders reforms through its support of oppressive governments and its attacks on progressive countries. For example, there is real economic and social progress in Iran, which the U.S. is threatening with military action over its nuclear program, and there was real progress in Lebanon until the U.S. allowed (if not supported) the Israeli bombing of southern Lebanon.

4. And why is there anti-U.S. sentiment among Muslims? See #s 1, 2, and 3 above.

The NIE then goes one to present the "vulnerabilites" of the jihadist movement that the U.S. could exploit:

Concomitant vulnerabilities in the jihadist movement have emerged that, if fully exposed and exploited, could begin to slow the spread of the movement. They include dependence on the continuation of Muslim-related conflicts, the limited appeal of the jihadists’ radical ideology, the emergence of respected voices of moderation, and criticism of the violent tactics employed against mostly Muslim citizens.

• The jihadists’ greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution—--an ultra-conservative interpretation of shari’a-based governance spanning the Muslim world--—is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims. Exposing the religious and political straitjacket that is implied by the jihadists’ propaganda would help to divide them from the audiences they seek to persuade.

• Recent condemnations of violence and extremist religious interpretations by a few notable Muslim clerics signal a trend that could facilitate the growth of a constructive alternative to jihadist ideology: peaceful political activism. This also could lead to the consistent and dynamic participation of broader Muslim communities in rejecting violence, reducing the ability of radicals to capitalize on passive community support. In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror.

Countering the spread of the jihadist movement will require coordinated multilateral efforts that go well beyond operations to capture or kill terrorist leaders.

(Emphasis added.)

All of the above "vulnerabilies" are political, not military, but the Bush administration's solution to every problem is more military force. And the reason that military action is the only solution is because its the only solution that they believe in, understand, and can unilaterally control.

And when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Which means that the chances of the Bush administration being able to exploit these vulnerabilities range between slim and none, while the chances of the Bush administration continuing the war in Iraq and the other policies in the mid-east that fuel the growth of the jihadist movement are a near certainty.

As noted above, the NIE concludes that the "jihadist movement" is spreading among muslims, and will continue to spread "for the duration of the timeframe of this Estimate." Cynic that I am, I immediately wondered if the authors of the NIE were making the subtle (and snide) suggestion that the jihadist movement would continue as long as Bush is President.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


The President's proposal for trying the detainees previously held in secret CIA prisons contains several instances of unintentional (we hope) humor (if you like your humor on the dark and cynical side).

One of the most controversial parts of the proposal would "clarify" the meaning of what is known as "Common Article III" of the Geneva Conventions, which applies not only to prisoners of war but also to civilians detained by foreign governments in times of war, and prohibits "[o]utrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." The concern of the Bush Administration is that this quoted phrase is "susceptible to uncertain and unpredictable application." See "Fact Sheet: The Administration's Legislation to Create Military Commissions," (9/6/2006).

The irony (and humor) here is that under the Bush Administration the Constitution of the United States, and most of the laws enacted by Congress, are of "uncertain and unpredictable application." Maybe the President will comply with them, and maybe he won't.

To clarify the meaning of the phrase "[o]utrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment," the administration wants Congress to declare that the standards for detainees should be the standards of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which prohibits "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment." So a provision in the Geneva Conventions that prohibits "degrading treatment" would be clarified through a statute that prohibits "degrading treatment"?

And the Bush administration also claims that other practices prohibited by Common Article III, such as "violence to life," "murder," "mutilation," and "torture," are "universally condemned," and yet one of the practices that has been employed by CIA interrogators in the past (and which will presumably be employed in the future) is "waterboarding," which is generally considered a form of torture. (Television reporters frequently describe waterboarding as a technique which makes the detaineed think he is drowning. The reason the detainee "thinks" he is drowning is that (a) his face is covered by water and (b) he can't breathe. It's gentler than strangling the detainee, but the end result is the same.) If the Bush administration thinks that they can suffocate people to make them talk, why the concern with "degrading treatment"?

The answer might lie in the history of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which is Title X of Public Law 109-148, 119 Stat. 2740, H.R. 2863 (12/30/2005). In the "signing statement" issued by the President for H.R. 2863, he stated:

"The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power...."

"President's Statement on Signing of H.R. 2863, the 'Department of Defense, Emergency Supplemental Appropriations to Address Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, and Pandemic Influenza Act, 2006'," (12/30/2005)

In other words, President Bush might not comply with the Detainee Treatment Act if he believes that he has the constitutional authority not to comply.

So the President wants Congress to define the rules for the treatment of detainees by reference to a statute that the President has announced that he doesn't necessarily need to comply with. Isn't that amusing?

Of course, the Supreme Court pretty much rejected the President's claims that he could ignore the Constitution, Congress, and the Geneva Conventions when it held that the President was bound by the Common Article III in its treatment detainees. Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. ___, 126 S.Ct. 2749 (2006). But that could be part of the plan. By getting Congress to define the application of Common Article III by reference to the Detainee Treatment Act, which the President publicly announced did not necessarily limit his authority, the President can then claim that Congress has agreed with him that he has the constitutional authority to ignore Common Article III.

If that sounds far-fetched and paranoid to you, it's only because you haven't been paying attention to the practices of the Bush administration.