The Great Debate
As Google’s Android smartphone operating system was coming under attack in fall 2012 from malware with the colorful names of “Loozfon” and “FinFisher,” the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center issued an alert to help defend against the threat. “Depending on the type of phone,” the FBI said, “the operating system may have encryption available. This can be used to protect the user’s personal data.”
Many believe that killing the leaders of terrorist organizations like Islamic State could change the course of events in Iraq and Syria. Like the cutting off of a snake’s head, eliminating the chief of a terrorist organization is assumed to deal it a fatal or near fatal blow. The U.S. government, for instance, has often boasted about eliminating major al Qaeda leaders, and viewed such assassinations as a clear mark of progress in the ‘global war on terror.’
Africa is the new frontier for the U.S. Defense Department. The Pentagon has applied counterterrorism tactics throughout the Middle East and, to a lesser extent, Central and South Asia. Now it is monitoring the African continent for counterterrorism initiatives. It staged more than 546 military exercises on the continent last year, a 217 percent increase since 2008, and is now involved in nearly 50 African countries.
A federal appeals court rebuffed the Obama administration’s drone policy on Friday, ruling that the CIA stretched its considerable secrecy powers “too far.” The stinging decision may be the biggest news in the war on terror that you’ve never heard about.
Controversy over the U.S. use of torture erupted again with the release of Zero Dark Thirty, the movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. President Barack Obama has now added fuel to this fire by nominating John Brennan, his chief counterterrorism adviser, to be CIA director.
The opinions expressed are his own. In the space of forty minutes on May 1, 2011, two Navy SEAL teams descended on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed Osama bin Laden. They brought a rough measure of justice to the man responsible for the killing of 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001, and thousands of others in countries from Spain to Iraq. President Obama’s greatest victory to date in the war on terror vindicated the intelligence architecture—put into place by his predecessor—that marked the path to bin Laden’s door. According to current and former administration officials, CIA interrogators gathered the initial information that ultimately led to bin Laden’s death. The United States located al-Qaeda’s leader by learning the identity of a trusted courier from the tough interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, and his successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi. Armed with the courier’s nom de guerre, American intelligence agencies later found him thanks to his phone call to a contact already under electronic surveillance. Last August, the courier traveled to bin Laden’s compound, but it took another eight months before the CIA became certain that the al-Qaeda leader was hiding inside.
The successful operation to kill bin Laden followed in the steps of earlier victories in the war on terror made possible by the enhanced interrogation program. Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, thought at the time to be al-Qaeda’s operations planner, in the spring of 2002 led to the capture of much of al-Qaeda’s top leadership at the time.
The opinions expressed are his own. One goal of terrorism directed against democracies is to provoke overreaction and repression. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, many Americans did in fact overreact, and although the actions of the government did not approach “repression,” there were some overreactions that seemed to play into the hands of the terrorists. Perhaps the most egregious were the acts of humiliation and torture that were captured by cell phone photographs at Abu Ghraib prison. These disturbing photographs went viral throughout the world and showed the ugly face of American torture. Surprisingly, the events of 9/11 also stimulated a debate within Western democracies: Is torture ever justified in the war against terrorism?
Rational discussion of this and other questions relating to torture proved difficult, because the issues are so emotional. Indeed, to many absolutists, the very idea of a “rational” discussion of torture is an oxymoron. To them, the issue is simple and clear-cut: torture should never be employed or even considered, because it never works; it is incompatible with democratic values; it is barbaric; it will always lead to more barbaric practices; it is worse than any evils it may prevent; it will provoke even more terrorism; it strips any democracy employing it of the moral standing to object to human rights violations by other nations or groups; and it unleashes the “law of unintended consequences.”