Opinion

The Great Debate

Violence or vaccines: Which path for U.S. in Africa?

A U.S. Special Forces trainer conducts a military assault drill for a unit within the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) during an exercise in Nzara on the outskirts of Yambio

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.

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U.S. military and police aid to all Africa this year totaled nearly $1.8 billion, with additional arms sales surpassing $800 million. In terms of ensuring Africa’s safety and security, however, the return on this investment is questionable.

To match feature LEONE-MALARIA/What if, for example, that money was instead spent eradicating pervasive viruses that are undermining Africa’s future? Yellow fever vaccination doses cost less than $1.00 and Hepatitis B vaccination doses cost 25 cents or less. These viruses, and their deadly bedfellows like Ebola, are the real threats terrorizing African communities — and more deserving of U.S. defense dollars.

The Pentagon’s serious ramp-up in funds and focus is an apparent response to the rise of groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabaab in Somalia and the various insurgencies throughout Mali, Libya and Uganda. Yet the heavy U.S. military footprint is doing little to address the pressing socioeconomic needs of impoverished people in the Horn of Africa or politically and economically marginalized communities in West Africa.

The violence in these countries — from Nigeria in the west to Somalia in the east — is getting worse, despite increasing U.S. drone strikes, airstrikes, military advisers, joint special operations and other counterterrorism tactics. Relying on hard power in Africa does not address the root causes behind the many extremist groups.

Counterterrorism: Where are Obama’s policy changes?

It is now roughly five months since President Barack Obama announced a new direction for U.S. counterterrorism strategy.

“America is at a crossroads,” Obama said at the National Defense University in May. “We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us.”

The president proceeded to set out his post-war vision for the nation — the peace dividend earned for the last 12 years of a complicated, costly and at times tragically misguided counterterrorism policy. The president, as usual, gave a good speech. Where he’s weak is on the follow-through, however.

Prying open drone secrets

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.

The ruling lays down a key marker for a significant shift in counterterrorism policy. Under President Barack Obama, the United States has moved from detaining suspected terrorists to killing many of them in targeted attacks. There were 10 times as many drone deaths in 2010 as 2004, according to the Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative.  This is why there are now fewer pressing questions about detention or Guantanamo, a vestige of post-September 11 battles. The United States hardly ever captures any new terror suspects.

The politicians and the chattering class, however, have been slow to recognize  this shift.

Brennan, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and the torture firestorm

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.

Brennan was deputy CIA director when the agency was engaged in rendition and torture. He was, as reported by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, a supporter of enhanced interrogation techniques and in 2005 described the rendition program as “absolutely vital” ‑ though he has since condemned waterboarding.

Zero Dark Thirty opens with the words “based on firsthand accounts of actual events,” then quickly moves into a lengthy, horrific torture sequence. After a detailed dramatization of the hunt, the movie ends with Americans killing bin Laden ‑ leading many viewers to believe that torture was crucial to the successful outcome.

The cost of killing Osama bin Laden

By John Yoo
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.

On September 11, 2002, Pakistan captured Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the right-hand man to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and the primary conduit between al-Qaeda leaders and 9/11 commander Mohammed Atta. Six months later, American and Pakistani agents landed KSM, the “principal architect” of the 9/11 attacks and a “terrorist entrepreneur.”

Not only did the captures of these three commanders take significant parts of the al-Qaeda leadership out of action, they also yielded intelligence that prevented future terrorist attacks. The 9/11 Commission Report is a testament to the large amount of information that they provided.

The case for torture warrants

By Alan Dershowitz
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.”

Most of these arguments are empirical in nature and may be true or false as matters of fact. But there is one fact that is indisputably true, has always been true, and, in my view, will always be true. That fact is that every democracy confronted with a genuine choice of evils between allowing many of its citizens to be killed by terrorists, or employing some forms of torture to prevent such multiple deaths, will opt for the use of torture. This, too, is an empirical claim, and I am entirely confident that it is true as a matter of fact.

Although the current administration, unlike its predecessor, has announced that it would never torture suspected terrorists, it has also resisted any judicial review of its counterterrorism measures. “Trust us,” but don’t ask us to justify that trust! Such an approach might be acceptable if men were angels, but no administration is run by angels. That is why visibility and accountability are essential to democratic governance. Neither is this an issue that divides along party lines. President Clinton implicitly acknowledged on National Public Radio that he would have used torture in an extreme case:

How to finance the war in Afghanistan?

obama-china

global_post_logo– This opinion piece was written by C.M. Sennot for GlobalPost. The views expressed are his own. It was originally published here on GlobalPost. –

The last time America had to borrow money to finance a war was during the Revolution and a cash-strapped Continental Congress took loans from France to fund a surge against the British.

That worked out pretty well.

But it’s hard to feel the spirit of 1776 in President Obama’s journey to China. He went as a representative of a borrowing nation to its primary lender amid a call for yet another costly military surge in the Long War that is escalating in Afghanistan even if it is hopefully winding down in Iraq.

Should torture be part of the U.S.’s counterterrorism approach?

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The following piece was co-written by Matthew Alexander, Joe Navarro and Lieutenant General Robert Gard (USA-Ret.) They are pictured from left to right.

Matthew Alexander led an interrogations team assigned to a special operations task force in Iraq in 2006. He is the author of “How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq.” He is writing under a pseudonym for security reasons.

Joe Navarro, a former FBI counterintelligence and counterterrorism expert, is an adjunct faculty member at the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.

A credible counterterror strategy needed

brahmachellaney– Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research, New Delhi. The views expressed are his own. –

The brazen Mumbai terrorist assaults are just the latest example of how the world’s largest democracy is increasingly coming under siege from the forces of terror.

The attacks, which bear the hallmark of al Qaeda, are also a reminder to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama that even as he seeks to deal with the financial meltdown, the global war on terror stands derailed, with the scourge of terrorism having spread deeper and wider.

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