Opinion

The Great Debate

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:

We have a system of laws here where nobody should be above the law, and you don’t need blanket advance approval for blanket torture. They can draw a statute much more narrowly, which would permit the President to make a finding in a [ticking bomb] case like I just outlined, and then that finding could be submitted even if after the fact to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Clinton was then asked whether he was saying there “would be more responsibility afterward for what was done.” He replied: “Yeah, well, the President could take personal responsibility for it. But you do it on a case-by-case basis, and there’d be some review of it.” He summarized his views in the following terms:

America, Iran and a terrorist label

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Who says that the United States and Iran can’t agree on anything? The Great Satan, as Iran’s theocratic rulers call the United States, and the Islamic Republic see eye-to-eye on at least one thing, that the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) are terrorists.

America and Iran arrived at the terrorist designation for the MEK at different times and from different angles but the convergence is bizarre, even by the complicated standards of Middle Eastern politics. The United States designated the MEK a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997, when the Clinton administration hoped the move would help open a dialogue with Iran. Thirteen years later, there is still no dialogue.

But the group is still on the list, despite years of legal wrangling over the designation through the U.S. legal system. Britain and the European Union took the group off their terrorist lists in 2008 and 2009 respectively after court rulings that found no evidence of terrorist actions after the MEK renounced violence in 2001.

9/11 and the nine year war

SEPT11/

The following is a condensed version of George Friedman’s geopolitical column for STRATFOR, a global intelligence company where Friedman is chief executive officer.

It has now been nine years since al Qaeda attacked the United States. And it has been nine years of America primarily focusing on the Islamic world. Over this period of time, the United States has engaged in two multi-year, multi-divisional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, inserted forces in other countries in smaller operations and conducted a global covert campaign against al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups.

In order to understand the last nine years, we must understand the first 24 hours of the war — and recall our own feelings in those 24 hours. First, the audacious nature of the attack was both shocking and frightening. Second, we did not know what was coming next.

America’s trouble with Islam

Of the many posters held aloft in angry demonstrations about plans for an Islamic cultural centre and mosque in New York, one in particular is worth noting: “All I ever need to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11.”

As an example of wilful ignorance, it’s in a class by itself. It passes judgment, in just 12 words, about a sprawling universe of 1.3 billion adherents of Islam (in 57 countries around the world) who come from different cultures, speak a wide variety of languages, follow different customs, hold different nationalities and believe in different interpretations of their faith, just like Christians or Jews. Suicidal murderers are a destructive but tiny minority.

But for the people waving all-I-ever-need-to-know posters in front of national television cameras two blocks from “ground zero,” site of the biggest mass murder in American history, Islam equals terrorism. No need for nuance, no need for learning, no need for building bridges between the faiths. The mindset epitomized by the slogan mirrors the radical fringe of Islamic thought, equally doubt-free and self-righteous.

Drugs, terrorism and shadow banking

The trouble with moving big amounts of cash, from a criminal’s point of view, is threefold. It’s bulky, it’s heavy and it smells.

A stash of $1 million in mixed bills weighs around 100 pounds (50 kilos). Specially-trained dogs can sniff out bulk cash in a heartbeat.

All of which helps to explain why drug cartels and financiers of terrorism appear to have been making increasing use of what FBI chief Robert Mueller calls a shadow banking system.

American nightmare: Al Qaeda at home

berndforblog- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own -

It has been a recurring nightmare of American counter-terrorist officials for years — growing numbers of home-grown al Qaeda recruits drawn from the Muslim-American community, plus blue-eyed, blond-haired would-be suicide bombers travelling on American passports.

That notion clashes with the widely-held belief that Muslims in the United States are not nearly as prone to being seduced by Al Qaeda propaganda as their co-religionists in Europe. But a series of recent terrorism cases involving American citizens have challenged old assumptions and thrown question marks over a host of surveys meant to show the American Muslim communities’ resistance to radicalization.

Incidents spiked in 2009 and included the arrest of five U.S. citizens in Pakistan, where they allegedly tried to link up with extremists, and the arrest of Daniel Boyd, a white convert to Islam who was accused of plotting to attack soldiers at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. Early in the year, Bryant Vinas, a Hispanic American convert, pleaded guilty to having trained with al Qaeda in Pakistan.

America, terrorists and Nelson Mandela

berndforblog- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own -

Woe betide the organization or individual who lands on America’s terrorist list. The consequences are dire and it’s easier to get on the list than off it even if you turn to peaceful politics. Just ask Nelson Mandela.

One of the great statesmen of our time, Mandela stayed on the American terrorist blacklist for 15 years after winning the Nobel Prize prior to becoming South Africa’s first post-Apartheid president. He was removed from the list after then president George W. Bush signed into law a bill that took the label “terrorist” off members of the African National Congress (ANC), the group that used sabotage, bombings and armed attacks against the white minority regime.

The ANC became South Africa’s governing party after the fall of apartheid but the U.S. restrictions imposed on ANC militants stayed in place. Why? Bureaucratic inertia is as good an explanation as any and a look at the current list of what is officially labelled Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTOs) suggests that once a group earns the designation, it is difficult to shake.

The Underwear Bomber and the war of ideas

- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own -

Who is winning the war of ideas between the West and al Qaeda’s hate-driven version of  Islam?

It is a question that merits asking again after a  23-year-old Western-educated Nigerian of privileged background, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, attempted to murder almost 300 people by bringing down a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day with  explosives sewn into the crotch of his underpants.

The administration of President Barack Obama, averse to the bellicose language of George W. Bush, has virtually dropped the  phrase “war of ideas.” But that doesn’t mean it has ended. Or that Obama’s plea, in his Cairo speech this summer, for a new  beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world  has swayed the disciples of Osama bin Laden, whose 1998 fatwa  (religious ruling) against “Jews and Crusaders” remains the  extremists’ guiding principle.

Why we must profile airline passengers

Philip Baum2Philip Baum is the editor of Aviation Security International and the managing director of Green Light Limited, an aviation security training and consultancy company based in London. The opinions expressed are his own.

Whenever an individual manages to circumvent the security system designed to protect our airports, airlines and the people who use them, we ask why our countermeasures failed. And yet the real problem lies in our determination to screen everybody in exactly the same way using technologies that are not fit for purpose.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year old alleged perpetrator of the Christmas Day attack, should have been identified as a potential threat to the flight both in Lagos and again in Amsterdam. Here was a passenger who had bought an expensive ticket in cash in a country different to that of his port of embarkation or his intended destination, was traveling without any checked luggage for a two-week trip over the Christmas period, and about whom some agencies, and his father, had security concerns. It’s not rocket science we need; it’s the deployment of common sense.

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