Depravity and War on Terrorism


This year the US government made a special effort to get its annual resolution against state of human rights in Cuba passed at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. During her March trip to Pakistan, the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice specially sought a change in Pakistan’s long voting pattern on the resolution. Pakistan obliged, and in Geneva, abstained instead of voting against the resolution. Pressures on others, like Saudi Arabia, generated votes supporting the US resolution. The US resolution, criticising Cuba, was carried by 21 votes to 17. A small victory, the US would claim. But closer to home the Bush administration has been responsible for an unending human rights horror, all in the name of the "war against terror".

Before it is too late, the Bush administration must acknowledge the sober fact that this "war on terror" has generated a string of psychological, physical, legal and intellectual horrors, at home and abroad. These include atrocities against prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Gharaib and in Afghan prisons, some US soldiers’ offensive behaviour in Iraq, the increasing insecurity of American Muslims, and the unrelenting feeling of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ that simplistically but dangerously divides the world into ‘terrorists’ and ‘non-terrorists.’ Political activists, and advocacy groups within the US and abroad are critical of the Bush administration’s approach towards counter-terrorism and advocate a wiser approach in dealing with security threats, and in ensuring that human rights and citizenship rights are not undermined in dealing with terrorism. Still the practices of the US administration dominate all else.

The Bush administration has to take responsibility for much that has caused these horrors. This ranges from faulty conceptualisation about framing chaos and conflict within religious frameworks instead of political frameworks, conducting the public ‘discourse’ on terrorism in a manner that has tended to generate fear, hate and intolerance among a largely simplistic American public, opting for a ‘no holds barred’ approach in dealing with terror suspects, in effect rejecting the Geneva Conventions in treating prisoners.

A string of recent reports in the American press illustrate the point. Newsweek magazine reported the desecration of the Holy Qur’aan by American guards at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Since the message to the law enforcing agencies dealing with the suspects, not even convicts, is that these men have no rights and may be tortured in any way, such a shocking incident should come as no surprise. This is clearly part of the torture and humiliation unleashed systematically on the prisoners. This report of desecrating the Holy Qur’aan clearly indicates the fallout of a thoughtless anti-terrorism policy which essentially dehumanises the ‘other.’ If the ‘other’ is the sworn enemy, he will be dehumanised. Accordingly all that is dear to the ‘other’ must be destroyed and defiled. While the abhorrent action of desecration of Holy Qur’aan by a US law-enforcing agency must be protested against, such base actions in no way undermine the strength, sanctity and sacredness of a God-sent Holy Book.

We Muslims would rightly be outraged and call for an immediate stop to such an action. However, the real casualty of such a policy, which promotes hatred, intolerance and division, will be the US State and society. The tactics employed by the US against terrorism may have helped it nab some terrorists, destroyed the support systems put together by some groups promoting terrorism. It has, however, won the Bush administration few friends. The American way of pursuing security has become the divisive and intolerant way. It generates alienation.

The latest report on what crassness dehumanisation generates was carried by the New York Times. The episode of vile behaviour of the US forces controlling the Abu Gharaib prison was published in a May 9 report entitled "Behind Failed Abu Gharaib Plea, A Tangle of Bonds and Betrayals." While the reporter heavily focuses on the bizarre relationship between Private Garner, a Pennsylvania prison guard and a former marine who rejoined the Army reserve Unit after 9/11 and woman from the same reserve Unit, the story provides glimpses of the sordid behaviour of these Americans.

The reporter writing on the trial of these Americans at Texas notes, "To some the grave misdeeds at Abu Gharaib, where three soldiers worked for six months in 2003, have become a twisted symbol of the American occupation of Iraq. But the scandal is also one rooted in the behaviour of military reservists working at the prison, an environment that testimony has portrayed as more frat house than military prison, a place where inmates were routinely left naked." Among some of the re-printable details includes the account of "One night in October he (Private Graner) told his friend to pose for photographs holding a leash tied around the neck of a naked crawling detainee…" Graner and his friend will go through a court-martial.

All this flies in the face of the Geneva Convention. It contrasts with the American self-righteousness evident in pursuing the Nuremberg trials in trying to punish the Nazis half a century after their crimes and their incessant recall of the holocaust.

Even more, many of the suspects captured since 9/11 are still rotting in US and Guantanamo Bay prisons. Calls from men like Paul Wolfowitz to hold their legal trials to "remind the world of the evil motives of America’s enemies and deflate the loud protests of human rights groups," await the Bush government’s decision on where to hold the trials. The US Supreme Court in June and a federal judge in November ruled military tribunals unconstitutional. Bush had created them without Congressional approval. They reject the Pentagon rules which allow use of secret evidence including witnesses unknown to the defendant, against the defendant.

In case criticism of military courts holds, the administration may turn to the newly empowered Intelligence Surveillance Courts. Judges hold court in secret and can also use classified material more freely. Above all, it is the US fear of being exposed for its gross violation of laws in the way it is apprehending, imprisoning and torturing terror suspects. In fact being exposed for its confirmed atrocious and human rights violations, the US may well look the worst enemy of mankind in contrast with the many suspects whose crimes have remained unconfirmed.

Emotionally, politically and geographically unconnected to the Iraq context and indeed to much of the primary context set for its war on terrorism — the Middle East — the US has allowed itself to initially opt for a zero sum game. The mind divide between ‘us versus them’ has justified all these dangerously divisive and inhuman methods of pursuing and punishing the real and the imagined ‘other’. At the popular level abroad, the US appears to be losing the case it had after the 9/11 tragedy. The horrendous crimes committed by US soldiers at Abu Gharaib, Guantanamo Bay and in Afghanistan will only add to the numbers of aspiring suicide bombers.

At home too, America’s critics grow. In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, released last week, 57 percent of respondents said Iraq hadn’t been worth the war. With the end of the Iraq engagement not in sight, the US support may further dwindle.

There US President has made no categorical statement on the imperative of law and humanity while interrogating suspects. Instead the battles within the Administration continue on how to circumvent legalities that many believe undermines the work of Homeland Security.

This is the yield of the unintended consequences of the reactively conceptualised "war on terrorism." The unmistakable lesson from human experience is that only human depravity grows under the shadow of sheer hate.

At home, this mindset concerning the ‘other’, the legitimacy to destroy and humiliate the other and to bend all principles to teach a lesson to the other may prevail. At the popular level it will worsen the divide between American Muslims and non-Muslims. It will undermine the efforts of many Muslims and non-Muslims trying to bridge this divide. Abroad, it will intensify resentment against Americans, undermine their security and intensify the perception that they are after the Muslims.

US’s endgame remains unclear. Meanwhile inhumanity is perpetuated –” but not without cost to its perpetrators.