The bombs and missiles have started falling in Afghanistan. US and British military forces are reported ready for action on the ground, and other NATO forces might back them up if needed. Some pro-Western Arab and Islamic officials are offering muted support, but it appears the fighting will be done by predominantly Christian nations. Despite official assurances that the Allies' weapons are not aimed at Islam or the people of Afghanistan, many Moslem fundamentalists are taking America's attack on the Taliban regime and the terrorist organization of Osama bin Laden as a signal that the new crusade is on. They have called for a jihad against the United States in retaliation.
At home, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge is newly sworn in as director of Homeland Security, with Cabinet rank and sweeping powers to marshall the military, law enforcement and other government agencies to fight domestic terrorism. We'd like to think that the next time the CIA tells the FBI that a known associate of Osama bin Laden appears to be working on "something big," and the INS notes that he's already in the country, it won't take the FBI several months to find out he's been taking flight training, renting cars and buying one-way airline tickets with cash, as Mohammed Atta did before he carried his box cutter onto one of the ill-fated airliners that crashed into the World Trade Center.
Attorney General John Ashworth wanted the power to jail immigrants indefinitely without having to charge them or take them before a judge. He also wanted to be able to secretly search people's homes and wider authority to monitor their phones, email and Internet access, among other things.
Ashworth didn't get everything he asked for, but we should be alarmed at the rights Congress appears willing to give up in favor of more aggressive security. Most Americans say they are willing to give up some of their rights to improve their safety, but anti-terrorism bills that made it out of House and Senate committees would invade privacy without making Americans appreciably safer than they were at daybreak Sept. 11.
"We're likely to experience more restrictions on personal freedom than has ever been the case in our country," Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor warned law students after visiting the ruins of the World Trade Center.
"Ten years from now, our fear is that the American public will look back to this legislation and say, 'this is where we crossed the line to a surveillance society,'" said Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberty Union's D.C. office. "Because of the broad new powers to wiretap telephone and Internet communications, the legislation weakens essential checks and balances that the judicial branch has exercised over law enforcement."
Ashworth wants to invest these new powers with agencies such as the FBI, which bloodied its reputation in the early 1990s with disastrous assaults on Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. More recently it botched the investigation of an atomic scientist suspected of leaking nuclear secrets to the Chinese and mislaid thousands of pages of investigative notes that delayed the execution of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. "We can't trust the agency with the powers that it has, let alone trust it with expanded powers,'' Gerry Spence, the Wyoming defense attorney, told Jim Nesbitt of Newhouse News Service. Spence exposed agency abuses while winning acquittal for white separatist Randy Wayne Weaver, whose wife and son were killed during a 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge.
James Fyfe, a Temple University criminal justice professor and former New York City police officer, told Nesbitt the immediate terrorist crisis will pass but we'll be left with a vaguely worded law that will be used against citizens in ways that weren't imagined by the people who wrote them. Fyfe cites federal legislation passed in the 1930s and '40s enabling the FBI to infiltrate subversive organizations that were suspected of acting as fronts for the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. In practice, Fyfe said, the FBI used these laws to keep tabs on union leaders, politicians and other public figures that then-Director J. Edgar Hoover wanted tracked.
Ashcroft's draft bill defined terrorism as any violent crime in which financial gain is not the principal motivation. The House narrowed the definition of terrorism to crimes or conspiracies "calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion or to retaliate against government conduct." However, the ACLU said, under that definition, an organization like the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) could be treated as a terrorist group because one of its members hits the Secretary of Agriculture with a pie. Bruce Shapiro noted in The Nation that such a definition could bring down the full force of antiterrorism law onto an unruly blockade of the World Trade Organization. At least the House version of the antiterrorism bill would expire in 2003.
We agree with Ben Franklin, who wrote in 1759, "They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
For a few weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, there appeared to be hope for diplomacy instead of war, but that time apparently was spent cutting deals that allowed the US and its allies to proceed with a minimum of flak from moderate Arabs. Perhaps the counter-attack on Afghanistan was inevitable: the popular demand in the United States for revenge was strong. Bombs had to fall somewhere.
But the United States and its allies need to clarify their objectives. Revenge is one thing. Few in the West and not many more in Islamic nations will be sorry to see the demise of the Taliban or bin Laden. But killing bin Laden and banishing the Taliban will not bring us peace to the United States, much less the Middle East.
The United States must rejoin the rest of the world, and not just seek to open other borders to trade with US-based multinational corporations. An "us against them" foreign policy might help keep the military and its contractors in business, but it won't bring peace or security.
Israel has survived for more than 50 years surrounded by Arab states that, more or less, would like to destroy it. Its military, backed by the US, is phenomenal. Its spies are legendary, both at home and abroad. Israeli police do not lack authority to monitor, arrest and detain suspicious Arabs. They destroy the homes of families of suspected terrorists. The Israeli military pre-emptively assassinates Palestinians it believes are planning terrorist activity. But Israelis still keep getting blown up. Israel saw a brief period of peace after a Labor government in September 1993 reached a deal with the Palestinian Liberation Organization that set up the Palestinian Authority. Those hopes evaporated when a right-wing rabbinical student assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995. Since then hard liners on both sides have been limiting the room for negotiations as Israelis and Palestinians seek to salvage peace.
In another case, Britain at times has suspended civil rights, kept a standing army on patrol in Northern Ireland, set up special courts with loose evidentiary rules and imposed draconian sentences on people suspected of ties with the Irish Republican Army during 30 years of "Troubles." All the while bombs kept exploding, from Belfast to London. It was only after the British government addressed Irish nationalist grievances that a truce was reached. Still, hard-liners in the nationalist and unionist communities are suspicious of any compromise and appear ready to scuttle the peace process.
US officials don't want to face up to what motivates the Taliban and bin Laden's organization. The terrorists are not simply evil. Their hatred for the US may be so grotesque that they need to be "taken out," but if we want to build peace with the succeeding generation we will have to stand up for justice, not only for the 5,000 victims of Sept. 11 but also for the millions of Moslems who are tempted to see terrorists as heroes because it's the only way they seem able to get our attention. -- JMC