The war on terror: a war on human rights

Source: International Commission of Jurists
Counterterrorism policies adopted by countries around the world since 2001 pose a "serious threat to the integrity of the international human rights legal framework," according to the report by the Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, established by the International Commission of Jurists. February 2009 (pdf). [see more]
“We're engaged in a global struggle against the followers of a murderous ideology that despises freedom and crushes all dissent, and has territorial ambitions and pursues totalitarian aims… And against such an enemy there is only one effective response: we will never back down, we will never give in and we will never accept anything less than complete victory”…
US President George W. Bush (4 July 2006)

Whether we like it or not, the world has not been the same since September 11, 2001 (9/11). Nearly all of us could witness that day, thanks to the spectacular media coverage, the biggest terrorist attack ever against US interests. What many people still could not imagine then was that the world may turn into an even more insecure, unstable and more unjust place following the reaction of the US government. First came the invasion of Afghanistan, whose Taliban regime – according to the Bush administration – hosted the Al-Qaeda network which the United States held responsible for the 9/11 attacks; then it was Iraq’s turn, which since 2003 lives under the occupation of a US-led coalition.

It is the “war on terror”, as George W. Bush himself has labelled it. And it seems that, within the framework of this relentless fight against terrorism, everything is justified…even the violation of international law, human rights and even the US Constitution, as it has been denounced by civil society groups. A particularly alarming chapter in this offensive is the treatment provided by the US army to prisoners of war (or “illegal combatants”) held at the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib as well as at the US military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where hundreds of people remain detained without neither formal accusations nor the right to a fair trial.

Equally controversial has turn out to be the use of military doctrines by the US government, including that of preventive war and “regime change” promoted within the framework of this “war on terror”, as well as the justifications for such war. For instance, the arguments stating that Saddam Hussein’s regime was hiding weapons of mass destruction and had been a partner with Al-Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks were never proved and even so the Bush administration invaded Iraq, overthrew Hussein and set up a “democratic” government serving US interests. Now the threat falls in Iran, which according to the US government is pursuing nuclear weapons for war purposes, thus turning into a destabilising force in the Middle East.

The truth is that, according to various reports including one by National Intelligence Council revealed by The New York Times on 24 September 2006, not only has the invasion and occupation of Iraq (with all its abuses) failed in halting international terrorism but, on the contrary, it has contributed to fuel terrorism worldwide and to strengthen Islamic radicalism toward the West.

Terrorism in historical perspective

It must be the most widely heard word since the beginning of the 21st century and also the most largely manipulated one in terms of geo-political interests. As pointed out by Fred Halliday in his article “Terrorism in historical perspective”, published in the website OpenDemocracy, “terrorism is a complex issue that allows of no easy resolution, intellectual or political. Indeed, probably no subject has been as important in international relations, or as confused in its treatment. Yet never has clear exposition been more necessary; for since September 2001 it has been the shaping theme of American foreign policy, and, by extension to much of the discussion of foreign policy in Europe, the Eurasian landmass, the Middle East and elsewhere”.

Halliday also remembers that terrorism is not a specifically “Islamic” or “Middle Eastern” problem. “Historically, the continent of Europe pioneered political violence on a world scale, developed modern industrial war, and played the leading role in developing those particular instruments of modern political action and control: genocide, systematic state torture, and terrorism”.

The first use of the word “terrorism”, says Halliday, was by the French revolutionaries of the 18th century, although in an exact reverse of the contemporary sense: to denote violence against people by the state. “This dimension should not be forgotten. In recent decades, states have killed and tortured far more people and violated far more of the rules of war than their non-state opponents”.

Then there is the doctrine stating that “you are either with me or against me” used by Bush to suggest that those who oppose the White House policy are indeed on the side of terrorists. The United States does not hesitate to point the finger at those countries that, according to Washington, are supporting terrorism, like Afghanistan under the Talibans, Hussein’s Iraq, Syria, Iran, and even the Venezuela under Hugo Chávez. However, at the same time, it supports, both economically and politically, states like Israel which has maintained an illegal occupation for more than 40 years, subjecting and depriving a civilian population like the Palestinian of its rights, under the excuse of the fight against terrorism and legitimate defense.

US historian Michael Parenti remembers, however, that US interventionism has been a consistent pattern in American history. “Since World War II, the US government has given more than $200 billion in military aid to build up the internal security forces in more than eighty countries”. “While claiming to be motivated by a dedication to human rights and democracy, US governments have supported rightwing autocrats (…) that have tortured, killed or otherwise maltreated large numbers of citizens because of their dissenting political views”, as in Turkey, Zaire, Chad, Pakistan, Morocco, Indonesia, Honduras, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, the Philippines, Cuba (under Fulgencio Batista), Nicaragua (under Somoza), and Portugal (under Salazar). It has participated in “covert actions or proxy mercenary wars against reformist or revolutionary governments in Cuba, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Portugal, Nicaragua, Cambodia, East Timor, Western Sahara, Egypt, Lebanon, Peru, Iran, Syria, Jamaica, South Yemen and the Fiji Islands, among others”.

The bombing of innocent people in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq has been a constant pattern in recent years. These are clearly terrorist actions targeted at unarmed civilians. The conclusion is alarming: no corner of the world suspected of playing host to some kind of terrorist activity is safe from being invaded or bombed.

The status of human rights

Article 14 of the 1977 Protocol to the Geneva Convention states that “the Occupying Power has the duty to ensure (…) the medical needs of the civilian population”. In Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and more recently Lebanon when it was attacked by Israel in July 2006, bombings have left significant sectors of the civilian population without drinking water, energy, hospitals and health centres.

But, besides the Geneva Convention, the United States and NATO have violated other international treaties and instruments such as the Protection of People against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among others. So, there is no international treaty on the subject that has not been violated by the United States and its allies.

Two recent events account for the hypocritical duality with which some states are manipulating the concept of human rights well into the 21st century. In the first place, on February 7, 2007, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance that criminalises the use of secret prisons was signed in Paris by some sixty countries (most of them from Europe, but not the United States). And a few days later, on February 14, a report accusing those same European governments of complicity with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in operations involving clandestine kidnappings, was approved at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. According to this report, between 2001 and 2005, CIA aircrafts made no less than 1,245 stopovers at European airports, often carrying suspects who were victims of “enforced disappearance”, being clandestinely sent to Guantánamo or prisons in allied countries (Egypt, Morocco) where torture is a regular practice.

As stated by Ignacio Ramonet in a recent article published in the newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique, “it is clear that this massive violation of human rights could not have happened without the consent of the Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union, Javier Solana, and those of his associate EU Anti-Terrorism Coordinator, Gijs de Vries. In an eloquent gesture, de Vries decided to resign, although alleging personal reasons: “Democratic states – he said – must carry out their battle against terrorism within the framework of respect for the law (…). The ill-treatment at Abu Ghraib, the abuses at Guantanamo, together with the CIA renditions have undermined the credibility of the United States and Europe”.
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      Versión en español
Thursday, July 03 2008
Terrorism - How not to combat it
(Source: Two Circles)
Tuesday, June 17 2008
US Supreme Court: Guantánamo detainees have constitutional right to Habeas Corpus
(Source: Center for Constitutional Rights)

The war on terror: strategies and consequences

Iraq's occupation: a form of terrorism (CounterCurrents)

Malice, contradictions and the lack of fair play in the Bush administration’s war on terrorism: the case of the Cuban 5 (Council on Hemispheric Affairs)

"Terrorist lists" still above the law (Transnational Institute - Statewatch)

U.S. National security experts grim on terror war (Inter Press Service)

The Iraq effect: war has increased terrorism sevenfold worldwide (Mother Jones)

War on terror: grand incompetence? (Jerusalemites)

Playing politics with aid: the unholy trinity of defense, development and diplomacy in the war of terrorism (The Oakland Institute)

United States Department of Defense official website on the war on terrorism

Washington's "war against terrorism" and human rights: the view from abroad (American Bar Association)

Shoulder to shoulder: European strategy in the fight against terrorism and cooperation with the United States (GDS Infocentre)

How the war on terror made the world a more terrifying place (Counter Currents)

Exposing human rights abuses

Terrorism and human rights in the Philippines: fighting terror or terrorizing? (International Federation for Human Rights)

Terror and counter-terror: Defending our human rights (Amnesty International)

Counter terror with justice (Amnesty International)

New report details CIA prisons in Europe (World Socialist Web Site)

Off the Record: U.S. responsibility for enforced disappearances in the “war on terror” (Human Rights Watch)

"War on terror": Amnesty International's human rights concerns (Amnesty USA)

Terrorism is the very antithesis of human rights (Human Rights Watch)

Human Rights and the war on terror (Human Rights USA)

Detainees and the "War on Terror" (Center for Human Rights and Global Justice – NYU School of Law)

US: secret CIA prisoners still missing (Human Rights Watch)

CIA activities in Europe: European Parliament adopts final report deploring passivity from some Member States (European Parliament)

Human rights treaties

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations)

Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights)

Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Internatio (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights)

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights)

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights)

The case of Israel

The war on Lebanon (Choike)

National security vs. human rights

Witch hunting Muslims in the name of fighting terrorism (CounterCurrents)

US Supreme Court: Guantánamo detainees have constitutional right to Habeas Corpus (Center for Constitutional Rights)

The ideological profiling act of 2007 (Z Magazine)

UN Committee silent on anti-terrorism abuse (IPS)

CIA destroyed torture tapes (World Socialist Web Site)

The global war on civil society (The First Post)

Criminalizing solidarity: Sami Al-Arian and the war of terror (Electronic Intifada)

United States’ National Security (The White House)

Neither just nor effective (Human Rights Watch)

Law, human rights, realism and the “War on Terror” (University of Denver)

Terrorist laws and and the war on terror (People’s Union for Civil Liberties)

The penitent’s progress (Focus on the Global South)

United Nations

UN Action to Counter Terrorism

UN Human Rights bodies

Hear no evil, see no evil: the U.N. Security Council’s approach to human rights violations in the global counter-terrori (Human Rights Watch)

Terrorism in historical perspective

Terrorism - How not to combat it (Two Circles)

The official commitment to terrorism (CounterCurrents)

Terrorism defined (Counter Currents)

Posada Carriles: yet another example of the White House's denigration of its war on terrorism (Council on Hemispheric Affairs)

Posada Carriles: liberation of a monster (Counter Currents)

Terrorism in historical perspective (openDemocracy)

The crisis of universalism: America and radical Islam after 9/11 (openDemocracy)

Armed conflicts (The World Guide)

Global war on terrorism and democratic rights (South Asia Citizens Web)

Security, terrorism and human rights (CounterPunch)

Hostage to 9/11 (PASSIA)

Information resources

Assessing damage, urging action: report of the Eminent Jurists Panel on terrorism, counter-terrorism and human rights (International Commission of Jurists)

Understanding terrorism in Africa: building bridges and overcoming the gaps (Institute for Security Studies)

The worldwide network of US military bases (Global Research)

The backlash against civil society in the wake of the long war on terror (London School of Economics – Center for Civil Society)

Collateral damage: human rights and US military aid after 9/11 (Center for Public Integrity)

Preventing torture within the fight against terrorism (International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims)

"The war on terrorism" and human rights: aid to abusers (Federation of American Scientists)

War on Terror (Global Issues)

Alternative resources on the U.S. "War Against Terrorism" (International Responsibilities Task Force)

Torture, 'war on terror' & human rights" (UnCommonSense TV)

Human rights in an age of terrorism (Foreign Policy Association)

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