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Criticism of the War on Terror

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Criticism of the War on Terror addresses the morals, ethics, efficiency, economics, as well as other issues surrounding the War on Terror. It also touches upon criticism against the phrase itself, which was branded as a misnomer. The notion of a "war" against "terrorism" has proven highly contentious, with critics charging that participating governments exploited it to pursue long-standing policy/military objectives,[1] reduce civil liberties,[2] and infringe upon human rights. It is argued that the term war is not appropriate in this context (as in War on Drugs), since there is no identifiable enemy and that it is unlikely international terrorism can be brought to an end by military means.[3]

Other critics, such as Francis Fukuyama, note that "terrorism" is not an enemy, but a tactic: calling it a "war on terror" obscures differences between conflicts such as anti-occupation insurgents and international mujahideen. With a military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and its associated collateral damage Shirley Williams maintains this increases resentment and terrorist threats against the West.[4] Other criticism include United States hypocrisy,[5] media induced hysteria,[6] and that changes in American foreign and security policy have shifted world opinion against the US.[7]

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  • Terrorism, War, and Bush 43: Crash Course US History #46
  • "War on Terror," represented with Spongebob
  • Debate: Iraq and the War on Terror: Were We Wrong?
  • Chris Hedges: America's Wars of Self-Destruction - Media, the Middle East & the War on Terror (2008)
  • Chris Hedges: Seduction of War - Myths, War on Terror and the Brutality of Combat (2004)


Hi, I’m John Green, this is CrashCourse U.S. history and today we’ve done it! WE’VE FINALLY REACHED THE 21st CENTURY! Today, we boldly go where no history course has gone before, because your teacher ran out of time and never made it to the present. Also, if you’re preparing for the AP test it’s unlikely that today’s video will be helpful to you because, you know, they never get to this stuff. Mr. Green, Mr. Green? Awesome, free period. Yeah, Me From the Past, there’s no such thing as a free period. There’s only time, and how you choose to use it. Also, Me From the Past, we’re in your future, hold on I’ve got to take this stuff off it’s hard to take me seriously with that. We’re in the future for you which means that you are learning important things about the you who does not yet exist. You know about Lady GaGa, Kanye and Kim, Bieber, well you’re not going to find out about any of those things because this is a history class, but it’s still going to be interesting. INTRO So the presidency of George W. Bush may not end up on your AP exam, but it’s very important when it comes to understanding the United States that we live in today The controversy starts with the 2000 Election. Democratic presidential candidate Al “I invented the Internet” Gore was sitting Vice President, and he asked Bill Clinton not to campaign much because a lot of voters kind of hated Bill Clinton. The republican candidate was George W. Bush, governor of Texas and unlike his father a reasonably authentic Texan. You know, as people from Connecticut go. Bush was a former oil guy and baseball team owner and he was running as a Compassionate Conservative, which meant he was organizing a coalition of religious people and fiscal conservatives. And that turned out to be a very effective coalition and George W Bush got a lot of votes. He did not however get as many votes as Al Gore. But as you’ll no doubt remember from earlier in Crash Course US History, in the United States presidential elections are not decided by popular vote. They are decided by the Electoral College. So the election was incredibly close. It solidified the Red-Blue divide that has become a trope for politicians since. And in the end Gore won the popular vote by about 500,000 votes. However, Al Gore did not have the necessary electoral votes to become president. Unless he won Florida. Did he win Florida? I don’t even want to go there… In Florida the vote was ridiculously close, but George W Bush had a gigantic advantage which is that his brother, Jeb Bush, was the governor of Florida. So when it came time to certify the election Jeb was like, “Yeah. My brother won. No big deal.” But then the Gore campaign sued to have a recount by hand which is allowed under Florida law. But then Bush’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court to intervene and they did. Their decision in Bush v. Gore remains rather controversial. They ruled that the recount should be stopped, interfering with a state law and also a state’s electoral process, which is a weird decision for strict constructionists to make. However, one of the strong points of the United States these past couple centuries has been that sometimes we have the opportunity to go to war over whether this person or that person should be president and we chose not to. So regardless of whether you think the recount should have gone on, or George W Bush should have been elected, he was, and he set to work implementing his campaign promises, including working on a missile defence system that was very similar to Star Wars. And that was Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars, not George Lucas’ Star Wars. Man if we could get a federally funded new Star Wars trilogy that doesn’t suck that would be awesome. Anyway, in the first 100 days of his presidency Bush also barred federal funding for stem cell research, and he supported oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And speaking of environmental policy, the Bush administration announced that it would not abide by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on carbon emissions and that didn’t go over well with environmentalists in the U.S. or in all of these green parts of not-America because they were like, “You guys made all the carbon.” To which we said, “This is America.” Libertage Bush also attempted education reform with the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated that states implement “rigorous” standards and testing regimes to prove that those standards were being met. The No Child Left Behind Act is especially controversial with teachers who are great friends of Crash Course US History so we will say nothing more. Most importantly, George W Bush pushed through the largest tax cut in American history in 2001. Claiming that putting more money in Americans’ pockets would stimulate growth in an economy that had stumbled after the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000. Oh, it’s time for the Mystery Document? The rules here are simple. I guess the author of the Mystery Document, I either get it right, or I get shocked with the shock pen. Alright, what have we got here today. I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a sad one. “It was a beautiful fall day, with a crisp, blue sky. I was coming in to work late that day; I guess I didn’t have first period class. It was only the second or third day of school. When I emerged from the subway, Union Square was strangely quiet, which only added to the beauty of the day. People were standing still, which is weird in New York under any circumstances, and looking down University Place towards lower Manhattan. Before I even looked I asked a passerby what had happened. She, or he, I really don’t remember, said that a plane had crashed into the Trade Center. Then I looked and saw the smoke coming billo wing out of the South Tower. I thought it was an accident, but I knew that this was not going to be an easy day. Well it’s obviously someone who was in New York City on September 11, 2001, but that only narrows it down to like 10 million people. However, I happen to know that it is Crash Course historian and my high school history teacher Raoul Meyer who wrote that account. This is the saddest I have ever been not to be shocked. So whether George Bush’s domestic policy would have worked is up for debate, but the events of September 11, 2001 ensured that foreign policy would dominate any discussion of the opening decade of the 21st century. That morning terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda hijacked 4 airliners. Two planes were flown into Manhattan’s World Trade Center, a third was crashed into the Pentagon in Washington and a fourth, also headed for Washington DC crashed in Pennsylvania when passengers overpowered the hijackers. Almost 3,000 people died including almost 400 policemen and firefighters. As Americans rushed to help in the search for survivors and to rebuild a devastated city, a shared sense of trauma and a desire to show resolve really did bring the country together. President Bush’s popularity soared in the wake of the attacks. In a speech on September 20, the president told Americans watching on television that the terrorists had targeted America “Because we love freedom […]. And they hate freedom.” This is another critical moment in American history where the definition of freedom is being reimagined. And we were reminded in the wake of September 11th that one of the central things that government does to keep us free is to keep us safe. But at the same time ensuring our safety sometimes means impinging upon our freedoms. And the question of how to keep America safe while also preserving our civil liberties is one of the central questions of the 21st century. At any rate, in the September 20th speech, the president announced a new guiding principle in foreign policy that became known as the Bush Doctrine. America would go to war with terrorism making no distinction between the terrorists and nations that harbored them. Bush laid out the terms for the world that night: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” But that dichotomy of course would prove to be a bit of an oversimplification. So on October 7, the United States launched its first airstrikes on Afghanistan, which at the time was ruled by a group of Islamic fundamentalists called the Taliban who were protecting Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda’s leader. This was followed by American ground troops supporting the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in chasing out the Taliban and setting up a new Afghan government that was friendly to the United States. This new government did undo many of the worst Taliban policies, for instance allowing women and girls to go to school, and even to serve in the parliament. More women than girls in the parliament naturally. But by 2007 the Taliban was beginning to make a comeback and although fewer than 100 Americans died in the initial phase of the war, a sizeable force remained and in the ensuing 12 years the number of Americans killed would continue to rise. And then, by January 2002, Bush had expanded the scope of the Global War on Terror by proclaiming that Iran, Iraq and North Korea were an “axis of evil” that harbored terrorists, even though none of those nations had direct ties to the September 11 attacks. The ultimate goal of Bush Doctrine was to make the world safe for freedom and also to spread it and freedom was defined as consisting of political democracy, free expression, religious toleration, free trade and free markets. These freedoms, Bush said, were, “right and true for every person, in every society”. And there’s no question that the Saddam Hussein led Iraq of 2003 was not, by any of those definitions, free. But the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States was predicated on two ideas. First, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction - chemical and biological weapons that they were refusing to give up. And second, that there was, or at least may have been, a link between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and the Al Qaeda attacks of 9-11. So in March 2003 the United States, Britain, and a coalition of other countries, invaded Iraq. Within a month Baghdad was captured, Saddam Hussein was ousted, Iraq created a new government that was more democratic than Saddam’s dictatorship, and then descended into sectarian chaos. After Baghdad fell, President Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq, but troops soon found themselves trying to manage an increasingly organized insurgency that featured attacks and bombings. And by 2006 American intelligence analysts concluded that Iraq had become a haven for Islamist terrorists, which it hadn’t been, before the invasion. In fact, Saddam Hussein’s socialist government, while it occasionally called upon religion to unify people against an enemy, was pretty secular. Although fewer than 200 Americans had died in the initial assaults, by the end of 2006, more than 3,000 American soldiers had been killed and another 20,000 wounded. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis had died in the conflict and the costs of the war which were promised to be no more than $60 billion had ballooned to $200 billion dollars. So that, and we try really hard here at Crash Course to be objective was a bit of a disaster. But let’s now go back to the domestic side of things and jump back in time to the passage of the USA PATRIOT act. Which believe it or not is an acronym for the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism act of 2001. Oh, Congress you don’t pass many laws these days but when you do… mmhm…. there’s some winners. The PATRIOT act gave the government unprecedented law enforcement powers to combat domestic terrorism including the ability to wiretap and spy on Americans. At least 5000 people connected to the Middle East were called in for questioning and more than 1200 were arrested, many held for months without any charge. The administration also set up a camp for accused terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, but not the fun kind of camp, the prison kind, it housed more than 700 suspects. The president also authorized the National Security Agency to listen in to telephone conversations without first obtaining a warrant, the so-called warrantless wiretapping. In 2013 Americans learned that NSA surveillance has of course gone much farther than this with surveillance programs like PRISM which sounds like it’s out of an Orwell novel - I mean both like the name and the actual thing it refers to. Meredith would like us to point out that Prism is also the name of a Katy Perry album proving that we here at Crash Course are young and hip and with it. Who is Katy Perry? Oh right, she has that song in Madagascar 3. Sorry, I have little kids. The Supreme Court eventually limited the executive branch’s power and ruled that enemy combatants do have some procedural rights. Congress also banned the use of torture in a 2005 defense appropriations bill sponsored by Republican John McCain who himself had been a victim of torture in Vietnam. But the Defense Department did condone the continued use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding. Which most countries do consider torture. But George W Bush won re-election in 2004, defeating the surprisingly weak John Kerry, who was characterized as a “waffler” on a number of issues including the Iraq war. Kerry’s history as a Vietnam protester and also terrible windsurfer probably didn’t help him much. Bush’s victory is still a bit surprising to historians admittedly at that moment the Iraq war seemed to be going pretty well. But during Bush’s first term, the economy, which is usually what really drives voters, wasn’t that great at all. A recession began during 2001 and the September 11 attacks made it much worse. And while the GDP did begin to grow again relatively quickly, employment didn’t recover, hence all the description of it as a “jobless recovery.” 90% of the jobs lost in the 2001-2002 recession were in manufacturing, continuing a trend that we had been seeing for 30 years. The number of steelworkers dropped from 520,000 in 1970 to 120,000 in 2004. And in his first term George W Bush actually became the first president since Herbert Hoover to oversee a net loss of jobs. Now I want to be clear that that’s not necessarily his fault as I have said many times before - economics are complicated. And presidents do not decide whether economies grow. But at any rate George W Bush was re-elected and went on to have an extremely controversial second term. Let’s go to the thoughtbubble. In 2005 several events undermined the public’s confidence in the Bush administration. First, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff was indicted for perjury and then House Majority Leader Tom “The Hammer” DeLay was indicted for violating campaign finance laws. Then in August 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the gulf coast near New Orleans submerging much of the city, killing nearly 1500 people, and leaving thousands stranded without basic services. Disaster preparation and response was poor on the state, local, and federal levels, but the slow response of the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency was particularly noticeable as thousands of mostly African American New Orleans residents suffered without food or water. Damage to the city was estimated at around $80 billion dollars. And the Katrina disaster exposed the persistent poverty and racial divisions in the city. While the Katrina response probably contributed to the reversal of fortune for Congressional Republicans in the 2006 mid-terms, it was more likely the spike in gasoline prices that resulted from the shutting down of refining capacity in the gulf and increased demand for oil from rapidly growing China. Voters gave Democrats majorities in both houses, and Nancy Pelosi of California became the first woman Speaker of the House in American history. And then, in 2007, the country fell back into recession as a massive housing bubble began to deflate, followed by the near collapse of the American banking system in 2008. Thought Bubble, thank you once again for the tremendous downer. So, the Bush years are still in the recent past, and it’s impossible to tell just what their historical significance is without some distance. But the attacks on September 11 had far ranging effects on American foreign policy but also on the entire world. Under the leadership of George W Bush the United States began a global fight against terrorism and for freedom. But as always, what we mean by the words is evolving and there’s no question that in trying to ensure a certain kind of freedom we have undermined other kinds of freedom. We’ll get to the even messier and murkier world of the 2008 financial collapse next week. Until then, thanks for watching. Crash Course is made with the help of all these nice people and it exists because of your support through - a voluntary subscription service that allows you to subscribe monthly to Crash Course for the price of your choosing. There are great perks over at Subbable, but the biggest perk of all is knowing that you helped make Crash Course possible so please check it out, thank you for watching, thanks for supporting Crash Course, and as we say in my hometown, “Don’t forget to be awesome.”



Various critics dubbed the term "War on Terror" as nonsensical. For example, billionaire activist investor George Soros criticized the term "War on Terror" as a "false metaphor."[8] Linguist George Lakoff of the Rockridge Institute argued that there cannot literally be a war on terror, since terror is an abstract noun. "Terror cannot be destroyed by weapons or signing a peace treaty. A war on terror has no end."[9]

Jason Burke, a journalist who writes about radical Islamic activity, describes the terms "terrorism" and "war against terrorism" in this manner:

There are multiple ways of defining terrorism and all are subjective. Most define terrorism as 'the use or threat of serious violence' to advance some kind of 'cause'. Some state clearly the kinds of group ('sub-national', 'non-state') or cause (political, ideological, religious) to which they refer. Others merely rely on the instinct of most people when confronted with an act that involves innocent civilians being killed or maimed by men armed with explosives, firearms or other weapons. None is satisfactory and grave problems with the use of the term persist. Terrorism is after all, a tactic. The term 'war on terrorism' is thus effectively nonsensical. As there is no space here to explore this involved and difficult debate, my preference is, on the whole, for the less loaded term 'militancy'. This is not an attempt to condone such actions, merely to analyze them in a clearer way.[10]

Perpetual war

Former U.S. President George W. Bush articulated the goals of the War on Terror in a September 20, 2001 speech, in which he said that it "will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated." [11] In that same speech, he called the war "a task that does not end", an argument he reiterated in 2006 State of The Union address.

Preventive war

One justification given for the invasion of Iraq was to prevent terroristic, or other attacks, by Iraq on the United States or other nations. This can be viewed as a conventional warfare realization of the War on Terror.

A major criticism leveled at this justification is that it does not fulfill one of the requirements of a just war and that in waging war preemptively, the United States undermined international law and the authority of the United Nations, particularly the United Nations Security Council. On this ground, by invading a country that did not pose an imminent threat without UN support, the U.S. violated international law, including the UN Charter and the Nuremberg principles, therefore committing a war of aggression, which is considered a war crime. Additional criticism raised the point that the United States might have set a precedent, under the premise of which any nation could justify the invasion of other states.

Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that on the eve of U.S. intervention in 2003, Iraq represented, at best, a gathering threat and not an imminent one.[12] In hindsight he notes that Iraq did not even represent a gathering threat. "The decision to attack Iraq in March 2003 was discretionary: it was a war of choice. There was no vital American interests in imminent danger and there were alternatives to using military force, such as strengthening existing sanctions."[13] However, Haass argues that U.S. intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 began as a war of necessity—vital interests were at stake—but morphed "into something else and it crossed a line in March 2009, when President Barack Obama` decided to sharply increase American troop levels and declared that it was U.S. policy to 'take the fight to the Taliban in the south and east' of the country."[13] Afghanistan, according to Haass, eventually became a war of choice.

War on Terror seen as pretext

Excerpts from an April 2006 report compiled from sixteen U.S. government intelligence agencies has strengthened the claim that engaging in Iraq has increased terrorism in the region.[14]

Domestic civil liberties

Picture of Satar Jabar, one of the prisoners subjected to torture at Abu Ghraib. Abar was in Abu Ghraib for carjacking.[15]
Picture of Satar Jabar, one of the prisoners subjected to torture at Abu Ghraib. Abar was in Abu Ghraib for carjacking.[15]

In the United Kingdom, critics have claimed that the Blair government used the War on Terror as a pretext to radically curtail civil liberties, some enshrined in law since Magna Carta. For example, the detention-without-trial in Belmarsh prison:[16] controls on free speech through laws against protests near Parliament[17] and laws banning the "glorification" of terrorism:[18] and reductions in checks on police power, as in the case of Jean Charles de Menezes[19] and Mohammed Abdul Kahar.[20]

Former Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Menzies Campbell has also condemned Blair's inaction over the controversial U.S. practice of extraordinary rendition, arguing that the human rights conventions to which the UK is a signatory (e.g. European Convention on Human Rights) impose on the government a "legal obligation" to investigate and prevent potential torture and human rights violations.[21]


U.S. President George W. Bush's remark of November 2001 claiming that "You're either with us or you are with the terrorists,"[22] has been a source of criticism. Thomas A. Keaney of Johns Hopkins University's Foreign Policy Institute said "it made diplomacy with a number of different countries far more difficult because obviously there are different problems throughout the world."[23]

As a war against Islam

Since the War on Terror revolved primarily around the United States and other NATO states intervening in the internal affairs of Muslim countries (i.e. in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) and organisations, it has been labelled a war against Islam by ex-United States Attorney General Ramsey Clark,[24] among others. After his release from Guantanamo in 2005, ex-detainee Moazzam Begg appeared in the Islamist propaganda video 21st Century CrUSAders and claimed the U.S. was engaging in a new crusade:[25]

I think that history is definitely repeating itself and for the Muslim world and I think even a great part of the non-Muslim world now, are beginning to recognize that there are ambitions that the United States has on the lands and wealth of nations of Islam.


Protestors dressed as hooded detainees and holding WCW signs in Washington DC on January 4, 2007
Protestors dressed as hooded detainees and holding WCW signs in Washington DC on January 4, 2007

Aiding terrorism

Each month, there are more suicide terrorists trying to kill Americans and their allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, as well as other Muslim countries than in all the years before 2001 combined. From 1980 to 2003, there were 343 suicide attacks around the world and at most 10 percent were anti-American inspired. Since 2004, there have been more than 2,000, over 91 percent against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, as well as other countries.

Robert Pape[26]

University of Chicago professor and political scientist, Robert Pape has written extensive work on suicide terrorism and states that it is triggered by military occupations, not extremist ideologies. In works such as Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism and Cutting the Fuse, he uses data from an extensive terrorism database and argues that by increasing military occupations, the US government is increasing terrorism. Pape is also the director and founder of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism (CPOST), a database of every known suicide terrorist attack from 1980 to 2008.

In 2006, a National Intelligence Estimate stated that the war in Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism. The estimate was compiled by 16 intelligence agencies and was the first assessment of global terrorism since the start of the Iraq war.[27]

Cornelia Beyer explains how terrorism increased as a response to past and present military intervention and occupation, as well as to 'structural violence'. Structural violence, in this instance, refers to economic conditions of backwardness which are attributed to the economic policies of the Western nations, the United States in particular.[28]

British Liberal Democrat politician Shirley Williams wrote that the United States and United Kingdom governments "must stop to think whether it is sowing the kind of resentment which is the seedbed of future terrorism."[29] The United Kingdom ambassador to Italy, Ivor Roberts, echoed this criticism when he stated that President Bush was "the best recruiting sergeant ever for al Qaeda."[30] The United States also granted "protected persons" status under the Geneva Convention to the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, an Iranian group classified by the U.S. Department of State as a terrorist organization, sparking criticism.[31] Other critics further noted that the American government granted political asylum to several alleged terrorists and terrorist organizations that seek to overthrow Fidel Castro's regime, while the American government claims to be anti-terrorism.

In 2018, New York Times terrorism reporter Rukmini Callimachi said "there are more terrorists now than there are on the eve of September 11, not less...There are more terror groups now, not less."[32]

Hypocrisy of the Bush Administration

The alleged mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 attacks was part of the mujahideen who were sponsored, armed, trained and aided by the CIA to fight the Soviet Union after it intervened in Afghanistan in 1979.[33][34][35][36]

Venezuela accused the U.S. government of having a double standard towards terrorism for giving safe haven to Luis Posada Carriles.[37] Some Americans also commented on the selective use of the term War on Terrorism, including 3 star general William Odom, formerly President Reagan's NSA Director, who wrote:

As many critics have pointed, out, terrorism is not an enemy. It is a tactic. Because the United States itself has a long record of supporting terrorists and using terrorist tactics, the slogans of today's war on terrorism merely makes the United States look hypocritical to the rest of the world. A prudent American president would end the present policy of "sustained hysteria" over potential terrorist attacks..treat terrorism as a serious but not a strategic problem, encourage Americans to regain their confidence and refuse to let al Qaeda keep us in a state of fright.[5][38]

Misleading information

In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush and members of his administration indicated they possessed information which demonstrated a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Published reports of the links began in late December 1998. In January 1999, Newsweek magazine published a story about Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda joining forces to attack U.S. interests in the Gulf Region. ABC News broadcast a story of this link soon after.[39] The Bush Administration believed there was a possibility of a potential collaboration between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath regime following the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan. Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan criticized the use of pro-humanitarian arguments by Coalition countries prior to its 2003 invasion of Iraq, writing in an open letter: "This selective attention to human rights is nothing but a cold and calculated manipulation of the work of human rights activists. Let us not forget that these same governments turned a blind eye to Amnesty International's reports of widespread human rights violations in Iraq before the Gulf War."[40]

Torture by proxy

The term "torture by proxy" is used by some critics to describe situations in which the CIA[41][42][43][44] and other US agencies transferred supposed terrorists, whom they captured during their efforts in the 'War on terrorism', to countries known to employ torture as an interrogation technique. Some also claimed that US agencies knew torture was employed, even though the transfer of anyone to anywhere for the purpose of torture is a violation of US law. Nonetheless, Condoleezza Rice (then the United States Secretary of State) stated that:[45]

the United States has not transported anyone and will not transport anyone, to a country when we believe he will be tortured. Where appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured.

This US programme also prompted several official investigations in Europe into alleged secret detentions and unlawful inter-state transfers involving Council of Europe member states, including those related with the so-called War on Terrorism. A June 2006 report from the Council of Europe estimated that 100 people were kidnapped by the CIA on EU territory with the cooperation of Council of Europe members and rendered to other countries, often after having transited through secret detention centres ("black sites"), some located in Europe, utilised by the CIA. According to the separate European Parliament report of February 2007, the CIA has conducted 1,245 flights, many of them to destinations where these alleged 'terrorists' could face torture, in violation of article 3 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.[46]

Religionism and Islamophobia

One aspect of the criticism regarding the rhetoric justifying the War on Terror was religionism, or more specifically Islamophobia. Theologian Amir Hussain, who studies contemporary Muslims societies in North America, defines this concept as a stereotyping of all followers of Islam as real or potential terrorists due to alleged hateful and violent teaching of their religion. He goes on to argue that "Islam is reduced to the concept of jihad and Jihad is reduced to terror against the West."[47] This line of argument echoes Edward Said’s famous piece Orientalism in which he argued that the United States sees the Muslims and Arabs in an essentialized caricatures – as oil supplies or potential terrorists.[48]

Decreasing international support

In 2002, strong majorities supported the U.S.-led War on Terror in Britain, France, Germany, Japan, India and Russia, according to a sample survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. By 2006, supporters of the effort were in the minority in Britain (49%), Germany (47%), France (43%) and Japan (26%). Although a majority of Russians still supported the War on Terror, that majority had decreased by 21%. Whereas 63% of Spaniards supported the War on Terror in 2003, only 19% of the population indicated support in 2006. 19% of the Chinese population still supports the War on Terror and less than a fifth of the populations of Turkey, Egypt, as well as Jordan support the efforts. The report also indicated that Indian public support for the War on Terror has been stable.[49] Andrew Kohut, while speaking to the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, noted that and according to the Pew Research Center polls conducted in 2004, "the ongoing conflict in Iraq continues to fuel anti-American sentiments. America’s global popularity plummeted at the start of military action in Iraq and the U.S. presence there remains widely unpopular."[50]

Marek Obrtel, former Lieutenant Colonel in Field Hospital with Czech Republic army, returned his medals which he received during his posting in Afghanistan War for NATO operations. He criticized the War on Terror as describing the mission as "deeply ashamed that I served a criminal organization such as NATO, led by the USA and its perverse interests around the world."[51][52][53]

Role of U.S. media

Researchers in communication studies and political science found that American understanding of the "War on Terror" is directly shaped by how mainstream news media reports events associated with the conflict. In Bush's War: Media Bias and Justifications for War in a Terrorist Age[54] political communication researcher Jim A. Kuypers illustrated "how the press failed America in its coverage on the War on Terror." In each comparison, Kuypers "detected massive bias on the part of the press." This researcher called the mainstream news media an "anti-democratic institution" in his conclusion. "What has essentially happened since 9/11 has been that Bush has repeated the same themes and framed those themes the same whenever discussing the War on Terror," said Kuypers. "Immediately following 9/11, the mainstream news media (represented by CBS, ABC, NBC, USA Today, The New York Times, as well as The Washington Post) did echo Bush, but within eight weeks it began to intentionally ignore certain information the president was sharing and instead reframed the president's themes or intentionally introduced new material to shift the focus."

This goes beyond reporting alternate points of view, which is an important function of the press. "In short," Kuypers explained, "if someone were relying only on the mainstream media for information, they would have no idea what the president actually said. It was as if the press were reporting on a different speech." The study is essentially a "comparative framing analysis." Overall, Kuypers examined themes about 9-11 and the War on Terror that President Bush used and compared them to themes that the press used when reporting on what he said.

"Framing is a process whereby communicators, consciously or unconsciously, act to construct a point of view that encourages the facts of a given situation to be interpreted by others in a particular manner," wrote Kuypers. These findings suggest that the public is misinformed about government justification and plans concerning the War on Terror.

Others have also suggested that press coverage contributed to a public confused and misinformed on both the nature and level of the threat to the U.S. posed by terrorism. In his book, Trapped in the War on Terror[6] political scientist Ian S. Lustick, claimed, "The media have given constant attention to possible terrorist-initiated catastrophes and to the failures and weaknesses of the government's response." Lustick alleged that the War on Terror is disconnected from the real but remote threat terrorism poses and that the generalized War on Terror began as part of the justification for invading Iraq, but then took on a life of its own, fueled by media coverage. Scott Atran writes that "publicity is the oxygen of terrorism" and the rapid growth of international communicative networks renders publicity even more potent, with the result that "perhaps never in the history of human conflict have so few people with so few actual means and capabilities frightened so many."[55]

Media researcher Stephen D. Cooper's analysis of media criticism Watching the Watchdog: Bloggers As the Fifth Estate[56] contains several examples of controversies concerning mainstream reporting of the War on Terror. Cooper found that bloggers' criticisms of factual inaccuracies in news stories or bloggers' discovery of the mainstream press' failure to adequately verify facts before publication caused many news organizations to retract or change news stories.

Cooper found that bloggers specializing in criticism of media coverage advanced four key points:

  • Mainstream reporting of the War on Terror has frequently contained factual inaccuracies. In some cases, the errors go uncorrected: moreover, when corrections are issued they usually are given far less prominence than the initial coverage containing the errors.
  • The mainstream press has sometimes failed to check the provenance of information or visual images supplied by Iraqi "stringers" (local Iraqis hired to relay local news).
  • Story framing is often problematic: in particular, "man-in-the-street" interviews have often been used as a representation of public sentiment in Iraq, in place of methodologically sound survey data.
  • Mainstream reporting has tended to concentrate on the more violent areas of Iraq, with little or no reporting of the calm areas.

David Barstow won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting by connecting the Department of Defense to over 75 retired generals supporting the Iraq War on television and radio networks. The Department of Defense recruited retired generals to promote the war to the American public. Barstow also discovered undisclosed links between some retired generals and defense contractors. He reported that "the Bush administration used its control over access of information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse".

British objections

The Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the Crown Prosecution Service in the UK, Ken McDonald, Britain's most senior criminal prosecutor, stated that those responsible for acts of terrorism such as the 7 July 2005 London bombings are not "soldiers" in a war, but "inadequates" who should be dealt with by the criminal justice system. He added that a "culture of legislative restraint" was needed in passing anti-terrorism laws and that a "primary purpose" of the violent attacks was to tempt countries such as Britain to "abandon our values." He stated that in the eyes of the UK criminal justice system, the response to terrorism had to be "proportionate and grounded in due process and the rule of law":

London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered...were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, 'soldiers'. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London there is no such thing as a war on terror. The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement.[57]

Stella Rimington, former head of the British intelligence service MI5 criticised the War on Terror as a "huge overreaction" and had decried the militarization and politicization of U.S. efforts to be the wrong approach to terrorism.[58] David Miliband, former UK foreign secretary, has similarly called the strategy a "mistake".[59][60] Nigel Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, called for Britain to end its involvement in the War in Afghanistan, describing the mission as "wholly unsuccessful and indeed counter-productive."[61]

See also


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Further reading

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