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TERRORISM IN THE NAME OF DEMOCRACY
Farah Mannan

            "The ideals of liberty, democracy, and freedom are ingrained in the lives of the men, women, and children of the United States of America. But does this sense of protection, gained by very questionable military means, come at the expense of the safety of other nations?"

   The sphere of global politics in the twenty-first century is one plagued by threats on the security and safety of those sovereign states within it. Throughout the history of international relations, the scope of potential foreign policy disasters has been diverse in its nature, including concerns from nuclear proliferation to the infringement on the autonomy of existing states. One threat to global security that has persisted since the Cold War era is the danger of terrorism. Defined by the U.S. Code and Army Manual (circa 1985), terrorism is known as ‘the use, or threat, of action which is violent, damaging or disrupting, and is intended to influence the government or intimidate the public and is for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause’. Over decades of being involved in numerous wars and political conflicts, various governmental and military groups around the world have made public and unanimous stances disassociating themselves from terrorist organizations. The United States is potentially the world’s foremost authority on the fight against terrorism, with an extensive history of firm anti-terrorism policies created by nearly every Commander of Chief elected into office after 2001 – unsurprisingly so, as the statistics for terrorist attacks on American targets increased by 50% since 1993. Yet, as demonstrated through a number of incidents and cases throughout history, both the U.S. military and government have used their dominant political world presence to both influence and intimidate the public of those countries involved in Allied conflicts. This direct violation of their own military definition of terrorism demonstrates their total disregard for following the international guidelines they implement on so many other countries in the world. Through a number of examples, this essay will prove indefinitely that the United States of America has committed, and continues to commit, acts of terrorism in the world through the support of terrorist groups, waging of wars under false pretenses for political and economic gain, and unjustified military bombing of civilian zones.

   There are many supporters of U.S. foreign policy who will claim that the decision to fund political groups who in today’s standards may be considered terrorists by the U.S. government, was made in such times throughout history that made it impossible to predict the future outcome of such financing. There also exist a large number of journalists and critics of international relations that believe that many of the claims of state-sponsored terrorism committed by the United States come from sources that are unreliable, and not fully understanding of the capabilities and protocol of agencies such as the CIA. The Central Intelligence Agency’s program to fund the Afghan mujahideen (Afghani rebel groups who protested the pro-Soviet government in place during the Afghan Civil war), code named Operation Cyclone, was a controversial one to say the least. Created in 1979 to support Islamic military groups in Pakistan, the program has received much criticism for allowing a large amount of the funding to be given to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a Soviet military commander in Afghanistan. Hekmatyar was considered to be on friendly terms with the founder of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, who was conducting training camps for Afghan rebels during the early 1980s. In response to the claims that Operation Cyclone helped fund pro-Soviet and al-Qaeda militia groups, Jason Burke, a British journalist and foremost authority on Islamic extremism and Afghan relations with the Western world, wrote:
In his first few years in Sudan bin Laden was at least as interested in arboriculture and road construction as in creating an international legion of Islamic militants. His own group had barely expanded beyond the dozen or so individuals who had pledged allegiance to him back in 1988 or 1989 and he was heavily reliant on the know-how and resources of larger and more established militant outfits such as Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

Burke insists that at the given time, Osama bin Laden did not pose as a direct threat to the United States as his own group of Afghan militia had barely reached numbers surpassing one dozen men. The money given to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar had been given with the CIA’s knowledge that Hekmatyar, though on respectable terms with bin Laden, was still a member of the Pakistani Islamic military group – the same group that was, in fact, aiding against the larger threat of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Though it can be argued that the United States did not give direct funding to al-Qaeda and could therefore not be accused of funding a terrorist organization, the U.S. military must still account for the neglect of warnings regarding potential future terrorist activity by Pakistani military officials, as well as the funding of other non-al-Qaeda related militia groups.

   This argument presented by journalists with similar viewpoints to Burke does not hold solid ground when contrasted with facts that prove indefinitely of the support of terrorist groups by the U.S. government. In regards to the claims that the funding of Hekmatyar and his mujahideen could not have been foreseen as leading to Al Qaeda’s formation, there existed a number of foreign policy critics who warned Presidents Reagan and H. W. Bush of the potential consequences of their actions. The year 1989 provides an excellent backdrop for such an occasion. It was the final year Operation Cyclone was in effect, and the first year of the Afghan Civil War – a crucial time for the United States of America to heed the warnings of leaders in and around the Middle East. During her first official state visit to the United States, Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistani prime minister at the time, voiced her concerns about the growing threat of the Pakistani Islamic Army. “You are creating a Frankenstein,” she warned President George H. W. Bush in regards to the U.S. support of the mujahideen. Unfortunately, according to a reporter at Newsweek post 9/11, this message was not taken into much serious consideration by those in power at the time. The article continues to expand on issue, claiming that the Prime Minister’s forewarnings of increased Islamist activity came true, with thanks being given to the irresponsible actions of both the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations. However, the funding of Islamist mujahideen groups was not the only instance of state-sponsored terrorism. The second example is the secret U.S. government and military aid given to the Nicaraguan rebel groups who opposed the Sandinista National Liberation Front – also known as the Contras. It should also be noted that then President Reagan was a long-time critic of the Sandinista government, and disagreed with much of the Cuban-style socialism it employed. In 1982, Reagan signed the National Security Decision Directive, allowing for approximately twenty-four million dollars to be given to the Contras. This money played “a very large role in financing, training, arming, and advising the contras over a long period,” according to Terry D. Gill, a professor of military law at the University of Amsterdam. Given professor Gill’s claim, the United States would have to take responsibility for the direction and use of Contras military force. In fact, in front of the International Court of Justice, the primary judicial group of the United Nations, Nicaragua claimed that the Contras were a creation of the United States. The Contras were notorious for engaging in tactics such as burning down schools and medical clinics, the rape of women, and bombing of villages suspected to house Sandinista-sympathisers. This was a clear attempt to aggressively influence the Sandinista government out of power, and the Reagan administration turned a blind eye to the abuse of human rights in Nicaragua by Contras forces. This example of dubious American morality directly coincides with the definition of terrorism provided earlier – the supporting of the Contras was a way to influence the Nicaraguan government and intimidate the public for the purpose of implementing a pro-American government.

When presented with the accusations of unjust war-waging, many American politicians and journalists will defend U.S. foreign policy by echoing the sentiments of most post 1945 war-time presidents. That is, the parroting of the “greater good” argument – the assertion that what some may consider to be acts of terrorism are done for the betterment of the nations involved. Many of these political theorists will list the turbulent areas and nations that the United States of America have helped liberate from political or military turmoil. In response to a series of essays discussing a post 9-11 America (written by the famous American political critic Noam Chomsky), former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett had this to say:
That's a preposterous and ridiculous claim. If only people knew what we have done against terrorism, what we have done for Muslims in the world -- you know, the leading killer of Muslims in the world is Saddam Hussein. What we have done is liberated Kuwait, helped in Bosnia and the Balkans. We have provided sanctuary for people of all faiths, including Islam, in the United States. We tried to help in Somalia. I mean the historical record is clear that America is the great hope of the earth.  

The argument is brought up that many of the countries that had military presence by the United States benefitted from whatever acts of terrorism that may have been inflicted upon them. The invasion of Panama was one such incident that resulted in the removal of dictator Manuel Noriega. This perhaps acted as a proponent for the improvement in the quality of human rights in Panama, paving the way for better leaders and a more solid democratic foundation for the country to build upon. As with the Iraqi War (or more specifically, the second phase of the Iraq war from the years 2003 to 2011), many pro-American critics will claim that the Iraq war helped the Iraqi people rid themselves of a dictator whose stepping down without aggressive force was not foreseen for a very long time to come. These arguments do both hold solid ground – Panama was once a country ripe with human rights violations on behalf of the Noriega dictatorship, and Iraq’s racial discrimination and economic class-inequality were waved goodbye to after each individual U.S. military mission took place. This is a view only seen through the rose-coloured glasses often worn by advocates of U.S. foreign policy, however, as it completely unbalances the priorities of each country. Though Panama may not have a brutal dictator in its command, it certainly had brutal economic impacts with the U.S. seizing their biggest economic aid – the Panama Canal. Iraq was no different, as we can see the newly emerging Iraq as a weaker, disjointed and feebler Iraq.

The presentation of the positive side to U.S. foreign invasions does not negate the overwhelmingly negative aspects of them. First, a critical eye must be placed upon the real effects of the Panama Invasion. Though the United States and politicians like Bennett wish to showcase the honorable intentions of their government during the invasion, it can be seen that President George H. W. Bush had ulterior motives to the overthrowing of Noriega. He claimed that the invasion was for “removing an evil dictator…who was brutalizing his own people.” However, Noriega had a relationship with United States and the CIA for nearly the entire second half of the Cold War, and was a paid CIA informant since 1967. In 1972, when news about Noriega’s involvement in drug trafficking was leaked to the public, the U.S. administration still continued to employ Noriega’s services, even after the discovery that he was arguably the centre for the laundering and trafficking of drug funds in Panama. It was only after he was formally charged in 1988 (and thus put U.S. control of the Panama Canal, a major economic aid to South America, in jeopardy) that the President sought action in the form of an invasion to Panama, as suggested by Noam Chomsky in his “Invasion of Panama” essay. Along with the invasion came the death of 500 innocent Panamanian civilians and the shift of control of the Panama Canal to the U.S. government. Similar parallels can be seen in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, led by President George Bush. Many critics of the Iraq war point out that Saddam Hussein was seen as a friend and an ally of the United States of America, until his policies started veering further away from the desired political views the U.S. wanted. In what were claimed to be wars fought for the liberation of the Iraqi and Panamanian people, the self-interests of the governing forces of the United States were ultimately the deciding factor upon taking military actions in both mentioned wars. The death toll of the Iraqi war is estimated to be near the six-hundred thousands, and certainly an excellent example of the United States of America using the threat of war to terrorize those with political and economic ideals that conflict with American ones.

It is not an in depth analysis of the state of American foreign affairs as exists today without the look of issues such as civilian bombing. This issue is one of great importance in today’s discussion of the state of war, as new technology and bolder action on the part of the U.S. government has changed things in recent years. Many argue that the issue of drone warfare is one that must be looked upon with legal technicality. The criticism that President Obama’s increased use of drone warfare against civilians in places such as Yemen, Pakistan and Libya is defended against with the claim that most of the casualties are not, in fact, civilians. According to Dissent Magazine, the U.S. military now considers all males in drone area bombings who are of military age (sixteen and over) to be combatants, and therefore, not civilians. John O. Brennan, Obama’s top counterterrorist advisor, presents the statement that these strikes in mostly Middle-Eastern areas are completely legal. As for the civilian death toll, he says:
“We only authorize a strike if we have a high degree of confidence that innocent civilians will not be injured or killed, except in the rarest of circumstances.” But he acknowledged “instances when — despite the extraordinary precautions we take — civilians have been accidentally injured, or worse, killed in these strikes. It is exceedingly rare, but it has happened. When it does, it pains us and we regret it deeply, as we do any time innocents are killed in war.”

Drone strikes are events that are riddled with legal technicalities. This seems to be enough for most U.S. foreign policy officials, who disregard the thin line between legal declarations of war and breaches of peace on behalf of the U.S. government, and claim that these drone strikes are held in times or places in history with extreme military conflict and violence. Though this may be the case with a few of the select locations of drone strikes these days, it still does not erase the history of U.S. bombings being completely unjustifiable through these means.

The Vietnam War was an iconic failure for the American people. It was an immensely unpopular war amongst the public, and had casualties amassing to numbers in the millions. Though these casualties were technically suffered during war time measures, and many advocates for the Nixon administration state that any deaths could be attributed to the Nuremberg defense – simply, following superior orders – there are instances during the war that simply could not be justified by either Nixon or his administration. Rural villages in Hanoi (the north of Vietnam) resulted in thousands of deaths in areas with absolutely no military or Khmer Rouge action being held. Thousands of innocent Vietnamese men, women, and children were mass-murdered with no just cause. There were no military coups in the area of Hanoi during the time of the firebombing, with many connections being drawn from this tragic event to the firebombing of Dresden, Germany. These casualties, in both Hanoi and Dresden, were unjustifiable in the sense that they were completely unnecessary and were only suffered due to the U.S. military attempting to strike fear into the enemy. In Noam Chomsky’s 1967 essay, The Responsibility of Intellectuals, the question of military justification is brought to light. He highlights the international criminal law against crimes of aggression – things such as the bombing of innocent civilian villages in Northern Vietnam. Where the issue of an Axis of Evil gaining power was once far larger during World War II, and thus with it came the proposed justification of the use of the atomic bomb to end the war, there are very few military leaders today who will claim that the bombing of these villages would have brought about any significant change in the direction of the Vietnam war, and thus, shows the attempts of the U.S. government to strike fear into the enemy as a last, feeble attempt to win the war.

The shifting image of the United States amongst endless pressure from the global community is an interesting one to say the very least. Gone are the days where good and evil were written in black and white, with the world uniting and battling in two unified forces – the capitalist West and communist East. It is easy to admit that the image of the United States has dwindled, no longer pristine stoic as in the days of the Post World War II presidencies. The changing global sphere is to blame, of course, but cannot be the sole scapegoat for U.S. politicians who face scrutiny regarding the morality and legality of their military actions today. The funding of terrorist organizations, unjustly fought wars and excessive violence towards civilian zones is a great reminder of what it takes to stay on top of the global sphere. Though the United States may have the eternal finger pointing to their crimes of humanity, it is important to ask – if the United States was not a proponent of global terrorism, would the world be in far greater danger than it exists today? Yes, the United States commits acts of terrorism without a doubt. However, it is important to realize that it is our fundamental values of liberty they are trying to protect while doing so. The United States is the globe’s scapegoat. They are the perfect way of saying that democracy, as wonderful a concept as it is, can never succeed without the terrorism and tyranny that births it.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Amanat, Asma. "Bhutto Was Unique." A look on the Pakistani leader by cherished friend Mark Siegel. Daily Times Pakistan. Daily Times, 27 Dec. 2008. Web. <http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2008%5C12%5C27%5Cstory_27-12-2008_pg7_12>.
Bennett, William. "American Morning: William Bennett." Interview by Paula Zahn. CNN Transcripts. CNN, 9 May 2002. Web. <http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0205/09/ltm.10.html>.
Bergen, Peter. Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Bin Laden. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.
Burke, Jason. Al-Qaeda: Casting a shadow of terror. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2004.
Burke, Jason. On the Road to Kandahar: Travels Through Conflict in the Islamic World. London: Penguin, 2007.
Chomsky, Noam. "Lies Of Our Times." Lies Of Our Times. N.p., 28 Nov. 2011. Web. 14 Jan. 2013. <http://liesofourtimes.org/?p=295>.
Chomsky, Noam. "Responsibility of Intellectuals." New York Times. N.p., 28 Nov. 2011. Web. 14 Jan. 2013.
Terry, Gill D. "Section III Conclusions." Litigation Strategy at the International Court. N.p.: Martinus Nijhoff, 1989. 329. Print.
Hosenball, Mark. "The Road to September 11." It was a long time coming. For a decade, America's been fighting a losing secret war against terror. The Daily Beast. Newsweek, 30 Sept. 2001. Web. <http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2001/09/30/the-road-to-september-11.html>.
Human Rights Watch. "Human Rights Watch World Report 1992 - Nicaragua." UN Refugee Agency (1992): 2. United Nations. Web. <http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/publisher,HRW,,NIC,467fca491e,0.html>.
Jonge Oudraat, Chantal De. "The United Nations and the Campaign against Terrorism. “United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (2003): 1. UNIDIR. Web. <http://unidir.org/pdf/articles/pdf-art2017.pdf>.
Revcom. "The U.S. At War - A History of Shame." Revcom USA. N.p., 9 Oct. 2005. Web. <http://revcom.us/a/017/us-invasion-panama.htm>.
Savage, Charlie. "'Rigorous Standards' Are Used for Drones." New York Times. N.p., 30 Apr. 2012. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/01/world/obamas-counterterrorism-aide-defends-drone-strikes.html?_r=0>.
US Military. US Code and Army Manual. US Military, 1985.
Walzer, Michael. "Targeted Killing and Drone Warfare." Dissent Magazine. N.p., 11 Jan. 2013. Web. <http://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/targeted-killing-and-drone-warfare>.

 

 

  

 

 Endnotes

US Military. US Code and Army Manual. US Military, 1985.

Jonge Oudraat, Chantal De. "The United Nations and the campaign against terrorism." United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (2004): 1-4. Document.

Bergen, Peter. Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Bin Laden. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.

Burke, Jason. Al-Qaeda: Casting a shadow of terror. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2004.

Burke, Jason. On the Road to Kandahar: Travels Through Conflict in the Islamic World. London: Penguin, 2007. Print.

Amanat, Asma. "Bhutto Was Unique." Mark Siegel. Daily Times Pakistan. Daily Times, 27 Dec. 2008. Web.

Hosenball, Mark. "The Road to September 11." It was a long time coming. For a decade, America's been fighting a losing secret war against terror. The Daily Beast. Newsweek, 30 Sept. 2001. Web.

Terry, Gill D. "Section III Conclusions." Litigation Strategy at the International Court. N.p.: Martinus Nijhoff, 1989. 329. Print.

Human Rights Watch. "Human Rights Watch World Report 1992 - Nicaragua." UN Refugee Agency (1992): 2. Print.

Bennett, William. "American Morning: William Bennett." Interview by Paula Zahn. CNN Transcripts. CNN, 9 May 2002. Web.

Revcom. "The U.S. At War - A History of Shame." Revcom USA. , 9 Oct. 2005. Web.

Chomsky, Noam. "Lies Of Our Times." Lies Of Our Times. N.p., 28 Nov. 2011. Web. 14 Jan. 2013.

Walzer, Michael. "Targeted Killing and Drone Warfare." Dissent Magazine. N.p., 11 Jan. 2013. Web.

Savage, Charlie. "'Rigorous Standards' Are Used for Drones." New York Times. N.p., 30 Apr. 2012. Web.

Chomsky, Noam. "Responsibility of Intellectuals." New York Times. N.p., 28 Nov. 2011. Web. 14 Jan. 2013.

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