Since then, the dots have not only been connected,
but many of the shapes have been colored in. The immediate fear and
anger following the Sept. 11 attacks have given way to the grinding
permanence of a never-ending state of emergency. In many ways, the
reality has turned out worse than the
For the last two-plus years, the bloody war in Iraq
has raged with no end in sight, as more evidence emerges daily that the
Bush administration misled the nation into the invasion through a mix of
false intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and clever
juxtapositions that blurred Iraq’s Saddam Hussein with al-Qaeda’s Osama
The war – and the animosities it engendered – have,
in turn, added to the likelihood of terrorist attacks, like the July 7
bombings in London, which provide further justification for more
security and greater encroachments on individual liberties.
Already, the Iraq War has deformed the democratic
process in the United States, even as Bush claims that his goal is to
spread democracy in the Middle East. At home, his operatives have
demonstrated that when fear-mongering isn’t enough to scare the American
people into line, bare-knuckled bullying is in store for those who speak
That is the real back story of
investigation into whether Karl Rove and other senior Bush aides
unmasked CIA officer Valerie Plame in retaliation against her husband,
former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for being one of the first mainstream
figures to accuse Bush of twisting the intelligence about Iraq and
Bush’s “grim vision” always recognized that the
“war on terror” abroad would require restricted freedoms at home – as
well as expanded powers for the police and military. So, just as in
2002, when the “Bush Doctrine” on preemptive wars laid the intellectual
groundwork for invading Iraq, new doctrines are now being promulgated to
justify the creation of a full-scale “security state” inside the United
One Defense Department document, called the
for Homeland Defense and Civil Support,” sets out a military
strategy against terrorism that envisions an “active, layered defense”
both inside and outside U.S. territory.
As a kind of domestic corollary to the Bush
Doctrine, the Pentagon strategy paper also has a preemptive element,
calling for increased military reconnaissance and surveillance to
“defeat potential challengers before they threaten the United States.”
The plan “maximizes threat awareness and seizes the initiative from
those who would harm us.”
Besides lifting the traditional limits on military
operations on U.S. soil, the document makes clear that global warfare
will be the reality for at least the next decade.
“The likelihood of U.S. military operations
overseas will be high throughout the next 10 years,” the document said,
adding that the Pentagon fully expects terrorists to carry out
“multiple, simultaneous mass casualty (chemical, biological,
radiological, nuclear and explosive) attacks against the U.S. homeland.”
The primary response will be “projecting power
across the globe … in ways that an enemy cannot predict,” the paper
said, promising “an unpredictable web of land, maritime, and air assets
that are arrayed to detect, deter, and defeat hostile action.”
For any American suspected of collaborating with
terrorists, Bush has already revealed what's in store. In May 2002, the
FBI arrested U.S. citizen Jose Padilla in Chicago on suspicion that he
might be an al-Qaeda operative planning an attack.
Rather than bring criminal charges, Bush designated
Padilla an “enemy combatant” and had him imprisoned indefinitely without
benefit of due process. Now, Bush is asking the federal courts to
recognize the president's sole right to strip American citizens of their
“In the war against terrorists of global reach, as
the Nation learned all too well on Sept. 11, 2001, the territory of the
United States is part of the battlefield, ” Bush's lawyers have argued
in briefs to the federal courts. [Washington Post, July 19, 2005]
A Harsh 'Cure'
In effect, the Bush administration is prescribing a
large dose of military action and political repression as the cure for
Besides the question of civil liberties, the
strategy represents a rejection of advice from counterinsurgency experts
who warn that an over-reliance on warfare and inadequate attention to
the root causes of Middle East anger could perpetuate terrorism
indefinitely, rather than reduce it to a manageable problem that can be
handled by law enforcement.
But Bush's “you're with us or with the terrorists”
rhetoric has left little space in the U.S. political world for a frank,
realistic discussion about the best counter-terrorism strategy. The
bellicose conservative news media and pro-Bush operatives continue to
shout down or ridicule anyone who suggests any subtlety in U.S. policy.
On June 22, for instance, Bush unleashed deputy
chief of staff Rove to mock “liberals” for supposedly demonstrating a
cowardly naivety in the face of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. “Liberals
saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments
and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers,” Rove said in a
speech to the Conservative Party of New York State. [See
This truncated public debate jumped the Atlantic
July 7 terror bombings in London. British Prime Minister Tony Blair
went ballistic whenever someone noted that Great Britain's participation
in the war in Iraq was a factor in radicalizing the four suicide bombers
who attacked three subway cars and a double-decker bus.
Instead of facing that reality, Blair adopted
Bush’s black-and-white rhetoric about “evil” terrorists. Blair’s
government lashed out at one private research group when it pointed out
the obvious: that Great Britain had made itself a more likely target for
terror attacks by becoming a “pillion passenger” to Bush’s Middle East
policies, using a phrase for the person who sits behind the driver of a
“The time for excuses over terrorism is over,”
snapped Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in chastising the Chatham House for
But the report actually was in line with the
thinking of British security services, which had noted before the July 7
attacks that the war in Iraq was worsening the terrorist threat in Great
Britain. “Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus
of a range of terrorist-related activity in the U.K.,” a confidential
British terror threat assessment had said. [NYT, July 19, 2005]
Despite Blair's bluster, the British public appears
to have made this obvious connection, too. According to a
poll conducted after the attacks, two-thirds of Britons believe that
the U.K.’s participation in the Iraq
War was a factor in the bombings.
In the United States, a few public commentators
have gingerly approached this link between the Iraq War and the
worsening terrorist threat. Time magazine observed that it was “bad
manners” to criticize anyone besides the London bombers, but added, “we
need to ask why the attacks keep coming.”
Time said the link to the Iraq War couldn’t be
ignored. “Invading Iraq, however noble the U.S. believed its intentions,
provided the best possible confirmation of the jihadist claims,” Time
wrote. [Time, July 18, 2005, issue]
United for Peace and Justice, a U.S.-based anti-war
coalition, said it was “horrified by the senseless death and destruction
caused by the bombings in London” but added that the attacks can be seen
as a consequence of the Iraq invasion.
“We were told by the Bush administration that our
nation had to go to war in Iraq in order to fight terrorism, to make us
and the world safer,” a UFPJ statement said. “Nothing could be further
from the truth. In fact, none of us is more secure since the Bush
administration launched its so-called war on terror.”
Of course, dire predictions that the Iraq invasion
would backfire – and become a boon to al-Qaeda – were a big part of the
argument from anti-war protesters in late 2002 and early 2003. But that
analysis was largely excluded from the mainstream pre-war debate, as
U.S. politicians and pundits competed to out-macho each other on TV talk
Even now, almost four years after the Sept. 11
attacks, the Bush administration and its allies continue to seek a
national “group think” that permits Americans only to explain terrorism
by asserting that the perpetrators hate America's freedoms and want to
impose their “evil” ideology on the United States.
But that formulation does little to help the public
understand the bombers’ real motivations and thus hampers development of
a sophisticated strategy that could stop other young Muslims from being
won over to extremism.
Since I first wrote about “Bush's
Grim Vision” in 2002, little has been done to address legitimate
grievances in the Middle East or to give the United States more
political leverage for achieving peaceful change.
The Bush administration has dragged its heals on
reducing U.S. oil dependence on corrupt Arab sheikhdoms; continued to
use American troops to prop up dictators in Saudi Arabia and other
Persian Gulf states; and failed to press aggressively for an equitable
settlement of the Palestine-Israeli conflict.
Rather than seek realistic ways to remove these
irritants, Bush added more by invading and occupying a major Arab
nation, Iraq, which ironically had been an ardent enemy of al-Qaeda and
its brand of Islamic fundamentalism.
The war has led to the deaths of almost 1,800 U.S.
soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis, but only the most ardent Bush
acolytes would still argue that the Iraq War has reduced the worldwide
threat of terrorism.
Yet, instead of a serious policy reevaluation, the
Republican-controlled Congress is moving toward rubber-stamping Bush’s
“security state” plans both at home and abroad.
Beyond the expanded domestic role for the Pentagon,
the powers of the FBI are increasing. The Senate Intelligence Committee
approved legislation to reauthorize and expand the Patriot Act, which
was passed in the hectic days after the Sept. 11 attacks with emergency
provisions that were designed to expire.
Now, Congress is not only reauthorizing many of
those stop-gap powers but adding new ones. “Administrative subpoena”
authority, for instance, would allow the FBI to execute its own search
orders for intelligence investigations, without judicial review.
The legislation also would give agents the
authority to seize personal records from medical facilities, libraries,
hotels, gun dealers, banks and any other businesses without any specific
facts connecting those records to any criminal activity or a foreign
Bush also recently
ordered the creation of a domestic spy service within the FBI,
called the National Security Service. Intended to centralize authority
and remove barriers between the FBI and the CIA, the NSS will
combine the Justice Department’s intelligence,
counter-terrorism and espionage units.
The NSS will have
the authority to bypass traditional
due-process when seizing assets of people or companies thought to be
aiding the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
The new police powers come on top of guidelines for
intelligence-gathering that Attorney General John Ashcroft established
in 2002 when he loosened restrictions that were put the FBI after the
COINTELPRO political-spying scandal of the 1970s.
Under the Ashcroft guidelines, the FBI must only
have a reasonable indication that “two or more persons are engaged in an
enterprise for the purpose of … furthering political or social goals
wholly or in part through activities that involve force or violence and
a violation of federal criminal law.”
The investigation does not need to be approved by
FBI headquarters, but rather, may be authorized by a special agent in
charge of an FBI field office.
Critics argue that the authority to investigate
domestic terrorism invites political abuses because the Patriot Act
adopted a broad definition of terrorism. Section 802 of the law defines
terrorism as acts that “appear to be intended ... to influence the
policy of a government by intimidation or coercion,” which could include
confrontational protests and civil disobedience.
Civil libertarians have warned that rather than
improving security or combating terrorism, the new laws and guidelines
may be more useful in silencing critics of the Bush administration and
chilling political dissent.
One early indication of how the government might
use its expanded powers came in 2003, when the FBI sent
a memorandum to local law enforcement agencies before planned
demonstrations against the war in Iraq. The memo detailed protesters’
tactics and analyzed activities such as the recruitment of protesters
over the Internet.
The FBI instructed local law enforcement agencies
to be on the lookout for “possible indicators of protest activity and
report any potentially illegal acts to the nearest FBI Joint Terrorism
Since then, there have been many stories about the
FBI’s Joint-Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) harassing and intimidating
political activists engaged in lawful protests. Before last summer’s
demonstrations at the Democratic and Republican national conventions,
for instance, the JTTF visited the homes of activists, while
FBI agents in Missouri, Kansas and Colorado
spied on and interrogated activists.
One target of these visits, Sarah Bardwell of
Denver, Colorado, said, “The message I took from it was that they were
trying to intimidate us into not going to any protests and to let us
know that, ‘hey, we’re watching you.’” [NYT,
Aug. 16, 2004]
Over the past few years, the FBI also has collected
thousands of pages of internal documents on civil rights and antiwar
protest groups. “The
FBI has in its files 1,173 pages of internal documents on the American
Civil Liberties Union, the leading critic of the Bush administration's
antiterrorism policies, and 2,383 pages on Greenpeace,” the New York
Times reported. [NYT,
July 18, 2005]
Another group singled out by the FBI was United for
Peace and Justice, which facilitated last summer’s protest at the
Republican convention. Leslie Cagan, the national coordinator for the
coalition said she was particularly concerned that the FBI’s
counterterrorism division was discussing the coalition’s operations.
“We always assumed the FBI was monitoring us, but
to see the counterterrorism people looking at us like this is pretty
jarring,” Cagan said.
But even as people around the world call for
rethinking the U.S. strategy on terrorism, the Bush administration is
calling for more of the same – increased police powers at home and
intensified war abroad.
Immediately after the London bombings, National
Guardsmen were deployed on subway systems in the U.S., carrying
automatic rifles. The Washington Metro is considering using random bag
searches as a way to prevent a subway bombing that many people now view
While many Americans may see these steps as
appropriate precautions to ensure public safety, it also cannot be
denied that each day the United States more and more resembles an
authoritarian police state.
These bit-by-bit concessions to the endless “war on
also may be a chilling reminder that “safety” and “security” have always
served as excuses for authoritarian governments as they peel away the
rights of their citizens.