Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years On

Regular readers will know that I take the "War on Terror" personally. No question that the vile and depraved acts perpetrated on September 11th 2001 needed an answer. Have we answered it in the right way? For I fear that the way that the West has conducted itself since then has been blind and foolish.

I fear for the future of democracy. The incredible number of regulations imposed in the name of the War on Terror in the USA- from the so- called Patriot Act to the Department of Homeland Security all have been giant steps backward for the liberty of people in America and -as the US imposed extra-territoriality on many new rules- the rest of the world too.

Today on the Radio, I was hugely cheered to hear an American "heretic" raising the question.

"We have persecuted some; harassed large numbers; inconvenienced many; and taxed everybody. To what end?"

This is a question that should be on everyone's lips.

Have we been incredibly clever in defeating the devilish plots of Al Qaida, or was there not much of a conspiracy in the first place?

With the 43rd President still in office, the word clever does not naturally come to mind when considering this whole sorry fiasco.

9 comments:

RK said...

By all means question the methods by which the campaign against Al Qaida and its affiliates has been fought. There are many aspects you can sensibly criticise: the status of terrorists detained in war zones, the use of extra-judicial rendition, methods of interrogation, the war in Iraq and so on.

However you are allowing your political bias to cloud your judgement and pandering to the anti-establishment conspiracy theorist tendency as soon as you start asking “was there not much of a conspiracy in the first place?” Now I realise in this issue you are just a member of the public and do not have access to protectively marked information so the facts of foiled plots will not be available to you but the scale and nihilistic intent of Al Qaida should be obvious just from a thorough reading of the news.

Let’s review the evidence. As well as the various fatwas and statements coming form the Al Qaida leadership since the early 90’s we have the first WTC attack in 93, the two East Africa embassy bombings a couple of years later, then the series of bombings planned for the millennium (that series included the Ahmed Rassam plot to attack LA airport), then USS Cole and then of course 9/11. We’ve also had the US Embassy in Paris plot, Bali, Madrid, 7/7, 21/7, the shoe bombers, Casablanca, Tunis, the suicide attack on an East African Hotel and simultaneous rocket attack on an El Al jet (I forget where that one was), the Ricin plot, Operation Crevice, not to mention all the various attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia and Turkey…. The list goes on and on. Of all of the events listed above the only one without a direct Al Qaida link was the Madrid attack and even that was definitely inspired by the theology of the group. Although I should add a caveat that the active groups in Uzbekistan and Chechnya are less controlled by Al Qaida as supported.

Now you may not like the methods (and many don’t) but it is clear that they have had some success in countering Al Qaida'sm strategy of relentless terrorism against the west and moderate, collaborating Islam. Terrorist attacks have been thwarted before 9/11 and since because of the tactics that you abhor. The removal of the Afghan base of operations for Al Qaida and subsequent hounding though Pakistan has had a massive impact on their organisational ability and leadership. Interrogation has foiled attacks. Yet at the same time the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantanamo and Abu Gharaib have inspired more to join the cause. Al Qaida now is in some ways a weaker but larger organisation. Constructive criticism on the methods will help reduce those new recruits but it is completely disingenuous to hint that Al Qaida is “not much of a conspiracy” and a cheap shot to say that just because Bush lacks intelligence then so must the CIA and MI5.

Cicero said...

I won't respond to the question of intelligence- that is a matter of surmise for most of us.

I do not doubt that there has been a conspiracy- that much is clear, although it took the 9/11 attacks themselves for most people to realise the connections.

However since 9/11 I submit that the command and control function of Al Qaida has been very largely disrupted. The attacks that have come afterwards- Istambul, Madrid, London- may have been "inspired" by, or copy cats of, Al Qaida- but they were not directed by a single overarching conspiracy- that much seems to be agreed by the intelligence community. The Chechen war may have links with Al Qaida, but again it is not directed by them and is not part of the conspiracy.

If we accept that "Al Qaida" is not a single group or single conspiracy, it calls into question the whole idea of the way that Western forces have responded. Perhaps some attacks may have been foiled- but I would dispute whether this is the result of the Homeland Security edifice - I suspect good old fashioned police work has had far more to with this.

This I think is the nub of the question- If there is a united army of Al Qaida, then maybe tactics for war are appropriate- the "War on Terror". For me, though, Al Qaida are criminals and not warriors. Therefore police methods and criminal investigation followed by charges are more likely to be successful against them. By creating the whole panoply of the anti-terror state we are undermining our own liberties- and nothing, not even the savagery of Al Qaida is worse than that in the long term- why should we be perverted into tyranny through a foolish response to the actions of criminals?

As to the cheap shot- guilty as charged as far as Bush is concerned- but while "Homeland Security" is on probation, the more restricted remits of the established security and intelligence services have historically been successful- if only at the margin of policy.

James said...

Well said Cicero, and I liked the original post too.

James said...

Well said Cicero, and I liked the original post too.

RK said...

Before Al Qaida lost it’s Afghan base it aspired to be a global conspiracy that united all the disparate armed Islamic movements. It failed largely because of the Afghan war.

National Islamic terrorist groups from Egypt, Chechnya, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Morocco, Algeria and Libya were all courted and urged to join the cause. Only the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (lead by Zawahiri) officially joined Al Qaida (hence the heavy bias of Egyptians amongst it’s leadership). The other groups accepted money and training and although they kept their independence they were certainly influenced by Al Qaida. At this time Al Qaida exercised complete “command and control” over it’s operations.

My point is that before 9/11 Al Qaida was a global conspiracy and was trying to get bigger. Given time and a secure base in Afghanistan it may well have succeeded.

It has had to adapt to a different model now that Afghanistan is lost and it’s leadership must take on elaborate security measures to remain at liberty. Their ability to directly coordinate has been significantly reduced but they still aspire to global jihad. 7/7, 21/7 and Istanbul all have Al Qaida links. The level of coordination has gone down but they still provide training and leadership even if they don’t control what happens to the same extent as they did prior to 9/11.

The only reason that Al Qaida has lost this coordination is precisely because of the “war on terror”. Considerable success in Afghanistan in 2001/2002 and later in Pakistan has deprived the group of many of it’s leaders and forced the rest to cut themselves off.

I don’t know as much about the legal position in the US but speaking of the UK I don’t see what your point is the second last paragraph. Within the UK terrorists are treated as criminals and special branch working with the support of the intelligence agencies will arrest and prosecute. It’s not an either or. Both work together. I take the “panoply of the anti-terror state” then to mean the new legislation rather than the creation of a secret police. Now you clearly don’t want to increase the powers of these investigative bodies because of the damage to civil liberties. Fine but you must accept that reducing the ability of the police to investigate and prosecute will make their job harder and another 7/7 more likely.

RK said...

Before Al Qaida lost it’s Afghan base it aspired to be a global conspiracy that united all the disparate armed Islamic movements. It failed largely because of the Afghan war.

National Islamic terrorist groups from Egypt, Chechnya, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Morocco, Algeria and Libya were all courted and urged to join the cause. Only the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (lead by Zawahiri) officially joined Al Qaida (hence the heavy bias of Egyptians amongst it’s leadership). The other groups accepted money and training and although they kept their independence they were certainly influenced by Al Qaida. At this time Al Qaida exercised complete “command and control” over it’s operations.

My point is that before 9/11 Al Qaida was a global conspiracy and was trying to get bigger. Given time and a secure base in Afghanistan it may well have succeeded.

It has had to adapt to a different model now that Afghanistan is lost and it’s leadership must take on elaborate security measures to remain at liberty. Their ability to directly coordinate has been significantly reduced but they still aspire to global jihad. 7/7, 21/7 and Istanbul all have Al Qaida links. The level of coordination has gone down but they still provide training and leadership even if they don’t control what happens to the same extent as they did prior to 9/11.

The only reason that Al Qaida has lost this coordination is precisely because of the “war on terror”. Considerable success in Afghanistan in 2001/2002 and later in Pakistan has deprived the group of many of it’s leaders and forced the rest to cut themselves off.

I don’t know as much about the legal position in the US but speaking of the UK I don’t see what your point is the second last paragraph. Within the UK terrorists are treated as criminals and special branch working with the support of the intelligence agencies will arrest and prosecute. It’s not an either or. Both work together. I take the “panoply of the anti-terror state” then to mean the new legislation rather than the creation of a secret police. Now you clearly don’t want to increase the powers of these investigative bodies because of the damage to civil liberties. Fine but you must accept that reducing the ability of the police to investigate and prosecute will make their job harder and another 7/7 more likely.

Cicero said...

I do not argue with the operation in Afghanistan- getting rid of the Taleban was necessary- although unfortunately all of the good work there has been undermined by the foolish operation in Iraq.

The issue for me here is that the use of torture, of Guantanamo and the breaking of constitution and law have been extrmely dangerous. I submit that the "war of terror" is a vast over reaction to the crimninals involved.

When something bad happens the call goes for politicians to "do something"- the bigger the event, the bigger the need for activity, Unfortunately the activity of the UK and US has been very counter productive and the root of this is the mindset that we have adopted.

Although Al Qaida are evil- they are small scale evil- not up there with Stalin or Hitler, and it is dangerous to use the labguage of "a clash of civilisations"- it may become a self fulfilling prophecy

RK said...

I agree that Afghanistan is the principle theatre and Iraq has been, from a counter terrorism perspective, a costly distraction. We have lost momentum but not all of the good work has been lost. A democratic government does run (most of) the country. The Taliban / Al Qaida presence in the country is an insurgency, they have no training camps like they did in 2000. Our mistake has been a reluctance to commit enough resources but this is only partly because so many were diverted to Iraq. Even in late 2001 and 2002 there were not enough troops on the ground to secure the country but that’s not what this discussion is about.

Aspects of the war on terror have been counter productive (Guantanamo, Abu Gharaib) but other aspects have been fundamental to our safety (invasion of Afghanistan, the arrest, deportation and interrogation of Al Qaida members throughout the world). It is fair comment to argue over the security v liberty balance for some of these such as the NSA research and wire tapping programmes but you cannot dismiss the whole pantheon of measures as counter productive or an over reaction.

Al Qaida and Usama Bin Laden are as murderous and dangerous as Stalin or Hitler, perhaps even worse. They do after all want to kill or convert every non Muslim in the world, Stalin and Hitler were a bit more choosey in their slaughter. The only reason they have killed much less is because they do not have the means to kill on huge the scale of the other two. But consider this, Al Qaida was experimenting with chemical and biological weaponry in Afghanistan. It was all a bit ‘anarchist’s cookbook’ but they were also seriously attempting to procure ready made CBRN weapons. Had any of these attempts been successful they would not have hesitated to use it. The invasion of Afghanistan stopped many of these efforts but not all. Part of why the US administration felt compelled to invade Iraq was the fear that Saddam would supply Al Qaida with the weapons it wanted.

I believe that the only people using clash of civilisations language are UBL and Zawahiri. The US and UK go out of their way to paint this as a West Vs Islam struggle.

Cicero said...

I obvious concur that the Iraq war has been a major distraction- and severely impacted our chances of rooting out the nasties from Afghanistan which was/is our principle task.

I can not regard Abu Graib, Guantanamo, Extraordinary rendition, illegal prisons, with such a sanguine eye- the way we have prosecuted the war is disgraceful and wrong. It has shown the West to be morally compromised and hypocritical.

We can not divorce the way we fought this war from the way that other people on the planet now look at us.

I am NOT in a stuggle against Islam!! Neither should the West be either- we are not in a clash of civilizations or of faiths. We are in a struggle against some demented and deluded fanatics who can not convert the Earth to Islam, but who would murder anyone that gets in their way-this includes many hundred of moslems already and that death toll will only increase. This is not about Islam it is about a small group of mad, bad or just plain sad individuals, who represent no one except themselves.