The Terrorism Issue that Wasn’t Discussed

by Gareth Porter

George W. Bush and President Barack Obama visit the 9/11 memorial (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

In the commentary on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the news and infotainment media have predictably framed the discussion by the question of how successful the CIA and the military have been in destroying al Qaeda. Absent from the torrent of opinion and analysis was any mention of how the U.S. military occupation of Muslim lands and wars that continue to kill Muslim civilians fuel jihadist sentiment that will keep the threat of terrorism high for many years to come.

The failure to have that discussion is not an accident. In December 2007, at a conference in Washington, D.C. on al Qaeda, former State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin offered a laundry list of things the United States could do to reduce the threat from al Qaeda. But he said nothing about the most important thing to be done: pledging to the Islamic world that the United States would pull its military forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq and end its warfare against those in Islamic countries resisting U.S. military presence.

During the coffee break, I asked him whether that item should have been on his list. “You’re right,” he answered.  And then he added, “But we can’t do that.”

“Why not,” I asked.

“Because,” he said, “we would have to tell the families of the soldiers who have died in those wars that their loved ones died in vain.”

His explanation was obviously bogus. But in agreeing that America’s continuing wars actually increase the risk of terrorism against the United States, Benjamin was merely reflecting the conclusions that the intelligence and counter-terrorism communities had already reached.

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Surveillance Society?

On January 5th, the Obama administration announced new security measures where passengers entering the United States from 14 nations – including Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon – will be subjected to pat downs, extra luggage checks, and full body scans.

Earlier this week in a segment focused on the new security checks, Riz Khan of Al Jazeera asks:  “Do the new U.S. airport policies discriminate against Muslims, or are they simply ‘security measures’, as the Obama administration suggests?”

Joining Khan in the interview are Christopher Calabrese, a lawyer working for the American Civil Liberties Union, and Zohra Atmar, an Afghan-American consultant working for the U.S. Department of Defense on issues concerning Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Will these procedures make America any safer? Can these measures be described as profiling? What kinds of rights do these policies sacrifice in terms of civil liberties and privacy? The interview with Riz Khan, which aired on Al Jazeera on Jan 7th, ‘attempts’ (albeit dissatisfactorily) to get at some of these issues:   

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