Osama Bin Laden and the legacy of the ‘war on terrorism’

The following commentary by Kosta Harlan is from Fight Back! News:

As the news of Osama Bin Laden’s killing by U.S. forces inside Pakistan reverberates across the world, it is a good time to take stock of the ‘war on terror’ and what it has brought to the world.

Ten years of the “war on terror”

Just days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, President George W. Bush stated, “This crusade – this war on terrorism – is going to take a while, […] And the American people must be patient. I’m going to be patient. But I can assure the American people I am determined.”

A few days later, Bush said, “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

As Bush made clear ten years ago, this war would not be about ‘al Qaeda,’ but about a long war that would span the globe. And Bush was right about this. The ‘war on terror’ led to:

  • The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, which has caused tens of thousands of civilian deaths and forced millions of people to leave their homes
  • The invasion and occupation of Iraq, in which the U.S. occupation was responsible for the deaths of over one million Iraqis and the total devastation of that country’s infrastructure
  • Cruise missile attacks and drone air strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia that have killed countless civilians
  • The establishment of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, the site of countless abuses of human rights and torture of hundreds of people
  • Even the killing of Osama Bin Laden is symbolic of the expansion of the ‘war on terrorism’: Bin Laden was reportedly killed deep within Pakistani territory in the city of Abbottabad, in violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

The headlines of all the major U.S. newspapers and TV outlets are crowing, “Osama Bin Laden is dead!” and some people apparently took to the streets in celebration in Washington, D.C.

But how can anyone find joy or cause for celebration in the death of one man who has been used as an excuse and justification for the deaths of so many hundreds of thousands of people, and the forced displacement of countless millions in the Middle East and Central Asia?

‘War on terror’ and criminalizing national liberation movements abroad

One of the most far-reaching implications of the ‘war on terrorism’ is the criminalization of national liberation movements and labeling these movements and their supporters as ‘terrorists.’ From this angle, the ‘war on terrorism’ is nothing but a thin veneer over the U.S. drive to control resources and dominate territories across the globe.

Conveniently, the labeling of a movement or organization as ‘terrorist’ always aligns with the interests of U.S. foreign policy. As it just so happens, many of the organizations on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list are in resource-rich countries that receive millions of dollars in U.S. military aid. Movements that form in opposition to U.S.-backed dictatorships or repression in these countries – from Palestine, to Colombia, the Philippines, India and many others – are placed on the State Department’s the Foreign Terrorist Organization list, and their members and supporters are targeted for repression.

And what if circumstances change and the designation of a the Foreign Terrorist Organization becomes inconvenient to U.S. foreign policy? The U.S. simply chooses to ignore its own rules. We see this in Libya today, where the U.S. and NATO are supporting and possibly arming members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, or in Iran, where prominent members of the U.S. political structure have met with and expressed their full support for the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK), a group which carried out numerous terrorist attacks against civilians in Iraq before it was occupied by U.S. troops. And we can’t forget Luis Posada Carriles, the self-confessed anti-Cuban terrorist who the U.S. refuses to extradite to Venezuela or Cuba so he can face justice for his bombings and attacks which killed dozens of civilians.

Destroying civil liberties at home

Often we hear of the ‘erosion’ of our civil liberties in the wake of 9/11 and the PATRIOT Act that was passed, supposedly as a tool to help assist law enforcement with the ‘war on terror.’ But “erosion” is far too passive a word: it sounds like a gentle, natural process. What has taken place, and what continues today, is an all-out assault on the civil liberties granted by the Constitution, and the democratic rights to speech and assembly. The main effect is to strengthen the political and policing power of the ruling class and provide new tools for targeting domestic dissent.

The PATRIOT Act, the legal framework for the ‘war on terrorism,’ is still intact today, ten years after it was first passed as temporary measure. And thanks to this legal framework, the surveillance and spying apparatus of the U.S. has grown to enormous proportions – as the Washington Post series “Top Secret America” has reported, no one even knows how large, or how much money is spent on the domestic intelligence agencies.

What is known is that since Sept. 11, 2001, the FBI has stepped up its surveillance and harassment of Muslims in the United States – beginning with the rounding-up of thousands of American Muslims in the months after Sept. 11, 2001 for ‘voluntary interviews’ with the FBI. U.S. corporate media and right-wing politicians have encouraged people to view Muslims with suspicion. Islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise. Muslims who give money to charities that help people who suffer from the U.S. policies of war and occupation in Palestine are prosecuted under the ‘material support of terrorism’ statute. And the FBI increasingly dedicates its resources to entrapping Muslims in plots that the FBI has come up with; as was the case in Oregon where the FBI encouraged the ‘radicalization’ of a disaffected Muslim youth and provided him with the money, a fake bomb and encouragement to go through with an attack that was then ‘foiled’ by the FBI.

Then, six months ago, the expansion of the domestic ‘war on terrorism’ took a new turn as dozens of FBI agents raided the homes of social justice activists in Chicago and Minneapolis, eventually issuing subpoenas to 23 people to a federal grand jury concerning an investigation into the ‘material support of terrorism.’ The raids came just months after the Supreme Court ruled in a controversial case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, that free speech can be considered material support for terrorism if it is done in coordination with or under the direction of a foreign terrorist organization. The court did not define what “coordination with” or “under the direction of” means, leaving many wondering whether statements or organizing efforts against the disastrous and bloody interventions of the United States military in places like Colombia or Palestine will be in violation of the law.

War of terror

Under the pretext of fighting terrorism, the U.S. has invaded and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, and used air strikes and covert operations across the world. The ‘war on terrorism’ has caused over one million deaths and forced millions to flee their homes.

This is not justice for the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The ‘war on terrorism’ only deepens the sadness and pain caused by those attacks ten years ago. It is well past time for Americans to understand that the path to justice and peace is through ending all U.S. military aid and military interventions around the world, dismantling the PATRIOT Act and reigning in the out-of-control domestic spying by the FBI and other agencies.

2 responses to “Osama Bin Laden and the legacy of the ‘war on terrorism’

  1. in life and death, Bin Laden’s actions, while took many lives, spurred imperialism to write a new chapter of history. A new chapter on global exploitation and resistance to change it.

  2. U.S. imperialism invaded Afghanistan on the grounds that AQ was there – but no criminal charges were ever filed against bin Laden in connection with 911. Now they’ve killed him when they could have captured him and brought him in for trial. Something is being covered up.

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