The US keeps shooting itself in the foot in its CT policy

As the nation which suffered the single greatest terrorist attack in history – 9/11 – the US has a vested interest in developing a counter terrorism policy so that these events do not happen again, especially in the US. To be honest there is also a completely understandable desire for bringing the perpetrators to justice, or to exact revenge, much as the latter is not normally seen as a ‘virtue’.

Much of what the US and its various organs – security intelligence, law enforcement, the military, etc. – have done has helped in some way to limit future terrorist attacks. Many terrorists have been ‘eliminated’ while others have been investigated, arrested, charged, convicted and incarcerated. As I have often said a dead terrorist is one less terrorist to worry about.

On other fronts, however, US actions have backfired badly. Let’s start with the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The transport of (suspected) terrorists to the facility in questionable ways, the lack of due process and the lack of any transparency or ‘rights’ for the ‘prisoners’ is not very consistent with the US notion as ‘leader of the free world’ and defender of universal human rights.

And then there are drone and air strikes. I have written on this recently and will not repeat the arguments I made then here (although here is an interesting piece by Paul Pillar on this issue: here is an excerpt “drone strikes that kill innocent civilians can entail a cost to Americans in the long run beyond the basic considerations of humanity and morality. Dead civilians and the resentment that follows their deaths are fodder for extremist groups that preach messages of hate, violence, and revenge—especially revenge against the nation that caused those deaths. In this respect, drone strikes that run up a civilian death toll constitute a counterproductive aspect of counterterrorism.).

That mistakes have been made and civilians have been killed in what is known euphemistically as ‘collateral damage’ is beyond doubt, official US denials notwithstanding, Perfection is an illusion and as long as the US Air Force is not targeting innocent non-combatants deliberately I think most rational people would accept that drones or missiles go awry and the wrong people pay the ultimate price. The US government can admit the error, perhaps pay compensation to the surviving members of the deceased, and put in place measures to minimise future re-occurrences.

This sensible approach is not what the US administration of Donald Trump appears to be doing. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Friday that his country will withdraw or deny visas to any International Criminal Court personnel investigating possible war crimes by US forces or allies in Afghanistan. For its part Human Rights Watch stated that
“Taking action against those who work for the ICC sends a clear message to torturers and murderers alike: Their crimes may continue unchecked.” 

What to make of this decision? It could be nothing more than a desire by the ‘Commander in Chief’, who apparently is incapable of admitting to error, to shield the US from prosecution. But it is also yet another American snub to the international systems the rest of the world tries to adhere to. There appear to be two sets of rules: one for the US and one for the rest of us.

The US is a great country that stands for a lot of good. It is nevertheless not perfect and can put up with a little criticism now and then, especially if its intentions are fundamentally good. This action takes away from that and is yet another black mark on that country. Then again under Trump such marks are occurring with alarming frequency.

You cannot claim that you are better than the terrorists and refuse to face up to facts. Here’s hoping for a change in policy, as faint as that hope may be.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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