February 15, 2006 © The Center for War, Peace and the News Media. All Rights Reserved.

Why the U.S. is Losing its War on Terror

By Ian Davis
Global Beat Syndicate
—Relations between Islamabad and Washington have deteriorated since the January 13 attack that killed at least 13 civilians in Damadola, a remote Pakistani village in the Bajaur district near the Afghan border. Anti-American rallies in Pakistan continue.

The air strike targeted al-Qaida's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, but it seems he was probably not in the area at the time. The high-tech mistake is widely blamed on the C.I.A., which used the same type of remote-controlled drone aircraft and Hellfire missiles that killed six suspected Islamic militants in Yemen in November 2002.

Thousands of people have protested against the Bajaur attack at rallies across Pakistan, where they are also demanding the resignation of Washington's ally, President Pervez Musharraf. The White House cannot possibly continue to think that it can win the "global war on terror" with these kinds of tactics; it is feeding terrorist propaganda machines it with unlawful, unjustified murder.

The Predator aircraft is believed to have fired missiles at houses in the village where Zawahiri was believed to be invited to dinner; instead, women and children were among the victims, and there are still conflicting reports as to whether any militants were killed. Nevertheless, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), defended the action in an interview on CBS television saying, "We have to go where these people are, and we have to take them out," adding, "I can't tell you that we wouldn't do the same thing again."

The Bush administration's adoption of Israel's strategy of "targeted assassination" is the latest worrying trend in its misguided "war on terror". In March 2001, an ardent supporter of this strategy, former Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi said, "It's not murder to get rid of potential terrorists, or those who have blood on their hands. Each one eliminated is one less terrorist for us to fight." Seven months later, he became the first Israeli politician felled by a Palestinian assassin since the Jewish state was created in 1948.

I beg to differ with Zeevi, McCain and others who attempt to justify this loathsome practice. It is murder, plain and simple. Such extra-judicial killings are in direct contravention of international law, and this would still be the case had Zawahiri, rather than innocent women and children been the victims. Such acts have no place in any counter-terrorism strategy carried out by "freedom loving peoples," and should be roundly condemned by democrats of whatever political hue or nationality.

Of course, the United States has a right to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks, but actions of this type are not only unlawful, they escalate hatred and violence and are losing the hearts and minds of millions, especially among Muslims. The war on terror is being lost as a result. According to the Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism database, religious-inspired terrorist incidents show a year on year growth from 38 incidents in 2000 to 423 in 2004. The "collateral damage" or killing of innocent people—from Damadola to Falluja—simply leads to the recruitment of others to the jihadi cause.

The Bush administration does not take kindly to advice from others as to how to conduct itself. But this must be said: measures to prevent and combat terrorism must be fully compatible with democratic values, the rule of law and the protection of human rights. We should not mistake the democratic approach to combating terrorism as a policy of weakness. The reverse is the case.

If we undermine our hard-earned liberties and rights in the name of security and terrorism we are handing a propaganda victory to al-Qaida. We also need to live up to our declarations and ideals in practice: revelations about the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo Bay have done untold harm to the reputation of the United States. Present allegations of torture camps in third countries and the practice of "extraordinary rendition," coupled with this latest botched "targeted assassination," further damage the standing of American values in the eyes of Muslims everywhere.

Ian Davis is executive director of the London and Washington DC-based British American Security Information Council.

© 2006 The Center for War, Peace and the News Media. All Rights Reserved. The Global Beat Syndicate, a service of The Center for War, Peace, and the News Media, provides editors with commentary and perspective articles on critical global issues from contributors around the world. For more information, check out http://www.bu.edu/globalbeat/syndicate/.

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