Opinion » Lead

Updated: June 1, 2013 01:35 IST

Creating foes to fill the void

Arvind Sivaramakrishnan
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There are no logical explanations why the U.S. repeats its failed policies, creating hatred for itself even in countries where there has been very little anti-Americanism

President Barack Obama’s announcement on April 30 renewing his 2008 election campaign promise to close the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, where 166 men are still being held without charge or trial, has attracted worldwide interest, but it has also diverted attention from two other highly significant issues. One is that of the juridical principles involved in any serious attempt to achieve closure, physical and political, over Guantánamo, and the other is the increasing use by the United States of drone warfare against ill-defined target populations, which is fuelling fierce anti-Americanism in at least one country where that has not been a feature hitherto.

Hunger strike

Mr. Obama now says Guantánamo is not necessary to “keep America safe”, adding that it is inefficient, damages the standing of the U.S., lessens counter-terrorism cooperation with U.S. allies, and is a “recruitment tool” for extremists. He has also asked officials to review operations at Guantánamo. The immediate cause of the announcement is probably publicity over the hunger strike at Guantánamo, which is in its third month and now involves over 100 of the detainees, at least 23 of whom are being shackled for force-feeding by nasal tubes; some are very close to death. Many have been incarcerated for 11 years already, and are rightly bitter about their continued and apparently endless detention. A senior U.S. officer involved, General John Kelly, has told Congress that the inmates were “devastated” when the President, early in his first term, backed away from closing Guantánamo and then failed to move the inmates to a federal prison on the U.S. mainland.

The restatement of the plan to close Guantánamo is, nevertheless, more than a response to the hunger strike, which started on February 6, apparently in protest against the seizure of prisoners’ belongings and guards’ alleged mishandling of inmates’ copies of the Koran. Initially, administration officials repeated what they had said during a hunger strike in 2006, claiming that the prisoners were only trying to attract media attention. Yet the President has now moved, apparently decisively, back to his earlier position, and much of what he says is accurate. At $150 million a year, Guantánamo currently costs about $900,000 per prisoner annually, in contrast to the $70,000 or so that each inmate costs the public purse even in maximum-security jails on the mainland. Secondly, the President has long known that the very existence of Guantánamo is a smear on the reputation of the United States, and his further comment that the prison is not necessary to keep his country safe implies that the release of prisoners can be resumed. Longer-term problems are also emerging, such as the deterioration of the camp’s buildings, which were meant to be temporary, and the fact that the medical staff may well lack the facilities or expertise to manage chronic conditions as the prisoners grow older.

Mr. Obama has, however, spoken only in instrumental and policy terms, and has avoided fundamental juridical principles which Guantánamo raises. The U.S. Congress has often blocked his plans to close the camp, but he has himself signed legislation restricting the transfer of detainees to other countries; this covers some of the 89 already cleared for release. Secondly, Congress has given the Department of Defense power to waive restrictions case by case, but the executive has not used that power; the legislature has also refused to fund certain relevant procedures. Furthermore, a former detainee’s lawyer, David Frakt, writing in the online journal, Jurist, notes that the National Defense Authorization Act requires a court order, such as a habeas corpus writ, before an inmate can be transferred, but that the current habeas corpus review is on the legality of detention at the time of capture and not on continued detention.

This causes a contradiction, in that even if the administration does not want to oppose habeas corpus petitions on continued detention, the Justice Department has to oppose them. In any case, if Guantánamo cases reached the federal courts, the charges would almost certainly be dismissed on the grounds of torture and other rights violations; some rights groups also hold that nasal force-feeding is torture. Moreover, the investigative journalist Jason Leopold has reported in Truthout, citing among other things research by Seton Hall University Law School, that several prisoners have also been subjected to medical experiments; the practice raises parallels with the infamous Nazi medical experiments at Auschwitz.

The problem is that successive U.S. administrations have been unable to admit that the great bulk of inmates were wrongly detained in the first place, or that most if not all have been tortured, or both. Yet the U.S. is still unwilling to capture suspected terrorists and see the cases tested in U.S. courts, instead bypassing judicial process by using its expanded drone warfare programme to attack suspected terrorist outfits elsewhere, particularly in Pakistan and Yemen. Since 2004, CIA drone attacks in Pakistan alone have killed nearly 3,500 people including about 900 civilians; the worldwide total, which includes Afghanistan, Yemen, Israel-Palestine, and Somalia, is estimated at 4,700 or more. Drone warfare has increased greatly under President Obama, though the administration started by denying the policy and only admitted its existence late in February 2013; it is still resisting Congressional requests for relevant documents. A United Nations inquiry is expected to publish its report in October, and the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which is due to debate drone warfare on May 29, calls for a global freeze on the use of drones as weapons.

Criticism of drone warfare

Drone warfare has been criticised even in the U.S.. For example, Mr. Obama’s former Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley, writing for the BBC, points out that what started out as a strategic campaign against “high-value” targets has turned into tactical warfare against lower-level Taliban forces in Pakistan, undermining the civilian institutions the U.S. has spent billions trying to strengthen, and poisoning relations between the two countries; a 2012 Pew survey showed that 74 per cent of Pakistanis saw the U.S. as an “enemy.” Another domestic critic, a lawyer advising the administration on the drones policy, says Washington’s legal arguments for drones could even be used by, say, al Qaeda to justify drone attacks on the U.S.

Yet neither legal issues nor policy failures seem to make any impression on the Obama administration. U.S. drone warfare is not only contentious in international law, but is also creating fresh hatred for the U.S. in countries where Washington really needs cooperation or where there has hitherto been very little anti-Americanism. Ibrahim Mothana, a Yemeni who has submitted written testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote in the New York Times in June 2012 that a “sense of revenge and despair” — not ideology — is driving more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants. Anti-Americanism has been further strengthened because Washington’s interpretation of the law now allows attacks on any area where a suspected militant might be, irrespective of other people there; in effect, any males who seem to be of military age are targets. Even a former CIA counterterrorism official says vast areas of Yemen are becoming an Arabian equivalent of Pakistan’s Waziristan. Mothana, for his part, adds that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is shrewdly exploiting the situation, for example by relaxing some of its hardline religious doctrines and assisting locals with gas, electricity, and other basic services. Even Iran, sensing opportunities among disgruntled Yemenis, is now getting involved.


This bewildering continuance of self-destructive policy by successive U.S. administrations can only barely be explained in terms of presidential relations with a hostile Congress, fear of adverse court rulings in fair and open trials, and the like. Those explanations leave unaddressed the question of why the U.S. repeats this failed policy again and again. Even conventional ideological explanations may not help, and perhaps some other form of inquiry is needed. Hannah Arendt wrote in On Revolution that the American revolution led to the founding of a state in opposition to the ethos of the corrupt, intrigue-ridden, feudal monarchies of late mediaeval Europe, with their doctrines of divinely ordained power and inherited privilege — or what the new Americans remembered thereof — but that the founders’ very success left them with the task of defining a whole new form of human society, something Arendt calls a novus ordo saeclorum or new secular order. Now we face the question of whether or not those who occupy that new order can cope without the concept of an enemy. If one does not exist, do they have to create one?

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Two things have made enemies for America,
1,Stopping countries for nuclear weapons despite America itself
has pile of such weapons.
Now nuclear technology is no more secret now any country can
produce mainly as deterant.No country wants to use that.
Also in this matter America has double standard to allow
India,Pakistan,Israel,Russia,China and so on.
2,Another thing is campaign for democracy.Here also they have
double standard.What about Saudi Arabia,China,Russia and so many
3,Why America should bother for internal matters of any country?
The root cause of terrorism also has been ignored after emotional
approach of 9/11 incident.Terrorism has been further ignited with
attacks on Iraq,Afghanistan,Libya,Egypt and threats to
Iran,N.Korea,now Syria.
America has a very good affordability to become big brothers of
countries and get their interest served by friendship.
Obama must justify Nobel peace prize.

from:  Ashok
Posted on: Jun 2, 2013 at 04:33 IST

In response to Aritra Gupta: well if the drone strikes were meant just to kill as many taliban and al qaeda leaders as possible, then its working.They do seem weaker, at least to the public. But if the aim was to control the spread of terrorism, which then it obviously has failed miserably, because the terrorists arent stupid enough to keep flocking to the same place. they will change their base, and once that happens US will have to fight on two fronts, homegrown terror and that from outside.So they do need a new strategy. I guess they need try out hearts and minds program (which i guess they are)

from:  Aashrai
Posted on: Jun 2, 2013 at 04:11 IST

US drones have been enormously effective in eliminating AQ and Taliban
terrorists in Af-Pak border area. Just couple of days back the drone
took out no. 2 leader of Pak Taliban who has been responsible for
several deadly attacks against Nato/US forces in Afghanistan including
the suicide attack that took out several CIA agents in Khost few years
back. Without Pakistan taking any effective actions against these
terrorists within its borders the US has been left with having to use
drone strikes rather than launching a full scale invasion of Pakistan
with its own unpredictable consequences.

from:  Suvojit Dutta
Posted on: Jun 1, 2013 at 21:48 IST

America's Guantanamo is no different from Auschwitz. Imprisoning
people without free and fair trial for eleven long years and ill-
treatment of war prisoners is a travesty of justice and against
Geneva convention.Obama has rightly called for the closure of the camp
but other Americans have to support him in this regard.
If there is one innocent among those detained, can the state give back
what he has lost?Drone attacks which have caused many civilian deaths
are violation of national sovereignty.if we forget human dignity and
don't temper justice with mercy, is there any scope for redemption?
All of us are human beings and why should we subject other humans to
illegal detention and torture in the name of ideology or religion?
When will we learn the invaluable lessons taught by Buddha, Christ and
Gandhi?Does our civilization need modern crusades or better
understanding of cultural diversity and peaceful co-existence?

Posted on: Jun 1, 2013 at 19:59 IST

US has a war based economy & it needs constant wars to keep its huge Arsenal industries breathing. The wars too are strategically chosen. So, it makes sense to set up bases in resource rich countries like Iraq & Afghanistan (remember Afghanistan has huge natural gas resources) besides having military bases in Bahrain, Qatar, Arabia & other oil rich countries. All the frenzy to attack Iran is basically with an eye on its oil resources. US has a record of promoting dictators (Middle East) & assassinating democratically elected leaders who standup to its hegemonic policies (Latin America). The only country that has been waging constant wars since WWII & to have used atomic bombs on civilian populations. It would be naive for people to believe that US would come to rescue India from terrorism emanating from Pakistan. India would have to learn to stand up on its own feet rather than pinning the hope on US to do their job. Superpowers don't have allies but only agents.

from:  Misbah
Posted on: Jun 1, 2013 at 19:24 IST

India's intellectual arrogance is boundless! The Hindu will do well to remember these words of Narayana Murthy: "Our intellectual arrogance has also not helped our society. I have traveled extensively, and in my experience, have not come across another society where people are as contemptuous of better societies as we are, with as little progress as we have achieved. Remember that arrogance breeds hypocrisy. No other society gloats so much about the past as we do, with as little current accomplishment."

from:  K. Raghunathan
Posted on: Jun 1, 2013 at 19:13 IST

First of all, I believe its not just the sole superpower US that makes
up this planet and tells us how it should rotate. Then we have to face
the truth about who exactly is bullying whom, who is setting a trap
for whom, who is cheeky enough to illegally invade and occupy foreign
territories in the guise of promoting democracy or other causes.
The apparently neverending US war-on-terror and Islamophobia after
9/11 has resulted in more than a million killed in the Middle East, a
genocide in installment.
The crux of the problem remains the unshakable support of Israel and
its illegal occupation and expansion in Palestinian territories. And
even as Israel remains coy about its own nuclear arsenal, they go on
telling us to worry about Iran, whose supreme leader denounces the n-
bomb, whose sole purpose is the rightful pursuit of peaceful nuclear
Meanwhile, the politics of Guantanamo draws international attention,
but might someday become a tourist attraction like Alcatraz.

from:  Rajan Mahadevan
Posted on: Jun 1, 2013 at 18:01 IST

Yes high time USA treats all rouge elements like Dawood and also Hafiz Sayeed all based and protected by Pakistan to be treated with Drone strikes .USA should have a policy of treating all terrorists with the same yard stick as they do when they strike any friendly country like India which has political/business and cultural relations at rapidly increasing levels with USA ./High time USA does some tough talking to pakistan like they do to Iran and others

from:  siddavaram .V
Posted on: Jun 1, 2013 at 16:15 IST

Its very easy to pick only the good points and criticize. Less easy is
to face reality.
Reality: A general of the Pakistani Army testified before a committee
of the National Assembly of Pakistan that public dissatisfaction
notwithstanding drone strikes have severely dented the abilities of Al
Qaeda and other terror groups in Pakistan by 1.killing several leaders
and ideologues 2.decimating their infantry 3.constraining their
logistics. Note that the drone program in its current format
(targeting not only top leaders but the foot soldiers as well) is
responsible for points 2 and 3.
Reality: In the aftermath of the Boston blasts several intelligence
officials have said off the record that America now faces the new
challenge of homegrown terror cells almost insulated from their
masters abroad. They attribute this shift to the weakening of the
terror network in Asia, North Africa and the Middle East due to
relentless drone strikes. Looks like its working, doesn't it?

from:  Aritra Gupta
Posted on: Jun 1, 2013 at 15:25 IST

Treatment of prisoners at guantanamo and the drone attacks on naive
population are rather contemptible acts . These policies are obviously
promulgating anti-americanism . War against terror is okay but
presumption that the area certainly hosts terrorists (and therefore it
is made a target of drone attack) is certainly a fallacy. Moreover the
treatment of prisoners at guantanamo is against the protocols and
treaties of geneva convention . Though the bush asserted that the
prisoners at guantanamo are not subjected to the article-3 of geneva
conventions but later on a memo was issued by department of defense in
2006 which ratified the applicability of guantano prisoners to common
article-3 of Geneva conventions. I think America is in an urgent need
of "people for ethical treatment of people (PEPA) :p They can later
on deploy their efforts in (PETA)"

from:  Raman Goyal
Posted on: Jun 1, 2013 at 14:02 IST

Good pointing to all these actions on the Americans. Also I am no fan of these policies.

But who is going to police these actions -

1. Arab country terrorism 2. Chemical weapons spreading 3. North korea aggression 4. Chinese nuclear technology transfer 5. Iran uprising to nuclear era 6. Unrest in Afghanistan

More of these are going to increase as the economy in US and europe is going to come to halt.

Let me tell you -

If all these happens, see the world how it will be unsafe. Remember, with all these advanced weapons, no country can live safely. Any place will be reachable to evil forces.

If you still think, that only the action of Americans is the root cause, you will write another story probably after 20-25 years, that the fall of Americans / Europe should not have happened.

from:  Vinoo
Posted on: Jun 1, 2013 at 09:32 IST

If you care to examine properly, it is very difficult to strike with precision only anti social elements in such encounters - be it guns, rockets, grenades or drones. The US is only after bad elements hiding in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If these nations cooperated fully in the first place, drones may not have been necessary. This is synonymous to India wishing that Pakistan hand over Dawood and others. The difference between the US and India is the latter does not have what it takes to go after such folks!

from:  Murali
Posted on: Jun 1, 2013 at 01:48 IST
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