Arraigning Terror

By Smith, Rogers M. | Dissent, April 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Arraigning Terror


Smith, Rogers M., Dissent


AFTER THE September 11 attacks, the United States began a sweeping restructuring of the nation's intelligence-gathering and coercive institutions. The administration had two goals: first, to enhance information sharing and analysis among all U.S. military, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies. That task is necessary, though it poses dangers to civil liberties that the Bush administration has ignored. The second goal is to expand governmental powers to detain, prosecute, and convict persons suspected of terrorism without any meaningful procedural protections or oversight by the courts. This endeavor presents far more massive dangers, and the case for its necessity has not been made.

The Bush administration believes the United States is engaged in a wholly new kind of war in which, according to its National Security Strategy, it "must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends." Knowing that this policy of preventive warfare is likely to be answered with violent assaults at home as well as abroad, the administration has began to reconstitute all basic systems for exercising coercive force: the criminal justice system, conventional military operations, immigration control, and foreign intelligence gathering and special operations. It has also distanced itself from the developing system of international criminal law, notably by refusing assent to the International Criminal Court.

So far, the administration has taken five major steps to enhance the nation's ability to detect and deter terrorist threats by restructuring these coercive systems:

(1) the passage of the USA Patriot Act on October 25, 2001;

(2) the president's executive order issued November 13, 2001, authorizing detention and military trials for non-citizens suspected of terrorism;

(3) the opening in January 11, 2002, of the Guantanamo, Cuba, naval base detention camp, where over 650 persons are still detained-the United States has declared them all to be "unlawful enemy combatants," not prisoners of war, without the individualized determinations of status required by the Third Geneva Convention of 1949;

(4) the creation of a new Department of Homeland security on Nov 25, 2002, which has absorbed many federal programs, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service and its anti-terrorist "Special Registration Initiative" targeted at Arabic and Muslim immigrants, which led to the questioning of roughly 130,000 male immigrants and alien visitors, the deportation of some 9,000 undocumented individuals, the arrest of over 800 criminal suspects, and the detention of 11 suspected terrorists (though on April 30, 2003, the administration announced that the Initiative was ending, so far only requirements for annual re-registration have been relaxed);

(5) the creation by presidential order in May 2003 of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC), an interagency body with participants drawn from the Department of Homeland security, the State Department, the Defense Department, the FBI, the Department of justice, and various intelligence bodies; it reports to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The efforts to facilitate information sharing are warranted because investigators have now shown that, had there been sufficiently effective systems for data sharing and assessment in place, the September 11 attacks probably would never have happened. U.S. agencies actually had in hand solid information that could have been used to prevent the terrorists from entering the country or staying long enough to complete their plans. A number were on the terrorist "watch lists" of one or more intelligence agencies, but the officials issuing visas did not know this. Some of the terrorists were subsequently guilty of immigration violations, and some were also involved in minor legal infractions, providing grounds for deportation. …

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