America's War on Terror and on Human Rights

By Saiful Saleem

On 11 September  2001, a great crime against humanity was committed, with the loss of thousands of innocent lives in a series of devastating attacks in the US. However in response, in the days, weeks, months and years that followed, great crimes against human rights were committed, and are still being committed to this very day. With the aim of protecting their citizens from future attacks, the government of the US and its allies began to enact and adopt various counter-terrorism measures and legislation.

The month after 9/11, President George Bush signed into law the Patriot's Act, giving the government the right to intercept and eavesdrop on telephonic and electronic communications as well increased discretion in conducting secret searches of people's homes. Simply put, the act contravened on civil liberties and gave the government an increased ability to legally spy on individuals. The act, originally set to expire after 4 years, was made permanent in 2006.

More recently, 2012 has already seen the passing of two bills that further dilute the principles of liberty – namely, the Enemy Expatriation Act and the National Defense Authorization Act. The Enemy Expatriation Act expands the list of things for which an American citizen will lose his citizenship to include, “hostilities against the US”, with the term “hostilities” remaining ambiguous. Meanwhile, the National Defense Authorization Act contains wording that could potentially allow for the indefinite detention of American citizens. Also, through a provision in the act, it allows for an American arrested in the US to be transported to the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

Even more devastatingly, President Obama ordered an assassination of an American citizen last year without making any effort to indict the individual for any crime. Additionally, detention without trial has become a reality in many countries, often justifying draconian-like laws and policies as necessary to combat the asymmetric nature of terrorism. The US, for its part, has Guantanamo Bay that is populated by prisoners who have yet to be charged with any crime.

The reality now is that there is a possibility that an American citizen could be first spied on and detained under the Patriot's Act, then stripped of his citizenship for having supported “hostilities against the US” by the Enemy Expatriation Act, and finally be detained infinitely under the National Defense Authorization Act.

While it is undoubtedly necessary for countries to take precautionary measure, the steady erosion of human rights in the name of counter-terrorism has been too great a price to pay. Deaths by terrorism are a mere fraction of deaths by AIDs, cancer, or natural disasters. Yet, spending on counter-terrorism shadows spending on preventive measures for AIDs, cancer or natural disasters. Either the US over-reacted in its response to 9/11, or there was a consensus somewhere that the climate after 9/11 was ripe for exploitation. Either way, it is certain that the liberty and human rights are under attack in the US. Unfortunately, the War on Terror has also been the War on Human Rights. If things do not change soon the US will not be, for much longer, the land of the free.


Saiful Saleem is a former soldier in the Singaporean Army. He currently lives in the US where he studies Political Science at Boston University. He runs the blog Unoccupied Press.   


19 March 2012