The Cost of the War on Terror: Orwellian Inspired Torture, Extrajudicial Rendition, Racial/Religious Profiling, Warrantless Wiretaps, Investigations without Reasonable Cause…
By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair
Osama bin Laden is dead. Many peoples in the world, especially in the United States, are celebrating the death of the world’s most notorious terrorist. The nature and circumstances of his demise were fitting in light of the life of hate, vengeance, and violence he led. The old adage, “live by the sword, die by the sword,” is appropriate in this case.
While we feel that bin Laden got this “just deserts,” we cannot in good conscience celebrate his death as a “crowning achievement” for our justice system. On September 11, 2001, bin Laden did more than bring down New York’s famed Twin Towers and cause the death of nearly 3,000 innocent people. The four terrorist attacks he masterminded and orchestrated that day set our nation on a course of action, called the “war on terror,” which has done, perhaps, irreparable damage to our criminal justice system and our historical concepts of justice.
In pursuit of the “war on terror,” officially declared by former President George W. Bush, and our efforts to track down and kill bin Laden, our intelligence and military assets kidnapped innocent people off the streets in foreign countries; took them to secret “black site” prisons operated by the CIA where they were tortured beyond human comprehension; established a special “detainee” prison on foreign soil called Guantanamo Bay where “suspected terrorists” are held for years without any meaningful rights or privileges and without any finding of guilt; and resurrected the ancient and infamous method of torture called “water boarding” to extract information from these “suspected terrorists.”
No less than the President and the Attorney General of these United States instructed law enforcement agencies, especially the FBI, CIA and other intelligence gathering agencies like the National Security Agency, to target innocent and unsuspecting American citizens and subject them to racial/religious profiling, telephone wiretaps, surveillance of their emails, political activities, and data mining through their financial records. This Orwellian-type scrutiny was even more heightened against the American-Muslim community who instantly and continuously became “suspected terrorists” for no other reason than their religion and country of origin.
The civil rights and constitutional violations against innocent people, both foreign and domestic, carried out under the guise of the “war on terror” have been, and continue to be, appalling. Our nation’s reputation in the world has been continually degraded by the Government’s illegal and immoral methods used to track, capture and kill the all powerful bin Laden and his associates. “The end justifies the means” or “anything goes” became the clarion call in the secret rooms at the highest echelons of power in this country. The battle cry became so loud and convincing that even some respected constitutional scholars have made arguments in support of these violations as a “necessary means” to detect and prevent future terrorist attacks.
We have never, and will never, subscribe to the ideology of torture, covert surveillance of law-abiding citizens, religious persecution, racial profiling, military trials for criminal defendants, secret “black site” prisons, or the elimination of constitutional protections for even the worst “suspected terrorist.” Our respect for, and our faith in, this Nation’s justice system, which is founded upon the laws and principals set out in our Constitution, is too great to allow us to saddle up to such an ideology. We wanted as much as anyone to see Osama bin Laden captured or killed, but we grieve over the costs the hunt for him has inflicted upon our criminal justice system and our democratic traditions of justice and human decency.
The Navy Seals and CIA operatives who risked their lives to either capture or kill bin Laden during the midnight raid in Pakistan deserve respect and admiration. They did their job with skill and bravery. Other than the obvious questions about violations of international law, we have no problem with the mission ordered by President Barak Obama to bring bin Laden to justice. But in the midst of all the celebration at the death of the “most wanted terrorist,” we are mindful of the thousands of law-abiding citizens who have had their civil rights and constitutional protections trampled upon during the decade-long search for him.
Was it worth it?
The supporters of the “war on terror,” with all its torture and human mayhem, will point to the fact that late in the Bush administration and early in the Obama administration the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used in the “black site” CIA prisons produced intelligence about the “courier system” utilized by bin Laden to communicate with his underlings and supporters. This torture-derived information ultimately led to the identity of bin Laden’s main courier who, while under CIA surveillance, led the spy agency to the million dollar Pakistani compound built in 2005 and in which bin Laden had resided for a number of undisclosed years.
Torture works, the supporters of the “war on terror” will proclaim. It produced the intelligence needed to track down and kill bin Laden.
Sorry, we cannot accept the premise that the government sanctioned kidnapping, killing and torture of untold scores of innocent people justify the capture and killing of even the world’s most hated and notorious terrorist. Yes, “we got him” but at what price? At the end of the day, when all the pros and cons have been weighed, we grieve over the fact that we have lost more than we have gained.
Our nation, and especially the 9/11 victims, deserve justice, and the death of bin Laden will bring them a measure of that. They are more than entitled to that justice—it is payment for a debt long due. But as criminal defense attorneys we have seen up close and personal the damage, some of it irreparable, done to our constitutional system of investigating and dispensing justice.
Again, the question gnaws at us: was it worth it? We would like to say “yes” or at the very least “hope so” but we cannot. We are left with that sinking feeling that bin Laden’s death will only fuel additional civil rights and constitutional abuses. After all, these abuses helped us bring a feared criminal mastermind to justice. The end did justify the means, and to jubilant applause from an increasing fearful citizenry. We are now a Country, no matter the president, in which “anything goes” in pursuit of what’s called “our national security interests.”
By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair