This week has been a big news week and it has been hard for me to focus on just one topic. The 40 year anniversary of Roe v Wade, the inauguration, a new effort at gun control/safety regulation have dominated the news cycle. But only the least sexiest topic of the week has really peaked my sociological interests. Secretary Clinton’s Benghazi hearing stirred a lot of political junkies’ interests as a harbinger of 2016, but it led me back to thinking about the war on terror.
Tilly made the connection between war and the state, which can be summarized in his famous line “wars make states”. I would argue that once modern states are made, more war makes more state (power). The US Civil War led to public emergency response systems and federal pensions. The World Wars brought a number of state innovations including passports, social security numbers, and expanded pensions/welfare systems. Assuming that wars lay the foundation for long lasting state change, what foundation is the war on terror laying?
Much like the Benghazi attack was spillover from a protest in Egypt that spilled over to Algeria, the war on terror is borderless. Thanks to drone technology we don’t need to declare war on Pakistan to take out enemies within their territory. But drones could also be used by police departments for surveillance and border patrol, emergency response to forest fires and large-scale disasters, and private individuals such as paparazzi.
The Patriot Act was designed to make it easier to investigate domestic terrorist activities. But has actually led to increased surveillance across the board, including GPS trackers on the cars American citizens and a shocking 1.3 million requests by police for cell phone data. Lowering the barrier for search in theory makes it easier to track terrorists, but it also makes it easier to monitor all individuals within the territory.
Finally, the system of indefinite detention and rendition is already intruding on civil liberties. Obama signed the NDAA early this month allowing for the continued indefinite detention of suspected terrorist–including American citizens. While here in America it is easy to forget about individuals hidden away in secret detention centers, in other parts of the world this an issue of real concern. For example, the Algerian hostage-takers asked the US government to release 2 prisoners in exchange for the 3 Americans later killed. One of them, the “Blind Sheik”, was arrested prior to the 9/11 attacks in the US in connection to the 1993 WTC bombings. By all accounts he received a fair trail. But the other request involved a less black and white case. Dr Aafia Siddiqui, AKA “Lady Al Qaeda” or “Prisoner 650”, is serving an 86 year prison sentence in Texas for attempting to murder US personnel while detained at Bagram airfield.
I highly recommend this article on Dr Siddiqqui. No one can get this story straight. She went missing in 2003 from Karachi, Pakistan. The US government claims to have picked her up in 2008 in Afghanistan, though she claims to have been in US custody since her initial disappearance. There are some eye witnesses that place her in Bagram in 2005 and others than claim to have seen her arrested in Afghanistan in 2008. While I think it is important to understand how people get into US custody in the first place, the real concern is the ease with which people are moved across borders, detained, and interrogated without access to counsel. I have no reason to suspect that a US citizen or permanent resident would have avoided a similar fate. I also see no way to dismantle this system now that it is in place. In a way, Dr Siddiqqui is lucky to have found her way to a US prison, at least she has an opportunity to appeal. At least her family knows where she is. For the other victims of rendition and indefinite detention the outlook is not so good.