The Pathos of Politics (127) War of Terror

War of Terror

Since the end of the Cold War, military violence – that is, the imposition of political choices through the use of weapons – has appeared to be a continuous, normal, daily resource within an evolving political framework. ~ Italian anthropologists Alessandro Dal Lago & Salvatore Palidda

Terror has long been a tool of the state, and those groups wishing to become the state. The ultimate aim is always the same: control over the people within a territory.

Those who commit terror feel morally fortified by their beliefs. The delusion of divine authority has proven especially fertile in instilling requisite righteousness to commit atrocities without guilt, even as man’s capacity for atrocity is positively primal.

Beyond the booty which motivated many, religious fervor fueled the Crusades. It worked its spell well on Catholic Spaniards during their Inquisition; and in the carnage upon hapless natives during conquest of the New World. The savages were not the ones slaughtered defending their homes.

Geneva Conventions

War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it. ~ William Sherman

Upon witnessing the cruelty of war firsthand, Swiss businessman Henri Dunant inspired the International Red Cross and the 1864 Geneva Convention. The 1st Geneva Convention addressed relief for the wounded and protection of medical personnel. Subsequent conventions dealt with prisoners of war and civilians caught in the crossfire.

The Geneva Conventions are commonly observed in the breach. In the 21st century, the US has been especially noteworthy as a rogue nation: repeatedly perpetuating atrocities on foreign soil and to foreigners. Most other 21st-century states largely reserve their tortures to their own citizens.


In modern times, Islam has been the tinder for Arabs to visit terror upon infidels in the foreign lands where they are despised and discriminated against. Though there have been many attacks since Islamic terror began its reign in the late 20th century, one was especially spectacular.


We knew the Islamic threat since the 1970s. ~ CIA officer Duane Clarridge

Islamic fury has been particularly pronounced against the United States, which steadfastly supports Israel and asserts hegemony in the Arab homelands.

The tragedy of 9/11 had many fathers, but the airline industry itself shoulders much of the proximate blame. The airlines’ lobbying organization had a long record of opposing almost all improvements in security, especially if the airlines bore the cost. From 1996 to 2000 alone, the association spent $70 million opposing matching passengers with bags (routine in Europe at the time), reinforced cabin doors, or the presence of occasional marshals – since they would occupy nonpaying seats.

The US intelligence community was not up to the task of protecting Americans from terrorism. CIA ineptitude was long-standing. Coupled with FBI arrogance, and animosity between the 2 agencies, getting a Muslim terrorist team into the US proved a cakewalk.

By the turn of the century, analysis had long ago been overwhelmed by the volume of available information and were no longer able to distinguish between significant facts and background noise. The quality of analysis had become increasingly suspect. From the vantage point of 2001, intelligence failure is inevitable. ~ CIA officer Russ Travers

Following a plan by the terrorist group al-Qaeda, hatched in spring 1999, a few of itinerant Arabs took lessons in the US: eager to know how to fly Boeing jets, but with no interest in learning how to land them.

By the spring of 2001, the US intelligence community was on high alert: on the lookout for incipient Islamic terrorist acts. One scenario known to the CIA, FBI, and FAA was the possibility of airline hijacking.

By mid-summer, CIA director George Tenet said that his “system was blinking red”: an attack was considered imminent. Meantime, the bumbling FBI ignored specific, credible warnings that could have prevented 9/11.

An increasing threat to civil aviation from terrorists exists and needs to be prevented and countered. ~ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Federal Register statement (17 July 2001)

President George W. Bush joked about an August 2001 CIA memo stating that bin Laden was planning an attack within the US. Indeed, Bush denigrated the CIA officer who pressed to give him a briefing. After relenting and hearing what the CIA had to say, Bush concluded: “All right, you’ve covered your ass now.”

FAA inattention meant that all the Arab hijackers were easily able to board their flights, armed for the job at hand.

At the time, the airlines themselves were responsible for airport security. They employed poorly trained, low-wage screeners who did a lousy job.

Under FAA-approved guidelines, the kind of box cutters and knives that the hijackers used were allowed. To keep costs down and security lines moving, the airlines had lobbied the FAA for these and other accommodations.

The FAA didn’t follow the guidelines that were in place at the time. ~ American attorney Mary Schiavo, US federal transportation department inspector

On the morning of 11 September 2001, 4 hijacked commercial jets launched themselves at high-profile targets.

The whole security process was in disarray. ~ John Mica, chair of the House subcommittee responsible for aviation oversight

In the 1970s, hundreds of federal marshals manned American commercial flights to thwart hijackings to Cuba. By 2001, these police on planes had dwindled to 33: negligible coverage for over 20,000 daily flights from 440 airports.

Once the planes in the air were hijacked, the FAA and US air force did nothing to prevent the attack from succeeding. These agents respectively had the knowledge and time to intercept, but incompetence and bureaucracy worked in the hijackers’ favor.

The terrorists exploited deep institutional failings within our government. ~ 9/11 Commission Report

1 of the planes, aimed at the White House or Capitol building, crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers fought the hijackers. 1 plane hit the Pentagon, which sustained significant damage, but was quickly repaired. It would not do for the beating heart of American militarism to be left debilitated for long. 2 planes successfully slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, collapsing these world-famous commercial pillars.

The Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today. ~ President George W. Bush on 11 September 2001

The 9/11 attacks killed 2,996. Over 6,000 were injured.

At least 200 fell or jumped from the burning towers. Some inside made their way toward the roof, but roof access doors were locked. No helicopters would have saved them even if they had made it to the roof, as no plan to do so was ever envisioned.

The World Trade Center was assumed indestructible, despite history having already shown the folly of such an assumption.

 1993 World Trade Center Bombing

On 26 February 1993, Islamic terrorists drove a truck loaded with explosives into the underground parking lot of the north Trade Center tower and set it off.

Had the bomb been placed as envisioned, it would have brought both towers down: the north tower toppling so as the bring the south one down. Instead, 6 were killed, power to the building temporarily cut, and the underground garage extensively damaged.

The FBI had an inside informant who warned them about the bomb plot, but, owing to agency incompetence, there was no intervention.


3 days after the World Trade Center collapsed, Christine Todd Whitman, head of the EPA, announced that air quality there was “no concern.” 1 week later, Whitman assured residents that the air “is safe to breathe” and the water “safe to drink.”

Whitman is a New Jersey native, and so might not even know what clean air or water actually are. Nonetheless, her false assurances damaged the health and shortened the lives of 50,000 rescue workers and residents.

I know people blame me, they say that I lied and that people died because I lied. I’m sorry. ~ Christine Todd Whitman in 2015

Whitman was not held culpable for her negligently false and dangerous statements. Government accountability is not the American way.

US government statements about the 9/11 attack, and its official report, were met with widespread skepticism. The omissions and distortions were so fulsome that the idea that the US government itself knew of, had abetted, or even masterminded, the attacks, gained credibility. (Among other signifiers was George W. Bush’s nonchalant non-reaction when first told of the 9/11 attacks, as if he already knew. Bush was reading aloud a children’s story about a pet goat at a public elementary school at the time. Upon told being told of the World Trade Center being hit, Bush turned his attention back to the pet goat tale.)

It is a horrific notion, but the predictable response by the Bush Jr. administration, which got Congress to grant it broad authoritarian powers under a “Patriot Act,” lent motive to conspiracy theories.

The public had been seriously misled [by the 9/11 Commission] about what occurred. At some level of government, at some point in time, there was an agreement not to tell the truth about what happened. ~ John Farmer Jr., senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission

 2001 Anthrax Mailings

Shortly after 9/11, envelopes of anthrax were mailed in 2 waves; the 1st to news media outlets, the 2nd to prominent politicians who were skeptical of the Patriot Act. Anthrax is an often-fatal bacterial pathogen.

In all instances, the anthrax envelopes carried machine copies of crude handwritten notes claiming “Allah is great.”

The 1st wave of anthrax letters was sent on 18 September 2001 to 5 news media outlets: ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, the New York Post, and the National Enquirer.

3 weeks later, more potent packets were sent to 2 senior senators who were questioning the hastily introduced Patriot Act legislation. Taking the hint, both senators switched positions and voted for the bill.

To garner support for going to war, the Bush Jr. administration pushed the FBI to quickly conclude that al-Qaeda was behind the mailings.

They really wanted to blame somebody in the Middle East. ~ FBI Director Robert Mueller

The extensive FBI investigation of the anthrax attacks was badly botched. The agency closed the investigation by scapegoating a mentally ill research scientist who did not commit the crime but had conveniently committed suicide after intense interrogation by the FBI.

In the years that followed, the anthrax episode raised further suspicions that the 2001 attacks were all false-flag deceptions by a secret cabal that supported the enhanced authoritarian militarism that the Bush Jr. administration summoned, and which the US has maintained since.


I’m a war president. I make decisions on foreign policy matters with war on my mind. ~ US President George W. Bush

To strike out after 9/11, the US invaded Iraq: ostensibly because its dictator, Saddam Hussein, had “weapons of mass destruction.” To bolster his case, President Bush Jr. linked Hussein with the 9/11 attack. None of this was based upon intelligence; just lies concocted to back bloodlust by George W. Bush. (George Bush Jr. held a personal grudge against Saddam Hussein because the Iraqi dictator had ordered George Bush Sr. assassinated in 1993, after the US foiled Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Ever transparent, Bush Jr. even publicly cited the Bush Sr. assassination plot as a reason to go to war against Iraq.) The CIA had no reliable intel about Iraq. Hussein had no such weapons, nor anything to do with 9/11.

The Bush administration’s massive disinformation campaign, abetted by a lazy and timid press, succeeded spectacularly in driving the public to support its long-planned war. In the end, it was the power of lies, not logic, that was the deciding factor. ~ American journalist James Bamford

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. ~ English dramatist Harold Pinter

Islamic Terror

Islam has never acknowledged a distinction between religion and the state. From the time of Muhammad, both developed together. This supposed natural order was torn asunder by Western colonialism, and never reconciled in the post-colonial despotic states which combined political repression with economic stagnation. To grow up under such oppression is to be fed a steady diet of rebelliousness, which is invigorated by a righteous religion.

To the religious, Islam cannot be blamed for the miserable conditions. The West bequeathed the intolerable.

For Shias, the high-water mark was the 1979 Iranian revolution, which transformed a somewhat repressive modernizing monarchy into a thoroughly stifling theocracy. At least Allāh was again supposedly center stage.

Meanwhile, political Sunnis – frequently marginalized, manipulated, and oppressed by their autocratic rulers – do not yet have a comparable landmark. And their numbers are much greater: Sunnis comprise ~85% of the Muslim world.

Salafis have played upon these grievances to ignite the modern jihad that sporadically reigns terror. The Salafis are Sunni reactionaries who look to restore Islam to its conservative roots in the 12th century. They restored the meaning of jihad to its archaic construction of armed struggle against infidels: non-believers. al-Qaeda is Salafist, as is the more virulently violent Islamic State.

Islamic terror is fueled by religious ideology, instilled into frustrated young men who hold their lives cheap. It may be contrasted to American terror, which is fueled by secular ideology, and lead by frustrated older men, who hold others’ lives cheap.

American Terror

He who does battle with monsters needs to watch out, lest he in the process becomes a monster himself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The United States must not adopt the tactics of the enemy. Means are as important as ends. ~ US Senate Committee on Intelligence (1976)

One by one, the terrorists are learning the meaning of American justice. ~ US President George W. Bush in 2003

6 days after 9/11, on 17 September 2001, President Bush Jr. ordered the CIA to hunt, capture, imprison, and ruthlessly interrogate terror suspects around the world. This was the foundation for a system of secret prisons throughout the world where the CIA and its contractors tortured anyone it thought might know something useful to them. The most notorious of those prisons was Abu Ghraib in Baghdad, Iraq, where the CIA and US army jointly committed atrocities. (No high-ranking US officials in the military or government were prosecuted for their war crimes.)

The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal. ~ US Senate Report on CIA Torture (2012)

The Americans were inspired in their extreme barbarity by Chinese practices on captured Americans during the Korean War, which were known to produce useless results.

These were techniques to get false confessions. ~ US Senator Carl Levin

In short, in response to a terrorist attack that succeeded only by the incompetence or acquiescence of the US government, the Bush Jr. administration unleashed a reign of terror upon the world, aimed specifically at Muslims.

I want to be absolutely clear. The United States does not torture. ~ US President George W. Bush in 2006, knowingly lying

We were well outside of the bounds. Part of the defense the agency used, the Bush administration used, defenders, proponents, Republicans use, is that “you have to understand the context of the times, we were all afraid there was going to be another attack, we had to act.” That’s all bullshit. ~ CIA officer Glenn Carle

No advantage was gained through torture. Instead, the campaign of terror only furthered the enmity and justification for Islamic terrorists to attack the US and its allies.

During the brutal interrogations, the CIA was often unaware the information was fabricated. ~ US Senator Dianne Feinstein

These were practices that not only failed their purpose – to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the US and our allies – but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world. ~ US Senator John McCain

We are creating more new enemies than we are killing terrorists. And revenge is a powerful force. ~ American national security scholar Jeremy Scahill

The American torture regime did not end when George W. Bush left office. The Obama administration continued to practice terror targeted at Muslims.

This government has decided that instead of detaining members of al-Qaida, they are going to kill them. ~ American lawyer John Bellinger III

To ostensibly kill terrorists, the US bombed civilians in foreign countries. Drone strikes repeatedly killed innocents. Torment was still visited upon detainees, who were imprisoned indefinitely with no recourse to any semblance of justice.

Few things are more likely to undermine our legitimacy than the perception that we are not abiding by rule of law or are indifferent to civilian casualties. ~ American lawyer Hina Shamsi

The terror that the US inflicted on hundreds of men, almost all of them innocent, left lasting psychological damage. The US government never bothered to study the long-term psychological effects of the brutality it embraced. Instead, its military denied any problem, insisting that prisoners were treated humanely.

They tortured us in jails, gave us severe physical and mental pain, bombarded our villages, cities, mosques, schools. ~ Pakistani Mohammed Jawad, who was captured, held, and tortured by the US while a teenager, then released after years of imprisonment, never having been charged with any crime


Western leaders are entirely aware of the racist character of contemporary conflicts. ~ Alessandro Dal Lago & Salvatore Palidda

Despite extensive countermeasures after 9/11, terrorism worldwide grew. The US war of terror was part of it, inciting terror by Muslims in response.

The threat is actually worse: it has metastasized and spread geographically. ~ American counter-terrorism expert Richard Clarke in 2016

American programs to counter extremists proved ineffective. As a practitioner of terror and deception, US credibility was absent.

Winning this fight requires projecting a narrative about American values and interests. And we have failed to do that. ~ American politician and security analyst Jane Harman

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If terrorists have created an atmosphere in which an ordinary person can have bullets pumped into him by the police and society shrugs its shoulders, then the terrorists have already won. ~ English political scientist Tim Hames

The United Nations has never adopted a formal definition of terrorism, because to do so would include acts that characterize everyday law enforcement in many nations, not to mention ordinary military action. The definitions bandied by state agencies, such as the FBI, emphasize legality.

These definitions, of course, favor those who have the power to define what constitutes “illegitimate” and “lawful” violence or force. Thus, to a great degree, terrorists are those without political or social power who attack the powerful, usually the government and its representatives or corporations, to wrestle power from political elites. ~ American criminal justice scholars Larry Gaines & Victor Kappeler


In the US, the 2001 Patriot Act that was the instantaneous response to 9/11 ushered in even broader electronics surveillance than was already in place. Everyone within digital reach, regardless of nationality or position, was targeted and surveilled – even the prime minister of Germany, an ally.

The US government spends over $75 billion each year on intelligence, with $10 billion of that on mass surveillance.

 Airport Diligence

Giving everyone a pat-down search is a waste of resources. ~ English security consultant Philip Baum

Once commercial planes were successfully hijacked for spectacular terrorist attacks, everyone wanting to board a commercial airplane was subject to intrusive scrutiny. The US government went overboard concocting a time-consuming, but ineffective, screening process that created long lines of travelers.

TSA has wallowed in its own bureaucracy for over a decade. ~ American congressman Mike Rogers, who was on the oversight committee of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), in 2015

The X-ray scanners used at airports expose travelers to potentially hazardous levels of radiation. TSA only checks its scanners once a year. Hospitals usually check their X-ray machines daily.

Rather than rationally profile likely terrorists and subject them to sufficient scrutiny, young children, the terminally ill and kindly grandmothers had their dignities insulted.

Look at him. He’s clearly not a terrorist. He’s 7! ~ Mila Harris, an exasperated mother, to an airport security official

The British took a different approach at their airports: harassing most anyone who looked Muslim.

The UK government has created an atmosphere of suspicion and stigmatisation of Muslims. An effect of this will ultimately be to nurture the very radicalisation they wish to eradicate. ~ Swiss philosopher Tariq Ramadan

Tests repeatedly showed that US airport security could be easily thwarted.

We’re spending billions upon billions of dollars doing this – and it is almost entirely pointless. Not only is it not done right, but even if it was done right it would be the wrong thing to do. ~ American security analyst Bruce Schneier

Enhanced airport security provided a profit opportunity to intrepid baggage handlers, who rifle through checked-in bags and steal whatever suits their fancy. Missing property claims against airlines soared. This points out one of the greatest vulnerabilities of airport security: the threat from those inside the system.

Airports provide a security theater as opposed to a security reality. ~ Philip Baum


Attempting to “protect” against mass casualty attacks is a somewhat hopeless task due to the near infinite number of targets. A deterred terrorist will just go elsewhere. ~ Australian security analyst Mark Stewart

Though public air travel became more taxing with its theater of security, this did not stop the terror; on the contrary. Publicity of past events proved inspirational.

Firearms are abundantly available in the US, and bomb-making materials throughout the world. There is a surfeit of mentally ill walking about with a taste for violence.

The combination has meant that bloodshed continues unabated. Shopping malls, nightclubs, coffee houses, schools, and other public places become instant slaughterhouses as the murderously deranged take out their frustrations on hapless people who are only trying to enjoy their lives.

The American government is notably nonplussed about the ongoing slaughter of its citizenry by terrorists, including its own fragmented police state. The failure of Americans to revolt can only be chalked up to ignorance or indifference: a people consumed by consumerism.

Chinese Terror

China is a country governed by the rule of law. Extracting confessions through torture is explicitly banned by China’s laws. Anyone found using torture during interrogation will be subject to punishment. ~ Chinese government spokesman

Respecting no impediments to intruding in its citizens lives and personal expressions, the Chinese government is zealous in trying to stave off any public expression of dissatisfaction, however oblique.

They see critics as opponents. ~ Chinese historian and political analyst Zhang Lifan

Civics groups not supportive of the government are dismembered. China proscribes Internet sites that present unfavorable news, including pollution reports.

The positive energy on the Internet has overwhelmed the negative energy to uphold the online justice. ~ Chinese Internet censorship general secretary Zhu Huaxin

Many Western media sites are blocked in China. The government is acutely aware of the danger posed by “harmful Western influences” on its populace.

Chinese social media sites are constantly surveilled. Stories or inquiries that criticize or question the correctness of the government or corporate business practices are removed.

The ecosystem for public opinion online has noticeably improved, and that has created a good environment conducive to the overall work of the party of the government. ~ Chinese vice minister for the Internet Ren Xianliang

Dissident and questioning voices are silenced. Those insistent on their errancy are persecuted, tortured, held indefinitely, or executed without trial. Lawyers who aim for some semblance of justice are an especial target.

The anxiety is overwhelming, not knowing if they are coming for you. It’s frightening as they disappear, one friend after another. The police are not following any law. They just do as they please. ~ Chinese civics scholar Yang Zili

Practically speaking, legal due process does not exist in China. Its facsimile is a puppet theater.

(The US also suspends due process in innumerable instances, not just for terror suspects, and so is scarcely distinct from China in this regard. In contrast to China, American laxity toward dissent is a historical gift: letting people impotently vent (and vote) while the state retains its remorseless grip.)

China has done little to change the deep-rooted practice of torturing suspects. ~ Amnesty International