By Michael Shaw
Since the devastating attacks of September 11th, 2001, our nation has undergone extreme shifts in security, both domestically and on an international level. From the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has attempted to safeguard its citizens in any way possible. While these efforts undoubtedly make the United States safer in some regards, they have far-reaching implications for the entire world that are not always positive.
First, other countries are using the United States’ war on terror as an excuse to execute their own counter terror operations. The problem lies in the fact that these ostensible counter terror operations are in reality thinly veiled human rights violations. These countries use the United States’ actions in Afghanistan and Iraq as justification for oppression of their citizens. For example, an article written by the International Council on Human Policy concludes that Uzbekistan’s government “has linked the detention (and torture) of Muslim opponents to the threat posed by the Afghanistan-based Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, described by the United States as being linked to the al-Qaeda network.” Essentially, as part of its War on Terror, the United States classified the Islamic Movement in Uzbekistan as linked to al-Qaeda, and the Uzbek government is using this classification as a pretext to commit torture and other acts of oppression against Muslims who oppose the current government. Indeed, the Uzbek government’s actions have at some points surpassed those described by the article above; on May 13, 2005, in the city of Andijan, Uzbek government troops fired into a crowd of demonstrators protesting unjust arrests and trials of their fellow Uzbek citizens. The end result was 500 dead and 241 sent to prison. Following its established pattern, the Uzbek government insisted the massacre was carried out due to the protestors’ links to Islamic extremism, once again using the US war on terror as a pretext for violence.
Malaysia is another nation using the United States’ counter terror policies to enforce its own oppressive policies. The same article mentioned above notes that the Malaysian government has cited security threats when justifying its reinforcement of “the country’s Internal Security Act. This act, retained from the British colonial period, allows for detention without trial and has been used to imprison pro-democracy activists and opposition supporters.” In fact, the Prime Minister of Malaysia has explicitly revealed that this reinforcement of detention without trial for activists stems from the actions of “liberal democracies” like the United States. Putting up a façade of concern for national security, the Malaysian government extinguishes internal dissent by simply detaining its opponents.
Second, torture of suspected terrorists, as sanctioned by the United States government, sparks terrorist activity. Since the start of the War on Terror the United States has, controversially, carried out torture in places such as Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, a prison in Iraq. This harsh interrogation often ends up inciting terrorist activities because victims of the torture, along with those who hear of it, develop a negative sentiment towards the United States. Major Matthew Alexander, the head of an interrogation team in Iraq, explains “The reason why foreign fighters joined al-Qa’ida… was overwhelmingly because of abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and not Islamic ideology.” He says that when the United States government tries to espouse humans rights while simultaneously torturin suspects, it makes them appear hypocritical which “plays into the hands of al-Qaida”. While the United States uses torture to try to quell terrorism through the acquisition of valuable information regarding terrorists’ tactics, this very act can in fact backfire and create more terrorism. An article published by Brown University seconds Major Alexander’s claim. It reads “Iraqi security chiefs allege that the [conditions in these] U.S. prison actually strengthened Al Qaeda…and increased violence in 2010.” Therefore, United States policies surrounding detention and interrogation have in fact lead to higher recruitment rates for al-Qaeda and a higher rate of violence in Iraq, thus proving these policies to be counter productive. It should be noted that the US government has listened to negative public opinion surrounding the use of torture as a counter terror tactic and has accordingly made efforts to eliminate its use. However, the impacts of past policies can undoubtedly still be felt.
Just over ten years after the September 11th attacks, many are asking the question “Is the world a safer place now than it was a decade ago?” There is no simple answer to that question. Airport security has tightened and our southern border has been fortified, along with many other security enhancements. However, around the world some countries like Uzbekistan and Malaysia are using the United States’ War on Terror as a justification for violations of human rights. Elsewhere, al-Qaeda recruitment rates and insurgent violence in Iraq are rising due to torture carried out in the name of security. Though the United States faces countless concerns both domestically and internationally, it, along with other countries, must take into account the issues outlined in this article when devising security policies. Hopefully future policies will beget an increase in international human rights and a decrease in terrorist recruitment and violence, but for now nations around the globe still face problems stemming from September 11th.