The war on terrorism can only be ended morally

By Bryan Bowman

In regards to fighting terrorism, morality and legality have been recurring issues generating controversy since the commencement of the “global war on terror.” The question has been posed time and time again: why should the United States adhere to legal and human rights when confronting extremists in the war on terror, especially seeing that these fundamentalists disregard our own basic human rights? The issues of drone strikes, torture, mass government wiretapping and indefinite detainments of prisoners without charges or conviction were raised as examples of topics fueling debate around the nation.

So, why shouldn’t the United States torture suspected terrorists, rain hellfire missiles into Middle Eastern villages aimed at terror targets or use mass domestic surveillance to gather intelligence? Well, even if you have no sympathy for those who support terrorism, there are both blatant, moral and strategic flaws in these policies that not only violate the very principles that our great nation was founded on, but further perpetuate the seemingly never ending war on terror.

Torturing people accused of having connections to terrorists not only is a despicable violation of human rights, but also is an ineffective, counter-productive strategy in confronting terrorism. Do we think this barbarism gets swept under the rug and has no repercussions? Do we think the gut wrenching photos coming out of Abu Ghraib were not seen by the Iraqi people and the rest of the world? Do we think the horrific events that have taken place at Guantanamo Bay have gone unnoticed? Can we really not see the obvious effects of these actions?

Torture further inspires fundamentalism and radicalism while breeding sympathy for Al Qaeda and U.S. resistance. If you say that you support torture, look up pictures from the Abu Ghraib Prisoner of War (POW) detainment center and see if you can stomach them. God only knows what other horrors have gone undocumented behind the walls of Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

It has also been argued that you cannot defeat an immoral enemy morally: a preposterous, unfounded claim. Instead, we should consider that perhaps we cannot win a vague ideological war solely with the force of arms. We must rather attempt to address the root cause of the ideological conflict, something that has largely been ignored.

If we want to win the war on terrorism, we must seek to stem the tide of extremism and eradicate the ideas and sentiments behind terrorism, not necessarily eradicate the terrorists themselves with violence. Not because they don’t deserve to be, but because violence, warfare, occupation and oppression breed hatred and radicalism and further exacerbate the root cause of extremism.

Perhaps the best example of how this strategy has backfired is the policy of “targeted” drone strikes. Although these strikes often take out terror organization leaders, it is not a smart strategy to confront the fundamental problem of terrorism as a whole.

In 2012, an article was published in the New York Times called “How Drone Strikes Help Al-Qaeda,” in which a Yemeni lawyer and politician warned, “When a U.S. drone kills a child, the father will go to war with you guaranteed. Nothing to do with Al-Qaeda.” The article, written by Ibrahim Mothana, a correspondent on the ground in Sana, Yemen, also described how U.S. missile strikes are breeding hatred for America and sympathy for an otherwise unpopular extremist faction, Al-Qaeda and their counterparts.

This is happening not only in Yemen, but also in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, further deepening the conflict in a violent positive feedback loop. But aside from the strategic mistakes this policy and others like it are, U.S. drone missile campaigns have also yielded horrific humanitarian and moral consequences. Military rhetoric perpetuated by neoconservatives and democrats alike, is that these strikes are “strategic” and “surgical,” but in fact, the civilian carnage that comes with drone strikes is beyond what can justifiably be called “collateral.”

The first U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed one terror target, but also left 14 women and 21 children dead – murdered in the eyes of their neighbors and countrymen. Yet, the headlines across America and the west celebrated the elimination of the one Al-Qaeda affiliate, while ignoring the massive casualties and destruction in the region and the ensuing results that have followed.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the 10-year U.S. drone strike campaign has killed roughly 900 civilian adults and 200 children in Pakistan alone, and estimated that 2,400 people total have been blown to bits in Pakistan. Our incendiary missiles have carried this out since the commencement of the drone war in 2004.

If you could meet any of these people, hear their shrieks of agony, see the mangled corpses of schoolchildren, listen to the wails of their parents or look into the eyes of a confused and heartbroken orphan, you could not possibly support this kind of warfare. We support torture and bombing because we have dehumanized the people of the Middle East. We don’t care about their lives and are indifferent to their suffering. We use words like “militants,” “extremists,” “combatants” and even “terrorists” to strip these people, as well as the innocent people unfortunate enough to live in the same place as them, of their humanity. In doing so, we have alienated potential friends and allies and have pushed people into joining the other side.

Not only can we win the war on terror morally, we must. It is the only way. Over a decade of warfare, bombings, torture, invasion and occupation certainly have not worked. The loss of thousands of American soldiers, our friends, our neighbors, our parents, our children, along with hundreds of thousands of foreign civilians and soldiers has not yielded peace.
Despite what the banner erected behind George W. Bush on that infamous aircraft carrier proclaimed, our mission is far, far from being accomplished. We must change our outlook and strategy if we want to stop this seemingly perpetual cycle of violence, and end the evil institutions of torture and human rights indifference.

Bryan Bowman is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]