“We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred is a wedge designed to attack our civilization” (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
What have been the costs of war on terrorism in human and economic terms? How has the war changed the social and political landscape of the countries where it has been waged? What is likely to be the long-term economic effect of the war? What have been the public health consequences of the war? Were and are there any less costly and more effective alternative ways to prevent further terror attacks? How has, and to what extent, the war contributed to the abuse of human rights? These are some frequently asked questions that the war in the course of its continuity has raised in minds of every sane person.
The war that began in 2001 proved tremendously painful for millions of people across the world, especially in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and the United States. Each additional month and year of war adds to that toll. Moreover, the human costs of this war will reverberate for years to come in each of the affected country. The war on terror, in fact, proved a great misfortune on the lives of its victims. Civilians have been killed unjustly and tortured without any reason. Evidently, behind the facade of war on terrorism, International Law is widely being disregarded; oppositions are being repressed, not to talk of humiliation the values and rights have suffered at the hands of imperial regimes. It is safe to assume that the commencing of the war on terrorism virtually resulted in the end of the sanctity attached to human rights.
The war on terrorism is not like any other kind of war. The enemy, terrorism, is not a territorial state, nation or government. There is no opposite number to negotiate with. There is no one on the other side to call a truce or declare a ceasefire, no one among the enemy authorized to surrender. The “War on Terror” officially began on October 7, 2001 and was spurred by the attack on the World Trade Center of the United States on September 11, 2001.
The “War on Terror” has led, in its wake, to grave human rights violations and, in response, to a growing volume of human rights litigations. Certain quarters allege that the “War on Terror” has been exploited by Western governments to reduce civil liberties and take away basic human rights.
The war on terrorism came up with extensive violations of civil and political rights that still continue to occur in the world, with such incidents as demonstrations, shootings, torture, hostage-takings, killings and so on. Political participation and decision-making in the affected countries especially Iraq and Afghanistan remain seriously impaired by sectarian and insurgent violence, widespread corruption, and the influence of foreign powers.
The cost of war in terms of human lives has been increasingly painful. A research conducted by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies indicates that over 350,000 people have died due to direct war violence, and many more indirectly.
One of the most notorious issues and certainly the one giving rise to the most voluminous litigation is the arbitrary detention. Since its start, the war on terrorism has been directly responsible for a broad array of serious human rights violations, including torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and unfair trials. In many instances, one country or another carried out abuses in collaboration with other governments. Many reports have emerged of “black jails” in Afghanistan, where detainees were secretly held without the International Red Cross oversight as required by the Geneva Conventions.
Perhaps the most insidious is the move from illegality to extra-legality (extraordinary rendition), the practice of removing individuals from the protection of law altogether, epitomized by disappearances and renditions that have been the subject of various litigation initiatives. To the contempt of prisoners’ rights, the United States secretly stole away suspects to other CIA-run hidden “black site” prisons or passed them to foreign countries with more lax human rights standards to be interrogated via the seizure process known as “extraordinary rendition.”
The prisoners of war on terrorism have largely been denied the right to petition and fair trial. Significant numbers of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq, later, have been found innocent. However, their unjust detention and maltreatment has fomented desperation towards the universal acknowledgement of human rights.
Some governments adopted abusive practices in response to direct US pressure. Most notably, the US encouraged a number of countries to pass draconian counterterrorism laws, often those which expand police powers, reduce due process guarantees, and set out vague and overbroad definitions of terrorism.
Repressive governments, always seeking rhetorical cover for their violations, were quick to adopt the language of counterterrorism to help shield their abuses from critical scrutiny. In Egypt, for example, the Hosni Mubarak regime specifically cited the “War on Terrorism” and new security laws passed in the United States and elsewhere to justify the 2003 renewal of longstanding emergency powers.
The enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly has long been partial, and often perilous, for war critics across the world. The war on terrorism has accelerated markedly the squeeze on the exercise of these rights. Independent NGOs, critical media outlets and public protests across the globe have all borne the brunt of an assault on fundamental freedoms that has been fuelled and “justified” by an increasingly aggressive propaganda drive to depict curtailing of the rights as necessary steps to end terrorism.
Consequent upon war on terrorism is the emergence of unprincipled discrimination between nationals and non-nationals, among people of different races, ethnicities and gender. This disparate treatment raises complex issues concerning the human right to non-discrimination.
After the massive terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, many Muslims and Arab-Americans have been persecuted. Muslim men have been characterized as dangerous, violent and highly suspect within the popular imaginary, and much of the Western media, which has led to sanctioning of civil human rights violations, largely through detainment, deportation and surveillance.
One of the most condemnable violations, ironically, justified by the war on terrorism, is the massive invasion of privacy by the intelligence agencies. The US categorically defends this violation as a necessary step to access personal details in order to build profiles of terror suspects by data mining. Governments across the world are already collecting and sharing much of the information related to personal domain of an individual through bilateral and multilateral agreements covering passenger name records, visa applications and border surveillance systems, to name some.
Of all the mysteries, sexual assault on women and men forms the darkest secrets related to the war on terrorism. Despite not being a traditional armed conflict, sexual violence has been rampant in the global war on terrorism. Whether in Guantanamo Bay’s detention centre or in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, sexual violence has often been used as a tool of torture during interrogation. There have been reports pointing out the cases when women and girls were raped by soldiers or were forced into prostitution. The international community has failed to address the problem of sexual violence during armed conflicts.
The war on terrorism also harmed the educational systems of the war-affected regions in different ways resulting in the complete degradation of the Iraqi and Syrian education system on the one hand and in substantial damages to the educational institutes in Pakistan on the other. In Afghanistan, there was no established educational infrastructure in the pre-war years; however, war on terrorism also failed to facilitate the learning process.
Demolition of infrastructure like schools, hospitals, electricity supply system, etc., is also a major factor. Due to war on terror, the victim countries’ social infrastructures have been destroyed and the civilians are deprived of opportunities to enjoy government services.
Pakistan has been the frontline ally of the US in war on terrorism. With the decision of Pakistan to eliminate terrorism of all forms and hues, a dramatic escalation in the conflict between insurgents and Pakistan’s armed forces was witnessed.
At least 52,000 Pakistanis (combatant and non-combatant) have been killed since 2004 and more than 50,000 have been injured since then by the various parties to the conflict. This does not include the likely deaths of tens of thousands of more combatants — both insurgents and Pakistani forces.
While acknowledging all the grave consequences of war on terrorism, question emerges, ‘Is there then an alternate to war on terrorism?’ In fact, the war — both as a response and as a strategy to eliminate terrorism — is by no means immune to flaws. While confronting an enemy that transcends borders and does not recognize any defined grounds, war is not an option, at all. Wars often ensue in additional violent conflicts over the new resources and new political alignments created by an initial invasion or occupation. The civil wars and criminal violence that erupted in both Iraq and Afghanistan are examples of this phenomenon.
Civil societies and media must work for the rights of victims of terrorism and other violence by armed groups, supporting them in their struggle for truth, justice and reparation. They should expose and oppose unlawful detentions carried out in the name of national security or countering terrorism.
All states must respect human rights in any action they take in the name of national security or countering terrorism. By closing all arbitrary detention centres, shutting down agencies run-prisons, and condemning rather than justifying torture, the governments can make enormous strides.
Since US declaration to start the war on terrorism, it has substantially been contributing towards the loss of civil liberties. From the rugged mountains of Afghanistan to the fluvial plains of Syria, and from the settled areas of Pakistan to the volatile regions of Iraq, the war in its wake has left countless humans dead. Without mitigating acts of terror and strengthening security, war on terrorism, in fact, is espousing fear and creating a sense of repression among certain quarters of the world. Evidently, it is nothing short of flaws. It has wreaked so great a havoc that its effects may not diminish quickly. There is a need to protect and promote human rights and every one’s right related to social, civic and political spectrum must be protected.
“Injustice any where is a threat to justice everywhere” (Martin Luther King Jr.)