Taliban Tactics Spread to America's Rulers
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by Mushahid Hussain
When President Bush launched the bombing attacks on Afghanistan, he termed the war against terrorism as "upholding and defending American values." These "American values" were broadly defined as justice, freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. Conversely, he criticized the Taliban for their "intolerance, bigotry, absence of human rights, and lack of any democratic norms promoting the rule of law."
However, in the past few weeks, with the Taliban on the run, it seems that some of the recent changes altering the character of the American state, particularly attitudes toward civil liberties and human rights, may be more inspired by a Taliban-like mindset than two centuries of tradition rooted in the American Revolution. A series of changes in U.S. laws have given unprecedented powers to the American President and law-enforcing institutions to violate constitutional rights and established legal traditions, with a Clinton Cabinet official, Robert Reich, expressing alarm that "we can find ourselves in a police state step by step" since "the President is by emergency decree getting rid of rights that we assumed that anyone within our borders legally would have."
Recent actions that have caused understandable concern:
- Some 1182 persons living in the U.S. continue to be detained without charges and without being told what their crime is since the September 11 attacks;
- Under the USA Patriot Act, suspects can be indefinitely detained without charges for up to 6 months, with police and the FBI given wide-ranging powers to conduct searches of homes and offices, intrude into the privacy of financial transactions, and intercept phone, mail, and Internet communications;
- Some 5,000 young men, between ages 18-33, who legitimately entered the U.S. from Muslim countries after January 2000 will be questioned by the FBI for possible connections with the terrorists who hijacked the 4 planes on September 11, thereby spreading alarm and fear since they could treated as suspects or even potential terrorists;
- To top it all, on November 13, the day Kabul fell, President Bush, declaring an "extraordinary emergency," decreed the establishment of special military tribunals to try non-Americans within the U.S. and overseas who allegedly are involved in committing acts of terrorism. These handpicked military courts, operating in secrecy and dispensing with constitutional rights, can impose a death sentence, without even the right of appeal.
Three adverse consequences will flow from these actions. First, such powers assumed by the Bush administration in the name of combating terrorism not only violate universally accepted standards of fundamental rights, but they damage America's image as a defender of freedom and human rights.
Second, these actions are tantamount to altering the democratic character of the American state. What kind of country will emerge from this Talibanization of the United States, where millions of citizens (at least the 7 million Muslims, for starters) would be living in constant fear of the midnight knock that can come any time? Fear and paranoia would extend to the citizenry at large, creating an almost permanent state of siege within the United States.
Finally, the timing of these actions is a recipe for disaster for the American relationship with the Muslim world, given the perception of the actions as Muslim-specific. Given the war in Afghanistan, many Muslims, in the words of Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohammed, would be led to believe that "it is beginning to look more and more like a war against Muslims."
Mushahid Hussain is an columnist and analyst in Pakistan.
It is not American to hold secret trials, nor to deny the right of appeal, nor to kill prisoners. Are we becoming the Taliban? What's your opinion? Tell your views to The Progress Report:
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