These recommendations include more wiretaps on Americans, using the Armyto replace civilian law enforcement, encouraging the CIA to employ knownhuman rights abusers and terrorists and stigmatizing foreign students whoswitch their majors to science.
The overall thrust of the commission's report is this: Give the federalgovernment a strengthened national security state apparatus aimed primarilyat individuals and oblivious to their legal rights. Most of what is proposedwould damage civil liberties without providing any obvious increase insecurity or even addressing the serious challenges demonstrated by thiscountry's experience with terrorism.
For example, the report strangely is silent about measures to increasesecurity at U.S. facilities overseas, sites where several of the mostdramatic terrorist attacks occurred, such as at the U.S. embassies in Kenyaand Tanzania and at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. It also fails todefine terrorism or identify its likely perpetrators.
Instead, the report relies on extremely general statisticalobservations, such as a supposed increase over the last 10 years in averagecasualties per terrorist incident--although how this would help plan againstterrorist acts is unclear. Much of the report also dwells not on the patternof real incidents at home and abroad in recent years but on the possibilityof terrorist attacks using weapons of mass destruction. The report admitsthat it is "difficult to predict the likelihood" of such an attack yet makesthis a centerpiece of its concerns.
The commission suggests radical measures, some of which would overturncore principles and deeply established traditions of American democracy. It calls for the armed forces to be designated the lead federal agencyfor law enforcement and disaster management in case of a "catastrophicattack," which it does not define, even before such an attack actuallyoccurs. The tradition of separating the military from domestic lawenforcement is deeply rooted in the United States--and for good reason.Soldiers are not organized, trained or oriented toward the rule of law,especially where the rights of individuals are concerned. While we have seenthe increasing militarization of law enforcement and repeated efforts tocreate a domestic role for the armed forces, if Americans allow the Army tobecome the police, citizens' rights will inevitably suffer.
The commission calls for information on all international students to becollected and monitored, not only for visa status, but for academic interest.The report suggests that it is sinister for foreign students to change theirmajors from English to physics. Such information is obviously of no help inthwarting a terrorist attack, but it would allow the U.S. government toidentify young scientists based on their national origin and single them outfor long-term surveillance. Such measures would have a chilling effect onuniversity life and flout principles of academic freedom and the universalityof scientific knowledge.
It is high time we reasserted the principle that law enforcement shouldfocus solely on criminal behavior and conspiracy, and not on anybody'slawful, 1st Amendment-protected political, religious or academic pursuits.
The report encourages the FBI to wiretap more Americans and the CIA toemploy the most unsavory characters. There is no acknowledgment of the"blowback" phenomenon, unintended consequences from excessive CIA covertoperations and consorting with thugs and killers. The commission seemsblissfully unaware that much of the terrorism it cites as most troubling canbe seen as direct fallout from the massive CIA covert war against the Sovietsin Afghanistan, in which figures such as Omar Abdel Rahman (blamed for theWorld Trade Center bombing) and Osama bin Laden (blamed for the embassybombings in Africa) were nurtured and promoted by our own government.
Terrorism requires a more creative approach to deal with unexpectedscenarios. Unfortunately, anyone who disagrees with the prevalent thinking isaccused of being soft on terrorism if not an outright sympathizer.
One of the authors of this piece, Salam Al-Marayati, was nominated tothis commission last year, only to have his nomination withdrawn afterprotests from Zionist organizations. It is clear now what the reasoning wasfor the expulsion: He represents that dissenting voice calling for a need toenhance social engagement in the Arab and Muslim worlds and to explore theroot causes of terrorism. That voice of dissent needs to be heard for aserious counterterrorism policy to have any chance of success.
Instead, the commission's new Cold Warriors would encourage a return toreckless CIA activities that, in the long run, have harmed Americans anddamaged the national interest.
Benjamin Franklin long ago warned Americans that those who wouldsacrifice their liberty to gain temporary security deserve neither. TheNational Commission on Terrorism proposes we begin to do exactly that, andits recommendations should be vehemently rejected.
As another great American, Dorothy Parker, might have put it, thisreport is not a document to be cast aside lightly; it should be flung withfull force across the room.