Normative Narratives


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Transparency Report: Tunisia’s Test

On March 18th, terrorists took hostages at the Bardo Museum in Tunisia’s capital city of Tunis. When the dust settled, 22 innocent people had been murdered, mostly foreign tourists (20) but also Tunisian nationals (2).

Tunisia is to date the lone success story of the “Arab Spring”. This distinction, while undoubtedly a positive, makes Tunisia a target for extremist groups who are ideologically opposed to moderization, democracy, and human rights (“Western values”). It was not, therefore, a question of if extremists would try to scare the democracy out of Tunisia, but when and how.

That question was partially answered on March 18th, and unfortunately there are no guarantees that extremists groups will not attack again. Tunisia’s security forces must remain vigilant, and should receive substantial support from the international community. Seeing Tunisia succeed as a stable, functioning democracy is not only in the interest of Tunisians, but also the disenfranchised throughout the region and the world.

The Tunisian people, for there part, have proven themselves to be remarkably courageous and dedicated to democratic values:

World leaders joined tens of thousands of Tunisians on Sunday to march in solidarity against Islamist militants, a day after security forces killed members of a group blamed for a deadly museum attack.

“We have shown we are a democratic people, Tunisians are moderate, and there is no room for terrorists here,” said one of the demonstrators, Kamel Saad. “Today everyone is with us.”

“The Tunisian people will not bow,” President Beji Caid Essebsi said in a speech after the march. “We will stay united against terrorism until we wipe out this phenomenon.”

Tunisia’s leaders have passed every test of their commitment to democracy. They have transferred power peacefully and enshrined their dedication to liberal and pluralistic democracy in a new constitution. I am confident that the international community, understanding both the ethical and symbolic implications of Tunisia’s democratic success, will provide assistance as necessary.

But in the wake of these terrorist attacks, a new test to democratic values has emerged–preserving the rights of the accused:

Tunisian security forces have arrested 23 more suspected Islamist militants as part of a crackdown after last month’s Bardo museum attack in which two gunmen killed 21 foreign tourists, the interior ministry said on Friday.

The attackers gunned down foreign tourists visiting the national museum in Tunis, in one of the worst attacks in the country, which has mostly avoided violence since its 2011 uprising against autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

The interior ministry said in a statement that the 23 new suspects belonged to two terrorist cells. It said that so far 46 suspects have been arrested since the Bardo massacre.

“Members of these terrorist cells will be charged of being accomplices in the terrorist incident (Bardo attack) through providing weapons and logistics help,” the statement said.

I do not pretend to know the evidence against those arrested as accomplices–it is possible that all of the 46 suspects indeed are guilty of being accomplices to this heinous attack. But it is imperative that due legal processes are followed, and that trials are conducted in an open and transparent way.

People are angry, and rightfully so, but convicting people to placate public anger would be a misstep for Tunisia’s budding democracy. Tunisia’s government should resist urges to try all the defendants jointly (except when a joint trial is objectively prudent), and let the facts of the case determine the outcome.

Effective democratic governance is not only about majority rule, it is also about pluralism, personal rights, judicial transparency, due process and rule of law. Tunisia must show peaceful Muslim’s that there is a place for them in Tunisian society, that they won’t be unjustly punished because of their beliefs. Failure to do so would be counter-productive, pushing Muslims into extremists arms, resulting in greater future instability.

Tunisia’s leaders must stand behind democratic principles; the world–both those rooting for against Tunisian democracy–is watching. While Tunisia’s leaders have given us no reason to think they won’t rise to the challenge, the emotional nature of this situation raises some concerns. Enlisting help from UNDP Tunisia might not be a bad idea.

The Tunisian people, who have been unwavering democratic watchdogs throughout the Arab Spring, must remember the big picture and demand their government ensures fair trials for the accused.


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Conflict Watch: Drone Week(s), It’s a Bad Week to be a Terrorist

I should probably say “drone month” or “drone year / decade”, but I really wanted to make a play on Shark Week so there it is.

Comic relief aside, news of drone strikes in the Middle East and Central Asia has proliferated recently:

Pakistan:

At least six militants were killed and four others injured after the latest American drone strike in Pakistan’s restive tribal belt on Sunday, Pakistani intelligence officials and militant commanders said.

An intelligence official in the area, who was authorized to speak only on the condition of anonymity, said preliminary reports indicated that a senior commander with a Pakistani Taliban faction led by Gul Bahadur, which has links with Al Qaeda, had been killed in the attack.

There have been 15 C.I.A.-led drone strikes in Pakistan so far this year, compared with 47 in 2012, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which monitors the strikes. Up to 124 people have been killed, the group said, including up to 4 civilians.

Pakistani officials say the attacks violate their country’s sovereignty, result in civilian deaths and aid in the recruitment of fresh militants. American officials privately dispute those claims, saying the civilian death toll has dropped as strikes have grown more accurate in recent years.

Yemen:

Missile-armed drone aircraft launched the fifth attack on suspected al-Qaeda militants in Yemen within 72 hours, as the U.S. stepped up raids after closing its embassy and warning Americans to leave the country.

The drone killed three people in a vehicle in Ghail Bawazeer region, according to the al-Sahwa news website of the opposition Islamist Islah party, which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. At least 22 suspected militants have been killed since Aug. 6, according to a tally from reports on the website.

The strikes come as the U.S., Britain and other Western countries closed their missions in Yemen and told citizens to leave, while Yemeni authorities said on Aug. 7 they had foiled an al-Qaeda plot to seize port facilities. The Obama administration is keeping 19 embassies and consulates closed because “a threat still remains” from al-Qaeda affiliates, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday.

Saeed Obaid al-Jemhi, an expert on al-Qaeda and Islamist movements and author of a book on the Yemeni group, said the intensified campaign will be counterproductive.

“The Americans feel these strikes will generate a positive impact and that is true, but there is a huge negative impact on Yemen,” he said. “This will generate more sympathizers with al-Qaeda and will also weaken the popularity of the Yemen’s President Hadi.”

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported a sharp increase in U.S. operations in Yemen in 2012, with at least 32 confirmed strikes, double the number carried out in 2011. The U.S. intends to end drone attacks in Pakistan soon, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Aug. 1.

Egypt:

An Israeli drone strike inside Egypt killed five suspected Islamic militants and destroyed a rocket launcher Friday, two senior Egyptian security officials said, marking a rare Israeli operation carried out in its Arab neighbor’s territory.

The strike, coming after a warning from Egypt caused Israel to briefly close an airport Thursday, potentially signals a significant new level of cooperation between the two former foes over security matters in the largely lawless Sinai Peninsula after a military coup ousted Egypt’s president. Egypt long has maintained that it wouldn’t allow other countries to use its territories as hotbed to launch attacks against other countries.

The drone strike comes after Israel briefly prevented landings at an airport in the Red Sea resort of Eilat on Thursday. While Israeli officials would only say the closure came out of unspecified security concerns, an Egyptian security official told the AP that officials warned Israel about the possibility of rocket strikes. The official said Egyptian authorities received intelligence suggesting terrorist groups planned to fire missiles Friday at Israel, as well as at locations in northern Sinai and the Suez Canal.

Residents heard a large explosion Friday in el-Agra, an area in the northern region of the Sinai close to Egypt’s border with Israel. The officials said the Israeli attack was in cooperation with Egyptian authorities.

While Egypt signed a peace deal with Israel in 1979, the country has long been suspicious of the Jewish state’s intentions while annually celebrating its own military exploits against Israel in the Sinai. Allowing an Israeli drone strike inside its own territory represents military cooperation otherwise never seen before.

Proliferation of drone strikes has occurred in line with D.I.M.E. (Diplomatic, Intelligence, Military, Economic) foreign policy, and has been carried out in a more transparent way (as evidenced by news reports on drone strikes).  For a reminder, or the sake of new readers, I had this to say about the place of drone strikes within the larger D.I.M.E. framework:

We must realize that everyday there are people who try to hurt Americans Western interests–Jihad does not take a vacation. The fact that the Boston Marathon attack was the first major act of terrorism on American soil since 9/11 is not a result of a diminished threat, but rather highlights the efficacy of American intelligence efforts.

To the extent that the Obama administration is embracing a a shift to D.I.M.E. (diplomatic, intelligence, military, economic) foreign policy, winding down traditional military programs requires putting more resources in diplomacy, economic aid, and intelligence gathering. As I said, far from being hypocritical, the Obama administration is being consistent; when the ultimate goal is security for American’s (and the world), putting people directly in the line of fire is counter-productive unless it is truly a last-case scenario.  

Obama did not say he would stop drone strikes, but that he would make the process more transparent. He did not say he would stop fighting terrorism, but that the way that terrorism is going to be fought is changing.

Are Drone strikes a necessary evil in today’s world? Considering the high cost of traditional warfare (both in money and in lives), and the inability to keep terrorist leaders in jail due to prison-breaks, perhaps targeted, intelligence-backed drone strikes truly are the most effective way of moving forward with “the War on Terror”. Terrorists due not respect human rights and due process, why should they be granted such privileges?

The “drone-strikes-fuels-Jihad” argument seems to hold water. Are drone strikes really counter-productive in terms of increasing the appeal of / helping recruiting efforts for extremist groups? Testimony from the sentencing portion of the Bradley Manning case sheds light on this claim:

A prosecution witness in the sentencing phase of the court-martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning told a military judge on Thursday that Al Qaeda could have used WikiLeaks disclosures, including classified United States government materials provided by Private Manning, to encourage attacks in the West, in testimony meant to show the harm done by his actions.

The witness, Cmdr. Youssef Aboul-Enein, an adviser to the Pentagon’s Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism, said that WikiLeaks materials showing that the United States had killed civilians, for instance, could help Al Qaeda.

“Perception is important because it provides a good environment for recruitment, for fund-raising and for support for Al Qaeda’s wider audience and objectives,” he said.

The article went on to say that had it not been for Wiki-leaks, Al Qaeda would have found other propaganda to help recruitment efforts / fuel anti-American sentiment (apologies, I cannot seem to find that version of the article).

I am all for preventative peace-building, tackling the root causes of terrorism before they take hold. But taking the moral high-ground [not using drones] in areas where terrorism already has deep roots would be–in my opinion–much more counter-productive to the global war on terror.  

Drone strikes have become more transparent (in their disclosure), and allegedly more targeted to minimize collateral damage and civilian deaths. When assessing national security programs, it is helpful to think of them in terms of opportunity cost–what is the cost of the next best alternative / inaction. If the next best alternative is traditional warfare, then we already know the costs are too high and results unsustainable. The cost of inaction is high too; pulling out of the war on terror may seem like an attractive short term solution. But allowing terrorism to spread with relative impunity will only make future anti-terrorism efforts all the more costly and complex.

Am I an “Obama foreign policy apologist”? Perhaps, however I see the use of drones as the lesser of many evils. A world in which drone strikes and terrorism (and warfare and human rights violations in general) do not exist is a beautiful normative vision, but is unfortunately not a reality today.

 


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Conflict Watch: Prison Breaks, Guantanamo, and the War on Terror

Original article:

Interpol issued a global security alert on Saturday, citing prison breaks across nine nations in the past month, including some in which Al Qaeda is suspected of playing a role, and asked for help to determine whether the operations “are coordinated or linked.”

The international police organization requested, in a statement, that its 190 member nations “closely follow and swiftly process any information linked to these events and the escaped prisoners.” It also cited the anniversaries of notable terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists, and a similar security alert issued by the State Department on Friday. It said that it would be “prioritizing all information and intelligence in relation to the breakouts or terrorist plots.”

Late last month Al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate carried out what were described as carefully synchronized operations at two prisons, in Abu Ghraib and Taji. The group used mortars to pin down Iraqi forces, employed suicide bombers to punch holes in their defenses and then sent an assault force to free the inmates, Western experts said at the time.

A few days later, more than 1,000 prisoners escaped under murky circumstances at a prison near Benghazi, Libya.

Shortly after that, as many as 150 fighters armed with guns and grenade launchers blew holes in the perimeter wall of a century-old prison at Dera Ismail Khan, just outside Pakistan’s tribal belt, the Pakistani police said.

It is certainly concerning that The State Department and Interpol have both issued broad statements indicating a rising threat of a terrorist attack in the near future:

“The intent is to attack Western, not just U.S. interests,” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC News in an interview to be broadcast on its “This Week” program on Sunday.

The State Department, and some American allies, will be shutting down embassies and consulates in the following countries:

“Britain said it would close its embassy in Yemen on Sunday and Monday. “We are particularly concerned about the security situation in the final days of Ramadan and into Eid,” Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement, referring to the Muslim holy month which ends on Wednesday.”

On Thursday, the State Department said U.S. embassies that would normally be open on Sunday – chiefly those in the Muslim world – would be closed that day because of security concerns, adding that they might be shut for a longer period.

The embassies in the following countries will be closed: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

The consulates in Arbil, Iraq; Dhahran and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates will also be shut.

The need to close embassies and consulates is a moral victory for terrorists. Diplomacy, communication, cooperation and resulting social capital needed for meaningful international relations are all compromised when regular operations at these facilities cease. However, a governments primary responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of foreign service personnel; after the deadly attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi in 2012, and amidst accusations that the U.S. government did not to enough to prevent the attack (whether founded in fact or not), the Obama administration is rightfully unwilling to take any chances going forward.

Resumption of normal diplomatic relationships should be a top concern, but one that must be balanced with adequate security measures. Recent congressional action highlights the bipartisan support and overall importance of these goals:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a proposal Thursday that aims to bolster security at U.S. embassies and diplomatic posts around the world in the aftermath of the attacks on a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, last year.

Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said the proposal, which passed on a voice vote, is a “very meaningful step in assuring the security of missions abroad and the safety of our foreign service personal.”

 
On a related note, the multitude of prison breakouts in terrorist hot-beds is creating even more difficulty in the ongoing attempt to shut down Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp:
 
 
The vulnerability of prisons has been shown in the past ten days with a spate of mass breakouts that have freed nearly 1,700 prisoners in three countries. Analysts said that the four jailbreaks, in Iraq, Pakistan and Libya, could complicate the US Government’s plans to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay
 
 
There has been outrage over recent evidence that the per-prisoner cost at Gitmo may be as high as $2.7 million a year, all things considered. This is on-top of ongoing popular dissent over violations of prisoners rights and due process of law.
 
 
$2.7 million is indisputably a lot of money for a single prisoner/ However, we have to look at in context of the resources we put into arresting these “most wanted” criminals in the first place. Disruption of normal economic activity due to terrorism costs the global economy billions of dollars a year–I will not attempt to cite an estimate because of issues with defining “terrorism” and how open to interpretation the “cost of terrorism” can be. The War on Terror has cost the U.S. government trillions of dollars.
 
 
It is not acceptable to pour all of these resources into capturing criminals only to have them escape from detention. Breaking out high level terrorist officials bolsters the strategic capability of terrorist organizations to plan future terrorist attacks / jail breaks–the effects of a well planned jail break can be truly catastrophic.
 
 
With regards to rights violations and due process of the law, I think as a society we can be pragmatic enough to realize this is a nonsensical argument. The criminals who end up in Gitmo, or places like Gitmo, are generally human rights violators and murderers–they have no respect for human rights or the due process of the law.
 
 
Do you want to know what act surely is a violation of due process of the law and will most likely lead to future human rights violations? Breaking a terrorist leader out of prison. By taking the moral high ground, Western interests would be putting themselves at a systematic and strategic disadvantage in the fight against terrorism that they can ill afford. When considering Gitmo’s future, we have to factor in what the alternatives are.
 
 
Guantanamo Bay is far from perfect or efficient, it is commonly referred to as a “stain” on America’s human rights records. However, when considering the alternatives, it is undoubtedly the lesser of many evils. 
 
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Update: I did not want to speculate, but there is now official confirmation that intelligence gathering programs have helped expose this most recent threat:
 

Chambliss said one of the surveillance programs revealed by former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden had helped gather intelligence about this threat.

Those programs “allow us to have the ability to gather this chatter,” he said. “If we did not have these programs then we simply wouldn’t be able to listen in on the bad guys.”