Bush seeks permanent war powers, studies fault “war on terror”

Amidst the elections frenzy, a little noticed provision offered by the Bush administration laid the groundwork for putting the United States in a state of permanent war with expanded presidential power.

The language, itself part of a legal proposal for Guantánamo Bay detainees, seeks to reaffirm that the United States is still at war with Al Qaeda, the Taliban and "associated networks," and retains the power to detain as enemy combatants those who have supported these organizations, Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times, incidentally buried in page 8 and the Saturday edition.[1]

"Such a re-affirmation of war carries broad legal implications that could imperil Americans’ civil liberties and the rights of foreign nationals for decades to come," wrote John Byrne in the alternative news site The Raw Story. [2]

Byrne and others point to the claims by this administration of "war powers" that have occurred in recent years including the indefinite detention and torture of US citizen José Padilla without habeas corpus rights, detention of suspected terrorists in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and the NSA’s  warantless wiretapping program.

"This seems like a final push by the administration before they go out the door," former lawyer for the CIA, Suzanne Spaulding, said to the New York Times, to put pressure on the incoming  Administration to uphold what the Bush administration has done.[1]

Some Republicans support the measure reminding others that "we have been a war" since 9/11 with unconventional enemies, while others say that Bush and the administration is trying to stir up political fear and justify its actions.

 "I do not believe that we are in a state of war whatsoever," former Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein said,  "We have an odious opponent that the criminal justice system is able to identify and indict and convict. They’re not a goliath. Don’t treat them that way."

Fein’s argument seems to be supported by a recent government study that concluded that Administration’s current "war on terror" strategies are counterproductive.

"There is no battlefield solution to terrorism," the Pentagon-sponsored RAND Corp. concluded in a report titled How Terrorist Groups End.  The study, which analyzed 600 terrorist movements since 1968 concludes that the U.S. should rely primarily on "policing and intelligence gathering rather than a ‘war on terrorism’ approach that relies heavily on military force."[3]

The study additionally calls for an end to the term "war on terror," which raises expectations of a battlefield resolution.  The authors conclude that "[t]errorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors," and points to allies such as the UK, France and Australia—all of which have shunned the phrase "war on terror."[4]

In a related development, MI5, the UK’s domestic intelligence service released a report that concluded that "profiling" terrorists would not work. The report comes out in the run up to new proposed FBI powers.

The FBI could conduct investigations with less legal restrictions due to the proposed new plans,[5]

Michael German, a former FBI agent who now works with the American Civil Liberties Union said to McClatchy news service that the proposed changes would remove more restrictions on what the FBI can do domestically.

The MI5 study states that "assumptions cannot be made about suspects based on skin colour, ethnic heritage or nationality," the Guardian reported.[6]

The classified British intelligence service’s study looked at hundreds of cases of terrorism and concluded that there is no one path towards violence.

"Far from being religious zealots," the Guardian said, "a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could actually be regarded as religious novices…MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation."


(1)   "Bush Seeks to Affirm a Continuing War on Terror" Eric Lichtblau. NYT. Aug 30, 2008 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/30/washington/30terror.html?_r=5&oref=slogin&pagewanted=print&oref=slogin&oref=slogin&oref=login

(2)   "Bush quietly seeks to make war powers permanent, by declaring indefinite state of war" John Byrne. The Raw Story. August 30, 2008 http://rawstory.com/news/2008/Bush_seeks_to_institutionalize_war_powers_0830.html

(3)   "How Terrorist Groups End" RAND Corp. http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9351/index1.html

(4)   "Benn criticizes ‘war on terror’" BBC April 16, 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6558569.stm

(5)   "FBI to get freer rein to look for terrorism suspects" Marisa Taylor. McClatchy. August 13, 2008 http://www.mcclatchydc.com/homepage/story/48078.html

(6)   "MI5 report challenges views on terrorism in Britain" Alan Travis. Guardian. August 21, 2008. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/aug/20/uksecurity.terrorism1


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