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The Mass Media

Counterterrorism Revisited at the Pentgon

Earlier this year in May, six UMass Boston graduate students (currently enrolled in our Masters in Public and International Affairs program) visited the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C., for a tour that included briefings on important United States security issues. “Counterterrorism” was among the topics discussed. The specialist who briefed our group on counterterrorism, Alisa Stack-O’Connor, was introduced as “the star” on counterterrorism. Stack-O’Connor began by saying, “it is the US’s job to convince other countries that our way is the right way.” She predictably stated, “we’ve had a sanctuary here with the exception of Pearl Harbor, but it possibly won’t be that way in the future.”

Her sense of fear of traveling to a foreign country, she relayed quite explicitly. I thought that being at the Pentagon would give me a sense of how strong and well prepared our military is. That at the Pentagon, if nowhere else, I would feel safe, secure, even overly protected. However, the “star” on counterterrorism at the Pentagon seemed to be trying to convince us not to feel at ease at all. She casually mentioned that she considered a vacation in Mexico but that upon checking the US’s report on Mexico, she decided against it. She raised her voice and reenacted her feelings upon reading the report, and said, “I can’t go to MEXICO! It’s too DANGEROUS!” I reasoned that, due to her line of work, where she is surrounded with terrorism issues all day every day, that she is in a constant state of worry. Her mood did not phase me, rather, it opened my eyes to what an unsettling place to work the Pentagon must be for those whose work entails security issues.

Was there a reason Stack-O’Connor went out of her way to relate to us her feeling of anxiety? What did the Pentagon know then, about potential terrorist threats? What do they know now? For obvious reasons, she could not share that much information with us. Stack-O’Connor’s briefing included a lengthy discussion on the Pentagon’s problem of reacting quickly, after an attack has occurred. She said that the Pentagon has spent a lot of time and energy studying how to react to terrorist attacks. How about how to prevent them? Of course that was not mentioned in the briefing. I should have asked, but I must admit, I did not think about it until now.

Some would argue that there is no way the government could implement a policy to deter terrorism. However, I feel that it would not be fruitless to investigate root causes of terrorism or discontent towards the American government, and if at all possible, make tactical changes where certain policies may be completely agitating many other countries. Some may read this, and think ‘why should we change our policies to make other countries happy?’ I wish to emphasize that, it is not only terrorists who are angry with the US government, it is the citizens of other nations and their respective governments, who have legitimate concerns, however, they show their disapproval in different, luckily, non-violent ways. For example, why was the US voted off the UN human rights panel earlier this year? How could that have happened? That was a clear message being sent to the US that many other governments do not approve of our policies. The US, the supposed upholder of human rights globally, lost its spot on the human rights commission at the UN. We should question why that happened.

Deterring terrorism should start with seeking out the issues with which other governments and people are seriously displeased, i.e., determine the causes, establish whether their grounds are at all plausible, and if so, seek ways to alleviate the source of the problem. Do our allies agree with our elected president, George W. Bush, on issues such as the Kyoto Treaty, (to reduce global warming), a missile defense shield, (which disregards the 1972 antiballistic missile treaty), and the Israel/Palestine conflict area. If you voted for Bush, did you know his stances on those foreign policy concerns and others at the time of his election? Would you have voted otherwise had you known that his stances on foreign policy would create animosity amongst our allies, and widespread resentment for the US? This is a drawback to our Democratic society, when we vote for one individual, whose position on many issues represents America, and Americans who may or may not support that person. Clearly foreign policy issues should become a larger issue, in the future, in the election process.

It is especially important to reconsider the US’s position in terms of the Israel/Palestine issue. One briefing at the Pentagon back in May, was specifically on just that. Some people now argue that a prerequisite to resolving the current crisis we face, between terrorists and the US is to create peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. If so, it would be relevant to reflect upon the statements made in the separate briefing our group received on the Israeli/Palestinian issue to examine the Pentagon’s position in that area, and if it is a possible source of growing anti-Americanism. Joseph McMillan, delivered the briefing on Israel and Palestine, beginning with, “everything is centered on Israel”…”every day Israeli aspect issues get high priority. We have a 24/7 relationship with Israel.” In response to the question asked by a member of the audience, “how are we going to protect Israel?” the speaker gave an extremely detailed answer, explaining precisely which weapons we use to protect Israel, and how.

When a member of the UMass group of students asked, “how are we going to protect the Palestinians?” McMillan replied, “90% of Palestinians want a peaceful life, and then, some are true believers and want to sweep Israeli’s out.” He went on to unnecessarily add his belief that, “it’s fairly miserable being a Palestinian”. One might derive from his response that the US has no plan/intentions to protect Palestinians. Hopefully the US can review their foreign policy stance in this issue, and overall. If the US were to play a role of an honest, unbiased broker in the Israel/Palestine issue it would end a great deal of hostility in the world towards the US, from Palestinians and their sympathizers. Hence the perspective that the Israel/Palestinian crisis should be revisited, as a part of a policy aimed at deterring terrorism.

As some may have recently become aware, the issue of “homeland security” did not originate after September 11th. It was, however, implemented as a reaction to the attacks. As a diligent colleague enlightened me, the proposal was created back in 1999 by former US senators, Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, who were co-chairs of a Defense Department commission on national security. In this commission, they made specific recommendations to prevent acts of domestic terrorism. An article from Salon.com on 9/12/01 stated that Hart claimed that he and Rudman had predicted the tragic attacks in their commission. Moreover that, “We said Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers – that’s a quote (from the commission’s Phase One Report) from the fall of 1999.” Bush chose not to implement the commission, saying that FEMA was all that we needed, and the Vice President would review the commission for future consideration.

* For the complete article go to: http://www.salon.com/politics/feature/2001/09/12/bush/

Back at the Pentagon, the “star” also said that US citizens are at risk both internationally and domestically. That day, I, too didn’t stop to wonder what was being done at that time to deter terrorism. I didn’t ponder the US’s anti-terrorism policy. I didn’t think that an attack was as potentially threatening to occur as it evidently was. I merely listened, as we all did, to the Stack-O’Connors’ explanation of how the US’s major problem in countering terrorism was deciding how to respond to terrorist acts, after they’ve occurred. In terms of reacting, or ‘retaliating’ to a terrorist incident, she said, “our reach is as far and wide as our memory.” This seems to imply a policy of retribution. Thankfully, thus far, this type of reaction has not been ordered. I am impressed with the Bush Administration, if only for not having called for ‘surgical strikes’ or the like, for now.

I am in full support of finding those who are responsible, and bringing them to justice. I understand, as Stack-O’Connor relayed that, “we want to be the one to hold the trials, to get the terrorists,” however, this is a prime time to address the issue of the International Criminal Court. A global security system should be implemented, and fast. I don’t feel that terrorists would get any less justice if they were held responsible for their acts in an international court, and if we are to all join in this rally against terrorism, how are other nations to prosecute terrorists they catch in their countries? Are all terrorists going to be sent to the US for our courts to bring to justice in our domestic courts? I feel that if the worldwide response to terrorism is as robust as it seems it is, that the case has been made, it is obvious, that now more than ever, there needs to be an international criminal court.