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Terrorism and Tyranny
Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to Rid the World of Evil
By James Bovard
Palgrave Macmillan
HC, 440 pg. US$26.95/C$39.95

The war against liberty

By Steven Martinovich
web posted October 27, 2003

Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to Rid the World of EvilIn the war against terrorism the most important metric for Americans may be the number of terrorist attacks that have occurred on American soil since September 11, 2001. If you rely on that as your sole criterion then you'll likely be satisfied with the performance of George W. Bush. Adopting such a narrow definition of success, however, can blind a person to some of the issues that the war itself has raised -- issues that carry long term ramifications for the American people and the world.

James Bovard lays out what he believes those consequences may be in a withering assault on the Bush administration in Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to Rid the World of Evil, a catalogue of mistakes and abuses that have been perpetrated in the name of ridding the world of terrorism. For Bovard, what began as a justified battle to punish those responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon has turned into an out of control monster that threatens the liberty of Americans and the safety of billions around the world.

"The war on terrorism is the first political growth industry of the new millennium," proclaims Bovard, a charge that would be impossible to refute. Since September 11, 2001, the federal government has considerably expanded in scope and power. Law enforcement has been given almost unprecedented power to conduct surveillance on Americans, secret searches, confiscate "suspicious" financial assets and detain aliens -- both legal and illegal, often on the flimsiest pretexts. Americans are encouraged to report suspicious activity -- which includes those who grow impatient while waiting in grocery lines or recently shaved off a beard -- while anyone in an airport may be subject to arrest for raising their voice at a security official.

Bovard argues that these new powers are nothing more than a reward for failure. Having failed to discover the September 11 plot ahead of time despite the fact that the government had the information necessary, federal officials argued they needed more even power to prevent future attacks. Congress rushed to pass Bush administration approved bills like the USA PATRIOT Act with little debate or concern for constitutional questions and essentially eliminated many of the checks and balances that protected Americans from their government. Americans are now considered potential collaborators instead of potential victims. To add insult to injury, Americans are no safer today then they were before the terrorist attacks.

Just as worrisome, writes Bovard, is the effect America's war on terrorism is having on other nations in the world. Enlisted in the war, some nations have used it as an opportunity to crack down on internal dissent. Financial and military aid is sent to morally questionable nations like Pakistan and Uzbekistan, tools that are soon turned against their citizens. People across the planet have become less free as a result of the war and the American taxpayer has the privilege of paying the bill.

Bovard also takes aim at the long-standing notion that states can't be terrorists, underscoring his frequently made point that government is more of a danger than terrorism. During the 1990s, he points out, a single police department in the United States killed more Americans than did terrorist attacks. While over 7 700 people were killed worldwide between 1980 and 2000 by terrorism, governments killed more than 10 million. By declaring terrorism to be the greatest evil, writes Bovard, Bush has made murders by government "morally negligible." With American aid to some of these governments the death toll due to state murder can only grow. Government excesses in the United States, he all but says, can bring that horror home in the future.

Terrorism and Tyranny is a solid effort but Bovard does lose some of his steam when he tackles Israel and Iraq. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ostensibly included to illustrate the danger of a government that goes too far in battling what it defines as terrorism but Bovard takes a one-sided view that at times seems to designed to inflame the passions of the reader. In the case of Iraq, Bovard argues that the war against Saddam Hussein was unjustified because Iraq wasn't a threat to Americans -- an assertion that has yet to be proven -- and that the American supported sanctions only served to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis between 1991 and 2003, numbers that have come under fire for their accuracy. Bovard could also be accused of being overly critical of the federal government's efforts -- it's difficult to believe that with few exceptions that the battle against terrorism is entirely dominated by incompetence and malfeasance.

Bovard closes his effort with a series of recommendations for both the Bush administration and Americans which include sensible ideas like halting foreign aid to oppressive governments, ending the attempt to micromanage the Middle East and admit that domestic anti-terrorism efforts are largely ineffective. Bovard quite rightly argues that the word "terrorism" can't serve as a magic incantation that ends limits on government power. Americans should be as skeptical of their government now as they were in the days before September 11, 2003 before, as Bovard writes, so that the specter of terrorism can't be used to "slip the leash the Founding Fathers crafted to bind the rulers of America in perpetuity."

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

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