The notion of a "war" against "terrorism" has proven highly contentious, with critics charging that it has been exploited by participating governments to pursue long-standing policy objectives, reduce civil liberties, and infringe upon human rights. Some argue that the term war is not appropriate in this context (as in War on Drugs), since they believe there is no tangible enemy, and that it is unlikely international terrorism can be brought to an end by means of war. Others note that "terrorism" is not an enemy, but a tactic; calling it a "war on terror," obscures differences between conflicts. For example, anti-occupation insurgents and international jihadists.
The phrase "War on Terror" has been referred to as a false metaphor. Linguist George Lakoff of the Rockridge Institute has argued that there cannot literally be a war on terror, since terror is an abstract noun. "Terror cannot be destroyed by weapons or signing a peace treaty. A war on terror has no end."
U.S. President George W. Bush articulated the goals of the "war on terrorism" in a September 20, 2001 speech, in which he said it "will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated. In that same speech, he called the war "a task that does not end." To critics, such goals create a state of perpetual war. They have argued that terrorism is itself only a tactic which can never be defeated. It is further disputed that the "War on Terrorism" qualifies as a war as there is no party whose defeat can bring victory. Ira Chernus, professor at the University of Colorado, argues that the ideology underlying the war on terrorism inevitably leads to a state of perpetual war, because it is based on Bush's domestic crusade against sin and evil. The notion of a perpetual war during which governments could take whatever actions they liked to maintain themselves in power, using the state of war as a pretext, forms a major theme in 1984, an influential book by George Orwell.
Gore Vidal also subscribes to this notion in Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, first in a critical trilogy against the Bush Administration.
The Bush administration has given various answers concerning what would constitute victory. In a news conference on September 20, 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "I say that victory is persuading the American people and the rest of the world that this is not a quick matter that's going to be over in a month or a year or even five years. It is something that we need to do so that we can continue to live in a world with powerful weapons and with people who are willing to use those powerful weapons. And we can do that as a country. And that would be a victory, in my view".
Jacob Levenson wrote, "Three years after the United States attacked Afghanistan, it is extremely difficult for the press to gauge where the United States stands in the war on terror because the term itself obscures distinction".
It has also been noted that by formally styling the situation as a "war", some semblance of legitimacy is offered to many subsequent retaliatory acts undertaken by terrorists, since they simply become acts of war, wherin offensive strikes are permitted.
In May 2005 a new designation was introduced, "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism (GSAVE)", but it was soon dropped quietly after the scathing public reception it met. The "Long War" has been launched as an alternative slogan, and was used by president Bush in his 2006 State of The Union speech.
A major criticism levelled at this justification is that, according to war opponents, it does not fulfill one of the requirements of a just war and that in waging a war pre-emptively, the United States has undermined international law and the authority of the United Nations, particularly the United Nations Security Council. On this ground it has been advocated that by invading a country that does not pose an imminent threat and without UN support, the US has violated international law, including the UN Charter and the Nuremberg principles and is guilty of committing a war of aggression, which is considered to be a war crime. A fact for which officials and members of the Bush administration are potentially criminally culpable under the command responsibility.
Another criticism that has been raised is that the United States has set a precedent, under the premise of which any nation could justify the invasion of other states.
The "War on terror" has been seen as a pretext for reducing civil liberties.
Within the United States, critics argue that the Bush Administration and lower governments have restricted civil liberties and created a "culture of fear". Bush introduced the USA PATRIOT Act legislation to the United States Congress shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks, which significantly expanded U.S. law enforcement's power. It has been criticized as being too broad and having been abused for purposes unrelated to counter-terrorism. President Bush had also proposed Total Information Awareness, a federal program to collect and process massive amounts of data to identify behaviors consistent with terrorist threats. It was heavily criticized as being an "Orwellian" case of mass surveillance.
Many opponents focus on the domestic aspects, complaining that the government is systematically removing civil liberties from the population or engaging in racial profiling. They also allege that this approach increases public hostility to dissenting voices by encouraging the view that such people are being unpatriotic or even treasonous for simply disagreeing with the administration. Some, such as Giorgio Agamben, criticize a "generalised state of exception", which could be followed by a more or less deliberate strategy of tension (using false flags terrorist attacks and other ruse of war tactics).
In the United Kingdom, critics have claimed that the Blair government has used the War on Terrorism as a pretext to radically curtail civil liberties, some enshrined in law since Magna Carta. For example: detention-without-trial in Belmarsh prison ; controls on free speech through laws against protests near Parliament and laws banning the "glorification" of terrorism ; and reductions in checks on police power, as in the case of Jean Charles de Menezes (a Brazilian electrician shot dead after being mistaken for a terrorist ) and Mohammed Abdul Kahar (a Londoner shot by the Metropolitan Police after a false tip-off, but then released along with his brother without any charges ).
Former Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Menzies Campbell has also condemned Blair's inaction over the controversial US practice of extraordinary rendition, arguing that the human rights conventions to which the UK is a signatory (e.g. European Convention on Human Rights) impose on the government a "legal obligation" to investigate and prevent potential torture and human rights violations.
Opponents feel the Bush administration is creative in suggesting legal loopholes and exception laws. However, most human rights organizations and even allies of America think there are breaches of international and US law. They point to the use of enemy combatant status, extraordinary rendition, alleged use of prisoner abuse which to observers outside the Bush administration constitutes torture.
The status "enemy combatant" was used by the Bush administration because the Taliban regime was never internationally recognized as a state, and that their supporters thus had no right to the treatment expected of a legitimate military of uniformed soldiers and officers under the Third Geneva Convention.
After adoption of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, any non-American national, anywhere on earth, can be designated "enemy combatant." The Bush administration's position is that unlawful combatants have no rights under the Geneva Conventions and therefore can be sent anywhere without trial or charges. However, this claim is widely disputed by legal experts. For details on the subject see unlawful combatant. More specific is the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian-Syrian dual-citizen. During a flight transfer in New York, he was approached by authorities and eventually sent to a Syrian prison for 374 days without charges. American birth is the only defense against forced exile. American national birth should not protect American-born terrorists or fail to protect naturalized citizens, yet it does both.
Whatever the legal justification of the Bush administration, commentators note that command responsibility is a well established doctrine, making those responsible for these policies liable for prosecution.
The US has a network of secret jails for terrorist suspects; Abu Ghraib is but one example. Many of the countries those jails are in would consider the existence of secret torture jails in their territory without their knowledge as an act of war if a lesser nation would have done it.
Independent journals in Iraq were repeatedly bombed to the ground in several locations (amid claims of mistaking them for al-Qaeda buildings), yet a memo about the planned bombing of the very same al-Jazeera TV headquarters without notifying first the peaceful allied nation of Qatar (where al-Jazeera resides) surfaced and embarrassed the Bush administration.
This suggests the rights of other nations are to be rearranged retroactively by loopholes and exceptions to fit the needs of the "war on terror" being waged. In part by misleading allies rather than negotiating with them, which has been the reaction of smaller democracies fighting terrorism.
This view is shared by a broad variety of ideological streams, including social democrats (e.g. Michael Meacher: "The global war on terrorism has the hallmarks of a political myth propagated to pave the way for a wholly different agenda -- the U.S. goal of world hegemony, built around securing by force command over the oil supplies required to drive the whole project"); anarchists, Greens (e.g. George Monbiot); and Marxists. In addition, many people on this side of the political spectrum opine that the war is being fought to benefit domestic political allies of the Bush administration, especially arms manufacturers. (See Military-industrial complex.)
Proponents of the hegemony hypothesis point out that achieving such a situation is the stated aim of the Project for the New American Century, a conservative think tank that includes many prominent members of the Republican Party and Bush administration among its present and former members. It is even arguable that this attitude was what led to the rise in Middle Eastern hostility in the first place.
Many people contend that a "war" against terrorism is plainly wrong since terrorist attacks are considered criminal acts like murder and therefore should be investigated by the police with the perpetrators brought to justice and given a fair trial in a court of law.
Many people believe that interrogation methods employed by U.S. forces violate international Geneva Conventions in places such as Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Abu Ghraib, Iraq. They believe that if U.S. forces act immorally or unethically then those forces are no better than the insurgents they are trying to find.
Another criticism is that the "war on terrorism" is effectively an act of terrorism in itself. Critics point to incidents such as the Bagram torture and prisoner abuse scandal, the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal, the alleged use of chemical weapons against residents of Fallujah , and the use of military force to disperse anti-American demonstrations in Iraq
Some Libertarians believe that a "war" against terrorism is wrong because it makes national security into such a high government priority, that any sacrifice of personal liberty and freedom is deemed necessary, no matter how large or small They believe this leads not only to an unjustified erosion of liberty, but to a general climate of fear in which people become unwilling to exercise their civil liberties. They warn of the danger of the public being enslaved under mass surveillance, as eventually everyone comes under suspicion of being a potential terrorist.
Many observe that the U.S. government has had no qualms about supporting groups opposing local administrations perceived to be hostile to U.S. interests.
Also people note that the alleged mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 attacks was part of the Mujahedin who were sponsored, armed, trained and aided by the CIA to commit terrorist acts in Afghanistan to fight Russia after it invaded Afghanistan.
And Venezuela accuses the U.S. government of having a double standard on terrorism for giving safe haven to Luis Posada Carriles.
For instance, in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush and members of his administration indicated that they possessed information which demonstranted a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Published reports of the links began in late December, 1998. In January, 1999, Newsweek magazine published a story about Saddam and al-Qaeda joining forces to attack U.S. interests in the Gulf Region. ABC News broadcast a story of the link between the two soon after. ABC News video report Polls suggest that a majority of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein was linked to the attacks of September 11, 2001. Although this has been the position of the Bush Administration, an investigation by the 9/11 Commission found no credible evidence that Saddam Hussein helped al-Qaeda with the 9/11 attacks.
Regardless of whether or not the Bush administration was deliberately misleading the people, wrong information was distributed, resulting in increased support for the war.
Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan criticized the use of pro-humanitarian arguments by Coalition countries prior to its 2003 invasion of Iraq, writing in an open letter: "This selective attention to human rights is nothing but a cold and calculated manipulation of the work of human rights activists. Let us not forget that these same governments turned a blind eye to Amnesty International's reports of widespread human rights violations in Iraq before the Gulf War.
In 2002, strong majorities supported the U.S.-led War on Terrorism in Britain, France, Germany, Japan, India, and Russia. By 2006, supporters of the effort were in the minority in Britain (49%), France (43%), Germany (47%), and Japan (26%). Although a majority of Russians still supported the War on Terrorism, that majority had decreased by 21%. Whereas 63% of the Spanish population supported the War on Terrorism in 2003, only 19% of the population indicated support in 2006. 19% of the Chinese population supports the War on Terrorism, and less than a fifth of the populations of Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan support the effort. Indian support for the War on Terrorism has been stable. Andrew Kohut, speaking to the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, noted that, according to the Pew Research Center polls conducted in 2004, "majorities or pluralities in seven of the nine countries surveyed said the U.S.-led war on terrorism was not really a sincere effort to reduce international terrorism. This was true not only in Muslim countries such as Morocco and Turkey, but in France and Germany as well. The true purpose of the war on terrorism, according to these skeptics, is American control of Middle East oil and U.S. domination of the world.
This goes beyond reporting alternate points of view, which is an important function of the press. "In short," Kuypers explained, "if someone were relying only on the mainstream media for information, they would have no idea what the president actually said. It was as if the press were reporting on a different speech." The study is essentially a "comparative framing analysis." Overall, Kuypers examined themes about 9-11 and the War on Terrorism that the President used, and compared them to the themes that the press used when reporting on what the president said.
"Framing is a process whereby communicators, consciously or unconsciously, act to construct a point of view that encourages the facts of a given situation to be interpreted by others in a particular manner," wrote Kuypers. These findings suggest that the public is misinformed about government justification and plans concerning the war on terror.
Others have also suggested that press coverage has contributed to a public confused and misinformed on both the nature and level of the threat to the U.S. posed by terrorism. In his book, Trapped in the War on Terror political scientist Ian S. Lustick, claimed, "The media have given constant attention to possible terrorist-initiated catastrophes and to the failures and weaknesses of the government's response." Lustick alleged that the War on Terrorism is disconnected from the real but remote threat terrorism poses, and that the generalized War on Terrorism began as part of the justification for invading Iraq, but then took on a life of its own, fueled by media coverage.
Media researcher Stephen D. Cooper's analysis of media criticism Watching the Watchdog: Bloggers As the Fifth Estate contains many examples of controversies concerning mainstream reporting of the War on Terror. Cooper found that bloggers' criticisms of factual inaccuracies in news stories or bloggers' discovery of the mainstream press's failure to adequately check facts before publication caused many news organizations to retrack or change news stories.
Cooper found that bloggers specializing in criticism of media coverage advanced four key points: 1. Mainstream reporting of the war on terrorism has frequently contained factual inaccuracies. In some cases, the errors go uncorrected; moreover, when corrections are issued they usually are given far less prominence than the initial coverage containing the errors. 2. The mainstream press has sometimes failed to check the provenance of information or visual images supplied by Iraqi "stringers" (local Iraqis hired to relay local news). 3. Story framing is often problematic; in particular, "man-in-the-street" interviews have often been used as a representation of public sentiment in Iraq, in place of methodologically sound survey data. 4. Mainstream reporting has tended to concentrate on the more violent areas of Iraq, with little or no reporting of the calm areas.