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Since 1937, 'terrorism' has been a topic of legal concern to the international community (Bassiouni, 2001) and ever since the 1960s, acts of international terrorism have occurred with sufficient regularity for terrorism to rise steadily on the global agenda (Kegley, 1990). Therefore, this is why responses to not only terrorism but also international terrorism need to be addressed.
It has been suggested that there are three standard solutions or responses to a perception of a significant terrorist threat. The first one is a political response, meaning it focuses on the violence as a form of political uprising or rebellion. The second is a military solution, by focusing on it being a form of war. The third and final solution is through a policing response, focusing on the terror attack as being a criminal activity (Whitty, 2003). It is also important to acknowledge that there is no universal definition for 'terrorism' and the use of the word has resulted in it being politically loaded, confusing and elusive (Whitty, 2003). This is due to the colossal growth in journalistic and academic writing initially about terrorism, but more importantly about international terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s, often coming to no firm conclusion.
One very common truism to describe the different perspectives that people have about terrorism is "one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter" (Townshend, 2002, pg 3). This is because individuals or groups can be engaged in both at the same time, as some could perceive them as being a terrorist by not supporting the government and using violence to gain attention. On the other hand they could also be seen as being a freedom fighter by fighting to achieve their own beliefs. It is also evident that terrorism has changed dramatically over the years as before it was a problem within remote areas but it has now progressed into being a problem that could strike anyone at anyplace at anytime.
This essay will be focusing on the effect that terrorism has had on human rights, including the impact of the media, the responses to terrorism and whether these responses need to be changed in both the United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US).
Over the past 30 years, anti-terrorist law has been the lowest point for civil liberties in the UK and the USA (Whitty, 2003). With this in mind, as cited in Moeckli (2004) the rights of a man (1978), states that men are born and are to remain free and equal in every right.
In 1993, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture visited the Holding Centre at Castlereagh police station in Northern Ireland and ordered it to be closed down. Even though it was not closed down until December 1999 the facility constructed an unacceptable risk that the people who were detained there would be subjected to degrading or inhumane treatment. This shows that this anti-terrorist practice was found to be in violation of some of the fundamental rights protected by the European Court of Human Rights (EHCR), which includes the right to life, (McCann, Farrell and Savage, 1995, cited in Whitty, 2003). This has continued to be the case particularly since the attacks on the World Trade Centre (WTC) in New York, on September 11, 2001 (9/11) when a non-state terrorist organisation, Al-Qaeda, was involved leading to the protection of human rights becoming one of the key casualties of the war on terror.
The response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks by use of military force against the terrorists suggests that this could create as many terrorists as it destroys as to trying to eliminate terrorism through declaring war is self-defeating and will only exacerbate it (Light, 2002). This is due to the response to the initial attacks of 9/11, whereby US President Bush announced a 'war on terrorism' against both Afghanistan and Iraq. This was a part of the Bush Doctrine and would result in many more civilian deaths leading to a backlash against this policy.
President Bush was not the first US president to declare war after a serious terrorist attack, as over the years, the presidents of the US have been persistent in the way that they respond to terrorist attacks, for example, both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton each announcing a 'war on terrorism' during their presidency (Buckley & Singh, 2006). For example, President Ronald Reagan took military action against Libya in 1986 to deter future attacks in response to the terrorist attacks on US forces in Berlin, but some countries argued that these attacks went beyond legitimate self-defence (Hurrell, 2002). Following this, it is hard to find anyone who accepts the Bush Doctrine, which asserts that massive bombing is an appropriate response to terrorist attacks (Sterba, 2003). Six months after the 9/11 attacks, Ronald Dworkin who was an American legal jurist stated that, the biggest and most damaging long-term effect that would result from the counterterrorist reaction would be to the legal defences of individual freedom (Townshend, 2002).
Following the 9/11 attacks the discourse surrounding this tragedy created the foundation stone to the conception of the 'war against terrorism' (Jackson, 2005). Therefore, it is not surprising that the US government made the 'war on terrorism' its number one priority (Sterba, 2003). This is because if the people of America were seen as being the victims of the horrific events that happened on that day, the American military response to this is justified as being in self-defence. Also, the way in which the terrorist suspects were treated was deemed proportionate to the acts that were committed.
It was believed that justice was wanted and needed by the Americans, rather than revenge, but many human rights violations were committed due to the suffering of the terrorist suspects when they were interrogated. Therefore, if a wider ranging discourse had been more apparent as regards to the 9/11 attacks, rather than just concentrating on the victim-hood of America and attacking Afghanistan but focusing more on the solidarity of victims globally, this may have had a greater impact on the global movement to end the violence within different countries. Without this wider ranging discourse and the resultant concentration on the victim-hood of Americans, the consequence of the 'war on terrorism' has resulted in mistreatment of terrorist suspects and thousands of civilian deaths. This is not to mention the amount of money that has been spent on the 'war on terrorism' response, costing billions of dollars (Jackson, 2005). The nature of political discourse has prevented consideration of alternative paradigms and approaches to counter-terrorism and if they do not break out of it, the world is condemned to live under an endless spiral of terrorist violence. Therefore, the 'war on terrorism' is seen as a political and social construction and a creation built on discursive practice and language (Jackson, 2005).
In addition, in response to the 9/11 attacks and in order to pursue the war against terror, the world's leading democracies seemingly discarded their human rights commitments. This is particularly the case in the UK, as they opposed article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights and stated that if foreign nationals are suspected of posing a threat to national security they would be detained indefinitely without moving to trial. Within the USA this was also the case by use of the PATRIOT Act (Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, 2001 cited in Buckley & Singh, 2006), which was the most important new anti-terrorism law. This meant that the U.S military personnel and civilian authorities were able to keep 'unlawful combatants' in Afghanistan and at the US base of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba legally because their detention was beyond the reach of the constitutional protections.
In order to gain information from the detainees some interrogation needed to take place and it has been argued within the US and UK that 'impermissible degrees of force' had been used in the past. Not only was the 2001 anti-terrorism, crime and security act seen as being unsuited to article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights provisions by eight of the nine Law Lords in December 2004, but it was also seen as not being a proportionate response to the circumstances that existed in the UK, following 9/11 (Buckley & Singh, 2006). This was not the only legislative measure that was implemented after 9/11, in the US the Mobilization Against Terrorism Act was enforced to give greater powers to detain and interrogate suspected terrorists. Therefore, this shows that both the US and the UK need to balance human rights considerations against the demands of national security.
Amnesty International (2004), cited in Jackson (2005) stated that the 'war on terrorism' has made the world more dangerous by undermining International law, protecting governments from criticism and curbing human rights due to this new legislation created to combat terrorism. The legislation that was employed after the 9/11 attacks meant that the security agencies, such as the police and military were able to gain increased resources allowing them to have more power. One of these powers was to allow for the detention of suspects without trial along with being able to interrogate suspects. This can be established via The CIA who worked closely with others who had terrible human rights records and had frequently employed torture against suspected terrorists to gain confessions (Woodward, 2002, cited in Jackson, 2005). This was also the case with both the U.S and the Intelligence Services directly employing abusive interrogation methods and torture towards these suspected terrorists and militants in Afghanistan, Cuba and Iraq (Jackson, 2005). Therefore, this has had a great effect on the whole world, but more dramatically in North America and Europe as there has been an increase in ill-treatment and violence towards immigrants and asylum seekers.
One of the main and most important objectives for the terrorists is to gain maximum publicity possible through the media to voice their word and this is why the media has a great involvement within terrorism. They are the main source in raising public awareness of terrorism attacks, such human rights violations and also providing significant influence over reform campaigns (Whitty, 2003). Digital satellite, broadcasting, cellular communications and the internet have turned terrorism into a live show and with this in mind, the events of 9/11 and many other events have altered the perceptions of millions of people around the world towards terrorism and radical political violence.
Although the media is one way of gaining information about national events, they have to be careful to satisfy the publics demand for more and more information and providing terrorists with a willing stage for their violent acts (Thackrah, 2004). This is the case whereby the media has to make the events noteworthy and therefore the objectivity may become second best to making the coverage memorable and interesting. The daily newspapers and news bulletins bring stories of suffering and violations against human rights into the nations homes, such as the Guildford four (1974) and the Birmingham six (1974, cited in Townshend, 2002) getting wrongly convicted of bombings. All ten suspects who were convicted of the terrorist attacks pleaded guilty but it was later ascertained that the confessions were obtained due to the suspects being tortured by the police. Therefore, the media is able to display this miscarriage of justice and violation of human rights to the nation.
The objective of the 'war on terrorism' against Afghanistan and Iraq was not solely to bring Al Qaeda to justice but also to eliminate worldwide terrorism. This is seen to be unrealistic and unattainable, but it is possible to reduce and contain it. The current response to terrorism by military action is seen to not be enough to prevent future violence and terrorist attacks and by responding in such a way will only result in short-term solutions, retaliation and vengeance (Elworthy & Rifkind, 2006). Therefore, the general changes that need to be addressed for the future in terms of the responses towards terrorism include, for example, the terrorist leaders, who motivated, trained and financed perpetrators to destroy property and innocent lives on 9/11 should be punished. This would therefore create a more just world, one that encourages prosperity, peace and democracy.
Another major issue for any government to crack down on terrorism is the financial support that the terrorist organisations (Taliban, Islamic Jihad and Al Qaeda) gain to perform the violent attacks (Sterba, 2003). For that reason, there is a strong need to reduce the financial income that the terrorist groups receive. Funding is needed by each government to allow alternative paradigms towards counter-terrorism. One final measure that needs to be addressed is to enable the people to decide the future, rather than enforcing military rule, as the current counter-terrorism regimes are causing more problems than finding solutions.
In conclusion, the present policies of President Bush's administration have made terrorism worse with the 'war on terrorism'. This can be observed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have created a new generation of terrorists and by going to war it has made terrorism a greater international problem by spreading terrorist networks. Even though human rights have been violated in the wake of 9/11 and their legitimacy challenged, the idea of human rights has not fallen victim to the pressures placed upon it. There is evidence to suggest this, as the power that the idea of human rights holds within the international community is not weakening but instead strengthening. For example, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights remains an active supporter for internationally recognised human rights. This is despite the US and UK swaying towards the national security rather than the human rights of the people.
There is a need to balance the relationship between the national security, liberty and respect of human rights for the citizens of both the US and the UK, as equality is the most important concept of human rights and therefore, everyone should be able to enjoy the same human rights and liberties. There needs to be universal humanity rather than concentrating on certain groups or countries, such as the US as being considered the only victim of terrorism. It is clear that the media also need to know when to stop publicising terrorism on a large scale, as the main aim for terrorists is to gain public awareness and therefore gain control over the public, politicians and the way in which the countries are run. One final point to address is the damage that has been done through the Bush Doctrine creating the 'war on terrorism' by President Bush, which needs to be healed to regain peace and order, especially in the minds of the people who have witnessed these tragic events. Therefore, the security and human rights of the citizens need to be established before using abrupt force and violence to combat terrorism.