War terminology provides cover for abuse

The United States is not at war. Not today, not yesterday, not any time within the last year. More accurately, the United States is engaged in conflict overseas. The character of the action, however, is that of an FBI or CIA intelligence mission and not one of a true war. The war on terror is, simply put, a fraud. Jingoism and military metaphors are being used in the United States lexicon to keep its citizens on edge and justify domestic abuses. The only war being waged involving Americans is a war on U.S. civil liberties and in that war, the people who hate U.S. freedoms are winning.

The war on terror is a gross exaggeration – a tool of language to excite the passions but is bereft of substance. A war requires victory conditions. In the battle against terrorism there are none. The elimination of terrorism is an impossible goal. The elimination or capture of al-Qaida operatives is deemed an aim of the operation, but there is no limit set or targets articulated to what number of operatives is sufficient. Nobody knows when, or even if, the war would be won. Speculation abounds that this could be a condition that remains with the United States for 10 or 20 years, potentially the remainder of our lifetimes. This does not describe a war; this describes a state of the world. This is not an issue which is resolved on the battlefield; this becomes settled under international diplomacy and interstate understanding.

It has been argued that war is not a static term: We live in a different world than that of our founders. The traditional measures do not apply. Such an argument invokes a historical survey while simultaneously ignoring all of its teachings. In its history, the United States has been involved in more than 100 conflicts, although the country made a formal declaration of war only five times. It is not that all of the other conflicts were minor in nature or did not involve U.S. security or vital U.S. interests. Rather the nation realized there are unique factors that come into play once it is thrown into a state of war and in nearly all the situations refused to escalate. The only difference between the current conflict and past ones is the refusal to admit that this is not like the others; that this does, indeed, rise to the level of a war.

Yet U.S. politicians previously have been guilty of playing fast and loose with language. They have brought us such crusades as the war against drugs and the war on poverty. Why should there be any more concern about the mislabeling of the effort against terrorism? It is because previous misnomers have not brought such a savage curtailment of civil liberties under the auspice of necessity.

Examples are neither hard to find nor difficult to argue. In May, Jose Padilla was detained with no charge of a crime and no timeline for when such a charge would be brought. Discarding every constitutional protection given to a U.S. citizen against the power of their government, the Department of Justice rationalized Padilla’s case under the “enemy combatant” doctrine. Despite having no evidence Padilla was an immediate threat, the department reasoned that he was identical in form and substance to U.S. citizens captured in a Nazi submarine off the shore of the United States while the United States was officially engaged in World War II. In reality, there were only two true links. First, the administration manufactured that we were a nation at war. And second, the administration was behaving as if we were. Similar specious arguments are advanced to support closed deportation hearings, such as the USA Patriot Act and the homeland security bill, all which represent vast diminishments of previously asserted individual rights. Every day brings the executive branch either asking for new powers or asserting that it possesses them innately by virtue of our current state of war. This must stop.

There might be a war being waged. However, it is within the United States itself. The war is fighting the government improperly and unnecessarily taking away freedoms it should be obligated to protect. Give the government the resources necessary to win Operation Enduring Freedom, but stop short of making the cost be citizens losing the war to preserve freedoms.