Saturday, November 3, 2007

War on Terror = War on Crime

When I talk to people about my book Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear (Oxford 2007), lots of people shake their head in agreement but tell me, "that was sure true of the '80s and '90s, but its all war on terror now."

That would be true if it wasn't so very clear that for most American political leaders the war on terror has largely been a direct extension of the political categories and rationalities produced by the war on crime whether evil doing criminals, innocent victims, uncompromisable executive leadership, and emotional law making.

Consider the way the Republican Presidential contenders project themselves as terrorism fighters as summarized by Marco Santora in today's NYTimes.

A central tenet of every leading Republican candidate’s campaign for president is one simple and powerful idea: I alone can best defend the United States from the threat of terrorism.
And in recent weeks, three candidates, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred D. Thompson, have embraced some of the more controversial policies on the treatment of those suspected of supporting terrorism, backing harsh interrogation methods and refusing to rule out the use of waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique, on detainees.

Their public statements came as the debate over whether waterboarding is torture had threatened to derail the nomination of Michael B. Mukasey as attorney general after he refused to call the technique illegal.

Not only do the three candidates refuse to rule out waterboarding and other techniques that have been condemned, but they also believe the American prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, needs to remain open, and they back the practice of extraordinary rendition, in which terrorism suspects are sent for questioning to other countries, including some accused of torture.

Mr. Giuliani often frames the threat of terrorism in graphically personal terms, telling crowds that Islamic extremists “hate you” and want to come to the United States and “kill you.” In that vein, he has been perhaps the most forceful in suggesting that the president must be able to take extraordinary steps to combat terrorist threats.

In an interview yesterday with Albert R. Hunt on Bloomberg TV, Mr. Giuliani said: “Now, intensive questioning works. If I didn’t use intensive questioning, there would be a lot of Mafia guys running around New York right now and crime would be a lot higher in New York than it is. Intensive questioning has to be used. Torture should not be used. The line between the two is a difficult one.”

As Mr. Romney was preparing for his presidential bid, he visited Guantánamo Bay in the spring of 2006 and said he “came away with no concerns with regards to the fair and appropriate treating of these individuals.” In the May debate, Mr. Romney said he would “double Guantánamo.”

Read the story


Ben L. said...

I don't understand the "debate". In what way is waterboarding not torture? Bush says, "We don't torture." Seems like case closed.

Not so for Alan Dershowitz and the WSJ, though ( A man who is perhaps our nation's formost legal scholar needs to crack open our Constitution: "... crual and unusual punishments [shall not be] inflicted."

Unknown said...

Professor Simon,
I think that we should pay just as much attention to domestic terrorists as those in other countries. For example, I think one of your peers at Boalt Hall has individually accomplished as much to undermine our security and freedoms as the entire remaining community of terrorists. I refer, quite obviously, to John Yoo: the sociopath whose racist/paranoid delusions were seized upon and glorified by the Bush administration and used to drive a paranoid and extreme agenda that rendered Habeus Corpus an anachronism and convenience that can now be suspended arbitrarily. Mr. Yoo and others like Jay Bybee (now of the Ninth Circuit) were instrumental in torture becoming "legal". It is curious and ironic that by making torture a policy norm, the United States (by definition, and thus necessity) becomes the "evil empire" that it supposedly meant to oppose in its "war on terror". How can such a "reputable legal scholar", and for that matter an entire administration, not realize the fundamental hypocricy and anti-democratic nature of their acceptance of such a paranoid, psychotic and opportunistic ideology that John Yoo has advanced? Perhaps our "war on terror" should start at home by pursuing treason charges against Mr. Yoo and company.

Unknown said...

I agree with most of your ideas but express some reservations concerning the Republican candidates expressing ideas to appeal to their base during a primary. I agree with the main point which is that the "war on terror" like the "war on crime" is a tool used by politicians to whip up the public and scare them into voting for some politician who claims " vote for me --- I can protect you." My other blog discusses this further at:
Thank you.