Balkinization  

Monday, October 02, 2006

Comparing the US and the European Responses to the Threat of Terrorism

Brian Tamanaha

By many accounts, Western Europe is the front line in the global war against Islamic terrorism (or a least a close second to the Middle East). Terrorrist bombings in the UK and Spain, unrest in France, a high-profile murder in the Netherlands, arrests in several countries that foiled planned attacks, and large immigrant Muslim populations with limited employment opportunites for youth--the circumstances in Europe are far more tenuous, complex, and frightening than they are in the United States. Yet the response of the US government has been far more extreme.

Last week I attended a conference in Brussels with professors, government advisors, and a few judges from across Europe and the Middle East (and elsewhere). One of the subjects covered was the legal response in Europe to the challenges posed by Islam. There was tension in the room, of course, and disagreement. But the dominant attitude was a seriousness of purpose in finding ways for people of such different cultural and religious views to live together.

Each night after the proceedings I would return to my room and scan the various European news programs, and I watched several debates in the Dutch Parliament and parts of the ruling Labor Party Conference in the UK. Notably, terrorism did not appear to be a big subject (dealing with immigration and jobs were major topics). And when it was discussed, the subject was treated in a matter-of-fact manner--that is, with no hysteria--as a problem for police officials. It was not discussed in terms of a "war on terror." As far as I could tell, there was no thought of restricting the legal rights of terrorist suspects, and absolutely no consideration of applying torture to these individuals (though we still don't know the full extent of European cooperation in the secret CIA prisons).

This was the same week in which the US Congress passed its historically bad terror bill (see multiple posts below).

Given that the threat of terrorist attacks in the US is manifestly lower than the threat of such attacks in Europe, how do we explain this disparity in response? Conservatives will likely argue that European governments enjoy the luxury of letting the US take the lead and do all the hard, dirty work. And they will add that the Europeans still don't appreciate the magnitude of the threat--Europeans will stop criticizing the US and engage in their own crack-down when they finally figure it out.

However, based upon what I heard at the Conference, and over drinks and meals, my sense is that they understand the depth and magnitude of the problems surrounding Islamic fundamentalist terrorism far better than we do. Their Muslim communities are permanent presences, and, through immigration and higher birth rates, are increasing as a proportion of the population. Turkey, moreover, is on the path toward EU membership. As a result of these and other factors--including a millennium long, sometimes bloody, but often peaceful, history of coexistence and interaction between European and Muslim countries--the Europeans understand that they must find a way to get through this difficult period in a manner that allows them to live together.

Europeans also understand that the terrorists are extremists, and represent a relatively small number of individuals. In addition to old-fashioned police work, the best way to find and monitor those dangerous individuals is through the cooperation of the broader Muslim community. Under these circumstances, European governments strive to avoid rhetoric and actions that might exacerbate tensions and further alienate the entire community.

Finally, Europeans seem truly committed to human rights and to the rule of law, which they show little inclination to sacrifice in the battle of the day.

The extremist legislation sought by President Bush and passed by Congress last week seems even more bizarre and unnecessary when one considers the far more measured courses of action pursued by European governments.

Comments:

The Europeans react differently because they understand terrorism to be a form of crime that, like any other, will inevitably occur. They've had extensive experience with it and realized that there are multiple ways to attack and prevent the problem aside from military solutions. Their experience with terrorism helped because it gave them perspective. Most Europeans I talked to while living there espoused this belief.

Most Americans I've talked to since coming back take a rather apocalyptic view of terrorist attacks, very panicked and irrational, because most of them have so little experience with terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and very little understanding of Muslims in general. We often fear what we don't understand, and fear makes people overreact or act irrationally and stupidly. President Bush doesn't do anyone any favors by constantly stoking the fears of terrorist threats beyond reasonable projections.

The fact of the matter is that terror attacks will likely happen again on U.S. soil, despite the best efforts of our military and law enforcement communities. We've been lucky in our history, but as 9/11 proves, luck cannot always be counted on. Until the American people and their leaders accept that the problem of terrorism, as with any other crime, is likely inevitable (but not unmanageable) and that there are more options to deal with the issue than military ones, we'll continue to see crap legislation like the detainee bill and we'll continue to see our troops deployed unproductively with unfavorable results. I suspect we'll eventually learn, but the learning curve will be a long and costly one.
 

Brian Tamanaha:

By many accounts, Western Europe is the front line in the global war against Islamic terrorism (or a least a close second to the Middle East)...the circumstances in Europe are far more tenuous, complex, and frightening than they are in the United States. Yet the response of the US government has been far more extreme.

The US now treats Islamic fascism as a military enemy and its attacks on us as a war.

The EU, as this nation did prior to 9/11, treats this as a criminal justice matter.

Our country has not suffered from any attacks since 9/11, while you correctly observe that the EU is the worst battleground outside of the Middle East.

Do you think, perhaps, that our different approaches to this problem account for the relative success of the US and failure of the EU since 9/11?

The people in the EU are dying because their governments do not understand that they are fighting a mortal enemy who does not play by their criminal justice rules.

In contrast, the people of the US continue to live in peace at home because we are waging war on the enemy where they live.

Members of a suicide cult cannot be expected to be deterred or impressed in the least by criminal justice sanctions. The US is successful because it is killing or capturing the enemy in a war before he kills our people.

The EU will learn this lesson or continue to see its people murdered.
 

Bart:

Your statement is preposterous. European countries have a greater problem with Islamic terrorism than we do because they have large, angry, alienated Muslim communities and we do not. That means that in Europe local residents are hatching terrorist plans, whereas in the U.S. our terrorists are from overseas without local support.

Your arguments are preposterous in many other ways. Do you think that our forces in Afghanistan and Iraq are somehow killing only terrorists who plan to target the U.S. and failing to effect terrorists targeting Europe? Are our "coercive interrogations" yielding only evidence of anti-U.S. and not anti-European plots and cells? Or are we withholding such information from Europe as a way of pressuring them to support us more?

Are you suggesting that if European countries contributed more troops to our war effort in Iraq it would protect them from terrorism? Britain is the country that has supplied the most troops after ours, and that does not seem to have given them any immunity at all. Or are you proposing that if Europeans go off and invade some other country that would stop terrorism at home? If so, what country to you recommend?

U.S. military action has been effective in stopping terrorism because it destroyed Al-Qaeda's bases and command structure and without that their ability to hit us is limited without that support structure. In Europe, where terrorism grows out of local communities, military action against terrorists would mean military action against internal Muslim communities. Is this what you are advocating? And, if so, why don't you come out and say it.
 

bart

it is my understanding that there have been no terrorist attacks in the last twenty years or more in luxenbourg, lichtenstein and sierra leone. based upon your logic, this means that these countries are doing a better job at protecting their citizens than our government is doing to protect us. maybe we should study what they are doing.
 

Talk about looking out over a crowd and picking out your friends! Is Mr. Tamanaha suggesting that if, say, a U.S. legislature passed a ban on headscarves in schools, the law professors of America would react with enthusiastic support? Of course not, because they are incorrigibly alienated from their country and would oppose any action by an American legislature. When Europe and America move in opposite directions, Mr. Tamanaha and his comrades cite Europe; when Europe and America move in the same direction, Mr. Tamanaha and his comrades decry both, and are reduced to citing the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe or something. Which is why most Americans aren't listening.
 

Enlightened Layperson said...

Bart: Your statement is preposterous. European countries have a greater problem with Islamic terrorism than we do because they have large, angry, alienated Muslim communities and we do not. That means that in Europe local residents are hatching terrorist plans, whereas in the U.S. our terrorists are from overseas without local support.

You have a point that the EU is a somewhat more fertile source of enemy recruits than is the US. However, the US has also taken down a number of cells inside the US. The difference is that we have been much more effective stopping enemy attacks.

The US is using military intelligence gathering such as the NSA telecommunications intercept and SWIFT financial transaction identification programs to identify many of these cells inside the US. When the NYT was disclosing the NSA and SWIFT programs to the enemy, they also disclosed that both programs have successfully identified multiple enemy cells. The WP later disclosed that Justice comes to the FISA court with warrant applications for at least ten enemy each year identified first by the NSA Program.

One of the al Qaeda financial groups which we have taken down was the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Inc.. It appears from a mistakenly disclosed document, that the NSA was intercepting the communications of this al Qaeda front group before developing a civilian case against it.

Do you think that our forces in Afghanistan and Iraq are somehow killing only terrorists who plan to target the U.S. and failing to effect terrorists targeting Europe?

9/11 wasn't an end in itself. bin Laden hoped to draw us into a war in Afghanistan to engage and defeat our forces the way the Afghanis had defeated the Red Army in the 80s.

Things did not work out according to plan, though.

The Afghanis hated the Taliban and their al Qaeda pay masters. A SF group and the Afghan Northern Alliance took down the Taliban in a few weeks and the Afghans rounded up every Arab in the country and turned them over to us. Many were al Qaeda.

Some of the survivors fled to an allied Insar Islam camp in Iraq. When we liberated Iraq, al Qaeda decided to turn this country into the "central front" of their war against us. However, Iraq also turned into a blood bath for al Qaeda.

In short, al Qaeda committed its forces to taking us on in the Middle East and were largely destroyed. Since our intervention in the Middle East, al Qaeda has not been able to launch a single attack from the Middle East against US interests outside of the Middle East.

This is probably true for Europe as well. Attacks against the EU have all been launched by local cells. The EU has failed to take down these cells because they are treating them like common criminals instead of sophisticated military opponents.

Are our "coercive interrogations" yielding only evidence of anti-U.S. and not anti-European plots and cells?

Before USA Today compromised the cover of the CIA rendition program, EU intelligence agencies were assisting the CIA in snatching enemy combatants in Europe for questioning elsewhere where EU rules did not apply. I imagine these enemy disclosed knowledge of EU cells.

Are you suggesting that if European countries contributed more troops to our war effort in Iraq it would protect them from terrorism?

I am not sure. The NATO troops have proven to be inept in Afghanistan.

However, the EU countries may want to start treating al Qaeda and its allies in their nations as military enemy combatants, not just criminal defendants. The Brits have learned their lesson after the London bombings and have suspended many civilian limitations on intelligence gathering and interrogation against terrorists.
 

phg said...

bart: it is my understanding that there have been no terrorist attacks in the last twenty years or more in luxenbourg, lichtenstein and sierra leone. based upon your logic, this means that these countries are doing a better job at protecting their citizens than our government is doing to protect us. maybe we should study what they are doing.

Cute. These tiny countries do not have a presence in the Middle East and are largely unknown to al Qaeda. The US is super power with extensive economic interests in the Middle East whose culture also is a large part of the Middle East as it is around the world. We are not about to withdraw from the Middle East and, thus, we remain a target for those who wish to remove us.
 

Brian's post is full of half-truths and strained assertions.

1. I'll assume the EU is under a greater threat from Islamic terrorists. He himself notes the numerous attacks that have occured throughout Europe. While this may be a function of the "greater internal threat" at what point do you sit back and say, "hmm, maybe we aren't taking the best approach?" Maybe the number of attacks is indicative that they aren't doing enough. Maybe our own "overreaction" is what has kept us safe in the US? But no, that would go against the liberal narrative. Can't have that now can we...

2. Brian wrote, "Europeans also understand that the terrorists are extremists, and represent a relatively small number of individuals. In addition to old-fashioned police work, the best way to find and monitor those dangerous individuals is through the cooperation of the broader Muslim community."

Yes, that is very true.

Brian continues, "Under these circumstances, European governments strive to avoid rhetoric and actions that might exacerbate tensions and further alienate the entire community."

Well isn't that nice of them. Let's look at the British response. Even when you have Islamic terror apologists like Ken "Red" Livingstone as the mayor London, treating terrorists with kid gloves - it still doens't help. Just look at the Muslim reactions in London. The British try to go out of their way, but the seemingly only acceptable response to large portions of the Muslim community is that the British do nothing (of course they don't say that, but their protestations of almost everythign easily lend themselves to that conclusion). I'm not saying implementing hamfisted policies will work either. But, this European "understanding" you cite hasn't been doing much to help them. While yes, they may face a greater threat, at what point do you say, hmm, these policies aren't working as well as they should. Oh wait, the EU is being held up as a paragon of liberal virtue, so we can't admit it may be their "policies" and their oh so enlighten view of terrorism.
 

Bart: However, the EU countries may want to start treating al Qaeda and its allies in their nations as military enemy combatants, not just criminal defendants.

You beg the question. Constitutionally, war, as an armed struggle between nations, is deemed potentially worth the temporary erosion of liberties for citizens and check-and-balances on executive power. Short of armed conflict between nations these rights and liberties are deemed inalienable in our society. You, however, argue that such are not inalienable, that they are instead expendable in situations far from armed struggle between nations.

And be clear, the best gift you could give to the bin Laden's of the world is to fall victim to their rhetoric and make the mistake of actually declaring war on Islam. We come daily closer to that disaster thanks to the kind of question begging you favor.

No one disagrees, Bart, that totalitarian measures are efficacious. But I repeat, you have a duty, as an attorney, to look not only at how a ruling or statute can serve its intended purpose but also to what other purposes it can be turned. You seem either blind to, ignorant of, or simply in favor of increased dangers to loyal and patriotic citizens from their government. The "stovepiping" lamented in the 9/11 Commission was put in place after the abuses of COINTELPRO, and the undoing of such restrictions comes at a cost. We know full well the purposes to which this piecemeal march toward martial law can be turned. All the more reason, then, to distinguish between those situations which can legitimately be called war in the Constitutional sense from wars on drugs, poverty or "terror".
 

I think this fascinating interview with an Army officer serving as a nurse in the psych war at Gitmo on what he observed during his extensive interviews with the detainees gives some context to what kind of foe we are fighting.

Go read the whole thing here:

http://patterico.com/2006/10/03/5225/
pattericos-exclusive-interview-with-a-man-
who-has-spoken-to-the-terrorists-at-
guantanamo-part-two-stashiu-arrives-
at-gtmo-and-describes-the-terrorists/

Here are a couple hilites from a very long interview:

1) Stashiu is not able to share specific details of conversations he had with specific individuals, for reasons having to do principally with patient confidentiality, and in part with operational security. But he can give you, the reader, a good overview of what types of human beings are being detained at Guantánamo Bay.

I asked him that very question: what are the detainees like? Stashiu said:

For many of them, think Ted Bundy. Educated, charming, and without conscience for those they consider infidels. Some are truly ill and were taken advantage of because of it. For example, one routinely asked us for an explosive suicide vest so he could assassinate Osama Bin Laden or George Bush for us, whoever he could find first (he was completely serious).

2) Stashiu gave me a detailed answer, but made it clear that it is his opinion — not a statement of the beliefs of the detainees with whom he has spoken. Still, since he has talked to the detainees for hours, it is probably worth paying attention to his opinion. Stashiu’s view is this:

In my opinion, most of them are sincere in their belief they will win for the following reasons:

a. They are told they are assured of victory by their religion. They are raised with the belief that Islam is destined to become the dominant way of life for this planet. No matter how long it takes, it is inevitable. Once Islam is supreme, there will be no war, crime, poverty, or need. These are frequent talking points every Friday in the mosques.

b. Their leaders consistently stress that jihad is working and our culture is a hollow shell. They point to VietNam, Somalia, 9/11, Madrid (both the bombings and the elections immediately following), and the anti-war propagandists here in the United States. . . . The jihadists are constantly told that America is weak-willed and will turn and run if they can be inflicted with enough damage and peace can be delayed long enough.

c. They believe they are more committed to victory at any cost because it is all in God’s name and is the Will of God. They point to our efforts at minimizing both our own casualties and those of civilians. You never see them worry about collateral damage and destroying infrastructure. They see our compassion as weakness and our integrity as blindness to reality.


The enemy is deadly serious about killing us. Are we equally serious about defending ourselves?
 

Bart: The enemy is deadly serious about killing us. Are we equally serious about defending ourselves?

This helps me understand the divide that keeps these conversations from ever reaching any closure. You have only one thing on your mind: getting the enemy. You cannot be bothered with legitimate strategic analysis of that enemy. And you cannot be bothered with niceties of form. And you most certainly cannot be bothered with petty civilian concerns for justice, liberty, or any of the myriad values for which we claim to fight. It is simply a world of kill-or-be-killed for you, a world of "grub first, then ethics." But the only way this particular enemy poses any legitimate strategic threat to the nation is in the way a bee might cause you to drive off the road as you swat it away from your face. Can the enemy hurt us? Certainly. Can she destroy us? Only if we do the majority of the work for her, say, by introducing law after law stripping not only the enemy but loyal and patriotic citizens of the rights and liberties which are our only true claim to any moral standing. War on terror? Like a splint on smallpox. Or is that too subtle for you?
 

What was the name and date of the conference in Brussels?
 

Rudi,

It was "The Response of State Law to the Expression of Cultural Identity," from Sept. 28-Oct. 1, sponsored by the Franqui Foundation.
 

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