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Terror Tuesday: As despair and anger mount at US ‘war on terror’ policies, all eyes turn to Boston

In the aftermath of the terrible attack on the Boston Marathon, the federalized, paramilitarized multi-agency policing apparatus whose post 9/11 evolution has been a frequent focus of this website was on full display in the streets of Watertown, Cambridge and Boston.

After more than 9,000 heavily-armed police conducted a day-long dragnet search for 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, he was finally located by a Watertown resident who spied a trail of blood when he left his house to have a cigarette.

No sooner had the bombings occurred, than right wing bloggers and Islamophobes rustled up a supposed al Qaeda perpetrator in the form of a young Saudi national who had been injured in the bombing. They alleged he had several relatives in Guantanamo.

But while ‘terrorism experts’ tied themselves in knots explaining the differences between foreign and domestic terrorism, domestic terrorism “with some kind of international flavor” and domestic terrorism and mass murder, polls showed that Americans were more worried by the violence of mass killings like Aurora and Newtown than they were by attacks with a terrorist label.

It was encouraging to read today the results of Pew Research Center poll suggesting that although the public expects there to be occasional terrorist acts in the future, fear is not noticeably on the rise.

It was also encouraging to read an op ed in the Boston Herald of all papers, by one of its editors, Rachelle Cohen. After calling the bag checks on the MBTA “a bit of a charade” that give the “illusion of safety” she described what it would take to guarantee perpetual safety:

You want safe? Well, think about Friday for a moment – when we were a community of 1 million under siege, locked in place, most people without a means to get from one place to another…those who did venture out – which without the T running and taxis ordered off the streets required a bit of stamina and a good pair of running shoes – saw a police presence unlike any this metropolitan area has ever seen before. Police from every community in eastern Massachusetts, military police, SWAT teams, Homeland Security, sheriff’s offices, corrections officers, were on virtually every corner. If there was a guy or gal with a gun and a badge, well, they were here. And the rule of thumb seemed to be, the more important the building, the bigger the guns….

Terrorism has no end. If one guy is allowed to paralyze a region of 1 million people, what happens the next time and the time after that?…Yes, we can be safe, really safe, just as we were on Friday…It’s a price that’s far too high to pay.

Now questions are being raised about the extent to which the search operation represented law enforcement overkill, about the shortcomings in the Massachusetts and federal security arrangements and what the reaction to the bombings suggests about the country’s mind set.

But what about the mindset of those parts of the world which have been at the receiving end of US impunity?

In the week before the Boston bombing, McClatchy Newspapers released the results of its investigation into drone strikes which demonstrated that the so-called targeted killings were hardly limited to “specific senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces” involved in the Sept. 11, 2001” as the Administration frequently claimed.

Undeterred, on April 14, the day before the Boston Marathon, the US resumed its drone attacks on North Waziristan. In Yemen, the targeted killing lull was brought to an end with strikes on April 17 and 21.

With all eyes on Boston, virtually no attention was paid to the visit to Washington by Peter Mauer, the head of the International Red Cross, an organization that generally does not issue public statements. But this time Mauer addressed a press conference and warned the White House that “if a drone is used in a country where there is no armed conflict… there is a problem.” The next day Pakistan was subjected to a further drone strike.

Mauer’s visit reinforced the message of a letter sent to President Obama by the ACLU and nine other human rights and civil liberties groups urging him to “publicly disclose key targeted killing standards and criteria; ensure that US lethal force operations abroad comply with international law; enable meaningful congressional oversight and judicial review; and ensure effective investigations, tracking and response to civilian harm.”

Death-by-drone appears to be the Obama Administration’s alternative to living death in Guantanamo, long referred to as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda. For awhile, the desperate hunger strike at the prison, now it its third month, seemed to be gathering media traction, along with reports of prisoners being shot at with rubber bullets and placed into isolation cells.

Just hours before the Boston marathon began, New York Times presented its readers with what Glenn Greenwald called “one of the most powerful op eds you will ever read.” Guantanamo prisoner Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a Yemeni detainee, wrote in “Gitmo is killing me,” of his agony being force fed on hunger strike after being buried for 11 years in Guantanamo without charges of any kind:

The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply. At least 40 people here are on a hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood.

And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.

I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.

When eyes turned to Boston, the hunger strike was no longer news in the US.

But in Yemen on April 16 the US Embassy was the site of a vociferous protest that included family members of Guantanamo prisoners. Angry demonstrators demanded the release of the 90 or so Yemeni prisoners, a considerable number of whom had long ago been cleared for transfer home.

While we mourn the dead and rally for the wounded in Boston, we must not lose sight of this broader picture, nor the thousands of lives destroyed by policies that are beyond the rule of law and counterproductive in national security terms.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.