Criticisms of War on terrorism

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Criticism of the "war on terrorism" address issues of methods, motives, civilian deaths, civil liberties, and human rights. Arguments are also made against the phrase itself, calling it a misnomer.

On September 14, 2001, when the United States House of Representatives voted on a bill authorizing the president of the United States to use military force against those involved in the September 11, 2001, attack, there was only one dissenting vote. Much of the opposition came from the general public, longstanding pacifist groups as well as the anti-globalization (also called alternative globalization) movement.


Perpetual war

U.S. President George W. Bush articulated the goals of the "war on terrorism" in a 20 September 2001 speech, in which he said it "will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."2 To critics, such goals create a state of perpetual war. They have argued that terrorism is itself only a tactic which can never be defeated.6 It is further disputed that the "war on terrorism" qualifies as a war, instead being argued that there is no party whose defeat can bring victory.

The Bush administration has given various answers concerning what would constitute victory. In a news conference on September 20, 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "I say that victory is persuading the American people and the rest of the world that this is not a quick matter that's going to be over in a month or a year or even five years. It is something that we need to do so that we can continue to live in a world with powerful weapons and with people who are willing to use those powerful weapons. And we can do that as a country. And that would be a victory, in my view".

Jacob Levenson wrote, "Three years after the United States attacked Afghanistan, it is extremely difficult for the press to gauge where the United States stands in the war on terror because the term itself obscures distinction".14

Pre-emptive war

The justification given for the invasion of Iraq (prior to its happening) was to prevent terrorist or other attacks by Iraq on the United States or other nations. This can be viewed as a conventional warfare realisation of the war on terror.

A major criticism levelled at this is that it does not fulfill one of the requirements of a just war, and that in waging a war pre-emptively, the United States has undermined international law and the authority of the United Nations, particularly the United Nations Security Council.

Another criticism that has been raised is that the United States has set a precedent, under the premises of which any nation could justify the invasion of other states.


"You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror," a remark by U.S. President Bush in November 2001,15 has been a source of criticism. Thomas A. Keaney of John Hopkins University's Foreign Policy Institute said "it made diplomacy with a number of different countries far more difficult because obviously there are different problems throughout the world."16

Civilian deaths

Civilian deaths caused by United States and Coalition military action have been criticized.

Estimates of civilian deaths vary greatly. Within Iraq, these estimates are between 3,853 to 100,000. The United States Department of Defense does not record the deaths of non-Coalition persons, a so-called "body count."8 Estimates prominently cited have come from, a database of deaths reported on the mass media; the Iraqi Ministry of Health; and the independent United States report "Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq" in The Lancet.

Iraq Body Count has estimated civilian deaths reported by the mass media to be between 16,000 to 18,000, including deaths caused by insurgents and inadequate health care.11 The report published in The Lancet, "Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq", cited 100,000 (8,000 to 194,000 at a 95% confidence interval) civilian deaths as attributed to the invasion from a statistical survey.12 This was rejected by United Kingdom Foreign Minister Jack Straw as inaccurate. He gave instead figures from the Iraqi Ministry of Health, which were 3,853 dead since the invasion to that time.13

In any estimate, non-Coalition civilian deaths exceed those of the United States in the attacks of 11 September 2001 from which the "war on terrorism" began. This has been the subject of criticism such as "it appears that American life is held above all others."9 The Women of Color Resource Center opposed the "war on terrorism," arguing that United States military tactics focus on minimizing U.S. casualties at the cost of civilian casualties as "collateral damage".10

United States General Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. Central Command, gave an estimate of 30,000 deaths among Iraqi soldiers during the invasion.5

Aiding terrorism

Guardian reporter Shirley Williams writes that the American and United Kingdom governments "must stop to think whether it is sowing the kind of resentment which is the seedbed of future terrorism."18 The United Kingdom ambassador to Italy, Ivor Roberts, said that U.S. President Bush is "the best recruiting sergeant ever for al Qaeda."19 The United States granted "protected persons" status under the Geneva Convention to the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, an Iranian group classified by the U.S. Department of State as a terrorist organization, sparking criticism.17


The leadership of the German Green Party, known for its pacifist principles that were already partly left during the war in Yugoslavia, supported the attack, but condemned the use of cluster bombs. This support led to an internal division within the party and a confidence vote called by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, in which he retained the support of enough Greens to stay on.

Many people believe that the interrogation methods employed by the CIA violate international conventions against torture and that the detentions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as many in the United States based on the Patriot Act, are not in accord with international standards.

Other people contend that war against terrorism is plainly wrong since terrorist attacks are to be considered criminal acts like murder and therefore should be prosecuted by the police and courts. The use of the military often aggravates wrongfulness by killing uninvolved people.

Pax Americana

One analysis is that the United States intends "to establish a new political framework within which [it] will exert hegemonic control" (World Socialist Web Site Editorial Board ( Many people say the United States seeks to do this by controlling access to oil or oil pipelines.

This view is shared by a broad variety of ideological streams, including social democrats (e.g. Michael Meacher: "The global war on terrorism has the hallmarks of a political myth propagated to pave the way for a wholly different agenda -- the U.S. goal of world hegemony, built around securing by force command over the oil supplies required to drive the whole project"); anarchists (e.g. Noam Chomsky); Greens (e.g. George Monbiot); and Marxists. In addition, many people on this side of the political spectrum opine that the war is being fought to benefit domestic political allies of the Bush administration, especially arms manufacturers. (See Military-industrial complex.)

Proponents of the hegemony hypothesis point out that achieving such a situation is the stated aim of the Project for the New American Century, a conservative think tank that includes many prominent members of the Republican Party and Bush administration among its present and former members.

Domestic civil liberties

It is alleged that civil liberties in coalition countries have suffered or will suffer.

Within the United States, critics argue that the Bush Administration and lower governments have restricted civil liberties and created a "culture of fear". Bush introduced the USA PATRIOT Act legislation to the United States Congress shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks, which significantly expanded U.S. law enforcement's power. It has been criticized as being too broad and having been abused for purposes unrelated to counter-terrorism. Bush had also proposed Total Information Awareness, a federal program to collect and process massive amounts of data to identify behaviors consistent with terrorist threats. It was heavily criticized as being an "Orwellian" case of mass surveillance.

Many opponents focus on the domestic aspects, complaining that the government is systematically removing civil liberties from the population or engaging in racial profiling. They also allege that this approach contributes to whipping up public hostility to dissenting voices by encouraging the accusation of them as being unpatriotic or even treasonous for simply disagreeing with the administration.

Controversy arose within the United States over remarks made by the producer of a television documentary titled Hitler: The Rise of Evil. Ed Gernon told the New York Post in April 2003 that a perceived mood of fear in the United States resembled, in his opinion, that of Germany before the rise of Adolf Hitler. Gernon was fired by CBS network as a result. 1

There have been various films made stating political views. Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore directed a film critical of the "war on terror" and George W. Bush, Fahrenheit 9/11 . It was released in June 2004, during the U.S. presidential election. This was countered with Fahrenhype 9/11.

The controversy has, to a certain degree, died since the election, since the Republicans will hold their majority seating in Congress (unless any standing politicians change their political affiliations) until the next election.


Some view the "war on terrorism" as a conflict pitting Christians against Muslims; i.e., as a crusade.

  • Lt. Gen. William Boykin said [1] ([2] ( the "war on terrorism" actually a new medieval-type crusade
  • Journalist Alexander Cockburn labelled it the Tenth Crusade, referencing the medieval wars.

Misleading information

Some critics argue that some politicians supporting the "war on terror" are motivated by reasons other than those they publicly state, and critics accuse those politicians of cynically misleading the public to achieve their own ends.

For instance, in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush and members of his administration suggested that links existed between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. Polls suggest that a majority of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein was complicit in the attacks of September 11, 2001. However, evidence for such links has so far been absent, and a thorough investigation by the 9/11 Commission found no credible evidence that Saddam Hussein helped al-Qaida with the attacks.

Regardless of whether or not the Bush administration was deliberately misleading the people, wrong information was distributed. Perhaps the most infamous example is the now totally debunked theory that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan criticized the use of pro-humanitarian arguments by Coalition countries prior to its 2003 invasion of Iraq, writing in an open letter: "This selective attention to human rights is nothing but a cold and calculated manipulation of the work of human rights activists. Let us not forget that these same governments turned a blind eye to Amnesty International’s reports of widespread human rights violations in Iraq before the Gulf War."7

Nuclear proliferation

Oxford Research Group has predicted that the actions of the United States in the "war on terrorism" may lead to an increase in nuclear proliferation in terrorist groups arising from instability.3 It is also argued, by Ian Williams, that the status of the United Status as an unmatched conventional military power will result in widespread nuclear proliferation among states which feel threatened by the U.S.4. The rationale for this development is, that until now, it never has happened that a nuclear-armed country was invaded by military means.

Pejorative terms

Critics have replaced "war on terrorism" or related phrases with pejorative terms:

  • "War on Terra", an ad hominem attack on the accent of U.S. President Bush and an allusion to a concept of Pax Americana as worldwide U.S. dominance advocated by the Project for the New American Century.
  • Britons and Australians may call it "TWAT" (The War Against Terrorism)
  • Justin Butcher has parodied it as a "War against tourism," partly a reference to the accent of President Bush.20
  • "War OF Terror"

See also


Note 1: "Hitler" Producer Fired Note 2: Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People Note 3: The 'War on Terrorism' from Oxford Research Group's website, 28 February 2005. Note 4: After Iraq: Perpetual War and a Nuclear World Note 5: Secretary of Defense Interview with Bob Woodward Note 6: "War on terror" difficult to define Note 7: Human rights in the balance Note 8: Counting the civilian cost in Iraq Note 9: Us Versus Them: Some Lives Seem More Important in the War on Terror Note 10: 10 Reasons Why Women Should Oppose the "War on Terrorism" Note 11: Note 12: Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey Note 13: UK rejects report of 100,000 Iraq civilian deaths Note 14: The War on What, Exactly? Note 15: Bush says it is time for action Note 16: With us or against us? Mideast is not that simple Note 17: Why the US granted 'protected' status to Iranian terrorists Note 18: The seeds of Iraq's future terror Note 19: Kerry Is Widely Favored Abroad Note 20: Dramatic interventions


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