On Saturday in New York, a U.S. attorney, a police commissioner, members of the transit authority and local law enforcement participated in a press conference that rivals the academy awards in their determination to praise each other for foiling an alleged "conspiracy" to blow up aircraft, terminals, and gas lines in one of the nation's busiest and best loved airports, JFK. While no explosives or any concrete evidence has yet to turn up, the investigation into this plan for a massive strike against a major U.S. airport appears to be a slam dunk for an administration aiming to make its citizens more aware of the prospects for "terrorist attacks." Arguably, more of these foiled plots will come to light as the presidential race draws closer.
Does this sound cynical? Well, let me assure you that, having been born and raised only miles from JFK, few could be happier that the 18-month-plot had been averted and that three suspects have been taken into custody on conspiracy charges. Abdul Kadir, Kareem Ibrahim, and Russell Defreitas are being held, and a fourth man, Abdel Nur is being sought in Guyana. Notably, Mr. Defreitas, a former airport employee, is a U.S. citizen. And, while we may take a collective sigh of relief that the nation's financial mecca has yet again been spared, it is socially irresponsible not to ask if Defreitas will meet the same fate as Jose Padilla, and to ignore the fact that while precluding another terrorist act, we're still no closer to apprehending the usual suspects and understanding the root causes of a global wildfire of hatred of U.S. foreign expansionism and corporate gluttony. Rest assured that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would be thrilled, too, to see another attack on a beloved city fail, but to use a so-called "war on terror" to eviscerate an American citizen of his constitutional rights is not what the framers had in mind.
Moreover, while lately the administration talks more about a growing threat from al Qaeda in Iraq, yet to be addressed is the harsh reality of how our government's policies are fanning the fire of universal contempt for our landmarks, institutions, and people.
While the four allegedly spent more than a year hatching this latest plot, they did not even possess the means to implement. Had it happened, the plot would have been a devastating blow to aircraft, terminals and fuel lines, but authorities moved in and brought three into custody based on their surveillance and the belief that one suspect had been planning to travel. Picture it: law enforcement surveillance of suspects using the Internet to monitor activities of Kennedy Airport -- we have surveillance of surveillance. What happens when the watchers are watching the watched who are watching the watchers? No one is looking into the root causes, only the outward manifestations. More importantly, what happens to free movement on the Internet when government authorities are allowed to track that movement, at will, based on evidence, however dubious, that a "conspiracy" is taking place. I know, I know, we're not supposed to worry about our First Amendment rights when threatened with an attack on our shores...right?
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly urged New Yorkers, once again, to be "vigilant." In fact, he used the word "vigilant" twice in less than a minute. He's right. All Americans need to be vigilant of anything that looks suspicious, or that could lead to an attack against the city and country we love. But we also need to be mindful of excesses that may result from so-called vigilance, such as the potential for racial profiling, harsh and illegal interrogation techniques, government surveillance of electronic and telephonic communications as well as the prospect of domestic internments camps for Muslims, not unlike those for the Japanese after World War II.
Indeed, it may be said that every man or woman who is killed or kills himself may be seen as a victim of terror in this war. A few days ago, a young Saudi man is alleged to have killed himself while in detention at one of our notorious camps at Guantanamo Bay. He is one of four, since 2002, who has been moved to this most desperate act that arose, at least partially, from being held without charge and with no end in sight. Does might give us the right to detain without due process, threaten and humiliate?
So, while the heads of law enforcement, transit authorities and U.S. attorneys in New York pass out accolades for having deterred another horrific act on our soil, this week a landmark lawsuit was brought by the ACLU against Boeing aircraft for its complicity in transporting terror suspects across international airspace to countries that don't comply with Geneva Conventions against torture. It's time we ask ourselves, do the ends justify the means? Can the means be proven to correlate with the ends? Is torture not terror? And when will we recognize the connection between those crimes we commit and those that are committed against us? No one regime may be allowed to wipe out world history since the Enlightenment.
There is only one way to end the war on terror: to address the vast, growing disparity between wealth and indigence, abundance and famine, and work, with compassion and dignity, to eradicate poverty and fear. This cannot be accomplished with bombs and bloodshed, but understanding and diplomacy.