Tough talk may help Bush at home but not abroad

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 September, 2006, 12:00am

George W. Bush has lost none of his post-September 11 insistence that his administration's approach to fighting terrorism is just and right. In his latest speech on the subject, the US president has again justified the use of harsh treatment of suspects and military tribunals and made the startling admission of secret CIA prisons.

This is not what we want to hear with the fifth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks just days away, knowing that the approach so far taken has created more danger than it has prevented. Rounding up extremists, keeping them in secret locations and then taking them to the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to face military justice may outwardly seem like the appropriate response to the attack on US soil, but it contravenes international law and human rights and inflames anti-western feelings among Muslims.

The US-led 'war on terrorism' has made the world less safe than five years ago. American security and intelligence measures may have prevented attacks in the US, but suicide bombings have taken a terrible toll elsewhere in the world. With difficult-to-detect homegrown terrorists the new threat, nations helping the US by contributing troops to Afghanistan and Iraq are easy prey.

Each time Mr Bush adopts his bold rhetoric, as he did again on Wednesday, those countries and their people are moved into sharper focus in the cross-hairs of extremists' sights. This time, he said that 14 top-level terrorists, among them the alleged September 11 mastermind and key suspects behind the bombing of the navy ship the USS Cole in 2000 and the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, had been moved from the secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo Bay for trial. He called on Congress to quickly approve administration-drafted legislation so the military can try the terror suspects after the Supreme Court in June rejected plans to use military tribunals to carry out the trials on the basis that US and international law was being violated.

Mr Bush has sound political reasons to be saying such things: US midterm congressional elections will be held on November 7 and the president needs to shore up what polls show is flagging voter support for his Republican Party. By talking tough and emphasising the measures he has taken to protect his nation and the success that they have had, he hopes to win back hearts and minds.

This may be domestically beneficial, but it only hardens in the minds of critics a belief that the Bush government is interested foremost in holding on to power at all costs and that fundamental human freedoms are of a far lower importance. There has certainly been no attempt to correct abuses such as the setting up of the Guantanamo prison camp, where so-called 'illegal combatants' are being held in violation of international law.

Mr Bush's continued obstinacy will only exacerbate global woes.