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June 11, 2004

Losing the war on terror ... and on truth

Consider the following two statements:

Worldwide terrorism dropped by 45 percent between 2001 and 2003. The number of terrorist acts committed last year represents the lowest annual total of international terrorist attacks since 1969.
The number of terrorist events has risen each year since 2001, and in 2003 reached its highest level in more than 20 years.

You can't get more diametrically opposite than that. And yet, these two conclusions are both drawn from the same report, Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003, an annual round-up of terrorism activity from the State Department. Unsurprisingly, the Bush Administration stands behind the first conclusion (the first quote comes from Dick Armitage). The second comes from a re-analysis of the underlying data by the Washington Post, as reported in this May 17 editorial.

They say in war the first casualty is truth, and this Salon article conducts the field autopsy. The decline in terrorism reported by Armitage is entirely due to a decline in "nonsignificant events". The State Department tallies but refuses to disclose what constitutes a nonsignificant event. Clearly though, a nonsignificant event is something less significant than destroying an ATM or throwing a molotov cocktail at a McDonald's without causing damage, both "significant events" by the State Department's own definition. They won't even disclose who decides what constitutes an event (significant or otherwise), or provide data to validate the nonsignificant events. The data for significant events is, however, tabled and verified, and those have clearly risen, even if you ignore (as the 2003 report curiously did) events after November 11 2003, including the November bombings in Istanbul that killed dozens and wounded hundreds. (And don't get me started on the misleading scale break in this chart of Total US Citizen Casualties.)

Clearly, we are not winning the war on terror, despite State of the Union speeches and daily briefings to the contrary. But when the definition of "to win" is set by Bush creations -- the data in the report was collected by the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and the Department of Homeland Security -- what other conclusion can you expect?

Posted by david at June 11, 2004 09:36 AM | TrackBack
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Well, I believe this is something of a theme lately. Per Slate today:

federal anti-torture statute does not apply to American personnel at Guantanamo Bay because that base is within the "special maritime and territorial jurisdiction" of the United States—while the torture statute's text limits its application to locations "outside of the United States." The fact that the offenses happen on U.S. military property means they're outside the reach of U.S. criminal law.

However, that very same Pentagon is arguing in the lawsuit brought on behalf of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay that the U.S. courts have no jurisdiction on non-U.S. soil and therefore none over the Gitmo detainees.

The Slate piece actually covers more than just this topic, so you should read it.

Posted by: paulette on June 11, 2004 01:42 PM
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