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Action Alert 

US Needs to Pursue Peaceful Solution

18 October 2001

Are we feeling better yet?

Didn't think so.

It's been just over a month since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Security has been tightened at airports. Sweeping anti-terrorism measures have been or will soon be legislated in the U.S. and Canada. Yet, despite the heightened security, anthrax attacks in New York, Florida and Washington have everyone on alert. Spottings of what's turned out to be household dust have cleared mailrooms, schools and offices across North America.

The FBI hasn't eased any of the rampant paranoia and fear with its warnings that it has "intelligence" that further terrorist strikes are imminent, somewhere, some time and in some form, but it can't be any more specific.

Meanwhile, America has been lauded by many commentators for its military crusade against terrorism. "Fighting clever" is what one columnist dubbed it, but the campaign has so far proven to be a failure. Almost two weeks of bombing Afghanistan has failed to rout Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime isn't any closer to co-operating with the United States. The constant threat of a conflict between India and Pakistan could imperil America's campaign further.

Despite an outpouring of global sympathy immediately following the attacks of Sept. 11, the U.S. is now even struggling in its hearts-and-minds campaign. Some horrible gaffes, like the huge bomb that missed its Taliban military target at the Kabul airport last Friday, striking a residential area instead and killing four civilians, have only hardened anti- American sentiment in Arab and Muslim nations.

Then there's the infamous food drop over Afghanistan, a public relations maneuver that has been denounced by humanitarian aid experts like Nobel Peace Prize-winning Médecins sans frontières for being inadequate, ill-conceived and possibly dangerous. Then there's the U.S. State Department's request to Al Jazeera, the independent Arab-language, all-news channel that has 35 million viewers worldwide, that it tone down its allegedly anti-American coverage. That request was seen by many Muslims and Arabs as an attempt by the American government to control the influential press. Can't America do better than this? It's still the early days, of course, of what President George W. Bush says might be a year-long campaign, but it's becoming increasing clear that a military response, while necessary in some cases, isn't the best response in this particular fight against terrorism.

War is costly, civilian deaths are inevitable and, in a battle against a small but sophisticated and far-flung organization of people who are happy to die for their beliefs, let's face it, an American victory is impossible. There's Afghanistan's brutal, defeating terrain to consider if it becomes necessary to send in ground troops and the potential long-term fallout of aligning too closely with the dubious Northern Alliance. Even if the U.S. manages to find and kill bin Laden, he'd only become a martyr. For real success in its war on terrorism, the United States must re-examine its foreign policy. A month ago that suggestion was dismissed as insensitive and anti-American, but it is the key to why the U.S. Is getting nowhere in both its military battle and its diplomatic efforts.

Hostile American foreign policy in no way justifies the terrorist attacks, but it does explain why the governments that are best placed to find and capture bin Laden are leery of cooperating too much with the U.S. Their citizens don't trust America and often for very good reasons. And that trust isn't going to build if civilian casualties continue to mount in Afghanistan.

Which isn't to say that justice shouldn't be sought. Although an imperfect and slow process, using international law is a far better option. First, Arab and Muslim nations might be more willing to help if they knew that bin Laden would be tried by a third party in an international court.

Second, although due process might not offer the same visceral thrill as dropping bombs on a nation of desperate and starving people, it's hardly the cowardly way out. It would serve the cause of justice and it has successful precedents.

It was an international court that placed Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic on trial and a Spanish judge, Baltasar Garz—n, whose legal pursuit finally snared Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. And it's the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a judicial-style process that is overwhelmingly favored by black South Africans, that is being used to bring about justice following decades of apartheid rule.

If the real aim here is not only justice for the horrible attacks of Sept. 11, but to prevent future terrorist acts, then the U.S. must consider the legal, peaceful option. It's time to exchange the hawks for some doves.

Rachel Giese.
Published in the Toronto Star.
(c) 1996-2001 Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.

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