There is a simple and costless strategy to diminish or slash the incidence of violent extremism in the United States: End government extremism, including the initiation of gratuitous wars not in self-defense that kill, injure or displace millions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL); authorizing the president to play prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner to kill American citizens not engaged in hostilities based on secret, uncorroborated evidence; imprisoning alleged “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo Bay indefinitely without accusation or charge in violation of constitutional due process; invoking the state secrets privilege to deny judicial redress for government kidnappings, torture, or assassinations; and, providing material assistance—including weapons and money—to unpopular governments that terrorize or oppress their own populations, for instance, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, the Gulf States, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nothing excites extremism more than government lawlessness or example.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis explained in Olmstead v. United States (1928):
“Decency, security and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperilled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means—to declare that the Government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal—would bring terrible retribution.”
Brandeis was prophetic.
Federal District Court Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum presided over the sentencing of attempted Times Square bomber, Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad. She asked with incredulity how he could contemplate violence that would kill innocent children. He answered:
” ‘Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don’t see children, they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody. It’s a war, and in war, they kill people. They’re killing all Muslims’ … .”
The Boston Marathon and Orlando terrorist bombers referenced the United States bombings and killings of Muslims in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere as motivations for their violent extremism.
In 2004, the Defense Science Board Task Force concluded:
“Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing, support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states. Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.”
Former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency David Patraeus has called the Guantanamo Bay prison for suspected enemy combatants a propaganda recruiting tool for terrorists.
Former FBI interrogator Jack Cloonan, who interrogated al Qaeda suspects, maintains categorically that while torture yields no useful intelligence, it teaches the impressionable the legitimacy of jihad, on the ground that a nation that tortures deserves to be attacked.
It would save the United States trillions of dollars to cease wars not in self-defense while making Americans safer from terrorism.
It would cost the United States nothing to end assassinations of American citizens not accused of crime. The killings of American citizens Anwar al-Awlaki, his teenage son and Samir Khan did nothing to diminish the incidence of terrorism.
It would save the United States hundreds of millions of dollars to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and to put on trial in federal courts any detainees reasonably suspected of providing material assistance to an international terrorist organization.
It would save the United States tens of billions of dollars to cease military or financial assistance to governments that terrorize or oppress their citizens.
It would reduce the incidence of anti-American terrorism blowback if the state secrets privilege were renounced for U.S. government kidnappings, torture, or assassinations.
These U.S. government correctives would counter violent extremism better than all the alternatives. But they are resisted for twofold reasons. They would deny government officials the adolescent thrill of world domination. And they would undermine the military-industrial-counterterrorism complex about which President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned 55 years ago.