9 Other Countries that Jumped on the Post 9-11 Terrorism Fear to Crack Down on Dissenters
After the September 11th attacks, the U.S. embarked on a global campaign of war, a crackdown on dissent and, as the recent Senate torture report shows, a gruesome program of waterboardings and sexual assault of detainees.
The turn to the “dark side”--as former Vice President Dick Cheney put it--was justified by the specter of terrorism. But it wasn’t only the U.S. that exploited fear of terrorism to jail and torture those accused of anti-government violence. It was a trend that spread around the world. Both liberal democracies like the United Kingdom and repressive regimes like Syria have justified policies that violate human rights by invoking national security and terrorism. American policy has become a model for enacting nefarious practices.
In 2012, Human Rights Watch released a report showing that before the September 11 attacks, 51 countries had anti-terrorism laws. After the attacks, that number skyrocketed to over 140. “These post-September 11 laws, when viewed as a whole, represent a broad and dangerous expansion of government powers to investigate, arrest, detain, and prosecute individuals at the expense of due process, judicial oversight, and public transparency,” the human rights group said.
Here’s 9 countries who have joined the U.S. in turning to the “dark side.”
1. United Kingdom. This long-time U.S. ally has joined in on the Bush and Obama administration’s most shocking abuses, from torture to drone assassinations.
The Senate torture report redacted the names of the countries that assisted the Central Intelligence Agency’s brutal torture program. But a variety of news reports have made clear that the UK, for instance, allowed the U.S. to use a British-controlled island--Diego Garcia--for the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, in which agents kidnapped alleged terrorism suspects and spirited them off to foreign countries, where they were tortured. The island was also the site of a CIA black site, Al Jazeera America’s Jason Leopold reported in April. In addition, British intelligence agents reportedly colluded in the torture of some detainees, like Binyam Mohamed, by feeding his American torturers with information and questions.
Domestically, the UK passed a spate of anti-terrorism laws that allowed detention without charge for two weeks and that lead to hundreds of thousands of people, mostly from communities of color, being stopped and searched on suspicions of terrorism. Documents released by Edward Snowden show that GCHQ, the UK’s intelligence agency, indiscriminately spies on millions of people around the world and in the UK. And one of the most controversial powers the UK has used is its stripping of citizenship of those they accuse of terrorism.
2. Bahrain. Here’s another U.S. ally that has used fear of terrorism as an excuse to further crackdown on dissent. In 2011, as part of the wave of Arab uprisings, hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis began to demonstrate and call for political reform. While both Sunni and Shia Muslims participated in the revolt, the government labeled the uprising a Shia affair as part of its long-running strategy to harden sectarian divisions in the country by denying Shia Muslims full rights.
The al-Khalifa regime labeled the protest movement a terrorist one, with Iran as the secret hand behind it. The government has used terrorism laws like a 2006 measure that outlawed the disruption of “public order” to jail political dissenters who are labeled as terrorists. Protesters who participated in the 2011 uprising were accused of terrorism and thrown in prison for making speeches against the regime.
In 2013, the Bahraini government toughened its anti-terrorism laws by enshrining into law their right to strip the citizenship of those who call or commit terrorist acts.
3. Saudi Arabia. Bahrain’s powerful neighbor is another Gulf Arab state notorious for its quashing of dissent. Saudi Arabia’s anti-democratic policies were worsened earlier this year, when the country passed an anti-terrorism law that made “disturbing” the public order and “defaming” the state a crime. Under the law, “terrorism” need not be a violent act. For example, the law criminalizes advocacy for atheism as a “terrorist” act. In July, the anti-terrorism law was invoked to imprison a prominent Saudi human rights lawyer.
A royal decree issued in March labeled the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group which has largely eschewed violence, a terrorist group as part of its backing for the regional crackdown on the organization. Saudi Arabia has applauded and backed the Egyptian regime’s quashing of the Muslim Brotherhood since a 2013 coup overthrew Egypt’s first elected president, who was a member of the Brotherhood.
4. Uzbekistan. Known as one of the world’s most repressive nations, Uzbekistan is a valued U.S. ally and a supply route for soldiers in Afghanistan. After September 11, it adopted America’s “war on terror” rhetoric to justify its repression of conservative Islamists.
Uzbekistan has dealt with violence by Islamists for years. But according to Human Rights Watch, Uzbek authorities have labeled as “terrorist” groups that espouse Islam, even if they do not advocate for violence. Thousands of people have been swept up in the anti-terror dragnet, and are often brutally tortured in prison.
Uzbekistan was also one of 54 countries around the world that helped the CIA with its extraordinary rendition program. The CIA flew alleged terrorism suspects to the authoritarian country and turned them over to Uzbek security forces, and also used the country’s airspace on its way to render prisoners to nearby countries.
5. China. Much like Uzbekistan, China, too, used 9/11 and the fear of terrorism to frame a long-running dispute between the Chinese government and Muslims.
China’s Uighur Muslims, mostly located in the northwest of the country, have long resisted the Chinese state’s attempts to squash Muslim practices. They complain of systemic discrimination and of policies that favor the dominant Han Chinese ethnic group.
It’s true that a minority of Uighur Muslims who advocated for a separate state have used violence. But they’re hardly in the majority. China has targeted the Uighur Muslim community en masse.
In September, the Washington Post reported that Uighurs felt that China was waging an “all-out war on conservative Islam.” The Post reported that Chinese security forces detained women for wearing veils and that Muslim students and government workers were forced to eat during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that includes daily fasting.
6. Russia. Here’s another country that has long faced a separatist movement in a region where Muslims are predominant. Russia has waged brutal wars in Chechnya in response to violence committed as part of a struggle for separation from the Russian state.
As TIME magazine’s Simon Shuster reported in 2011, George W. Bush once condemned Russian brutality in the region when he was running for president. After September 11, though, that criticism evaporated in large part because of the “war on terrorism.” Russian forces have tortured and extrajudically killed those they accused as being a part of the separatist movement.
In 2006, Russia passed a counter-terrorism law that barred journalists from accessing areas where counter-terror operations occurred. Russia also amended a law to allow security forces to detain terrorism suspects for 30 days without charge. And in 2009, authorities “amended the country’s penal code to end jury trials for terrorism or treason suspects and gave prosecutors broader investigative authority in such cases. The provisions ordered terrorism suspects to be tried instead by three-judge panels,” according to the 2012 Human Rights Watch report.
7. Egypt. When Hosni Mubarak was in power, Egypt was a crucial ally in the U.S. “war on terror.” The CIA, for instance, rendered suspects to the country, who were then tortured by Egyptian intelligence agents.
Egypt, though, embarked on its own domestic campaign after the 2013 military coup that overthrew Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first post-revolution president. Morsi’s roots lay in the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and the military regime, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, cracked down hard on the Islamist group. The Sisi government has killed thousands of Brotherhood members, arrested thousands more and outlawed the group, deeming it a “terrorist” group. In reality, the Brotherhood has renounced violence. The Islamist group that has used terrorism is called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, who has waged a violent campaign against security forces in the country.
8. Syria. The Assad regime that governs Syria also participated in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. And the Syrian government, like Egypt, also used the rhetoric of anti-terrorism to justify brutal crackdowns on political opponents.
When Syrian protesters went to the streets in 2011 to demand the end of the Assad’s regime brutal reign, President Bashar al-Assad called them all “terrorists.” Security forces opened fire on thousands of demonstrators and arrested and tortured political dissenters. The Assad regime has kept up his “war on terror” rhetoric. The government has used it to welcome the U.S. bombing campaign against the Islamic State.
Complicating this picture is that, like Egypt, there are groups that use the tactic of terrorism to fight the Syrian civil war. But it’s also true the Syrian regime stoked the civil war by repressing the demonstrations with brutal force.
9. Kenya. This country is one of the U.S.’s key African allies in the “war on terror.” Kenya and the U.S. have teamed up in the fight against al-Shabaab, an Islamist militant group. Kenya’s abuse of civil liberties has intensified after al-Shabaab members carried out violent attacks like the one at the Westgate mall last year.
Somali migrants in Kenya have borne the brunt of this abuse. The police have arrested, beat and deported many Somalis.
In August 2014, Human Rights Watch issued a report detailing the “strong evidence that Kenya’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) has carried out a series of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances” and “evidence of arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of terrorism suspects in detention.”