The Secret War On Terror reveals the astonishing inside story of the intelligence war which has been fought against al-Qaeda over the last decade since 9/11.
It’s a typical Bush-ism “the War on Terror.” Leaving aside that you can’t declare war on an emotional state, neatly wrapped and justified in a simple, direct and hawkish term, does Peter Taylor find any answers to two questions? To what degree has the west sacrificed its democratic principles in the fight against terrorism and has this campaign made us any safer?
Part One: This episode looks at how the West became involved in abductions, secret prisons and even torture and how the intelligence services disrupt major terrorist plots.
This opener on the use of torture by US and Allies largely tells us what we already knew, albeit from the mouths of those directly involved. We know the Bush administration dismantled most of the US Constitution and rolled back fifty years of human rights frameworks, ordered extraordinary rendition and torture, describing this using that government’s own banal ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ manual.
The programme picked on a few episodes from the litany of detentions, beatings and water-boardings. In interview after interview, the Americans baldly declare that the ends justify the means – torture produced “life-saving information” – when in fact it produced 90% false leads. Meanwhile everyone else reiterates having no knowledge of torture at the time but little surprise on the discovery later.
Former British intelligence head Eliza Manningham-Buller was asked if torture damages the West. She was unequivocal: it does. Taylor plays a straight journalistic bat, exposing the practices carried out in our name. Nobody expressed regret or apology.
Part Two: this episode looks at how, with harsh interrogation techniques increasingly off-limits, spy agencies, have developed a controversial high-tech method of targeting and killing suspected terrorists with pilotless drone aircraft. Peter Taylor investigates the death of Osama Bin Laden and reports from Guantanamo Bay on how governments have been forced to face up to the end game – what to do with the hard-core Al Qaeda suspects and whether it is necessary to talk to Al Qaeda.
Part Two documents the successes and failures of the War on Terror, including the US’ ongoing campaign of shoot-to-kill using airbonre drones and special forces. Despite the loss of it’s leadership, Bin-Laden and others, Al Quaeda is likened to a hydra, growing new heads whenever one is shot or bombed by the US military and intelligence services. Not only that but Al Quaeda in Aghanistan, North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula represent increasing threats which cannot, according to Manningham-Buller, be defeated by purely military means.
Previously a two-part documentary for UK channel BBC2, Taylor finds little prospect of an end to the ‘war’ anytime soon. AJS