Hypocrisy Reigns in Terrorism Report

For decades, the U.S. State Department’s reports on human rights and terrorism have been exercises in hypocrisy. The reports have been used as clubs against “enemies” and as excuses for “allies.” The latest terrorism report fits that sorry and dishonest trend, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

The State Department has just released the government’s legislatively mandated annual report on international terrorism. There is no doubt what headline the administration hopes will be taken away from the release of the report, which covers the calendar year 2012.

In a background conference call for reporters on Friday, Senior Administration Official One got immediately to the main message being pushed: that “one of the most noteworthy conclusions” in compiling the report was a “resurgence of terrorist activity by Iran and Hezbollah.” In fact, activity by Iran and Hezbollah was the onlysubject of the press backgrounder, and Iran and Hezbollah were treated as two peas in a pod that jointly account for this “alarming trend.”

State Department’s terrorism report for 2012.

The other briefer, Senior Administration Official Two, joined in the messaging with gusto, warning anyone who might look at Hezbollah as a political actor that it is “a terrorist organization, and not just a terrorist organization, but a broad organization that is morally bankrupt to its very core.”

Most of the incidents involving Iran that were cited as part of the “resurgence” were a set of largely unsuccessful attacks against Israeli personnel early in the year in places such as New Delhi, Tbilisi and Bangkok. Nothing was said, in either the report or the backgrounder, about why Iran would perpetrate such attacks at that particular time against those particular targets.

The failure to address that question is all the more glaring because the answer to the question is clear. The attacks were tit-for-tat terrorism in response to (possibly in addition to other attacks on Iran) the serial assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists — five to date, through early last year. The Iranians made the retaliatory nature of their own operations all the more obvious by even mimicking the method of attack used against the most recent scientist to die: an explosive attached to the victim’s vehicle.

The killings of the scientists were just as much acts of international terrorism as were the retaliatory Iranian attacks. The legal definition that defines terrorism for purposes of the State Department’s report is “premeditated politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”

But don’t expect to find any mention of the assassinations in the report. They are not noted anywhere, including in the section on Iran or the section on Israel (which begins with the statement, “Israel continued to be a stalwart counterterrorism partner in 2012.”) The absence of any mention of the assassinations is certainly not due to any lack of awareness among U.S. officials about the international nature of the assassinations and who was behind them.

Terrorism is a condemnable, immoral activity, no matter where and when it occurs and no matter who perpetrates it. It should not be excused or overlooked no matter what stimulated or motivated it, what causes or objectives it was intended to advance, or what relationship one may have with the perpetrator.

Last month, President Obama made a refreshingly sensible and honest speech about terrorism and the policies needed to cope with it. If any such policies are to have credibility, remaining terrorism must be called to account with honesty and consistency. This week the administration failed to do that.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

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6 comments on “Hypocrisy Reigns in Terrorism Report

  1. AnneC on said:

    It is such a relief to find that I am not the only person who believes that people should be convicted by a fair trial before being sentenced to death. All the murders without trials have got to stop. Our government needs to lead by setting a better example of following the rule of law.

  2. F. G. Sanford on said:

    Since 9/11, 33 Americans have died at the hands of Islamic terrorists, and about 60 have died as a result of domestic terrorism. In that same period, 180,000 Americans have died as a result of violent crime. Even bee stings, which I admit are pretty scary, have killed more Americans than terrorism, with a whopping 810 fatalities. But even that pales in comparison to bathtub accidents, which have killed 5,115.

    The world’s economic future flows through Iran. Pipelines, rail transportation and port facilities, which only Iran’s strategic position can provide, would benefit Russia, China, India and South East Asia. Even Europe and the United States would benefit immensely. Unfortunately, Congress has some excess baggage which is even more compromising than its fear of looking “soft on terrorism”. That baggage is incompatible with such a future.

    Since that baggage owns Congress, the strategy will be to lock out China and Russia through strategic positioning, regime change, war and destabilization. Those baggage handlers in Congress will never permit normalized relations with Iran. Our policies grease the skids that let Congress slide this by the American public. They guarantee perpetual terrorism, paltry though it may be, to validate policies which conceal the real agenda.

    Congress doesn’t work for us. They work for the baggage. In the long run, everybody loses, and Congress can put the blame on “terrorism”. I imagine there’ll be enough to go around unless Americans start voting to throw some of that baggage overboard. It’s no use pretending we don’t know what that baggage is or where it’s stored. We can save the Ship of State, or lose it. The former may save some baggage. The latter will lose it all.

  3. Coleen Rowley on said:

    The doubletalk/hypocrisy of what constitutes “terrorism” and what constitutes “humanitarian intervention” successfully push people’s emotional buttons to make them forget the facts and to effectively manipulate public opinion. “Terrorism” pushes the fear button while “humanitarian intervention” pushes people’s false pride and blind loyalty buttons. Meanwhile the US supports “terrorism” when it’s targeted against US enemies and serves US interests (as the mujaheddin we supported in in Charlie Wilson’s war and later some Chechen “militants” who attacked Russia and now the MEK terrorists attacking Iran).

    Terrorism and war are nothing but the flip sides of each other and both are used to ratchet up the other. “A poor man’s war is terrorism; a rich man’s terrorism is war.” It’s all such a con game but by pressing the various emotional buttons, the propagandists are able to get a large majority of people to stop thinking and blindly nod their approval.

  4. @ F. G. Sanford,

    May I copy and past your quote on my Facebook page? I will absolutely attribute and credit the quote to you, should you give me permission to copy and paste. It’s one of my two favourite quotes I’ve seen in the comments to CN’s articles.

    • F. G. Sanford on said:

      I’d like to think that common sense belongs to everybody. My critics would say that I don’t own any intellectual property. So…have at it.

      • F. G. Sanford on said:

        But I should add, I think Consortium News would be the appropriate entity to request. I’m just a guy with an opinion, and I owe most of those to people who work a lot harder than I do to bring you the truth.