Felix Haynes looks at president strategies regarding the War on Terror.
Faithful readers of the Plant City Times & Observer will remember an Aug. 12, 2016 column titled “Keeping Plant City Safe,” in which I recapped a luncheon with guest speakers Florida Strawberry Festival General Manager Paul Davis and Security Manager Tim Lovett. At the luncheon, they said the Florida Strawberry Festival — the second largest festival in Florida — is an attractive potential target for violence. For 2017, the festival upped its security again.
Two months before that edition, we heard about an attack on another Central Florida soft target: the horrendous attack on Pulse, an Orlando nightclub, killed 49 people and wounded 53.
The attack was the worst act of terrorism in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that killed 2,996 people.
Since then, two American presidents have used very different strategies to defend the United States. Now, President Trump is in the process of implementing his own War on Terror strategy, which he continually advocated during his campaign. With the goal of protecting the American people, his strategy includes temporary bans on immigration from seven countries while the vetting process to better identify potential terrorists is strengthened.
Many Americans are adding their voices to the deliberations of Trump’s new administration from the ballot box, in airports, in the streets and in our courts. As America wrestles with its War on Terror strategy, a review of the strategies followed by presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and the results they obtained may be useful.
After obtaining support from Congress under the War Powers Act, President Bush’s goal was to fight the War on Terror overseas and prevent any more terror attacks on American soil. He used large numbers of American troops in pursuit of terrorist organizations and countries which harbored them. Captured enemy soldiers were transported to a so-called “black site” in several other countries around the world or to an offshore facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to gather intelligence to prevent further attacks. They were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques and given only limited rights.
Since then, Supreme Court rulings and Congressional actions have limited some of the methods the president can use in the War on Terror, including the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 which prohibited the “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” of detainees.
Two days after his inauguration in 2009, President Obama issued an executive order that stated that “prisoners shall ... be treated humanely and shall not be subjected to violence to life and person ... nor to outrages on personal dignity,” according to PolitiFact.
When Obama was in office, he used drones, special operations units and fewer traditional American troops to target terrorist leaders overseas. In the United States, he pursued a law enforcement approach by the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation to apprehend perpetrators of crimes and bring them to justice in American courts. Obama recognized and protected the full Constitutional rights of those being prosecuted. For those enemy combatants incarcerated at Guantanamo, he focused on negotiating with foreign governments to get them to accept the transfer of many of the Guantanamo detainees. His stated goal was to close Guantanamo Bay, and he nearly succeeded.
According to Independent Journal Review, there were 3,025 fatalities from terrorist attacks during the Bush administration, and 159 fatalities during the Obama administration. While there were a greater number of fatalities from Bush’s administration, nearly 3,000 of them were from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
According to the Review, there was a higher frequency of attacks that resulted in the death of at least one person during the Obama administration.
Excluding Sept. 11, 2001, Bush’s strategy resulted in fewer deaths of Americans on our soil. The numbers speak for themselves, but the issue really comes down to how far we are willing to go to save American lives.
One answer was provided by the election, and another is coming from the streets and courts.
Just how far is the whole country willing to go to protect us?
Felix Haynes is a co-owner of the Plant City Times & Observer.