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Sunday, April 25, 2004

Denying terror a moral gain

LONDON -- The terrorist attacks on trains in Madrid in March, which killed more than 200 people and maimed or wounded hundreds more, were planned and executed by Islamic extremists from Morocco, probably with connections to al-Qaeda. It has been claimed that the attacks were inspired by opposition to Spanish support for the Americans in Iraq. It has also been argued that they reflect Arab resentment at the expulsion of Arabs from Andalusia more than 500 years ago and the ambition to reinstate Islam on the Iberian Peninsula.

The attacks came on the eve of the March 14 Spanish general election. It had been generally expected that the Popular Party conservatives would be returned to power. They were defeated, the election won by Spanish Socialists under their young leader, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who had called for Spanish withdrawal from Iraq. Spanish support for America in Iraq was widely unpopular in Spain.

Nevertheless, the conservatives might have been successful if they had not made the error of rushing to pin the blame for the bombings on the Basque separatist terror group ETA.

Spanish involvement on the American side in Iraq did not in any way justify the attacks. These might well have taken place even if Spain had adopted a more neutral position on the Iraq conflict. Spain, like other Western countries, whether they have supported the United States in Iraq or not, was always a potential target for Islamic terrorists. Commuter trains are inevitably soft targets, and the timing of the attack may well have been chosen because of the general election due to take place.

The terrorists may indeed have hoped to make political capital out of their murderous attacks. The Socialists had said that, if they achieved power, they would withdraw Spanish forces from Iraq, and the new prime minister, Zapatero, has declared that Spanish troops will be withdrawn speedily from Iraq.

Some Americans have criticized the decision as a victory for the terrorists and as a demonstration of the Spanish people's preference for appeasement. This is quite wrong. The new Spanish government is just as determined as its predecessor to do all it can to combat terrorism. The decision to withdraw underlines the depths of Spanish doubts about the legitimacy of the attack on Iraq and the inept way in which the occupation has behaved toward the Iraqi people.

The war in Iraq and the suppression of terrorism are not synonymous. It is wrong to argue that a failure to support the allies in Iraq suggests appeasement toward terrorists. Allied policies in Iraq have not had the success that U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair had hoped they would. The allies would be sensible to admit this. No proof has been produced that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, appalling tyrant though he was, had any connections with al-Qaeda.

The case for the attack on Iraq was based on allegations that his regime had weapons of mass destruction. So far, none has been found. It is now being argued that Hussein was such a brutal ruler that his human rights failures alone justified his removal. That argument has some ethical validity, but it does not meet the terms of the U.N. Charter and it was not the argument made for the attack on Iraq in March 2003.

The neoconservatives in America fail to understand that many people in Spain, and elsewhere in Europe, had legitimate doubts about the justification for the war in Iraq. They also gloss over the failings of the allied policies in Iraq. These include the tragic loss of life among Iraqi civilians as a result of the war as well as the failure in the aftermath of the invasion to prevent appalling looting and destruction of Iraq's infrastructure and to provide for security in Iraq.

The Ba'athist Party's stranglehold on power had to be destroyed, but a majority of party members belonged merely out of the necessity to secure a livelihood. (Many junior members of the Nazi Party in Germany were not ideological supporters of Adolf Hitler. And, in prewar Japan, membership in the Imperial Rule Assistance Society, or Taisei Yokusankai, a necessity for survival and did not necessarily mean belief in Japan's Imperial destiny.)

Unemployment in Iraq has affected all classes, and the Iraqi middle class has been decimated by the war and the purges of the Ba'athist Party.

The Bush administration now seems to realize that a much greater effort must be made to persuade the United Nations to play a more effective role in Iraq and secure the support of Spain and other hitherto neutral countries, but it is far from clear how this can be achieved when the security situation in Iraq remains so fragile and antiforeign feeling so strong.

The U.S. presidential election is, of course, a complicating factor as unilateralists are reluctant to accept the fact that even the world's sole superpower is finding it tough to fight one war on its own. Force can accomplish some things, but it cannot win the struggle for "hearts and minds," especially in the Middle East.

To win the psychological war against terrorism, we need to show that we are evenhanded in dealing with the problems that, though they can never justify terrorism, seem to inspire hatred. A fundamental problem is the status of the Palestinians.

The only long-term solution lies in the creation of separate, viable Israeli and Palestine states. Blair's "quid pro quo" for supporting America in Iraq is said to have been Bush's promise to force the pace on the "road map" for a Middle East settlement. Bush, however, seems to some to have undermined the road map by his public support of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip while retaining major Israeli settlements in the West Bank, denying the right of return to Palestinian refugees and condoning Israeli assassinations of Palestinian leaders. Bush's stance certainly confirms the impression among many Arabs that the Americans have given up any claim to be evenhanded.

We must avoid handing a victory to the terrorists by adopting illiberal policies that undermine human rights in our own countries. The terrorists want to see us adopt panic and repressive measures that will exacerbate the struggle between Islamic fundamentalists and the West. We must, of course, take proper precautions and be constantly on the alert, but measures that limit freedom of movement and invade privacy need to be carefully monitored and democratically reviewed from time to time.

Actions taken by governments against alleged terrorists must remain subject to judicial review to ensure that serious injustice is not done to individuals or sections of society. Unfortunately, neither the U.S. nor British government welcomes judicial reviews of their actions and increasingly authoritarian behavior. Prisoners held by the Americans at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been denied access to lawyers for more than two years. This has revealed a serious flaw in American justice and is damaging America's reputation.

If the fight to eradicate terrorism is to succeed it must be won not by constant vigilance and by clear adherence to the principles of freedom and justice.

Hugh Cortazzi, a former British career diplomat, served as ambassador to Japan from 1980 to 1984.

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