Sunday, October 19, 2008

The State Sponsors of Terrorism List is a Joke

More silliness from George Bush's war on terrorism this past week: Bush has removed North Korea from the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Being on the list activates a number of sanctions, including prohibitions against U.S. citizens doing business with the target country.

Now, North Korea is clearly an unpredictable, insane, evil place that's armed to the teeth. But state sponsor of terrorism? What terrorism was North Korea sponsoring? And what did it do to get off the list?

As the Council on Foreign Relations notes: "North Korea has not been associated with any acts of terrorism since 1987, when it was linked to the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight."

Oh, so it just took a while for them to prove that they're no longer sponsoring terrorism, right? Wrong. North Korea was removed from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list because it stopped reprocessing nuclear fuel. But what does that have to do with sponsoring terrorism? Nothing.

It turns out that the State Sponsors of Terrorism list has nothing to do with terrorism.

Now that North Korea is off the list, it contains only four countries: Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.

Cuba??? Again, awful government. But terrorism sponsor?

Even though Cuba hasn't actually sponsored any terrorist acts since the fall of the USSR in 1992, the State Department justifies its inclusion because "Cuba continued to publicly oppose the U.S.-led Coalition prosecuting the War on Terror. To U.S. knowledge, Cuba did not attempt to track, block, or seize terrorist assets."

So a country gets on the list because it isn't sufficiently enthusiastic about Bush's war on terrorism? Even if it hasn't sponsored any terrorism itself? What terrorist assets does the U.S. seriously expect Cuba to track, block or seize, anyway? The Al Qaida training camps in Havana?

So if Cuba is one of the world's four biggest state sponsors of terrorism, who didn't make the list? Afghanistan, for one. That's right - the country that sheltered Osama bin Laden for years has never been considered a state sponsor of terrorism, not even during Al Qaida's heyday in the 1990s.

Also not on the list: Venezuela and Colombia, which sponsor left-wing and right-wing (respectively) paramilitaries fighting in Colombia's civil war. And Russia, which supports paramilitary thugs in Chechnya, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Of course Saudi Arabia and Pakistan never made the list, even though each of them have supported Al Qaida far more than all of the four countries on the list combined.

But Cuba made the list because it isn't sufficiently supportive of the effort to catch bin Laden. And North Korea gets removed not because it stopped sponsoring terrorism 21 years ago, but because of a nuclear deal that has nothing to do with terrorism.

Iraq used to be on the list too because, under Saddam Hussein, it sheltered the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, a group fighting to overthrow the government of Iran (something the U.S. has also tried to do). The State Department removed Iraq from the list in 2003, after the U.S. invasion. The only problem? The Mujahedin-e-Khalq is still in Iraq, still fighting to overthrow the government of Iran. Wikipedia has a good history of the organization. Iraq was also temporarily removed from the list between 1982 and 1990 so that the U.S. could sell it weapons to use in its war against Iran. (Remember this?)

I'm not enough of a libertarian purist to say that the government shouldn't impose sanctions against countries that have sponsored terrorism against us. But if there's going to be a State Sponsors of Terrorism list, shouldn't it, you know, be composed only of countries that have sponsored terrorism recently? Let's hope that this is just more of the same war on terrorism foolishness that Barack Obama will put an end to in a few months.

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