An Overview of the War on Terror

An Overview of the War on Terror

The United States' war on terror is a multifaceted effort to prevent the spread of terrorist ideologies and activities. Framed by President George W. Bush and his administration as an attempt to destroy both state-specific and international terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah, the war on terror has mostly taken the form of extended military operations. These extended military operations have taken place in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan and also include intelligence operations in other countries, as well as domestic programs. Like the "war on drugs" and the "war on poverty," the war on terror is considered an ideological war, however, unlike other ideological wars the war on terror is also an active military operation.

Many critics claim that the blow inflicted to the civil liberties of Americans as a result of the United States' anti-terror legislation has been too high a price to pay for curbing the spread of terrorism. In addition to the extensive wiretapping conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), various arms of the American government have conducted questionable interrogations of terror suspects throughout the world. Meanwhile, supporters of President Bush's war on terror claim that sacrificing minimal personal liberties for the greater cause of preventing terrorism is worthwhile. Rather than merely fighting and killing terrorists, the war on terror is designed to prevent the governments of the world from supporting organizations that operate using terrorist tactics.

Basic Terms, Concepts, and Events in the War on Terror

Abu Ghraib: A prison in Iraq, formerly part of Saddam Hussein's prison system, controlled by the United States military during the occupation of Iraq. Several thousand Iraqis, including high-ranking members of the insurgency as well as petty criminals, were held in Abu Ghraib once American forces secured it in 2004. The prison eventually became the site of one of the worst instances of prisoner abuse perpetrated by the American military.

al-Qaeda: A militaristic Sunni Islamist organization dedicated to eliminating non-Muslim influence on the world, and killing people they have deemed to be "infidels." Al-Qaeda was blamed for the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States. Osama bin Laden is generally considered the leader of the organization, but other leaders are believed to be operating al-Qaeda cells throughout the world. There are many unconnected, unaffiliated al-Qaeda organizations throughout the world that use the name because of its connotations.

Guantanamo Bay: A U.S.-run prison in Cuba used for the detention and interrogation of suspected criminals and terrorists. U.S. officials have claimed that the prison is home to the "worst of the worst."

Operation Iraqi Freedom: The official name of the United States' military effort in Iraq. Although President Bush officially declared U.S. victory in the Iraq War in May 2003, the conflict is ongoing.

Terrorism: A method of unconventional warfare that relies on creating fear within a population, and unexpected attacks on civilian, as well as military, targets. Terrorism is usually a label applied by those being attacked, and is often considered a subjective term, considering that many "terrorist acts" may also be considered "freedom fighting" or "revolution" depending on one's perspective. Terrorism may be carried out by an individual or a group, but is almost always intended to create a specific result, or bring out specific goals that the terrorists do not think can be achieved in other ways.

USA PATRIOT Act: Usually referred to as simply as the "Patriot Act," the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, passed into law shortly after September 11, 2001, sought to increase the powers, and reduce the restrictions, for U.S. governmental agencies attempting to fight terrorism. In the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks, the act had almost universal support in the country, but soon became a very controversial piece of legislation, as legislators and citizens came to more fully understand its implications. After the revelation that the act was being used to authorize wiretapping of American citizens making domestic phone calls, the legality of the act was called into question.


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