Mark Danner

Terror, Torture, Drones: Trapped in the Emergency State

Terror, Torture, Drones


Fall 2014, Monday 3:10 – 5:30PM, OLIN 308

Mark Danner

Those hijacked jet liners on September 11, 2001 brought with them not only death and destruction on an unprecedented scale but a darker era in American foreign policy. The United States invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq and launched an aggressive worldwide campaign to root out Al Qaeda, mostly fought, in Dick Cheney’s phrase, “on the dark side.” Terror gave way to counter-terror, much of it in the hands of elite special operations forces and intelligence officers who made increasing use, as President Bush gave way to President Obama, of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. Though the elements of this new “dark-side war,” particularly its use of torture and drones, seemed new in US history, in fact it was built on top of a long tradition, dated back to the National Security Act of 1947, of a powerful and untouchable “emergency state.” In this seminar we will explore the roots of that emergency state and trace its rise and elaboration during the Cold War, then study its final flowering in the months and years after September 11. As we explore we will ponder the ways by which our country, seventy years after World War II and a dozen after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, might free itself from the grip of permanent emergency — and construct a different, democratic foreign policy.


Main Class Requirements This is a seminar – a discussion class – which means the success of the class is dependent on student participation. The most important requirements are that students


*Attend all class sessions

*Participate in discussions

*Do all reading and writing assignments


A student’s record of attendance and participation in class discussion, together with the thoroughness of his or her preparation, will determine the success of our class and contribute the better part of the grade.


Schedule Note that all classes will take place on Monday afternoons, 3:10 to 5:30 p.m.


Writing Students will be assigned several papers, for which they are meant to draw on the assigned reading and on class discussions. To bolster the clarity and vigor of your English prose, I strongly suggest reading two works: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language” and Strunk and White’s little manual, The Elements of Style. The Orwell can be found easily on the internet by googling the author and title.


Films From time to time during the term we will screen films intended to complement our studies. Details will be announced.

Required Texts

–       Danner, Mark, Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War. New York: Nation Books, 2009.

–       Eichenwald, Kurt. 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars. Reprint ed. New York: Touchstone, 2013.

–       Forest, James J. F. The Terrorism Lectures. Santa Ana, CA: Nortia/Current, 2012.

–       Gardner, Lloyd C. Killing Machine. N.p.: New, 2013.

–       Greenwald, Glenn. No Place to Hide. New York: Metropolitan, 2014.

–       Kennan, George F. American Diplomacy. Enlarged ed. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2012.

–       Klaidman, Daniel. Kill or Capture. N.p.: Mariner, 2013.

–       Mazzetti, Mark. The Way of the Knife. New York: Penguin, 2014.

–       Suskind, Ron. The One Percent Doctrine. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2007.

–       Tirman, John. The Deaths of Others. New York: Oxford UP, 2011.

–       Williams, Brian Glyn. Predators: The CIA’s Drone War on Al Qaeda. N.p.: Potomac, 2013.

–       Wills, Garry. Bomb Power. New York: Penguin, 2011.

–       Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. New York: Vintage, 2007.

Recommended Movies

Standard Operating Procedure (Errol Morris)

Taxi to the Dark Side (Alex Gibney)


September 8, 2014


–       ISIS (Islamic State of Syria) or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is a Sunni military group that wants to create a Sunni Islamic State and re-establish the caliphate. Its predecessor organization was AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) but the two groups split after Al Qaeda claimed that ISIS’ civilian killings were too brutal.

–       The Great War on Terror (GWAT) began on Sept. 11, 2001 and special-ops troops doubled during George Bush’s presidency. GWAT is a “quiet war,” designed to be perpetuated and elicit minimum political opposition.

–       Brief history of events that helped to shape contemporary US foreign policy: Spanish-American War, WWI, Wilson’s League of Nations, WWII, Cold War, Vietnam War, the fall of the Soviet Union, Post-Cold War era, etc.

–       The development of Emergency State institutions and their compositions.

–       Emergency State Vocabulary: quieter response, black sites, extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, enhanced interrogation, unlawful combatants, public secrecy etc.



–       Read American Diplomacy by George Kennan

–       Watch Obama’s speech on ISIL (9/10)

–       Read David Cole’s article “Obama’s Unauthorized War

September 15

Reading: Kennan, George F. American Diplomacy. Enlarged ed. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2012.



–       Discussion of Obama’s ISIL speech. US goal to “degrade and destroy ISIL” using “light footprint” tactics. Focus on Obama’s statement that ISIL is not Islamic and is not a state. Conversely, ISIL does adhere so Islamic beliefs through the organizations desire to re-establish the caliphate. ISIL is also not just a terrorist organization, it has many features of a state government, including its methods of occupying territory, employing its army, collecting taxes etc.

–       Obama’s “Four Point Program”

–       Discussion of the relationship between the media and terrorist organizations, which is often symbiotic since the goal of terrorism is to provoke reactions, and the US political system makes its foreign policy particularly prey to public opinion.

–       Discussion of George Kennan and American Diplomacy: In summary, how the advent of nuclear weapons and the world of the Cold War militarized US foreign policy and lead to the formation of the “Emergency State” and never-ending war.



– Read Bomb Power by Garry Wills


September 22

Reading: Wills, Garry. Bomb Power. New York: Penguin, 2011.



–       Discussion of Bomb Power: Nuclear weapons and the creation of a permanent emergency state.

o   “a violent break in our governmental system” and a break with the past.

–       Nuclear weapons grant the President authority to end the world at any time – “the football” – but he has to check with Congress before sending troops into a country and declaring war.

–       National Security Council: President, National Security Advisor, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, Secretary of Treasury, Attorney General, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Director of National Intelligence



–       Read The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright.

–       Read “The U.S. Copes with Complex Logistics in Syria

–       Read “Islamic State recruitment soaring in the wake of U.S. bombing


September 29


–       Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. New York: Vintage, 2007.

–       “Islamic State recruitment soaring in the wake of U.S. bombing



–       Discussion of Haaretz article: ISIS recruitment soaring

o   6,000+ new recruits – each paid $980 a month

  • Same amount Bin Laden paid

o   U.S. helping ISIS achieve goal of new recruitment – terrorists want their attacks to prompt retaliation, it aids recruitment/support.

–       Discussion of Looming Tower:

o   Terror is used to mobilize, killing is a means to an end. Fatwas are issued by leaders to justify violence.

o   One of the greatest weapons of 9/11: the television

  • Al Qaeda believes the US represses Muslims – 9/11 attacks prompt the US to respond with bombing campaign – this is televised and Al Qaeda appears to be proven correct, thus gaining supporters.

o   Al Qaeda’s Goals: remove American troops from all Arab states; punish states that support Israel; disband the U.S.; build caliphate; bring down “near enemies” (Egypt, Saudi royal family, jahaliyya)

o   Jahaliyya – persons who claim to abide by Islam but do not follow Sharia law.

o   Takfir – heretic Muslims put outside the zone of protection

  • Freud: Narcissism and minor differences – you will hate those closer to you more than those farther away.



–       Read The Deaths of Others by John Tirman


September 30

Screening of “Battle of Algiers” and discussion

–       The French started the violence by planting the bomb, it wasn’t sparked by a terrorist attack

–       The FLN retaliation attacks inspired the people to join the resistance movement

o   Terrorism for national liberation reasons

–       While the French stopped the insurgency they ultimately lost the battle because they had no political plan to support their counter-insurgency strategy.


October 6

Reading: Tirman, John. The Deaths of Others. New York: Oxford UP, 2011.



–       Watched Battle of Algiers Interview with former US Counterterrorism advisors: Richard A. Clarke and Michael A. Sheehan.

o   You can be good at counterterrorism but you will still lose if you can’t win the political battle – the battle of ideas.

o   Use case-studies: there’s nothing new about the situation in Iraq, one just needs to formulate appropriate strategies for each new conflict.

o   Begin each strategy with a policy and branch out from there.

–       Watched ‘Etats D’Armes’ (State of Arms)

o   FLN didn’t set off the first bomb, the Commissaire de police did – counterterrorism preceded terrorism.

o   Dilemma arises regarding the use of forceful interrogation tactics: Do you use harsh interrogation tactics and perhaps save people? Or refrain and perhaps people die?

o   Terror is supposed to produce counterterror – the methods used in the Battle of Algiers were not the norm, they created a new method for dealing with rebellion, torture, that eventually became the norm.

–       Deaths of Others discussion:

o   America justifies it’s actions with the “myth of the frontier” and the “errand into the wilderness” – as if it is our duty to tame everything wild.

o   Korean War, Vietnam War, Iraq War

  • All high civilian casualties, but the deaths of others often go ignored in American dialogue about war.
  • “Victim derregation”



–       Read 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars

–       Online Article: A Creeping Sensation


October 13   No Class (Fall Break)


October 20

Reading: Eichenwald, Kurt. 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars. Reprint ed. New York: Touchstone, 2013


–       Discussed final essay requirements and possible topics.

–       Discussed U.S. response to 9/11: consisted of conventional warfare (boots on the ground), the invasion of Iraq, and the involvement of CIA special operations troops to work with the Northern Alliance and tribal leaders.

–       Why did it expand past the terrorists responsible for the attack?

o   Bush struck back at “terror” instead of “terrorists” – saw it as an opportunity to fight terrorism around the world

o   Idea of terror as a function, not just the people behind it

o   Expanded target to match U.S. military power

–       Bush had no political strategy to back up the military actions

o   “Victory will take care of that problem” (449)

  • Echoing the issues in Battle of Algiers: will the US lose in the long run in the war against terror?



–       Read The Terrorism Lectures by James Forest

–       Final essay proposal due Nov. 3rd

–       Final essay due Dec. 1st


October 27

Reading: Forest, James J. F. The Terrorism Lectures. Santa Ana, CA: Nortia/Current, 2012.


Summary: Discussion of The Terrorism Lectures

–       al-Qaeda was originally so small they could not really be pointed out on a map

o   Maps can now depict how much the organization has grown and where the ideology has spread to.

–       U.S. strategy should have been to prevent al-Qaeda’s influence from growing, aimed at drying up recruitment.

o   Instead U.S. actions and attempts to “humiliate the enemy” spread anti-U.S. sentiments and encouraged the radicalization of individuals in the Middle East.

o   Iraq was already an unstable country, population split between Sunni and Shia Arabs, as well as the Kurds.

–       Media is one of al-Qaeda’s greatest tools for recruitment

o   Daily images of Americans repressing Muslims

o   Huge prisoner population, of whom many were innocent

  • Many joined the insurgency after being released for retaliation

–       Extraordinary Renditions, Black Sites and Torture

o   CIA erected secret prisons around the world

o   Targeted and abducted people outside of US territory

o   Began using “enhanced” interrogation methods (torture) to extract information

–       Drones and the Quiet War

o   Bush authorizes use of drones in Pakistan in 2007-2008

o   Ability to target and kill people thousands of miles away from a U.S. government building with the click of a button.

o   4,500-5,000 estimated to have been killed in drone strikes, about 10% of which were civilians,

o   Obama’s “light footprint” strategy, no troops on the ground, just power in the air.


November 3


–       Suskind, Ron. The One Percent Doctrine. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2007.

–       Danner, Mark, Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War. New York: Nation Books, 2009.

o   “Taking Stock of the Forever War”

–       President Bush’s Speech to Congress 9/20/01


Summary: Discussion of The One Percent Doctrine

–       Summer 2002 the US begins torturing detainees with official permission and explanation.

–       Notables and invisibles: the people who are seen in media and those who actually make things happen.

–       Why did the government use torture after 9/11?

o   Fear of another attack happening

o   The individuales were “stateless” and “boundless” and therefore beyond the real of law, so the rights enumerated in the Geneva Conventions were deemed nonapplicable.

–       The Office of Legal Counsel redefined the definition of torture to fit the needs of the government – interpretation allowed the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques.

–       Torture became a way to “ride the world of [the] evil” that Bush insisted was there.

o   Bush didn’t know much about foreign policy, and many of his advisors attempted to give him only the minimal amount of information.

  • Made it so there were only a handful of people in the loop and making decisions regarding policy, imposing it downward.

–       Obama’s speech in August 2014: “We tortured some folks and hopefully it won’t happen again.”


November 10

Danner, Mark, Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War. New York: Nation Books, 2009.

–       “Taking Stock of the Forever War”

–       “The War of Imagination”

–       “Voices from the Black Sites”

–       “Into the Light? Torture, Power, and Us”

–       Suggested: “Abu Ghraib: Hidden in Plain Sight”



–       Returned Final Paper proposals and passed around sign-up sheet for meetings

–       Discussed the decision-making behind the use of torture

o   “ticking bomb” scenario and immense pressure for actionable intelligence.

o   How do you make people talk? Many assumed the answer would be by the use of force.

–       Discussed torture: the actions consisting of it.

o   Used program designed by reversing SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) training to use for torture.


November 17


–       Klaidman, Daniel. Kill or Capture. N.p.: Mariner, 2013.

–       George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language

–       Red Cross Report 24 pg


Summary: Discussion of Kill or Capture

–       Obama enters office and shuts down CIA black sites. He also promises to close GTMO within the year – turned out not to be possible.

o   What do you do with the prisoners that can’t be released or tried in criminal court? Keep them indefinitely?

–       Terror is a wedge issue: an issue that divides people that normally agree.

o   Opinions vary not only across party lines but within the parties themselves.

–       Obama’s goals, January 2009:

o   Bring the troops home from Iraq

o   Stabilize Afghanistan

o   Close black sites

o   Close GTMO

o   Make policy regarding terror transparent and law based

o   Stop the use of torture

–       Public secrecy actually increased under Obama, particularly regarding the use of drones. The rate of drone strikes has increased dramatically during his time in office.

o   Lack of public acknowledgement means that he does not have to deal with the legal implications. In fact, there are no legal claims to make since the administration is systematically denying what it is doing.

–       Two types of drone strikes

o   Signature strikes: algorithm that detects characteristics of terrorism (i.e. carrying AK-47s

o   Personality strikes: knowledge of who the person is because of intelligence on the ground – targeted killings.


November 24

Reading: Reading: Mazzetti, Mark. The Way of the Knife. New York: Penguin, 2014

Summary: Discussion of The Way of the Knife

–       Pakistan

o   Running rivalry/conflict with India since 1948 – relies of afganistan as an important chess piece in that rivalry

  • Pakistans long borders make it hard to protect, Afghanistan adds width by supporting Pakistan.

o   Pakistan is US ally that we give aid to but they are a major supporter of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

–       When Afghanistan was occupied by the Soviet Union in the 1980s the US, Saudi Arabia and others sent arms and support to the mujahideen (holy warriors), through Pakistan, which then distributed the weapons according to its own discretion.

–       Since 9/11 the CIA has transitioned from a primarily intelligence gathering organization to a paramilitary organization that compiles intelligence to make lists of people to kill and then conducts the operations.

–       The military has tighter constraints imposed on it.

–       How could things have been different under the Obama Administration instead of this evolution of the secret war?

o   CIA power should have been restricted, not expanded

o   The actions followin 9/11 have been the opposite of what the 9/11 commission (which advises the CIA) recommended. CIA should not conduct covert operations.

  • The CIA evaluates and then carries out the actions: it grades its own homework.


December 1

Reading: Greenwald, Glenn. No Place to Hide. New York: Metropolitan, 2014



–       Watched an interview with Snowden filmed by Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald

–       Watched a Ted Talk with Snowden 

–       Discussed NSA actions following 9/11 – has broken its own rules hundreds of thousands of times (e.g. intercepting all calls in Washington D.C. “by accident” which already accumulates 2,776 abuses.

o   Stellarwind: Bulk collection of metadata for calls within the U.S., beginning in 2002

  • 2004 NYT reporters exposed it, the story was withheld for 15 months. Only reason why it was published was because James Risen was about to publish his book.

o   PRISM: collects content from Skype, Google, Facebook etc.

o   Bull Run: targets our own infrastructure – NSA intentionally misleads corporate partners and builds back doors in secure websites which opens the US up to cyber attacks.

–       Bankston-Soltani principle – expectation of privacy is violated when means of surveillance become cheaper, it needs to be reevaluated.


December 8  – FINAL ESSAYS DUE


–       ‘Somebody Else’s Civil War’ by Michael Scott Doran:

–       ‘The Cheney Fallacy’ by Jack Goldsmith:

–       ‘He Remade Our World’ by Mark Danner:



–       Watched ‘How the US Created the Islamic State

–       Final class discussion on the themes of the class: what does it mean to be trapped in the emergency state? How did we get here?

o   How can we escape?

–       What could we have done differently after 9/11?

o   Set precise targets (AQ leaders)

o   Created a list of goals

o   Limited freedom of action

o   Define victory

–       What is victory in the Global War on Terror?

o   Proving AQ was behind 9/11

o   Degrade & destroy AQ

o   Undermine political support for jihadists

o   Improve relations with Muslim states