Globalist Takeaway: “The War on Terror: Where We Are, and How We Got There”

November 11, 2010 • Blogs, The World at Yale • Views: 1020

by Emily Ullman:

The ongoing struggle that the War on Terror presents has proved to be a difficult and politically divisive. Ever since the attacks on September 11, 2001, the global War on Terror has defined the United States’ foreign and domestic policies. This ongoing war’s significance has made it a constant topic both in the news and in many different courses at Yale.

On Thursday afternoon, students had the opportunity to hear about the War on Terror from Michael Mukasey, Attorney General for the Bush Administration from November 2007 to January 2009. During Mukasey’s tenure as Attorney General he played a key role in controversial decisions, including the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and the legality of the Guantanamo Bay prison.

U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, left, played a key role in President George Bush, Jr.'s, War on Terror (courtesy The Guardian)

Mukasey spoke mainly about the history of the War on Terror and used it as defense for the actions of the Bush administration. Emphasizing that “enhanced interrogation techniques” was an unfortunate misnomer, Mukasey explained that although the methods were harsh and coercive, they were lawful. He further described his belief that since waterboarding, which was only used on three prisoners — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — causes neither physical nor psychological damage, it therefore cannot be considered torture.

Mukasey also spoke about the Obama administration’s actions relating to the War on Terror, criticizing its response to recent acts of attempted terrorism on United States soil, such as the attempted bombings of an airplane on Christmas 2009 and in Times Square in May 2010. In both situations, Mukasey argued that by treating the potential terrorists as defendants with Miranda rights instead of as intelligence assets, the administration missed crucial opportunities to find out important information. As a matter of national security, Mukasey believes that with potential terrorists the first priority should be to get information, then to worry about charging them. He also voiced concern over the fact that the Deputy Director of National Security, John C. Inglis, recently said that the current 20% rate of recidivism among Guantanamo Bay detainees is acceptable. Mukasey countered that this rate is frighteningly high and that given this rate, holding detainees indefinitely without charging them is the best course of action.

Mukasey briefly described the idea of victory in the War on Terror, stating that for this to happen the United States must recognize and understand the fundamentalist Islamic ideology and all that it represents. Ultimately, he explained, success will only come from protecting Americans and supporting Muslims abroad who want to reform and combat violent radicalism.

Emily Ullmann ’14 is a freshman in Timothy Dwight College. You can contact her at

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