Monday, June 28, 2004

Silent Leges Inter Arma

TERRORISM: A Definition

No one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance. For the purposes of this report, however, we have chosen the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d). That statute contains the following definitions:

* The term "terrorism" means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.
* The term "international terrorism" means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country.
* The term "terrorist group" means any group practicing, or that has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism.

The US Government has employed this definition of terrorism for statistical and analytical purposes since 1983.
- US Department of State                


Dresden, 1945
Kobe and Tokyo, 1945
"Tiger Force" in Vietnam

But for the fact that the US Government carried out these attacks, they qualify for the State Dept, and CIA's definitions for terrorism.

Apologists may argue that these bombings helped demoralize a population, and thus aided the war effort. (Al Qaeda could use the same defense in justifying its attacks) They may argue that it was during war time, and thus entirely different than 9/11.

Maybe so. We have declared war on "terror", and specifically on Al-Qaeda.
  • Does this mean a repeat of 9/11 would now be a justified act of war?
  • If not by Al-Qaeda, how about Saddam loyalists; surely we are at war with the old Baathist regime?
  • If not, then oughtn't the people responsible for the above attacks be indicted for war crimes; there is no statute of limitations for crimes of this scale...
  • Are the insurgents' attacks on "Coalition" forces terrorism?
  • If a terrorist group "declares war" upon us, are they "allowed" to cause the same sort of damage to one of our cities that we caused in Kobe, Tokyo, Hiroshima or Nagasaki?


After a war is over, those soldiers that killed members of the other side are not punished. Even "acceptable collateral damage" is understood. We expect no retribution for our conduct in Iraq, from the new nation.

If we are not going to punish the people who were involved in the above events, are we saying the "right" to kill one thousand, ten thousand or one hundred thousand civilians and not be held responsible revolves simply on whether one has exclusive control over a piece of land? Al-Qaeda claims to be acting in defense of, and for the interests of, the Arab people. They are analogous to the United States except for having sovereignty over a territory.

Surely that is not the difference between a mass murderer and a hero?

11 Comments:

At 1:16 PM, [REDACTED] said...

I don't have enough time or enough anger at the current moment to rant about how you can't have a "war on terror". I will, however, point out that there are a few things that make what the US is doing not terrorism on the whole.

A. We are actually engaged in a war. If this is true then violence is still not allowed against non-combatants and non-military targets (at least not in the last 30 years or so according to US doctrine). This does, however, mean that US actions against "terrorists" and countries harboring terrorists and non-white, three year old children with hard to pronounce names are combatants in the war... meaning we can kill them without it being an act of terror. Likewise, they can kill our soldiers or anything else they perceive as a military threat. The catch here is tha the US assumes that the "terrorists" should perceive the same things as a threat that the US government perceieves as threatening. Consequently the Bush Admin feels justified in killing others and going to war with a country because they attack targets not of military significance (ignore that the US did this sort of shit in every war that took place before 1980 and ignore that the Bush admin. is hypocritical). I would argue, however, that if we are in a war then indeed... neither side in Iraq is committing terrorism and what we're hearing is just the US governments attempt to rhetorically construct an ominous presence so that US citizens stay scared and allow the government to do whatever is necessary to win the war (ala what happened in the Cold War).

B. Since I hate Bush logic I'll now revert to good logic and say why the three bombings Rahul specifically mentions aren't acts of terrorism. He tries to pre-empt the "it was wartime" reasoning. This is a good call because it was wartime and consequently different rules have always applied. Note that in most of the modern world one person is not allowed to kill another or carry ridiculous quantities of fireamrs or drop bombs on populated areas. Yet in war these sorts of things are, unfortunately, rather commonplace. And very rarely is anyone ever prosecuted for these actions during wartime. Another reason that I don't buy that those three bombings were an act of terrorism is, oddly, that the list is too short. If we claim that war time is not it's own seperate entity then every single missle and bomb and stray bullet that has killed a non-combatant during any war is an act of terrorism. Which would mean in WWII there were millions of acts of terrorism. At the end of the day, war is a messy concept and either everyone that participates is guilty of terrorism or no one really is.

That's enough rambling and procrastination for now.

 
At 2:19 PM, [REDACTED] said...

From Kevin's post, if I may: "If we claim that war time is not it's own separate entity then every single missile and bomb and stray bullet that has killed a non-combatant during any war is an act of terrorism."

No Kevin, we may not, not as terrorism is defined by the State department definition Rahul provides. Terrorism is a sub national group perpetrating violence upon non-combatants with the purpose of conveying a political message. Remove the term "sub national", and this still does not account for stray bullets or bombs. Stray ammunition is not really in the business of conveying any message other than "die" or "surrender." Whereas conceivably one could string together an argument that "die" and "surrender" are political messages, it is clearly outside of the intent of the definiton provided.

This does, however, seem to beg the question that I believe Rahul was asking: What kind of message makes violence terrorism? If you remove the act from the actor (meaning that being a nation and being at war doesn't matter) have we not been and are we not terrorists by our own intentions? What really separates us from terrorists? Is it only that we have the means, resources, and power to consider ourselves an established government? Aren't we just playing word games and labeling "terrorist groups" as such for the very same logic that they are fighting against? Being that they are perhaps part of governments, communities, or simply places in world that are made up of the have-nots on the world stage in terms of power, influence, and the resources to keep their people in good health and good standing? Do we perhaps lash out at nations that harbor terrorist because we can and no one has told us of our own hypocrisy? It is worth considering, however offensive some might find even thinking about it. We are very good about having plenty of reasons why terrorist groups are bad. We are make strong attempts to condemn and enact retribution for their actions. It is worth considering such ideas as "we do not negotiate with terrorists" to suppress their poor behavior and show that such is not a legitimate form of speech. However, have we not taught them to speak this way? In a way we want to teach the world lessons of democracy as though they are children in terms of governance, but we als o reprimand them like dogs when they try to act they way we do.

 
At 5:55 PM, [REDACTED] said...

Just a quick comment - over 100,000 died at Dresden, Kobe and Tokyo (each).

None of these targets had any strict military value. Dresden in particular was a hospital city with no garrisonned troops. The psychological value I concede, but the slaughter of non-combatants for "political" effect, well thats terrorism.

-RS

 
At 10:16 AM, [REDACTED] said...

Honestly, I'm not sure it's unreasonable to say, "Representing a government which has either a) democratic legitimacy or at the very least b) legitimacy insofar as no one has been moved to replace it gives you a greater right to fight to defend that legitimate government than someone who is a self-appointed 'defender' of an amorphous group of people." We might even add that conventional armies are checked because their states are bound by the laws of war (I'm aware the torture memos weaken this; consider it as an enthymeme rather than a syllogism, if necessary).

 
At 11:00 AM, [REDACTED] said...

I forgot to mention that I wasn't going to use the State Department's definition of terrorism. Governments are accussed of terrorist acts from time to time (Note: Israel/Palestine). I suppose we can claim that it's misapplied there but I think that Bush saying that Saddam had engaged in acts of terrorism against his own people sorta points to a shift in policy. Since the "Bush Doctrine" (amorphizing-piece-of-shit-to-justify-anything-that-he-feels-like-doing doctrine) has started the label of terrorism is being much more widely applied to any person or group that does anything that is aimed at inciting a sense of terror within others. Honestly, if North Korea launched a nuke at California tomorrow. Tell me that we wouldn't call it an act of terrorism and the beginning of WWIII. I admit it's an extreme example but I think the sub-national part doesn't play in anymore.

My point, which was probably not well made, was that This new label where we seem to think that dictators can be terrorists eventhough they are (in effect) representative of their country I find peculiar. In my previous N. Korea example I'd say that it was an act of war and treachery and other fine FDR Pearl Harbor language. I would, however, not, as I believe the Bush administration would, label it as an act of terrorism. So in short... old state department definition is good because it draws a few lines that help keep things from being all confusing on what's war and what's terrorism. New Bush definition. Bad. Very bad.

Which as Kate points out does make the question more about the equivalent morality of acts. I agree that in Rahul's examples a certain line was crossed in the moral sand of war. Likewise, I think that line was crossed when Hitler sneakily Blitzkreiged half of Europe, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and when we dropped two nuclear bombs (I have particular issues with the second one since that wasn't to send a message other than "we will completely exterminate you if you don't surrender" which I think makes it a very strong case for an act of terrorism perpetuated by a nation). It's a tough thing to say what falls under "justifiable losses" in war or some other quaint term that's suppossed to make us not feel scummy about killing innocent people and what falls under terrorism. I'm not sure where I'd draw the line. There's the side of me that says sometimes war is needed to bring about change for the good and recognizes that even if a relatively "clean" war is fought some innocent civilians that had nothing to do with the war will still die. At the same time there's a side of me that says anyone who is killed and not actively participating in a war in an unacceptable loss.

So yes... big moral quandry... which I still haven't determined my stance after seven years (side note: being unsure about the morality of killing others in war time kept me from applying to military academies).

 
At 11:39 AM, [REDACTED] said...

To clarify:

My point is that Terrorism seems to be equated to the intentional slaughter of civilians to achieve a political effect by sub-national groups. Leaving aside the obvious (that the State dept included the sub-national proviso just to exempt the US), it seems that the true moral hazard posed by committing terrorism has nothing to do with who does it, and entirely to do with what was done.

At that point we have committed terrorism. That we are a democracy only means that we are culpable, as we supported and installed the regime that perpetrated these crimes. Al-Qaeda also has supporters, people who fund it but don't pull triggers. Osama Bin-Ladin has a demos to give him legitimacy; he doesn't have international recognition and a certain amount of real-estate, but surely he is as legitimate as a despotic nation that does not listen to his people?

This brings up another point; we bombed Dresden; they couldn't control their government. Kobe, Tokyo, all of these cities had death tolls over 100,000, and all were civilians (these are people who had not militarized their status by taking up arms, even unofficially). They couldn't control their government. They have less moral culpability vis-avis their government and its actions than we do regarding ours and its behavior. In some senses, both body count and culpability, aren't the above worse crimes than the actual September 11, 2001 attacks?

 
At 11:54 AM, [REDACTED] said...

And for a bit of levity perhaps:

Take a giant leap back, and imagine if you will, if we determined to take war into a completely new arena. Instead of death and firepower, all of the world agreed to a sort of dueling system for conflict resolution (without loss of life consequences). Now this proposition is both ridiculous and unrealistic. It would have to be allowed whenever requested. It would have to consider whether to be of equal or scaling difficulties depending on the base ideals. But if we were feeling properly Sci-Fi and Utopian, how would we structure such a thing to make the most fair system? (For Rahul's benefit and since he'll know the reference, consider Piers Anthony's "Split Infinity" series, and the great games mixes with strict societal levels.)

I suppose I am throwing a wrench in an otherwise particularly detailed discussion. Ignore it if you like.

 
At 12:54 PM, [REDACTED] said...

I would agree that terrorism ought to be defined in terms of the act that is committed not in terms of who commits it. But just to muddle an already brackish pond I've got two more things.

1. Let's run with an obnoxious philosophy reference (it's a variation on the kill one person to save ten scenario). Let's say that by blowing up a village you can kill someone that you know is planning a massive strike against a city that is 1000 times more populated than the village. You dont' know where he is in the village and this is the first time in 10 years you've had good enough intelligence to know that he is for sure in the town. Do you bomb the city?

2. What if bombing Tokyo or Dresden actually did, long term, save more lives by ending what could have still been a long-drawn out war? Flipside, what if it was completely unnecessary to bomb Dresden or Tokyo?

I'm starting to think that this debate might just come down to: How do you think history would have played out and how much do you trust your government? To a large extent if you think that the bombings had no impact on the psyche of oppossing countries then I can see viewing them as terrorist acts. If you think they did play a role in demoralizing the countries than I can see how you wouldn't want to brand it terrorism. The reality is that these acts are what they are regardless of the label we place upon them. Whether it's September 11th or WWII it's an unfortunate and unnecesary loss of life. And either way it's the failing of politics to help resolve problems peacefully.

 
At 1:22 PM, [REDACTED] said...

Kevin, with regards to your example of a man in a village, lets just amend it thus (as we have no reliable prognosticators)

A man carrying some vital component of a horrible WMD device that is intended to blow up a major city goes through a village; we don't know who he is, only that at time T he will be in the village.

It is not terrorism to kill him. By involving himself with weapons, he has "militarized" his combatant status, and is thus a viable target. The rest of the people in the village are collateral damage.

I am not saying that is moral per se, just that it is not as immoral as killing 100,000 to demoralize.

That the ends are good CANNOT justify means in moral terms. Do nations have moral obligations to do immoral acts? No, insofar as you cannot have a moral obligation to be immoral.

Note that I am not laying out a suicide pact here. I'm not saying one cannot kill, to save more life. I'm only saying that that death has to be directly linked to the loss of life. You can't kill a lot of people, all unrelated, on the off-chance it might prevent a loss of life.

The Dresden example had Allied forces IGNORE a military target to bomb a civilian area. They paused for a few hours to get all the civilians to come back out of bomb shelters so that they could sweep in and finish the job.

The United States has committed state-sponsored terrorism, and the specific chain of command involved with those decisions have committed war crimes. This does not mean we can't point at other countries and condemn them for similar actions, it just means that our populace should be educated as such, to see that US atrocities did not end with the demise of the Native American nations, and to educate them about WHY people do horrible things, to humanize the war criminal and the terrorist, so that they can understand and react with more insight.

 
At 2:40 PM, [REDACTED] said...

It's a slow day at work... what can I say. Oh... and by the way I agree that the US has done some shitty things that I'd classify as terrorism if I thought the word was more than a hollow label that people use to incite a response out of others.

That having been said, you seem to advance a sort of clear and present trade off. If killing one person would save more lives the greater moral good is to save the many. I could make several arguments about an immoral action never being justifiable even if it creates a greater good and that no person can act morally in the killing of a person. You may recall more similar arguments from a good round at UPenn four years ago against Max and Evan... but I thought those arguments were bad then and I still do now. I find it difficult to justify collateral damage even if it kills someone who presented a clear and present danger to others as oppossed to an ambiuous future threat. I'll agree that killing the guy himself is to an extent justifiable. The problem I have with collateral damage is that it's hard to draw any sort of line on "reasonable losses". If the bomb he's carrying could kill between 100,000 and 1,000,000 people is it okay to kill him if he's in a city of 99,000? When it comes to morality I guess I'm a little strict in my interpretation. Killing is bad. Admittedly, sometimes it's necessary but that doesn't make it less of a moral evil. I think the catch for me is that I'm not sure that I think saving lives is a moral good... I think it's just preventing a moral evil.

(I admit that this is now wandering down a path on if killing is ever morally justifiable instead of really addressing whether the US or other nations engage in terrorism when they attack for a non-direct gain. If you want feel free to ignore this trap which will probably also lead to a discussion on sin which will then link back to motivational differences between religions and probably run us in a big circle.)

 
At 3:12 PM, [REDACTED] said...

The definition of terrorism has always given policymakers fits. As Richard Clarke, former head of counterterrorism, puts it in his book, there was never an agreed upon definition within the Bush White House, and thus why, when the biggest 'terrorist' threat is Al-Qaida, we attacked Iraq. Dep. Def. Sec. Wolfowitz was convinced that 'state-sponsored terrorism' was a bigger threat and that no sub-national group could pull off a large attack without help from nation-states. This is where the justification of attacking Iraq as a part of the "Global War On Terror" or GWOT, as the Army is calling it. If you take out the states that sponsor terror, there will be less terror. Unfortunately, we have 12 year olds setting defense policy.
As we no longer officially declare war, haven't since 1941, it seems a little odd that we should be arguing over definitions for terms like terrorism, war, collateral damage, etc. I, for one, was quite appalled when the administration declared a "War on Terror", as it seemed like a justification for almost anything they wanted, like a modern-day Red Scare. This sort of thing has been seen before and will be again. As for how to define terrorism, and what is justified, it seems like arguing over what the definition of is, is.
I, for one, have been working in the Intelligence Community since 2000, and can tell you that there is little distinction made between threats from states and non-state actors, at least within the military. Threats are not divided up by terrorism versus non-terrorist, but rather by ability to inflict damage, and our ability to inflict damage on them. So, really, if we are to say that we will hold states as accountable as non-state terrorists(Bush doctrine)it does reflect our mindset in threat assessments, but it also makes whether an act is terrorist in nature of little difference. Also, remember one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, whether one is a terrorist really depends on one's point of view, however warped it may or may not be.

 

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