Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Define a Terrorist

At what point do you become a terrorist? When you bomb a building? When you attend a training camp? When you talk to a terrorist?

Apparently all of those, even the last, hold true.

According to this article, in 1996, a law called the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act {PDF} (so much for there being nothing to deal with terrorism), set up a system whereby anyone providing "material support" (Supplies, people, etc.) would be treated as a terrorist- detained, imprisoned, etc.

With the advent of the PATRIOT act {PDF}, in 2001, the definition of "material support" was expanded to include "expert advice or assistance," and "service."

I see many problems with this- mostly because it is so incredibly abstract and over-reaching. What, exactly, is "service?" Is it doing electrical work in a house that is used by al Qaeda operatives? Delivering pizza? Or do there have to be overt tokens of actual complicity in the organization?

"A lawyer would commit a crime, she [Ms. Kagan] said, by filing a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of a terrorist group. Helping such a group petition international bodies is also a crime, she added."

This is so incredibly wrong, I don't even know where to start. I really don't understand why we shouldn't be trying to reach out to groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and yes, even al Qaeda and the Taliban. Perhaps we should listen to them, try to figure out their beefs with us or their main antagonists, and then perhaps we could reach a solution that would be mutually amicable.

It's like the Kurdistan Worker's Party (P.K.K.)- I've heard so many Americans use the Kurds as one of the biggest beefs with Saddam Hussein. "Don't you know Saddam killed hundreds of Kurds in nerve gas attacks?!"

Yeah. And you wonder why they were engaging in terrorist activities against him. The Kurds have been set upon by both the Turks and the Iraqis- and their situation isn't getting any better. But somehow, only Americans are allowed to be freedom fighters: all other peoples are just going to have to suffer in silence until we get around to helping them out.

"Support of any kind, Justice Kennedy said, “will ultimately inure to the benefit of a terrorist organization, and we have a governmental interest in not allowing that.”"

I can see his point in a way, but I also still think that this law is way too overreaching. Like I said above- where do we stop? The pizza delivery guy's pizza will come to benefit the terrorists, but should we go after him as an accomplice in terrorist activities? What about a school teacher? Should the men who taught the 9/11 hijackers to fly planes be imprisoned?

I have been saying for a long time that the PATRIOT act is way too powerful. I still think I'm right. And I think this confirms it.


suntzusays said...

The net effect of this broader interpretation was to prevent such movements that do advocate and commit acts of violence, things which should, regardless of the rightness or wrongness of their cause, be prevented where possible, from moving toward more political and other non-violent methods of advocacy and change. This is in the evolution of most terrorist organisations the natural step. The IRA did this in Ireland. The PLO in Palestine. The Muslim Brotherhood. The Tamil Tigers tried to. The Communist parties around the world and various associated anarchistic groups at the turn of the 20th century. Hamas and Hezbollah are both moving in this direction, as are the pirates in Somalia. I don't think you will see Al Qaeda itself move in this direction because it has a much more extreme ideology and message than Hamas, as an example, and doesn't appear to advocate much of anything other than violent resistance and assault upon any non-supportive agencies within the Muslim world (not limited to those which are associated in some way with American or Israeli interests). Nevertheless, it would seem appropriate to counsel, advise, and even support movements which are non-violent in nature and to discourage those same movements from continuous and eventually even sporadic violence to achieve their goals. Making laws which make that transition more difficult does not help us.

Carl Wicklander said...

Along with defining a terrorist, we should probably also define what sort of conflict this is. Is it a war or not? If so, then constitutionally declare it.

If not, then there should be no controversy on whether people we've captured should be tried in civilian court. If it's a war, then a case for military tribunals can be made. Short of that, it all contributes to the blurring of the line that used to separate war from peace and freedom from tyranny.

Teresa said...

The term terrorist does need to be clearly defined. There either needs to be a new treaty defining the term, or a revisement to Geneva Conventions needs to take place. These Muslim Jihadists don't have a uniform, don't belong to one specific country or they belong to more than one country, not state sponsored, and are far more dangerous and a threat to the U.S. and our government than any war has been before because of that. It is really iffy whether these terrorists even fall under the Geneva Convention. But, it is extemely hard to come up with a uniform definition of a terrorist.

Liberty said...

Sun Tzu- I agree.

Carl- we definitely need to define what a war is, so we can know for sure whether we're in one or no, and decide how we will proceed.

Teresa- a uniform definition of terrorist is easy. It is someone who uses the tactic of terror in a fight. That is why a "War on Terror" is such a misnomer, because you can't fight a tactic.

Teresa said...

You said,"because you can't fight a tactic." What???

The United States military since the beginning of the United States's inception has used tactics to fight against our enemies tactics. It is a matter of us modernizing and strategizing and making our miliatry's tactics more effective to fight our enemies' tactics.

"Military strategy and tactics are essential to the conduct of warfare. Broadly stated, strategy is the planning, coordination, and general direction of military operations to meet overall political and military objectives. Tactics implement strategy by short-term decisions on the movement of troops and employment of weapons on the field of battle. The great military theorist Carl von Clausewitz put it another way: "Tactics is the art of using troops in battle; strategy is the art of using battles to win the war." Strategy and tactics, however, have been viewed differently in almost every era of history. The change in the meaning of these terms over time has been basically one of scope as the nature of war and society has changed and as technology has changed. Strategy, for example, literally means "the art of the general" (from the Greek strategos) and originally signified the purely military planning of a campaign."

So, yes we can fight our enemies' tactics with our tactics. But, we can't do this by playing by our enemies' rules and fighting "nice", playing "nice" with civilians in Afghanistan while endangering the welfare of our troops in the process.

Liberty said...

Teresa- I think you misunderstand me. I explained some of this in my War against Terror post, but let me explain.

Terrorism is a tactic that is used by many nations and countries, militaries and commanders. It was the primary tactic in the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the Japanese continued to use it throughout WWII. The Viet Cong exploited the technique many times.

Yet the one difference between the Japanese and the Viet Cong is that they were both militaries associated with a governmental entity- they had a country behind them, in other words.

This conflict is unique in that it has no main players, at least on one side. The terrorists are not allied with any country. In fact, in many ways, they're not even allied to each other! And so we cannot fight them with typical tactics, because they will not act like a typical army.

Since I've explained all this in my War against Terror post, I'm going to direct you there to read more of my thoughts on this subject. I said it much more eloquently on that post. ;)

Teresa said...

This what you stated before.
"That is why a "War on Terror" is such a misnomer, because you can't fight a tactic." I thought you couldn't fight an ideology? So, which is it- ideology or tactics that we supposedly can't fight?

Terrorism is an ideology that uses various tactics to harm people which are used by terrorists around the globe, and by state sponsors of terrorism. Their tactics are more widespread and different than the Viet Cong's methods but the terrorists' still use tactics and the United States uses tactics to counteract the terrorists' also. Our military's tactics have evolved over history and now must evolve to better counteract the terrorist's tactics.

The ideology of Musim extremism which is followed by a terrorist uses their tactics to attack and fight against the United States, the West, so the United States's ideology is the preservation of freedom and is the freeing of peoples' of tyranny and abuses, the stopping of the terrorists' tactics, the spread of their radical ideology. The United States is spreading our ideology of freedom around the world, which is also a principle of American foreign policy. We can fight the ideology's tactics. Just because those particular tactics are not authorized and located in one particular country doesn't mean that the United States cannot use its own set of tactics to thwart against terrorism.

suntzusays said...

Terrorism is not an "ideology". It is a tactic, or at best a strategy used to serve that ideological worldview. If it is not backed and supported and aimed from a single country there is no way you can wage war against it. Its entire purpose is not conquest, but denial of power or the production of anarchy and chaos. To demonstrate that the people who use it will not be ruled and conquered. At least not the way we want them to be.

Israel tries this all the time. If we were willing to do what Sri Lanka did and flatten every city that a terrorist might be in, we might be right that we could have a "war against terror". I don't think that works in the long run to stop anything. It just kills a lot of innocent people who are then deprived of the ability to strike back. As the refugees in Gaza and the West Bank have shown, they will find a way to strike back.

Best "war" on terrorism is to let most people be. Messing with them only infuriates and works up people who wouldn't become rock throwers and shooters. Meddling is what produces terrorism. At least when there is no possible way to use symmetrical warfare to protect the interests of a people (as there is not against the US military or its allies, whoever they may be this week). Quit bothering people unless they're actually doing something harmful to attack people. It's a lot less messy than hassling everybody.

If you want a domestic example see the police and drugs.

Liberty said...

"So, which is it- ideology or tactics that we supposedly can't fight?"

Both. As Sun Tzu pointed out, terrorism is a tactic, a strategy- not something you can fight, unless you're willing to drop bombs on every city that might be harboring terrorists. Which cities, BTW, would include significant portions of the US mainland.

The ideology is the thing the people believe. They don't believe terrorism. That is the tactic they use. Their ideology can be as disparate as the day is long. It can be radical Islam, it can be radical Christianity. It could be athiesm, or just plain, simple nationalism and "you're not going to tell me how to live my life so there."

"the United States's ideology is the preservation of freedom and is the freeing of peoples' of tyranny and abuses, the stopping of the terrorists' tactics, the spread of their radical ideology."

We haven't stopped the spread of their ideology. Haven't even come close. It has merely spread.

Let us take a look at history. The ancient Romans. Coliseums, exotic animals, and Christians. They were trying to halt the spread of Christianity. Didn't work out so well. Christianity merely spread. The Catholic church tried to do the same thing- stop the spread of true Christianity (no offense intended). Didn't work out so hot.

All through history, men have tried to halt a mindset with guns/bows/big teeth/torture devices. It didn't work throughout history, and America is going the way of getting to be in the history books for that failure, at least.