March 25, 2006
What is terrorism? What is crime? What is war? What is the difference? Which is the greatest threat to nations, economies, or societies, and how should we confront it? Is the Global War on Terrorism fought against any and all forms of political violence directed at civilians, or only against distinct groups of people? Does it honor the ideals of a free society? Can it achieve peace or justice?
Before we can answer these questions, we must first define that which we have declared war upon, but we find that terrorism is defined differently by states and other organizations.
The reason there is international controversy over the legal definition of terrorism is that all current definitions show that states are, in fact, the biggest perpetrators. Each state supports definitions that will condemn actions which clash with their interests, while at the same time condoning their own. This poses a serious obstacle, because before we can mount any kind of international cooperation against terrorism, we must first establish exactly what it is, and agree to honor that definition. We will find no peace until, as a nation, we admit to, and seek to make restitution for our part in the violence on this planet. We cannot fail to acknowledge this, or we will follow a path of lies to our own destruction. The mote in our own eye must not be allowed to burrow into our brains (Esposito).
Definitions of Terrorism
Webster's online dictionary defines Terrorism as "the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion." ("Terrorism").
The FBI acknowledges that "There is no single, universally accepted, definition of terrorism" (4). Its working definition emphasizes force and violence being used unlawfully in order to intimidate or coerce, and in order to further political or social objectives (4-5).
The U.S. State Department defines "terrorist activity" in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which was restructured in the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It lists specific activities which can be viewed as "terrorist activity" if such acts are illegal in the states where they are perpetrated ("Immigration").
The United Nations does not yet have an established legal definition for Terrorism. It acknowledges that one state's 'terrorist' is sometimes viewed as another state's 'freedom fighter', and emphasizes that the lack of agreement on a definition poses a major obstacle.
Controversy arises from U.N. debates about terrorism definitions. States do not agree on the extent of the application of any proposed international conventions and seek guarantees that armed forces would not fall under the jurisdiction of this convention. Others disagree that states should be exempt from any law against organizations that perpetrate terror against civilians. Some groups demand that the right of armed resistance to aggression or occupation be honored.
One proposed definition seeks to use the definition of 'war crimes' (deliberate attacks on civilians, hostage taking, and killing of prisoners), and call terrorism a "peacetime equivalent of a war crime." (United Nations).
Kofi Annan states: "A simple, clear statement bringing into moral clarity that maiming and killing of civilians is unacceptable regardless of one's cause I think will satisfy all of us."
( qtd. in BBC).
If there is no global agreement on a definition of terrorism, can there be global cooperation against it? We don't even know what it is we're fighting till we have a satisfactory definition.
Arguments for the "Global War on Terror"
In spite of the lack of a clear legal definition of terrorism, a "Global War on Terrorism" (GWOT) was declared after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. This was possibly the single most traumatic event that this nation had ever experienced. A shocked people readily accepted the need for immediate reaction.
Advocates of the GWOT are certainly justified in their view that the murder of civilians and the destruction of vital infrastructure are criminal, and should be defended against. People have the right not to live in fear. Terrorism creates economic instability especially in developing nations, by affecting trade, tourism, and foreign investment. Terror denigrates civilization by dividing the nation, causing suspicion, and exacerbating racial, economic, and cultural tensions. Security and public safety is a legitimate concern, and it is the prime duty of government.
Most people on this earth desire justice, peace, and have a similar understanding of civil behavior. Everyone perceives the hypocrisy of demanding that others abide by laws of behavior that we will not honor ourselves. No one would agree that giving up liberty to fight those who hate liberty is logical. Nobody, regardless of political affiliation, wishes to spend huge resources combating terrorism if those expenses will be counterproductive.
We all want to address the actual causes of terrorism and make efforts to reduce, and ultimately eliminate it. The question is: "What is an appropriate response?"
Terrorism and War
Some things need to be clear. Terrorists are at war, and according to many, war has no rules. This idea is not so far fetched, since civilians die at the hands of militaries daily. Most terrorist groups claim to be retaliating against aggression and war crimes already committed against them. If there is any legitimacy to this assertion it should be addressed.
In times of war, crimes are often committed by all sides, including officially deployed militaries. The International Criminal Court was established on July 1, 2002 to prosecute war crimes such as mistreatment of prisoners of war or civilians, mass murder, genocide etc.
Several states have criticized this court and have refused to participate. The United States, China, and Israel refuse to allow the court jurisdiction over their citizens. It has been argued that some actions of these countries could and should have been prosecuted.
International courts established after WWII were accused of favoritism toward the victors. Some controversies are the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WWII,
Agent Orange used against civilian targets in Vietnam, and use of depleted uranium in operation Desert Storm and in the recent Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
The global civilian death toll by acts of terror (as distinct from war crimes) is vastly eclipsed by those of war. "Shock and Awe" or "Scorched Earth" policies, as well as attacks on civilian infrastructure are common. States have waged "low intensity conflicts" that are indistinguishable from terrorism: sabotage, kidnapping, assassination, torture, and suppression of civilian dissent through support of brutal and corrupt governments (Sewall; White).
Terrorism entails violence against civilians. If states demand that the use of military violence against civilians be exempt from any definition of terrorism, can the war on terror honestly be about protecting civilian populations from political violence?
False Flag Terrorism
A more covert form of terrorism is "false flag terrorism". Rather than risk open confrontation, states and organizations occasionally sponsor terrorist groups which appear to act independently, or commit actions designed to lay the blame on their enemies.
We must be sure we are not victims of false flag terror hence the need for public examination of evidence. Legal protections for those accused of terror serves us by preserving valuable testimony for public scrutiny. The perpetrators of false flag terrorism remain concealed by the creation of a class of crime for which the accused has no right of legal defense or trial by jury. There is no trial, nor public examination of evidence. Public testimony of the accused and a public examination of evidence are the only way to determine the true enemy.
Many of today's terrorists are yesterday's "Freedom Fighters". Yesterday's Mujihadeen fought communism with religious fervor and full support of the U.S., and are today's Al Qaeda. Yesterday, Noriega was an asset of the U.S.; today he is a criminal. Yesterday, Saddam Hussein was a Cold War asset. Today he is a war criminal. Yesterday, the African National Congress was a terrorist organization; now the apartheid government they fought against is considered terrorist.
Is the majority of terrorist activity the tool of states or of fringe groups? Who profits most from our fear of terrorism? Can increasing executive authority, restricting civil rights, and suppressing free speech possibly lead to truth or victory in the "GWOT", or are we being manipulated through our fear?
Organized crime vs. Terrorism
Organized crime also takes the lives of civilians, destroys economies, and threatens governments, yet unlike terrorism, it is not seen as 'political violence'. Although organized crime is far more devastating to public safety and national security than acts of terror, combating it receives far less government attention and funding. Its extent and impact make organized crime the supreme threat to our political processes, economic well being, and social cohesion, far more so than terrorism.
Organized crime deals in transportation of illegal immigrants, prostitution, drugs, and arms smuggling. It subverts border security, supplies and transports terrorists, exploits and tilts labor markets, fomenting creeping slavery in its wake. The economy is threatened by criminals who launder money to conceal its source using banking systems, investment brokerages, currency speculation, real estate, and commodity speculation. This threatens national economic security here, and especially in developing economies. Governments, financial institutions, and currencies are undermined by the myriad ways criminals conceal their sources of income. Legitimate businesses cannot compete with criminal profits. The S&L and banking scandals of the 80's and 90's, as well as more recent corporate accounting scandals, led to government intervention, and the taxpayer paid the bill.
A U.S. State Department publication dealing with the methods and implications of money laundering states: "Money is laundered through currency exchange houses, stock brokerage houses, gold dealers, insurance companies.... Private banking facilities, offshore banking, shell corporations; free trade zones... all can mask illegal activities. In doing so, criminals manipulate financial systems in the United States and abroad." (McDowell & Novice).
In another publication, the U.S. State Department outlines the relationship between criminal activity and numerous famous bank failures and financial crises around the globe (Sirota and Baskin).
Catherine Austin Fitts, Undersecretary of Housing during the administration of G.H.W. Bush, estimates that between $500 billion - $1 trillion dollars in drug money is laundered through the world's banking and investment centers annually (half of this through U.S. banks), which works out to 4% of the U.S. economy (qtd. in N.Y. Times; CIA).
The impact of criminal activity on world economy is enormous.
The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office estimates global money laundering activities at "2-5% of global GDP, or around U.S. $1.5 trillion per year." (FCO).
Estimates of black market economies as percent of GDP in various countries are: 7% of GDP for the UK, 9% USA, 10% Germany, 25% Italy, Greece & Spain, and as much as 50% of GDP in Russia, Central and Eastern Europe (Lyman).
The narcotics industry is devastating to American society through the destruction of families, and the criminalization, incarceration, and alienation of huge segments of the population. Other consequences are increased taxation and increased federal authority for programs like the "War on Drugs", as well as corruption and graft within our financial, legislative, administrative, and law enforcement institutions. Criminalization artificially inflates drug profits and increases criminal violence. Terrorists do business with organized crime and often finance their struggles by producing narcotics. There is also the political and social fallout resulting from the use of our military against nations who produce those drugs.
Organized crime infiltrates governments and law enforcement agencies, subverts democratic institutions, destroys currencies, financial institutions, national economies, and enslaves whole populations to injustice, poverty, addiction, and fear of criminal violence. Controversies over free speech and campaign finance are evidence that Money is political power in the U.S.; therefore, crime for financial gain can be political crime, or 'terrorism'. In the U.S. we have two sets of laws: the law of the land and the law of the street. Which law prevails? Should we be focusing on terrorism if organized crime represents a greater threat to national security?
Violent Crime vs. Terrorism
In the United States, everyday criminal violence represents a vastly greater threat to civilians than acts of terrorism. In 2004, there were 16,137 murders and 94,635 reported acts of forcible rape in the United States alone (FBI, "Murder"; "Forcible rape").
In 2004, there were 1739 fatalities resulting from 655 acts of terrorism worldwide. There were no fatalities due to terrorism on U.S. Soil (Zelikow; SATP; Glasser).
The total number of fatalities worldwide due to acts of terror in 2004 was about 11% of deaths due to nonpolitical crimes committed in the U.S. alone.
The requested U.S. Military budget for FY2007 is $462.7 billion. Not included in this figure is $70 billion to cover 2006 expenditures and $50 billion for FY 2007 which Congress has already approved for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (Shah).
The U.S. Justice Dept. Budget request for 2007 is $20.8 billion, of which five billion or more is earmarked for "war on terror" activities (Gonzales).
Is it good sense to spend 400% more on combating terrorism than everyday violent crime, if the actual threat from terrorism is less than one percent of annual violent crime fatalities?
Terrorism vs. Natural Disasters
The GWOT has diverted resources away from disaster preparedness; again, the case is that victims of natural disaster are far more numerous than those of terrorism.
Hurricane Katrina resulted in 1,300 deaths and $100 billion in damages and costs. Hurricane Wilma killed 35 people and cost $10 billion. Hurricane Rita killed 119, and cost $8 billion. Hurricane Dennis cost $2 billion and resulted in 12 deaths. The total is 1,466 fatalities and $120 billion during 2005 (NOAA).
Creation of the Dept. of Homeland Security put the Federal Emergency Management Agency under new management with new objectives. Many feel that DHS misdirected attention toward anti-terrorism programs over disaster preparedness. New Orleans levies were not seen as a potential terrorist target so personnel and maintenance funds were diverted to other programs. Many veteran FEMA officials have resigned in protest since DHS took over.
Is it wise to divert attention and resources away from vital infrastructure to wage a global war on terrorism? Who benefits when resources are diverted? Who pays the price?
Terrorism is understood to be the use of politically motivated violence against civilians. Selecting military targets are acts of war. Some argue that terrorism is strictly the equivalent of a war crime that takes place during peace time. Defining massive violence against civilians as "War" rather than terrorism because it is perpetrated by armies is highly hypocritical.
On August 6, 1945, the B-29 "Enola Gay" dropped a nuclear bomb which exploded 2,000 feet above the city of Hiroshima. The blast killed an estimated 80,000 people and destroyed 90% of the city. On August 9, 1945, the B-29 "Bockscar" dropped a nuclear device on Nagasaki, killing 39,000 people. Radiation and injuries later killed 75,000 people more.
The objective was shock and awe, directed at the Japanese and the rest of the world ("Atomic bombings").
History indicates that there is a massively unbalanced ratio between civilian fatalities caused by acts of War and those caused by acts of Terrorism. Yet in a very hypocritical manner, countless civilian deaths are justified as 'collateral damages' of wars, while the fewer deaths in terrorist activities are loudly condemned.
In Iraq, armed resistance to invasion by nonmilitary persons is "Terrorism". Non-uniformed civilian support for the invasion and occupation is not. When these people become casualties, they are called victims of "Terrorism". If the war in Iraq is part of the "War on Terror", it has proven counterproductive if the goal is to reduce terror.
Are the definitions of War and Terrorism applied selectively? Is there a war devoid of terrorism?
Most definitions of terrorism don't include violence alone, but also the threat of violence. Making someone fear for his life because of his politics is terrorism. We must not tolerate it amongst ourselves if we expect others to do the same.
Assertion of independence from U.S. economic dominance is a growing trend in Latin America. The social policies of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela are popular with his constituencies, but not in Washington, D.C. Chavez has nationalized his nation's oil reserves and limited foreign investment. He accuses the U.S. of terrorism by attempted assassination.
Christian Broadcaster Pat Robertson openly called for the U.S. govt. assassination of Chavez, a democratically elected public official. Strong criticism of his words evoked a qualified apology.
If terrorism is violence or the threat of violence intended to coerce political, economic, or religious compliance, is Pat Robertson not guilty of terrorism? Should he not be charged with the crime of international terrorism against the nation of Venezuela?
The price of the "GWOT" may well be our liberty. The inception of the Dept. of Homeland Security shifted great power to the executive branch of the U.S.G. There has been a gradual trend toward centralization of power since the U.S. Constitution was ratified, but the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 provided impetus for possibly the greatest single consolidation of political power in our nation's history.
Under the name 'terrorist', we have created a class of criminals for whom there is no due process. Longstanding treaties regarding the treatment and rights of prisoners of war have been ignored, as evidenced by concentration camps in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo bay. Prisoners of the "War on Terror" do not have the status of "Prisoners of War" or that of "Criminals", both of which have legal rights (Amnesty International).
Domestic laws have been changed, and provide little protections against executive political abuse by intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Protests which led to important civil rights legislation and enforcement in the 1960's would now be illegal.
The following words were spoken by Attorney General John Ashcroft: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists--for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil." (qtd. in Pilon).
Critics of the USA Patriot act claim that the language of the law is vague enough to justify prosecuting everyday crimes or some forms of protest as acts of terror. They do not believe that voicing dissent against the destruction of liberty is treason, citing the Constitution's definition: "Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort." (U.S. Constitution).
Are we willing to give up our freedom in order to win a fight against those who hate our freedom?
Soldiers vs. Terrorists
Terrorists believe they are soldiers in a war. The difference between a soldier and a terrorist is that a soldier is honor bound to abide by the rules of engagement, while a terrorist is not. The problem is that the rules of engagement are so often broken by armies, and the line between war and terrorism becomes blurred. When fighting terrorism, we are at war with a method, but we make ourselves no different than that which we fight if we do not honor the rules of engagement that separate us.
Yet, at every turn this "War on Terror" asks that we shed liberty and honor in our fight against "those who hate our freedom". Our systems of checks and balances which have historically provided obstacles to tyranny in our free society have been threatened. Not by terrorists, but by those who claim to fight them.
Honesty would dictate that we accept that "rules of engagement" in any war are a fallacy. History shows that all nations who engage in war commit crimes and terror. Creation of a class of crime for which there is no standard definition and for which the accused have no legal protection is deceptive. It accomplishes nothing but consolidation of executive power and obstruction of investigation by concealing evidence and testimony that should be public.
Throughout history, governments who have sought empire with aggressive foreign policies have never limited themselves domestically. The restructuring of power after Sept. 11, 2001 has removed a great many government limitations. The greatest consolidations of power in U.S. history have been sold as "temporary" and were enacted during times of war or great distress.
Declaring a "Global War" on intangibles such as terrorism implies that established rules of civility and consensus are insufficient, and that increased state authority is required to combat the problems at hand.
While there can be no justification for terrorism against civilians, we cannot afford to dismiss as completely illegitimate the motives which cause people to join terrorist groups and commit extremely violent acts even at cost to their own lives. Among many reasons cited are lack of national status, alienation within a culture or a society, experiences of humiliation, brutality, poverty, impingement on basic freedoms (freedom of movement, right to a living wage, free association ), and many more. The psychological impact of having seen brutality take relatives and friends often plays a major role ("Terrorism: Underlying Causes").
Palestinian suicide bombers are a case in point. The despair exhibited in the act of a suicide bombing should be evident. It cannot possibly be deemed a "first choice". It is an act of desperation and partly justifiable hatred. It is often the road taken by those who have no recourse to legal redress and no hope.
It is true that some will exploit legitimate grievances to further their own agendas, and well intentioned people are misled toward a path of extremism. We, however, must remove any justification for terrorism.
Our ideals of justice and due process should prohibit such situations, yet many of our own policies are responsible for it. The laws and values of civilized nations are not evenly applied. Legitimate grievances are not dealt with at the core.
Waging a Global War on Terrorism instead of addressing legitimate grievances can only result in a vicious cycle of progressively increasing violence, anger, and pain. Civilized peoples must lead by example: by honoring their own ideals.
The War on Terrorism is hypocritical, counterproductive, and a threat to a free democratic society. It wastes resources trying to police, rather than address the causes. We must be honest with ourselves and treat terrorism as crime or war crime, or we must find an international consensus on a concrete definition, and honor it even when we find ourselves on the wrong end. It is pointless and hypocritical to demand that others abide by laws that we ourselves will not honor. It consumes free thought and free speech, and divides our nation and the world.
There must be no lawlessness on our own part. We must lead by example. The only real security lies in knowing and respecting our neighbors.
1. Amnesty International. "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - Human rights not hollow words: An appeal to President George W. Bush on the occasion of his re-inauguration" Amnesty International. 19 January 2005. 24 Mar. 2006
2. Annan, Kofi. "UN Seeks Definition of Terrorism." BBC News. 26 Jul. 2005. 21 Mar. 2006
3. "Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki". Wikipedia. 25 Mar. 2006
4. CIA. "Rank Order GDP (purchasing power parity." The World Factbook. 10 Jan. 2006. 20 Mar. 2006
5. Esposito, Carlos. "The controversy over the scope of the definition of terrorism." FRIDE.
Sept. 2004. 5.03.2006
6. FBI. "Forcible Rape." Crime in the United States 2004. 17 Feb. 2006. 20 March 2006
7. FBI. "Murder." Crime in the United States 2004. 17 Feb. 2006. 20 March 2006
8. FBI. "Terrorism in the United States 1999." Federal Bureau of Investigation.