What Terrorists?

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Being deployed,
I don’t get to keep up to date on the news issues of the day very
well. I can catch a few minutes of random cable news shows at the
chow hall or word of mouth news about the Presidential campaigns
but unfortunately, this is never enough. I did find in this week’s
Stars and Stripes newspaper (the Sept. 9th issue) an interesting
news article though. Gleaned from the Washington Post the
article is regarding a federal judge who ruled against the nation
of Iran and awarded $2.6 billion to the families of the Marines
killed in the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing. In the decision, Judge
Lamberth ruled that Iran was "legally responsible" for
the 1983 Hizbollah attack in Lebanon. Iran apparently didn’t contest
the charges.

From nearly
the first day of boot camp I was taught that this attack was a terrorist
act. Perhaps it was, but since it was directed against a military
target the distinction is a little less clear cut. As a Marine I
am considered a lawful combatant under the Geneva Conventions. This
fact is stated on the back of my military ID card. As well were
all the Marines who were killed in the tragic attack. The family
members were compensated by the Marine’s servicemember’s life insurance
policies but I can understand why the families want more. The commanders
on the ground in Beirut did not equip the Marines with the necessary
rules of engagement to properly defend themselves. However, the
timing of the claim and the defendant is still worth a closer look.
Iran is definitely not the only state sponsor of Hizbollah, not
to mention that nearly twenty-four years after the attack makes
the timing quite suspicious. Perhaps this is an innocent reaction
from families still grieving or possibly another indictment to pile
on Iran to justify a future war.

It’s no secret
that support for the global war on terror is slipping among the
American people. It’s always been difficult for the administration
to show progress, but what they have done a good job at is to find
new targets and enemies to fight. Many politicians, on both sides
of the aisle, have misused the term "terrorist" to describe
the individuals (or groups) that attack the US armed forces. But
the fact is that when someone shoots at me (a legal combatant) or
tries to use a roadside bomb (IED) against me while I’m on patrol
they are not a terrorist. They become enemy combatants the moment
they target other legal combatants. You can call them insurgents,
anti-Iraqi forces, anti-occupation forces, freedom fighters, or
Ali Baba (our most easily translated term for bad guys) but "terrorist"
is not the correct term.

is probably more than one reason why these people refer to enemy
combatants as terrorists. It could be simply because they don’t
know better and don’t understand that the word means something quite
specific. Perhaps it’s because it is accepted vernacular now and
since we’re waging a “war on terror” that would make “terrorist”
the logical moniker for the enemy. Or maybe there is a more sinister
reason. Could it be that the politicians and mainstream media (and
occasionally military officials) knowingly misrepresent the enemy
in Iraq to achieve a political aim? If I were attacked by a terrorist
while in Iraq, then that must mean that terrorists are in Iraq,
which means it was a perfectly wise and logical decision to invade
Iraq, right? Now more than ever the neo-cons need to justify their
actions and agenda to the American public. A clever bit of language
manipulation, most likely not caught onto by the majority of unconcerned
Americans, to achieve a political end. Don’t forget that since the
Sept. 11th attacks there is nothing an American hates more than
a terrorist.

I won’t say
that I know why the term terrorist is so easily affixed to so many
legal combatants but maybe we should be more careful in how we use
the term. Words still mean things.

19, 2007

Martin [send him mail]
is an infantry Marine serving his second combat tour in the al Anbar
Province of Iraq.

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