How to Deal with Terrorists

When terrorists blow up innocent people, the right to self-defense justifies retaliation of an appropriate kind. A U.S. drone that kills innocent people is indistinguishable from a man who machine guns a crowd. A drone attack that kills innocent people is an act of terror. Both the drone attacker and the machine gunner have justifications and claim they are using proper means, but these claims cannot be sustained. It is unjust to kill innocent people while in pursuit of someone whom you regard as an enemy. It is unjust to kill innocent people under the claim that you are after someone else whom you regard as guilty. The claim of self-defense doesn’t extend to killing innocent people. “Collateral damage” or the taking of innocent lives as a by-product of killing an enemy is unjust. Innocent but dead people are not by-products. If the attackers do not regard those whom they attack as innocent but complicit in crimes against them, then what’s appropriate is to capture them and make their case through courts. Justice includes using measures of justice to decide upon guilt or innocence. The Paris murderers have no justification whatsoever in killing innocent people anymore than a lynch mob or a drone attacker. They are all using unjust (wrong) means.

The “terror” and “terrorist” labels get in our way of understanding that what’s involved in these situations is more than brute force undertaken with certain political, religious, strategic and psychological aims, but injustice and an absence of just methods. The attacks in Paris, Beirut, the Sinai, London, New York, Mumbai, Moscow, Oklahoma City, Nigeria, Kenya and many other places all involve the application of unjust methods.

Once we see that the key feature of terror is its injustice, we can realize that the U.S. forces have been acting unjustly, massively so, in Iraq and Afghanistan, in drone warfare, in undermining Libya and Syria, in interfering in Ukraine, and in supporting Saudi Arabia’s attacks in Yemen.

Once we focus on the injustice of slaying innocent people, we can realize that there are way too many police incidents within America that involve the application of unjust methods. Innocent people should not be killed for trivial reasons. If a man is innocent until proven guilty, then he shouldn’t be killed while being apprehended. People shouldn’t be killed for pointing a finger or swearing at a cop or allegedly selling cigarettes or because they are thought to have sold cocaine. We might label these police acts as acts of terror, but that diverts us from the main point, which is that improper (unjust) measures are being used in the name of self-defense or security or justice.

Appropriate measures of defense and security cannot include taking innocent lives, either intentionally or unintentionally.

The U.S. war on terror that has included attacking whole countries like Iraq and Afghanistan has been entirely unjust in its very design. War spreads death and destruction upon innocent people. Even drone attacks, advertised as more humane and just or as pinpoint in accuracy, do the same.

Terror should not be overcome by diffusing equally unjust and terroristic methods over a broader region or onto many more innocent people, as the U.S. government has done again and again and on a large scale. Hollande can bomb Raqqa, but if and when he kills innocent Syrians and drives others from their homes, this is unjust. Israel can attack Gaza in force and wreak destruction everywhere it goes, killing thousands of innocent people. This is terror in action, but more important in understanding and changing this kind of dreadful action is to label it as unjust. Rockets fired into Israel are unjust, but massive retaliation against innocent people is not a proper remedy.

The just way to defend against terrorists is to find them, arrest them and try them in courts that have established and recognized procedures for establishing guilt and innocence. It is not to make war on an entire country a la Bush 2. It is not to send drones flying into one country after another or to draw up secret lists of suspects to be murdered by drone bombs along with many innocent people a la Obama.

The just way to defend against terrorism is to pinpoint and apprehend suspects, not to destroy entire countries or funeral parties or cities. It is not to mix up political, economic, imperial and geopolitical aims with self-defense aims, as the West has done. What these unjust shotgun methods have accomplished is to generate greater numbers of men willing to die in terrorist acts and warfare against invaders and against those whom they accurately see are using unjust methods. The fact that they see a mote in the eyes of others and have a beam in their own is a separate matter. The same can be said of us and our government.

What we are responsible for in our country and through our government is the use of appropriate methods. These include using just methods to secure justice, which we may call “rule of law”. In the existing system of states, what this entails is for law enforcement in our country to work with law enforcement in other countries. It means for the U.S. government to work with and through the established governments in other countries. Instead the U.S. has sought to undermine established governments and their established systems of maintaining order. Granted that such cooperation has its problems and that others do not always do our bidding or for various reasons cannot do our bidding or may not want to do our bidding, but those issues do not justify subverting their system or wrecking it or attacking it in the name of an anti-terror campaign. These means are unjust because they ruin innocent lives. They are altogether too broad and far-reaching when what’s required is narrowly to pinpoint terrorists.

The war on terror and most of the activities taken in pursuit of that war by the U.S. government have been unjust. They’ve been misdirected and wrong, both in the sense of being unjust and in the sense of producing poor results. It’s clearly time for a change.

International cooperation in the use of existing law enforcement and intelligence agencies is preferable by far to methods of war in dealing with terrorism. The record of their successes and failures is not widely known. Tips from the public have always been a major source of leads, as opposed to sole reliance on these agencies, which often have organizational problems and impediments.

It may be that what we need is a supplement in the way of a “free market in intelligence” concerning terrorist suspects and activities. It appears that information that’s supplied to the authorities quite often gets lost or not acted upon. A possible remedy is “open-source” publication of such information, or that agencies share more information with the public and the public makes its information known anonymously on web sites designed for that purpose. A great deal of information was available prior to 9/11 but it was locked up or ignored or not assembled within the FBI and CIA. Had it been public, the outcome might have been different. Intelligence may need to be opened up. Suspects need to be made known.

If the U.S. were serious about terror, it would not have treated Saddam Hussein as an enemy to be attacked. Prior to 1990, it had not done so. The U.S. found Gaddafi to be helpful, before destroying him. The U.S. would not be hostile to Iran and attempting to destroy Assad in Syria. The U.S. would not be so supportive of Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The U.S. would be cooperating with Putin and Russia.

In truth, the U.S. policies are really not anti-terror policies through and through. They are sops to anti-terror, but they are mainly political and geo-political in nature. Most of what I am saying about how to address terror and how to avoid the massive injustices of U.S. policies in fact go past the main point by assuming that the U.S. even really cares about terror as a major priority in Paris, New York, Washington or anywhere else.

The U.S. actions suggest that it has other priorities and mixed aims. Its unjust activities stem from sources not limited to a goal of anti-terror. Being anti-terror has provided a convenient rationale for undertaking neocon policies of unipolar superiority and dominance throughout the world. The Wolfowitz Doctrine has been pre-eminent. Aided and abetted by the military/industrial complex, the road to continued unjust wars and actions by the U.S. government has been cleared and paved. Although this makes terror almost into a side issue, psychologically it is not. Candidates for the presidency will quickly promise ever more warfare, using the Paris attacks and ISIS as a rationale to garner support. This path should be strongly rejected as being both unjust in its widespread destruction of life and property and as being of negative practical worth by generating ever more young men willing to die to resist its invasions and injustice.


9:07 am on November 20, 2015