A couple of days ago, I questioned whether or not the legal model was the right approach to fighting the war on terror. I looked at our judicial system, and found it wanting. The threats we face are the sorts of things that the law simply isn’t properly equipped to deal with.
But that’s all right. The legal system isn’t the only tool at our disposal.
When one has an emergency, one should call 911. But there are many types of emergencies, and the 911 operators are trained to determine which response you need — paramedics, police, firefighters, or all three. You don’t send an ambulance to a bank robbery, nor a fire engine to a heart attack (unless that’s all that’s available).
Likewise, you don’t fight wars with lawyers armed with briefs.
Several detractors of my piece failed to see the proper “nuances” to it, instead going for the absolutist, black and white interpretation (a rather odd twist, considering the stereotypes of the political wings). Apparently, my saying that the legal system can’t properly handle the terrorist threats we face today was the equivalent of calling for the complete abolition of our entire judiciary.
Our legal system, for the most part, works and works well — when applied to the issues it is intended to address. THe war on terror simply isn’t one of those things.
International terrorism is a remarkable thing, a blending of criminal and military elements. It uses what are, technically, criminal means to achieve political goals in a manner traditionally associated with military force. They are neither fish nor fowl, and to treat them as apurely criminal or purely military threat is a recipe for disaster.
One of the things I respect about President Bush is that he recognized this devil’s brew of a threat and reacted appropriately.
If there is one element of the United States government that has the ability to react quickly to changing threats and environments, to absorb large losses and continue, and to adapt to rapidly evolving circumstances, it is the military. Pretty much every time we have gone to war, we have gone fully prepared to win the previous conflict — but we learn very quickly. The US military has a remarkable record of victories, of getting their noses bloodied at first, then learning what they need to do to win and doing it.
So, do I have concerns about letting the military take the lead in the war on terror? Not in the least.
Well, you say, what about the legal considerations? Shouldn’t the legal system have some say in the matter?
The military has its own justice system, and it works pretty well. The prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, you will recall, was first exposed by the Army itself. It discovered the abuses, investigated them, tried the accused, convicted them, and punished them all on its own. And it is currently investigating just what happened at Haditha, and I have faith that if any US service members violated military law, they will be punished as well.
So, what would be the role of the justice system, in my little ideal construct? It would separate the wheat from the chaff. It would look at those accused of terrorism or terrorist plots uncovered within the jurisdiction of the United States and separate the (alleged) criminals from the (alleged) terrorists, and handle the former. The latter would be turned over to the military for handling. They would be judged either civilians or combatants. If judged combatants, as per the Geneva Convention, then they would be judged as either legal or illegal combatants. The legal ones would be detained until the end of hostilities; the illegal ones would be given the choice of cooperating with us or summarily executed — as per the Geneva conventions.
Naturally, that ain’t gonna happen, but like I said, it’s my little fantasy.
Finally, I have to make a couple corrections. I said there has been a single terrorist attack within the United States since 9/11. I meant one foreign-linked terrorist attack, and spoke of the Egyptian gunman who shot up the El Al ticket booth at LAX on July 4, 2002. Prior to 9/11, foreign terrorists struck at the World Trade Center in 1993, set off bombs at 2 US embassies in Africa in 1998, and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. They had also struck at Americans and American interests around the globe. Since 9/11, though, with that single LAX incident, we have had almost five years without a successful foreign terrorist attack.
Others have said that Iraq wasn’t a part of the “terrorist infrastructure” prior to invasion. Those folks apparently have never heard of the Saddam-sponsored terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, missed the news of Saddam’s $25,000 bounty for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, and haven’t seen any of the recently-translated documents that spell out just how far Saddam had his fingers in the pies of international terrorism.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll spell it out again: Saddam, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, had no involvement in 9/11. It’s also highly doubtful he had any foreknowledge of that attack. But his ties to terrorist groups — including but not limited to Al Qaeda — are beyond doubt. The decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam was not an end to itself, a final resolution to terrorism. It was a step in the campaign, a strategic decision to establish a sizable military presence in the heart of terrorist country and try to see if democracy and Islamic/Arab culture are compatible — because democracy is the mortal enemy of terrorism, the ultimate tyranny of the minority. It was given the veneer of legality by citing the repeated violations of the terms of surrender from the first Gulf War, but that was not the primary factor. And those who say that “Bush lied when he said Saddam was linked to 9/11” are, at best, ignorant idiots who are finally believe their own BS.
So yes, justice and the law have their role to play in the war on terror. But to give it the sole responsibility is the sheerest folly. We tried that, after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. We tracked down the conspirators, arrested them, tried them, convicted them, and sent them to prison. The rest of their group, safely out of the reach of our government lawyers, moved on and kept up their work — in Yemen, in Kenya, in Tanzania, in Saudi Arabia, and finally in New York, Virginia, and a field in Pennsylvania one beautiful September morn almost five years ago.
I’m sorry if this went on too long. I feel badly for those of you who had to wade through all this rehash. But it wouldn’t have been necessary if the Left wasn’t so absolutist, so black-and-white. If only they were educated enough, sensitive enough, concerned enough to properly appreciate the nuances, the shades of gray, the sophistication of my original piece, the world would be a better place. But they have to stick to their neanderthal “all or nothing” beliefs.