Sunday, April 28, 2013

Liberty, Security, and Terrorism

Liberty, Security, and Terrorism:
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little
temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
It would be nice if Benjamin Franklin’s famous
aphorism
were as widely believed as it is quoted. I doubt that
Sen. Lindsey Graham and his ilk would express disagreement, but one
cannot really embrace Franklin’s wisdom while also claiming that
the
homeland is the battlefield
.” (The very word  homeland should
make Americans queasy.)
If we were to take Graham literally, all of America would look
as the
Boston suburbs
looked last Friday — but even worse, because the
government would be monitoring everyone’s reading and web browsing
lest it miss someone becoming “radicalized” in the privacy of his
own home.
Who would want that? Is it a coincidence that virtually every
dystopian novel prominently features a police force
indistinguishable from an army in combat and 24-hour surveillance
by the state?
The Boston Marathon bombing obscures the fact that terrorism is
actually less common in the United States now than in the
past, and that the odds of an American being killed in a terrorist
incident are rather small. (For some perspective, see Brian
Doherty’s article, “3
Reasons the Boston Bombing Case Should Not Change Our Attitudes
About Privacy
” and Gene Healy’s “Boston
Bombing Suspects Are Losers, Not Enemy Combatants.
”)
An open and (semi-) free society cannot realistically expect to
eliminate the risk of indiscriminate violence. The cost in liberty
and dignity would be way too high — and the attempt would fail.
Moreover, the risk of violence perpetrated by our guardians would
not be eliminated but augmented.
It’s worth emphasizing that we don’t yet know if the actions
allegedly taken by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev qualify as
terrorism. (Glenn
Greenwald
points out that even Alan Dershowitz and Jeffrey
Goldberg are not convinced the bombings do qualify.) As commonly
used, the word terrorism does not mean merely any violent
act that scares people. The Boston
Strangler
 (Albert DeSalvo) terrorized women in the
early 1960s, yet we don’t think of that as terrorism. (Greenwald

discusses
other cases.) Why don’t we regard all mass or serial
killers as terrorists? Because in common usage terrorism
has a political component. This is also the case for official
definitions. (Wikipedia
has the run-down.)
For example, see title 22, chapter 38 of the United States
Code:
The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically
motivated
violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by
subnational groups or clandestine agents. [Emphasis added.]
And title 18:
The term “international terrorism” means activities that …
involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a
violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any
State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within
the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State; [and] appear
to be intended … to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; …
to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or
coercion; or … to affect the conduct of a government by
mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and [which] occur
primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United
States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by
which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to
intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators
operate or seek asylum. [Emphasis added.]
And the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations:
The unlawful use of force and violence against persons or
property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian
population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political
or social objectives
. [Emphasis added.]
And, finally, the USA PATRIOT Act:
Activities that (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that
are a violation of the criminal laws of the U.S. or of any state,
that (B) appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a
civilian population, (ii) to influence the policy of a
government
by intimidation or coercion, or (iii) to affect
the conduct of a government
by mass destruction,
assassination, or kidnapping, and (C) occur primarily within the
territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. [Emphasis added.]
For the record, the Oxford English Dictionary defines
terrorist as a “person who uses violent and intimidating
methods in the pursuit of political aims; esp. a member of a
clandestine or expatriate organization aiming to coerce an
established government by acts of violence against it or its
subjects.” (Hat tip: Gary Chartier.)
You get the idea. These are reasonable, common-sense definitions
consistent with common usage. (Note that they exclude the shootings
at Fort
Hood
, since Nidal Malik Hasan’s targets were not
noncombatants.) Politically motivated violence against
noncombatants needs a term, after all. What’s unreasonable is that
the term is not applied to the conduct of the U.S. government or
its allies when they target noncombatants for political
purposes.
Large-scale indiscriminate violence against noncombatants that
is not politically motivated, then, is not terrorism.
Someone frustrated by a dead-end life who lashed out violently at a
crowd of people would not be counted as a terrorist, according to
this usage. Thus DeSalvo, Charles Whitman,
and George Hennard,
monstrous as they were, were not terrorists.
Perhaps the Brothers Tsarnaev were not terrorists either. We
don’t know yet. True, leaks from the interrogation of the heavily
medicated Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
indicate
that the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan figured in
their “radicalization” and bombing plot. He also reportedly said
religious
fervor
” and a desire to defend Islam were behind their actions.
Maybe that is true. But maybe these are rationalizations of their
personal failures and envy. (And how reliable are those leaks?) We
need to know more — and maybe we’ll never know enough. People and
their situations are complex.
What we do know is that we must not let the Tsarnaevs’ crimes
snuff out whatever civil liberties are left after the USA PATRIOT
Act, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, and the other
abuses ushered in during the fevered aftermath of 9/11. We must
ever be vigilant against the predictable efforts of politicians to
exploit the bombings to aggrandize their power.
Whether U.S. foreign policy really had anything to do with the
Boston Marathon bombings, there are reasons enough to scrap it and
to follow strict noninterventionism, since that would cease the
daily brutality against Muslims (and others) committed in the name
of the American people. One bonus from ending U.S.-sponsored murder
and mayhem in the Muslim world is that it would remove a potential
reason for violence against Americans.
This article
originally appeared
at The Future of Freedom
Foundation.