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russell lester

Orchardist, Grange

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Terrorism a crime or an act of war?

In the current world we are engaged in a war against terrorism and those states we identify as supporting it. This is a shift from the traditional veiw of terrorism as a crime and its practitioners as criminals is this a good change? why? Why not?


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  • Jan 6 2013: First, I will address your question as it was asked.

    The traditional concepts of crime and war were very different entities, each well defined with very different characteristics. Modern acts of terrorism do not fit into the traditional concepts. Modern terrorism is committed by multinational organizations with support networks that include states, corporations, charities and individuals. Our reaction to these organizations is labeled a war as a means of justifying the use of unrestrained violence with no oversight and no recourse to the courts. Traditionally, even war had rules, but we now find that following the traditional rules would make it impossible to accomplish our objectives. Governments largely ignore the old rules and justify this by claiming that they are not applicable to this new form of war.

    Is this change good or bad? Both. Good because it allows our governments to fight the bad guys where they live. Bad because it allows the governments to perpetrate violence with no regard for any legal rights, and no recourse other than the next election. The loss of legal rights applies to all citizens, not just the perpetrators. In the Constitution of the USA, section nine specifically provides for the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus.

    So basically the governments are conducting a war without rules while claiming that the terrorists are committing crimes. An act of war can also be a crime.
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      Jan 6 2013: This is a very coherent and well written piece. The evolution of the crime from that of non national organizations to larger networks of international and quasi national entities, is a valid explanation for the elevation of this crime to war. I still feel that calling this campaign a war is an insult to soldiers.

      However even with the legitimacy of the suspension of habeas corpus which is arguable, there is a very salient law that actually according to the constitution has primacy over all other laws.

      This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land;

      and the 1996 war crimes law

      (a) Offense.— Whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, commits a war crime, in any of the circumstances described in subsection (b), shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.
      (b) Circumstances.— The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are that the person committing such war crime or the victim of such war crime is a member of the Armed Forces of the United States or a national of the United States (as defined in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).
      (c) Definition.— As used in this section the term “war crime” means any conduct—
      (1) defined as a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party;
      (2) prohibited by Article 23, 25, 27, or 28 of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV, Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, signed 18 October 1907;
      • Jan 8 2013: I do believe that an unbiased criminal investigation of the current military actions in Afghanistan and recently in Iraq would result in indictments, very likely including the President. I have mixed thoughts about this. On the one hand, the terrorists cannot be allowed to continue their campaign unopposed. On the other hand we should be able to pursue them legally. Unfortunately, it would take years to renegotiate the Geneva Convention. Just changing a law in a timely manner seems to be impossible in the current political situation. One reason our system of government gives so much power to the President is so that the President can quickly respond when speed is necessary. In the real world, we must sometimes do what is necessary and settle the legalities later. Until someone designs a perfect government, we will have to make do with this one.

        Violence begets violence. All the words of the speeches, the laws, the treaties and even the Constitution will have no effect on the bombs. (I am not advocating this, just saying this is how it seems to be.)
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          Jan 21 2013: Yet if we abandon the law and the ideals that they enshrine, liberty and equality, then what are we fighting to save? Its harder to do what needs doing within the law but its that effort that defines just rule from tyranny.

          "Would you cut down the law to chase the devil?"

          "Aye! I would cut all the laws in england flat to have at him!

          "And when you had cut down the law and all was laying flat around you where would you hide when the devil turned upon you?"

          a conversation paraphrased, that was credited to Sir Thomas Moore
      • Jan 22 2013: I agree completely. We have given up our rights and the rule of law. The terrorists have won, because, with our current system of government, the terrorists have all the advantages. We need a system that is more flexible. We need the ability to protect ourselves while staying within the law.

        The flip side of the above conversation is that when you stay within the law, and that allows the devil (terrorists) to win, you no longer have law, liberty, or even your life. Dead people don't need laws.

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