Winning the War on Terrorism

WINNING THE WAR ON TERROR

 “…the ten years since Sept. 11 have been the longest period without a major terrorist attack on the United States since the 1960’s.

 That success, however, has not come cheaply.  The conflict in Afghanistan is now the longest military engagement in American history.  More than 6,000 service members have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and upwards of 40,000 seriously wounded.  The Congressional Research Service estimates the price tag of the two wars to be at least $1.3 trillion and counting, not including the medical and disability costs associated with treating war veterans, the hit to the global economy caused by the 10-year spike in oil prices, or the rise in military, intelligence, and homeland security spending.”

“The Existential Threat” by Romesh Ratnesar
Bloomberg Business Week, Sept. 12, 2011

THE DILEMMA

As Mr. Ratnesar relates in the above, confronting terrorism is an expensive proposition.  On the battlefield, we encounter asymmetrical warfare in which our highly-visible, relatively slow-moving conventional forces find themselves pitted against elusive bands of irregulars with superior knowledge of the terrain and, in all likelihood, the sympathies of the local population.  Whereas we must spread our resources over a range of defensive positions, terrorists have the ability to launch surprise attacks when and where they choose.  Whereas our armies require extensive logistical support over extended supply lines, terrorists can practically live off the land.  And, most critically of all, the value we place on human life inhibits our decision-making compared to the abandonment with which terrorist leaders are willing to sacrifice the lives of their recruits.  Not surprisingly, then, asymmetrical warfare translates into our incurring a vastly disproportionate share of the cost.

Off the battlefield, the war against terrorism is even more lopsided.  We have to keep guard on an impossibly long list of possible terrorist targets and take into consideration the menu of possible weapons they have no qualms in utilizing.  And, again, terrorists enjoy the advantage of choosing when and where they may strike.

Given all of the above, it’s small wonder that many have concluded that we simply can’t afford a war against terrorism.  No matter how important it is that we bear our burden of “responsibility,” or how vital our so-called national interest, or how compelling the need of repressed populations, or how villainous our presumed antagonists, we dare not venture onto the battlefield.

But the other side of the coin is how we can afford not to keep obsessing about terrorism?  For one thing, we may not have a choice.  Terrorism may confront us whether we like it or not.  And thanks to the ever-increasing destructive power afforded by new technologies, allied with the communicative ability of the Internet to breed fanaticism, we have to be concerned that somewhere, at some time, some demented group will unleash some form of mass destruction upon this country.  In a word, its potential threat is, indeed, existential.

It would seem, then, that we face an untenable situation.  Heads, we lower our defenses and terrorism wins.  Tails, we confront terrorism aggressively, and we lose.

TURNING TABLES

Picture a terrorist attack on Country A unfolding in this manner:

Within hours after the attack, in Country B the civilian leadership associated with the terrorists’ movement, are arrested by the World Police Force (WPF) and held for trial by an international court.  Included in the roundup are all known agitators for the terrorists’ cause along with its known financial supporters in Countries A, B, and C.  The offices and training camps run by the movement are attacked by drones.  Schools espousing the terrorists’ dogma are shut down.  Caches of arms confiscated.  Known sympathizers are picked up and questioned as to their affiliation and possible involvement.

Meanwhile, on the public relations front, publicists for the WPF flood the news channels with reports regarding the progress of their retaliatory measures.  The names, photos, and background of those arrested and those still at large are promulgated.  Materials uncovered in raids on the organization’s offices are made public.  Editorialists expound on the degree to which the terrorist movement has been weakened by their ill-advised attack while the attack itself is considered a side show and its details related to the back pages.  Meanwhile, dispatches released by the terrorist organization are dismissed by the major news channels as unauthorized reports.

The following morning, those terrorists, who have managed to slip through the dragnet, ponder whether their attack has helped their cause or hurt it.  Their doubts are resolved when messages come in from their leaders who are still at large demanding an end to all further attacks.  Depressed, the now unemployed fighters wonder which side Alah is really on.  By noon, their conclusions lead them to turn in their AK-47’s and enroll in a course in accounting.

Sounds good to me.  But not, I am confident, to those ever alert civil libertarians who could not fail to notice that the scenario I’ve outlined trampled on an entire shelf-full of statutes.  What of the implied guilt by association? the absence of standards of proof? the abuse of sovereign prerogatives? the assumption of innocence? the violation of the rules of war? and the host of other offenses that even the dullest attorney could readily determine?

And, of course, such criticism would be well justified.  Agreed; the impetus for a victory over a renegade band of terrorists cannot be allowed to weaken the integrity of the law. Existing law, that is.

A POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVE

By definition every criminal has violated one law or another.  But, I would argue, terrorists represent a different kettle of fish.  They have stripped themselves of any national identity, they have ignored the very concept of recognizable battle-lines, they have routinely failed to distinguish between civilians and military personnel, and they have hidden their real identities.  The only association they have with civilized norms happens in the unlikely case they are ever apprehended.  In other words, they have deliberately positioned themselves outside the operative climate our body of laws was meant to cover.

Not surprisingly, this mismatch of terrorist crime and its intended punishment under the law has proven ineffectual.  Trials of terrorists have taken inordinately long and produced more legal knots than convictions.  There’s been no way to stop the flow of incendiary recruitment propaganda either in the form of speeches or Internet sites.  Foreign countries that continue to openly harbor terrorists have suffered no more than occasional token remonstrances.  In short, we’ve been trying to deter the jihadist crime wave by applying laws written before it even existed.  We might as well have tried to prosecute Mafia bosses under the Code of Hammurabi.

Patchwork changes to our current criminal statutes would be better than nothing, but what is really needed, it seems to me, is a completely new legal system for terrorists capable of dealing with the new form of criminality they have invented for themselves. Such a system would have to include:

  1. A new international terrorist code of law
  2. New courts to adjudicate cases under that code
  3. A new international police force to enforce the court’s judgments

A NEW CODE OF LAW:

It goes without saying that I have neither the training nor ability—not to mention, the authorization—to write a new code, but a few thoughts in its connection inevitably come to mind:

What sort of compensation should the new code prescribe for terrorist destruction of life and property?  As tempting as an eye-for-an-eye might sound like a useful guideline, a little reflection dissuades one from its implementation.  Alternatively, incarceration would be effective if terrorists are caught, but that can by no means be taken for granted.  That leaves punishment that relies on punitive monetary judgment as the main deterrent under the new law.  Property damage could be assessed relatively easily.  And, provided the new terrorism laws were properly structured, the same could be said for damages to life and limb.  For starters, the new code would have to include a schedule listing all manner of occupations and their average annual earnings.  Multiplied by the years left in the victims’ working life, these earnings could then serve as the basis for compensating survivors.  To this penalty would be added whatever other claims were appropriate for pain and suffering.  And this sum would be subject to double or triple damages as the code authors saw fit such as in the case of murdered children.

Having determined the amount of the damages, the question then arises as to who is to pay for them.  To me, this is a non-sequitur.  Terrorists don’t spring out of nowhere.  They’re created and nurtured by cultures that are allowed to breed in countries that are readily identified.  Thus, to my mind, it would be altogether reasonable to hold such countries responsible for whatever damages their resident terrorists see fit to inflict outside their borders: Iraq for terrorist acts of the PKK on Turkey, Lebanon for the derelictions of Hezbollah in Israel, and so on.  In the case of multiple residences having been involved—let’s say the FARC in Columbia and Venezuela or our Al-Qaeda friends from all over the place—penalties would be prorated among them.  Should any country neglect to shoulder its part of the assessment, the others would be held fully liable for any open balances.  And, finally, I would have the same rules apply to cases in which terrorists were responsible for an attack in their own country, for example, Jemaah Islamiyah’s bombing in Bali. Indonesia.

No doubt the affected countries would plead innocence on the grounds that terrorists are beyond their control and/or that any given attack originated elsewhere.  But equally strong counterarguments could be made. In the same way parents are held liable for the anti-social acts of their unruly children, countries should be held to account for their native terrorists.  True, a degree of arbitrariness would necessarily be associated with any such determination, but that is the case with the administration of all legal codes.  We, in the west, have grown to tolerate it because of the overall net benefits the codes provide and, no doubt, the accused countries would, in time, come to accept it as well. In truth, most of the countries harboring terrorism are so acclimated to absolutism in their affairs generally, they should readily accept whatever little is added by their encounters with the new system of justice.

The only remaining question is how such fines would be collected.  As law-abiding citizens of the world, most countries could be expected to readily pay any fines levied against them, but there can always be black sheep in any family so the new code must anticipate exceptions.  The confiscation of ships and planes with their cargoes would provide one source of cash and banking accounts around the world would provide another.  If these sources proved insufficient, then the law would allow the takeover of refineries, port facilities, and factories to close any remaining gap.

THE NEW COURTS:

The new laws would, of course, have to be adjudicated.  But attempting to convene conventional courts would provide terrorists with just the kind of law-and-order targets they find irresistible.  Presiding justices, prosecutors, bailiffs, and jurists would all be fair game.  And with their unerring focus on the purely innocent, blowing up assembled  spectators would, no doubt, strike them as practically mandatory.  To prevent such eventualities, a formidable security presence would be required giving rise to the old asymmetry problem once again.

I would suggest, instead, that terrorism cases be held in a virtual courthouse in which the identity of all the participants, except the accused, themselves, be kept absolutely secret until revealed, let’s say, fifty years hence unless, in the unlikely case, sanity of the world had been restored at some prior date.  An added layer of security could be achieved by seeing to it that even the participants could not be sure they participated—for example, six people might be chosen for each position on the jury, but only one randomly-selected decision among the six would be effectuated.  The design of such a system should not prove too difficult for our talented technologists and, referring to the cloud as Allah, would, I am confident, earn it the approval of the Muslim world.

ENFORCEMENT:

The scenario recounted earlier makes it clear, I believe, that police forces, as presently constituted, could not competently enforce the new terrorism code as I’ve envisioned it.  Among other things, they could not cross borders or be counted on to arrest officials of their own government.  This blog contains a description of a World Police Force (see “The Path to World Government, Part III, posted April 1, 2011 under the “Current Events” tag) who would be ideally suited for the job.

CONCLUSION

The extension of law and order has long been a salient feature of mankind’s progress.  When the Ming Dynasty Chinese got tired of raids from their northern neighbors, they built a 3,900 mile “fence” and established order within.  When Englishmen got weary of highwaymen, they hanged them.  When the wild west got too wild for settlers to pursue their normal lives, they called in the sheriff.  And so it has been throughout history; for their self-preservation, peaceable people have laid down rules against criminal activity and enforced them.  What I propose is no more that a further step along this same well-worn pathway.

The punitive power of the law is, of course, secondary to its deterrent effect.  Civilized society counts on enough wrongdoers being dissuaded out of fear of punishment to reduce their numbers to manageable size.  And that certainly is the intent of the system I’ve proposed.  Its main objective is to marshal the incentives of governments, the public, and, most important of all, the ideologues, in preventing violence—everyone united to ensure that “Terrorism Doesn’t Pay.”

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