Blogs > HNN > Better late than never, I suppose

Jul 26, 2005 11:27 am


Better late than never, I suppose



The UN is actually trying to (gasp) come up with a definition of terrorism . Although it might surprise many, the UN has been operating over its lifetime with no agreed upon understanding on this important international action. Four years after the attacks of 9/11, over 30 years after the Munich Olympics, and despite literally thousands of terrorist attacks throughout the world and the international body still has yet to agree on what constitutes terrorism. This, despite the fact that there have been no fewer than 1427 terrorist attacks internationally between 1986-2005, and indeed likely many more (click here for details on each attack), several hundred within the past few years alone. So… what took so long? The answer, to anyone who follows international news, is painfully obvious.

The debate, according to the BBC, has focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Over the past several years, many in the international community could simply not bring themselves to accept that the murder of innocent Jewish men, women, and children in the worlds only Jewish state, is just as bad as the murder of anyone else. Because of this, they refused to agree on any definition since any meaningful definition would have to include the preferred Palestinian method of warfare.

The proposed draft that the UN is hoping countries will sign, says the following:

“We affirm that the targeting and deliberate killing of civilians and non-combatants cannot be justified or legitimised by any cause or grievance, and we declare that any action intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such an act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population or to compel a government or an international organisation to carry out or to abstain from any act cannot be justified on any grounds and constitutes an act of terrorism.”

This definition is useful for several reasons.

First, the “targeting and deliberate” clause separates terrorism from accidental of unintentional killings, so as not to include episodes like the police shooting in London , or the unfortunate collateral damage inherent in any modern military conflict.

Second, the clause includes not only murder, but even actions “intended to cause death or serious bodily harm,” but do not. Thus, failed attempts may still constitute terrorism.

This act is a long time coming, if indeed it is adopted. The lack of any agreed upon definition has prevented the possibility of any comprehensive convention on terrorism or agreed upon counter-measures. In place of any agreement is the relativist and morally empty mantra that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

It is time for the world to realize that one mans terrorist is another mans terrorist. Words have meaning and unless such meaning is legitimized by the most important international body on the planet, this world will continue to be a no-man’s-land of moral equivalency and international misunderstanding.



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E. Simon - 7/27/2005

"And even if it is a legal issue, folks other than lawyers are allowed to talk about legal questions."

Well, actually, no. If I understand Chris (aka Moses the Lawgiver, my personal authority figure, etc.) correctly, they aren't. Don't you see that he is trying to make life better for everybody by removing them from even so much as _discussing_ issues that affect them. It's not as if paternalism for its own sake is anything so egregious as an ideology for crying out loud. Except that the base application of every totalitarian movement has required it in some form. Put aside Orwell and every piece of work in that vein; they teach us nothing. Trust Big Brother chris (no capitals because he is our equal, our comrade in the cause), he will lead us to the promised land of the immaculate jurisdiction and make life better for all of us. If only we just stopped questioning.


Derek Charles Catsam - 7/27/2005

And Bacharach wins by knockout.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 7/26/2005

Chris,
I have not had the pleasure of your company in a while, I certainly hope that this will not be your last visit to Rebunk.

I will try to address all of your points, but you will forgive me if I choose to ignore some of your more colorful accusations:

1) “The world has been trying to determine a definition for aggression since the inception of the UN. The reason it has not happened is because of the self interest of the powerful states.”

I would not necessarily disagree with this incredibly broad statement, but we are not talking about defining “aggression,” we are talking about defining terrorism. That being said, I am unaware of any obstruction by powerful states in this regard, but I am more than aware of various Arab states holding up any definition that does not declare Israel to be, by virtue of its very existence, a terrorist state.

2) “You have shown your ideological weakness through the little remark about Israel, and have demonstrated the paucity of the proposal in that it totally allows state terrorism, like that perpetrated by Israle and the US (what you would artfully term "collateral damage").”

“Ideological weakness?” I am not really sure what that means, other than that you disagree with me. In point of fact, the definition does “allow state terrorism.” If any state engages in targeted killings of innocent civilians, than they are committing acts of terrorism. Collateral damage (a term that I did not simply make up), awful though it is, is not terrorism. It may be unfortunate and if civilians are killed needlessly, it may even be murder, but it is NOT terrorism.

3) “Secondly, your first statement is wrong, as much as you will defend it. Targeting and deliberate does not mean premeditated, or that the deaths have to be planned or forseen.”

Actually, my good sir, it means exactly that. According to the dictionary, “target” and deliberate means the following respectively: “A desired goal,” and “Done with or marked by full consciousness of the nature and effects; intentional.” In other words, in the English language to target someone deliberately means to do something on purpose, as in to PLAN or FORSEE some desired event that you are carrying out. If I bump into an old friend on the street, it is an accident, if I plan to meet him there, it is deliberate. See the difference?

Furthermore, it takes no deep understanding in international law to recognize that unless you are not a native English speaker and are operating from some mistranslation, any SAT-taking high school student should be able to tell you that to target something and do it deliberately means that you are trying to make something happen (i.e. planning to make something happen).

4) “If an attack amounted to state terrorism, cries of "collateral damage" would not suffice… So no, the US and ISrael would not necessarily be protected from prosecution for their state terrorism”

We agree! State terrorism is not precluded from the definition at all, as I stated earlier in this post. If an Israeli soldier deliberately targets civilians, it is terrorism. Ditto to any American soldier.

5) “Note that I am not saying that a definition of terrorism isnt a good idea. it just had better be universal, include state and economic terrorism, and apply to all types of terrorism, not just those that fit your ideological mold.”

Chris, from what I can gather in your rather coarse diatribe, it seems like you would prefer the definition to read as follows: “Terrorism shall be the death or harm inflicted upon anyone, either economically or physically, from any other person, particularly powerful states.” In other words, almost all nations at almost all times are guilty of terrorism to some degree.

Even if I have taken your point too far (although I consider it the logical conclusion) at issue is the fact that words are only useful insofar as they are able to give conceptual understanding to some issue, event, or object. Lions and tigers are both “cats” but we have different names to designate their precise characters. So too with terrorism. Just as we separate different types of murder (First degree, homicide, manslaughter, etc.) so too should we separate what happened on 9/11 with, say, the deaths of US and Iraqi soldiers during the Gulf War. You seem to be confusing terrorism with “bad things.” Let us give some precision to this whole business because unless you and I can agree to what we mean by “terrorism,” it is likely we are simply arguing past each other, agreed?

6) “If you want to question something, great...alow myself or someone else versed in the field to address things. Ask it...don't state it. By stating something you may mislead people into thinking you actually know what you are talking about instead of admitting that you have very little authority in law and that you are simply applying your ideological position to a legal situation.”

I must congratulate you Chris. Often, the arrogance displayed on internet discussions take the form of subtle jabs or down-right rudeness. Never have I seen such display of self-importance and vain dismissal however. I appreciate your candor, and now allow me to be equally blunt. Your ideas border on the radical, which is why so few of us pay them much credence, and why you are unable to identify much support for them within the mainstream. Your rely on assertions of your own authority, rather than reason, and claim defense from a law you neither cite, explain, or justify.

Finally, just so you may hear it from a friend, every opinion and position that you have ever taken in your life and will ever take again is in some way “ideological.” You throw the term around as if it were an insult rather than an acknowledgement of some professed understanding of the world. The law itself is based on an ideology of some sort, it is not some neutral mediator given to us by Providence, but man-made rules agreed upon and observed based on ideology. Show me a man without ideology, and I will show you one disinterested in the extreme, uneducated, and un-opinionated. Even Forrest Gump had an ideology.


Derek Charles Catsam - 7/26/2005

Chris --
Knock off the crap about accusing Marc of "dabbling in legal issues." Look at his page, and see where he has done a good deal of work on these sorts of questions, and stop coming in and playing authority. establishing a working definition of terrorism is far fromjust a legal issue -- it is also a political issue, a language issue, a policy issue, a diplomacy issue. And even if it is a legal issue, folks other than lawyers are allowed to talk about legal questions.
dc


chris l pettit - 7/26/2005

Ok...

this is twice you have started to dabble in legal issues where everyone but legal scholars need to ask questions and not make assertions.

The world has been trying to determine a definition for aggression since the inception of the UN. The reason it has not happened is because of the self interest of the powerful states. If this happens, it will not be law in any form...it will be ideological power and politics. You have shown your ideological weakness through the little remark about Israel, and have demonstrated the paucity of the proposal in that it totally allows state terrorism, like that perpetrated by Israle and the US (what you would artfully term "collateral damage"). Having previously misunderstood the doctrines of necessity and proportionality, and then twisted them to meet your ideological position, I can't expect you to actually understand why, unless a war is legal under international law (which the conflicts in Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq, the Balkans, Afghanistan, etc are/were not), the result is then what can legally be termed terrorism. This proposal may be a first step, but, as usual, it is a disgrace in that the power based states and those perpetrating state terrorism (which, I should note, kills and destroys in much greater numbers that the individual acts that you rightfully (and hypocritically) wail and gnash teeth about) are still able to practice their atrocities.

You neglect economic terrorism...you neglect state terrorism...

The nice thing is that, if you reread that quote from the proposed act it does not necessarily exclude state terrorism and the prosecution of state leaders who are the architects of state terrorist (or corporate for that matter, in the case of Private Military Firms) under the developing doctrines of state and individual responsibility as stated by the ICC, ICTR and ICTY. Secondly, your first statement is wrong, as much as you will defend it. Targeting and deliberate does not mean premeditated, or that the deaths have to be planned or forseen. Again this mistake comes from the lack of understanding of international law, although I am sure that US authorities would probably try to make the same argument that you did. If an attack amounted to state terrorism, cries of "collateral damage" would not suffice, as the attack itself (ie the practice of assassination or collective punishment) would then be illegal and the resulting "unintended casualties" would then fit under lesser degrees of proof, such as negligence or recklessness. Under the doctrine of state responsibility, states and those who govern them are also automatically imputable for the illegal acts of their agents if a sufficient link can be shown between the terrorism and the state policy.

So no, the US and ISrael would not necessarily be protected from prosecution for their state terrorism...although as you not they are trying damn hard to insulate themselves as much as possible.

Note that I am not saying that a definition of terrorism isnt a good idea. it just had better be universal, include state and economic terrorism, and apply to all types of terrorism, not just those that fit your ideological mold.

I said this before to DC in an email and I will say it again now...you mislead people with your blatant misinterpretation of international law. I will not go so far as to say it is intentional and ideological, as you may just be very poorly versed in the topic...as are most scholars outside of the legal fraternity (and many US legal scholars in it). If you want to question something, great...alow myself or someone else versed in the field to address things. Ask it...don't state it. By stating something you may mislead people into thinking you actually know what you are talking about instead of admitting that you have very little authority in law and that you are simply applying your ideological position to a legal situation. I grant you that this is a totally political process and that true legal scholars should be articulating these definitions...this is evident by the ability of the power states to hijack the process and render the product totally ineffective, ensure it has nothing to do with law, and everything to do with piower based ideological relationships. True legal scholars would not make the egregious errors that are inherent in what is being proposed. So once again...if you want to approach this from ideology...know that you are not speaking of law or anything other than power politics. If you want to address it legally, ask a question and let those of us who have the authority address it. That way you can make an insightful point (if you have one...which in this case I cant find much of one...similar to the assassination post) and it can be acknowledged...but you won't give off the impression that you are any sort of authority or that you are actually approching it in a legal manner.

CP


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 7/26/2005

Thank's for posting the petition, I will be sure to add my name to it.


Derek Charles Catsam - 7/26/2005

Along these lines, folks may want to sign this petition against terrorism:
http://www.unite-against-terror.com/

I'll have more thoughts later.