Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Beating A Dead Horse: Would The Rules Of The War On Terror Please Stand Up?

As the debate over the War on Terror and civil liberties rages on, we remain in the dark. With each new revelation of government counter terrorist activities, yet another debate is fostered. Conservatives tell us that we must do what has to be done to stop the threat of global terrorism, while liberals and civil libertarians warn us that we should not sacrifice our freedom in the name of fighting terrorism. The cycle continues, as it has ever since those with the guts (or gall, depending upon your point of view) to challenge the Bush administration finally emerged clear from the shadow of 9-11.

The arguments remain the same, and nothing is accomplished. Each specific issue is comprehensively debated, but few opinions are changed, and no mention is made of the much larger question that looms over head; Legally, morally, and philosophically, what are the rules by which the War on Terror is to be conducted?

Consider that we have rules for conducting traditional war, and rules for fighting traditional crime. International terrorism falls somewhere in between the two, yet no one, not politicians, not policy makers, not even academics have begun to weigh in on defining just what the rules are for combating international terrorism. Quite simply, the debate we're having today is getting us no where, while the debate we should be having isn't occurring anywhere.

The problem is that terrorism of the sort that was witnessed on 9-11 is still a relatively new phenomenon. Terrorist groups who hold allegiances not recognized by traditional political boundaries can't be fought using traditional notions of warfare. They have no physical infrastructure, and no traditional political leadership. They also have no real distinction between soldiers and civilians. And while the war analogy does not work, the crime analogy does not work either. Our system of Constitutional law that protects the rights of the accused was not designed for literal enemies of the state.

What also seems uncommonly silly is to urge that terrorism be combated overseas as would a war, while following traditional rules of law enforcement while fighting terrorism at home. That's not a compromise or a solution, it's just plain ignorant of all the factors involved.

New rules for fighting terrorism need to be formulated, debated, and discussed. This is not just an American issue, but an international issue. The more the free world can agree on these sorts of rules, the better off we all are. But at the risk of beating a dead horse, someone needs to get the ball rolling. What we need now is not to be bogged down in procedure and specifics of individual cases. What we need is sweeping declarations of individual rights, and sweeping declarations of morality, of right and wrong.

The question is, will anyone answer the call, or will we continue to bicker?


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