By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
International law actually forbids bin Laden from taking up arms in the first place. ”Terrorists are considered to be ’noncombatants,‘“ meaning they have no right to wage war, said Julie Mertus, a professor in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C. Thumbing through the operational handbook of the U.S. Army, Mertus noted that ”Terrorists blow it in all directions.“ Terrorists don’t wear insignia. They don‘t carry arms openly. They are not commanded by a person responsible for group actions. They don’t conduct operations in accordance with the laws of war. ”The handbook states that only combatants can legitimately attack military targets.“
Of course, by that rubric, the first colonists to take up arms in the American Revolution were noncombatants. If ”terrorist“ had been part of the vocabulary, British authorities would no doubt have applied the term to the armed colonists. Successful revolutionaries become Founding Fathers; unsuccessful ones are hanged for treason.
None of which makes bin Laden our sort of patriot. His violent, intolerant and undemocratically fundamentalist view of civil society is nothing that we can or ought to endorse. But then, an Islamic Gandhi would be hard-pressed to achieve justice in Saudi Arabia, and would find U.S. might lined up against him. This utter inaccessibility to justice in large parts of the world is a powerful force that pushes adherents to join with bin Laden and other extremists.
Given his track record, bin Laden is the ideal ”evil other“ upon whom the United States can pour its wrath. The Taliban also have played this part to perfection. Taking up arms against them, however, raises profound issues for experts in the developing field of international law.
”Usually it‘s really hard to make a state responsible for a non-state action unless there is some kind of authorization of this action,“ noted Professor Mertus, who is also a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan, federally funded organization. In her judgment, a regime couldn’t be unseated, under accepted international norms, simply for failing to rein in bin Laden. ”If Afghanistan were just harboring bin Laden and doing nothing else, the appropriate countermeasure could be sanctions, but not bombing.“
Constitutional-law expert David Wagner is more hawkish, but also concedes the conundrum. ”If this is a crime and only a crime, you have to essentially put away the military plans and roll out the indictments and the judicial proceedings,“ said Wagner, an associate professor at Regent University in Virginia.
Does the U.S. invade, bomb or overthrow a regime, however reprehensible, because it refuses to extradite a criminal suspect? Overreaction could claim innocent lives and also undermine our long-term efforts to thin the ranks of terrorists by contributing to the belief, in many parts of the world, that the U.S. is concerned only with its geopolitical and economic self-interest, a preoccupation that tolerates and even supports oppression abroad. The 1953, CIA-backed overthrow of a democratic government in Iran, which led to more than two decades of oppression by the shah, is not ancient history to Muslims. Nor should it be to us, given that the 1979 Iranian revolution contributed to the rise of the Islamic fundamentalists who last month crashed airplanes into our skyscrapers.
If the past is prologue, the Bush administration is not likely to give sufficient thought to such precedents. Afghanistan would probably have been bombed already if it had much to bomb. And if the U.S. sees deposing the Taliban as in its own interests, expect the invasion to begin in short order.