Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Terrorists and freedom fighters?

We'll start today's post with a fun game - one of the pictures below shows some plucky freedom fighters, the other shows some dastardly terrorists. See if you can spot the difference (the game only works if you aren't a postmodernist). The answer can be found at the bottom.

I haven't really been following the story of the "NatWest Three" very closely. In brief three British bankers have been charged with some kind of money-laundering offences in the US in connection with the Enron collapse. They claim that a) they're innocent and b) the US has no jurisdiction over them as the contested activities took place in London, not the States. It would never have become much of a story if it hadn't been that the US is trying to extradite the men on the basis of a updated extradition treaty that the US and UK signed after 9/11 that was designed to help move terrorist suspects more rapidly between the countries. The political outrage in Britain is not even over that it is suspected white-collar criminals who the US is trying to use the treaty extradite, as opposed to terrorist suspects. Rather it is that the US is yet to ratify the treaty meaning that the UK can't extradite from the US on the same basis as the US is trying to do to British citizens. The Times has a good easy to follow explanation of the situation here.

But what sparked my interest is why the US hasn't ratified: the blame is being laid squarely at the door of the Irish-American lobby in Washington, who British commentators (such as Sir Menzies Campell, leader of the Liberal Democrats speaking on BBC Radio 4 this morning) accuse of trying to protect suspected IRA terrorists or terrorist-fundraisers in the US from the British legal system. The FT quotes the Irish Freedom Committee*, as saying the treaty would represent the "ushering in of British law in the US once again". Yep - and they better watch out or the Red Coats might be back to burn down the White House once again just to make the point!

The Republican lobby in the United States had the wind knocked out its sails on 9/11, suddenly supporting "the freedom fighters" wasn't quite as romantic a proposition as before. But it is interesting that if these stories are true, the lobby remains influential enough to stop Congress from ratifying a treaty with the country's closest and most loyal ally leaving the, supposedly much loved in America, British prime minister swinging in the breeze once again.

*It should be noted that these guys seem, well, a bit hardcore/bonkers. Presumably the FT was looking for a juicy quote and 30 seconds on the IFC's website will give you plenty.

P.S. the answer to the quiz is according to an unhappy-looking cat being put in box, they are of course both at the same time.


helsinkian said...

I didn't really get your game. First you say there are terrorists in one picture and freedom fighters in the other, and then the result is that there are both in both pictures. Are the guys in picture 1 supposed to be at war with the guys from picture 2 (so that it depends on the perspective which is which)? After all, the guys in both pictures may be freedom fighters to themselves and both look like terrorists to me.

Maybe my problem is that I don't accept the idea that it all depends on the perspective whether someone is a terrorist or a freedom fighter. A freedom fighter may use violent means but has a political goal in sight and is willing to give up arms for political power, if such a solution is in sight. A terrorist is the other way around, someone who generally prefers violent means to politics.

helsinkian said...

OK, I understood the irony behind the game (although it was a bit relativist for my taste). The post itself was excellent.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

It was kind of a bad joke, the top pic is al-Qaeda, the bottom is tbe Prov. IRA. I would happily call them both terrorists although I'm both aware and happy with the normative assumptions involved in that. Some folks, like the IFC, would obviously disagree.

I don't think there is any objective way to seperate 'terrorist' and 'freedom fighter'. We have to accept all situations are different, try to make moral judgements as best we can, and be willing to defend them when questioned.

KGS said...

Toby said:
"I don't think there is any objective way to seperate 'terrorist' and 'freedom fighter'. We have to accept all situations are different, try to make moral judgements as best we can, and be willing to defend them when questioned."

I disagree. Anyone calling themselves "freedom fighters", who incorporate a strategy that intentionally targets a civilian population with death and destruction for political purposes, is not fighting for anyone's "freedom".

The late US Senator, "Scoop" Jackson, said: "The idea that one person’s ‘terrorist’ is another’s ‘freedom fighter’ cannot be sanctioned. Freedom fighters or revolutionaries don’t blow up buses containing non-combatants; terrorist murderers do. Freedom fighters don’t set out to capture and slaughter schoolchildren; terrorist murderers do . . . It is a disgrace that democracies would allow the treasured word ‘freedom’ to be associated with acts of terrorists."

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

Its just sloganeering - and a rather pointless game that both sides can play. You know as well as anyone that Israel is regularly accused of "state-terrorism" for acts such as using airstrikes in built up areas. They know that there is a high chance they will kill civilians alongside their target, and accept that chance. The same is true for UK/US forces in Iraq or Afghanistan when they use airstrikes. Whatever label you choose to put on it doesn't change the nature of the act, it should be judge on its individual merits. I heard General William Odom (retd.) speaking the other day and his point was that Americans need to accept that the US govt. has carried out lots of acts that can only be described as "terrorism" according to how the term is currently used - and hence the term really is only a signifier for your moral judgement on an act, not a description of the act it self.

But if we take your position KGS, what do you think of the US Congress protecting, for local political advantage, terrorists and terrorist-financiers from the UK justice system?

Petteri said...

I still recall the late president Regan giving a glowing assesment about the boys of Taliban, and if my memory serves me right, even calling them freedom fighters. Goes to show - if you wait for a while, todays terrorists might turn to be fathers of a nation, and a father of a nation tyrannical terrorist.

Correct me if I am wrong but, late Israeli Primeminister, Monachem Begin, was or was closely related to Irkud which was infamous of blowing things up in the early part of the 20th Century. Begin lived long enough, though, to become co winner of the Nobel Piece Price.

KGS said...

Of course I deem any type of terrorist and financiers of terrorism extraditable, that US Congress could be guilty of harboring any for political purposes, runs counter to the present day policy of zero tolerance.

That Israel is accused of state-terrorism is a moot issue, in light of the Geneva Conventions, which Israel takes very seriously.

As for being proportionate, the strikes IMHO do qualify as being so, especially when one considers the process that decision to strike or not to strike goes through.

The fact that these pros and cons are debated as all shows the moral difference between an act of terrorism (which intends to kill civilians, and a targeted strike that goes after the intended individual/s, though civilians may be killed or injured as a result.

In dealing with an enemy that shows little concern over the safety of their own people, the IDF has proven itself to care even more, and as a result, has kept the death and injured rate extremely far below their capabilities.

Of course Gen. Odom is entitled to his opinions, and I am sure he has plenty of interesting situations he is privvy to that bring up serious dilemmas to the light of day.

The fact is, moral considerations are applied to any act of violence, civil or militarily by our judicial systems. The justness of any single act of violence is therefore judged along the lines of proven logic. The description of the violent act(whether its terrorism) is indicated by the moral judgement on the justness of it.

I would like to ask a rhetorical question; if you deem any act of state violence committed during a conflict that results in civilian casualties as an act of state terrorism?

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

Petteri - the Taliban didn't exist when Reagan was still talking in public, they were essentially a product of the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan and only emerged as a real force in the mid-1990s. The Reagan (and Carter) administration supported various Mujahaddeen groups against the Soviets. It was their brutal infighting after the defeat of the Soviets that led to the rise (and support) of the Taliban. There was a very interesting interview on the BBC a few weeks back with the Rep. Congressman who was central to funnelling billions of dollars to the Muj. through the 1980s. Most of the money was distributed by the Pakistani ISI - so claims that the US "trained" or "funded" bin Laden aren't true, as the money was going to the Pakistani's favoured commanders.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

KGS - "I would like to ask a rhetorical question; if you deem any act of state violence committed during a conflict that results in civilian casualties as an act of state terrorism?"

Of course not, which is why I wouldn't, and have never, described the IDF's actions as "state terrorism". Sometimes I think the actions might be wrong, and often I think they are misguided or self-defeating - but the "terrorism" label doesn't really mean anything.

helsinkian said...

But it's usually easy to identify terrorist groups as terrorists exactly because they can be distinguished from regular military units of a state army and they engage in acts of unconventional warfare. State violence either has or doesn't have legitimacy but terrorist groups AFAIK never operate in such a matter that a state would in open light of the day endorse their activities. E.g. the Libyan and North Korean agents blew up aircraft but they would never have passed laws in their parliaments to approve of such actions. So even when terrorists act on a covert government mission such as the French agents who blew up the Rainbow Warrior, it is possible to distinguish this type of actions from state violence that is not specifically of the terrorist kind.

helsinkian said...

Oh no, what was I thinking, of course states openly endorse terrorist groups (e.g. Saddam's prize money). My point was just that democratic parliaments usually don't pass laws that authorize terrorist acts (such as the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior). Even the terrorists that Saddam openly politically supported in the clear light of day were working in the dark and beyond any government accountability.

KGS said...

"Sometimes I think the actions might be wrong, and often I think they are misguided or self-defeating - but the "terrorism" label doesn't really mean anything."

At least we can agree that the Israelis do not practice state terrorism. Hopefully E.Tuomioja and and other Finnish politicians in leadership positions will express the same understanding.

As for some measures often being self defeating, which measure don't you approve of, and just how are they self defeating?

And most importantly, what should be done instead....*that hasn't been tried already*?

KGS said...

OBTW, IMHO, terrorism is indeed a neccessary and useful term in determining what a group is by examining the methods it uses in carrying out its political agenda.

If you think that "terror/terrorism" is an obfuscated term, I'd hate for a situation to be: where not only the accurate description of an attack is rendered meaningless, but also of the methods as well.

"Intention" of the "individual/group", is always a primary consideration.

the other Toby said...

Those revelations about the real reason for the extradition assymmetry are very interesting ... and slightly disturbing. It would be nice to see the full history of US complicity with the Irish republican terrorism properly exposed one day. On the positive side, won't demographics and Asian/ Latin immigration reduce the Irish-American lobby to political irrelevance within 30-50 years?