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Why is the bombing of the twin towers terrorism and the bombing of a hospital in Kabul is not?

Jurists in the US and around the world are finding it difficult to design tools and rules to fight terrorism in the absence of an internationally agreed upon definition of what "terrorism" is and who is a "terrorist". From the days of Robespierre to the days of Stalin and Franco, terrorism was seen mainly as an activity of the oppressive state apparatus. Today it is seen in the media as an anti-M resistance activity

by Nitzan Horowitz

In Washington, they strive to prosecute Osama bin Laden for crimes against humanity

While the forces of the Northern Alliance are rushing towards
Kabul and Kandahar, George Bush signed a rare presidential order in Washington. Only three times in American history - in the Second World War, in the Civil War and in the Mexican War - has such a document come out under the hands of the President of the United States. Bush authorized his Secretary of Defense to establish military tribunals to try suspected terrorists anywhere in the world. "A new tool against terrorism", defined it Al Gonzalez, the legal adviser of the White House. The military trial can also be held outside the USA, even in the actual combat zone, and the investigation can be conducted entirely within a military framework. The Americans guarantee that every person brought before the military tribunal will receive a fair trial. But in the eyes of human rights organizations, this development is another ominous sign within what they call the "attack on freedoms" following the trauma of September 11.
"Bush should first explain why the system
Our existing legal system does not allow those accused of terrorism to be prosecuted," says Laura Murphy from the ACLU. "The lack of such an explanation is further proof that the administration is not ready to act in the spirit of 'checks and balances' so central to our democracy."

Since then, the twin towers have collapsed, drowning lawyers in the US and around the world in a frantic effort to offer tools and rules for the fight against "terrorism". A few weeks ago, a proposal was discussed here to establish an international tribunal that would be composed of judges of supreme courts from around the world and headed by - together - an American supreme judge and an Islamic jurist. Others suggest urgently adopting an international convention to combat terrorism. Other proposals from the last few days: quickly end the ratification process of the International Criminal Court (ICC), amend the convention to also define major terrorist attacks as a crime against humanity that would fall within the jurisdiction of the court, or hold an international conference to formulate binding rules for the fight against terrorism.

But all these proposals, without exception, encounter a complicated, sometimes insurmountable obstacle: what is "terrorism" and who is a "terrorist"? The definition, even the dictionary, does not make it easy at all. "Terror" (terror) - horror in Latin - is "intimidation, bullying, imposing terror through acts of violence", as defined by Ibn Shoshan. Terrorism is "a regime of terror, a method of intimidation and acts of violence in order to intimidate and destroy the opponent", while the terrorist is nothing more than "an intimidator, a bully, a person who strives to achieve his goals by imposing terror by murdering his opponents and by other means of violence". The Oxford dictionary does define "terrorism" as the use of violence and intimidation especially for political purposes, but there is no trace in these definitions of the meaning of terrorism as the action of underground groups or resistance movements that emerge from ambush and strike from hiding according to the accepted connotation in the current discourse. The "Great Terror" was not a collection of acts of terrorism, in the sense commonly used in the media today, by groups fighting for national liberation or working against an occupying army, but rather acts by the oppressive state apparatus: in the Stalinist Soviet Union or in Francoist Spain. In an earlier period, the "Great Terror" was the regime of terror that arose following the French Revolution and reached its peak in the days of Robespierre. "The government of the republic owes the enemies of the people only death," Saint-Gist explained at the time.

"Terror" in the meaning approaching the one accepted today has conflicting and diverse sources beyond measure: Jacobinism and nihilism, anarchism and Blanquism. Terrorist violence, in the name of ideas and ideologies, has come a long way since it appeared at the end of the 19th century until it became total murder in the open, as Emile Henri, the French terrorist, declared in his speech before the court: "There are no innocents!"

One of the earliest definitions of revolutionary terrorism appears in the program of the "Narodnia Volya" and the Tsars in Russia who talk about "destructive and terrorist activity", as Zev Ibinsky points out in his book "Personal Terror - The Idea and the Action" published in 1977. In the Russian revolutionary platform it is stated that " The goals of the terrorist activity are: to shatter the magic of the power of the government, to provide continuous proof of the possibility of the struggle against the government, to consolidate forces worthy of the struggle, and in this way to raise the revolutionary spirit of the people and the belief in the success of the matter." More than a thousand years after the formulation of this platform of the Russian revolutionaries, it was said in the "Front", Lehi's underground betauna: "Is it possible to bring about a revolution or bring about liberation through terrorism? The answer is: No! Is there any benefit in terrorist acts to promote the revolution and liberation? The answer is: yes!"

^^The main thing is the politics^^

But the key issue remains the same: what is the difference, if there is one at all, between the terrorism of a revolution or Mary movement and the actions of government and the state. "When a bomb explodes in a school and 20 children are killed - it is terrorism, but when a plane bombs the same school and those children are killed - it is treated as a military operation," agrees Dr. Eyal Gross, an expert in international law from Tel Aviv University. "It's important to say the following: according to the various treaties, there is basically no distinction between the explosion of the Twin Towers and the bombing of a school in Kabul. Why is an attack on Ma'alot terrorism, and an attack on Lebanon is not terrorism? Why is what the Palestinians are doing now terrorism, and Israel's actions in the territories are not terrorism? There is terrorism by organizations and there is state terrorism. From the point of view of the US, it is true that there is a big difference between an action like an attack on the Twin Towers, which only aims to cause killing and destruction among civilians, and the goal of preventing such attacks, which is the stated American goal in Afghanistan. But even when working for such a legitimate cause, the duty to distinguish between civilians and combatants applies. When large-scale harm to civilians becomes a central part of the military operations of countries, it follows that these countries themselves resort to terrorist methods."

The fundamental problem in this discussion is that there is no definition of terrorism in international law. "The only convention on terrorism was signed in 1937 by the majority of European countries at the time, but never entered into force," explains Prof. Natan Lerner, an expert in international law from the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. "Since then, special conventions have been accepted on terrorism in the air, at sea, at airports, but there is no comprehensive convention because it is extremely difficult to define what terrorism is and who is a terrorist." To get closer to such a definition, Prof. Lerner suggests distinguishing between the procedural aspect and the essential aspect. From a procedural point of view, terrorism is an indiscriminate attack on a certain population; The essential aspect focuses on the political goal, and this may be kosher or illegitimate - depending on the eye of the beholder. "When the Basque underground ETA carries out acts of terrorism, most of international society dismisses it, but when the Palestinians carry out similar acts, many in the Arab world and outside it say that it is not terrorism but acts against the occupation."

In recent years, attempts have been made to refine the diagnosis. For example, the 1997 International Convention on Terrorist Attacks states that "any person commits an offense under the Convention if he transfers, places, or uses an explosive or other deadly device against a place of public use, a government facility, public transportation, or an infrastructure facility with the intent to cause death or serious physical damage or with the intention of causing widespread destruction of such a place when the destruction leads or may lead to great economic damage." Regarding such acts, the convention states that each state will take steps to make this a crime under its criminal law, and that it cannot be justified for "political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or similar" reasons. As for jurisdiction, this treaty states that each state must take measures to apply its jurisdiction over these offenses if they were committed on its territory or on a ship/aircraft flying its flag or by its citizen.

The treaty allows states to judge those responsible for such acts even in cases committed against its citizens or against its facility abroad. In any case, the applicable rule here is "detain or prosecute".

But still, even in this updated definition there is no distinction between the explosion of the Twin Towers and the bombing of a hospital in Kabul. It is not surprising that the key to such a distinction is not found in the field of law at all. "The focus is the political weight," says Lerner. "This issue, perhaps more than any other issue, depends on political considerations. Whoever has the political power or influence is the one who can dictate the definition and the reference."

^^What is justified self-defense^^

The issue of self-defense is legally at the heart of the American campaign against global terrorism. International law establishes two tests for this: necessity and relativity. The Americans claim that they fulfill both. Before it started bombing, the USA informed the Security Council in an official letter that it was exercising its right to self-defense according to Article 51 of the UN Charter. In fact, the international community accepted the American claim that the events of September 11 were considered an "armed attack" on the USA, and the Security Council took action according to the seventh chapter of the scroll entitled "Action against threats to peace, breach of peace and acts of aggression". The Americans also claim that their attacks are targeted and balanced and therefore meet the requirement of relativity.

Accepting the American claims puts international law into unrecognized territory. Traditionally, this industry deals with conflicts between countries. Later he also gave his opinion on civil wars, and later applied the laws of war in part also in relation to populations under occupation or in colonial situations. Now it is an exciting innovation: the definition of terrorist acts as an "armed attack" on a country that justifies the exercise of the right of self-defense. The NATO alliance - the largest military organization in the world - already recognizes this.

After September 11, the alliance made a decision according to Article 5 of its founding charter, which states that an attack on one member will be considered an attack on all of them. It was then emphasized that the Washington Treaty of 1949, which established NATO, was drawn up under completely different circumstances and of course did not foresee the reality of global terrorism. "The whole thought was not at all that it was relevant to the right to self-defense against terrorism, and even more towards something so vanished, so extraordinary, that it is difficult to even give it a name other than 'September 11'," says Gross. "The new direction of international law since the attacks in New York and Washington, of providing justifications for the use of force by the US, actually contradicts the entire trend in this industry, which in the last hundred years has actually sought to reduce the use of force."

If the US succeeds in getting hold of Osama bin Laden, Washington aims to prosecute him for crimes against humanity. American jurists believe that this is absolutely possible. "One of the definitions of a crime against humanity is acts such as murder and even grievous bodily harm, which were carried out as part of a broad or systematic attack against a civilian population," Gross explains. "Such a definition may apply to Bin Laden, but it should be noted that it does not distinguish between a person, a group, or a country.
There are people who will argue that in the same way it is possible to see what the USA is doing in Afghanistan".

Perhaps because of this, the International Criminal Court has not yet been established, which could conduct the trials of the members of "Al-Qaeda" from a solid international legitimacy. "After all, the whole desire to establish a special court for terrorism stems from the fact that there is no international criminal court," says Lerner. The main obstacle to the establishment of the permanent tribunal is the opposition of the USA, which fears that American soldiers will be brought to trial before it. American politicians say these things explicitly: they do not want to be portrayed as "judges of the world" and would like an international institution to help them in the fight against terrorism, but are not ready for such an institution to ever judge any American. Of course, they are also unwilling to entrust the critical task of defining "terror" to someone else. "Such a definition is really very, very difficult," Prof. Lerner concludes, "but despite everything, I still believe that it is possible to define terrorism because I believe strongly in the power of words."

^^And why not fight terrorism in Kashmir, for example?^^

George W. Bush's stated commitment to fight terrorism everywhere, regardless of the identity of its perpetrators or their goals, whets the appetite of governments from Moscow to Manila. Two months after the collapse of the towers in New York, voices are growing in the US warning against the expansion of the war and entanglement in the fight against "terrorism" that is not directed at the US. Richard Cohen brings in the "Washington Post" the echoes from one of the latest briefings in the press room of the White House. An Indian reporter was determined to present a nagging question to the president: "Sir, why are there two laws in this world - one for America and one for everyone else? When terrorism hits America you go to the other side of the world and wage war in Afghanistan. But when we are suffering from terrorism in Kashmir, you ask us to show restraint. Is the life of an Indian worth less than the life of an American?”

Bush replied emphatically: terrorism is wrong everywhere. "I believe that there is one universal law - that terrorism is evil and we must all work to eliminate evil," he said.

"Not so fast, Mr. President," warns Cohen. "Declaring war on terrorism everywhere becomes a binding matter. Bin Laden is the one who apparently murdered Americans, not the terrorists in Kashmir. He is our enemy and we must pursue him. Everything else - it's much more problematic. First of all, most of the Islamic world, especially the Arab world, rejects the use of the definition of terrorism for actions against Israel. After all, we cannot wage war against most of the Middle East. Will we also intervene in Indonesia, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka? There is no chance. The danger is that we lose our focus. There is one exception: Iraq. This is because the Saddam regime is truly a global threat. But everything else is not in such a category of threat. Our policy should be to eliminate terrorism, but we should distinguish between implementing this policy and going to war. We are now at war with an identifiable enemy. In the meantime, it's challenging enough."

One response

  1. Justice for the author of the article.
    This hypocrisy is intolerable and over time only leads to more and more hatred for those who call themselves the leaders of the free world. China will eventually take that status, just because we know what happened when America ruled and China can still save the world. And no, I don't think that any country can save the world, we need enormous cooperation and without religious symbols, with an emphasis on preserving human life and human rights wherever they are.
    Otherwise, we are lost. In fact, we are already almost lost and need to turn things around before they make us irrelevant.

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