WAR OR CRIME?
Phil Carter parses an interesting article in the current Foreign Affairs which argues that the “war on terrorism” is not really a war and that therefore the rules of law enforcement should apply. Phil does an effective job rebutting that argument and the assumptions upon which it rests.
This argument has been going on literally since the day after 9/11 in the United States (indeed, Steven Taylor and I participated in a panel discussion on that very topic within a couple days of the attacks). The extent to which terrorism is ordinary crime or asymmetrical warfare matters, both in terms of the effectiveness of tactics and the rules of engagement that apply. It is particularly tricky when fighting non-state terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, since international wars have traditionally been fought by state actors.
In addition to the points made in Phil’s essay, with which I agree, I would argue that geography matters. The way we need to fight terrorists will be necessarily different depending on the relationship we have with the host country. Thus, going after al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan required all the tools of war whereas intelligence on the Air France hijacking could be dealt with using the tools of law enforcement. Likewise, we must maintain, to the maximum extent possible, the full range of civil liberties for American citizens accused of terrorist activity on American soil.