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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Terror definitions through the lens of politics

One of the little discussed aspects of the "War on Terrorism" is how terrorism is defined, and through that, which individuals and/or groups are subject to the Constitution diminishing laws constructed to deal with terrorism.

I think very few people would argue that Al Qaeda is, and should be defined, as a terror group. That's a clear case, but as we slide down the scale, the act of definition becomes murkier and far more subject to political influence and abuse. And this definition does matter both to the rights of the accused and the penalties they face.

Before I continue, let me make it very clear that I do not condone any of these acts, but I am very concerned about the seeming selective use by prosecutors of statutes to prosecute some acts of political violence as terrorism, with all the implications, while treating other incidents as "simple" crimes.

For example, there have been several prosecutions for ecoterrorism. This one involved arson against land developers, and this one involved no violence at all, merely harassment. In neither case was there an intent to kill, but both cases were prosecuted under terror statutes.

Now, let's look at what doesn't get charged under terror statutes. Robert Weiler, an anti abortion activist in Maryland was recently turned in by his father. He had a working bomb that went off when authorities were trying to disable it.
(WaPo) Weiler is charged with four federal offenses, including possession of an unregistered destructive device and possession of a stolen firearm. Each carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison....

the younger Weiler admitted planning to attack the clinic and said he intended to "shoot doctors who provided abortions." A loaded gun was found in the glove box of his car when he was arrested, the affidavit says.

But the anti abortion bomber, who fully and admittedly intended to kill people, wasn't charged under terror statutes.

How about the White Supremacist who was found with ammonium nitrate and had built a cell intending to blow up the Washington DC Holocaust museum who was not charged under terror statutes?

Or, how about William Krar, "investigators found a sodium-cyanide bomb capable of killing thousands, more than a hundred explosives, half a million rounds of ammunition, dozens of illegal weapons, and a mound of white-supremacist and antigovernment literature?" He has plead guilty to weapons charges.

I think you see my point. Arson, and in one case severe harrassment, have warranted prosecution under terror statutes even though in neither case was there an intent to harm individuals. However, anti- abortionists and white supremacists with bombs, guns, and plans to kill innocents with the specific intent to effect a political goal, are not charged under these statutes.

This selective enforcement has implications, and from it, I can gather that impacting business interests, be it land development, animal research, or an SUV dealership, is considered terrorism, while killing people for their race, religion, or the legal practice of abortion isn't.

(Note: Within the PATRIOT Act, there is also a vague description of "narco-terrorism," although to my knowledge it hasn't been utilized yet.)

(Also, within the same area, make note of the ACLU suits against the FBI, DoD, and Justice Department for their actions tracking and documenting war protesters.)

4 Comments:

  • In my world "narco-terrorism" would encompass such things as drug companies putting out commercials aimed at sending all raging hypochondriacs running and screaming toward their doctor's office demanding the latest cure - after all, the commercial was even kind enough to spell out the symptoms for them :)

    Oh, and let's not forget the drug companies who charge vastly inflated amounts for necessary prescriptions while running ads on TV about them being a caring, sharing, 'we are the world' kind of company.

    By Anonymous Rachie, at 10:12 AM  

  • Thanks a ton for that post Mike. I've been wondering how the 'terrorist' label was going to be shaped. It's basically, property damage is terrorism. Murder, death threats, bombings and terrorizing individuals with weapons isn't terrorism. Hmmm... we're screwed.

    By Blogger Tele, at 11:00 AM  

  • Rachie, yeah. Restless leg syndrome while protecting patents on AIDS drugs.

    And tele, terrorism is a politically loaded term to be applied where convenient. (See Iraq.) That's why I find the whole thing so troubling.

    Mike

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 11:13 AM  

  • Great post. Thanks for the work.

    By Anonymous abi, at 1:10 PM  

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