As I write this column, Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and many other Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have still eluded capture. While we impatiently wait for these "evil ones" to be brought to justice, their momentary elusiveness gives us much needed time to think and then rethink what we are doing as Americans. All Americans were justifiably horrified at the events of 9/11. Over three thousand innocent Americans and many internationals were senselessly killed as a result of this 21st century kamikaze attack. To this point in time, our government has responded well to this assault against our country. Our response has been measured militarily, and we have made efforts to avoid collateral deaths as we rid out the terror power-base in Afghanistan. We have, as Americans, changed the way we have waged war. In other wars, we have targeted civilians because they targeted civilians. We aren't doing that this time even though our enemy has.
However, in the hiatus before we get the terrorist leadership, we need to rethink our response to bin Laden and company. It seems to me that we are dangerously close to becoming more like them then we might want. It is scary to realize that there are people like bin Laden out there, but it is even more upsetting to realize that we could become like them if we aren't careful. Listen to what many of our fellow citizens are saying about what we should do to bin Laden, et al. Many have inherited the Wild West mentality: "Bring them in dead or alive. Justice and due process aren't important. We know that they are guilty, therefore, hang 'em all."
It is quite likely that we will have the opportunity to mete out justice to some of the terrorist leaders, but the manner in which we carry out justice will determine whether we are different than the terrorists. When we employ on them the same rationale that they used against us, we become like them. Surely, they experienced rage when it came to their anger about America. The terrorists felt justified to attack us from their vantage point because of transgressions that they feel we have committed against Muslims, Arabs, Palestinians, etc.
Now, we are considering the use of military courts to bring justice to the unjust. What? One of the criticisms that others have of us is that, as the Native Americans tell us in the movies, "White man speaks with forked-tongue." There are many examples of our country talking out of both sides of our mouths. We did so with the American Indians from the very beginning, and we are still doing so internationally. Case in point: America leads the cries of outrage when military courts are employed in places like the former Soviet Union, China, and other less civilized nations. We are outraged with these countries for utilizing Star Chamber tactics.
But alas, the British dumped this expeditious, flexible, and unjust juris prudence in 1641! Why go back to it now? Answer: it makes "justice" easier to carry out. However, when an American is brought before a present day Star Chamber or military court, Washington goes ballistic. A recent example of this is when an American female was found guilty of terrorism in a Peruvian military court.
The world is voting on the future. The major candidates are the global terrorists and our system of democracy. It would seem to most of us that we should be a shoe-in in this global election, but we aren't. Massive numbers of the world's population aren't as impressed with us as we are with our virtues-and we don't understand why.
If we want to win the hearts and minds of the world and thus reduce terrorism and the conditions for eliminating future clones of bin Laden, we need to have a campaign platform that is fundamentally different than the other candidates. We need not only to define the differences, but of equal importance, we need to practice what we proclaim. Here's my suggested platform:
We must adopt these planks, or else the terrorists will win...by eroding the very foundation of our democracy and way of life.
This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 12/31/01.