Who are the Terrorists?
Ever wonder how the government goes about deciding who is a terrorist, or which organizations are terrorist ones? The State Department, which accepts recommendations from the Justice Department, designates who the terrorist organizations are. It uses several laws and rules among which are citations in the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Foreign Relations Act and the U.S. Code. It's not easy to follow the trail because the various pieces of legislation that come into play often refer to each other with definitions that are, at the very least, often subject to interpretation. There are currently 35 names on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
In order to earn a spot in the terrorist directory, the offending organization must be foreign (sub-national groups or clandestine agents); must have engaged in premeditated, politically motivated violence against noncombatant targets, or retain the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity; and finally, its activity must threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security (national defense, foreign relations, or economic interests) of the United States.
In the Immigration and Nationality Act, terrorism is defined as any individual activity, the purpose of which is the opposition to, or the control or overthrow of, the government of the United States by force, violence, or other unlawful means. In the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, terrorism is "premeditated," politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by a sub-national group or clandestine agents. It further specifically defines the murder or manslaughter of "internationally protected persons" as a terrorist act. An internationally protected person includes the usual heads of state, government officials, etc., but also embraces members of international entities such as the U.N. and news organizations, and any attack upon his person, freedom, or dignity is considered a terrorist act.
The word "terrorist," it seems, has replaced "communist" as the pejorative nom du jour in these times. Accusations of aiding terrorists have become epidemic, not only in the U.S. but also worldwide. Scanning the headlines around the globe, one finds among those accused, in news stories at least, are foreign journalists, the government of Pakistan, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, national passport centers, UNRWA and a variety of Internet web sites. But some obvious candidates have escaped both press notice and the far-flung net of American justice.
Recently, Israel's Defense Forces (IDF) killed Iain Hook, a British U.N. official along with two other Palestinian United Nations workers, in the West Bank. A U.N. resolution condemning this act was vetoed by the United States. Well, you may ask, isn't this a violation of our own rules governing terrorist activity? Clearly it was but not only does our State Department turn a blind eye, it tells its ambassador to veto the resolution condemning it!
There are many acts, such as the murder of journalists and photographers, committed by the IDF that would easily qualify it to be placed on our terrorist list along with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But that would anger Israel's supporters, most of whom in Congress can't wait for the signal to give Israel an additional $10 billion or so (also easily construed as giving material aid to a terrorist organization).
But wait! Are there others, besides our Congress, openly providing support to foreign terrorist organizations that aren't being prosecuted? Yes, there are. The Israeli settlers in the Palestinian Territories have committed many acts of terror against the indigenous population. These deeds include murder, arson, and theft of property among other acts, all well defined in the U.S. Code. Has the National Religious Party of Israel, the ultra-nationalist group representing the settlers in the national unity government, been designated as a terrorist organization? Of course not.
In addition, those fundamentalist Christians, namely the Robertson-Falwell gang, who trumpet their support for the Israeli settlers in Palestine, are also giving material support to a terrorist organization. They fund the transportation and maintenance of these settlers who in turn take land not belonging to them from the Palestinian people, uproot their orchards, steal their olives and burn their villages. These supporters are in violation of the laws of the United States pertaining to giving material support to terrorist organizations but do not stand a chance of being prosecuted. It's a lot easier to pick out those people with obvious Middle Eastern features or names and create cases against them for donating to suspect charities.
This, in small part, is why people in other countries have greatly diminished esteem for America. They see many examples of double standards in the application of laws, dispensing foreign aid, voting in the U.N. and deciding which countries and organizations will be classified as terrorist. But our government actually believes that people are stupid and that good PR will easily overcome bad deeds.
Recently, the administration has commissioned a series of TV ads for foreign broadcast that are meant to show how good the U.S. has been to Arabs and Muslims. The commercials show Arab-Americans enthusing about their freedoms, job opportunities and the respect shown by American society to Muslims. As a shining example of this exemplary treatment, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has required males from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria, over the age of 16, to voluntarily submit themselves to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for fingerprinting, photographing and questioning. After complying, between 500 and 1,000 of these people were thrown in jail in southern California. In light of this action, the upswing in hate crimes against Middle Easterners and the preventative detention of unknown numbers of Arabs from around the country, the advertising message is laughable at best.
In a blatant attempt to deny people the right of protest, our minister of justice Ashcroft deflects criticism of his heavy-handed usurpation of constitutional rights with an accusation of his own; "…to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve," he said in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Silly me, I thought that this country was founded on, and always fought for, the right of dissent.
I have a message for Washington: The people aren't stupid! Not here and not in the Middle East! No amount of PR is going to change that.
Raff Ellis lives in the United States and is a retired former strategic planner and computer industry executive. Email: This article first appeared at Yellow Times.org