Morality will not win the war on terror

By Steven Gillard

(Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)
(Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

Last week, a five-part piece on the war on terror written by Harvard University emeritus professor Alan M. Dershowitz was published in the Boston Globe. Professor Dershowitz discussed five different controversial aspects of the war on Terror: terrorists’ use of human shields, mass surveillance by the United States government, detainment of terrorists in facilities such as Guantanamo Bay, targeted killings and torture.

In his piece about the targeted killing of terrorists, Professor Dershowitz espoused the belief that while “targeted killings are here to stay,” the United States must adapt the legal system so that it is in accordance with the employed tactics.

Professor Dershowitz touched upon the 2011 targeted killing of al-Qaida member Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, an action that generated significant controversy because of his status as an American citizen. Although al-Awlaki was thought to have ties with multiple terrorists, including the 2009 Fort Hood shooter, many Americans denounced his targeted killing as a violation of his American rights. Glenn Greenwald, of Salon.com, argued that the killing infringed upon both his right to free speech and due process.

Professor Dershowitz’s article on torture expressed views similar to his piece on targeted killings. While he described torture as “immoral and despicable,” he also recognized its legitimacy as a type of necessary evil, especially in the case of a “ticking bomb situation.” The main point of both of his arguments seemed to be that, in an ideal world, neither targeted killings nor torture would need to exist, but if we need to use them, then we must have the legal system to support and regulate such tactics.

Why are we concerned about the legal and human rights of terrorists when they blatantly disregard our own?

To start, the military and CIA can go right ahead and eliminate any suspected terrorists through drone strikes, and they shouldn’t be required to prove the immediate threat posed by such terrorists, or the impossibility of carrying out other alternatives. If an individual is involved in terrorist activities and can be eliminated, he or she should be. Why are so many people concerned about the “lawfulness” of such actions, or determining the legitimacy of threats to the United States? Anybody in a terrorist group, operating overseas with fellow combatants, should be considered a legitimate target and dealt with accordingly.

It doesn’t matter if a terrorist, like al-Awlaki, is American, either. As far as I’m concerned, American citizens forfeit their citizenship the moment they go overseas and collaborate with a terrorist organization. Al-Awlaki conspired with aspiring terrorists and was a recruiter for al-Qaida. Even if he wasn’t directly carrying out attacks, he still contributed to al-Qaida’s campaign far more than any basic operatives ever could. An individual should not be granted due process if he has left the United States to support our adversaries, nor should his targeted killing create any controversy.

With regards to torture, many assert that it is unethical and should never be used, even if it is effective. Once again, this morally-upright stance taken by so many Americans is shocking. I understand that torture is considered inhumane, a violation of human rights and should never be used against lawful captured combatants in a traditional war.

But you know what else is inhumane? Flying two planes into the World Trade Center, killing thousands of innocent people. So too, is beheading journalists.

If targeted killings and torture give Americans an advantage in the war on terror, they, by all means, should be used.

In the face of this complex battle being fought against terrorism, and the increasingly serious measures taken by the government to quell this threat, Americans often cite Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

As hard as it may be to swallow, Franklin’s words are anachronistic and can no longer be applied to a globalized world to which the number, brutality and scope of threats has increased exponentially since the 18th century. I’m not self-important or paranoid enough to believe that allowing the government to target Americans without due process and tap phone lines in an effort to uncover terrorist plots will somehow negatively affect my life, unless of course I join a terrorist cell or become a drug kingpin.

Those who quote Franklin and those who protest torture and targeted killings alike ignore a sad reality: you can’t fight an immoral enemy morally. Ascribing the same rights to a radical American recruiting for al-Qaida and an American working a nine-to-five job with a wife and kids is offensive and idealistic, even if it is technically correct.

Professor Dershowitz advocated for legal processes that make both targeted killings and torture more legally feasible and regulated, but a much more realistic step to take would be to designate all terrorists – American or foreign – as no longer protected under international or American law.

An attack on the scale of 9/11 can never happen to this country again. If the United States can dismantle the leadership of terrorist organizations through targeted drone strikes, or divulge vital information from terrorists through torture, then it is justified in doing so.

Holding ourselves up to the same ethical and legal standards at which our adversaries scoff does not make the fight any easier, nor does it make the world a safer place.

Steven Gillard is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]