Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Morality will not win the war on terror

(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, 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].

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  • I

    IsaacOct 2, 2014 at 12:04 am

    SHerlitz: Arafat is correct on many levels. Furthermore there in nothing is Steven Gillard’s that seems the slightest bit invalid. Gillard also did not make broad generalizations about Islam. I recommend you read the piece again for further clarification. I also recommend you revisit the language of the 5th amendment in the hopes that your opinion will evolve. Due process of law extends to the citizens of this nation. I’m sure the brilliant minds of the founding generation would not take too kindly to high level middle eastern terrorists being treated as equal when at the end of the day, they are the ones that have this supposition in their head that killing people will make the world a better place.

  • M

    MattOct 1, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    >”And BTW, it doesn’t help that the Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa have all but wiped out any remaining Christians. Translation: they have murdered and slaughtered them all.”

    The 9 million Coptic Christians in Egypt would be very surprised to hear that they are dead. Likewise for the 800,000 Orthodox Christians and 1.5 million Catholics in Lebanon. And while the 1.8 million Christians in Syria are certainly in grave danger of being killed now (although they were doing just fine before the civil war started), they would probably not appreciate your plan to “save” them by indiscriminately bombing everyone in the region, including themselves.

    Overall, the Christian population in the Middle East, although much smaller than it used to be, is still large enough that they could form a decent-sized COUNTRY if they all lived in the same place.

  • A

    AyatollahSep 29, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Sorry to break it to you, but Arafat is right. First of all, I wouldn’t emcourage anyone to waste your precious eyesight on any perspective from Alan Dershowitz. Anything he writes is largely illegitimate from the word go. In law school we learned all about constitutional law and civil rights and I have yet to comprehend how those principles apply to non-U.S. citizens (i.e. illegal aliens and foreign combatants), let alone terrorists aiming to do harm to this country. Patton and Eisenhower are rolling in their graves over what their sacrifices and achievements have turned into. Personally, I wish we would simply abandon the middle east and cut off all immigration and visas of all types. The time is coming soon when we won’t need their oil and then what else is there in our national interest? NOTHING. Just a whole bunch of worthless sand ruled by despots and killers. Do I accept that all Muslims are bad? Of course not. But they have a serious PR problem as their whole society in the middle east has been hijacked by the bad guys….many of whom happen to be in power (and secretly fund the terrorists they publicly abhor; see: Wahabis in Saudi Arabia). What I believe Arafat is trying to convey is the sickening silence of the American and European Muslim. Given that the hard-core terrorist cells in the west need local mosques in which to conceal themselves, many Americans feel that the American Muslims have done not nearly enough to rid themselves of the scourge in their midst, not to mention have utterly failed to help combat the problem in the Middle East. And BTW, it doesn’t help that the Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa have all but wiped out any remaining Christians. Translation: they have murdered and slaughtered them all. That’s still highly offensive in the passive western world where it’s fashionable to make fun of Catholics and Christians. Target them for death long enough – see what you get. I have ZERO tolerance/sympathy for the Middle East. Any complaints about the West emanating from any corner of the Middle East is simply illegitimate and should not be countenanced. If I were President instead of Ayatollah, I’d be focusing my nuclear warheads all over that shitty desert, ridding the world of its scourge once and for all.

  • K

    KrisSep 25, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Cannot wait for the next batch of comments to get posted on this………. my mouth is watering.

  • S

    SHerlitzSep 24, 2014 at 10:12 am

    I am appalled by both the column and your comment, ‘Arafat’.

    The column blatantly ignores the fact that the “War on Terror” is not a black-and-white conflict, and that due process exists for the specific purpose of making sure that someone is actually guilty of something before punishing them. Without due process and rights, the government can literally kill anyone they please on the grounds they were ‘probably a terrorist’- that is not a world I want to live in.

    Also, I find it ironic that you suggest we become the overly militaristic, evil state the terrorists think we are in order to beat them. How is this winning? Killing people without regard to due process for mere association with ‘terrorist’ groups is only bound to make more ‘terrorists’, motivated by the extrajudicial murder of their parents.

    Arafat, your comment is absolutely sickening.

    You blame Islam for the problems in the Middle East, which is shortsighted and staggeringly ignorant. After centuries of foreign domination, invasion, violence, poverty, and colonialism in the Middle East, any and all violence is to be blamed on Islam?

    Disillusioned and angry people find ways to rebel against what they see as a flawed system, and for a certain segment of the population of the middle east this means joining radical Islamist groups, which promise salvation but act with violence.

    Don’t you dare ascribe to all Muslims the radical, hateful beliefs of a small, vocal minority. Go talk to some Muslims and ask them if they view their religion as aggressive, violent or sadist- given the views you espouse, you would be surprised at what they have to say.

  • A

    ArafatSep 24, 2014 at 8:14 am

    I’ve got a novel idea. Let’s do nothing. Let the Muslims deal with their own problems for a change. Let’s let countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait with their endless ocean of money and Western-bought armaments figure it out instead. Surely they – being practitioners of the religion of compassion and peace – will step right up to the plate in our stead.
    OK, you caught me there. You knew I was kidding! You knew what I know which is that there is no answer to these Islamic cesspools. Whatever we do will be discredited and if we do nothing then Syria will become just another country in the endless line of Hell on Earth Islamic countries.
    We cannot save Muslims from themselves. It is like trying to save an alcoholic. Until they are ready to abandon their religion – a religion that emphasizes aggression and violence and sadism – anything we do will simply be a band-aid on a gaping wound.
    Let them go through their DTs on their own. Only then will they be ready for our friendship and help, and only then will we find a way forward together as friends.