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On "Bringing To Justice"

First, let me say that the response from not only Blair, but all of London is inspiring. They are refusing to panic after these attacks. The underground is open and running this morning (with some nervousness). At Balkanization, Kim Lane Scheppele makes an interesting point about “Britain’s State of Emergency, and the anti-terrror laws in Britian failing to prevent these this.

Yesterday, I said that those responsible for the London bombings should be brought to justice. That generated response from Izar (in comments) that “sometimes it is better to have justice brought to them,” and from Steve C that “I don’t think they really care.”

Bringing terrorists to justice is not about them, its about us, and about those who support them. We could just as easily find them and kill them. We could capture them and bring them to secret detention centers, where we beat them to death. And while those both serve the preventative purpose of ensuring that those particular people don’t engage in further acts of terror, they are tactically part of a losing strategy. JihadWatch also gets it very wrong, and I’d been meaning to write this essay before London:

People often email me listing the alleged crimes of the Bush Administration and/or the United States in general as if such a list constitutes a sufficient riposte to the stories we post here daily. But in fact such lists are irrelevant. We are not interested in defending one Administration, but the American republic in general. We are not here to shill for one ephemeral policy or another, but to defend the West and the civilization it has inspired.

The first and most important differentiator between justice and vigilantism, or justice and terrorism is that justice is administered by a government, with a set of rules and regulations, laid down in advance. In the American conception, we are all equal before the law. No group of 10 or 20 people may decide that you’re a criminal and hang you. 50 random people in London are not asked to answer for the “sins” of Britian.

When we lose sight of the importance of process, and the visibility of process, we lose the perception of fairness. That perception of fairness, the goal of fairness, and the freedom from the arbitrary impulses of the police are key to our justice system. (That we don’t always reach that ideal does not mean the ideal is not important.)

When we are fighting against an orientation that seeks to restore and extend a caliphate over all lands Islam once controlled, we must respond not only, not primarily with military strength, but first from the position that our system is more desirable than that. We have to define and hold a moral high ground which causes the other side to waver. The American system can do that. At its best, the American system inspired and inspires people around the world.

But we are not doing our best. We are far from our best. Abuses at Abu Grahib, the images of Guantanamo with its beatings, the secret arrests, detentions, and deportations after 9/11 have come to define the United States. We went from Le Monde declaring “We are all Americans,” to polls that show Europeans considering us a greater threat than terrorists. Why? Its not because the Europeans are stupid, its because they see us using power without justice, without control, without reason. They see us as having lied about Iraq, and as willing to invade anywhere we see fit, then unable to pick up the pieces.

The wrong things have become symbols of the United States, not because of who we are in the main, but because America is seen as abandoning and betraying its ideals.

5 comments on "On "Bringing To Justice""

  • Amen, Adam.
    It’s interesting that many of the people who crow about the West’s economic and social victory over Communism fail to appreciate this idea that we can prevail by presenting a better alternative.
    We shouldn’t sit still, but we lose both moral AND tactical ground to respond in kind. (See for a delightful example of the mainstream(!) American Right’s how not to do it.)

  • Izar says:

    I would be glad to agree with Adam. Really. But I have to state that I come from a premise that says we operate on a different scale of values, we and the terrorists. His stance that we have to define and hold a moral high ground is definitelly the right one, but that must be qualified by the assumption that both sides of a “quarrel” have the same morality. This is not the case. For Adam and most of us, a 2k pound bomb missing a target and striking a bunker filled with women and children and non-combatants is an aberration, a mistake that must cause heads to roll in the higher echelons of our military establishment. For our foes, that’s mission accomplished.
    So, when I advocate “bringing justice to them”, again, I am moved by a number of reasons: first and foremost, striking terror into the hearts of those that choose terror as their way of life is a proven deterrent. Ask if some jihadist will feel good about going to a training camp in the Sudan knowing he can get a Tomahawk for breakfast anytime ? Put them in the sights and keep them there. Make terror cost.
    I advocate small incursions and surgical strikes (and yes, there are such things) first because they tend to reduce collateral damage (while, unfortunatelly, increasing the inherent danger for the executing forces), second because they have this “terror-on-terror” element built-in, and third, more cynically but somewhat justified, by using more professional and trained troops in smaller, more dynamic numbers, I suppose the number of logistic and 2nd and 3rd layer troops that have to be put in harm’s way (Mrs. Lynch is a good example) is smaller. The war is “cheaper” both in resources and in lives.
    This in no way negates the need for visible, transparent, and morally backed justice. If I thought it did, I’d say “cut the leash and let the CIA and black ops do their thing”. But as a proponent of a different use of military resources, I merely state that we shouldn’t become vigilantes, we should just wage a different kind of war. The movements of huge masses of armour were good to get rid of tyrants. Now we need to go into the sewers to get the rats. Tanks don’t fit into sewers. Rat hunters do.
    Again, this is all my single opinion, coming straight out of my head. I am by no means qualified to make such comments with any kind of authority, this is only what I picked up in my personal interpretation of history, geo-politics and military theory. I don’t claim to have a solution or any rights to a true truth whatsoever. When I say “we should do this, we should do that”, it’s not my ass in the line taking bullets from an AK. But since those who are are there to protect me, you, and everyone else that is not even supporting them, I take the liberty of saying we. It’s a coward way to be an arm-chair weekend warrior, but i too wore fatigues once. My utmost respect to those who do it in the front lines, and I can only beg their understanting when I put myself in the same “we”.
    I also agree with Bruce Schneier on his post about the bombings: “Smart counterterrorism focuses on the terrorists and their funding — stopping plots regardless of their targets — and emergency response that limits their damage.” ( That’s a way to cut the problem from the top. I just think it has to be approached in a multi-sided way, from the top (the funding) and the bottom (the combatants) and the other side (the situation that bring people to such despair as volunteering to blow themselves up) and the other side (the pseudo-religious people that drive these people to their suicides for their own personal profit or lopsided beliefs). Like poverty, that can’t be dealt with in a single rock concert, terrorism is a problem that won’t be driven away by my militaristic approach, by Mr. Schneier’s economics one, by Adam’s morally backed one, only by an intelligent use of these and other methods.

  • I wonder about the tactic of trying to stop funding. I would think that following the money would be more fruitful than trying to block it. While I’m not a tactical specialist, I imagine that yesterday’s horrors could have been paid for out of pocket by an average upper middle class individual. Large amounts of money are easier to track, and harder to spend inconspicuously. The trend towards independent “franchises” which are much harder to identify and track would only increase if resources necessary to build a larger network (by definition having a larger footprint) were scarce.
    On a more hopeful note, I was impressed by Tom Friedman’s NYT column, which heads fearlessly into the huge gray area seperating necessary intelligence acquisition from collective punishment.
    The London News Review also has a great Letter to the Terrorists, From London:
    (really need to get my blog back online so I stop choking adam’s)

  • Great discussion!
    We know that “Abuses at Abu Grahib, the images of Guantanamo with its beatings, the secret arrests, detentions, and deportations after 9/11 have come to define the United States” do not truly define us, however it is a perception that is fostered by some and many in the media (it is their job to sell ‘news’). We know these incidents are not representative of our system and are aberrations. Look at the recent remarks of a Senator comparing our military to Nazi and other barbaric regimes – it is bombastic hyperbole that comes with a price, defining us as something we really aren’t.
    Adam, I can’t agree with you more that we need to ‘sell our virtues’ rather than allowing us to be redefined (or worse ‘become’) as that which we are not.
    The Mirror has a wonderful piece about why the Jihadists will lose.–war-on-britain–we-cannot-surrender–name_page.html
    And we, too, need to remember why we love our nation and hold it dear.

  • My kids' Dad says:

    Pulling Out of Terrorism

    NYT’s Pape understands that the goal of terrorists is to get the West out of their territories, but is mistaken that withdrawing will ameliorate our circumstance.

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