TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

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TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

But the state must be judicious about using the terrorist label. Muddying thisissue’s moral waters is the fact that political violence committed by sub-nationalgroups is oftentimes used as a tool to combat unjust authority or foreignoccupation. As Dr. Jeffrey Record at the US Air War College notes,Condemning all terrorism as unconditionally evil strips it ofpolitical context and ignores its inherent attraction to the militarilyhelpless. This is not to condone terrorism; it is simply to recognizethat it can reflect rational policy choice. 45Along these lines, violent political groups (such as rebel or guerrilla organizations)oftentimes commit actions that might be considered terrorist actions.Or, as counterinsurgency specialist David Kilcullen noted in 2008, “all insurgents…[commit]gruesome atrocities in the service of insurgent ends.” 46 Yet,for various reasons, these groups avoid the terrorist label.Even killing one’s countrymen in the service of political ends may be seen afterwardsas morally justified. In describing the French Underground’s tacticsduring WWII, journalist Bernard Fall noted, “they had to kill some of the occupyingforces and attack some of the military targets. But above all, they hadto kill their own people who collaborated with the enemy.” 47Still, it would be remiss to view all terrorist behavior through a relativisticlens. The term connotes violent actions unencumbered by moral codes towardcivilians and state infrastructure, and actions of terrorist groups like al Qaedaclearly fall within this standard. While the rules of warfare and other statesponsoredviolence theoretically protect noncombatants and respect neutralterritory (as well as provide a term for noncompliance with the rules: warcrime), terrorists respect no rules and “recognize no neutral territory, no noncombatants,no bystanders.” 48 Ultimately, it is this failure to play by the rules ofwarfare that give the state the moral and legal legitimacy to pursue aggressivecounterterrorism actions against these groups and individuals.Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs | Harvard Kennedy School29

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