Terrorists' Rights or Human Rights?

[This statement appeared in the newsletter of Amitai Etzioni in response to his essay about treatment of terrorists.]

              “. . . security requires that the primary goal of dealing with terrorists be preventing attacks rather than prosecuting the perpetrators after the attack has occurred.”

            If this is not your most important statement, it should be.  And, yes, I am taking the statement a bit out of context: out of the immediate syntactic context and out of the context of the military publication that you were writing for. Preventing terrorism is the likely result of the prevention of the injustices of our world’s distribution and adjustment of wealth and resources. Usama bin Ladin has spoken about what he considers justice among nations. No, I do not subscribe to his brand of theocracy and rule of sharia, but then he probably is right that one should let countries work out what brand of government they will tolerate in their own borders—theocratic government included. Baathist Iraq was and Qaddhafi’s Libya is on the way toward a relatively more open society with a beginning sense of separation of church and state, a development one should support but not force militarily. Bin Ladin’s comments about Israel and its strained and perhaps even repressive relationship to the Palestinians are not all that far off the mark and deserve attention.

            A great lag between rich and poor, between powerful and weak, between wastefully overfed and devastatingly starving—that is the underlying problem of our world. What I am still missing in these conflicts is a world-wide, perhaps UN-instituted commission on fair distribution of resources of our world, an open and global labor market to go hand in hand with a global economy, and an attempted dialog with the disgruntled of this world, be they fringe groups or organized states. I suspect that such a strategy will go a long way toward preventing terrorism. By the time we want to adjust the military to moral action, the baby’s already breathing its last in the spilled bathwater. Meanwhile, we should not look to criminals’ rights, combatants’ rights, or enemy soldiers’ rights; we should go straightway toward human rights––and damn the torpedoes.