A day that will live in infamy

By Justin Palmer

“I fear that all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” This memorable line was uttered by Japanese Admiral Isoruko Yamamoto hours after his navy attacked Pearl Harbor. Sixty years later, the United States has been attacked by surprise by an enemy no less intent on destroying our way of life. In many other ways, the parallels are eerie. Like the United States of 1941, we have been polarized by a divided and apathetic population. Repeatedly in the last ten years, we have seen terrorism replace the Soviet Union as our nation’s number one threat.

However, the kamikaze attacks on our nation’s financial and military centers go beyond the pale of humanity. While the death toll is still unknown, and may never be known, it is highly probable that the number of people killed in this one attack will outnumber the total number of fatalities caused by terrorism in the last thirty years. For the last few weeks, as a nation we mourned our dead. Now, as President Bush said, we must “hunt down and punish” those individuals or nations that committed this crime against humanity.

The first question we must answer is who committed this. The rush to judgement after the Oklahoma City bombing focused on foreign nationals, but the crime was ultimately determined to have been committed by domestic terrorists. This situation is obviously different. While the Pentagon attack could have conceivably been carried out by domestic terrorists, the World Trade Center attack was certainly not, as there are no government offices in the building. Also, the tactic of hijacking airplanes is not the standard operating procedure of domestic terrorists, but rather of international terrorists.

If the perpetrators were foreigners, then they certainly required a large and well-trained organization to carry out this attack. The only other comparable event was the simultaneous hijacking of three international airliners (a fourth attempt was foiled) by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in September 1970. The planes were flown to Jordan, where the passengers were exchanged for Palestinian prisoners and the planes subsequently blown up. When asked why they did it, a spokesman for the group said that if no one wanted to acknowledge the PFLP’s struggle against Israel, the group would force the whole globe to pay attention to it.

Another probable suspect with the will and the means is Saddam Hussein. This ruthless dictator has already committed atrocities like nerve gassing his own people, and has shown blatant contempt for international law. As a government official, he has access to vast resources, and he definitely has a hatred of the United States. However, the more common tactic of the rogue state is to bomb or shoot down U.S. airplanes, not mount coordinated assaults on their homeland. Saddam has survived in power for the last 25 years not because he is insane, but because he usually knew when world opinion would allow him to get away with murder. Someone with his survival instincts would have to know that the wrath of the civilized world would come down on his head if he were involved in anything this horrible.

In any case, in light of a report by Reuters that Osama bin Laden “warned three weeks ago that he and his followers would carry out an unprecedented attack on U.S. interests for its support of Israel,” his organization bears at least some responsibility for helping plan and carry out these attacks. More tellingly, according to Jane’s Intelligence Review, most security experts believe that Al Qaeda (his organization) absorbed the remnants of the terror group responsible for a previous bomb attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, so he would have an intimate knowledge of New York City and how to set up a “sabotage cell” in the United States. Though the government of Afghanistan has repeatedly denied their — and bin Laden’s — influence in recent terrorist attacks, we cannot accept their blanket denials anymore.

In light of the September 11 attacks, our previous attempts to combat terrorism must be deemed a failure — or, at best, a partial success. We have been dealing with terrorists as we would any other law-breakers, via the international extradition process where they face trial here. While the decision over how to take action against the perpetrators must be left to the President and his advisers in these trying moments, there are certainly some preliminary steps we can take in the right direction.

In Congress, Representative Bob Barr has introduced a bill in the House. The Terrorist Elimination Act of 2001 (House Resolution 19) would nullify the effect of specific provisions of certain executive orders which prohibit federal employees from attempting or performing assassinations. Basically, this would allow our federal government to take the Israeli approach to suicide bombings, which is to specifically target the individuals who planned this horrendous crime. Our only other approaches would be to wait for the judicial process to run its normal course or to indiscriminately target the civilians that live near terrorist installations, neither of which are acceptable. Our president needs the ability to place bounties on the heads of the individuals responsible for Tuesday’s attacks or to order personal attacks on them.

Another positive step would be a show of support from our European allies against those countries that have been accused of state-sponsored terrorism. Countries on the State Department’s list of terrorist nations include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, and North Korea. Countries not on the list but still suspected of harboring terrorists are Pakistan, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Yemen, and the breakaway Russian province of Chechnya. Since these nations, as sponsors of terrorism, have declared war on us, then we might see fit to start a naval blockade of these nations, or launch air strikes on any weapons of mass destruction facilities that they might have.

Finally, since the United States was targeted for terror because of our support for Israel, we should come to the understanding that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ Rather than continuing to sit on the sidelines in the Middle East, we should actively cultivate an alliance with Israel. More than anything else, the images of Palestinians and Egyptians dancing in the streets to news of the thousands of dead Americans was barbaric. This, in stark contrast to Israel’s immediate decision to declare a day of national mourning, should tell us who in the Middle East are our friends and who are our enemies. The Israelis can empathize with us because they have undergone suicide bombings in the last year from Islamic militants.

In any case, the massive use of economic, political, and military sanctions should be brought to bear on these nations until they expel any particularly noxious terrorist groups. This would be similar to the Turks’ use of their military alliance with Israel to force Syria to expel the Kurdish PKK, which had used Syria as a base for launching attacks on Turkey. When asked what his objectives were in his jihad against America, bin Laden told reporters, “I’m fighting so I can die a martyr and go to heaven to meet God.” After what happened on Tuesday, September 11, we should give this man his last request.