Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The problem

“It (counter-terrorism) needs to be much more than a kinetic effort, an intelligence, law enforcement effort.”

John O Brennan, President Barack Obama’s Assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism


“It’s not against the law to contact Al-Queda, is it?”
Chris Matthews


The problem, as demonstrated above, is that it is NOT against the law to contact Al-Queda.  It is not against the law to say you’re going to blow up a building.  It’s not against the law to think or say or believe or write anything.


It IS against the law to conspire to commit a crime, but there has to be credible intent and a plausible expectation of completing the deed.  Simply saying you’re going to rob a bank doesn’t get you thrown in jail.  Buying a gun doesn’t get you thrown in jail.  Taking that gun to a bank and sitting in the parking lot doesn’t get you thrown in jail.  Doing all three sequentially might get you investigated, but the burden of proof is on law enforcement to demonstrate that you really intended to carry out the deed.  They can harass you and call it an investigation.  They can make it so very difficult for you to complete the task that you finally just throw in the towel.  But they can’t arrest you for having a properly licensed and purchased fire arm (yet).  They can’t arrest you for consorting with known bank robbers to learn tips and ideas.  Because thoughts are not illegal (yet).


And therein lies the problem with fighting terrorism simply from a law enforcement point of view.  Bill Clinton said we couldn’t arrest Osama Bin Laden when he was offered up to us on a silver platter because there was no legal basis for detaining him.  Because it’s not against the law to hate America, and it’s not against the law to want bad things to happen, and it’s not against the law to plan for theoretical attacks that you have no intention of carrying out.


Until you carry them out.


Then you’ve not only broken the law, but also shot 30 people or so, killed 13 or so, and perpetrated another attack that went unstopped because until you pulled the trigger, you hadn’t actually broken any laws.


You’ve simply given the appearance of impropriety…  which in some circles still holds weight.


Terrorism doesn’t have to be something we just live with, and deal with, and move on from.

Of course, if the pendulum swings too far the other direction there is a perpetual police state where conspiracies are discovered under every rock and behind every corner.

Neither sides of that coin are particularly pleasant options.


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