October 1, 2001

Rise Above It: Fight Terror Legally

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THE DRUMBEATS OF war resound all around our country. President Bush says, “We are at war,” and has deployed heavy bombers to the Persian Gulf. The government vows to wage a protracted military campaign and Congress has appropriated $40 billion to aid the recovery and war efforts.

We have never seen more heinous acts of terrorism than the events of Sept. 11. Many point to instances of U.S.-supported terrorism in other countries such as Indonesia, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, and remind us that the CIA trained Osama bin Laden in terrorist tactics to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. But no just cause can excuse the murder of innocent civilians, wherever it may occur.

The people who conspired to hijack those airplanes and kill thousands of people are guilty of crimes against humanity. They must be identified and brought to justice in accordance with the law. But retaliation by bombing other countries is not the answer and can only lead to the deaths of more innocent people.

Whatever action we decide to take must conform to the rule of law, which underpins our democracy. After the horrors of World War II, nearly all the nations of the world determined never to have another world war by founding the United Nations. If the evidence supports the suspicion that bin Laden was responsible for these attacks, we must insist that the U.S. take the steps agreed to in the United Nations Charter to immediately sue Afghanistan in the World Court for harboring him.
The Unites States should ask the court to order Afghanistan to surrender bin Laden for trial immediately. This is what the United States did when it sued Iran in the World Court; when the court ordered the United States to stop mining the harbors of Nicaragua, the United States complied.

The U.N. Security Council met on Sept. 12 and adopted Resolution 1368, calling on “all States to work together urgently to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors” of the attack and stating that they “will be held accountable.” The Security Council called “on the international community to redouble its efforts” against terrorism, and expressed its “readiness to take all necessary steps to respond to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001– in accordance with its responsibilities under the Charter–“

This means that the United States must not take its own military action in violation of the U.N. Charter, which mandates that members settle their international disputes by peaceful means and refrain from the threat or use of force, unless authorized by the Security Council. The United States must decide, with all other 14 members of the Security Council, what steps should be taken toward the goal of peace, not revenge and further war.

Further, the U.S. military must be forbidden from committing acts of war against any nation or individual. Only Congress has the power to declare war against another nation. Although it has authorized the use of force, Congress stopped short of declaring war under the War Powers Act. No nation has attacked the United States.

It is also imperative that we follow the rule of law at home and refrain from sacrificing our civil liberties in our zest to catch those responsible. Racial profiling against people of Middle Eastern descent and Muslims must be assiduously avoided, and judges should be as vigilant as ever in issuing wiretap orders and search warrants.

We must also guard against the xenophobia that led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 9066 in 1942, which authorized the internment of more than 70,000 American citizens and 50,000 resident aliens for being of Japanese ancestry.

Finally, as a sign that the United States has learned something from the bombing of a civilian city, the U.S. should immediately stop its almost daily bombardment of Iraq, which has not been authorized by the Security Council.

It is understandable that in the midst of our anguish and grief, calls for vengeance will abound. But our country was built on a firm foundation of the rule of law and we signed the U.N. Charter because we are peace-loving people. Never will our humanity be tested more than now.