Defining a Terrorist

Edward's picture

Ken Horton at Harper's Magazine offers an explanation on why Wikileaks cannot be considered a terrorist organization, in response to media commentators and politicians that have suggested it be labeled as such:

"In fact, the term “foreign terrorist organization” (FTO) is established in section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which empowers the Secretary of State (not the attorney general) to apply that label to foreign organizations, with immediate and severe consequences for those so labeled and those who communicate or deal with them in any way. The Secretary of State does not have carte blanche in this process. To qualify as an FTO, an organization must have been engaged in “terrorist activity” or “terrorism,” which are defined to include multiple acts of violence threatening U.S. persons or the national security of the United States. An organization cannot plausibly qualify as a “terrorist organization” simply by publishing documents that embarrass the government or particular politicians."

"Over the last decade the world has witnessed an explosion of cases in which the term “terrorist” has been applied to domestic political adversaries, journalists, lawyers, and others who present governments and hyperventilating politicians with unpleasant facts. Today the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights has published a book entitled Blacklisted that meticulously documents this process, with a focus on abuse of the “terrorist” label in Europe. In the post 9/11 period, governments around the world increasingly used the term “terrorist” to muzzle people—insuring that they are denied access to the media, are not allowed to present challenges in court, and effectively disappear from the political stage. The worst abusers by far are authoritarian governments (Zimbabwe and Burma are good examples) that try to pin this label on democracy and human rights advocates. But this study also lays much blame at the feet of the United Nations, which has often allowed individual nations to call “terrorists” whomever they please."

The calls for Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, to be prosecuted as a "terrorist" reiterate this point.  As the dialogue descends into disturbing pronouncements on the legitimacy of assassinating Assange, it's clear that the road ahead is a dark one. 

The Obama administration maintains "kill lists" of individuals, including Americans, that are seen as a threat to national security.  As the definition of what constitutes a threat becomes more fluid (and secretive), we will be increasingly bound to the whims of the administration in power and not the rule of law.



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