Terrorists and terrorist actions are acts of war and should be treated as such

The Record
January 5, 2010
By Christine Todd Whitman

With the failed attack on Northwest Flight 235 on Christmas Day, the nation once again turned its eyes towards our security at home.

The insecurity that we all felt after Sept. 11, 2001, has returned in some measure, combined with relief that the recent attempt to destroy a plane and its passengers headed for the United States was unsuccessful. Questions remain as to how the perpetrator could have gotten on the plane in the first place.

The Christmas Day bomber, the recent security fiasco at Newark Liberty International Airport and the terrorist trial soon to take place in downtown Manhattan have people across the country wondering how we deal with this new world we face.

Terrorists and terrorist actions are acts of war and should be treated as such. Why are we treating the underwear bomber as if he were a run-of-the-mill thwarted murderer? What kind of deal has the Obama administration put on the table to get him to talk? Was he truly Mirandized and what does that mean for our ability to get information?

Even the tone in describing the thwarted attack missed the mark. It’s hard to justify using the legal term “allegedly” when talking about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. This terrorist proudly proclaimed his instruction from al-Qaida to carry out the attack.

For that, he should face stiff consequences.

I should say from the outset that I do not condone torture. The United States signed the Geneva Conventions because we believed torture was outside the bounds of civilized nations. We did not want our soldiers tortured and we did not believe that the information gained from torture was always reliable.

We did, however, recognize that war was different from domestic criminal activities, so we set up a methodology to deal with enemy combatants with different approaches for those in and those out of uniform.

We live in a complicated world where we are facing an enemy like none before. Fighting a war against a group that is not a nation-state presents a host of complicating issues, including where to draw traditional battle lines.

The answers to how to deal with these challenges are not as straightforward as many would have us believe, but that does not mean they can be ignored, nor should they be taken lightly.

The government has to do a better job of defining what constitutes acts of war given the current tactics used by our enemies. We must be clear on how terrorists will be handled, and whether or not we think there is a difference between someone claiming jihad and an up-front terrorist.

We must have a generally accepted protocol in place and that need not include all the rights given a U.S. citizen accused of a domestic crime. U.S. citizens caught while trying to commits acts of war should be treated as combatants.

Unfortunately, while trying to establish that the United States is a country of morals, this administration seems to be floundering in how to deal with our enemies. By not sending a strong signal as to who and what we are and what we will and will not tolerate, we are portraying ourselves as rudderless and presenting an even more inviting target to our enemies.

The belief held by many was that electing Barack Obama president would make us immediately more respected around the world. And, while it is true that President Bush was disliked in many segments of the world as a result of his policy toward Iraq, Obama’s election has not quelled the ideological — and sometimes radical — disagreements many have with our country.

To be sure, Obama has a lot on his plate, but that comes with the job. He needs to find a way to demonstrate his resolve and fortitude on issues of domestic security, and make it clear to our enemies that we will find no mercy for acts of terror against the United States of America.