Terrorists are not criminals

כ״ט בניסן ה׳תשע״א (Tuesday 3 May 2011) · 8 comments

Terrorists are not criminals in the sense that burglars, drunk drivers, perjurers, rapists and litterers are criminals. Terrorism may incidentally be a crime by its inclusion in the statutes that make it one, though pretty much any single action in the modern state is a crime by that standard.

The proper paradigm with which to approach an understanding of terrorism is not the criminal justice paradigm but the warfare paradigm. Terrorists are to be “prosecuted” on the battlefield (ie, wherever they are found) by soldiers, not prosecuted in the courtroom (ie, where they have to be brought and given “rights” as criminal defendants) by attorneys working for the state. That is to say, they are to be incapacitated and disarmed. If they fail to surrender, they are to be annihilated.

It may be proper to consider terrorists “war criminals.” But a war criminal is not essentially the same thing as a criminal. Adolf Eichmann is a good example of a “war criminal.” This guy was so ordinary and uninteresting that, thanks to Hannah Arendt, most educated people think of him immediately when they hear the word “banality.” Eichmann did not commit crimes outside the context of war and he was probably incapable of doing so. He did not have a criminal character and I can’t consider him a criminal. For this reason, I hate the expression “war criminal” and I consider it to be used primarily by people who think that war itself is a crime.

The question of how to treat terrorists, as enemy warriors who’ve engaged in atrocities or as criminal defendants with rights, goes deeper than just the question of warfare paradigm versus criminal justice paradigm. It comes all the way down to morality. If you have a Jewish morality, you hate evil and you want to see evildoers punished whenever and wherever they appear. If you have a Christian morality, you may hate evil, but you must love evildoers on some level, because their souls can always be saved.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Will S. ל׳ בניסן ה׳תשע״א (Wednesday 4 May 2011) at 6:09:49 pm

Agreed re: terrorists, and war crimes. And the difficulty with the concept of war crimes, is, ultimately, rarely can the judges be said to be impartial (even if, on balance, they’re correct). When someone surrenders in wartime, or is captured, and brought to trial, he is not being tried under the laws of his own land, but those of his enemies, who obviously are not his “peers”, unlike, at least in theory, a regular criminal trial by jury.

As a Christian, however, I disagree strongly, re: punishment of evildoers: one must always punish evildoers, whenever and wherever they appear; they will have ample time to reflect on their crimes, and their souls, while they are being tried and/or awaiting execution. Only misguided, modern-day sentimentalist type Christians, be they mainline, evangelical, or Catholic, would, say, argue against the death penalty for a murderer who has become Christian while on death row (which alas, has happened); such is absurd, as that fact does not negate the need for punishment of evildoing. Even Ted Bundy didn’t plead for clemency; he said he deserved to die.

2 Genius ל׳ בניסן ה׳תשע״א (Wednesday 4 May 2011) at 6:31:11 pm

When someone surrenders in wartime, or is captured, and brought to trial, he is not being tried under the laws of his own land, but those of his enemies, who obviously are not his “peers”, unlike, at least in theory, a regular criminal trial by jury.

The conceptualization and implementation of these international “war crimes” tribunals, starting with the ad hoc one at Nuremberg and continuing to the permanent ones that are being built now (in the Hague, I think) is to address that issue specifically. But it fails to do that by still treating people like criminals when what they’ve done may be evil and cruel and deserving of punishment, but is not a crime.

Only misguided, modern-day sentimentalist type Christians, be they mainline, evangelical, or Catholic, would, say, argue against the death penalty for a murderer who has become Christian while on death row

Well, mainline, evangelical and Catholic covers a pretty broad territory. That’s a pretty big majority of all the Christians in the world, in fact. I totally agree that not that all Catholics and mainline and evangelical Protestants believe these things very strongly. And obviously a great many do not act on them, which is why many American states retain the death penalty and why America remains the most civilized country in the world.

Though I’m also certain that the American death penalty will be permanently abandoned in my lifetime – whether by the Supreme Court (likely) or by an amendment to the Constitution (unlikely) or by the incremental way of governors not agreeing to use it (likely) – and this will probably happen rather suddenly and possibly rather soon.

The arguments of Christians who oppose the death penalty strike me as very genuinely Christian (not that it’s my place to say what is) in a way that the arguments of Jews who oppose the death penalty strike me as completely bogus and un-Jewish. In fact, when Jews make these arguments, it’s most tempting to interpret their arguments as “Christian” in some important way. This usually shuts them up.

Judaism is concerned with mercy in a way that’s very different from Christianity. Incidentally, this touches on the reason why it’s so difficult to convert Orthodox Jews to Christianity. Even if they could be convinced of the truth of the events described in the Christian bible, it’s too hard for them to change their whole idea of what god is and how god interacts with the world.

3 Will S. ל׳ בניסן ה׳תשע״א (Wednesday 4 May 2011) at 6:44:26 pm

The thing is, it is only in modern times, when all of Christendom has moved away from traditional understandings, that one sees the rise, in Christian countries, of anti-death penalty sentiment; whereas, until recent times, the understanding that Judaism had held true in Christian societies, and where it lingers, are places where traditional Christianity also remains fairly strong, such as Texas.

I am not certain that Christianity, as practiced in yesteryear, was all that different from Judaism. Though it may be now, that mushy sentimentalism has taken hold of, indeed, quite a broad range of the Christian tradition, that it has become so, and so one sees arguments against capital punishment developed that ‘sound’ Christian, and so have taken root.

But hey, I’m an old-school Calvinist, so I’m probably biased, heh heh.

4 Mark Doane ג׳ באייר ה׳תשע״א (Saturday 7 May 2011) at 1:35:14 am

…and why America remains the most civilized country in the world.

Getting a little homesick Genius?

5 Mark Doane ג׳ באייר ה׳תשע״א (Saturday 7 May 2011) at 1:40:06 am

Genius, as a Christian I have an interest in seeing Israel survive, and that includes not seeing you move back here.

If you want I can send you a small care package, including mac and cheese, Oreos and other uniquely American junk.

Alas, such a package will not include mandingo sized condoms, since I can’t sanction extramarital sex.

6 Will S. כ״ד באב ה׳תשע״א (Wednesday 24 August 2011) at 9:07:45 pm

Hey Genius, you still around?

7 Genius כ״ה באב ה׳תשע״א (Thursday 25 August 2011) at 8:27:40 pm

Hey kids, I’m still here but traveling like crazy (business and pleasure, mostly business) in other parts of the world. I’m occasionally commenting on other blogs, like Half Sigma.

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