In the first press conference that followed the killing of five service members in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Thursday, U.S. Attorney Bill Killian said the shooting is being investigated as an act of terrorism. Authorities are searching for any ties between the shooter, Muhammad Youseff Abdulazeez, and Islamic extremist groups like ISIS.
But the Intercept's Glenn Greenwald called into question whether the targeting and killing of U.S. military members can rightly be called terrorism.
In a piece published Friday, Greenwald argued that a primary component of any working definition of terrorism is that it targets civilians, as in the 9/11 attacks.
Some might rightly argue that even though those killed in the Chattanooga attack were service members, they were not killed on any battlefield and were not actively engaged in hostilities, Greenwald said.
While he admitted this argument "has a solid footing in both law and morality," Greenwald reasoned that those who embrace it must also call much of what the U.S. military does terrorism.
The U.S. launches drone strikes outside of any obvious battlefield, including during funerals and weddings. Drone strikes have also killed people trying to care for victims of earlier strikes, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found.
In 2012, The New York Times revealed that sometimes drone strikes are launched against people whose identities are unknown to the U.S.
From the Times:
Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
The speed at which the Chattanooga shooting probe was called a terrorism investigation is also noteworthy. It took only hours for the U.S. attorney and the FBI to label it as such.
By contrast, after an apparent white supremacist shot and killed nine African-Americans inside a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, FBI Director James Comey said he didn't think the shooter's actions constituted a "political act."
The FBI defines domestic terrorism as "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
Comey's initial comments came before a racist manifesto, apparently written by the shooter, Dylann Roof, emerged online.
"I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight," the manifesto says. "I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me."
But even after the manifesto surfaced, Comey still said he wasn't sure if the Charleston killings were terrorism.
"I don't know yet," Comey told The Huffington Post. "I was asked about that a day or so after and said that, based on what I knew at that point, I didn't see it fitting the definition. Since then, we've found the so-called manifesto online, so I know the investigators and prosecutors are looking at it through the lens of hate crime, through the lens, potentially, of terrorism."
Law enforcement sources told CNN that writings composed by Abdulazeez expressed anti-American sentiment. But a friend of the shooter also told CNN that Abdulazeez spoke disapprovingly of ISIS.
Abdulazeez's family expressed their horror in a statement released over the weekend.
"For many years, our son suffered from depression. It grieves us beyond belief to know that his pain found its expression in this heinous act of violence," the statement read.
On Saturday, the fifth victim in the Chattanooga shooting, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, died of his injuries.
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