When Jose Pimentel was arrested and indicted on terrorism-related charges in New York City Saturday, the Manhattan District Attorney made a point of stating in the official criminal complaint that online, Pimentel had made "incriminating" statements, of which includes the following:
People have to understand that America and its allies are legitimate targets in warfare. This includes, facilities such as army bases, police stations, political facilities, embassies, CIA and FBI buildings, private and public airports, and all kinds of buildings where money is being made to help fund the war.
But these words, while violent, are not the words of a terrorist. This statement is based in the international laws of war. It seems our latest 'terror' suspect has been reading the Geneva Conventions.
Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, Article 52, mandates that nations and individuals engaged in warfare protect civilian life and property. In doing so, the law defines what are legitimate military targets. These include, "military forces, military works, military establishments or depots, manufacturing plants constituting important and well-known centers for the production of arms, ammunition or characterized military supplies, lines of communication or transport which are used for military purposes..."
The statement the Manhattan D.A. alleges Pimentel made regarding "legitimate targets in warfare" DO fall within these non-protected categories. If it were true that we and our allies were fighting a war as we claim to be, then Pimentel can not be a terrorist, even if he was not acting on behalf of any specific state military. Had he been planning to attack civilian targets, such as a hospital, elementary school or residential building, things would be radically different. However, as the argument is currently structured, his actions are not that of a terrorist, but a soldier without a country.
That said, America is not now nor have we in the past decade been "at war" at any time. Never has a declaration of war been officially made! What passed was an "Authorization for Use of Military Force," for both Afghanistan and Iraq, the first of which stated, "the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001," and the second of which extended that authorization to include Iraq.
These authorizations, apparent to many as unconstitutional given that it abdicates Congress' responsibility to declare war as defined by Article 1 of the Constitution, has gone together with a declaration of national emergency, Presidential Proclamation 7463 of Sept. 14, 2001, to provide both Bush and Obama with nearly unchecked wartime powers to deploy the military overseas to capture and kill 'terror' suspects and topple 'terrorist regimes.'
But what does that mean for Pimentel? Probably the same thing it meant for the 'American Taliban' John Walker Lindh. Or the same thing it means for all those 'enemy combatants,' or otherwise, at Guantanamo Bay who aren't quite prisoners of war. Probably the same thing it means for the Iraqi and Afghan civilians tortured in places like Bagram and Abu Gahrib. Probably the same thing it means for Fahad Hashmi right here in New York City.
Bad precedent means no rights means Pimentel's now buried with the rest under a mountain of legal haze. Within this is sure to be some torture in the form of solitary confinement or 'special administrative measures' as the jailers call it, likely to help themselves sleep better in their cushy beds at night. These conditions always seem to be imposed on 'terror' suspects in NYC, as though each were poised to maintain an international web of violence from the confines of a U.S. cell.
The argument has become ubiquitous that 'Islamic Terrorists' do not fight on behalf of a state and therefore are not protected by the Geneva Conventions. As well, it has been argued, no declaration of war was ever required to conduct operations against them because the War on Terror is essentially a long-term, international policing action, backed up by an act of Congress and a state of emergency and legitimized by the presence of a multinational coalition. Because America is under constant threat, the argument goes, from terrorists and others who would destroy our 'freedoms,' we must kill them wherever we can find them using whatever violent means we have at our disposal... we just can't call it a 'war.'
But just because our legal system can't admit we're at war doesn't mean the world and we can't see our recently renamed "Overseas Contingency Operation' for what it really is: a war! And as long as the U.S. remains "at war" either literally or rhetorically, either directly or by proxy, we will continue to present our infrastructure as legitimate targets to our adversaries. If we want to be safe, we have to end the wars! All of New York shouldn't pay for D.C. and Wall St.'s violence!
After a decade of the War on Terror with innocent civilians accounting for half of everyone we kill, our national conscience has forgotten the difference between legitimate acts and war crimes. What does it say about the condition of our country when our 'terror suspects' know more about the Geneva Conventions than we do?