Terrorists in Uniform: The Hypocrisy of War

By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic

Terrorism is an ugly word. Unlike the act of war that evokes connotations of heroism and fighting for a cause the act of terrorism is lumped with entirely negative overtones and for good reason. But when you fight fire with fire, war with more war, the line between what constitutes terrorism and what justifies war becomes blurred.

Jus bellum iustum is one of the earliest doctrines to address the justification of war. The Just War Theory is regarded as the foundation of military ethics and is designed to ensure war is morally justifiable by outlining considerations that fall under the following subsections; ‘the right to go to war’ (jus ad bellum), ‘ the right conduct in war’ (Jus in Bello) and recent callings for jus post bellum – dealing with the morality of post-war settlement and reconstruction.

I found myself reading over the doctrine once again in light of the recent report unveiling (shock horror) the ineffectiveness of barbaric interrogation techniques to obtain good intelligence used by the Central Intelligence Agency. “Terrorists might use the report’s re-identification of the practices as an excuse to attack Americans”, Senator John McCain said after its release. Perhaps they might use it as ‘Just cause’ for an attack given that the ‘Fair treatment of prisoners of war’ has been overlooked by the US?

Does this report, I questioned, differ all that much from the flawed report on Weapons of Mass Destruction that was the justification for a war that killed almost half a million people? Probably not, but then the blurred lines between what constitute terrorism and what justifies war have become symbolic of the hypocrisy of war.

Jus ad Bellum

“The reason for going to war needs to be just and cannot be solely for punishing people who have done wrong”.

When the Twin Towers fell to a barbaric act of inhumane cruelty George Bush and his western allies initiated a ‘war on terrorism’. A war. On Terrorism! Overlooking the scope of such a thing and the idiocy of it, this justification falls at the first hurdle when considering whether you have a right to go to war, namely because the war in Iraq was essentially a revenge war.

And what of the authority for such an invasion, or comparative justice? Well, the United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan declared openly that the US-led war on Iraq was illegal. He said it was not sanctioned by the UN Security Council or in accordance with the UN’s founding charter, adding in a subsequent interview with the BBC World Service: “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.”

Other considerations in this regard were also either overlooked or proved not to be inadequately deliberated upon. Was there ‘right intention’ when the invasion commenced, was the ‘probability of success’ correctly weighed or even defined given the loose reasoning behind the war? Was it a last resort?

I implore you to find to evidence to the affirmative on any of these justifications.

Jus in Bello

Recent revelations contained in the Terrorist Report – which for those of us who followed the work of Mr Assange during the Iraq war came a a tame confession on behalf of the US government – confirmed that once war had begun, the just war theory (Jus in bello) was not adhered to.

It’s difficult not to slip into the murky world of sensationalism in reporting the CIA’s report, but consider the ‘principal of distinction’, the ‘principle of proportionality’, the ‘principal of military necessity’ and crucially the ‘Fair treatment of prisoners of war’ in relation to the following findings.

The CIA torture report found the organisation used rectal feeding on at least five people. It found  interrogators threatened to slit the throat of one detainee’s mother and threatened to harm members of the family of at least two other detainees. It revealed Abu Zubaida spent 266 hours inside a confinement box this size of a coffin and that 26 of the 119 people detained should not have been.

Then there’s the common practices. The waterboarding, slapping, stress positions and sleep deprivation. The threats. And for what? The report’s most debilitating finding – for if it had not found inadequateness I fear the findings would never have come to light – is that such practices were a complete failure, in that they didn’t create leads that could have ended the war sooner.

Jus post bellum

In recent years there has been a call from theorists such as Gary Bass, Louis Iasiello and Brian Orend to have a third category within Just War Theory concerning justice after a war, or Jus post bellum. So how does Iraq look today, and how might Afghanistan look in ten years’ time after US occupation?

BBC North America bureaux chief Paul Danahar, who was based in Baghdad during the US-led invasion, reported on Iraq after the US troops had been withdrawn, saying the country America left behind is broken. After spending an estimated $2.2 trillion on the war, Iraq remains a country with bleak prospects, governed by corrupt officials and increasingly divided.

“Sectarian tensions in both Syria and Iraq are tearing at the fabric of already fragile societies,” Danahar said, adding to suggestions that ISIS was born as much from the occupation of Iraq as the Syrian Civil War. The Islamic State has since committed horrendous war crimes in the Middle East in the past year and has become more organised in the process. But when you fight fire with fire, what do you expect?

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