Terrorism and Criminal Justice
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September 11 brought unprecedented war upon terrorism on a large scale. The United States of America have pursued terrorists to the end of the continent including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and even Iraq. However, the true definition of terrorists has eluded many scholars. Rene (2008) defined terrorism as the violent act intended to create fear devastation to people to achieve a political, religious or an ideological goal. These acts do not safeguard the security of civilians. The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines terrorism as the use of violence against people or property, or warning to use such violence, to coerce a government or any section of the public for a political or social objective political. This definition has a weakness since it does not include disruption of air traffic and other vital electronic systems.
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The United Nations Security Council Resolution defined terrorist acts as criminal acts, committed to cause serious bodily harm and holding civilians into hostage to aggravate a state of fear in the public and force a government or an international organization to stop doing any act that constitutes offences. It is obvious that there is no consensus as to the universally accepted definition of either terrorism or terrorist acts. A terrorist is a person who engages in acts of terrorism. Most definitions have labeled acts of people who are not sanctioned by an established government as terrorist activities. Therefore, a person who is fighting for freedom of minority may be regarded as a terrorist by the government in power. Historical Background of Terrorism in United States of America According to Rene (2008), use of military in response to an attack dates back to the Nixon administration when American passengers were held captives by Jordan terrorists in 1970. Though the Nixon could have used military, the situation in Middle East was potentially explosive and negotiation was most preferred method. When President Ronald Reagan took over the White House, he warned that the military would respond to any terrorist actions that posed a danger to America interests. In 1986, he authorized bombing of Libya in response to Libya’s increased support of terrorist activities. In 1993, President Bill Clinton ordered the bombing of Iraq after it was involved in an assassination attempt of former US President, George Walker Bush during a trip to Kuwait. In 1998 he authorized firing of missiles on al-Qaida strongholds in Sudan after its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed. September 11 2003, the United States resolved to involve full military operations on war on terror. The United States of America have been gradually increasing their military intervention strategies in fighting terrorism, however, for several decades the country has avoided expanding conflicts getting involved in sectarian wars especially after the war in Vietnam. Criminal Justice System in the United States of America
The United States criminal justice system is the structural basis used to sustain social control and allows law violators a fair trial as those charged remain innocent until proven guilty. Debates as to whether terrorism and political violence should be viewed as a military or criminal phenomenon has been witnessed. Most guerrillas and insurgents view themselves as soldiers engaged in a war against state suppression and insist to be treated as combatants. The US Government in the recent times has received lots of condemnation from human rights group for its inhumane treatment, torture, unfair trials and arbitrary detention of terrorist suspects. There has been an outcry for closure of Guantanamo bay, where more than 250 suspects were held for more than seven years without charge. This facility has caused a significant damage of the USA human rights record reputation and it has been deemed unproductive in the fight against terrorism. nbsp;
In November 2001, President Bush issued a military order to establish military commissions that would be used to try foreign terrorists. The Supreme Court found the commissions illegal and Congress authorized a modified form of them. However, even after the modification the commissions lacked basic fair trial guarantees. They have been criticized by the public, legally challenged and have led to resignation of former chief prosecutor terming the system as unfair. The military justice has its proponent who argues that they are more efficient, they argue that terrorism prosecution does not effectively protect national security evidence, they are too resource intensive and are inadequate in preventing future acts of terrorism because they are restricted to focusing on past crimes. However, military commission record of accomplishment has been abysmal considering they have only tried three cases compared to federal courts 107 terrorism cases and made 145 convictions.
These who are promilitary also argue that it is difficult to prosecute terrorist in federal court since most of the evidence obtained through coercion, torture and abuse and, therefore, not admissible in courts of law. There are also those who argue that using civilian criminal justice systems allows terrorists to be treated as common criminals they are. Terrorists that have political motives enjoy celebrity status associated with being an enemy combatant. For example, when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed appeared before a combatant status review Tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, he wore the label of combatant proudly, comparing himself with George Washington and saying that had British captured Washington he would have been deemed an enemy combatant. Therefore, treating them as mere criminals strips them that badge of honor. There are also those with the opinion that terrorists should be detained based on the probability of committing future crimes. Proponents of this method argue that the civilian court system is inadequately prepared to handle those responsible for carrying out terrorist attacks. Without such legislation, most terrorists will walk free. In the wake of September 11, President Bush administration declared a global war on terror where people could be arrested from anywhere on the globe and held in military detention for several years without charge. The Bush administration justified the arrest and detainment indefinitely of American citizens without charge when suspected of terrorism. For example, Bradley Manning, an American soldier, was arrested and detained on suspicion of leaking confidential documents that could aid terrorists in their activities. The arrest was based on evidence from a former hacker who only identified Manning from their internet chat. A growing number of counterterrorism, legal, military and law enforcement officers are skeptic of this method and argue that this approach not only infringes fundamental human rights but is also counterproductive. The interrogation techniques used by the United States of America intelligence and military officers in dealing with terrorists activities have raised furore among other nations. The beating, abuse and torture are a violation of Geneva Conventions and convention against torture and other cruel, degrading treatment of prisoners.
The US Government embrace of torture has proved counterproductive in its war against terror. Fueled anti-American sentiment around the world and diminished its moral authority on fight for human rights. The CIA continues unabated with these methods further complicating US record on fight against terrorism. Detaining of terrorism suspects in oversees rendition camp has further complicated the fight against terrorism. In this, camps located in Libya, Yemen, Pakistan and Syria, suspects are held in conditions of strict solitary confinement where they are exposed in various forms of torture and abuse. These acts performed by Government agents are not different from those performed by terrorists themselves. Advocate for civilian criminal justice system.
According to Mark S Hamm, the best way to deal with terrorism activities is through the pursuit of conventional criminal investigation. He says that terrorist activities require money, material, transportation, identity documents and communication systems, and safe havens to accomplish their missions. Crimes that finance thesse activities should be investigated and dealt with in a court of law. He argues that those mandated to combat terrorism should study crimes such bank robbery, motor vehicle violations, money laundering and credit card theft. By studying these crimes, they are able to reduce the problem of terrorism by removing mystery that surrounds these groups hence knowing their vulnerabilities (Hamm, 2005). According to Social Learning Theory, criminal skills are acquired through deliberate tutelage training and socialization of offenders. It emphasizes that criminal activity involves techniques of committing the crime. Law enforcement experts have urged United States government to engage federal court system that is well equipped to prosecute terrorist suspects. The courts will ensure that innocent victims are not mistreated while being detained based on evidence and assumptions about future behavior that they are unable to know or defend against. The courts are also at a better position to investigate other crimes that may be indirectly linked with terrorism (Ferrell, 2009). Experts on crime agreed that terrorism is dynamic and it needs a different approach when dealing with suspects of terrorism. Most agree that the only way to ensure the government can enjoy public support when dealing with terrorists is by use of criminal justice system. Though this is an enormous task, suggestions that have been forwarded to help in this cause included improving the working relations between law enforcement and intelligence agencies with clearly stated responsibility of each. The judicial system capability need to be increased, including more education for judges and prosecutors on how to deal with terrorist cases and new more secure courthouses.
Proponents for prosecuting terrorists in civilian courts argue that new laws have been passed to ensure these courts can adequately address challenges posed by terrorist trials. Major challenge that theses courts face is the need to ascribe criminal liability before the actual act of terrorism has been committed (Bjelopera, 2011). To prevent loss of life and destruction of property, there is legislation criminalizing preparation for terrorist acts even before the final act is determined and committed. The concern for exposure of confidential information has been solved by passage of laws that protect this information. During trials in open court, the law allows the information to remain confidential in order to protect national security. Civilian court system has also been recommended because it eliminates justification of terrorism based on denial of justice. By prosecuting terrorists as ordinary criminals reduce their credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Conclusion
Terrorism and prosecution of terrorists continue to cause problems among law enforcement officers worldwide. There is a general feeling that terrorists cannot be dealt with just like any other ordinary criminal. However, there are many criticisms on the use of military commissions and other specialized criminal system. The inhumane handling of detainees at Guantanamo Bay has further raised questions on the feasibility and adequacy of the use of military commissions to suppress terrorism (Renwick & Treverton, 2008). The inadequacies of civilian criminal system to deal with suspects of terror cannot go unquestioned. However, both the military commissions and civilian criminal system strive to accomplish the same thing. It is with this idea in mind, that most law enforcers are of the opinion that with increased resources, facilities, education and passage of necessary legislations, terrorists can be tried within the civilian criminal justice system.
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