Peter Lemiska
October 30, 2004
Should we call the police?
By Peter Lemiska

The most important issue of this election is the threat of international terrorism, and on November 2nd, we will choose a President to continue the war against a ruthless and determined enemy.

One of the candidates recognizes terrorism as acts of war and has never flinched at the prospect of taking military action against terrorists and the countries that harbor them.

The other candidate has a different plan. While he boldly announces that he would hunt down terrorists and kill them, he paradoxically argues that the problem can best be dealt with through law enforcement and intelligence resources. He has been quoted as saying that in his administration, the fight against terrorism would involve the military "now and then," but would be "primarily an intelligence-gathering, law enforcement operation."

That approach is na´ve and dangerous. Law enforcement simply cannot deal effectively with international terrorism for a number of reasons.

1. There are still many rogue nations that continue to shelter terrorists.

Some openly defy the will of the international community, while others are more subtle. They do not recognize international laws, have not signed extradition treaties with us, and can never be expected to hand over to U.S. custody suspected or known terrorists. It was, after all, the refusal of the Taliban to surrender Bin Laden that led to the invasion of Afghanistan. Likewise, before Saddam's regime fell, terrorists like Abu Nidal found safe haven in Iraq.

2. Our criminal justice system is wholly inappropriate and inadequate when applied to irrational zealots.

We saw that during the previous administration, when Islamic fundamentalists first attempted to bring down the World Trade Center in 1993. We arrested and convicted a few conspirators, while allowing al-Qaeda to revise and refine its plans, leading to the horror of September 2001.

Our justice system is designed to incarcerate criminals who pose a danger to society, to punish and deter criminal activity, and to rehabilitate, when possible. Does anyone really believe that a suicidal terrorist, bent on mass destruction, would be deterred by the threat of incarceration or even execution? Or that he might fear any form of punishment that our system could administer? Or that a prison term might in some way rehabilitate him? To suggest it is absurd. We can only imagine the contemptuous response from Zacarias Moussaoui when government agents first offered to work with him in exchange for his cooperation.

The Moussaoui case also graphically illustrates other unavoidable problems by affording international terrorists a public trial, most notably, the national security issues, and the protection of classified information.

Moussaoui and those like him see themselves as soldiers, eager to sacrifice their own lives for some misguided cause. For them, justice can best be served through U.S. military tribunals.

3. U.S. law enforcement officers have no standing outside of our borders.

Our federal law enforcement agencies may be the best in the world, but when an investigation takes them to foreign soil, they can only advise and assist the police forces of the host nation. The police departments of many foreign countries, especially third world nations, are ill-equipped, inadequately trained, and poorly paid. Because of the conditions in so many underdeveloped countries, police departments are often incompetent, and rife with corruption.

Everyone in the law enforcement community remembers the tragic case of Enrique Camarena, a DEA agent tortured and murdered by drug lords in Mexico in 1985. The case understandably strained Mexican-American relations when Mexico refused to extradite one of the main suspects, and when several Mexican officials were later convicted as conspirators.

Of course we must work with the police of other nations, and we share good, trusting relationships with most of them. But it would be foolish to view law enforcement as our primary and most potent weapon.

It is but one tool, and if we hesitate to use any one of them, including diplomacy, intelligence, covert operations, surgical strikes, and if necessary, military might, how can we defeat an enemy firmly entrenched throughout the world?

No sane person relishes the thought of war. General Sherman observed more than one hundred years ago, "War is hell." Nonetheless, history has shown that sometimes it is necessary.

The president declared this war against international terrorism on September 20, 2001, nine days after more than 3,000 U.S. citizens became its first casualties. At that same time, he announced that rogue nations that harbored or supported terrorists would be regarded as hostile regimes.

Through the proper balance of military force and law enforcement, he has eliminated a terrorist regime, decimated a terrorist network, and prevented another major attack in our country.

© Peter Lemiska

Comments feature added August 14, 2011

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Peter Lemiska

Peter Lemiska is a freelance writer and former Senior Special Agent of the U.S. Secret Service... (more)


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