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Counter-Terrorism--How Far Can We Morally Go?
CSC 1984
                                 Submitted to
                        Col Robert J. Berens, USA(Ret)
                    In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements
                          for Written Communications
                   The Marine Corps Command and Staff College
                              Quantico, Virginia
                            Major E. J. Robeson IV
                          United States Marine Corps
                                 April 1, 1984
Thesis Statement:  Terrorism is becoming increasingly common,
                   and poses great dilemmas for those seeking
                   to balance  individual  human rights with
                   the  obligation  to  protect  the  masses.
                   What's to be done?
I.    Introduction
II.   The nature of terrorism
      A.  Immoral?
      B.  Moral?
III.  Does terrorism's nature really matter?
IV.   Presently accepted defensive countermeasures
      A.  General purpose measures
      B.  International agreements
V.    Proposed offensive countermeasures
      A.  Increased public awareness programs
      B.  High technology initiatives
      C.  Legislative repeals/reforms
          1.  Intelligence enhancements
          2.  Aut dedere aut judicare
          3.  Media curbs
      D.  Pragmatic retribution
          1.  Counter-terror
          2.  Coersive interrogation (torture)
          3.  Psychological operations
VI.   Summary
    Early on a quiet Sunday morning in October 1983, a yellow
Mercedes  truck  circled  in  a vacant parking  lot  adjacent
to the U.S. Marine compound in Beirut, Lebanon.  Steadily,
the  truck gathered  speed and then headed on its course.
Crashing barriers and ignoring commands to halt, the driver
guided his deadly cargo into position under a large building
where hundreds of Marines were sleeping.  A thunderous explo-
sion  followed.... Amid the  debris  of  broken  concrete  and
crushed,  lifeless bodies  there lay a shattered hope--that
America would be exempted from terrorism and the dilemmas
that countering it might bring.
    But  we  have  not  been  exempted,  and,  as  professional
military officers, our efforts to defeat the terrorist may
confront us with some serious moral dilemmas.   How should
we respond to the outrages of terrorism?  What effective
counter-terrorist actions  can be taken which will not be
as abhorrent as the terrorist acts themselves?  What are
the moral dilemmas for the counter-terrorist who knows that
the bomb is ticking somewhere, but the suspect is disinclined
to cooperate?  At what point do we lose our moral ascendancy
by  permitting  coersive  interrogation  (torture),  even  for
a "higher good?"  Terrorism is becoming increasingly common,
and poses great dilemmas for those seeking to balance indivi-
dual human rights with the obligation to protect the masses.
What's to be done?
    All of these questions need resolution, but there may
be an even more fundamental question.  This question concerns
our understanding of terrorism itself.  Even though terrorism
is indiscriminate,  unrestrained violence,  is it inherently
immoral, or is it simply an unusual, but legitimate, tool
of warfare?  We cannot really design countermeasures without
a convincing answer to this question.
    Accepting  the  premise   that   terrorism  is   immoral
presupposes that each man, as a unique creature, possesses
"...certain  inalienable  rights."   Since  terrorism  seeks
to deny or destroy those fundamental rights, the terrorist
is operating beyond mere criminality.  By his own desires
and preconceived malice, he has chosen to step outside the
bounds  of  civilized  conduct  and bring fear and violence
to those who are harmless or uninvolved--whether men, women
or children.  Consequently, are not his actions so despicable
as to be patently immoral?
    If  the  military  officer  accepts  this  argument,  then
under  what  moral  constraints  must  he  labor  in  fighting
terrorism?  Do  normal  rules  still  apply?  After all,  the
terrorist is exposed as:
    ...something more than a common criminal.   He not
    only  violates  particular  rights,  he  also  rejects
    the principles on which rights exist, and aims at
    destroying the capacity of the government to protect
        Once  the  terrorist  is  an  enemy  of
    rights  in  general,  an  argument  can be made  that
    he has forfeited all of his [own] rights.  How can
    one  who  actively  engages  in  a  campaign  aimed  at
    destroying the effectiveness of  the rights of all
    others  in society now come forward and coherently
    ask that any of his rights be respected while still
    maintaining  that  he  need  not  respect  the  rights
    of others?1
This is a powerful argument, but it leads the military profes-
sional toward a conclusion which is not easily reconciled
with present law and international conventions.
    Perhaps  we  can  escape  this  dilemma  by  hypothesizing
that terrorism is not immoral after all, but could be appro-
priate, depending upon the circumstances.  Could our revulsion
to  terrorist  acts  simply  be  an  artificial  humanistic
conditioning  that  hinders  our  ability  to  view  terrorism
pragmatically?  Could terrorism,  in fact,  be nothing more
than war as it should be fought without Victorian regard
for  "innocents?"   Perhaps  our  loathing of  terrorist acts
is  merely  selective.   How  appalled  are  we  when  Afghani
terrorists  (or are they freedom fighters?)  bomb a Soviet
diplomat into socialistic paradise?  Could terrorism really
be simply another appropriate tool of warfare?
    This question has been debated at length in many forums.
The delegates to the United Nations during the discussion
of the Draft Convention for the Prevention and Punishment
of  Certain  Acts  of  International  Terrorism have provided
a majority opinion.  This sentiment of most of the governments
of the world today was expressed by the Indonesian delegate,
Mr. Joewono.  He stated:
    A  distinction  should  be  drawn  between  terrorism
    perpetrated  for  personal  gain  and  other  acts  of
    violence committed for political purposes.  Although
    recourse to violence must ultimately be eliminated
    from  relations  between peoples,  it must  be  borne
    in mind that certain kinds of violence were bred
    by oppression,  injustice,  and the denial of basic
    human rights, and the fact that whole nations were
    deprived of their homeland and their property.  It
    would be unjust to expect  such peoples to adhere
    to the same code of ethics as those who possessed
    more   sophisticated   means   of   advancing   their
    interests....Such  acts  could  not  be  classified  as
    terrorism; on the contrary, they were to a certain
    extent to be regarded as anti-terrorist acts aimed
    at combatting a much more repulsive kind of terrorism,
    namely  colonialism and other  forms  of  domination.
    These  forces  of  violence  were  legitimate,  being
    founded on the right of self-determination proclaimed
    in the Charter and often reaffirmed by the United
    As Americans in a westernized culture, we are probably
astonished that other governments could formally equivocate
on  the  question  of terrorism,  but we  shouldn't be.   Our
own   traditional  moral   foundations,   derived   from  our
Judeo-Christian heritage and its basic document, The Bible,
could also be seen to advocate terrorism or other unrestricted
violence under certain conditions.   In The Bible we  find
numerous  accounts  of  battles  and  wars  fought  at  God's
direction and by his rules.  Over and over again, the children
of Israel were commanded to attack evil countries and peoples
and to kill them all--the men,  the women and the little
children.   Because God had declared that their cause was
just,  the Israelites were permitted to practice systematic
terrorism and could, furthermore, view it as being a righteous
act.   Based on this evidence,  could there be a dichotomy
between  our  absolute  condemnation  of  terrorism,  and  our
concern that counter-terrorist acts be effective,  but not
brutalizing?  If our cause is just, why should we restrain
    Scholars  and  theologians would  certainly be quick to
note in rebuttal that the Israelites had direct revelation
from God, while today, we no longer share that privilege.
They might further ask, how then can terrorism or unrestrained
counter-terrorism be condoned if the cause cannot be proven
to be just?  This argument is persuasive and it could perhaps
be used to deter American military officers from those prac-
tices, but it neglects the fact that several terrorist groups,
particularly in the Middle East, have already declared their
cause  to be  just and have embraced terrorism as a means
to further their aims.  Therefore, a more relevant question
might  be,  if  your  opponent  is  already  operating  in
fundamentally evil ways and without any moral restraints,
what could not be considered an appropriate countermeasure?
    In other words, why would not the depravity of terrorism
elevate any countermeasures to the  status of a righteous
act?  How can unrestrained violence be effectively contained
without  resorting  to  every available  resource  and  means?
Doesn't  international  law  recognize  the  right  to  defend
oneself by matching the level of violence of the response
to that of the offense, as in a reprisal?  Unfortunately,
answering these questions could lead the military professional
toward the same conclusion from which he might be seeking
to escape.
    It would appear, then, that regardless of whether terror-
ism is viewed as a  legitimate tool of warfare,  or as a
contemptible immoral act, that there are persuasive arguments
which would permit the counter-terrorist to respond based
solely on military effectiveness without incurring any moral
dilemmas at all.
    Even  if  one  accepts  that  this  reasoning  is  logical,
he is still confronted with the obligation to obey the current
laws  and  international  conventions,  and  these  are  quite
restrictive.  Still, we who have pledged to defend "...against
all enemies,  both foreign and domestic" must do so within
the framework of those laws.     Has the time not come then
to reexamine the present legal constraints in light of today's
threat  of  international  terrorism?   Is  it  not  essential
that the guardians of our freedoms not be artificially con-
strained from taking those measures which could be required
to ensure that our liberties continue?
    If this is true, then what countermeasures are presently
acceptable,  and  which  additional methods  should  be  added
to make our response more effective?
    First,  there are the general purpose measures already
in effect.   These  include the  screening of  travelers and
equipment  crossing  over  our  national  borders  or  passing
through  our  major  communications  centers.   As  Kupperman
and  Trent  stated,  there  is  considerable  merit  to  these
measures  because  "...screening  limits  potential  terrorism
to  the most  talented groups  (a high-pass  filter)  and so
tends to inhibit terrorism."3 In recent years, these measures
have  become  even  more  effective  with  the  implementation
of  improved  sensors,  metal  detectors,  x-ray machines  and
better  training  for  security  personnel.   Other  responses
to  terrorist  threats  have  included  executive  protection
procedures,  risk  analysis  programs  and  armored  vehicle
services.4 All of these efforts to "harden the target"  are
designed to create conditions under which it would be very
difficult for a terrorist to conduct a successful attack.5
    There have also been numerous legal attempts to develop
an international consensus for countering terrorism.  These
agreements  have  been  on-going  for  over twenty years  and
a partial list includes:
    1963  Tokyo  Convention  on  Offenses  and  Certain  Other
Acts Committed Onboard Aircraft
    1970 Hague Convention for the Suppression of the Unlawful
Seizure of Aircraft
    1970  U.N.  Declaration  of  Principles  of  International
Law  Concerning  Friendly  Relations  and  Cooperation  Among
States In Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations
   1971  OAS  Convention  to  Prevent  and  Punish  Acts  of
Terrorism  Taking  the  Form  of  Crimes  Against  Persons  and
Related Extortions that are of International Significance
    1973 Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful
Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation
    1973  U.N.  Convention on the Prevention and Punishment
of Crimes Against Diplomats
    1980 North Atlantic Assembly Resolution on Terrorism6
    Statistically, it can be demonstrated that these measures
have not dissuaded terrorist groups from continuing their
activities.  The reason for this has been succintly stated
by Admiral James D. Watkins, USN, Chief of Naval Operations.
He has said:
        While there are many things that we can do defen-
    sively,  this is  just not good enough.  After all,
    will building bunkers and fences higher and higher--or
    stringing  roll  upon  roll  of  concertina  wire--or
    wearing more and more flak jackets--really provide
    lasting  additional  security  from these terrorists?
    Can these defensive measures really stamp out this
    creeping cancerous growth?  No.7
It  would  appear  then  that  a  defensive  strategy  is
insufficient. In addition to increased security and improved
crisis  management  structures  and  techniques,  there  must
be  offensive  responses.   William  Waugh  calls  this  the
"two-front war."  Unfortunately, he then limits his offensive
options to the alleviation of legitimate grievances, while
prohibiting   extra   legal   countermeasures,   extra   legal
intelligence  gathering,  detention  of  suspects,  and  even
media restraints.8
    This is a very weak response indeed, especially in light
of  the  numerous  nihilistic  terrorist  groups  whose  only
grievance  is  that  the present  governmental  systems  still
function  effectively.   Fortunately,  others  recommend  more
vigorous  schemes.   The  Long  Commission,  following  its
investigation of the Beirut bombing concluded:
    ... that  state  sponsored  terrorism  is  an  important
    part of the spectrum of warfare and that adequate
    response to this increasing threat requires an active
    national policy which seeks to deter attack or reduce
    its effectiveness.. this policy needs to be supported
    by political and diplomatic actions and by a wide
    range  of  timely military response capabilities....
    The  Commission  recommends  that  the  Secretary  of
    Defense direct the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop
    a broad range of military responses to terrorism... and
    direct   the  development  of  doctrine,   planning,
    organization, force structure, education and training
    necessary to defend against counter terrorism.
    If, as the Long Commission suggests, our present counter-
measures are inadequate, it would seem relevant to examine
what we could be doing to improve our situation.  Certainly,
one of the basic elements of a response strategy must be
to maintain confidence in the government and its legitimacy,
while  ensuring  public  order.9  To  accomplish  this,  any
counter-terrorist  activities must  be  not  only acceptable,
but  also  achieve  popular  support.   Since   the  importance
of   this  support  cannot  be  overestimated,  the  government
must be able to define its actions so as to protect its
base of  legitimacy,  while denying any terrorists'  counter
claims.10 One of the best means to accomplish this according
to Mr. J. B. Motley is to "...establish within the public
community a greater awareness of and sensitivity to...the
type   of   decisions   that    may    be   required    by
    What decisions should we be making?  What response will
solve  the  terrorism  dilemma?   Unfortunately,  the  problem
appears to be multi-faceted, and many analysts believe that
there  is  no  single  "magic formula"  solution,  and only a
combination of responses will be effective.12 However, the
application  of  highly  specialized  technology would  appear
to be one very effective response for controlling terrorism.
    One  approach  would  be to  utilize  computer  technology
to share information on the international level much more
extensively  than  is  presently  done.   This  could  create
difficulties due to possible infringement of civil liberties,
but    without   extensive,   hard,    intelligence    data,
counter-terrorist plans will be  ineffective.13 The use of
heuristic  computer  models  could  also  enhance  and  sharpen
terrorist-type    identification    and    potential    target
projections.14  Other  high-tech  solutions  could  involve
impregnating detonators and explosives with easily detected
taggants15,  and  greatly expanding video,  audio  and  other
electronic     surveillance.16     Non-brutalizing    suspect
interrogation through the use of lie detectors,  hypnosis,
or drugs should also be considered.  However, as Kupperman
wrote,  "The  problem  is  far more  than  technological.  It
is political, it is economic, it is regulatory, and it is
    It is in this legislative area that many of the present
"moral dilemmas" could perhaps be solved.  Recognizing inter-
national terrorism as a clear and present danger today could
save the nation from the quandary faced by President Lincoln
over a century ago when, under other difficult conditions,
he declared,  "I  conceived that I may,  in any emergency,
do things on a military ground which cannot constitutionally
be  done."18  This  reality was  demonstrated  more  recently
by Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau's response to the terrorist
campaign of the Front de Liberation Quebecois.  On October
16,  1970,  he authorized the government " do anything
it deemed necessary for the security, defense, peace, order
and welfare of Canada."19
    Sensitizing the American public to the threat of terrorism
and demonstrating the need for stronger security measures,
up to and including the military option, would provide the
political  climate  needed  to  resolve  some of  the present
legal  constraints,  especially  those  surrounding  the  use
of military force in responding to terrorist acts.   This
should be done, not only because it is right, but also because
it is practical. As one writer stated "...rules made with
too much disregard of the issue of military utility are
not likely to survive. Any legal rule, on the basis of its
own authority as law, can bear only so much weight of contrary
interest;"20 and when the nation is threatened, there will
certainly  be  that  contrary  interest,  as  Rudyard  Kipling
so graphically reminded us in his stirring poem,  "Tommy."
While restructuring our laws,  however,  it is important to
clearly  differentiate  between  legitimate  and  illegitimate
uses of  violence,  i.e.,  the use of  "force" by   authorized
agents   of  the  state  as  distinguished  from  the  use  of
"violence" by those challenging the state's authority.21
   Another  critical  area  needing  legislative  relief   is
intelligence  collection,  processing and dissemination.   Mr.
J.  B. Motley suggests the following list:
    Repeal those portions of Executive Order 12036 which
    restricts  intelligence  collection  techniques  and
    other intelligence functions.
    Restore  the  Internal  Security  Division  of  the
    Department of Justice.
    Reinstitute the security research files and index...of
    the U.S. Civil Service Commission.
    Exempt intelligence agencies from the Amended Freedom
    of Information Act and the Privacy Act.
    Reassess  current  limitations  imposed  on  intelli-
    gence   agencies   by   the   Foreign   Intelligence
    Surveillance Act.22
There should also be strong attempts on the international
front to obtain agreement from all  states to accept the
obligation aut dedere aut judicare--extradite the terrorist,
or try him or her yourself23.   Consensus on media curbs
on the reporting of terrorist and counter-terrorist activities
should also be reached.
    Beyond these legislative changes which could, by fiat,
create a climate where a stronger security framework could
be more  easily defended on moral grounds,  there are the
counter-terrorist activities themselves.  As President Reagan
has stated,  "Let terrorists be aware that when the rules
of  international  behavior  are  violated,  our  policy will
be one of swift and effective retribution."24
    Of course,  the form that this retribution should take
must  be  "morally"  acceptable.   As  the  earlier discussion
has proved,  however,  there are strong grounds--morally as
well as practically--to argue that the pragmatic approach
is  not  only defensible,  but even  commendable because of
its effectiveness.  As retired ambassador, John David Lodge,
        If we could stop preaching,  we might even be
    able to learn something from our friends in Argentina,
    Uruguay and Chile regarding how they have successfully
    handled and are handling the most cunning, cynical,
    vicious,  brutal,  relentless challenge of our time.
    When will we catch on that the conflict is taking
    place in a jungle world?25
Such a tough line approach would combine harsh and effective
temporary measures with a consistent policy of maximizing
the risk of punishment run by the terrorists and minimizing
their potential rewards.26
    We  should  begin  these  operations  by  acquiring  the
necessary  intelligence.   Col  Tuilard of  the French Army,
while fighting Algerian terrorists had this to say about
gathering needed information:
        If the suspect makes no difficulty about giving
    the  information  required,  the  interrogation  will
    be over quickly.   Otherwise,  specialists must use
    all means available to drag his secret out of him.
    Like a soldier,  he must  [now]  face the suffering
    and perhaps the death which he has so far avoided.27
Although there are political risks to such measures, this
type of activity, if properly presented to the public, would
be devastating for the terrorist.  He would have unleashed
approved counter-terrorism, and reaped few political benefits.
    This  same  no-holds-barred  approach  could  be  used  in
counter-terrorist psychological operations.  The old Chinese
proverb,  "Kill  one  and  frighten  10,000  others,"  can  be
effective  for  the  counter-terrorist too.   As  one unnamed
official put it:
        We  have  got  to  get  our  hands  dirty,  really
    dirty....  Cut off a few Moslem heads,  stick them
    in the belly of a pig, deliver the package to their
    comrades  with  the message:   "You aren't going to
    Paradise.   You're  going  to  be nothing but pig _
Certainly  the  lifting  of  restrictions  on  assassinations
would provide  important opportunities  to conduct  surgical
strikes which could have great deterrent effects.
    These  special  powers,  even  if  granted by  law,  would
represent  a  partial  curtailment  of  the  normal  liberties
found in a democracy, but having such temporary expedients
already available to be used as ultimate weapons could prove
to be highly effective in deterring or defeating terrorism.
Another advantage to having these difficult decisions made
now is to preempt a possible heated public debate at the
hour  of  crisis  when  harsh  techniques,  not  rhetoric,  are
critically needed.  A protracted counter-terrorist campaign
using "classical" methods of informers, infiltrators, coersive
interrogation,   detentions,   assassinations,   and  military
operations would not necessarily be any less repulsive to
a liberal, democratic society, but, once approved, it could
be conducted on a comparatively low visibility and clandestine
basis.   The virtue of such quiet operations would be the
avoidance of sympathy-generating publicity for the terrorist
    In summary, it is essential that the United States develop
a  coherent,  well-planned  strategy  to  combat  domestic  as
well  as international terrorism.   Such a strategy must be
capable of swift implementation, follow public policy state-
ments of U.S. response to terrorist acts, allow for contingen-
cies,  spell out  limits of American patience,  and specify
the types of punitive measures which terrorists can expect.30
This  strategy  must  be  reasonable  and  acceptable  to  the
American people.  This can be done if the emphasis is shifted
from the questionable rights of the terrorist to the moral
necessity   to   observe   the   social   norms,   defend  our
institutions,  and  preserve  law and order.31  Historically,
once  war   has  been  declared,  United  States  citizens  have
been  very  supportive of extremely strong responses.       This
can be easily demonstrated by citing approval of Sherman's
"total  war"  campaign  during  the War  Between  the  States,
the activities of the Bomber Command in World War II, and
even the use of the atomic bomb to force cessation on our
terms.   Once  the  American  people  become  convinced  that
international  terrorism  has  become  a  "third  form  of
warfare,"32  having taken  its  place  alongside  conventional
and  guerrilla  warfare,  they  will  undoubtedly  accept  the
premise that the truly moral response is the one which is
most effective.
    1David C. Rapoport and Yonah Alexander, The Morality of
Terrorism (New York, 1982), p. 294.
    2Ibid., p. 85.
    3Robert H. Kupperman and Darrell M. Trent, Terrorism:
Threat, Reality, Response (Stanford, 1979), p. 76.
    4Patterns of International Terrorism 1980, National Foreign
Assessment Center, Central Intelligence Agency Publication,
June 1981, p. 17.
    5Kupperman and Trent, p. 79.
    6Walter Laquer, The Terrorist Reader (Philadelphia, 1978),
p. 272.
    7James D. Watkins, Admiral, USN, CNO, "All Hands," Shipmate
(Annapolis, 1984), p. 10.
    8William L. Waugh, Jr., International Terrorism (Salisbury,
1982) pp. 238-241.
    9Paul Wilkinson, Terrorism and the Liberal State (New
York, 1977), p. 105.
    10Ibid., p. 116.
    11J. B. Motley, U.S. Strategy to Counter Domestic Political
Terrorism (Washington, D.C., 1983), p. 99.
    12Waugh, p. 240.
    13J. Shaw et al., Ten Years of Terrorism (New York, 1979),
p. 30.
    14Kupperman and Trent, p. 313.
    15Ibid., p. 81.
    16Shaw et al., p. 30.
    17Kupperman and Trent, p. 81.
    18R. C. Clark, Technological Terrorism (Old Greenwich,
1980), p. 210.
    19L. R. Bess, Terrorism and Global Security:  The Nuclear
Threat (Boulder, 1979), p. 87.
    20Bernard Brodie, War and Politics (New York, 1973),
p.  274.
    21Henry Biener, Violence and Social Change:  A Review
of Current Literature (Chicago, 1968), p. 4.
    22Motley, pp. 100-01.
    23J. Shaw et al., p. 163.
    24Richard Harwood et al., "Terrorism," The Washington
Post, February 12, 1984, Section A., p. 16.
    25Clark, p. 198.
    26Paul Wilkinson, British Perspectives on Terrorism (Boston
1981), p. 161.
    27Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace (New York, 1978),
p. 199.
    28Harwood, p. 16.
    29Bess, p. 86.
    30Motley, p. 98.
    31Dr. John Burton, Deviance, Terrorism and War (New York,
1979), p. 83.
    32Maj Robert L. Wolf, "Anticipating Trouble," Marine Corps
Gazette, February 1984, p. 18.
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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias