What is a terrorist?
Let's see what a terrorist might be...see below.
Or several official definitions. Terrorist Defined
Webster's University Dictionary
Systematic use of violence, terror, and intimidation to achieve an end.
US Dept of Defense
The calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.
US State Department
International terrorism is terrorism conducted with the support of a foreign government or organization and / or directed against foreign nationals, institutions or governments.
Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.
If these are the working definitions, officially agreed upon, then many acts throughout history could be described as terrorist acts or acts of patriotism, depending upon the perspective.
Here's a great intro to terrorism and its various definitions...Also, Jonathan Barker's book, "The No-Nonsense Guide to Terrorism" is a fine, concise introduction to the topic.
Terrorism Defined at Length
So what of State terrorism? Is there a difference between war crimes and terrorism? Could the following acts fit what we describe as terrorist acts, applying official definitions equally across the spectrum of examples?
What is a Terrorist?
Published on Wednesday, May 1, 2002
What Is A Terrorist?
by Jeff Cohen
ter·ror·ist (ter'er-ist) n. 1. One who engages in acts or an act of terrorism.
2. One who leads an armed group that kills civilians as a means of political intimidation -- unless he terrorizes Haitians while on the CIA-payroll, as did 1990s death squad leader Emmanuel Constant, in which case the U.S. refuses to extradite him to Haiti, even after Sept. 11, 2001.
3. One who targets civilian airliners and ships -- unless he blows up a Cuban civilian airliner, killing 73 people, and fires at a Polish freighter, like Orlando Bosch, in which case he is coddled and paroled by the Bush Justice Department in 1990, and his extradition is blocked.
4. One who leads a group that engages in kidnapping and murder -- unless the victims are Hondurans attacked by CIA-backed death squad Battalion 316, in which case Battalion architect Gustavo Alvarez becomes a Pentagon consultant, while the then-ambassador to Honduras who downplayed the terror, John Negroponte, is appointed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations days after Sept. 11.
5. One who uses rape and murder for political purposes -- unless the victims are four U.S. church women sexually assaulted and killed in 1980 by members of El Salvador’s U.S.-backed military, in which case excuses and distortions pour forth from then-U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick (“these nuns were not just nuns; they were also political activists”) and Secretary of State Al Haig (the nuns “may have tried to run a roadblock”).
6. One who designates civilians as “soft targets” to be attacked in the cause of political transformation -- unless the targets are Nicaraguans killed by Contra guerrillas armed and directed by the U.S who, according to Human Rights Watch, “systematically engage in violent abuses…so prevalent that these may be said to be their principal means of waging war.”
7. One who facilitates a massacre of civilians -- unless the victims are 900 Palestinians shot and hacked to death in the Sabra and Shatila camps by Lebanese Christian militia as Israeli soldiers stood guard, in which case Israel’s then-Defense Minster (now Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon remains a U.S. “War on Terrorism” ally after being censured as indirectly responsible for the massacre by an Israeli commission of inquiry.
Jeff Cohen is a founder of FAIR, a media critic, and author.
What of U.S. backed coup attempts and the subsequent overthrow of several democratically elected governments over the course of the 20th century, like Iran in 1953 or Guatamala in 1954? Centrist Stephen Kinzer explains in his recent work "Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq." Overviews and interviews below.
So while we in the U.S. incessantly talk about a so-called War on Terror (and many from military brass to legal scholars decry the term as meaningless), what do we mean exactly when we use such terms and phrases to justify our behavior in the global community? What happens if we apply such terms to our own actions, historically and in the present? We should give that a try and see where it leads.