Mark your calendars, folks: I’m agreeing with Charles Krauthammer.

Not entirely, perhaps. I think that he’s dead on in terms of thinking of Moussaoui as not worth the effort of executing — a nobody, a minor player.

But insofar as he was a part of the 9/11 plot — insignificant though it may have been — I’m all in favor of letting him rot in prison for a long, long time. If he’s killed — in addition to fulfilling his own desire to become a martyr — his suffering ends too quickly. Besides, just on the off chance he does know more than he’s said (a slim possibility, but there nonetheless), if we kill him, there’s no chance we’ll ever be able to get that information.

For another point of view, you can always check out the Daily News editorial on the subject. But I’m going to throw out a warning here — the first two paragraphs that editorial are treading dangerously close to lunatic territory.

I can easily chalk it up to high-running emotions — I’m not a New Yorker, and won’t pretend to understand what it’s like to have gone through those attacks there — but at least part of their argument seems to be something along the lines of, “Just wait until he gets to Hell, and realizes that his religion was wrong, and ours was right!” The conclusion apparently being that we should just send him to his death quickly, so “God” can take care of things.

Like I said, as an emotional reaction (or cathartic metaphor), it’s perfectly understandable. (And after all, this is the Daily News we’re talking about here, not exactly a bastion of high journalism.) But that kind of thinking is exactly the kind of insanity that the hijackers used to justify their actions. Our God is right, theirs is wrong, and all will be taken care of in the afterlife, to which we must hasten our enemies.

I, for one, think we should keep our legal system — and our debates about it — firmly grounded in this world, without relying on strictly religious arguments.

There’s also been a lot of talk lately about how exactly we should define “terrorism,” with some people claiming (or at least putting forth the hypothesis) that our forefathers were, in effect, engaging in terrorism by revolting against the lawful government of their nation, without the imprimatur of a state sponsor. You can debate the morality of the Revolutionary War one way or another, but I think there’s a simpler “terrorism” definition that effectively makes the distinction (and this is hardly written in stone — just my gut reaction; even that is heavily informed by things I’ve read from other writers across the past several years).

Terrorism can be distinguished from warfare (legitimate or otherwise) in that warfare targets military or governmental objectives (or at least objectives of definite military significance), while terrorism targets explicitly nonmilitary targets for the overriding purpose of creating a climate of fear in the target population.

So bombing a military airfield is warfare. Bombing a pub or restaurant is terrorism. Shooting at enemy soldiers — whether or not you happen to be wearing a uniform — is warfare. Shooting into a crowd wating for the bus is terrorism. A so-called “terrorist” can (and often does) engage in warfare, just as the military of an established state can (and often does) engage in terrorism. It’s not a comfortable definition — we can no longer just say that we conduct wars while they engage in terrorist acts, leaving it simply at that. The specifics of the actions must always be taken into account.

And that definition becomes pretty damned uncomfortable when you apply it to the events of 9/11. I argue that they were terrorist acts on the whole — the use of civilian airliners (explicitly nonmilitary targets) makes them terrorist acts regardless. But had the attacks not been carried out with airliners, it becomes a little murkier. I’m certainly not going to say they wouldn’t have still been terrorist acts, but there can be an argument made to that effect. The Pentagon, for example, is a definitively military target. The Capitol or White House are not military targets, but are governmental targets. Would we call the bombing of one of Saddam’s nonmilitary strongholds a terrorist act? Probably not — so unless we’re going to devolve into the we versus they argument I mentioned, that’s a tougher call.

The twin towers? On the whole, I’d say yes, those would still have been terrorist acts. The targets themselves may have some “military” significance — since the so-called “enemy” of bin Laden and his cronies is not just the government of America, but its entire socioecomonic system — but on balance, the objective seems to have clearly been to target civilians for the purposes of creating a climate of fear, rather than truly causing economic disruption. Any such disruption (and I’ll grant that it did happen) was certainly outweighed by the social disruption caused by the civilian loss.

None of this is meant to end the debate, by any means. It just strikes me as a reasonable definition, and one that takes it beyond the asinine (to me, anyway) “terrorism is whatever we say it is” arena.

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