Who are We Fighting? Conceptions of the Enemy in the War on Terror
12 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2011
Date Written: April 5, 2011
Right now, there is a question as to whether the terrorism suspects detained at Guantanamo - and, it follows, future terrorism detainees who qualify as alien enemy combatants - should be tried for their alleged crimes before military commissions rather than in civilian courts in the United States. Some assert that the terrorism suspects, because of what they are alleged to have done or who they are, simply do not deserve trials with all of the protections the federal criminal justice system affords defendants. This is the position that I explore in this brief essay, to try and get at what the argument means, and to sketch its implications. I contrast the implicit definition of the detainees to which the United States government has subscribed, in legislation and in policy decisions spanning successive Presidential administrations, with an alternative perspective provided by Ward Just’s remarkable post-September 11 novel, Forgetfulness. The book tells the story of an American, Thomas Railles, whose wife is killed by terrorists. It comes to pass that Thomas has the opportunity to confront precisely our question: just who is it we are fighting in this war, and are they different from ordinary criminals, either because of their goals or their capacity for evil?
Keywords: war on terror, detention, criminal justice
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