by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
September 13, 2001
CHOOSING A JUST PUNISHMENT FOR A TERRIBLE CRIME
LOS ANGELES -- No one can feel sanguine about the reprisals that are in the works against terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center towers and scarred the Pentagon.
Unless the ruling Taliban sect of Afghanistan makes a deliberate decision to turn Osama bin Laden over to the United States for trial, we are virtually certain to go to war with the Taliban themselves - which is to say, the Afghanistan government - despite assertions of innocence from both.
The evidence is mounting fast that bin-Laden was responsible, but even that is a far cry from knowing where he is and exactly what to do about the country that has offered him a safe harbor. It was President George W. Bush's point, after all, that we would make no distinction between those who harbored him and those more directly responsible.
When President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, too, we made no distinction in hanging those who had sheltered John Wilkes Booth and the assassin himself. That eventually required an apology by the United States government to an innocent family whose doctor-father was compassionate enough to treat the fleeing Booth, and who was perhaps innocent of any knowledge of his crime. It is not difficult to believe that Bin Laden failed to tip off his hosts before he destroyed the World Trade Center.
The world would not miss the Taliban regime, of course, but the history of terror tells us that an eye for an eye is flawed policy; it uses violence, and it begets violence, and in the end too many innocents die. But what are our choices, if any?
There is no economic sanction that could suffice to heal us. It would be immensely destabilizing to install a puppet regime in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, even if we could do that - Russia's finest, you'll recall, could not. The only other sanction that we can imagine that might suffice is to require the Palestinians to leave the entire land of Israel forever.
That is a terrible punishment, especially since so far as we know Palestinians are innocent of the crime committed upon us, while they are the ultimate cause of it.
But the Palestinian celebration of that crime, and the reality of the post-WTC world, and the long-range dynamics of the Middle East, suggest this is a course of enough consequence to heal our wound, to make a terrorist war more difficult for the Palestinians to pursue or others to win on their behalf, and one that would leave the authors of Tuesday's acts of terror and war with more bile in their throat than breathing will permit. It is a just punishment that fits the crime.
There is a course we might take, but probably will not. That would be to address the failings of a Middle East foreign policy that treats two very similar peoples much differently by now treating them the same. In turn, vast changes would have to come about in the Middle East that would ultimately please the terrorists, but probably please most of the world as well. That is the harder course.
We don't expect anyone to take it, but there it is - a way to peace.