Understanding Terrorism in America: From the Klan to Al Qaeda

By Christopher Hewitt | Go to book overview
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6

Dealing with terrorists

In the United States, until recently, terrorism was regarded as a criminal matter, to be handled by the police, the FBI, and other law enforcement agencies. When caught, terrorists were tried in regular criminal courts, and there was no special crime of “terrorism.” This chapter first examines how terrorists are killed or captured by police, then at how captured terrorists are treated by the criminal justice system. Law enforcement agencies have, on occasion, behaved in illegal, unconstitutional, and immoral ways, so this aspect of anti-terrorist policy will also be discussed. Finally, the effectiveness of anti-terrorist policies in stopping or reducing terrorism will be examined.


Killing terrorists

Police kill as well as capture terrorists, and the use of deadly force by police is not uncommon. Table 6.1 shows the number of terrorists and extremists, broken down by ideological type, who were killed by law enforcement personnel. The agencies responsible for such killings were city police (forty-six), the FBI (seven), sheriffs’ departments (three), and state troopers (two). The table also shows the number of police killed by each group of terrorists, and it is interesting to note that the latter is similar to (and usually slightly higher than) the number of terrorists killed by the police. This parity between the two kinds of fatalities suggests that the police response was generally proportional to the danger they faced. Most of those shot by police were killed when police returned fire, or were apprehending suspects, or when individuals were behaving in a threatening manner.

There were, however, a few occasions in which it appears that police ambushed or assassinated political extremists. (The number of these suspicious fatalities is shown in parentheses.) The only member of the

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