International Terror Law; Targeting Innocent Civilians Is Wrong

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 24, 2006 | Go to article overview

International Terror Law; Targeting Innocent Civilians Is Wrong


Byline: Louis Rene Beres, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

From the standpoint of international law, there is little point to linguistic transformations of murder. Those who would identify the willful maiming and execution of noncombatants in the name of an abstract ideal are defiling legal rules. When Palestinian insurgents claim the legal right to use "any means necessary," they are flat out wrong. Even if their claims for "national self-determination" were supportable, there are always firm limits on permissible targets and levels of violence.

The limited rights of insurgency under international law do not include the use of nail-filled bombs dipped in rat poison. These rights can never supplant the rules of humanitarian international law. Nowhere is it written that there are political goals so worthy that they can allow the incineration of infants in cribs or the shooting of children at play.

Supporters of Palestinian terrorist violence against Israelis still argue that the ends justify the means. But the ends can never justify the means under conventional or customary international law. For more than 2,000 years, binding legal principles of world politics have stipulated that intentional forms of violence against the innocent are always prohibited.

Under law, one man's terrorist can never be another man's freedomfighter. Although fashionable to repeat at cocktail parties, this expression is merely an empty witticism. While it is true that certain insurgencies can be judged lawful, these permissible resorts to force must always conform to the laws of war. Even if Palestinian claims of a hostile "occupation" were reasonable, their corresponding claim of entitlement to oppose Israel "by any means necessary" would remain false.

National liberation movements that fail to meet the test of just means are never protected as lawful. Even if we were to accept the spurious argument that Hamas and its sister groups somehow meet the criteria of "national liberation," it is plain that they do not meet the standards of discrimination, proportionality and military necessity. These critical standards have been applied to insurgent organizations by the common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and by the two protocols to these conventions of 1977. They are also binding upon all combatants by virtue of broader customary and conventional international law, including Article 1 of the Preamble to the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907. …

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