Over the week-end, sometime GOP vice-presidential candidate and perennial commentator Sarah Palin proclaimed that in her world, “they would know, waterboarding is how we baptise terrorists”.
I hope I’m not alone in being shocked that a public figure who is taken seriously by many people in our country (something shocking in and of itself given Palin’s fulsome embrace of the “know-nothing” attitude that is crippling our country and our communities) could say such a thing.
The OED provides a workmanlike definition of ‘terrorism’: “the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims; such practices used by a government or ruling group in order to maintain its control over a population; such practices used by a clandestine or expatriate organization as a means of furthering its aims”.
What Palin was doing when she suggested that people should be tortured in violation of U.S. and international law, was advocating for terrorism. For years U.S. agencies openly met terror with terror, kidnapping, torturing, murdering, disappearing, and rendering people who it believed to be threats without following legal procedures to ensure that they had the right person or had a case which did not violate the law.
Today, such things continue to occur, whether in the form of CIA black-sites, the prison at Guantanamo Bay, or drone strikes. In some cases, the government will not admit to its behaviour, while in others it works had to preserve a fictive veneer of legality. At other times it works to suppress the disclosure of such methods, as when the CIA is permitted to redact information from a report which details the crimes and brutality of the agency, an action tantamount to allowing a murder to sort through and dispose of evidence before a trial.
To me, these things are terrorism. They are terrorism because they are unofficial and unauthorised, and usually illegal. They are instances of grotesque violence and intimidation. And they are used by clandestine groups like the CIA which too often operate outside of the law with impunity.
So I am shocked by Palin’s open advocacy of things that are not only illegal, but also sickening to contemplate and which have a corrosive effect on the health of our society and our democracy and the rule of law which we think governs our interactions with our fellow U.S. and global citizens.
I am sickened by demented advocates of violence everywhere, whether that is Al Qaeda who killed thousands in their attack on the U.S. in 2001; the neoconservatives who killed hundreds of thousands in their illegal war of aggression against Iraq; or small-minded, nasty people like Palin who casually advocate methods of terror as though they are somehow in keeping with the values of decent people.