September 16, 2001 Sunday FIVE STAR EDITION



LENGTH: 393 words


Before 1998, the United States took a law enforcement stance in response to terrorist attacks, attempting to identify perpetrators and bring them to trial in U.S. courts.

This approach changed after the August 1998 bombings on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which American officials deemed "acts of war" warranting direct military retaliation.

Such retaliation came five days after the embassy bombings, in the form of Tomahawk missile attacks against Afghanistan and Sudan. The U.S. missile strikes were designed ostensibly to eliminate Osama bin Laden's capability for violence, but his network survived the attacks.

More troubling was the fact that after the dust settled, it became apparent that as part of the retaliatory strike, American military leaders had mistakenly destroyed the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan.

Initially, U.S. officials justified the attack on the pharmaceutical plant by saying the plant was part of bin Laden's nerve gas warfare program. However, subsequent investigations cast serious doubt on the credibility of government evidence alleging such a connection.

This history is worth bearing in mind as leaders and citizens struggle to sort through the aftermath of today's tragic events.

Calls for Tomahawk-style vigilante justice swirled today even before any credible evidence had surfaced to identify those responsible for multiple hijackings and apparent suicide crashes.

While such knee-jerk escalation may manufacture quick credibility for American military and political institutions whose legitimacy has been called into question, the lesson of Al-Shifa is that terrorism requires a smarter response.

Raymond Close, former Arab affairs specialist for the CIA, points out that "terrorism's best asset, in the final analysis, is the fire in the bellies of its young men, and that fire cannot be extinguished by Tomahawk missiles."

In this moment of deep grief and anger, it is difficult to contemplate how anything other than an intense burst of retaliatory violence by the U.S. military could be an appropriate response to today's grim turn of events.

Yet history shows that hasty efforts to counter organized terrorism through conventional military means tend to backfire, feeding a climate of bloodthirsty acrimony that stimulates follow-on attacks, even by different groups.

Such a chronic cycle of violence is especially likely to be fostered if U.S. retaliation kills innocent civilians abroad.


Associate Professor of Communication

Director of Debate

University of Pittsburgh