Mike Baker: Terrorists and Morality

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Published February 19, 2008

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Just the other night, while having our usual Wednesday happy hour at the office with the handful of PWB staffers either still gainfully employed or not currently incarcerated, one of the interns asked if I thought it was morally okay to be happy that the senior Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mughniyeh had just been blown up in a car bomb in Damascus, Syria.

Huh? Or better yet, mmmm.

As I poured myself a tasty measure of bourbon (from a bottle bought just that day to celebrate Mughniyeh’s explosion) I stared at the intern with my best, most sincere look of concern. This was certainly a moral quandary.

A young, idealistic intern, just at the beginning of life’s journey — all full of beans and optimism. As I silently pondered how the folks at Bakers make their bourbon so yummy, I also took a minute to consider how best to answer the intern’s stupid question. The pause clearly made me look wise. Wise and sensitive to her concern.

I sat down, snagged a couple of cashews, which I think go really well with bourbon, and stared hard at the intern.

The fact that just that morning I had declared it “Mughniyeh Finally Got What He Deserved By Being Blown Straight To Hell Day" at the office, with a banner, refreshments and everything, clearly had made her think I was insensitive to his death.

The rest of the staff sat quietly waiting for an answer. “Did I think it was morally okay to be happy that Mughniyeh got all blowed up?"

Time for an answer.

I milked the whole silence thing for all it was worth and now an answer was in order. I carefully set my glass down on the desk, not wanting to spill a drop as I climbed up on the official PWB soapbox that we keep in the office for occasions just like this.

I said that every human life starts out as precious; something to be treasured, valued and treated with dignity and respect.

But then some of those lives veer off track, becoming murderers, pedophiles or in Mughniyeh’s case, a butchering terrorist with the blood of several hundred innocent people on his hands. At the point where these individuals choose to carry out heinous acts, they opt out of civilization and all those lofty, righteous ideals regarding the treatment of human life.

That’s the point where I no longer feel a moral obligation to worry about how they are treated. If you choose to become a terrorist, I choose to view you as less than human. We’ve all got free will. Ain’t life grand?

Now, of course, there are loads of people who bang on about the values of our country, and how treating even one terrorist improperly eats away at our principles and makes us less American.

Whether celebrating the termination of a bloodthirsty killer or using an aggressive technique in very limited circumstances to gather information from the high value detainee who doesn’t respond to kindness, the theory goes that we are debasing ourselves, chipping away at our humanity, causing the rest of the world to hate us or contributing to the destruction of our planet.

Something like that.

Well, take a deep breath, count to three, and in a clear, strong voice say, "What a load of crap."

According to that argument, if we stray from our ideals, we sink to the level of the terrorists.

I receive a fair amount of email from readers on the left side of the spectrum (and believe me, I value the fact that they take the time to read and respond to the PWB) who are keen to point out that it doesn’t matter what the terrorists do or how abhorrent their behavior may be, we must be true to our principles lest we become just like the terrorists.

Really?

Because honestly, I don’t have any problem differentiating myself from the terrorists. While I applaud the theoretical concept of "treat the terrorist as you yourself would want to be treated," I am always surprised by the realization that some people can’t separate theory from real life.

Down here on planet Earth, it’s okay to want to kill terrorists and still maintain your humanity. In fact my theory, known as the Baker Principle, states that the fewer terrorists you have makes it easier to maintain your humanity.

Scientific research has actually shown that as the numbers of terrorists decrease, your chances of getting blown up, beheaded or otherwise targeted and killed likewise decreases. In some academic circles this is referred to as a direct corollary. As opposed to a coronary which is something entirely different.

A coronary is something I may have if, as a nation, we become any more apologetic for the way we deal with terrorists.

Good God.

The Democrats in Congress couldn’t see their way clear to approving the Senate amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a thirty plus year old piece of work that was enacted back when we were using rotary telephones to ask Sarah to connect us to Barney over at the Mayberry sheriff’s office.

I’m no specialist on the subject, but I’m pretty sure that the thing about technology is that it changes over the years. Unfortunately, the terrorists have proven to be early enablers of technology, using the internet and telecoms advances to their benefit.

Certainly we have also benefited, but frankly the good guys spend a great deal of time trying to stay even, much less one step ahead, of the enemy. Amendments to FISA, as well as the now expired Protect America Act, contain elements designed to account for the changes in technology.

Another element of FISA that has Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and other like minded politicians up in arms is the effort to provide immunity from prosecution and dumb-ass law suits for the private telecommunications companies that assist the government in its efforts to identify, monitor and collect information on terrorist suspect communications.

Here’s the honest to Gods truth — the government (whichever administration is in place) needs the cooperation of the private sector in order to properly protect national security. Whether we’re talking about cooperation in research and technology or assistance from telecoms with communications intercepts, the private sector is a critical part of homeland defense.

Exactly how many telecoms companies will willingly assist the U.S. government if they think they’ll be subjected to prosecution or enormously expensive law suits from tools who think the government is out to listen to the average citizen? I’m willing to go out on a limb and suggest that the answer is none.

So, let’s screw the national security effort. The main thing is that we’ve protected the civil liberties of terrorists and the citizens of our country who believe that we’ve overblown the whole war on terrorism thing.

As a politician, I suppose it’s much more important to pander to the progressive side of your party than it is to do something constructive, logical and important.

It’s all part of the same malaise that comes from a false sense of security, and a bizarre self loathing on the part of some who think the U.S. and the Bush administration are the root causes of terrorism.

Imagine the disappointment on the faces of all those excited voters currently getting drunk on the rhetoric from Senator Obama and Senator Clinton about change, a new direction, hope and restoring our image when, in early 2009, we all wake up to find that the world is the same, the fraternal order of terrorists still want to kill us and Hugo Chavez still hates us.

Oh well.

They may not be much for fighting terrorists, but at least under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi our fearless politicians stood up to the evil Bush administration and made sure that pesky FISA and Protect America Act won’t trample on any of our rights.

Perhaps now the Speaker of the House can turn her attention to foreign policy issues again. How about another trip to Syria? Wait, wasn’t that where Imad Mughniyeh was killed, in an upscale Damascus neighborhood after attending a local function? You don’t suppose Syrian President Bashar Assad knew Mughniyeh was living in Damascus do you?

I suppose it’s possible he didn’t know Mughniyeh was responsible for the death of 241 U.S. marines and over 60 U.S. Embassy personnel in Beirut back in the 1980s.

There is a chance no one told the President that Mughniyeh planned the bombings of the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish Center in Buenos Aries back in the 1990s that killed over 100 civilians.

It’s conceivable that his staff forgot to mention to the President that Mughniyeh oversaw the kidnapping and killing of Beirut Station Chief William Buckley among other kidnappings, managed the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia and directed the team that hijacked the TWA flight during which young US Navy diver Robert Stethem was killed and dumped on the Beirut airport tarmac.

Never mind.

Listen, Ms. Pelosi, if you do travel back to Damascus for another chat with Bashar, please let him know how happy I was to see that Mughniyeh got what he deserved. If he asks, let him know I’m pretty sure my morality is still intact and I’m happy to report I can still differentiate myself from the terrorists.

Just my opinion. As always, we love to hear your thoughts and comments, regardless of your morality or place on the political spectrum. Till next week, stay safe.

Let me know your thoughts on the subject. Send your comments to peoplesweeklybrief@hotmail.com .

Till next week, stay safe.

Respond to the Writer.

Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks" as well as major motion pictures. In addition, Baker is a writer for a BBC drama to begin production in July 2007.

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