Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Newburgh Four: labelling and terrorism in the U.S.A.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Seal (c) United States Department of Justice

I write this in the knowledge of an attack that has just taken place in Belgium. Regardless of whether it be termed a terrorist incident, or for the reasons behind it, this post is even more relevant for it. My sympathies go to those affected by the attack.

In yesterday's Guardian, Paul Harris reported on the Newburgh Four who were convicted of a terrorist plot in June. According to the report, the four men had been entrapped by an FBI informant who had offered the men life-changing amounts of money in return for carrying out the attack. Quite apart from the rather shady way that the FBI went about their “investigation”, there was little supporting evidence that these men would ordinarily have carried out the attacks, had the FBI not acted as a catalyst for it. Judge Colleen McMahon is reported as saying:
"Only the government could have made a terrorist out of Mr Cromitie, a man whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in its scope," she said in court. She added: "I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it and brought it to fruition."
In criminological thought, entrapment, or to use a more law enforcement friendly version of this term, stings that target problem people and problem places are associated with ideas of repeat victimisation and the prevention of future crimes. Targeting problem people and problem places relies on knowing who these people are and where they congregate. In this case, the sting involved targeting prospective “terrorists” who congregate in mosques. It might be a fair assumption to make that this type of sting is an obvious means of deterring future “terrorist” attacks, based on what we read, see and hear in the mainstream media. However, to understand “terrorism”, we need to rewind.

The devastating and tragic events of 9/11 broadcast the idea that “terrorists” and “terrorism” are largely associated with extremists, notably Islamic extremists. Further attacks have taken place in Indonesia, Spain and the UK. Every now and again, we are warned of impending “terrorist” attacks. Hence, three distinct words, Islam, extremism and terrorism, seem to be harnessed together to the extent that even a prospective President of the U.S.A. can't help but label Palestinians as terrorists.

Mandela on Israeli Apartheid (c) Carlos Latuff
Consider the term “convicted terrorist.” What do they look like? Coming from the UK, I am immediately minded of the once convicted, since proven innocent, Irish “terrorists” including the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four. In terms of the U.S.A., I think of John Walker Lindh, Richard Reid and Timothy McVeigh. Regardless of whether justice was enacted correctly, all were tried in a court of law.

In fact, McVeigh is called an “American Terrorist” in the biography of his life. Why the need to label him differently? What purpose does it serve? Surely, it matters not whether he is American, and ethnically white, yet it seems that the authors felt the need to qualify McVeigh to their audience; he is not any “terrorist”, he is different. Different to “others.”

The U.S. government chose to kill Osama Bin Laden rather than try him. It has failed to try any of those it holds responsible for the “terrorism” committed on 9/11, choosing instead to detain inmates at Guantanamo Bay indefinitely, awaiting affirmation of their label. It is difficult to see how we have come to one particular view of “terrorists” and “terrorism”, when those that have been convicted of “terrorist” attacks represent such diverse ethnic, cultural and economic backgrounds.

As stated above, entrapment/sting operations are associated with repeat victimisation and crime prevention. Considering that the vast majority of the 9/11 pilots came from Saudi Arabia, it makes little sense in terms of repeat victimisation to target Muslim communities within the U.S.A.. Meanwhile, Muslim communities in the U.S.A. continue to be labelled and perceived as “terrorists.” They have to put up with being targeted in sting operations, and then losing family to long term prison sentences for dubiously constructed “crimes”.

By taking a hardline stance against these communities, based on little fact, the government threatens to create further division within the U.S.A. over its tactics. In turn, it may create extremist sympathisers within these communities that see the U.S.A. as Islamphobic. Far from preventing crime and “terrorism”, the U.S.A. might be fuelling internal “terrorist” acts of the future, thereby ensuring that the dominant idea of who “terrorists” are comes true.

No comments:

Post a Comment