April 28, 2004

Professors Discuss the Definition and Law of War

Print More

A trio of professors spoke yesterday afternoon at a panel presentation entitled, “Redefining War and Security,” which dealt with the rights of prisoners held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay and the direction of U.S. foreign policy. Prof. David Wippman, law, Prof. Matt Evangelista, director of the Cornell Peace Studies Program, and Peter Katzenstein, the W.S. Carpenter Jr. Professor of International Studies all concurred that U.S. policy regarding the Guantanamo detainees and the war on terror was flawed.

The sparsely attended presentation, part of a three-day symposium entitled, “Liberty and Justice for All,” was held in Kaufman Auditorium in Goldwin Smith Hall.

“The Bush administration is trying to redefine what war means,” said Wippman.

“In the U.S. view, this is a new kind of war against a new kind of enemy and it requires changes in the law of war,” he added. In his speech, entitled “The Law of War and the War on Terrorism,” Wippman challenged the contention of the Bush administration that the United States was involved in a war.

“If we accept the claim that the United States is at war we are conceding a great deal … Traditional wars have a finite duration,” Wippman said, adding that the war on terror lacked an accepted endpoint.

Wippman also contended that in many ways, it was inappropriate to view events in a military context.

“We are sometimes in an armed conflict … and sometimes not,” he said. The fighting in Afghanistan was an example of armed conflict, while arresting people in Chicago on the suspicion of terrorism, he said, alluding to the case of Jose Padilla, an American citizen held in a military brig as an ‘enemy combatant’ by the Bush administration, should be treated as a legal matter.

Evangelista’s speech addressed what he said was a persistent double standard in the way the United States defined terrorism. “Terrorism is what our enemies do, not what our friends do,” he said, characterizing the American view as hypocritical.

The definition of terrorism was politically motivated, Evangelista contended, adding that he believed the U.S. tended to label Muslim insurgents as terrorists while resisting calling non-Muslim groups by the same name.

“There are real, practical implications to using [the word] terrorism in such a loose way,” he said.

Evangelista advocated a different definition of terrorism which would be broad enough to include some government actions instead of only attacks by independent, non-state groups. He also stressed that the selection of targets was very important when defining terrorism. Even suicide bombers, he said, should not necessarily be considered terrorists if they attacked military targets.

In a brief speech, Katzenstein questioned the position of the Bush administration that the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 had fundamentally changed the world situation.

“What we [Americans] after 9/11 see as a radical transformation … in other parts of the world they see as more of the same thing,” he said, adding that terrorism had existed in other countries long before Sept. 11.

Katzenstein also argued that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq had damaged America’s legitimacy in the eyes of world opinion. The Iraq war, he said, “is increasing our insecurity,” by breeding more terrorism.

Brian Eden, a staff member at the Cornell Law School who worked on the steering committee for the symposium, said that the three professors were selected because they all had “particular expertise,” in the topics they addressed.

A question-and-answer period followed the speeches, in which several audience members asked questions — all of which were sympathetic to the arguments the professors made.

“I’m pretty struck by how blatant the criminal acts of this administration are,” said Fay Gougakis, a community activist who asked how the American public would respond to another terrorist attack.

Responding to Gougakis’ question, Katzenstein theorized that Al-Qaida probably was anxious to ensure President Bush’s reelection in order to maintain strained relations between America and the Muslim world and keep terrorist recruitment high.

Terrorists would likely pull off an attack before the November elections if they were able, he said.

Students involved in the “Liberty and Justice for All” symposium were pleased with yesterday’s presentation. Kyle Silk-Eglit ’04, who helped organize the event, felt that all of the attention on Guantanamo was having a positive effect. Silk-Eglit said that he had overheard many student conversations around campus about the Guantanamo detentions.

Archived article by Elijah Reichlin-Melnick
Sun Staff Writer