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Discussing terrorism in light of the September 11 atrocities is daunting. It requires one to wonder how to maintain an equilibrium in the face of a menace that wishes its own death as long as it flows from the slaughter of ‘the enemy.‘ How is it possible to combat this menace without falling into a trap of hatred or blind fear that leads to the use of terror to fight terrorism? The overarching issues relating to September 11, terrorism, and counter-terrorism include: whether oppression can provide any justification for that atrocity; similarly, whether that attack calls for or allows self-defense under international law, and, if so, what constitutes a legal response in self-defense. I will elucidate and compare the crimes of terrorism, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the parameters of self-defense.

It is important to define terrorism, a term that is overused today. It is applied over-inclusively to contain almost all acts of violence committed for political purposes by clandestine groups. It is also often used under-inclusively to exclude state terrorism. Some commentators see terrorism as the lower end of the warfare spectrum, a form of low-intensity, unconventional aggression. Walter Laquer defines terrorism as:

The use or threat of violence, a method of combat or a strategy to achieve certain goals, that its aim is to induce a state of fear in the victim, that it is ruthless and does not conform to humanitarian norms and that publicity is an essential factor in terrorist strategy.

This definition is deficient from a legal point of view. It is both over-inclusive and under-inclusive. Its descriptive accuracy is not apt, since we now see terrorists whose purpose is to destroy and only to destroy. This article will address these points.

Publication Citation

57 U. Miami L. Rev. 1041 (2003).