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Do Past U.S. Acts Constitute Terrorism? Implications for Counterterrorism Policy

NCJ Number
International Criminal Justice Review Volume: 20 Issue: 4 Dated: December 2010 Pages: 417-435
Adam Lankford
Date Published
December 2010
19 pages
This article reviews the current definitions of terrorism, examines whether past U.S. acts constitute terrorism, and discusses the effects these actions may have on counterterrorism policy.
Internationally, there are more than 100 different definitions of terrorism, and even within the U.S. Government, there are multiple standards. This lack of consistency has helped fuel a heated debate between the West and Islamic extremists about who is truly terrorizing whom. This article evaluates charges that several past U.S. acts constitute terrorism and makes specific recommendations for how the current administration should address this problematic issue in order to increase U.S. legitimacy worldwide and help it win the war of ideas. It appears that the best approach may be for leaders to admit that the United States has engaged in terrorist-like behavior in the past, but condemn such actions as unfortunate and vow that they will not be repeated. This strategy would be similar to the President's public statements regarding past acts of U.S. torture, and would still allow for significant differences between the United States and terrorist organizations in their respect for international humanitarian law. Tables and references (Published Abstract)