Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war

Kevin Myers has an article in the Sunday Telegraph, Terrorists fought the law…and the law lost, in which he looks at whether a democracy can successfully combat terrorism through the courts.In it he points out that the neither Law nor Justice won in the courts during the troubles, merely lawyers. He argues that the failure of the legal system to protect society led to a form of ‘rough justice’ which while questionable, was successful – using events in Loughgall to illustrate his meaning.

“No single factor brought the IRA to its negotiating knees, but the most formidable was its knowledge after Loughgall that it had an enemy as resolute and dark as itself. The war on terrorism was now being led by special forces, often operating on the very margins of the law, and sometimes outside it. Henceforth, the fight would get really dirty, as all counter-insurgency campaigns inevitably must. The days of predictable, legal rules of engagement were over: now they could be highly unpredictable and deeply illegal.”

He goes on to recommend that in the fight against al quaeda lessons should be learned and applied, not just against Islamic terrorists but also Irish terrorists.

“Lesson one is that it is morally wrong for a government to be more concerned about the legal rights of its enemies than the lives of its servants. Lesson two is that heavy-handed, indiscriminate actions against civilian populations by the security forces only help terrorists. Lesson three is that those who preach civil liberties cannot disclaim moral and personal responsibility for the deeds that the terrorist beneficiaries of such liberties later perform.
Last but not least, lesson four: the result of allowing anti-terrorist policy to become the forensic plaything of the courts will be certain, abject failure – as Colonel Wilson’s quite shocking figures make clear. That so many soldiers were killed and no one was jailed is simply a massive defeat for law and a comparable victory for terrorist outlaws, who must have thought that they were fighting pedantic, dysfunctional fools. For years, they were: and al-Qa’eda’s operatives in Britain probably have the very same thought today.”