“You need to treat them like criminals.”

An interesting, if short, interview in the Guardian’s G2 section today with Justine Rosenthal, director of the Atlantic Monthly Foundation [some of her op-ed articles are linked there]. The interview contains a few comments on how governments should deal with what she describes as for-profit terrorists – which covers such activities as kidnapping, bank robbery and “protection” amongst others. Comments worth highlighting as the NIO continues with their chosen strategy.While the interview, and the ideas involved, are primarily focussed on the global problem of terrorism, our own home-grown variety get an important mention:

“If you ask if I’m more worried about al-Qaida than I am about for-profit terrorism, the answer is yes. But that isn’t to say that we should, or can, ignore the problem. And one of the main aspects of the for-profit terrorists is that they won’t vanish once the cause is defeated. If they have had, during the struggle, some sort of profitable spin-off business, that will carry on afterwards, even after the battle is lost or won, or everyone is just worn out with fighting.”

So is for-profit terrorism a more intractable long-term problem than Iraqi insurgency, for example?

“I would say so, without doubt. You’ve seen it yourselves with the IRA. That group is less of a problem today in terms of old-fashioned terrorism. But they are increasingly involved in criminal enterprises. It is an intractable problem. The cause dissipates, the profitability remains.”

So what, in your analysis, is the best way of dealing with it?

First of all, we should not get snookered by their rhetoric, and the pretence that they’re still bona fide terrorists with a cause. You need to treat them like criminals. That may mean, for example, not cutting peace deals with them. Or territorial deals. It means rounding them up and arresting them as you would any other criminal gangs.“[added emphasis]

It’s a strategy that appears to have been followed.. in some circumstances already, if belatedly, and not always with the arrest element fully in effect.. but perhaps someone at the NIO should put in a call to Ms Rosenthal about that other strategy.

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  • Crataegus

    Makes sense to me.

    When you buy them off you simply strengthen them and they come back to bite. Rule 1 in school bully charter; never buy off anyone weaker than yourself!

  • jim

    I’m not sure the distinction makes much sense. Isn’t criminality an integral part of guerrilla/insurgent/terrorist mobilization efforts, especially when outside sources (e.g. the US, USSR, Libya, etc.) of patronage dry up or fall short? Jon Lee Anderson’s book is pretty good on this account.

    In addition, I think it helps to view insurgent outfits in terms of process, i.e. a guerrilla armed force might become an organized crime outfit over the course of years, especially when it’s aims have been tempered by the political circumstances. Perhaps this is the point at which arrest and treatment as criminals might be most effective.

    Interesting post.

  • aquifer

    The world is awash with weapons and easy drugs money. No point in indulging one group, as there will be another along in a minute or two. The state needs to reclassify crimes by armed conspiracies. They are not random freelancers but a big business where the rewards now outweigh the risks.

    Listening to criminals compounds the abuse of their victims. The NIO have no business doing it except within a timetabled exercise to close them down.

  • Crataegus


    The NIO have no business doing it except within a timetabled exercise to close them down.

    When has that ever really worked? It didn’t work with Attila the Hun and won’t work with the UDA? The more you fund them, the stronger they become and the weaker the people who oppose them become. They take your money and return a year later looking for more.

    We are supporting the wrong people. Really bad mistake. The out workings of being compromised by collusion I suppose.

    Hopefully I am wrong.

  • McGrath

    So, what is preventing the PNSI from treating them like criminals?

  • Pete Baker


    Rosenthal’s distinction is primarily concerned with the activities in Iraq – where there are clearly distinct for-profit groups – but I think there are enough parallels locally, and responses by government, to warrant a comparison.

  • Harry

    That article is poppycock. Sheer piffle and nonsense. Talking about a country invaded by the brits where many tens of thousands have been killed – with british help – in terms of how ‘criminal’ its denizens are is obscene. Conflating criminality with terrorism is another rhetorical sleight of hand which serves to justify a military rather than a judicial response to it, with the concomitant lowering of standards of proof attendant on that.

    More pro-brit propaganda shite by profoundly intellectually dishonest apologists for mass murder.
    Nothing like the brits for passing themselves off as plausible in their quaint parliament with their Savile Row suits, justifying in their posh accents the humdrum murder of hundreds of civilains on a daily basis. Nothing has changed in the british psyche of late to make us believe their days of empire are behind them. On the contrary, when the yanks decided to do a bit of international land-grabbing themselves and asked around who wanted a slice of the action, the brits were first to jump in, both feet first.

  • Harry

    Pro-brit and pro-american; seems she’s a yank. My points about the savile row suited british remain though.

  • Pete Baker


    I’ll not get into a debate on this.. it really isn’t worth it.. but I’d suggest you look at what Justine Rosenthal has written about Iraq.

    Note.. btw.. that is not the topic here.

    But as for, “Conflating criminality with terrorism is another rhetorical sleight of hand which serves to justify a military rather than a judicial response to it”

    On the contrary.. what is being argued for is exactly the judicial response you claim to want.

  • Harry

    That article you linked to doesn’t speak about Iraq.

    In the G2 article she makes clear what she believes to be the difference between ‘for-profit terrorism and old fashioned banditry’: I think that the difference is the ‘sexiness’ of a rhetoric and ideology that many of these terrorists originally cared for but that has now gone. That background means that they are able to recruit better, and consistently to attract doe-eyed young people into what they think of as the ’cause’.

    Basically she’s trying to say that insurgents can be categorised as criminals according to criteria set down by her. This seems to be her main concern, even while her country’s troops & the british bomb, shoot, imprison and torture Iraqis and while americans have forced through a constitution on that country that steals the entire wealth from oil through insistence on ‘privatisation’.

    Some bloody yank wittering on in the western press for her own self-regarding reasons about subtle distinctions among the Iraqi insurgents, in an effort to suggest that many such insurgents are in fact criminal and not political (she tells us that their political philosophy is a sly cover apparently) and simultaneously suggesting that she and her government have the right to decide who is criminal or not in that country according to their own criteria, is total shite and to be believed by no-one but a fool.

  • Dualta

    Hear, hear Harry,
    On all points. Well said.

  • woof mcdog

    Feck me the Guardian really is a load of old shite these days isnt it.