House GOP wants to ban “moral equivalence” from UN definition of terrorism

The House Foreign Affairs Committee under the leadership of anti-Castro firebrand Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has introduced the legislation to impose conditions on US funding of the UN as well as direct the Executive Branch in its dealings with the UN. The full text of the proposed bill can be found here (PDF).

Here’s just one highlight (emphasis mine):

SEC. 306. TERRORISM AND THE UNITED NATIONS.
The President shall direct the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations to use the voice, vote, and influence of the United States at the United Nations to work toward adoption by the General Assembly of—
(1) a definition of terrorism that—
(A) builds upon the recommendations of the December 2004 report of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change;
(B) includes as an essential component of such definition any action that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do, or abstain from doing, any act; and
(C) does not propose a legal or moral equivalence between an action described in paragraph (1)(B) and measures taken by a government or international organization in self-defense against an action described in paragraph (1)(B); and
(2) a comprehensive convention on terrorism that includes the definition described in paragraph14 (1).

This is intriguing, because it suggests that there is no feasible way a governmental response to terrorism can be considered terrorism itself. There is no disclaimer, that I can see, that would disqualify intentional government assaults on innocent civilians from this exemption as long as they are done under the pretense of fighting terrorism. Taking to it’s logical extreme, this might not be a very smart bill for Ros-Lehtinen to endorse. Indeed, the Florida representative has a history of advocating for persons and groups accused of terrorism.

In February 1988, Orlando Bosch was arrested in Miami and implicated in the 1976 plot to blow up Cubana Flight 455, a terrorist act that killed 73 passengers. Joe D. Whitley, the associate U.S. attorney general at the time, called Bosch “a terrorist, unfettered by laws or human decency, threatening and inflicting violence without regard to the identity of his victims.” Bosch, however, had the distinct advantage of having Ros-Lehtinen make advocating for his release one of the cornerstones of her 1989 congressional campaign. Bosch had another advantage: Ros-Lehtinen’s campaign manager was Jeb Bush, President George H.W. Bush’s son. In 1990, after lobbying by Jeb Bush and Ros-Lehtinen, the Bush administration went against the Justice Department’s recommendation to deport Bosch and authorized his release. Since then, Bosch has become a permanent resident of the United States.

Ros-Lehtinen also supports the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a group [designated] by the State Department as a foreign terrorist group. Leading up to the Iraq war, in October 2002, Ros-Lehtinen circulated a letter in Congress expressing support for the MEK. She continues her support (LA Times, 23 Dec. 2009)

Upon Orlando Bosch’s death earlier this year, Roh-Lehtinen declared him to be “a freedom fighter for Cuba” (Associated Press, 27 Apr. 2011).

Ros-Lehtinen has expressed support for anti-Castro militants and the Iranian MEK, both of which have engaged in acts defined by the US as terrorism against foreign governments. The MEK is actually still listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department. Yet, here she is declaring that retaliatory acts by governments in response to terrorist activity cannot ever be equated with terrorism committed by irregular groups. If Cuba were to enlist its intelligence agents in assassinating suspected anti-Castro militants residing in the US, it is doubtful Ros-Lehtinen would stay faithful to this principle.

Aside from everything else, it should be common knowledge that the pretext of “counter-terrorism” is used by all repressive governments to demonize their opponents justify their atrocities. This includes regimes that are anti-American and/or anti-Israel. I can only conclude that the GOP-run Foreign Affairs Committee was so shortsightedly focused on legitimizing the US’ own counter-terror framing that it lost sight of the drawbacks to this outlook.

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