The five young Americans detained in Pakistan in early December said Monday that they had intended to go to Afghanistan to wage jihad against Western forces. But while defending their effort as justified under Islam, the young suspects also denied any links to Al Qaeda or plans to carry out terrorist attacks in Pakistan, as the Pakistani authorities have contended.
Ramy Zamzam 22, an Egyptian American who was a dental student at Howard University, addressed a court for the first time since his arrest in the city of Sargodha,
We are not terrorists. We are jihadists, and jihad is not terrorism.Think about that distinction, at least for a nano-second.
The men, ages 19 to 25, denied having ties with Al Qaeda or other militant groups during the court appearance. Their lawyer, Ameer Abdullah Rokri, said,
They told the court that they did not have any plan to carry out any terrorist act inside or outside Pakistan. They said that they only intended to travel to Afghanistan to help their Muslim brothers who are in trouble, who are bleeding and who are being victimized by Western forces.Now, I can see that is a distinction with a difference. Terrorism, properly defined, consists in violence against civilians to attain a political purpose. Action against military forces constitutes warfare.
I'm sure there are laws on U.S. statutes proscribing American citizens from taking up arms against American troops. I don't know what they are, but I believe they should be enforced, should any of these five be extradited back to the States. And, of course, this case has spurred fears that Westerners are traveling to Pakistan to join militant groups.
But I don't think they should be charged with terrorism. If they were interested in terrorism, they would have directed their violence here, in the American homeland, against civilians. If it can be shown that their activity was merely to join the Taliban, as opposed to al Qaeda, then they should be charged with breaking any American criminal code which may outlaw enlisting in forces engaged in combat against the armed forces of the United States.
But Americans going abroad to fight in foreign wars does not or should not, in and of itself, constitute terrorism under American law. Americans fighting in foreign armed forces is not unheard of. The most obvious case was during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) when Americans joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
But the Pakistanis may feel completely different. Pakistan's judiciary may want to prosecute the five Americans aggressively to make a point, especially having come under criticism by the United States and India for failing to forcefully pursue the alleged Pakistani masterminds behind the November 2008 attack on Mumbai that killed 166 people. Additionally, Pakistani authorities say the five men had a map of a reservoir structure near nuclear power facilities in Punjab province, about 125 miles southwest of Islamabad.
That is a different story. Pakistani prosecutors plan to seek life sentences under the country’s anti-terrorism law.