Many media voices are enlisting in the push toward war. CBS anchor Dan
Rather seemed more soldier than reporter on Monday’s Letterman show when
he endorsed the war drive and added: “George Bush is the President….
Wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.”
It’s worth remembering that a similar push followed the last dreadful
act of terrorism against America on our soil, Oklahoma City. Many in the
mass media immediately began goading us toward retaliation against a
presumed Arab, Islamic enemy. Columnist Mike Royko called for the
overseas bombing of civilian infrastructures: “If it happens to be the
wrong country, well, too bad.”
The bellicose rhetoric came to a stunning halt as soon as it was learned
that the anti-American terrorists were not from the Mideast. In fact,
one was from the Midwest -- Michigan. The leader was Timothy McVeigh,
who went to his death believing himself to be at war against the U.S.
Perhaps the lesson to be learned from Oklahoma City is that our country
did not take the bait. The U.S. did not declare war on McVeigh and his
network of extremist fellow-travelers. The Bill of Rights and civil
liberties were not trampled on the path to increased security.
Instead, McVeigh and his accomplices were dealt with as a democracy
deals with mass murderers. They were apprehended, prosecuted and
punished after being given trials, lawyers, the right to confront
witnesses and challenge evidence. The armed fanatics who sympathized
with McVeigh were not all hunted down and destroyed, but they’ve
certainly been quieted. Many of us abhor the death penalty that was
given to McVeigh, but the rule of law prevailed.
The terrorists behind the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon
are more numerous, perhaps more dangerous and better protected than
McVeigh and friends. Still, it’s appalling how little mainstream media
have discussed relying on the rule of law -- international law -- to
pursue the foreign terrorists.
Few news reports have pointed out that there is one body under
international law that can authorize military action: the United Nations
Security Council. If the U.S. has strong evidence against Osama bin
Laden and associates, and Afghanistan continues to refuse extradition to
the U.S., the two countries could negotiate surrender of the suspects
to a neutral country for trial (as happened with Libyan agents tried for
the Lockerbie explosion). If that approach fails, the U.S. could present
its case to the Security Council, which could authorize the equivalent
of an international arrest warrant.
That the United States of America should uphold and adhere to
international law is seen as preposterous, un-American and weak. In a
piece titled, “To War, Not to Court,” Washington Post columnist Charles
Krauthammer wrote: “Secretary of State Colin Powell’s first reaction to
the day of infamy was to pledge to ‘bring those responsible to justice.’
This is exactly wrong.”
Fox News Channel offered a rare interview with an actual expert in
international law, Francis Boyle of University of Illinois, who offered
a step-by-step legal process for pursuing the terrorists -- which
provoked an indignant Bill O’Reilly to decry “empowering the U.N.” Days
later on his show, one of the most watched on cable news, O’Reilly
advocated bombing and destroying the civilian infrastructures of
Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by attacks on Libya.
Listening to the Krauthammers and O’Reillys and leaping into unilateral
action does more than undermine the rule of law. It isolates the U.S.
instead of isolating the terrorists. Much of the world will see an
excessive or misdirected U.S. military action as a tragic rerun of
adventures that have callously injured innocent civilians from Panama to
Iraq to Sudan.
And a new misstep will breed ever more anti-American terrorists.
Jeff Cohen is the founder of FAIR, a national media watch group based in
Manhattan, and a media critic on the Fox News Channel.