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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 28, 2012

Freedom, Religion, and Gender

David K. Chan
Pages 101-114

The Ethics of War and Law Enforcement in Defending Against Terrorism

There are two contrasting paradigms for dealing with terrorists: war and law enforcement. In this paper, I first discuss how the just war theory assesses the military response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. I argue that the ethical problems with the U.S. attack on Afghanistan in response to 9/11 concern principles of jus ad bellum besides just cause. I show that the principles of right intention, last resort, proportionality and likelihood of success were violated. Furthermore, both jus in bello principles of proportionality and discrimination were not satisfied in targeting terrorists in places where civilians not linked to them live. The law enforcement that takes place in liberal democracies is fully respectful and protective of innocent lives. Crime is dealt with by apprehending lawbreakers and putting them on trial if possible, and by keeping criminal elements on the loose away from potential victims. Good law enforcement also includes acting to remove causes of crime. I examine how this model applies to the problem of terrorism and address objections concerning the impossibility of eliminating terrorism, the slowness of success, and the possibility that there are “nut cases” who hate America no matter what.

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