Going After the Families of Terrorists

During the presidential campaign, President Trump famously suggested going after the families of terrorists. That would be strong persuasion. The downside is that it is also a war crime. So Trump backed off on “going after the families.”

Or did he?

On his overseas trip, Trump demanded that the Palestinians stop paying the families of dead terrorists. The president is literally “going after the families” without firing a shot.

President Trump is also “going after the families” by branding ISIS as Evil Losers. You might be proud of your son for being a Jihadist, but the Evil Loser brand isn’t bringing anything good to the family name.

Let me give you a little thought experiment. Suppose our military found a terrorist bomb-maker who supplied bombs and training to terrorists but never did a terrorist act himself. Would we be within our military, legal, and ethical boundaries to kill that bomb-maker with a drone attack?

I think all of you just said yes.

In the context of a suicide bomber, the “bomb” is two parts. One part is the human being, and the other is the mechanical/chemical bomb. The bomb-maker made the mechanical/chemical part. But the family of the terrorist might have created the rest of the bomb, at least in some cases.

So here’s the thought experiment. In the specific case where a family radicalized their own kid, and also accepted payment after the suicide attack, is that really different from being a “bomb-maker”? After all, the kid is an important part of the bomb. 

In some cases, if not most, the family has no real control over the actions of an adult child radicalized on his own. If you attack that family, you are committing a war crime for sure. That would be evil. And it would be hard to determine how much the family did to radicalize the kid.

Realistically, there is no practical way to go after the “bomb-maker” families without accidentally killing some innocent people who were minding their own business. To avoid that situation, you would need some clear, objective standard for deciding which families are “bomb-makers.” One such standard might included the family accepting the money AND making a public statement supporting their terrorist kid’s actions. 

You probably don’t want to attack a family simply because they accepted free money when offered. In a poor region, people don’t say no to free money. But if the family also makes a public statement in favor of terrorism, they are literally attempting to create more (human) bombs by popularizing the concept. 

I’m not in favor of Americans committing war crimes. But I’m okay with killing bomb-makers. Apparently I can’t have both. 

You might enjoy reading my book because it has nothing to do with my blog topic today.

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