It is perhaps the ultimate irony that the Israeli “Bus 300” affair is once again popping up in the media just days after the al-Qaeda terrorist with the US passport, Anwar al-Awlaki, was liquidated by a drone in Yemen. Many of the points being raised in debate over the killing of al-Awlaki are the same as those long raised regarding the Israeli “Bus 300 Affair.” In both incidents terrorists were summarily executed by the intelligence agencies of democratic nations, without trial and “due process.” Both cases are being exploited by the enemies of those democracies to paint them as “inhumane regimes.”
In the Bus 300 Affair, intelligence agents from Israel’s Shin Bet liquidated two terrorists captured after hijacking a bus full of civilians, mainly women, and threatening to blow them up. The al-Awlaki affair is far fresher in everyone’s mind. Many on the Left, joined by Ron Paul and some fringe members of the Right, are grumbling about how al-Awlaki was liquidated “without proper due process and trial.” The eminent professor of law from Berkeley, John Yoo, probably made the best case for the killing, writing in the Wall Street Journal:
Yet, from the howls on the left, you would never know that President Barack Obama had won another victory in the war on terror. Even as details of the operation leaked out, critics claimed that our government had “assassinated” an American citizen without due process. … Worse yet, they get the rights of a nation at war terribly wrong. Awlaki’s killing in no way violates the prohibition on assassination … [A]ssassination is an act of murder for political purposes. Killing Martin Luther King Jr. or John F. Kennedy is assassination. Shooting an enemy soldier in wartime is not. In World War II, the United States did not carry out an assassination when it sent long-range fighters to shoot down an air transport carrying the Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. American citizens who join the enemy do not enjoy a roving legal force-field that immunizes them from military reprisal. President Abraham Lincoln confronted this question at the outset of the Civil War.
Almost all of the commentators and bloggers who roll their eyes in mock horror over the execution of the two terrorists in the “Bus 300” affair refuse to report what actually happened there.
On April 12, 1984, four Arab terrorists who had entered the Israeli Negev from Gaza commandeered an Israeli civilian bus filled mostly with women commuters returning home to Ashkelon from their jobs in Tel Aviv. There were pregnant women among the victims. The terrorists seized the bus and attempted to drive it towards the Egyptian border. They were armed with knives and explosives and threatened to blow up the entire bus with its passengers if stopped. They crashed through road blocks and were pursued by military jeeps. The bus eventually was stopped near Gaza City.
The incident took place just a few years after the massacre of bus passengers by terrorists in another incident along Israel’s main coastal road. Holding the Bus 300 passengers as hostages, the terrorists demanded the release of 500 jailed terrorists, threatening to murder the captives if their demands were not met.
The next morning, an Israeli SWAT team stormed Bus 300 and freed the passengers. Two of the terrorists were killed in the operation. One Israeli woman on the bus died in the crossfire and seven others were injured. The Israeli military announced that all four terrorists had died in the operation. Later it turned out that two of the four had actually been captured alive and were executed by intelligence agents on the spot. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Syria took credit for the attack, although Israel claimed that Arafat’s Fatah terror organization was responsible.
The incident turned into a “scandal” when an Israeli newspaper called Hadashot (owned by the radical leftist Haaretz publishing house; it has since closed), edited by one Yossi Klein, defied Israel’s military censor (which censors news reporting about some sensitive military matters) and published a photo of one of the captured terrorists being led away. (Originally published with faces of intelligence officers blackened out.)
In the aftermath, several Israeli intelligence officers were indicted for their roles in “covering up” the execution of the two captured terrorists. All officers would be either exonerated in court or granted presidential “pardon” before indictment. Careers were damaged more by the negative publicity than from formal judicial actions. The head of the Shin Bet at the time was forced to resign. One intelligence officer named Ehud Yatom proudly boasted of his role in eliminating the terrorists. He later served as a member of the Israeli parliament (the Knesset).
An official commission of inquiry then examined activities and procedures of the intelligence agency.
The Bus 300 affair continues to generate public debate in Israel. It returns to the headlines whenever any of the figures involved are in the news, such as when Yatom was to be appointed director of the Israeli Parks Authority. There have been films, documentaries and plays about the incident in Israel and elsewhere. The latest is a Hebrew film recently released titled “A. – Liquidate them!” and it is generating a lot of public debate.
The Israel far Left has long exploited the incident as a bludgeon against the supposed “human rights abuses” by the intelligence services. Yossi Klein, the same bloke who broke the law by running in Hadashot the photo of the captured terrorist being led away, has been exploiting the attention he is suddenly again getting and denounced the Shin Bet for engaging in things that are “immoral and illegal,” in his opinion (Haaretz, October 4, 2011). He has been backed by some of Israel’s most seditious self-hating leftist extremists.
Both the al-Awlaki killing and “Bus 300” actually serve to illustrate the underlying problem concerning the nature of terrorism. Terrorists are not soldiers, do not behave as soldiers, and when they are captured they are not protected by international treaties regarding prisoners of war. They do not wear uniforms and they explicitly target civilians for purposes of creating mass panic and demoralization. By targeting civilians, they defy all norms of human decency.
At the same time they are not civilian “criminals” and so are not entitled to the protections and niceties of the judicial system, from Miranda warnings and legal representation to due process in courts. Terrorism is neither civilian “crime” nor is it military activity by soldiers. It is something else, something unique, sui generis.
It is absurd for terrorists to be processed and treated like common criminals, and it is just as absurd for them to be treated as prisoners of war. That is why Guantanamo base, waterboarding, kidnapping terrorists to third countries, and all the rest are methods that are perfectly sensible parts of anti-terrorism policy, even if they would be prohibited when dealing with common criminals and with military prisoners of war.
To put it bluntly, terrorists should be summarily executed, unless there is some special strategic reason not to kill them (such as extracting intelligence). Try to imagine that some of the hijackers involved in the 9-11 attacks had actually been overpowered and captured by security personnel that fateful day and then the would-be hijackers had been summarily executed. Or imagine that Osama bin Laden had first been captured alive and only then executed by American security forces, after intelligence was extracted from him. Captured terrorists serve as open invitations to other terrorists to engage in more terrorism in order to gain their release. John Wilkes Booth was not read his rights nor provided with legal counsel.
Summary execution of terrorists makes a moral point, that by their actions terrorists have forfeited any expectation of “due process” in court and of ordinary protection due to military prisoners of war. Just as we honor and proclaim publicly the merit of our heroes and role models, so it makes perfect sense for us to exhibit our disgust and revulsion with terrorists by liquidating them.
While executing terrorists theoretically risks situations where innocent people could be killed in error, should proof ever emerge of such a case occurring, those involved in the error or crime can be indicted. But the burden of proof that an innocent person was so killed in an anti-terrorism operation would be upon the prosecution.
The Shin Bet agents who summarily executed the two Bus 300 terrorists, captured while threatening to blow up a bus full of civilians, behaved properly. The terrorists involved indeed deserved to be summarily executed. The agents should have been proclaimed heroes, promoted and awarded medals.
Those who express “anguish” and “horror” at such extra-judicial executions are people who prefer that terrorism thrive and flourish. Execution of terrorists makes them feel squeamish and uncomfortable. Their comfort is more important to them than preventing more 9-11s and more mass murders of civilians by terrorists in the Middle East.