International terrorism still presents a significant problem that has an impact on people in both developed and developing countries. The measures aimed at reducing the spread of international terrorism should align with international laws. Thus, the legal authority of military commissions is an important question to be discussed.
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In reference to the prosecution of international terrorism, there is a difference between lawful and unlawful enemy combatants. The former can be defined as the members of the regular armed forces of different countries in conflict with the United States. Importantly, it is easy to distinguish lawful enemy combatants from civilians due to the presence of clear symbols on their uniforms. Unlike them, unlawful enemy combatants present individuals who act as members of proscribed armed groups or provide people related to such groups with support and various resources. Individuals who have the status of illegal enemy combatants are by definition deprived of the right to participate in armed conflicts and use weapons to fulfill their goals.
Lawful combatants who kill their enemies do not violate the law of war. However, it often happens that the same actions performed by unlawful enemy combatants to protect their resources are defined as terrorist attacks (Bracknell, 2017).
Civilian prosecution of those committing terrorist attacks and supporters of terrorism also presents an important question. According to the law, international terrorism involves various acts that pose a threat to people’s lives and are aimed at spreading panic and intimidating peaceful populations (“18 U.S. Code § 2331 – Definitions,” n.d.). More than that, individuals who commit or organize terrorist attacks often act to achieve certain political purposes and have a specific reaction to the government’s insights. Nowadays, many individuals who are accused of committing terrorist attacks or supporting terrorism are tried in civilian courts instead of military tribunals.
Different types of punishments are usually applied to alleged terrorists and individuals who share their political views or even try to provide them with financial resources. Those who take an active part in organizing and committing terroristic acts usually remain in places of detention for the rest of their lives or, in some states, are sentenced to death. In reference to those supporting terrorism, there are specific types of support that are identified in the Patriot Act (Awadi & Sharma, 2015).
Among other things, they include recruitment for terrorist groups, providing financial resources, and, sometimes, informational support. The measure of punishment in civil courts is chosen based on the degree of support; common cases include the distribution of banned printed materials and making assassination plans. Many issues may arise when it comes to the presentation of classified information in civil court. Classified information often presents important evidence, but the decision to disclose it must be preceded by a thorough investigation showing that it would have a significant impact on case outcomes (Dobrzeniecki, 2015). Thus, in certain cases, such information can be included in trial transcripts.
Using military commissions instead of civilian courts to prosecute terrorists and their supporters is associated with certain legal advantages. To begin with, it is necessary to state that the military rules of evidence are less strict than the rules used in federal courts. It can be an important advantage considering that individuals in terrorist networks constantly improve their encryption techniques to make the process of evidence collection more complicated. In addition to that, the use of classified information in civilian courts is associated with numerous difficulties and limitations, and it also supports the necessity to establish military commissions. As is clear from these differences, information security in the government presents an important concern when it comes to counterterrorism efforts.
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18 U.S. Code § 2331 – Definitions. (n.d.). Web.
Awadi, A., & Sharma, M. (2015). The sociological and psychological effects of public policies on specific communities in the United States: A case study on the U.S. Patriot Act and Arizona SB 1070. Middle East Review of Public Administration, 1(1), 1-7.
Bracknell, B. (2017). Terrorism at home and unlawful enemy combatants. War on the Rocks. Web.
Dobrzeniecki, K. (2015). Disclosure of sensitive national security information during civil litigation in Poland and in the United States. Comparative Law Review, 19, 77-97.