Remember me telling you in January that I felt better about a Bush presidency knowing you would be vice president, because you seemed to have the confidence of the Arab world. With the outburst of terrorism, we need that resource more than ever. Please read the memo I wrote to Jesse Helms, “The Mind of a Terrorist,” in 1998, which keyed off the statement made by the terrorist who bombed the World Trade Center in 1997, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef.
Before he was sentenced, he told the court why he did what he did, and I wrote to Senator Helms that unless we understood his motivations and adjusted our behavior to take it into account, “the mind of that terrorist will succeed in taking the Twin Towers down completely.” I hope you take my comments seriously, as Helms did not, and represent them as our government struggles with this enormous problem and how we should deal with it.
January 13, 1998
Memo To: Senator Jesse Helms, Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The bombing at the World Trade Center
Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the man who planned the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center, was sentenced to life imprisonment last week in federal District Court in Manhattan. A fragment of his statement to the court was published in The New York Times on January 9, Page B4. I doubt that a handful of Americans read it, but it occurs to me that you should read it carefully, given the enormous burden you have in helping shape U.S. foreign policy. It may help you understand the mind of a terrorist, which is the kind of thinking that poses the greatest threat to the security of American citizens now that the threat of communism has been dissolved. I’m afraid Judge Kevin Thomas Duffy, in response to Yousef, failed to grasp the political essence of the defendant’s remarks and incorrectly drew the conclusion that Yousef has developed a taste for death in the Afghanistan war. In reading Yousef’s statement, senator, put aside your anger for what he did, and listen to his message, if only to learn the mind of a terrorist in order to develop defenses against it:
You keep talking also about collective punishment and killing innocent people to force governments to change their policies – you call this terrorism when someone would kill innocent people or civilians in order to force the government to change its policies. Well, you were the first one who invented this terrorism.
You were the first one who killed innocent people, and you are the first one who introduced this type of terrorism to the history of mankind when you dropped an atomic bomb which killed tens of thousands of women and children in Japan and when you killed over a hundred thousand people, most of them civilians, in Tokyo with fire bombings. You killed them by burning them to death. And you killed civilians in Vietnam with chemicals – as with the so-called Orange agent. You killed civilians and innocent people, not soldiers, innocent people every single war you went. You went to wars more than any other country in this century, and then you have the nerve to talk about killing innocent people.
And now you have invented new ways to kill innocent people. You have a so-called economic embargo which kills nobody other than children and elderly people, and which other than Iraq, you have been placing the economic embargo on Cuba and other countries for over 35 years.
The government in its summations and opening said that I was a terrorist. Yes, I am a terrorist and I am proud of it. And I support terrorism so long as it was against the United States Government and against Israel, because you are more than terrorists; you are the one who invented terrorism and using it every day. You are butchers, liars and hypocrites.
In fact, senator, everything Yousef says here has some truth to it. Of course, I still believe his life sentence is justified and I would not have any problem with a death penalty. Still, I believe his motivation in his terrorist act is exactly as he says it was, that it was a political act which he justified in his own mind on the grounds that something had to be done and no government was willing to act on the cause in which he believes.
In the Oklahoma City bombing, Timothy McVeigh also justified his terrorist act as that of an avenging angel, choosing a federal building as his target, not the innocents who happened to be there at the time. Terrorism is a political act. It is a criminal political act, but it is important that those in a position to defend us against it understand its origins. My honest belief, senator, is that our government has been derelict in studying the causes of terrorism, even in the most elementary way, and concentrates entirely on how to defend against it. It is a miracle that so little damage was done in the World Trade Center bombing. There is no reason to disbelieve that if there is a next time, the mind of that terrorist will succeed in taking the twin towers down completely.
I could be writing this communiqu? to a great many people, but I chose you because you are primarily a communicator. You were picked out of your community to run for the Senate in the first place because your radio talk show demonstrated a profound willingness to communicate in a civilized manner. You tell the truth as you see it and you listen respectfully to those who communicate to you in similar fashion, even when there is not the slightest chance that they will change your mind. This is what is missing in our foreign policy, senator. As long as we faced the communist nuclear threat, we did not have the luxury of hearing petitions from those on the other side. Everything is fair in war. Everything is not fair in peace, and we have not yet made the adjustment. By that, I mean that even after the Cold War ended, we continued the practice of isolating those countries. Even this week, when the Iranian prime minister held out an olive branch after 18 years of isolation, the first reaction of our government was to reject his appeal for cultural exchanges. We do not wish to communicate.
If there are many causes of political terrorism, the refusal of a stronger power to communicate with a weaker power is the most important. In a family, which is the smallest political unit, a father’s refusal to hear the petition of his son, slamming the door in his face, is one that may have positive effects if the son knows he deserves nothing but punishment, and finally begs forgiveness without conditions. But even a righteous and wrathful father should not expect positive results if he attempted to starve his son and his son’s family into submission. Only outrage will result, and from outrage springs political terrorism.
Our embargo against Iraq, I’m afraid, is perceived in the Islamic world as an act of terrorism on our part. The estimated 1.4 million civilian deaths that the U.N. attributes to the embargo weigh on the minds of potential terrorists like Yousef – men who are pondering action without the knowledge of their governments. We are not at war with Iraq. After seven years, we have found no weapons of mass destruction which the Iraqis themselves did not lead us to and help us destroy. It is reasonable for them to believe that we have never had any intention of lifting the embargo.
As an American citizen, I am legally obliged to support the embargo, but I cannot help but agree with the convicted terrorist, Yousef, that we are trying to punish Saddam Hussein by punishing his people. The fact that we will not even permit our U.N. Ambassador, Bill Richardson, to communicate with his counterpart in New York, is a policy that invites terrorism. In Cuba, I know you continue to insist we should not even consider normalization with the government there until Castro leaves the country. Wouldn’t your position be stronger if you said you are prepared to hear what the Cuban government has in mind, that under satisfactory conditions and penances on Havana’s part, the embargo could be relaxed or lifted? Even a small opening of that kind creates the kind of hope that discourages political terrorism, don’t you think? The kind of outrage that invites political terror cannot exist when there is any hope of adjudication and redress.