Attached to a feature on what Obama might do about Guantánamo are the opinions on the subject of several legal people, as obtained by the Guardian. One of these people is Philippe Sands. Sands thinks that Obama should say five things at the beginning of his presidency. The second thing he should say is that the US will 'no longer use torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment'. And the third thing he should say is: 'he should declare the closure of Guantánamo'. So what do you think Obama should say first? This:
[H]e should state that he will not use the phrase "war on terror", words that tend to legitimise the struggle of those who seek to harm us.
Extraordinary. Especially in the context. The use of a particular three-word phrase tends to legitimize the activities of 'those who seek to harm us' - people I shall for my part call terrorists. The use of this phrase tends, in other words, to legitimize activities like blowing up innocents, taking them hostage, torturing them, decapitating them, and so forth.
Now ask yourself this. Can you imagine Philippe Sands saying that something the terrorists do - and I mean in this case do, not merely say; I mean, for example, blowing up innocents, taking them hostage, torturing them, decapitating them - tends to legitimize the use of torture and extraordinary rendition by the US? Well, I can't. On that score he would say that nothing can possibly legitimize or even tend to legitimize these US actions.
Of course, I'm aware that Sands doesn't see terrorism as actually legitimate, or even legitimate in tendency. The tending-to-legitimize talk is about giving terrorist movements some ideological credibility in the eyes of people already that way predisposed. Nonetheless, it is how many Western liberals write today: nothing whatever, no extremity of crime or moral barbarism would ever be said to 'tend to legitimize' bad human rights practices by Western governments. Rightly not. For us, torture is categorically wrong and not to be countenanced. Rightly so. But for the enemies of democracy there's a softer way of talking. I mean soft as in soft-headed. If Western politicians or commentators merely use a three-word phrase - 'war on terror' - heaven forfend, they will then be tending to legitimize the terrorists and their works.
You know the story. 'War on terror' grants them the dignity of warriors, whereas they are only criminals, and should be treated as such. The fact that the metaphor 'war on terror' has a cognate in the expression 'war on crime' doesn't unsettle the purveyors of this claptrap. The fact that, time upon time and across the globe, people wedded to a similar set of beliefs maim and murder without scruple, doesn't open the minds of the aforesaid purveyors to the possibility of there being a common enemy to be fought - an enemy, indeed, of all humankind - in a common war.