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ThoughtsOnline

Friday, November 06, 2009


At what point is society justified in taking action against someone who has not committed a crime?

A lot of conservative blogs are complaining (and here) that authorities did nothing about the Fort Hood shooter despite having ample evidence that "military and medical officials recognized what was going on with this major and chose to do nothing about it".

But none of his (alleged) actions amounted to a crime. It isn't a crime to be Muslim, it isn't a crime to be a soldier who is Muslim, it isn't a crime to be a soldier who is Muslim who doesn't want to be deployed overseas, it isn't a crime to be a soldier who is Muslim who doesn't want to be deployed overseas and spends time practicing with firearms, it isn't a crime to be a solider who is Muslim who doesn't want to be deployed overseas and spends time practicing with firearms who posts comments on Internet message boards that are somewhat sympathetic towards suicide bombers, it isn't a crime to be a solider who is Muslim who doesn't want to be deployed overseas and spends time practicing with firearms who posts comments on Internet message boards that are somewhat sympathetic towards suicide bombers who gives away his furniture and other belongings, nor is it a crime to be a solider who is Muslim who doesn't want to be deployed overseas and spends time practicing with firearms who posts comments on Internet message boards that are somewhat sympathetic towards suicide bombers who gives away his furniture and other belongings who had received a poor performance rating at his last post.

It is possible that there is a point at which there are so many concerns that it becomes more prudent to act preemptively, but unlike the movie 'Minority Report', doing so can never be shown to be 100% justified... so where is the line drawn?

It isn't as if every soldier with the above characteristics is a terrorist waiting to strike. And it isn't as if every terrorist is going to have those characteristics.

So is it being Muslim that triggers the discharge? Being Muslim and not wanting to go overseas? Or does being Muslim have nothing to do with it, that not wanting to go overseas and spending time on the firing range will be more determinative of latent terrorists than the other characteristics attributed to the shooter?

And keeping in mind that there (thankfully) haven't been enough examples to build a statistically reliable model for predicting which soldiers are terrorists, any model is going to be based on nothing more than someone's hunch. Are we comfortable with taking action against someone based on a hunch? It's one thing to monitor someone on a hunch, it's quite another to take action against them on a feeling that something is wrong with them.

And add to this the very real issue of medical doctors who look for ways to avoid having to repay the military for having paid for their not-so-inexpensive medical education, perhaps by posing as unstable and/or a poor performer, and I think it is quite justifiable that the military was being careful before jumping to conclusions that this guy was a threat and kicking him out of the military and/or seeking to court-martial him.