President Obama Embraces the Word Terrorism a Day After

"Terrorism" is a politically fraught word. The President’s decision to embrace it has put him on the politically safer side of a linguistic problem that has bedeviled him for years.

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After choosing not to call the Boston Marathon bombings “terrorism” on Monday, President Obama used variations of the word terror four times in a public address on Tuesday. “Given what we know about what took place, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism,” Obama said. “Anytime bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror.”

His definition of terrorism was inaccurate, at least according legal guidelines that have been adopted by federal law enforcement. But the President’s decision to embrace the term put him on the politically safer side of a linguistic problem that has bedeviled his presidency for years.

According to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, an act of terrorism has three parts. First, it is “an unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property.” Second, it is intended “to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, any segment thereof.” Third, that intimidation or coercion is intended “in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

There are, as a result, possible scenarios in which a bombing of civilians would not be considered terrorism. An attack by a madman without any coherent social or political objectives, a targeted assassination by bomb, or a bombing intended as a distraction for another criminal act, like a bank robbery, would be examples. None of those are likely explanations for what took place in Boston on Monday.

But the use of the term terrorism remains politically fraught one. Nearly four years after U.S. Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13, the military has yet to call the event a terrorist act. Hasan had sent sympathetic e-mails about jihad and suicide attacks to Anwar al-Awlaki, a terrorist in Yemen who was later killed in a U.S. drone strike, and reportedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” before beginning his massacre. Despite the protests of victims and members of Congress, the Defense Department continues to categorize the event as “workplace violence.”

Last year, the use of the term terrorism became a major point of contention in the presidential election. Republicans, including Mitt Romney, charged that Obama had resisted labeling the attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, “terrorism” for political reasons during an election. Obama countered that he had referred to “acts of terror” in his first statement on the attacks. Just weeks before the election, press secretary Jay Carney made clear that the White House had adopted a broad definition of terrorism with regards to the Libyan attacks. “Anytime an embassy or diplomatic facility is attacked by force with weapons and Americans are killed, that is an act of terror under the definition of terrorism that applies at the NCTC [National Counterterrorism Center] and elsewhere,” he said in press gaggle onboard Air Force One.

In his statement on the Boston attacks Monday night, Obama seemed deliberately cautious about using the word terrorism, even though the FBI was already moving to take over the investigation of the incident as a possible act of terrorism. With events still unfolding in Boston, the President issued a statement that seemed intended to avoid inflaming national alarm. But in an unusual move, an aide to the President spoke to the press moments after the President had concluded his remarks about the classification of the bombings. “Any event with multiple explosive devices — as this appears to be — is clearly an act of terror, and will be approached as an act of terror,” the White House official said.

Nonetheless, Obama received some criticism overnight about shying away from the word in his Monday remarks. On Tuesday, the clear emphasis of the term seemed designed to head off another Benghazi-like controversy. “The American people refuse to be terrorized,” Obama said.

— With additional reporting by Zeke Miller

90 comments
spohara10
spohara10

The Boston Marathon bombing was definitely an act of terrorism. I do agree that bombing has everything to do with terrorism since what happened with 9/11. We all knew that it was a terrorist attack as soon as it happened that second. 

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"...the clear emphasis of the term seemed designed to head off another Benghazi-like controversy."

Care to explain to your readers that the "controversy" is itself (in both instances) manufactured by Republicans as a political weapon - political terrorism, you might say - and that it really matters not one whit what the bombings are called, except to political partisans and Beltway chatterers? Who did it and why is what matters and we have no idea about either at present. When we do, we can call it an Aardvark, and it won't change the facts about it.

BenevolentLawyer
BenevolentLawyer

This is not news. I just want to encourage other runners not to lose heart or be discouraged. The worst thing we can do is to cancel our athletic events. If you are a runner, go for your races. If you row, stay in the competition, keep lifting, keep training. If you are doing any TRI's or Iron Man or Woman event, just stay focused. There are many events scheduled in the summer and spring. Just keep training. The worst thing any athlete or competitor can do, is to quit.

My deepest sympathies to all who were hurt in this horrible act of total cowardice. But we have a resilient spirit and will NOT be deterred.

Keep your spirits up!!!!! 

destor23
destor23

Please proceed, Michael Scherer.

gysgt213
gysgt213

Just a small sample of what your tax dollars pay for.  Do you think its worth it?

At 5:20 a.m. on Monday, four hours before the Boston Marathon's elite runners took off, a group of 15 active-duty soldiers from the Massachusetts National Guard gathered at the starting line in Hopkinson. Each soldier was in full combat uniform and carried a "ruck," a military backpack weighing about 40 pounds. The rucks were filled with Camelbacks of water, extra uniforms, Gatorade, changes of socks—and first-aid and trauma kits. It was all just supposed to be symbolic.

Snip

It took about eight hours for all of the soldiers to cross the finish line, some cruising nearly at a 13-minute mile, others coming in at a little slower pace. They were gathered near the medical tent behind the finish line, waiting for the elite runners to come in. That was the contingency plan in case anything went wrong—meet by the medical tent.

"You never think you're gonna need it, but you always have to have a contingency plan," says Lieutenant Stephen Fiola of the 1060th Transportation Company, who worked with the Military Friends Foundation to organize the march. Two soldiers stationed in Afghanistan also participated in the ruck from afar, according to Fiola, marching in circles around their base for 26 miles in remembrance of fallen comrades.

Snip

When the explosion went off, Fiola and his group immediately went into tactical mode. "I did a count and told the younger soldiers to stay put," Fiola says. "Myself and two other soldiers, my top two guys in my normal unit, crossed the street about 100 yards to the metal scaffoldings holding up the row of flags. We just absolutely annihilated the fence and pulled it back so we could see the victims underneath. The doctors and nurses from the medical tent were on the scene in under a minute. We were pulling burning debris off of people so that the medical personnel could get to them and begin triage."

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/04/tough-ruck-soliders-arredondo-boston-marathon?utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed

TRussert
TRussert

President Obama and most of Congress condemns this act of "terror" while facilitating it on innocent men, women, and children with our "signature" drone strikes.  Go figure.

gysgt213
gysgt213

We have to get a grip.

Authorities in Oregon are considering whether to charge an off-duty security guard who accidentally shot and killed his girlfriend’s 9-year-old daughter while practicing drawing his weapon.

Oregon City police spokesperson Lt. Jim Band said that 32-year-old Joseph Wade Wolters was at home on Sunday prepping for his new job as an armed security guard by holstering and unholstering a loaded weapon. Fourth grader Shayla May Shonneker was about 50 yards away when the gun discharged, sending a bullet through a wall and striking the girl in the face while she was playing outside.

The girl was later pronounced dead after being rushed to Oregon Health & Science University Hospital by LifeFlight helicopter.


http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/04/15/oregon-9-year-old-killed-by-security-guard-practicing-holstering-weapon/

gysgt213
gysgt213

A lot of people will probably have PTSD because of this.  Let's hope we rise to occasion and help everyone needing help instead of talking about deficit reduction to pay for it.

curt3rd
curt3rd

Has anyone seen the YouTube video that Obama is going to blame this on yet?

tyrus67
tyrus67

@TIME @TIMEPolitics so does that mean you already know who attacked boston so u definitely know potus is wrong to use terror, WTF ??

jaydbadass21
jaydbadass21

@TIME @TIMEPolitics Because that's what it is. So he's just calling a spade a spade. I hope they catch the culprit & put a bomb in his pants

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd Has anyone seen your heart or common sense, that you would attempt to score political points of yet another tragedy?

curt3rd
curt3rd

Thats what the article was about.  Obama using the word terrorism in this case and not the case of Benghazi.  He was the one scoring political points when he decided to lie before an election about a terrorist attack claiming it was a spontaneous attack by protesters caused by a YouTube video.  Im just elaborating on what the story is about.

tommyudo
tommyudo

@grape_crush @curt3rd 

I'd be surprised if we ever find out who was responsible, but if it does turn out to be a right wing type you can rest assured that the resident wackos will say that there were extenuating circumstances. They have never owned up to McVeigh.

curt3rd
curt3rd

I thought so too  when it happened in Benghazi

curt3rd
curt3rd

If that is true then heads should have roled.  If  he honestly believe that then he is incompetent.  I didnt need CIA to know it was a terrorist attack on day one. It definitly would not have taken me 2 weeks.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd Everyone knew and yet the CIA requested that we act like we didn't. Why do you have a problem with the president following the requests of the people actually handling the investigation?

curt3rd
curt3rd

Blah Blah Blah.  Everyone one new that was a terrorist attack that happen on 911 in Benghazi.  Obama spewed those lies for 2 weeks. 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd That was at the behest of the CIA. So no it wasn't political points at all. The only one who tried to score political points of Benghazi was Romney. How did that work out for him?

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@curt3rd 

Kind of just made my case of your insensitivity for me didn't you.  Good job.

curt3rd
curt3rd

Sympathetic enough not to blame it on a YouTube video

jsfox
jsfox

@curt3rd And where you sympathetic to all the embassy attacks  and deaths of  foreign service officers during the Bush administration or were those magically different?

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@curt3rd 

I'm sure the people that died in Benghazi appreciate that you care about them so much that you shoehorn them in to any unrelated attack as an attack against Obama.  That's totally sincere dude.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@curt3rd

I like how you dismiss Benghazi because of your agenda then tell me to show some class.

What agenda?  Mourning?  I'm sorry, but when you start with "Has anyone seen the YouTube video that Obama is going to blame this on yet?" dripping with snark you clearly do not care about the attack.  This has nothing to do with Benghazi, get over it and seek your politicized jabs somewhere else.

curt3rd
curt3rd

I like how you dismiss Benghazi because of your agenda then tell me to show some class.  Im very sympathetic for the people murdered and injured in Boston and Benghazi or am Im not allowed to be sympathetic for both?  

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@curt3rd

So why don't we start talking about every terrorist attack ever, right?  Please don't pretend like you're being reasonable; your agenda is very transparent.  This is hardly a day old, show some class.

curt3rd
curt3rd

Its the exact same thing as Benghazi.  A terrorist attack that murdered Americans.  How is that unrelated? 

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@curt3rd

And you do?  This isn't about Benghazi.  Imagine if someone you loved died in an attack like this and some jerk came up to you and started ranting about how Bush let 9/11 happen or something to that extent.  Benghazi is completely unrelated to this attack; go grind your axe somewhere else, or reach down into your small black heart and see if you can find any shred of humanity.  Put your mindless hatred of Obama aside for one day and grow a conscience. 

Tero
Tero

@curt3rd 

His point is you're a d1ck, and he is absolutely correct.

curt3rd
curt3rd

I like what you did there.  You tried to be witty to make your point- oh, you dont have one.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@curt3rd 

You care about them as much as you care about the people of Boston - not at all.

curt3rd
curt3rd

Im sympathetic for Boston just like I was when the Americans in Benghazi were murdered.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@curt3rd 

Doubling down on unsympathetic and stupid I see.  Benghazi is neither here nor there.  Go talk to the people on the streets of Boston and see how they appreciate you politicizing this tragedy for more anti-Obama hate fuel.