America's new recruits

Posted: Jul 04, 2006 12:00 AM

The Fourth of July is, of course, a time to celebrate this great country and all that it stands for – both at home and abroad. Arguably, such collective remembrances and celebrations are more needed than ever in time of war. And that is particularly true at a moment when reverses of one kind or another are shaking some Americans’ confidence in their government and/or its ability to prosecute the war successfully.

In every reverse, however, lies an opportunity. For example, the Supreme Court’s appalling ruling last week in the case of Osama bin Laden’s trusted driver, Salim Hamdan, affords the President and the Congress a chance not only to provide a legislative mandate for the military tribunals needed to prosecute such terrorists.

The Court’s skewed interpretation of international law, and then its subordination of the U.S. Constitution to that misreading, also invites farther-reaching corrective action. Five justices held that enemy combatants like al Qaeda’s Hamdan were entitled to the treatment afforded prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. In fact, the only provision of those accords that explicitly extends such protections is Protocol I. But President Reagan formally rejected U.S. adherence to that protocol and its equation of terrorists with soldiers like ours, who (with very few and wholly illegal exceptions) abide by the laws of war.

We now have the opportunity both to affirm the wisdom of the Reagan decision and to discourage the courts – Supreme and others – from the practice of reflexively, and often arbitrarily, subordinating this country’s democratically and constitutionally adopted statutes and executive orders to subjective applications of so-called “customary” international law. An even more important chance to offset the effects of a grievous blow to the war effort can be found in the aftermath of the treacherous, if not actually treasonous, disclosures last week by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. These papers revealed that the United States government had been secretly (albeit legally) using an international clearinghouse for banking information to “follow the money” – by monitoring terrorists’ financial transactions.

In so doing, these irresponsible journalists and editors have compromised yet another of the country’s very perishable and possibly irreplaceable means of monitoring and defeating terrorists, and their potentially murderous plots. It is not as though the U.S. has an excess of such capacities. Given the deplorable state of our human intelligence – the preferred means of penetrating closed and secretive cells and organizations – the loss of any of these perishable technology-based information-collection tools can cause real harm to the cause of freedom.

Fortunately, on this Fourth of July, we can celebrate the enlistment in the War for the Free World of new recruits with the potential to cut off vastly more money flowing to our enemies than occurs through most bank transactions. On June 21st, the Board of the Missouri Investment Trust (MIT) – a public fund that taxes entertainers and athletes’ income and makes earnings from investments of such monies available to state cultural organizations – voted to make its portfolio “terror-free.”

As the chairman of the MIT board, Missouri State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, observed: “The people of Missouri do not want their money used to support terrorism. It’s that simple.”

After the fund announced its action, Ms. Steelman noted that, “Companies who sponsor terrorism or prop up governments of sanctioned nations who threaten our security should never be supported by public dollars. Today, the MIT board made sure that won’t happen with this trust fund.”

The Treasurer then underscored a point that should be on the mind of every other public pension fund this Fourth of July:

“We shouldn’t be putting taxpayer dollars into funds or into companies that are supporting terrorism. There are still American soldiers who are risking their lives on a daily basis to protect us and to try to spread freedom and…we have an obligation to help them, as well. And so if we can cut the money off to terrorists, it’s going to help. I guess I’m idealistic enough to think that if we can do it, then every state can take actions like this and it would have a significant impact on terrorism.”

The model the Missouri Investment Trust has forged can be readily adopted by others. Under Treasurer Steelman’s leadership, the fund’s Board voted last September to adopt an anti-terrorism “screen” for its portfolio and subsequently issued a Request for Proposals for a “large cap” international fund that would provide such a screen. From the four firms that responded (Morgan Stanley, UMB Bank, Julius Baer and State Street Global Advisors), the MIT Board selected State Street and its subcontractor, Conflict Securities Advisory Group – an entity established by my fellow Reagan Administration colleague, Roger Robinson, to evaluate publicly traded companies’ "global security risk," a term the SEC has adopted to describe financial exposure to terrorist sponsoring states.

The idea of enlisting in the war effort investors – and, ideally, not just public funds managers, but those responsible for other institutional and private portfolios, as well – is one whose time has come. Should the Missouri Investment Trust example of divesting terror now be widely replicated, the Nation could bring important new leverage to bear on behalf of freedom, and deny funds to its enemies that they will surely otherwise use to try to kill us. That’s really something to celebrate this Fourth of July.