|Two years ago today, the tragic use of poison gas by terrorists on a crowded Tokyo subway killed 12 and injured thousands. The Chemical Weapons Convention will make it more difficult for terrorists to acquire chemical weapons and significantly improve the ability of law enforcement authorities to investigate and prosecute chemical terrorists before they act.
Attorney General Janet Reno said recently, “...[The Chemical Weapons Convention] is a tool that will have an effect on law enforcement here at home. Terrorists today will use whatever weapons they can get their hands on.... We can never eliminate such a threat, but we can make it harder for terrorists to threaten us -- and save lives in the process.”
Benefits of the treaty and its proposed implementing legislation against terrorism include:
Investigation. By providing law enforcement officials and prosecutors an actionable legal basis for investigating the development, production, transfer or acquisition of chemical weapons, the CWC implementing legislation improves prospects for detection, early prosecution, and possibly even prevention of chemical terrorism in the United States.
Prosecution. Possession alone of a chemical weapon, whether or not it is intended to be used, would be prohibited under the Convention and the CWC implementing legislation, thus providing a sufficient basis for prosecution. Currently prosecutors must rely on laws intended for other purposes.
Penalties. Anyone who knowingly engages in prohibited chemical weapons-related activities, not just their actual use, could be subject to the maximum punishment of life in prison. Under current law, equivalent penalties require proof of use or an attempt, conspiracy or threat to use a weapon of mass destruction.
Trade Controls. Existing trade control laws and regulations would be supplemented by strict controls on the import and export of chemicals posing the greatest risk. The production, acquisition, retention, transfer and use of such chemicals within the United States would also be regulated.
“This tragic anniversary also reminds us that we must do everything possible to protect Americans from the threat of a similar terrorist outrage. That includes ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention -- a step that Japan’s Diet took within a month of the attack in Tokyo.... We still have not ratified. It would be harmful to our national interests if the United States, which led the way in developing this Treaty, was on the outside not the inside, when it comes into operation on April 29.
“The Chemical Weapons Convention will help to thwart chemical terrorists in several important ways. It will eliminate their largest potential source of chemical weapons by mandating the destruction of existing chemical weapon stockpiles. It will make it more difficult for terrorists to gain access to chemicals that can be used to make chemical weapons. It will tie the United States into a global intelligence and information network that can help provide early warning of terrorist plans for a chemical attack. It will give our law enforcement new authority at home to investigate and prosecute anyone seeking to acquire chemical weapons or to use them against innocent civilians.”
Emergency Authority. Law enforcement officials would have the authority to seize and destroy a chemical weapon when harm is imminent or likely, while at the same time protecting the constitutional rights of property owners. This provides additional authority to prevent a potential catastrophe and save lives.
Public Awareness. Tips by concerned citizens are the lifeblood of successful police investigations. Reporting and inspection requirements will ensure that private companies and concerned citizens are more alert to and more likely to report any suspected chemical weapons-related activities.