Of course, this is part and parcel of a larger strategy of popular re-definition of certain words, a kind of linguistic area denial weapon that makes benign terms toxic and hides the most vile of intentions behind pretty verbal decorations. People who thought a woman had a right to make her own medical decisions were designated 'Pro Abortion', so they fought back by identifying themselves as 'Pro Choice'. After the Second World War, the threateningly-named US War Department was officially renamed the Department of Defense in order to emphasize that no matter the nature of any conflict, the US is never the aggressor and any war we find ourselves involved in is by definition defensive in nature. And after a multi-decade concerted campaign of vilification and vituperation, virtually NOBODY wants to be called a Liberal anymore.
But even in light of this history of etymological violence, the word terrorist stands out as a special case. We have always reserved certain categories for maximal opprobrium, if for no other reason that we have so many TV shows in need of ready-made villains, and therefore certain terms must come to function as verbal shorthand for the most hated of society's dregs. We have previously used child molesters, Latin American drug kingpins, crazed Vietnam veterans and rogue KGB agents in this role, but after the 9/11 attacks, the number one feared and loathed classification in America became terrorist, a condition that has only grown and expanded in the intervening decade.
We've never settled on a firm, accepted understanding of what constitutes a terrorist. Indeed, the aphorism (often attributed to Ramsey Clarke - I prefer the Michael Collins attribution) "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" has gained popular usage due to the underlying confusion of intentions and methods. But as the debacle in Iraq ground on, with atrocity piled upon atrocity, it became a common way to describe anyone either a.) Trying to kill Americans or b.) Killed by Americans. When Iraqis came together to defend Faluja from American attack, they were labeled terrorists. When Ahmed Ghailani killed a soldier in a firefight in Afghanistan, he was taken to Guantanamo Bay as a terrorist.
At first, terrorists were people who, logically, had committed acts of terror, usually defined as politically motivated attacks against civilians. Later, it had evolved to mean people who had interest in committing acts of terror in the future, or even providing funding or material services to organizations that might, at some time in the future, assist in the commission of acts of terror. Finally, we come to a point where the acts they plan or commit don't even have to qualify as acts of terror for them to be branded as terrorists. The word has lost it's meaning, and at least from the standpoint of the American political leadership and media has come to mean anybody that either doesn't like America or America doesn't like, or both.
Of course, the American political leadership has found it convenient to rebrand other, similar terms of art. When the Bush administration was providing justification for the invasion of Iraq, it was the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction, big, scary nuclear or biological weapons with the potential to kill millions. A few days ago, Antonio Martinez was charged in Federal Court with the attempted use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction when he attempted to detonate what he thought was a car bomb. Setting aside the fact that there not only never WAS a car bomb in this case, but there never WOULD have been a car bomb if the FBI didn't supply one, what is it about a CAR BOMB that qualifies it as a Weapon of Mass Destruction? What do you suppose that makes a shotgun? Do you suppose that the prosecutor thought that charge might garner a longer sentence than good old fashioned Conspiracy to Commit Murder?