Terror Convictions Done Right

Yesterday, a British court convicted three terror suspects of plotting to blow up airliners between London and major North American cities. This is the second trial and first conviction of those captured through “the largest counter-terrorism investigation in Britain’s history” (1). Many, including Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, praised the British government for its handling of the investigation. The New York Times mentioned that the British investigators felt pressured by the American intelligence agencies (which provided some evidence) to capture the suspects. The British officials seem to think that the convictions would have been easier and more legally sound had they been able to watch them longer.

The convictions point out some major problems with the United States’ handling of terror suspects. The suspects in the September 11, 2001 attacks have yet to be brought to justice and, furthermore, there is a lot of controversy regarding the way we treat our terror suspects. As you likely know torture memos were made public this year and former Vice President Dick Cheney has been arguing that the interrogation tactics authorized under the Bush Administration were acceptable and led to information that saved American lives. There have been questions as to the veracity of Cheney’s statements, including comments from a senior security adviser. A journalist who met with Cheney’s example prisoner, who supposedly gave up loads of information after being tortured, was, in fact, proud of his work as a terrorist and willing to tell anyone who would listen without being coerced.

It is disturbing to watch the formerly highly-touted American justice system so blatantly fail. Our terror suspects are detained in another country, often unable to see their lawyers for long periods of time and with no set trial dates. We have recently released multiple suspects who had done nothing wrong, yet were treated as convicted criminals for years.

These are examples of problems the United States has to address and can take a cue from the British justice system.


About Sylvia Fredericks

Second-Year MPA student at the La Follette School for Public Affairs (University of Wisconsin - Madison)
This entry was posted in International, National, News, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Terror Convictions Done Right

  1. gringolost says:

    I think this kind of discussion lies at the heart of what might become a national security vs. rule of law debate. And I’m not on either side of the fence, but there is an obvious intelligence component to counter-terrorism which could infringe on civil liberties; and there are obvious kinetic actions of force which are a part of counterterrorism that could physically hurt innocent bystanders – but there still is a definite need for these things to be tools that decision-makers can utilize.

    With threats now coming more from non-state actors (as opposed to traditional inter-state conflict) the world needs to address how it will deal with these issues legally. I don’t think a body like the UN will work because it wouldn’t democratically allow what is needed to protect a wide-spread of various national interests. The US and EU, however, have many shared security aspirations thus their may be some space to forge a strong regional pact which still protects (inter)national security while enshrining some form of rule of law.

    • I am curious if you have a suggestion as to the right thing to do in these situations. You obviously know more than I do about national/international security. Is there a solution that can make us safer and is just?

      • gringolost says:

        Well you know, I’m really no expert but I have been thinking about it lately. I was sitting in on a class taught by Meghan O’Sullivan, who was deputy National Security Adviser to G.W. Bush from about 2004-2006. The class was about decision making with imperfect information, specifically about the ramp-up and aftermaths of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

        The topic of the lecture was basically: when faced with a decision, how do you qualify what would be “good” judgment – this while not knowing what could be the unintended consequences of what you do. Think Iraq and Afghanistan.

        O’Sullivan gave us three examples of “good” judgment (by the way think these were from a book and not her own opinion). The three examples are:
        1) Good judgment is the ability to overcome cognitive biases
        2) It is the ability to simplify things down to their basic components, eliminating false information
        3) There is NO such thing as good judgment

        My personal thoughts are that “good” judgment is a combination of the first two points, coupled with an adherence to principle. Of course, “principle” is subjective but I take it to mean: adherence to a set of laws (not to be tautological), conservative prudence (small c – not the political kind), and moralism (but only on the grounds that force is used to defend a set of morals, and never to impose a set of morals).

        I think this would make us safer, because it doesn’t just eschew concerns for security by relinquishing the freedom of action. And I think it would be more just, mainly because if employed right it is more consistent and could at some point, hopefully, be codified into some sort of national or regional pact.

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