Posts Tagged Terrorism

Debate at the New America Foundation on Guantanamo for its Ninth Birthday

Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of the opening of the infamous detention center for “unlawful combatants” in the War on Terror at a U.S. Navy Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In order to reflect on the question of treatment of detainees in the struggle against terrorism, as well as Obama’s failure to keep his promise to close the Guantanamo detention facilities by now, the Washington D.C.-based think tank the New America Foundation organized a panel of experts to discuss these difficult and thorny issues.

Here is the NAF’s presentation of the panel:

Nine years after opening the prison at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, the United States still faces major questions and partisan rancor over the future of the prison, the fate of its 174 remaining detainees, and the proper means of trying and holding terrorism suspects detained at home and abroad. Please join the New America Foundation National Security Studies Program for an important discussion on the prison’s future, and the broader context of the state of terrorism, detention and the law today.

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Some Quick Thoughts About Africa, the Crime of Terrorism and the Rome Statute

As readers may know, I have been paying particular attention to the African Union’s attempt to put together a comprehensive counter-terrorism treaty, and have already posted some thoughts on the matter on the al-Wasat blog a few days before Christmas.

A few more thoughts occurred to me today as I was reading (for my current employer) the statements given by delegations to the Ninth Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court, which took place last month in New York. I still have a handful to go through, but so far the delegation from Nigeria’s statement (PDF file) has particularly caught my attention.

From the third paragraph of the statement, I quote and emphasize:

One significant contribution of our common efforts in developing an international criminal justice under the Rome Statute is the strengthening of the international community, acting in concert, to check the activities of armed non-state actors. As we all know, these are usually armed groups that operate outside state control or authority, often constituting threats to corporate existence of their victim states through operational styles marked by horrendous acts of impunity.

I was intrigued by the mention of ‘armed non-state actors’, also known as non-State armed groups. Of course, that term means many things. In fact, it is fairly self-explanatory: any armed group that is not under the direct control of a State is, logically, a non-State armed group.

But as I read that I subconsciously understood “terrorist groups” and that has brought me back to what I wrote last month. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Wasat & My Guest Post On The African Union and Terrorism

I have been meaning to make the promotion of a recently created blog on North Africa and the Middle East, al-Wasat, edited by my good Twitter friends Andrew Lebovich (@tweetsintheME) and Aaron Zelin (@azelin) for a while, and I can think of no better occasion (although, at the risk of appearing slightly self-interested, I must admit) then now that they have published my first guest post there on the African Union’s recent efforts to put together a comprehensive counterterrorism regional treaty and what it could mean for the international law of terrorism.

Regardless at the exercise of shameless self-promotion I just indulged in, I would like to say a few words about the blog al-Wasat, regardless of the fact that they have been crazy enough (I mean, kind enough) to publish one of my posts. al-Wasat, which means ‘The Center’ in Arabic, is a blog recently created by two friends and experts in the field of counterterrorism and North Africa (Andrew) and radical Islam (Aaron). They have managed to gather other experts (PhD students and others) to contribute to their blog which covers the news coming out of these regions of the world, offering pertinent and refreshing analysis of what happens there.

This kind of blog is interesting to follow, even for lawyers. We have to remind ourselves – well, I sometimes do anyway (French law students are the worse on that matter) – that we do not operate in a vacuum, and reading these blogs written by experts give us the material necessary to reflect on what we are trying to achieve and how to apply our knowledge to reality. Because, after all, that is what law is really about.

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A Late Reaction on Omar Khadr, the United States, and Child-Soldiers

I came across this interesting piece of information today: France pressed U.S. on Khadr as Ottawa stood silent: WikiLeaks. According to this article:

France’s foreign minister asked the United States to consider releasing Omar Khadr from Guantanamo Bay even though the Harper government adamantly refused to intervene, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables.

The memo, released by WikiLeaks, shows that Bernard Kouchner, who was French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s foreign minister until three weeks ago, personally asked U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to review the case in a meeting in February of 2009.

Oddly enough, France, a country which has, to my knowledge, no relation whatsoever with Mr. Omar Khadr, tried to plead his case before the American authorities even though the country of Mr. Khadr’s nationality, Canada, refused to.

Aside from the oddity of it all, that’s not really what made me jump to the ceiling. It turns out – and I do realize I’m about seven years late into this debate – that Mr. Khadr was “arrested” on the battlefield in Afghanistan, wounded, at age 15:

Khadr is the last Western prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre. He has been held at the American naval base since October 2002, accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon said that after a July 2002 attack by U.S. forces on a suspected al-Qaeda compound, Khadr threw a grenade that killed one soldier, Sgt. Christopher Speer, and wounded another.

Khadr was 15 at the time. His defence team argued that their client was a child soldier and should be treated as a victim.

No kidding. I have heard of the Khadr case, like everyone else, for a long time, but bizarrely enough, that piece of information had escaped me until today. Read the rest of this entry »

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Intelligence Squared US Video – “Treat Terrorists as Enemy Combatants, Not Criminals”

I just wanted to link to a fascinating debate I watched yesterday on counter-terrorism policy: namely, a debate around the motion “treat terrorists as enemy combatants, not criminals.” The participants were former President George W. Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen and former CIA Director Michael Hayden (in favor of the motion), and David Frakt, an Army lawyer who represented Guantanamo detainees, and Stephen Jones, a criminal lawyer who defended Timothy McVeigh (against the motion).

The debate was organized by an organization called Intelligence Squared US that organizes “Oxford-style” debates. I had never heard of them before, but apparently they are broadcasted on NPR and Bloomberg TV, and they have also podcasts available on iTunes. Something to definitely watch out for in the future.

Also, there’s a vote on the motion by the public at the end of the debate, whether for or against. It’s interesting because they poll people on the motion before the debate, and after the debate, so it’s interesting to see how they progress.

But enough talk – well, by me anyway – here’s the video:

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Is France “At War” With Terrorism?

French Soldier under the Eiffel Tower, Photo AFP/FRED DUFOUR

For the past 10 days or so, there’s been a flutter of activity regarding France and the Islamic terrorist threat – in particular Al-Qaeda au Maghreb Islamique (AQMI). The French intelligence and counterterrorism services have been particularly wary, even nervous, regarding risks of a terrorist strike on French soil. According to Reuters, French authorities are currently investigating and attempting to prevent a supposed kamikaze attack on the transportation system by a suspected female terrorist. Jewish synagogues and other religious sites have been under increased surveillance by security forces, especially during Yom Kippour. Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, perceived as a “moderate” by both his supporters and his detractors, is under police protection.

Last week, the Eiffel Tower and the metro station Saint-Michel, the same that was the object of a terrorist attack in July 1995 killing 8 and wounding over a hundred, were evacuated following an anonymous tip.

All this following an interview of Bernard Squarcini, the head of the French counterterrorist agency – the DCRI (Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur) – in the Journal du Dimanche on the eve of 11 September, claiming that the terrorist threat against France has never been greater. Jean-Louis Bruguière, one of the most famous and mediatized former anti-terrorist magistrates, stated on France 24 that the level of threat was similar to that of 1995, with the difference that today AQMI exists, which was not the case 15 years ago. Needless to say, AQMI’s recent apparition in Algeria and expanding in the entire Sahel is not a positive factor for France’s security.

Talk about nervousness. And yet, on the Home Front, the French are taking all of this with a surprisingly British phlegm.

However, to make things worse, seven employees of the French company specialized in nuclear energy Areva and construction firm Vinci have been kidnapped from their homes in Niger last Wednesday, five of them being French, the two others being from Madagascar and Togo. AQMI is suspected of being behind the attack. The French government has reacted swiftly and firmly to the kidnappings, immediately arranging to deploy 80 troops in Niger along with several aircrafts, and set up a temporary base there to search and rescue the hostages. Read the rest of this entry »

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Talking to the Enemy in the “War on Terror”: Treason or Reason?

On June 21st, 2010, the United States Supreme Court in the decision Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project upheld in a 6 to 3 decision federal statute 18 USC § 2339B(a)(1) that criminalizes “material assistance and resources” to groups considered to be terrorist organizations. “Material assistance and resources,” as understood by the federal statute, is defined in 18 USC § 2339A as:

any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safehouses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel (1 or more individuals who may be or include oneself), and transportation, except medicine or religious materials; (emphasis is mine)

Presented that way, there’s nothing that seems abnormal, in particular from an American point of view in the context of the “War on Terror.” I should also note for the sake of thoroughness that, by federal statute, it is up to the State Department to decide which group is or is not a terrorist organization, and that such a decision is open to judicial review.

The problem in the Holder decision is that the Supreme Court considers that teaching terrorist groups about international law and means to resolve conflicts in a non-violent manner can be considered as “material assistance,” as it amounts to “training” and “expert advice or assistance.”

The Humanitarian Law Project, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Rutherford Institute, had pleaded that the federal statute was too vague and that it infringed on its First Amendment rights, to no avail. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, considers in its conclusion (p. 35-36) that:

The Preamble to the Constitution proclaims that the people of the United States ordained and established that charter of government in part to “provide for the common defence.” As Madison explained, “[s]ecurity against for­eign danger is . . . an avowed and essential object of the American Union.” The Federalist No. 41, p. 269 (J. Cooke ed. 1961). We hold that, in regulating the particular forms of support that plaintiffs seek to provide to foreign terror­ ist organizations, Congress has pursued that objective consistent with the limitations of the First and Fifth Amendments.

For Jurist.org’s summary of the decision, see here.

This decision poses several problems to NGOs and individuals who enter in contact with groups that are considered to be terrorist organizations in attempts to resolve peacefully conflicts. A particularly interesting Op-Ed piece was published in the New York Times yesterday, written by two academics, Scott Atran and Robert Axelrod, which discusses past experiences, some of them their own, in talking and exchanging with terrorist groups in hope of advancing towards peace, and how that has known some failures, but also some successes. I found their conclusion to be particularly interesting:

It’s an uncomfortable truth, but direct interaction with terrorist groups is sometimes indispensable. And even if it turns out that negotiation gets us nowhere with a particular group, talking and listening can help us to better understand why the group wants to fight us, so that we may better fight it. Congress should clarify its counterterrorism laws with an understanding that hindering all informed interaction with terrorist groups will harm both our national security and the prospects for peace in the world’s seemingly intractable conflicts.

Talking to terrorist organizations is – as the Supreme Court majority opinion and dissenting opinion, as well as Scott Atran and Robert Axelrod’s account prove – open to debate, but in certain cases, it is necessary. Terrorism, whether domestic or international, is for the majority of people not an end in itself. Terrorism thrives on poverty, frustration, hopelessness and despair. Refusing to talk at least to the most moderate members of such groups in the hope of bringing them into peace discussions, and criminalizing the teaching of international law and peaceful dispute resolution to such members, seems completely absurd, not to mention counter-productive.

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