FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Lost Liberty in the Age of CounterTerrorism

by JOANNE MARINER

The counterterrorism measures that have been adopted in the decade since the September 11 terrorist attacks are supposed to keep us safe. To protect the public from violent extremists who are willing to commit grievous harm in order to promote their political or religious agendas, governments have passed a voluminous array of post-9/11 counterterrorism laws. This global legal arsenal, made up of hundreds of new laws, prevents terrorists from obtaining needed funding, gives security forces the powers they need to put terrorists behind bars, ensures that terrorist crimes are subject to appropriately severe penalties, and facilitates international cooperation against terrorism.

That, at least, is the justification for the global post-9/11 boom in counterterrorism legislation, a legal trend that has yet to abate. (Even now, several countries are considering passing additional counterterrorism laws.) But do these laws live up to their billing? Do they target terrorists or do they cast a wider net?

In a report issued last Friday, which I co-authored, Human Rights Watch reviews the vast assortment of counterterrorism laws that have been passed since September 2001. Assessing eight elements that are common to many of the laws, the report raises a host of serious human rights concerns. Not only are most counterterrorism laws overbroad, they have in some instances been employed to prosecute journalists, social protesters, opposition figures, and other disfavored groups under the guise of counterterrorism.

“Terrorism” in Bahrain

The current political unrest in Bahrain provides a compelling example of how counterterrorism laws can be misused—and how, by their broad terms, these laws lend themselves to misuse. Inspired by the uprisings that erupted across the Arab world, protesters took to the streets in Bahrain in early 2011, calling for democratic reforms. At mass protests, some demonstrators called for the establishment of a republic; others drew attention to the government’s poor human rights record.

Bahrain’s broad counterterrorism law—called the Law with Respect to Protection of the Community against Terrorist Acts—gave the government a potent legal weapon with which to respond to the protests. Passed in 2006, the law not only targets acts of violence, it also criminalizes actions meant to “disrupt” public order, “threaten” the country’s safety and security, or “damag[e] national unity.”

The government wielded the law to detain scores of protesters, and then put a number of the leaders on trial. In June 2011, a special military court convicted 21 opposition leaders of terrorism and other national security offenses. The defendants’ crimes included participating in street protests and making speeches critical of the government’s human rights record. Eight of the defendants were sentenced to life in prison; the remainder received sentences of up to 15 years, based in part on the 2006 law’s sentencing provisions. The convictions are currently on appeal.

Areas of Greatest Human Rights Concern

Current events in Bahrain—like those in Ethiopia, where six journalists were just sentenced for “terrorism”—underscore the broad and potentially dangerous powers granted by many counterterrorism laws. As the Human Rights Watch report explains, post-September 11 counterterrorism laws tend to expand government powers to “investigate, arrest, detain, and prosecute individuals at the expense of due process, judicial oversight, and public transparency.”

Titled In the Name of Security: Counterterrorism Laws Worldwide since September 11—the report begins by describing the international pressure that helped lead to the past decade’s boom in counterterrorism legislation. It focuses, in particular, on U.N. Security Council resolutions that imposed a laundry list of counterterrorism requirements on U.N. member states.

These resolutions, while made legally binding under the U.N.’s Chapter VII powers, did not set out a definition of terrorism, opening the door for countries to craft their own overbroad and opportunistic definitions.

Besides overbroad definitions of terrorism and terrorist acts, the Human Rights Watch report delineates seven other key areas in which counterterrorism laws tend to raise human rights concerns:

* designating terrorist organizations and banning membership in them

* barring funding to terrorism and terrorist organizations

* limiting speech that ostensibly encourages, incites, justifies, or lends support to terrorism

* expanding police powers, including powers to detain suspects without charge, limit their access to counsel, and prevent judicial oversight

* modifying trial procedures (including evidentiary rules) to favor the prosecution by limiting defendants’ due process rights

* imposing the death penalty for terrorism-related offenses

* creating administrative detention and “control order” mechanisms

The Future of Counterterrorism Legislation

Every year, the report asserts, “more countries enact counterterrorism legislation with sweeping powers and dangerously broad language.” Yet the trend toward ever-broader and more expansive counterterrorism laws has not been entirely uniform. A few countries have rejected efforts to expand their counterterrorism arsenal; others have even repealed unnecessary and abusive laws.

Norway, which refused to broaden its counterterrorism law after a murderous 2011 attack by a xenophobic extremist, is an encouraging counterexample to Bahrain, Ethiopia, and the other abusive governments catalogued in the Human Rights Watch report. Rather than respond with repressive legislation in the wake of the attack, the country’s prime minister promised “more openness, more democracy and more humanity.”

Joanne Mariner is the director of Hunter College’s Human Rights Program.  She is an expert on human rights, counterterrorism, and international humanitarian law. She is the author of the Human Rights Watch report, No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons

This column previously appeared on Justia’s Verdict.

 

JOANNE MARINER is a human rights lawyer living in New York and Paris.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 23, 2017
John Wight
Manchester Attacks: What Price Hypocrisy?
Patrick Cockburn
A Gathering of Autocrats: Trump Puts US on Sunni Muslim Side of Bitter Sectarian War with Shias
Shamus Cooke
Can Trump Salvage His Presidency in Syria’s War?
Thomas S. Harrington
“Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras
Josh White
Towards the Corbyn Doctrine
Mike Whitney
Rosenstein and Mueller: the Regime Change Tag-Team
Jan Oberg
Trump in Riyadh: an Arab NATO Against Syria and Iran
Susan Babbitt
The Most Dangerous Spy You’ve Never Heard Of: Ana Belén Montes
Rannie Amiri
Al-Awamiya: City of Resistance
Dimitris Konstantakopoulos
The European Left and the Greek Tragedy
Laura Leigh
This Land is Your Land, Except If You’re a Wild Horse Advocate
Hervé Kempf
Macron, Old World President
Michael J. Sainato
Devos Takes Out Her Hatchet
L. Ali Khan
I’m a Human and I’m a Cartoon
May 22, 2017
Diana Johnstone
All Power to the Banks! The Winners-Take-All Regime of Emmanuel Macron
Robert Fisk
Hypocrisy and Condescension: Trump’s Speech to the Middle East
John Grant
Jeff Sessions, Jesus Christ and the Return of Reefer Madness
Nozomi Hayase
Trump and the Resurgence of Colonial Racism
Rev. William Alberts
The Normalizing of Authoritarianism in America
Frank Stricker
Getting Full Employment: the Fake Way and the Right Way 
Jamie Davidson
Red Terror: Anti-Corbynism and Double Standards
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, Sweden, and Continuing Battles
Robert Jensen
Beyond Liberal Pieties: the Radical Challenge for Journalism
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Extravagant Saudi Trip Distracts from His Crisis at Home
Angie Beeman
Gig Economy or Odd Jobs: What May Seem Trendy to Privileged City Dwellers and Suburbanites is as Old as Poverty
Colin Todhunter
The Public Or The Agrochemical Industry: Who Does The European Chemicals Agency Serve?
Jerrod A. Laber
Somalia’s Worsening Drought: Blowback From US Policy
Michael J. Sainato
Police Claimed Black Man Who Died in Custody Was Faking It
Clancy Sigal
I’m a Trump Guy, So What?
Gerry Condon
In Defense of Tulsi Gabbard
Weekend Edition
May 19, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Getting Assange: the Untold Story
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Secret Sharer
Charles Pierson
Trump’s First Hundred Days of War Crimes
Paul Street
How Russia Became “Our Adversary” Again
Andrew Levine
Legitimation Crises
Mike Whitney
Seth Rich, Craig Murray and the Sinister Stewards of the National Security State 
Robert Hunziker
Early-Stage Antarctica Death Rattle Sparks NY Times Journalists Trip
Ken Levy
Why – How – Do They Still Love Trump?
Bruce E. Levine
“Hegemony How-To”: Rethinking Activism and Embracing Power
Robert Fisk
The Real Aim of Trump’s Trip to Saudi Arabia
Christiane Saliba
Slavery Now: Migrant Labor in the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia
Chris Gilbert
The Chávez Hypothesis: Vicissitudes of a Strategic Project
Howard Lisnoff
Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain
Brian Cloughley
Propaganda Feeds Fear and Loathing
Stephen Cooper
Is Alabama Hiding Evidence It Tortured Two of Its Citizens?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail