By JANICE HYDE
Panelists speaking at the Library during a symposium on terrorism noted that the existing laws of war—while not perfect—apply to acts of terror, even though terrorist acts do not appear to follow the rules of "traditional" wars.
This was the view of one of three panels convened for the symposium, "New Policies and Realities in the Wake of The Terrorist Attacks on September 11th," held in the Library's Coolidge Auditorium on April 8.
Cohosted by the Law Library and American University Washington College of Law, the symposium featured panels on "The War on Terrorism: Its Implications for the Laws of War," "What Patriotism Means Today," and "Foreign Legal Responses to Terrorism." Speakers included academics, government officials, representatives of international and nongovernmental organizations, private law practitioners, and senior legal specialists from the Law Library.
Robert Goldman, a professor at American University Washington College of Law, moderated the first panel focusing on terrorism and the laws of war. John Cooke, a retired brigadier general and director of judicial education at the Federal Judicial Center, noted that although it appears that the United States is now dealing with criminal syndicates, these have many "state-equivalent" features, such as the ability to mobilize resources and define political ideologies.
Several panelists made reference to the confusing legal status of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. James Ross, a senior legal advisor for Human Rights Watch, suggested that it would cost nothing to declare the detainees as prisoners of war and suggested that the "best way to promote the laws of war is to adhere to them."
In examining "What Patriotism Means Today," the symposium's second panel, Walter Berns of the American Enterprise Institute made multiple references to Abraham Lincoln. Berns suggested that Lincoln was "the American who taught us what it means to be American, who taught us what it means to be a patriot."
Roger Wilkins, a professor of history at George Mason University, related an incident during the time of the Vietnam War in which he argued that "dissent is the highest form of patriotism and the highest form of loyalty." Wilkins said his patriotism still hinges on that statement and suggested that Americans need to be "active, wise, informed" citizens and participate in the debates the United States is facing.
In contrast, Col. John Ripley (retired), suggested that, however imperfect, the U.S. government has been put in place by its people and now is not the time to come up with individual interpretations of what the government should do. Rather than question the government, Ripley asserted, "the patriot supports his or her government in every possible way."
Jamin Raskin, a law professor at American University Washington College of Law moderated the panel.
The final panel featured a group of senior legal specialists from the Law Library. Moderated by Kersi Shroff, chief of the Western Law Division, the panelists addressed the impact that terrorism and the events of September 11 have had on the laws and policies of a number of different countries. In his introduction, Shroff discussed the elusive task of developing a legal definition of terrorism and noted that a British statute has recently incorporated this new definition: "Violent acts that are designed to advance religious or ideological causes."
Edith Palmer, a senior legal specialist in the Western Law Division, noted the prompt and strong German response to the attacks on September 11; within a week, Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's promise of military assistance to the United States received parliamentary approval. Legislation was enacted a month later to allow the German authorities to prohibit religious associations with a terrorist agenda. And, by the end of 2001, a reform package had been enacted that enhanced the investigative powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The new legislation constituted a shift in the balance between privacy and security interests that nevertheless attempted to stay within the German constitutional framework, Palmer noted.
Ruth Levush, a senior legal specialist in the Eastern Law Division, discussed Israel's international cooperation in the area of counterterrorism, as well as its domestic legislation on terrorist prevention, information gathering, detention of suspected terrorists and assistance to victims. She described how Israeli law balances the public's right to security with the right to protect their civil liberties. This balancing act, as declared by the chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court, is achieved within the law and involves a compromise between competing interests. Levush discussed an example of this rule in a leading case that outlaws torture in interrogations of terrorism suspects.
The Russian Federation's reaction to terrorism was the topic of panelist Peter Roudik, a senior legal specialist in the Eastern Law Division. Noting that Russia is well versed in responses to terrorism because it has experienced all manner of terrorist acts, Roudik said that Russia has taken the position that international terrorism must be stopped because it poses a threat to the stability of Russia. He described a 1998 law that established the framework for combating terrorism and made the president directly responsible for stopping terrorist acts. Despite the focus of the executive and legislative branches on terrorism, Russia still remains vulnerable to terrorist acts, according to a recent analysis.
The final panelist, George Sfeir, a senior legal specialist in the Eastern Law Division, discussed how a number of Arab states have responded to the events of September 11. Sfeir opened by stating that terrorism was a well-known phenomenon in the Arab world before the terrorist attacks. Arab states in general have treated terrorism as a criminal matter subject to penal codes, or as a threat to national unity and security governed by various emergency acts. Sfeir noted that there have been more changes in attitude rather than laws since September 11. He said events of that day illustrated that local groups, which modern Arab governments previously thought were manageable, could potentially be drawn into well-organized international terrorist groups. The September 11 events also caused several states to reexamine their laws related to financial disclosure and the transfer of funds. One point of contention between the U.S. and Arab states was the focus of the United States on traditional methods of transferring funds and charitable contributions, which in the Arab world have deep historic and cultural roots based on notions of trust.
Janice Hyde is the Law Library's program officer.