“American anti-terrorism laws are insufficient to address the next wave of global terrorism. When President Bush declared that the United States had begun a ‘war on terror,’ the entire government began to reorient itself to tackle America’s newest ‘generational challenge.’ The Department of Justice (DOJ) joined this massive effort, declaring in a new Strategic Plan that its focus was not simply to prosecute terrorists for crimes, but to ‘[p]revent, disrupt, and defeat terrorist operations before they occur.’ Despite its constant talk of reorientation, however, DOJ has been limited in its ability to creatively address the war on terror for one simple reason: many of the relevant federal criminal statutes are poorly constructed. Prior to September 1994, there were no federal criminal prohibitions that specifically punished material support for terrorism. Prosecutors had to rely instead on generic federal crimes, such as murder and money laundering, or on a variety of statutes condemning specific acts of terrorism, such as air piracy or hostage taking. After the 1993 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center, this situation rapidly changed. Legislators hastily drafted a number of statutes and amendments that sought to address the domestic terrorist threat. Acting in response to public demand for quick, decisive action, Congress generally maximized the scope of anti-terror prohibitions while overriding any legal obstacles to quick prosecution that were presented by the judiciary.”
- Andrew Peterson is an attorney in Washington, D.C., and a member of the Board of Advisors of the NYU Center on Law and Security.