A debate rages in the halls of universities as well as in Congress and national security agencies about whether the United States should enact new “administrative” or “preventive” detention laws – laws that would authorize the detention of suspected terrorists outside the normal criminal justice system.
Advocates argue that criminal law alone is inadequate to combat transnational terrorist networks spanning continents and waging violence at a level of intensity and sophistication previously achievable only by powerful states, but that the law of war is inadequate to protect liberty. Jack Goldsmith and Neal Katyal, for example, call on “Congress to establish a comprehensive system of preventive detention that is overseen by a national security court.”
Critics warn that new administrative detention laws will undermine liberty, and they assert that criminal law already provides the government with ample tools to arrest, charge, and prosecute suspected terrorists. Center for Constitutional Rights President Michael Ratner writes that preventive detention “cuts the heart out of any concept of human liberty.”
It is well known that the American Revolution was spurred in large part by the colonists’ reaction to King George’s use of the military to enforce English laws in the colonies. After the colonists had become sufficiently disgruntled by the increasingly martial measures imposed by the King, the drafters of the Declaration of Independence listed among its central complaints the tendencies of the English Crown “to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.”
Just as King Charles had been beheaded in 1649 for violating what became a fundamental Anglo- American value – that soldiers are respected for defeating enemies of the state but are never to be used against their civilian neighbors – King George lost the colonies when he employed troops to control disorderly civilians.
Unpopular wars inevitably lead to sharp conflicts between Presidents and the press over the control of secret information. National security secrets find their way into print because government officials assigned to carry out questionable policies leak secret documents to reporters. The government responds to publication with threats of civil legal action and criminal prosecution.
The Vietnam War produced the Pentagon Papers case, in which the government unsuccessfully sought to stop publication of a classified history of the war. More recently, national security cases have led to jail for some reporters, threats of jail for others, and warnings of criminal prosecution for still others.1 These cases, taken together, threaten to criminalize newsgathering of national security secrets.
Debate continues as to the transformations in terrorism evidenced by the September 11 attacks and since that time. Some, including the former U.S. President, point to changes in the nature of terrorism and argue that September 11 constituted a wholly new form of terrorism that demanded a novel response. Given the prior events of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the East African embassy bombings in 1998, it would appear more appropriate to depict a transformation in scale and tactics rather than nature.
This article seeks to explore a third perspective. It accepts the fact that there have been transformations in terrorism, but it focuses on the actors rather than on their actions. It suggests that one’s neighbor has become a potential foe and that this trend became apparent only gradually after September 11. There are important consequences for law enforcement beyond the major adaptations already incurred. The move toward neighbor terrorism has perhaps been masked by the other more brutal changes, but it is this trend that has the potential to cause the most lasting and insidious impact on everyone’s lives.
For more than 30 years, our country has struggled to delineate the boundaries of domestic intelligence operations. Americans tend to regard those government components exercising national security powers within the borders of the United States (whether under clear authority or not) with an inherent suspicion bolstered by historical experience.
We tolerate the existence of such components but insist that they be highly regulated, particularly with respect to any activities that impinge upon civil society. Historical circumstances influence, but never erase, this regulatory imperative. Despite this imperative, components may occasionally escape regulation – at least for a time – because they are unknown, their missions remain mysterious or only partially understood, or because (intentionally or not) a convincing illusion of sufficient regulation is presented to the examining eye.