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.
“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.”
The treacherous terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, and the aftershocks that are still being felt years later, have had a profound effect on the legal landscape in the United States. In 9/11’s immediate aftermath, Congress, in a rare and fleeting moment of bipartisanship, gave the President far-reaching authority to combat terrorism.
If, as de Tocqueville observed, everything in America eventually becomes the province of lawyers, it should not be surprising that the conduct of lawyers has become a salient aspect of the war on terror. While terrorists typically express contempt for the rule of law, lawyers in a democracy should know better. Unfortunately, crises sometimes push lawyers from their traditional roles as advocates and counselors into less auspicious roles as enablers of overreaching. The legal response to the attacks of September 11 has highlighted the ethical pressures imposed on lawyers in crisis situations. The contributors to this symposium focus on two important subjects: (1) the ethical issues triggered by the recommendations of government lawyers on treatment of detainees (the so-called “torture memos”), and (2) the debate over the ethics of the government’s placement of restrictions on civilian defense lawyers representing alleged terrorists in government-dominated fora such as military commissions. The torture memos represent a conflict between the lawyer’s role as advocate for a client’s position and the attorney’s role as advisor offering an accurate account of the law as it exists. Symposium contributors argue that lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice are advisors charged with the latter role. They argue further that these attorneys failed in that obligation.