Arraigning Terror

Arraigning Terror

After the September 11 attacks, the United States began a sweeping restructuring of the nation’s intelligence-gathering and coercive institutions. The administration had two goals: first, to enhance information sharing and analysis among all U.S. military, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies. That task is necessary, though it poses dangers to civil liberties that the Bush administration has ignored. The second goal is to expand governmental powers to detain, prosecute, and convict persons suspected of terrorism without any meaningful procedural protections or oversight by the courts. This endeavor presents far more massive dangers, and the case for its necessity has not been made.

The Bush administration believes the United States is engaged in a wholly new kind of war in which, according to its National Security Strategy, it “must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends.” Knowing that this policy of preventive warfare is likely to be answered with violent assaults at home as well as abroad, the administration has began to reconstitute all basic systems for exercising coercive force: the criminal justice system, conventional military operations, immigration control, and foreign intelligence gathering and special operations. It has also distanced itself from the developing system of international criminal law, notably by refusing assent to the International Criminal Court.

So far, the administration has taken five major steps to enhance the nation’s ability to detect and deter terrorist threats by restructuring these coercive systems:

(1) the passage of the USA Patriot Act on October 25, 2001;

(2) the president’s executive order issued November 13, 2001, authorizing detention and military trials for non-citizens suspected of terrorism;

(3) the opening in January 11, 2002, of the Guantánamo, Cuba, naval base detention camp, where over 650 persons are still detained-the United States has declared them all to be “unlawful enemy combatants,” not prisoners of war, without the individualized determinations of status required by the Third Geneva Convention of 1949;

(4) the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security on Nov 25, 2002, which has absorbed many federal programs, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service and its anti-terrorist “Special Registration Initiative” targeted at Arabic and Muslim immigrants, which led to the questioning of roughly 130,000 male immigrants and alien visitors, the deportation of some 9,000 undocumented individuals, the arrest of over 800 criminal suspects, and the detention of 11 suspected terrorists (though on April 30, 2003, the administration announced that the Initiative was ending, so far only requirements for annual re-registration have been relaxed);