Prior to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001, American law enforcement agencies regarded the issue of terrorism with little apprehension1.
After the terrorist attacks of 2001 on the United States’ soil, networks of groups with extreme ideologies regarding Islam were uncovered across Europe and America. Although these groups had existed even before the day of the attack, their operations had remained unnoticed and the threat they posed overlooked.
These groups, known as salafist takfiri terrorists groups, disregard conventional Islamic beliefs, and endorse extreme violence against non-believers. The organization and funding of the September 11 attacks was linked to the salafist takfiri terrorist cells.
The need to establish strict counter-terrorism measures even at the local level came into focus when the World Trade Center and the United States postal system were attacked with hijacked airliners and anthrax biological weapon respectively.
Due to the indiscrete nature of the salafist takfiri terrorist networks, the cooperation of various government agencies was required to provide a solution. The legislature, under enormous pressure from the public, endorsed the proposed forms of reprisal against the attackers by the government.
Considering that the law restricts the jurisdiction of various security agencies to a particular field, coordinating the activities of the law enforcement agencies presented a complex problem. The stipulated code of conduct for officers from different agencies limits the scope of their duties. In addition, the constitution of the United States does not allow the federal government to control the local security agencies.
This makes it difficult for federal government to use the services of the local agencies at will in countering terrorism. Another legal issue arising after the 9/11 attack was how to respond to such terrorist attacks while maintaining a justifiable legal explanation. The absence of an international law defining the possible responses to this kind of aggression allowed the federal government to interpret the act of terrorism as war.
Governments should employ solutions that are acceptable to the international community when dealing with their peoples’ protection2. The act of waging a war on terrorists legitimizes and may even justify acts of terrorism in reprisal.
This radical interpretation of the international law may enhance terrorism rather than mitigating it. If the salafist takfiri terrorists are treated as common criminals and subjected to the usual criminal law, their profile and moral justification is likely to diminish.
After the 2001 terrorist attacks, the American government resulted into detaining suspected terrorists in camps without trial. Although being suspected of having an affiliation to terrorists is a serious allegation, it does not warrant detention without trial. Detaining suspected terrorists in special camps amounted to treating them as prisoners of war3.
Many people including legal experts viewed this approach as unconstitutional and a breach of the local and international laws. Allegations of the use of unlawful methods of interrogation in an exaggerated effort to combat terrorism were common during the anti-terrorism campaign that followed the attacks. Consequently, the code of conduct of the American military became questionable.
The war on terror after the World Trade Center attack comprised of monitoring the operations of telecommunication equipments without warrants authorizing such procedures. This brought about controversy as such operations seemed to contradict the laws governing individual privacy rights.
Although the American administration was justified in responding to the public’s fears and lack of confidence in the security agencies after the September 2001 attacks, breaching of the law was not necessary4. Several lawsuits were filed accusing the government of failing to protect and respect the peoples’ privacy rights.
Various sources accused the government of an unwarranted reaction in trying to cover up the failures of the security agencies. Some law experts were of the opinion that the government should take responsibility for the attacks rather than justifying reprisals in the name of security operations. The legality of the American government’s reaction after the terrorists’ attacks remains a controversial issue to date.
Boyne, Shawn, Mike German, Paul R. Pillar, and Dallas Owens. Law vs. war: competing approaches to fighting terrorism : conference report. Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2005.
Lowenthal, Mark M… Intelligence from secrets to policy. Fourth ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2009.
Sarkesian, Sam C., John Allen Williams, and Stephen J. Cimbala. US national security: policymakers, processes, and politics. 4th ed. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008.
Wright, Lawrence. The looming tower: Al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11. New York: Knopf, 2006.
1 Wright, Lawrence. The looming tower: Al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11. (New York: Knopf, 2006), 4.
2 Boyne, Shawn, Mike German, Paul R. Pillar, and Dallas Owens. Law vs. war:
competing approaches to fighting terrorism : conference report. (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2005), 3.
3 Sarkesian, Sam C., John Allen Williams, and Stephen J. Cimbala. US
national security: policymakers, processes, and politics. 4th ed. (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008), 24.
4 Lowenthal, Mark M… Intelligence from secrets to policy. Fourth ed. (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2009), 15.