Law School panel talks of terrorism

One of the difficulties discussed was the lack of a definition for terrorism.

by Elizabeth Giorgi

Terrorism can be a difficult thing to define.

The National Security and Law Society at the University’s Law School hosted the forum “Counterterrorism 21: Thinking Globally and Acting Locally to Counter Terrorism in the 21st Century” on Friday to discuss the meaning of terrorism in a time when the United States is in what its administration calls a war on terror.

Andrew Borene, president of the National Security and Law Society, said forum members were selected for their particular expertise on specific aspects of terrorism.

“We couldn’t have a better panel of experts,” he said.

One of the panelists, Mike Hurley, was a CIA officer and senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, is now with the State Department’s Office of Counterterrorism.

Hurley said the United Nations never determined a formal definition of terrorism, whereas the U.S. Congress has.

Congress defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.”

The problem is that defining terrorism doesn’t necessarily mean it applies to every country, he said.

“One country’s freedom fighter is another country’s terrorist,” Hurley said.

William Mitchell College of Law professor and former CIA Assistant General Counsel John Radsan said it is important that when discussing terrorism, people realize there needs to be goals for preventing terrorist acts.

The ultimate goal in fighting terrorism is to ensure terrorists do not obtain weapons of mass destruction, he said.

The next major step is determining what must be done to people who have committed a terrorist act or those plotting an act, Radsan said.

“These people must be brought to justice,” he said.

But Fred Morrison, University Law School professor and former counselor on international law for the State Department, said there is confusion about what a war on terrorism means in terms of justice.

He said the war on terrorism is not a “traditional international war.”

“We’ve had wars on poverty, drugs and traffic violators,” he said. “The use of the word war is not lessening the value of the issue, but how we use the word.”

Morrison said the best way for the United States to deal with terrorists is to focus on the acts of terrorism and bringing them to justice based on the acts terrorists have committed or have planned to commit.

Law student Matt Powers said he attended the event because he was interested in the topic of terrorism and how the United States is going to deal with it.

“I think the debate is important,” he said. “We need to know how we are going to address these issues.”