Law professor examines The 9/11 Effect: Comparative Counter-Terrorism
Work on the [Maher] Arar and Air India commissions gave Professor Kent Roach a broader understanding of counterterrorism and the importance of balancing human rights with national security.
The University of Toronto law professor draws on this firsthand experience in his new book, The 9/11 Effect: Comparative Counter-Terrorism, to take a critical look at the effects of counter-terrorism policies since Sept. 11, 2001.
“I couldn’t have written this book without having worked on the Arar and Air India commissions, it really made me appreciate how difficult counter-terrorism is and the risk of both abusing human rights but also the risk of not preventing terrorism,” he said. “I really do think this is one of the important issues of our time.”
In his book, Roach examines the responses of the United States, Britain and Canada and the pressure these western nations placed on emerging democracies to adopt anti-terrorism laws designed by the West and the United Nations (UN).
The 9/11 Effect represents a decade of Roach’s research and provides an overview of 11 countries including those where he had the opportunity to work and teach since Sept. 11, such as Indonesia, Australia and Singapore.
Some of the key failures explored in the book include the West’s willingness to relinquish criminal prosecution and due process in favour of military and administrative detention on the basis of secret information.
“One of the things that I think is quite interesting is the question of, has the west and also the United Nations lost some of its credibility in criticizing authoritarian practices taken in the name of preventing terrorism,” said Roach.
He also discusses the UN’s refusal to provide leadership in coming up with an international definition of terrorism. By providing a definition, the UN would have created a foundation on which countries could form and enact global anti-terrorism laws.
“What I argue in the book is, if the [UN] Security Council had focused on the definitional issue they probably could’ve gotten an international agreement,” said Roach. “The foundational definition would have allowed a global reaction, but now countries can act according to their own definition.”
A self-described “old-fashioned criminal lawyer,” Roach believes it’s in the public’s best interest if terrorism were subject to criminal prosecution. “The criminal trial and criminalization is a very effective way to say we don’t care why you are doing this, it’s just not acceptable to commit violence against innocent people,” he said.
However, he cautions that in order for prosecution to work, intelligence agencies must be willing to allow their informers and their intelligence to be used as evidence.
Roach does point to some successes in the book, citing Canada’s decision to establish the Arar commission, and its 2004 declaration of an all risk national security strategy that acknowledged events in addition to terrorism -- for example the 2003 SARS outbreak -- as threats to national security.
“My own view is that Canada should be proud of having done things like the Arar inquiry because internationally, people look at this as an example of what they should be doing,” said Roach.
Still, he is frustrated that the security agencies have been able to resist the recommendations of the commission and isn’t confident we’ll ever see another inquiry like it.
The 9/11 Effect tries to make sense of what has been going on for the past decade. Yet, as we move away from 9/11, it also points to new ideas for the complex and pressing questions surrounding counter-terrorism.