National Insecurity and Human Rights: Democracies Debate Counterterrorism

National Insecurity and Human Rights: Democracies Debate Counterterrorism

National Insecurity and Human Rights: Democracies Debate Counterterrorism

National Insecurity and Human Rights: Democracies Debate Counterterrorism


Human rights is all too often the first casualty of national insecurity. How can democracies cope with the threat of terror while protecting human rights? This timely volume compares the lessons of the United States and Israel with the "best-case scenarios" of the United Kingdom, Canada, Spain, and Germany. It demonstrates that threatened democracies have important options, and democratic governance, the rule of law, and international cooperation are crucial foundations for counterterror policy.

Contributors: Howard Adelman, Colm Campbell, Pilar Domingo, Richard Falk, David Forsythe, Wolfgang S. Heinz, Pedro Ibarra, Todd Landman, Salvador Marté, Daniel Wehrenfennig


Alison Brysk

Human rights is the first casualty of unconventional war. Even in liberal democracies, perceptions of national insecurity can rapidly destroy citizen support for international law and democratic values, such as the rule of law and tolerance. Political leaders and defense establishments arrogate the right to determine national interest and security threat, undermining democratic checks and balances and creating a politics of fear. When terrorist violence is framed as a war—an uncontrollable, external, absolute threat to existence and identity—it disrupts the democratic functioning and global ties of target societies. Terrorism has succeeded in destroying democracy when a national security state, without the knowledge or consent of its citizens, tortures and kills detainees, runs secret prisons, kidnaps foreign nationals and deports them to third countries to be abused, imprisons asylum seekers, spies on its citizens, and impedes freedoms of movement, association, and expression on the basis of religion and national origin.

But some democracies do better than others, even in the face of overwhelming threats. How can liberal democracies cope liberally? We can learn from comparing experiences and exploring alternatives from the United States, United Kingdom, Israel, Spain, Canada, and Germany. We find that counterterror policies reflect a state’s history of threat and consequent institutional toolkit, the construction of its national interest, and the public’s perception of the threat to that interest. Since similarly situated target states advance different counterterror policies, to safeguard rights in the face of threat we must analyze the influence of differing rights values, legal regimes, incorporation of international norms, and legitimacy base for the exercise of authority. If we can rethink national security so it is not a fixed defense of borders by any means necessary, but an evolving mode of protection for citizens from both external and institutional violence, human rights become . . .

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