Combatting Terrorism: Respecting Human Rights

The following op-ed was published in the San Francisco Chronicle.

In the post 9/11 world, life has changed both globally and locally. A few examples: We arrive at airports well before scheduled departure times because of long security lines; we arrive earlier at large public events because of bag checks; and increasingly, while riding public transportation to work, we check to see if something or someone seems suspicious.

Not everything about this new reality is obvious, but this much is: We need to develop a counterterrorism training model for protecting the public; a model that must be exponentially different from yesteryears. This requires a multidisciplinary, integrative approach that facilitates discussion of two issues fundamental to counterterrorism: effectiveness and protection of human rights.

As we prepare and train those involved in operational counterterrorism, we need to ask: What we are training for?” What do we expect and demand the trainee to learn and implement?

How should those protecting us respond when someone seemingly ill seeks to pass through a security line? There have been cases where illness was feigned for purposes of conducting terror attacks.

How should those protecting us respond when an apparently pregnant woman requests special consideration? After all, terrorist organizations have previously used such scenarios for duplicitous reasons.

And where do we draw the line? Should every shoe be removed and scanned after an attempt at London airport to use shoes to smuggle a dirty bomb or do we make an exception when an elderly woman with a wooden leg connected to a shoe tries to pass a security line?

These questions are relevant to military personnel, Transportation Security Administration personnel and security officials at public events worldwide. Thus, training programs should be based on the experience of others. Israel, which has been forced to respond to terrorism for many years, can be seen as the “world’s laboratory” for operational counterterrorism. Israel has developed security strategies for, among others, airports, public transportation and shopping mall protection.

These strategies are predicated both on their cost and protection of human rights. They presume a need to prepare security personnel for complex situations in which they will be required to distinguish between a civilian and a terrorist, whether in the West Bank or Jerusalem’s central bus station.

Under my command, the Israel Defense Forces School of Military Law engaged senior commanders to co-develop an interactive training program that addressed the confluence of human dignity and armed conflict. Teaching the soldier how to distinguish between an innocent civilian and a terrorist carrying a suicide bomb belt hidden in a prayer rug or an ambulance is extraordinarily complicated. It is also mandatory. Otherwise both human rights violations and ineffective counterterrorism will rule the day.

The great battles of the past were conducted on large battlefields. The enemy wore a uniform, was readily identified, carried his weapon openly and represented a nation-state. Military training was very much “within the box.” Given the enormous complexity of terrorism and counterterrorism alike, both domestically and globally, today’s training model requires us to think “outside the box.”

The “enemy” may cause unimagined damage in an ever-moving “zone of combat” that extends far beyond the traditional battleground. Whether in Berkeley or Mumbai, Salt Lake City or Mosul, Wichita or, Tel Aviv, the “enemy” does not wear a uniform, generally does not openly carry a weapon and does not represent a nation-state.

In order to prevent loss of innocent life, violations of human rights and waste of public funds, we must develop sophisticated training models to address these profound concerns.

Effective counterterrorism training models must teach our protectors:

– International and domestic law;

– Moral standards in armed conflict;

– International relations and history;

– Cultural norms and sensitivities;

– Language and communication skills.

We must think “outside the box” in developing a worldwide training model that enables our protectors to more effectively protect us. This is a critical first step. And one we need to take today.

Amos N. Guiora is a professor of law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah, is speaking on Nov. 15 on legal and policy global perspectives on Counterterrorism at the Santa Clara School of Law, San Jose State University and Stanford University.

This article appeared on page B – 11 of the San Francisco Chronicle

View comments to this article online at San Francisco Chronicle.

Cross-posted on the National Security Advisors Blog