The Authoritarianization of U.S. Counterterrorism
63 Pages Posted: 6 Oct 2018 Last revised: 3 Nov 2018
Date Written: September 12, 2018
More than seventeen years since the “War on Terror” began, the United States has failed to recognize how its authoritarian allies, rather than its adversaries, have defined its counterterrorism practices. Western democracies have adopted signature practices of authoritarian regimes. Torture, secret renditions to black sites, indefinite detention, mass surveillance, targeted killings, selective anti-terrorism enforcement against dissidents and minorities, criminalization of political beliefs, and decreased due process rights are among the counterterrorism practices found in both the United States and their Middle East allies, albeit in varying degrees.
Human rights are de-coupled from security, or worse, treated as an impediment to preserving national security. Although the balance between security and liberty has been the topic of lively debate since 9/11, I proffer that the impetus behind rights violations is not limited to perennial tensions between security and liberty in times of war. Increased international coordination in counterterrorism between authoritarian regimes and liberal democracies also adversely affects human rights.
As terrorism crosses borders with ease, transnational counterterrorism has become a necessity. International organizations and states coordinate preventing terrorism, identifying and apprehending known terrorists, and prosecuting terrorism suspects between nations. One consequence of such coordination is the normalization of illiberal counterterrorism norms and practices common among democratic nations.
While coordinated counterterrorism is warranted to combat transnational terrorists, the current rights subordinating approach is counterproductive. Western governments that engage in or directly support rights-infringing practices ultimately aid terrorists as they proclaim themselves legitimate defenders against transnational state violence. Aggressive state measures trigger backlash attacks as new grievances arise; thereby feeding a cycle of state and non-state violence at the expense of civilian lives. The challenge for Western democratic nations is to avoid a race to the bottom in their counterterrorism coordination with authoritarian regimes.
Keywords: Counterterrorism, National Security, Secret Rendition, Egypt, War on Terror, Authoritarian, Transnational Terrorism, Terrorism
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