governments have passed counterterrorism laws in droves since september 11, 2001

by Tim Phillips

Human Rights Watch reports that 144 countries passed counterterrorism laws since the events of September 11, 2001. According to researcher Letta Tayler, such measures “represent a dangerous expansion of powers to detain and prosecute . . . political opponents.” Many governments have used the laws to prosecute protesters for the ostensible purpose of preventing terrorism.

As counterterrorism laws are used for politically-motivated purposes, it should come as no surprise that each of the 130 measures Human Rights Watch reviewed – all enacted or revised since September 11, 2001 – included one or more provisions that invited misuse. Such provisions include unclear definitions of terrorism, which potentially cover a wide range of activities, and permission to search premises or arrest people without a warrant.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA), in the U.S., exemplifies another troubling trend by allowing prolonged detention of terrorism suspects without charge. Indefinite detention without charge, according to the Human Rights Watch press release announcing yesterday’s report, “has not been part of the US legal code since the McCarthy era anti-communist sweeps in the 1950s.” Attorney Lauren Regan, Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, explains the relevance of the NDAA to activism:

As we saw in the Green Scare persecutions, the government will label activists as terrorists for sabotaging corporate or government property without ever harming a single living creature.

Regan reasonably asks whether Daniel McGowan or Jonathan Paul would have been subjected to indefinite detention had the NDAA been in effect five years ago. Significantly, Federal District Judge Katherine Forrest already ruled twice that the section of the NDAA allowing indefinite detention is likely unconstitutional. This was only a preliminary injunction, however, and Glenn Greenwald says Judge Forrest’s decision “will certainly be appealed.”