The past few days I’ve been attending (and, on Monday afternoon, reading a paper) at an academic conference – “Terrorism and Justice: The Balance for Civil Liberties” sponsored by the Institute of Justice and International Studies at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. Over the next few weeks I will attempt to report on what I heard and learned at the conference.

I attended a panel session this morning and heard a presentation titled “Counter Terrorism and Civil Liberties: The United Kingdom Experience, 1968-2008” by Jessie Blackbourn of Queen’s University Belfast, UK.  

Her assertion was that the “subjugation of civil liberties” in reaction to terrorism had no effect in reducing the threat of terrorism and, instead, contributed to increasing the cycle of violence. As she said, “One IRA man stated that internment [subjugation of civil liberties] was the best recruiting tool the IRA ever had…”

The chipping away of civil liberties, the “slippery slope”, appears to be arbitrary:

…[after 2001] the government [in the UK] then introduced a law that would allow the pre-trial detention for up to 90 days for terror suspects…We’re very lucky that our Parliament thought this was ridiculous and said that, no actually 28 days would be enough to…question people…[then] reintroduced a counter terrorism law requesting that 42 days is actually much more reasonable. And, there appears to be no logic behind these numbers…

In the question and answer session which followed a German scholar [a lawyer with expertise in international law] asked, “Your suggestion is to do nothing?” She answered, “Yes” – and then went on to explain that existing criminal laws were sufficient to deal with the challenges of terrorism. Reducing  or doing away with civil liberties had the effect of reducing or doing away with civil liberties – it did not reduce terrorism.