“Today there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany – and it is only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking!”

Donald Trump (Dec. 20, 2016)

“We will find the strength for the life that we want to live in Germany, free, with one another, and open.”

Angela Merkel (Dec. 20, 2016)

Earlier in the week, a terrorist attack carried out using a tractor-trailer to plow through a crowded Christmas market in central Berlin, left 12 people dead and injured 48 others. ISIS (or Da’ish) has claimed responsibility. After the various attacks recently perpetrated—in Orlando, Istanbul, Dhaka, Baghdad, Nice, Paris and now Berlin— there is still no effective international strategy to deal with terrorist attacks by ISIS, and with the support it receives, often by nationals of the countries where those attacks take place. To be clear, the vast majority of the world’s Muslims do not support ISIS, but there are enough who do—including citizens of France, Britain, Germany and the United States—so, we need to start thinking of viable strategies to fight terrorism at an international level that also addresses the problem at “home.” The strategies used so far are not working.

Governments have a number of possible responses to terrorist attacks, beyond the perfunctory initial show of solidarity, some might involve curtailing civil liberties in what is often interpreted as a benign exchange of personal freedoms for security. Other strategies might be more geared to attempting to give Muslim citizens everywhere a greater stake in the peace and prosperity of the countries in which they live, so that they do not feel like outsiders, and are able to develop lasting bonds with members of the community. These personal connections with our community are what make the fabric of a peaceful society, when those connections are made, there is little room for murderer terrorist plots to fester undetected.

In the United States, historically, repression has been the government’s reaction to threats to security. In 1798, in response to concerns about survival of the country, Congress enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts, which made it a federal crime to make false criticisms of the government or its officials. Likewise, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln’s dissidents were imprisoned for criticizing the way the government was handling the war, and the writ of habeas corpus was suspended. During World War II, 110,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly shamefully interned in

concentration camps. The McCarthy era ushered in a witch-hunt that resulted in the persecution of those suspected or merely accused of being communists. Even in more recent history, after 9/11, citizens of the United States suffered a substantial loss of their civil liberties with unprecedented claims of authority to detain American citizens, unprecedented secrecy, and unparalleled invasions of privacy. The Bush Administration established a system of military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees, bypassing Article III courts, which was struck down by the Supreme Court as a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (“UCMJ”).

Europe also has had significant experience with terrorism, and in those situations, European governments have also gone too far in curtailing human rights and personal freedoms. In the United Kingdom, terrorist attacks have been going on since about 1969 with the actions of the IRA which killed over 1,600 soldiers and civilians since the inception of hostilities. The conflict with Northern Ireland grew to its greatest heights between 1970 and the early 1980’s. As a result, the United Kingdom passed various legislative measures aimed at combating terrorism including internment.  The Detention of Terrorists Order of 1972 allowed anyone “suspected of having been concerned in the commission or attempted commission of any act of terrorism or in the direction, organization or training of persons for the purpose of terrorism” to be detained for twenty-eight days. After twenty-eight days, the detainee was released or referred to a commissioner, someone appointed by the Secretary of State. The commissioner would hear the case, but the hearing was primarily an executive procedure and not a judicial one. For example, the detainee could be excluded from the proceeding if national security was at stake, the hearing could be based on hearsay, and the accused did not have the right to call witnesses. In 1980, public criticism of the procedures resulted in the act being repealed.

In Spain, the Basque separatist organization Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA) fought for an independent homeland for Basques in four northern Spanish provinces since the 1960s, and their violent acts killed over 1000 people since 1968. Under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, authoritarian measures were used to suppress Basque dissidents, who were considered military enemies. To streamline prosecutions against the separatists, the crime of military rebellion was extended to political offenses, banditry, and other acts unrelated to the military to address the actions of dissidents through the use of military trials with significantly fewer procedural safeguards than regular courts. During the final decade of the Franco regime, a secret tribunal known as the “Tribunal del Orden Publico” was instituted to try in secret, and without counsel, those who opposed the regime and who were considered terrorists by the government. After Franco’s death in 1975, Spain transitioned to a democracy and people demanded an abandonment of such coercive practices.

The passage of anti-terrorist legislation affecting civil liberties following 9/11 was not limited to the United States. British anti-terror legislation allowed the government to detain without charge any terror suspect for a period of up to twenty-eight days. In addition to the 9/11 terrorist events in the United States, investigation into the bombings in the United Kingdom on July 7, 2005, the further attempted bombings in the same month, and in August 2006, and the Birmingham beheading plot in January 2007, were considered to justify the use of anti terrorist legislation to stop and search large numbers of people living in Britain. Between April 1, 2001 and March 31, 2005, the police and security services stopped and searched 111,900 of whom approximately 1.4% were subsequently arrested.

Fear and anger about terrorist attacks affect financial markets, consumer spending, air travel, and public opinion toward government. In France, Front National Leader Marine Le Pen was quick to exploit the wave of anger directed towards President Francois Hollande over his handling of the terror threat in last July’s attack at Saint-Etienne-du Rouvray. After the attack, she accused the entire French establishment, both Left and Right, of sharing “immense responsibility” for creating the circumstances in which Islamist terrorists can operate in France. She received a great deal of support following those comments. In times of crisis, people want their leaders to provide protection, thus, whomever articulates the strongest laws and measures that appear to offer safety and security, will receive public support as measured in opinion polls. Unfortunately, the measures often advocated by governments in times of crisis tend to inevitably result in the infringement of personal rights and freedoms without tackling the root problems of disaffection and disconnectedness. Thus, despite all the promises by new leaders, governments change and terrorist attacks continue.

At this juncture, and considering that a new year is about to start, perhaps we ought to consider new strategies to combat ISIS. It is important to keep in mind that despite the history of government’s invasions of liberty and curtailment of personal freedoms in those critical times, there is no evidence that society, as a result, has become any safer. And yet, we still have governments advocating for stricter measures of surveillance, detention, curtailing of immigration, etc.  Now, as the world faces a different threat created by a new generation of Islamist-inspired terrorists, with home-grown terrorists, our leaders must show intelligence and resolve if they are not to fall into ISIS’s trap of allowing the current wave of terror attacks to bring about a true political crisis worldwide. Further reflection and discourse is needed as to the best course of action and on the effect that excessively curtailing civil liberties has on society. If we learn from history, we would understand that a balance between security and respect for human rights and diversity, is necessary to achieve lasting security and long-term peace. Maybe the recognition of this fact could be a universal resolution for the new year: that merely building walls and ghettos will not solve the problem posed by terrorism.



In response to a series of major data breaches at US companies in recent months including Sony, Anthem and Target, President Obama unveiled a series of cyber security proposals in his last State of the Union address in January. Obama followed up on this declaration of intent by signing a new executive order during the Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection organized by the White House at Stanford University in February.

Obama’s executive order encourages the development of Information Sharing and Analysis Organizations (“ISAOs”), providing legal-liability protection to make it easier for businesses and government to share online threat data specific to their industry or geographic region. The order also increases the role of the Department of Homeland Security in the data-sharing process by permitting it to enter into agreements and coordinate the ISAOs.

Mr. Obama’s renewed focus on cyber security has been mostly welcomed by the tech industry, however, the president continues to encounter some of the same suspicions over the privacy of online data that were so effectively highlighted by the Edward Snowden revelations about the NSA in 2013. Although Cyber terrorism is a reality, the concern is that unless there is a balancing between governmental intrusion and the individual’s right to privacy, people’s rights will be violated as they have in the past.

The right to privacy has been affected previously by extraordinary events around the world such as terrorism. While society has not been willing to sacrifice individual civil liberties lightly, it has done so in circumstances where the prevalent belief was that personal security has been threatened. In recent times, surveillance regimes that have been adopted as anti-terrorism measures have had a profound, chilling effect on other fundamental human rights.

The most drastic change affecting privacy in the laws of the United States occurred in response to the 9/11 attacks, when President Bush signed into law the anti-terrorism statute titled Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism, more commonly known as the USA PATRIOT Act. Among other things, the Patriot Act expanded the wiretapping and electronic surveillance powers of federal law enforcement authorities, and increased the information-sharing powers of investigative agencies. It also allowed law enforcement to demand libraries, bookstores, and businesses to produce tangible items, such as papers, books, and records, about persons of interest, while forbidding disclosure of such a demand. It further authorized searches conducted without giving contemporaneous notice of the search or an actual warrant for the search.

At the end of 2005, an article appeared on the front page of the New York Times chronicling widespread monitoring of telephonic and Internet communications by the NSA—National Security Agency.   These intercepts occurred with the direct authorization President Bush, and were undertaken without approval or oversight by the judiciary, beginning shortly after the 9/11 terrorists attacks. This wide-ranging program targeted interception of email and telephone calls with the number of those targeted ranging from the hundreds to possibly thousands. The effect of such wholesale violation of the right to privacy caused uproar among regular citizens who thought that such governmental intrusion on their personal affairs was overreaching and unwarranted.

Acts of terrorism and a fear for our personal security have historically intersected the privacy protections recognized by governments, and at times, served to take a few steps back in the universal recognition of the right to privacy. However, the government’s unsound arguments positing that the only way to offer protection was to infringe in our right to privacy have not been successful in the long term. People have recognized the obvious flaw with the proposition that there must be a trade off between privacy and security. Our willingness to sacrifice our privacy for security has been short-lived, and eventually, the tide has had to turn back by popular demand.

Upon further reflection and discourse on the effect of excessively curtailing civil liberties, the conclusion must be that a balance between security and respect for human rights is necessary in a civilized society. The two are not mutually exclusive; it is possible to demand cyber security and the protection of the right to privacy at the same time. The government must be very careful not to institute measures that will encroach on peoples’ hard fought civil liberties. The efforts made by Obama through his new initiative must carefully be monitored so that the right to privacy of individuals is sufficiently protected both by government and private entities.


On September 26, 2014, in the southern state of Guerrero, a group of 80 students from a Rural Teachers Training School in Ayotzinapa were attacked by the municipal police of Iguala. According to reports of witnesses in the area, the police opened fire without warning and then captured 43 young men. It was later revealed that the 43 men were subsequently turned over to a criminal gang known as Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors), which then caused the disappearance of all 43. It is known that at least one student was tortured, his eyeballs taken out and his face skinned. To this day, the actual whereabouts of the missing students remain unknown.

It is hard to believe that police could be involved with criminal gangs and actively participate in such a heinous crime, but it is even worse because in Mexico corruption goes beyond the police. Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam found evidence that Jose Luis Abarca, the arrested former mayor of Iguala, and his wife were working with Guerreros Unidos and ordered police to attack the students because the mayor feared they would disrupt an event to promote his wife’s political ambitions. In addition to the mayor of Iguala and his wife, several local police officers were also on the payroll of the criminal organization, and dozens were believed to be involved in the kidnapping and alleged murder of the students.

The disappearance of the students and the protests throughout Mexico in connection with them has shocked the world. The White House, Pope Francis and the EU have all taken up the matter in recent public statements. However, the tragedy of the students’ disappearance is miniscule as compared with the broader problem Mexico has with crime and the drug cartels that dominate the landscape of the country from one end to the other.

Mexico is the third largest poppy producer in the world, and 60% of it is grown in Guerrero state alone. Guerrero is considered a “narco state” and the war between cartels there has been savage. Guerreros Unidos fights other gangs such as La Familia and Los Rojos for control of the smuggling routes. So, in Iguala, a Guerrero key city for drug trafficking, disruptions to average citizens are part of every day life. However, what goes on in the state Guerrero is only part of a much broader and serious problem across the whole country.

In the last eight years, in the context of the war against drugs, about 120,000 people have been killed, more than 30,000 have disappeared, and a quarter of a million have been displaced in Mexico. A UN report estimated that 17,958 people were killed worldwide in terrorist attacks in 2013. The Mexican government reported that there were 31,532 homicides in the country between January and November of 2013 including 16,736 labeled as “intentional” murder and 14,796 as “negligent” manslaughter. This figure released by the Mexican government does not take into account individuals who have disappeared but not been labeled yet homocides.

A major investigation into mass graves in Mexico found the corpses of 24,000 people, all of them related to “narco crimes” of one type or another. Entire cities and towns have erupted into war zones replete with military checkpoints and drug cartel roadblocks. Armed with military grade weapons, including grenade launchers, the drug gangs are an equal match for Mexican soldiers and those police who have not been corrupted and are still willing to fight the gangs.

Given this reality, it is hard to distinguish between criminals and law enforcement. Many local politicians, federal and state lawmakers, party leaders, police chiefs and military bosses are closely tied with or identified with the criminal gangs. Drug cartel assassins, the military, and the police have all committed atrocities and violated human rights. Dismembered body parts have been left on streets or found decomposing in barrels of acid. Dead bodies with mouths duct taped often hang from commuter bridges. Women are raped and murdered, and journalists who expose law enforcement corruption are kidnapped and killed. People are afraid to report any crimes for fear of reprisals, and the current rate of unsolved murders is somewhere between 96 and 98%.

Mexico’s largest and most powerful drug gangs are the Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel. The Zetas operate in more than half of Mexico’s states and overtook their rivals (the Sinaloa cartel) in 2012 in terms of geographic presence and control. The Zetas’ brutal violence gave the gang an advantage over the Sinaloa cartel, which has always preferred to use bribes (mainly to police and politicians) to acquire territory and take over drug smuggling routes. Although the arrests of Zeta leader Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales in 15 July 2013, and of Gulf cartel (the oldest Mexican drug gang) leader Mario Armando Ramirez Treviño in 17 August 2013, were expected to have an impact on their respective organizations and on the overall problem, there has been no decrease in drug related violence since their arrests.

Despite President Enrique Peña Nieto’s stated efforts and various initiatives to combat drug cartels, drug related violence in Mexico continues to increase.  Before taking up office, he said he would break with the approach of Felipe Calderon, his predecessor, who had deployed the army to go after cartel kingpins and had declared “war” on the drug gangs. Mr. Peña Nieto promised a lower-profile approach aimed at tackling the violence on a local level by setting up a national police department to handle drug related crimes. However, when the violence escalated in Michoacan, he too sent the army to back up federal and local police forces. He also decided to strike a deal with vigilante groups, allowing them to keep their weapons as long as they agreed to be integrated in the official security forces.

As most nations focus on events in Syria, Egypt, and Iran, another violent struggle that is constantly taking human live is taking place in Mexico. Despite enormous casualties, the turmoil in Mexico does not receive nearly the level of scrutiny or attention that conflicts in other countries do. Everyone recognizes that Mexico has a serious problem with the drug cartels but there has been no concerted international initiative to eradicate it as there has been with terrorism.

The drug problem in Mexico is reminiscent of the drug problem that Colombia had in the nineties. Colombia was the world’s largest exporter of cocaine and heroin and a focal point for money laundering and arms trafficking in the Western Hemisphere. Its government had waged a losing battle against insurgents and drug traffickers for over two decades, and drug-related violence was steadily on the increase throughout the early nineties.

In 1999, the Clinton Administration backed the then newly elected Colombian President Andrés Pastrana’s agenda to curb drug smuggling. “Plan Colombia” included provisions for more aggressive eradication and interdiction efforts, encouraging rural guerrillas to disarm through peace talks, replacing coca farmers’ lost income with alternative crops and employment programs, and strengthening the country’s historically weak government. Of the plan’s initial $7.5 billion cost, the Clinton Administration committed $1.3 billion for eradication and interdiction, the European Community was asked to commit $2 billion for alternate crop development and government reform, and Colombia committed $4 billion overall to the plan. By 2012, the US had spent nearly $8 billion on the initiative.

Since Plan Colombia began in 2000, the positive changes in the security situation in Colombia are undeniable. Under the rubric of “democratic security,” developed by Álvaro Uribe, Colombia’s two-term president (2002–2010), the presence of the national police was extended throughout the country, to all of Colombia’s 1,300 municipalities. Due to the strengthened capacity of Colombia’s security forces and vastly improved intelligence capabilities, kidnappings declined between 2002 and 2009, from nearly 3,000 to just over 200 annually, and killings were reduced by nearly half in the same period. President Juan Manuel Santos, who took office in 2010, built on the foundation established during the Uribe administrations, and also emphasized extending the permanent, regular presence of security forces in small towns. Plan Colombia is today seen as a success for Colombians and for those who supported the initiative.

The situation in Mexico is difficult but not hopeless. Based on the experience of Colombia, there is reason to think that with help, Mexico can also win the war against the cartels and become a safer place. However, the international community must get involved. Merely analyzing the Mexican situation and doing nothing to help should not be an option; the human costs are too great.




Unmanned aerial systems (UAS), also known as drones, are aircraft either controlled by ‘pilots’ from the ground or autonomously following a pre-programmed mission. In addition to the term “drone”, these types of crafts may also be referred to as “unmanned aircraft,” “remotely piloted aircraft,” or “unmanned aerial vehicles.” There are dozens of different types of drones, the most commonly used fall into two categories: those that are used for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes and those that are armed with missiles and bombs.

A report released today by Amnesty International titled “ ‘Will I Be Next?’ U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan” contains information on 45 drone strikes it says were carried out by the United States in North Waziristan, Pakistan, between January 2012 and September 2013. In some of the attacks, it says, the victims were not members of militant groups like al Qaeda or the Taliban, but just ordinary civilians.

The report by Amnesty International was made public the day before Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington and calls for certain measures to bring the drone program in line with international law, including conducting impartial investigations into the cases documented, bringing those responsible for human rights violations to justice and offering compensation to civilian victims’ families.

Most of us are familiar with UAS from their use in such places as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. The main characteristics of UAS are that they do not carry a pilot onboard, but function from “pilot” control from the ground or elsewhere, and they use pre-programmed flight coordinates. The use of UAS have many advantages for the military such as low costs—both for flying as well as maintenance and acquisition, longer flight times and less risks to pilots.

UAS began to show their usefulness at the beginning of the Cold War as a reconnaissance tool. Over time, they have evolved into being used for three categories of action: as attack weapons, operation or strike tools, and as surveillance or reconnaissance systems. All the functioning of the UAS is generally controlled via a laptop computer, a kit mounted on a vehicle or in a larger fixed facility. The current military inventory for unmanned aerial vehicles exceeds 6,000 spread out among all branches of the military, with significant increases planned in the future.

In addition to the report released by Amnesty International, a report issued in conjunction with an investigation by Human Rights Watch details missile attacks in Yemen, which the group believes, could contravene the laws of armed conflict, international human rights law and Barack Obama’s own guidelines on drones. Human rights groups have accused US officials responsible for the secret CIA drone campaign against suspected terrorists in Pakistan of having committed war crimes.

The criticism launched against the US for their use of UAS in Pakistan is based on allegations that drone attacks have killed innocent civilians. Amnesty International has highlighted the case of a grandmother who was killed while she was picking vegetables and other incidents, which could have broken international laws designed to protect civilians.

According an internal Pakistani report leaked earlier this year, at least 10 civilian deaths were confirmed as a result of CIA drone strikes in 2009. The New America Foundation estimates that up to 207 civilians were killed from 2006 to 2009, along with up to 198 people who were not identified in reliable media reports to be either civilians or militants.

The United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW or CCWC), concluded at Geneva on October 10, 1980 and entered into force in December 1983, prohibits or restricts the use of certain conventional weapons which are considered excessively injurious or whose effects are indiscriminate. The aim of the Convention and its Protocols is to provide new rules for the protection of military personnel and, particularly, civilians and civilian objects from injury or attack under various conditions by means of fragments that cannot readily be detected in the human body by X-rays, landmines and booby traps, and incendiary weapons and blinding laser weapons.

To the extent that drone attacks are not sufficiently accurate to prevent civilian deaths, some argue that they are in contravention of the Geneva Convention. Additionally, as the applicability of international humanitarian law is sometimes unclear, human rights groups argue that America’s battle with al-Qaeda does not meet the intensity required under the laws of war to amount to an armed conflict.

Do we need the UN to step in and provide a definition of armed conflict for purposes of the use of drones by the US military (or CIA)?

Is the preemptive use of drones to strike at terrorists justified as part of a “new” kind of almost continuous war where the enemy may strike at any time and without any warning and thereby justified under Article VII of the UN Charter?

Is the US use of drones in contravention of international human rights law, which only permits using deadly force when strictly and directly necessary to save human life?

Intolerance, Terrorism and International Diplomacy

On Tuesday, September 11, individuals identified in media reports as armed “Islamist militants” stormed a United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing the American ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three members of his staff.

The attack in Libya, which came hours after a mob stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down the U.S. flag, was presumed to have been triggered by a movie, whose trailer had gone viral on YouTube. Morris Sadek, a conservative Coptic Christian in the US, promoted the film on his website last week. Koran burning, Florida pastor Terry Jones also promoted the film in his church.  Within days it was fuelling outrage in Arab countries horrified at the depiction in the movie of the prophet Muhammad as an illegitimate, murderous pedophile.

By all accounts Mr. Stevens was very much respected and a loved figure within the Libyan community. He had served twice previously in Libya, including as a special representative to the Libyan Transitional National Council from March to November 2011, helping to save the city of Benghazi during the country’s revolution. Hours after Stevens’ death, Libyans had started an Arabic-language Facebook tribute page for him where they shared photos of the ambassador — in one picture he can be seen at a local restaurant sitting with some locals and eating local food with his hand. They also posted pictures of themselves holding candles lit in his memory.

In her official statement after the events Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that: “Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith and as long as there are those who would take innocent life in the name of God, the world will never know a true and lasting peace.”

As we grieve after yet more senseless killings in the name of religion we must ask important questions:

What do we do about religious intolerance on the part of anti Islamists, who feel they can gratuitously insult those who do not share their beliefs?

Should we continue sending diplomatic missions, that often help local people, to countries such as Libya or Egypt, knowing that their political unrest make them unsafe?

And, the most difficult question of all, what can we do to eradicate terrorism? Is that even possible to achieve?