Justice and the 'War Against Terrorism': Beyond the Law

Where should we draw the line between war and law enforcement in the fight against terrorism?

The World Today Published 1 January 2003 Updated 21 October 2020 4 minute READ

Kenneth Roth

Executive Director, Human Rights Watch

When is it appropriate to track down and kill terrorist suspects or detain them summarily, and when must they be brought before the criminal justice system? Three American actions over the last year prompt those questions: the killing of an Al Qaeda suspect in Yemen, the detention without charge or trial of an alleged enemy combatant in Chicago, and the flouting of a judicial order against removing terrorist suspects from Bosnia.

The questions arise because the geographic scope of the campaign against terrorism is potentially so expansive. Traditional armed conflict occurs on a reasonably circumscribed battlefield. But US President George Bush has said that the ‘war’ against terrorism might extend to some sixty countries. Are terrorist suspects in all of these enemy combatants?

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