Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Prosecuting the War on Terror...Literally

Tonight, the Columbia ACS, FedSoc, and CSIL hosted a discussion with Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kelly Currie and Todd Harrison (E.D.N.Y.) and Andrew McCarthy (S.D.N.Y.) on the role of the federal prosecutor in fighting terrorism.

The attorneys began with a chronological overview beginning with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. That event challenged American legal ideas - international terrorism was unknown to U.S. prosecutors. Since that plot had been completed, the proseuctorial structures could address it. Later, inchoate plots stressed our legal doctrines of conspiracy and attempt. Furthermore, racketeering statutes were ill-suited to the task as well because they were aimed at organizations with financial purposes.

In 1996, the statutory landscape changed. The provision of material support to terrorist organizations became a cognizable charge, which provided a highly effective new tool to prosecutors.

After 9/11, the focus shifted dramatically to prevention of terrorist activities. This muddied the task before U.S. Attorneys. Prosecutors bring a substantial set of useful skills to this intelligence endeavor. Focusing on issues of evidence, corroboration, and their own high burden of proof allowed U.S. Attorneys to provide a valuable contribution to intelligence and law enforcement efforts.

The attorneys also discussed the internal procedural changes that have been made to better integrate intelligence, enforcement, and legal offices. The Patriot Act also implemented laws that permitted broader options for prosecutors seeking charges that better fit international terrorism issues. For example, extraterritorial jurisdiction for U.S. Attorneys has been expanded. There has also been an attitudinal change - the D.O.J. has naturally become more proactive and aggressive in using laws not directly terrorism-related in order to squash nascent terrorist activity.

A rousing and intriguing round of student questions ensued in which the attorneys gave candid and insightful responses. One interesting theme was that the "War on Terror" is distinct from both traditional criminal issues and traditional warfare. The most difficult challenge, ultimately, implicated by this observation is that it may be impossible to imagine a world after the War on Terror - unlike imagining the world after a conventional war or without crime.

As a side note: Tonight, Columbia ACS President Jake Honigman earned the distinct honor of having asked the longest question in a CLS event on record. His 3 minute, 36 second statement touched on intriguing issues of politics and policy, raising serious concerns as to the future of the Department of Justice. His question culminated with "Alright go with that." Jake is to be commended for his big-picture perspective and ever-present desire to put speakers in the awkward position of evading questions about their bosses.

Columbia ACS would like to thank its co-sponsors and guests for the interesting and enlightening discussion.

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