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Banks, W C --- "Teaching and Learning about Terrorism" [2006] LegEdDig 24; (2006) 14(4) Legal Education Digest 9

Teaching and Learning about Terrorism

W C Banks

[2006] LegEdDig 24; (2006) 14(4) Legal Education Digest 9

55 J Legal Educ 1 & 2, 2005, pp 35–41

The field of national security law entered the program of study in US law schools in small steps. A few law school courses in national security law were taught in the decade after the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security was created in 1962, largely in response to the Cold War and fears of expanding Communism. More than 100 US law schools have now offered courses in national security law since the creation of the first texts in the late 1980s. As all of us who have witnessed events of the past fifteen years can attest, the field has grown in size and complexity, in significant part due to the growing threat of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

After teaching and writing problems of national security law since the late 1980s, the author decided to work toward creating a discrete course on a subset of national security law, the legal dimensions of terrorism. Although the academy has treated studies of terrorism as part of the curriculum in international relations and political science programs, law students have received little systematic exposure to the legal dimensions of terrorism in the law school curriculum.

By 2001, in the larger field of national security law, terrorism continued to represent a subset, but the complexity and importance of the legal issues presented by terrorism has made it difficult simply to treat countering terrorism as a brief unit of a national security law course. The task the author took on was to carve out a new law course, one about terrorism, not one that focused solely on anti- as opposed to counter-terrorism, but one that would examine the legal dimensions of countering terrorism.

The unit began with a broad introductory chapter, including a primer on government planning for counter-terrorism and homeland security that has occurred since the mid-1980s. The three follow-up chapters presented extensive primary source materials and notes and questions on investigations, crisis and consequence management, and prosecution as a counter-terrorism strategy. Mindful of the larger subject and a commitment to present a volume that is not so lengthy as to be unwieldy, the treatment was kept lean and necessarily incomplete.

Before looking at the law, students should also have some appreciation for how the US has viewed the terrorist threat, and what plans and strategies have been proposed and prescribed in countering terrorism. Meanwhile, pressing current events, such as the post-September 11 detentions and launching of the war on terrorism, required considerable and constant updating via Web-assigned materials.

The perspectives of a range of disciplines, including public policy and political science, history, international relations, psychology, public health, and media relations and public affairs are integral to understanding how to counter the threat of terrorism. Blessed with fine colleagues across these fields on a closely knit campus in a strong research university, the author decided to reach out to a few colleagues and thus broaden the academic initiative, toward an interdisciplinary, team-taught course for law graduate students from across campus, Perspectives on Terrorism.

The course begins with definitions, using legal examples (such as the designation of foreign terrorist organisations by the Secretary of State) and reading in history and political science. Next comes a historical overview of terrorism. For the succeeding four weeks, students identity and assess the threat of terrorism by examining who the terrorists are and how they operate; what means they use; religion-driven terrorism; the psychology of terrorism; risk assessments and security; and strategic responses. After establishing this context, they move to planning for homeland security, problems of interdicting and investigating terrorism, and responding to a terrorist incidents (using an exercise to simulate an attack and response). The final two parts of the course survey law enforcement and prosecution modes of countering terrorism, along with the use of military force as a counter-terrorism tool.

The course aims to be explicitly interdisciplinary, not simply a multidisciplinary potpourri of various perspectives on terrorism. One of the biggest obstacles to effective counter-terrorism policies in the US has been an inadequate ability to communicate and operate across fields of expertise and their related offices of responsibility. The aim is to model in the classroom the hard work that is required to stitch together and integrate into a coherent whole the understandings and knowledge about countering terrorism from a range of backgrounds and expertise.

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