Description   |   Syllabus

From Terror to Counter-Terror: Human Rights in the Wake of 9/11
Al Quds University
Fall, 2011


From Terror to Counter-Terror: Human Rights in the Wake of 9/11 

Al Quds University, Abu Dis, Room 5

Fall 2011, Monday 10 - 12:40

Mark Danner

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States entered a "state of exception" - also known as a "state of emergency" or martial law - during which its government overstepped, repeatedly and systematically, the domestic statutes and international treaties that normally protect human and civil rights. During these months and years, and following direct orders from high government officials, including President George W. Bush, US soldiers and intelligence officers captured suspected terrorists and "disappeared" them into secret prisons or "black sites," where they were subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques," or EIT's, including prolonged sleep deprivation, intensive beatings, forced confinement in tiny boxes, immersion in freezing water, and repeated suffocation by water. Thousands were detained indefinitely, in secret prisons and in publicly disclosed sites like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and hundreds were abused during interrogation. In this seminar we will examine the use of "counter-terror" techniques in post-9/11 America - EIT's, extraordinary rendition, extra-judicial killing and warrantless wiretapping - with a particular focus on the United States' reversion to torture as a tool of state. We will investigate how the decision was made to employ "enhanced interrogation techniques" on detainees in the War on Terror; how these techniques were developed and approved; and the public controversy that followed on their exposure after the Abu Ghraib photographs were made public in 2004. Finally, we will delve into the policies of the Obama Administration and, in particular, the changing attitudes, statements and decisions of Barack Obama himself, before and after he became president, and hope to come to some conclusions - not only about human rights and the War on Terror but about the current state, in America, the Middle East and around the world, of the State of Exception.


Main Class Requirements: This is a seminar — a discussion class - which means the success of the class is dependent on student participation. The most important requirements are that students

*Attend all class sessions

*Participate in discussions

*Do all reading and writing assignments

A student's record of attendance and participation in class discussion, together with the thoroughness of his or her preparation, will determine the success of our class and contribute the better part of the grade.

Schedule:  Note that all classes will take place on Monday mornings, 10 to 12:40 a.m., and will be divided at about the halfway point by a fifteen-minute break.

Reading: This seminar is about the here and now, which is to say, it is about "what's in the news." Most of our reading will be drawn from the contemporary press — newspapers, magazines, television, websites — and you will receive these articles either in the class reader, in photocopy during class, or by means of links sent via email. Some readings are listed in the draft syllabus below, but keep in mind that the assignments will shift often, depending on ongoing events. It is critical, though, that you keep up with daily reporting from the region, including local press accounts and international coverage. A vast store of reporting can be found on the web, and I urge you to explore. Beyond Al Jazeera, which is vital, I would strongly recommend The Economist and The Guardian, The Washington Post and The New York Times, among many other publications. Also good is Foreign Policy magazine, which has a useful website.

Writing: Students will be assigned several short papers, for which they are meant to draw on the assigned reading and on class discussions. To bolster the clarity and vigor of your English prose, I strongly suggest reading two works: George Orwell's essay, "Politics and the English Language" and Strunk and White's little manual, The Elements of Style. The Orwell essay can be found easily on the internet by googling the author and title.

Films: From time to time during the term we will screen films intended to complement our studies.

Course Syllabus  

September 19, 2011  - Introduction: 9/11, Counter-Terror and the Devolution of Human Rights

How has the U.S. government has prosecuted its fight against terrorism on a war footing, as opposed to the traditional law-enforcement model led to an examination of executive power more broadly?

Introduction to the cases of Maher Arar, John Walker Lindh, Jose Padilla, Khalid Sheik Mohammad, Abu Zubaydah and Anwar al-Awlaki. 

September 26, 2011 — 9/11: The Attacks and What They Meant

How do the various international conventions prohibit torture?

 The Convention Against Torture of 1984 focuses on the prohibition of the use of torture even during a 'state of emergency.' 

The state of exception in the post-9/11 world. and an examination of the Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading (C.I.D.) treatment clauses in Article Five of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (A/RES/217, December 10, 1948) and how they were subsequently abused by the Bush administration in order to give a legal facade to actions that flagrantly violate both the letter and spirit of international law. 

Extraordinary rendition, order's of magnitude and the "bush doctrine" of pre-emptive war.

Michael Scott Doran, "Someone Else's Civil War," Foreign Affairs

President George W. Bush, "Speech to the Joint Session of Congress," September 18, 2001 

October 3, 2011 — Terror and Counter-Terror: Strategy and Response

Screening of the film the Battle of Algiers (1969).

Discussion of the use of torture, terror, and counter-terrorism tactics.

How does one start a revolution? What is the role of acts of terrorism in shaping public political opinion? What is the relationship between terrorism and counter-insurgency? For insurgents, what is the benefit of a distributed network structure? How do you suppress a revolution? 

The Battle of Algiers. Dir. Gillo Pontecorvo. Prod. Antonio Musu and Yacef Saadi. By Franco Solinas
and Gillo Pontecorvo. Perf. Brahim Haggiag and Yacef Saadi. Allied Artists Corporation, 1969.

Osama Bin Laden, "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places," 1996

Osama Bin Laden, "Fatwah Urging Jihad Against Americans," Al-Quds al-'Arabi, February 23, 1998

Mark Danner, "Is He Winning? Taking Stock of the Forever War," New York Times Magazine, September 11, 2005

October 10, 2011 — Extraordinary Rendition, Interrogation, Torture

The assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, by the U.S. government. 

Due-process free assassination and the slippery slope of extra-judicial killing. 

ICRC Report on the treatment of fourteen "high value detainees" in CIA custody. 

 Hosenball, Mark. "Secret Panel Can Put Americans on Kill List'| Reuters." Business & Financial News, Breaking US & International News | 05 Oct. 2011. Web. 22 Oct. 2011.


Shane, Scott. "Judging a Long, Deadly Reach." The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 Sept. 2011. Web.

Shane, Scott, and Thom Shanker. "Strike Reflects U.S. Shift to Drones in Terror Fight." The New York Times. The New York Times, 1 Oct. 2011. Web.

Goldsmith, Jack L. "A Just Act of War." The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 Sept. 2011. Web.

October 17, 2011 — Planning the Torture Regime: The Black Sites 

How has the U.S. government used "Black Sites" in it's war on terror?

Discussion of the state of exception, the policy of extraordinary rendition and torture policy.

International conventions against torture: the Convention Against Torture, the Geneva Convention, and USC/2340 Common Article 3.

Examination of the different legal methods through which the Bush administration attempted to 'legalize' illegal and inhuman acts. 

Danner, Mark. "US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites." The New York Review of Books 56.6 (2009). Mark Danner. Web. 9 Apr. 2009.

Bybee, Jay. August 1st, 2002 Memorandum to Alberto Gonzales. Rep. Web.

Cole, David. The Torture Memos: Rationalizing the Unthinkable. New York: New, 2010. Vii-105. Print.

October 24, 2011 - Torture: How did it Happen?

Analysis of the various arguments in John Yoo's torture memorandum such as that 'acts can only be defined as torture if there is a clear intent to inflict pain,' and the argument that 'even if it is torture the president has the right to do it,' based on an unrestricted interpretation of Title 18 powers. 

Did John Yoo issue his memorandum in good faith? 

Discussion of the Detainee Treatment Act (2005), the Military Commissions Act (2006) and the  legal concept of Universal Jurisdiction.

Supreme Court Cases: Boumediene v. Bush, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. 

Ali Soufan's account of the torture of Abu Zubaydah: 'traditional' interrogation  in opposition to. the more extreme methods of the contractor 'Boris' from the SERE school. 

Soufan, Ali H., and Daniel Freedman. The Black Banners: the inside Story of 9/11 and the War against Al-Qaeda. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2011. 373-435. Print.

Gellman, Barton. Angler: the Cheney Vice Presidency. New York: Penguin, 2008. 159-93. Print.

Cheney, Richard B., and Liz Cheney. In My Time: a Personal and Political Memoir. New York: Threshold Editions, 2011. 329-63. Print.

October 31, 2011 — Barack Obama and the War on Terror

Obama's first 100 days: executive orders to close Guantanamo Bay, ban the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques," close the CIA Black sites, establish a task force on interrogation and transfer policies by the Department of Justice and a combatant status review. 

Discussion of the contrast between President Obama's speech at the National Archives and former Vice President Dick Cheney's speech on the same day. 

The Military Commissions Act (2006) and the granting of retro-active immunity 

The Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF, 2001) and it's role in the Bush Doctrine. 

Maher Arar's case as an example of the way the US treated tort litigation on the abuse issue. 

Obama, Barack. "Remarks by the President On National Security, 5-21-09." Speech. The White House. Web. 07 Nov. 2011.

Cheney, Richard. "Print." Speech. Speech to the American Enterprise Institute. American Enterprise Institute. Web. 07 Nov 2011.

"Closure Of Guantanamo Detention Facilities." The White House. Web. 07 Nov. 2011.

"Ensuring Lawful Interrogations." The White House. Web. 07 Nov. 2011.

"BACKGROUND: President Obama Signs Executive Orders on Detention and Interrogation Policy." The White House. Web. 07 Nov. 2011.

"Review of Detention Policy Options." The White House. Web. 07 Nov. 2011.

Finn, Peter, and Anne E. Kornblut. "Guantanamo Bay: How the White House Lost the Fight to Close It - The Washington Post." The Washington Post. Web. 07 Nov. 2011.

November 7, 2011 — Drone Warfare

Why did the policy decision to increase the use of drones occur under the Obama Administration?

Has the US definitively moved from a policy of torture and detention to a policy of targeted assassination? 

Examination of the 'secret kill lists', how they operate, who is in charge of them and how one gets on them, as well as Obama administration's National Strategy for Counter-terrorism.

Discussion of the case of Anwar al'Awlaki and the incorrect claims of the U.S. government that no civilian casualties have resulted from drone strikes. 

Cole, David. "A Secret License to Kill." The New York Review of Books. The New York Review of Books, 19 Sept. 2011. Web. 01 Dec. 2011.

Cole, David. "Killing Citizens in Secret." The New York Review of Books. The New York Review of Books, 9 Oct. 2011. Web. 01 Dec. 2011.

Jaffe, Greg, and Karen DeYoung. "U.S. Drone Targets Two Leaders of Somali Group Allied with Al-Qaeda." Washington Post:. Washington Post. Web. 01 Dec. 2011.

DeYoung, Karen. "Brennan: Counterterrorism Strategy Focused on Al-Qaeda's Threat to Homeland." Washington Post. Washington Post. Web. 01 Dec. 2011.

Woods, Chris. "US Claims of 'no Civilian Deaths' Are Untrue: TBIJ." The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 18 July 2011. Web. 01 Dec. 2011.

Grady, D.b. "Drones and Assassinations: Our Ghost War in Afghanistan Is Not Real War."The Atlantic. The Atlantic. Web. 01 Dec. 2011.

Mayer, Jane. "The Risks of the C.I.A.'s Predator Drones." The New Yorker. The New Yorker. Web. 01 Dec. 2011.

Friedersdorf, Conor. "The Risks of Obama's Immoral Drone War." The Atlantic. The Atlantic. Web. 01 Dec. 2011.

DeYoung, Karen. "U.S. Increases Yemen Drone Strikes." Washington Post. Washington Post. Web. 01 Dec. 2011.

Brennan, John O. "Remarks of John O. Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, on Ensuring Al-Qa'ida's Demise -- As Prepared for Delivery." White House. Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Washington, D.C., 2011. Web.

"National Strategy for Counter Terrorism." White House. White House. Web. June 2011. 

November 14, 2011 Eid Al Adha Break - No Class 

November 21, 2011 — In-Class Examination

Instructions: Please answer no fewer than eight of the following ten questions (8 out of 10). Answer more if you like but a minimum of eight. Watch the clock, pace yourself and make sure you will have time to answer at least eight questions.

     Give specific answers to the questions posed, then provide broader analysis, as the questions indicate.

     You will be graded on on how convincingly and fully you answer what is asked, on the cogency of your answers, and finally on your success in relating your answers specifically to the assigned reading and to the relevant class discussions.

     Write clearly and legibly. Write your full name on each separate page. Number the pages clearly. Watch the time and good luck.

     Read the questions carefully and make sure you answer them fully.

Unlawful Combatant. What does this term mean? Give a full definition and distinguish it from other relevant categories in the laws of war and criminal law. What is the significance of the term in the War on Terror?

Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. What are these? Describe them and how they work. Which of these techniques were used on Abu Zubaydah. Who was he and why was he important?

Al Qaeda and September 11. What did the September 11 terrorists and their al Qaeda masters want to achieve? What were their main goals? Did they achieve them or not?

Terrorism and Torture. . How are these two phenomena related? What links them together? Why does one so often follow the other? Use specific examples, including from The Battle of Algiers and recent history.  Must terror always lead to torture? Why or why not?

Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CID). What is the significance of this term and why is it important? How does it relate to the decisions, both tactical and legal, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks? Do the laws of the United States ban such treatment, or not? Which ones? Discuss.

Barack Obama and Guantanamo. What was President Barack Obama's policy when it came to Guantanamo Bay prison? Has he succeeded in this policy? Why or why not?

The United States and Torture. Do you believe that the United States practiced torture on prisoners after 9/11? President Bush has repeatedly said that "We don't torture." Was he right? If so, why? If not, why not — and how could he say this? Was what the US did torture?  Make your arguments in specific terms.

Black Sites. What are these? Where did they come from and where were they established? What happened there? Do they still exist? What happened to them?

Obama and 9/11. President Barack Obama took office seven years after September 11. What were his vows regarding George W. Bush's policies on the War on Terror? Did President Obama succeed in doing what he said he would do? Why or why not? What were Vice President Cheney's views on the new president's policies?

Drone Warfare. Describe the current policy of "drone warfare" and its relationship to the War on Terror. Do you believe such warfare is "legal"? Does reliance on drones represent an advance in human rights in warfare? Do you believe it is "legal" to kill combatants using drones? How about American citizens? Why or why not?

November 28, 2011 — The Senator, the Candidate and the President: Barack Obama and the War on Terror

Perceived policy continuities between the second term of George W. Bush (2005-2009) and the first term of Barack Obama (2009-Present) in terms of the prosecution of the War on Terror.

Discussion of September 6th, 2006 speech by George W. Bush on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT's).

Examination of Scott Horton's report from Harper's Magazine on three highly suspect Guantanamo Suicide cases as well as the various critiques of the piece. 

Torture was not proven definitively to have actually stopped an attack in progress. 

Lewis, Eric. "Torture's Future." The New York Times. The New York Times. Web. 01 Dec. 2011.

Goldsmith, Jack. "The Cheney Fallacy." The New Republic. The New Repulic. Web. 01 Dec. 2011.

December 5, 2011 — The Great Debate I. Resolved: Drones are a Necessary and Legal tool in the War on Terror

In class debate on the ethical and legal ramifications of the use of Drones in the war on terror.

Are drones legal under international law? Do they infringe upon the sovereignty of the nation-state? 

What do drones portend for the future of warfare?

Mayer, Jane. "The Risks of the C.I.A.'s Predator Drones." The New Yorker. The New Yorker. Web. 02 Dec. 2011.

Savage, Charlie. "Senate Declines to Clarify Rights of American Qaeda Suspects Arrested in U.S." The New York Times. The New York Times. Web. 2 Dec. 2011.

Mckelvey, Tara. "Inside the Killing Machine." The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast. Web. 02 Dec. 2011.

Miller, Greg. "Al-Qaeda Targets Dwindle as Group Shrinks - The Washington Post."Washington Post. Washington Post. Web. 02 Dec. 2011.

Greenwald, Glenn. "What Endless War Looks like." Salon. Web. 02 Dec. 2011.

Taibbi, Matt. "UC Davis Pepper-Spray Incident Reveals Weakness Up Top." Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone. Web. 02 Dec. 2011.

December 12, 2011 — The Great Debate II. Resolved: EITs are a Necessary, Effective and Legal tool in the War on Terror

In class debate on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs). 

Did the use of EITs save lives or foil any terror plots in progress? Were they proven to be an effective method of getting information from suspects?

Are EITs a legal and moral tool that should be at the disposal of the U.S. government? 

Alston, Philip. Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions--Philip Alston. Rep. no. A/HRC/14/24/Add. 6. United Nations. Web.

Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and the Mistreatment of Detainees. Rep. Human Rights Watch, July 2011. Web. 18 Dec. 2011.

"Torture Is Counterproductive." Human Rights First. Human Rights First. Web. 18 Dec. 2011.

"How to End Torture and Cruel Treatment: Blueprint for the Next Administration." Human Rights First. Human Rights First, Oct. 2008. Web. 18 Dec. 2011.

Taylor Jr., Stuart. "Did Torture Save Lives?" National Journal. Web. 18 Dec. 2011.

Herman, Arthur. "Morality and Enhanced Interrogation Techniques." Commentary Magazine. Commentary Magazine. Web. 18 Dec. 2011.

Bergen, Peter, and Katherine Tiedemann. "The Year of the Drone." New America Foundation. The New America Foundation. Web. 18 Dec. 2011.

December 12, 2011--Final Class: The Ticking Bomb Scenario

Luban, David. "Liberalism, Torture and the Ticking Bomb." Virginia The Virginia Review. Web. 18 Dec. 2011.


© 2022 Mark Danner