Cynthia Banham is a former diplomatic correspondent for Fairfax and a PhD candidate at the Regulatory Institutions Network, ANU.
The Open Society Foundation's recent report detailing the scale of the Bush Administration's extraordinary rendition program and the extent of cooperation by 54 allies reveals yet again the excesses in the way liberal democracies responded to the al Qaeda terrorist threat in the decade after the 9/11 attacks.
Yet in many ways the actions of the governments that came after those of George W Bush, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown tell us more about the lengths to which modern liberal democracies will go in order to defend themselves against terrorist threats. These governments did not face imminent national security crises, yet their willingness to subvert the rule of law has been no less flagrant.
It's instructive to compare two controversial counter-terrorism policies of the post-9/11 decade era through this lens. The first is the Obama Administration's targeted killings program, under which terrorist suspects are taken out by drone strikes without any judicial process. The other is the Cameron Government's Justice and Security Bill, which would introduce secret courts for civil cases involving national security – in particular, claims of wrongdoing by British intelligence agencies.
There is something eerily similar about the counter-terrorism policies of the Obama Administration and the Cameron Government. Both policies were borne out of the harsh condemnation of the counter-terror policies of previous governments – in the case of the US, the CIA's use of torture; in the UK's case, the complicity of M15 and M16 in torture.
Yet neither leader is faced with the sort of extreme public fear and general sense of imminent disaster that his predecessors had to deal with. Both policies emerge directly from the outrage generated by the involvement the two countries' intelligence services had in the use of torture after 9/11. And in both cases, the response is to weaken the rule of law rather than to strengthen it.
In follow-up posts, I will look at the Obama Administration's targeted killing program and the Cameron Government's Justice and Security Bill in turn.
Photo by Flickr user Medill DC.