TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

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TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

However, since the UN has few enforcement mechanisms to compel states to fightterror, international cooperation among states in combating terrorist groups tendsto spring from national self-interest rather than international diktat.CounterterrorismAdding to this definitional confusion is the general state-based response tofight terrorism through mechanisms broadly termed counterterrorism. Thelack of a uniform definition for terrorism within the US government rendersthe meaning of counterterrorism vague as well, impacting the ability to craftboth strategy and law.• The Pentagon defines counterterrorism as, “offensive measures takento prevent, deter, and respond to terrorism.” 42• NCTC only publicly defines counterterrorism on its online Kid’sPage, blandly stating, “Counterterrorism is our way of responding toacts of terrorism. Counterterrorism is not specific to any one fieldor organization; rather it involves people from all levels of society…Building a counterterrorism plan involves all parts of a society andmany government agencies.” 43It remains unclear what these generalities mean in the context of taking actionto thwart the terrorist threat.One Man’s Freedom Fighter…By labeling a group a terrorist organization, the state takes a subjective actionintended to undermine the moral legitimacy of the group. Specifically, affixingthe ‘terrorist’ moniker upon the group is a useful public relations weaponin that it can have a hand in influencing the public’s conception of the group’snature. 44 In fact, because the term ‘terrorist’ has such a negative connotation,violent political groups generally eschew the label, preferring instead to bereferred to as ‘freedom fighters’ or ‘mujahidin.’28 Trials by Fire: Counterterrorism and the Law

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