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ICSR Panel Discussion: “Counter-Terrorism Cooperation: Is It Working?”

01/07/2010

The penultimate panel discussion of the conference, ‘Counter-terrorism Cooperation: Is It Working?’, addressed the important subject of international counter-terrorism cooperation and whether or not it has worked over the last few years.  Chaired by Dr. Peter Neumann, the panelists were Richard Barrett, head of the UN’s al-Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Team; Ambassador Bill Paterson, Australian Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism; Eric Rosand, the Senior Adviser for Multilateral Engagement in the US State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism; and Dr. August Hanning, Germany’s former State Secretary for Counter-Terrorism.

Dr. Hanning began by explaining the importance of a good relationship among European intelligence agencies due to their countries’ close borders, which allows for the relatively easy movement of terrorists.  Unsurprisingly, he also identified Afghanistan and Pakistan as “the biggest problem”, and claimed that around 150 Muslim Germans had received terrorist training in the region. The UN’s Richard Barrett followed up on this, claiming that his organisation played a “central role” in coordinating European counter-terrorism efforts, citing the 2006 UN Global Counter-Terrorism strategy as evidence of an ongoing commitment to this.  This approach was, according to Barrett, constantly evolving and becoming increasingly sophisticated as countries learn from each other’s experiences.

When discussing the main obstacles to cooperation, Ambassador Paterson argued that the most effective partnerships are not “government-government”, but rather “government-NGO”.  He cited his own government’s relationships with NGOs in East and South-East Asia as examples of very effective counter-terrorism partnerships.  All of the panelists agreed that one of the major obstacles was countries that did not abide by human rights laws in their treatment of terrorism suspects – they cannot be co-opted until they improved their practices.  Ambassador Paterson suggested that Western governments make more effort help stop the torture of suspects, and that this is the point where counter-terrorism crosses over to developing and assisting governments.  Rosand added that the US government refuses to train officials who they know are involved with human rights violations, and recognised that sending enemy combatants from the US to countries which may torture them is a “great challenge”, stating that often prisoners have not been extradited from the US for this very reason.   Dr. Hanning insisted that Germany would never participate in torture, and nor would they accept intelligence from other countries that they assess to have poor human rights records.  Barrett summed up this part of the discussion, strongly stating that observance of human rights must be an absolute, and this is one of the four pillars of the UN’s counter-terrorism strategy.

The panel then moved on to discuss the role of multi-lateral organisations in counter-terrorism coordination.  Ambassador Paterson began by describing how the Australian government works with the UN on police and prosecutors workshops in South Asia – bringing together lawyers and judges from Pakistan and India, and providing them with an opportunity to develop important relationships, thus allowing for cross-regional contact that may otherwise not have been possible.   Germany, explained Dr. Hanning, also has a very close relationship with the UN and he placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of multi-lateral organisations, which provide platforms through which different national security agencies could exchange information.

During the audience question and answer session,  the panel was asked about how they assessed the effectiveness of the internet as a tool for terrorist networks.  There was unanimous agreement that the internet was among the chief problems faced by the counter-terrorism community, more so even than radical preachers and recruiters.  They also agreed that, rather than attempting to censor or shut down jihadist sites – an almost impossible task – governments should harness its power and use it to counter extremist messages.

Following a short break, Professor Gary Lafree, Director of START and Dr. Neumann announced the launch of a joint ICSR-START report, Prisons and Terrorism: Radicalisation and De-radicalisation in 15 Countries.  To access the study, click here.