The central theme of President Obama’s May 23 speech on counterterrorism strategy, the need to have a comprehensive strategy to deal with terrorism that is not based on perpetual war, was very welcome. While there can be and is debate and disagreement about whether the Global War on Terror (GWOT) paradigm has been constitutional and consistent with human rights law or our values as a nation, it is clear that going forward it is not effective or sustainable. Instead, it is past time to look at long term strategies that address root causes of terrorism.  As Obama noted “force alone cannot make us safe.”

The President discussed use of drones and detention policy in some detail, and generally noted the importance of diplomacy, foreign aid and addressing the causes of violent extremism.  Over the years there are many additional aspects of our legal counterterrorism framework that have evolved under the GWOT paradigm that need to be reconsidered and reshaped for a peace and post-war paradigm.  Addressing these can unleash the positive forces that can contribute to the goal of addressing root causes of terrorism and having an effective long term, comprehensive counterterrorism policy.

Terror, like crime, is likely to always be out there, so our response to it must be one that is both effective and shapes the kind of world we want to live in.  We must look to the long-term and take the consequences of our counterterrorism measures into account. The time to start envisioning what the post-GWOT world will look like is now.  Here are my takes on what the post-war world should look like:

  • Start with peace negotiations, and the background work that goes into making peace possible and successful. The post-war world will be one where violent extremists can be engaged by civil society, including experts in peacebuilding, religious leaders and former diplomats to try to find ways to air and resolve their grievances through non-violent means. No one will be subject to jail time for doing this work.

  • In the post-war world all parties in areas of armed conflict, including government, non-state armed groups and civil society, will operate according to humanitarian principles. Civilians will not be the targets of attack. Prisoners of war will be treated according to the Geneva Conventions. There will be no barriers to humanitarian assistance reaching people in need other than temporary measures needed for immediate security reasons.

  • Humanitarian organizations that operate according to the principles of neutrality, independence and impartiality (non-discrimination) will have the full protection of the law and no legal restrictions to operations as long as they adhere to these principles.

  • Sanctions programs that involve terrorist lists will provide any person or organization placed on them with basic due process in any appeal or delisting request.
  • Civil liberties should be respected and surveillance powers curbed within reasonable and Constitutional limits.

  • Freedom of expression and association will be respected through recognition of the rights of nonprofit organizations to exist, raise funds and operate in society.