Legislation to establish a National Commission on U.S. Counterterrorism Policy to assess U.S. counterterrorism objectives, policies, programs and more did not survive the latest attempt to move through Congress. The provisions in a stand-alone bill had been added as an proposed amendment to the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but that amendment failed to pass through the conference committee.

On May 27, U.S. Representatives Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ted Deutch (D-FL), and Max Rose (D-NY) introduced the National Commission on U.S. Counterterrorism Policy Act (H.R. 7028). The bill proposed the formation of a “National Counterterrorism Commission” that would be charged with reevaluating U.S. national security and counterterrorism policy.

Rep. Engle cited growing national security threats as a primary reason to support the bill in the press release. “The time has come to take a hard look at our counterterrorism efforts in the context of the other national security threats faced by our country—ranging from climate change, to infectious disease, to growing challenges posed by other great powers.”

Rep. Deutch stated, “Terror threats against the United States look differently today than even 10 or 20 years ago. We need to stay ahead of the constantly evolving nature of these threats by reviewing and updating our counterterrorism strategies accordingly. This commission would study the current and future threats against the United States and recommend how best to keep Americans safe.”

The measure was later added as an amendment to the NDAA. The House passed its version of the Commission proposal in the National Defense Authorization Act on July 21 (HR 6395). On July 22 Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced a nearly identical stand-alone bill to create such a Commission (S 4169).

Generally, the commission would have:

  • reassessed U.S. counterterrorism efforts and policy frameworks,
  • studied how counterterrorism efforts can focus on the full range of domestic and international threats while balancing other U.S. interests,
  • considered the impact of counterterrorism efforts on civil rights and “nationally recognized human rights abroad.”
  • consulted with “relevant experts in the Federal Government, academia, law, civil society, and the private sector” and make recommendations on how to best adapt U.S. counterterrorism objectives and activities to Congress.

The Commission’s review would have included an examination of the impacts of counterterrorism policies on civil rights and civil liberties in the U.S. and internationally recognized human rights and humanitarian principles abroad.

The Commission would have been comprised of 14 commissioners with relevant expertise in counterterrorism, diplomacy, law enforcement, Armed Forces, law, public administration, Congress, intelligence, academia, human rights, civil rights, or civil liberties. At least one commissioner would have been required to possess a civil rights or civil liberties background and one to have a background in international human rights.

The Commission also would have submitted a report to Congress on its findings, input and recommendations received, which would have been made public.