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A Constitutional Conversation with Dr. Laura K. Donohue


April 23, 2008 6:00pm - 8:00pm


About the Book

Six days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Attorney General John Ashcroft called on Congress to pass the Bush Administration’s antiterrorism legislation within a week. The 2001 USA Patriot Act had an immediate and far-reaching effect on civil liberties, leading to endless discussions about the tradeoff between security and freedom.

However, in her new book, The Cost of Counterterrorism: Power, Politics, and Liberty, Dr. Donohue argues that the ‘security or freedom’ dichotomy is not what is most dangerous. Instead, like previous antiterrorist measures, the Patriot Act increased executive power in absolute and relative terms, and in so doing, altered the relationship between the branches of government with implications well beyond the state’s ability to respond to terrorism.

It is a spiral, not a pendulum that characterizes counterterrorist law: In the aftermath of a terrorist attack, political stakes are high. Legislators fear being seen as lenient or indifferent and grant the executive broader authorities without thoughtful debate. To make changes more palatable, many provisions are made temporary; yet, almost without exception, they become permanent, and a steady ratcheting effect occurs. The judiciary’s role too is restricted: constitutional structure and cultural norms narrow the courts’ ability to check the executive at all but the margins.

The United States is not alone. Over the past 40 years, the United Kingdom’s state structure also has changed. From extended detention, interrogation, and anti-terrorist finance, to phone taps, watch lists, and censorship, Donohue examines laws in both countries that have been promoted as increasing security at the expense of life, liberty, property, privacy, and free speech. She warns that if we don’t recognize the broader effects of these laws, then the ever-increasing threat of terrorism will result in a shift in the basic structure of the United States and the United Kingdom. As these two countries take a leading role in setting global counterterrorist norms, at stake is the future of liberal democracy.

About The Author

Laura K. Donohue is a Fellow at the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School and at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. Currently a By-Fellow of Churchill College, University of Cambridge, she is the author of Counter-Terrorist Law and Emergency Powers in the United Kingdom, 1922–2000 (2001).

Copies of the book will be available to purchase and Dr. Donohue will be signing following the talk.