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Debating the Legal Gray Areas in the War on Terrorism

National Security and Civil Liberties: Finding the Right Balance

Speakers: Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch
Matthew C. Waxman, Professor, Columbia Law School; Adjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations
James D. Zirin, Author, The Mother Court: Tales of Cases that Mattered in America's Greatest Trial Court; Host and Producer, Conversations in the Digital Age
Presider: Karen J. Greenberg, Director, Center for National Security, Fordham University School of Law
June 9, 2014

Event Description

Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch, CFR's Matthew Waxman, and James Zirin, host of Conversations in the Digital Age, join Fordham University's Karen Greenberg to discuss national security, civil liberties, and how to strike the right balance between the two. The panelists weigh in on the debates over the proper venue for trying terrorism suspects, the legality of the U.S. drone strike program, and the National Security Agency's mass surveillance of telecommunications data as revealed by the Edward Snowden leaks.

Event Highlights

James Zirin on why civilian courts are preferable to military commissions when trying terrorism cases:

"Military commissions have historically been unsuccessful. They were called into question because of the trials during the Civil War or after the Lincoln assassination. There were military commissions in the Second World War. But the southern district of New York has acquired great expertise in successfully prosecuting terrorists under standards that have existed for 225 years and they're well recognized in our jurisprudence."

Kenneth Roth on the U.S. government's mass collection of telecommunications data:

"None of us object targeted surveillance. You have to make an evidentiary showing to an independent tribunal or somebody, and then a warrant is issued that says you can get this or that set of phone calls or e-mails. But the problem is that the U.S. government has been collecting all of our data on the theory that you need a haystack to find the needle. And that, you know, very elastic sense of relevance has given really almost no recognition to our privacy rights."

Matthew Waxman on what the Snowden leaks revealed about how the U.S. government uses the data it collects:

"I do think that there is and there have been, in the past, grounds for grave concern about abuse of what the government does with that data. And the answer for that is not for the government not to collect and analyze data; it's to put in place good checks and protections to ensure that the government is a good steward of that information and doesn't abuse it. And I think the Snowden documents, the documents that have come out through Snowden, show the government has actually been quite responsible with what it does with that data."


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