Frontline, the PBS documentary series, aired a program tonight entitled "Al Qaeda's New Front" that examines the terrorist threat in Europe. KCET will rebroadcast the program on Sunday at 5:00 p.m. Beginning on Friday, the program will also be available in its entirety on-line here.
The program offers some important insights into the way the terrorist threat has evolved since 9/11, including a point noted here back in September. Increasingly, Islamic terrorists appear to be operating without central direction of any kind. Al Qaeda has become, primarily, an inspiration for an ever-expanding network of jihadi.
The web site associated with the program provides a great deal of helpful material, including a discussion of some of the differences between the U.S. and European approaches to terrorism. Consider this excerpt:
The United States approaches terrorism as a war and has detained nearly 600 men at Guantánamo with neither the rights of criminal suspects nor of prisoners of war. Unknown numbers of other detainees are held at U.S. bases around the world, and according to the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism , the war on terror will not return to the criminal domain until Al Qaeda has been reduced to an isolated, local, less lethal threat.
In Europe, by contrast, governments widely consider terrorism to be largely a law enforcement matter. Even when intelligence agencies like Britain's MI5 disrupt a terrorist cell, they are still required to treat detainees the way police treat suspects, so that detainee testimony remains valid in court.
This difference has added tension to a largely cooperative international relationship against terrorism. In several European cases, the difference between American interrogations of enemy combatants and European courtroom requirements could allow accused terrorists to go free.
Jonathan Winer, a top State Department antiterrorism official in the Clinton administration, faults both sides. "European concerns about civil liberties are incompatible with protecting people from terrorists," he said. "We need more sensitivity from civil liberties people that we're confronting very evil people. And we need more sensitivity from law enforcement that due process is needed. Extrajudicial processes are not the way to bring the rule of law to people threatened by terrorism."