Problematising Counter-Terrorism Review

The work that we undertook throughout this project shows that, in some ways, counter-9781529206241-605456-290x400-2terrorism review operates well. The ‘pluralistic jumble’ that is the counter-terrorism review assemblage has significant strengths. It is often able to ensure that counter-terrorism is subjected to real evaluation: that merit is assessed, that reality is engaged with, and that there is a capacity for action as a result of review. In important ways, the counter-terrorism review assemblage operates as a ‘web of accountability’ in the counter-terrorist state, subjecting its activities to scrutiny against a range of legal, societal, and operational standards. However, challenges to realising the accountability potential of counter-terrorism review persist. In large part, those challenges reflect the persistence of exceptionalist thinking within the counter-terrorist state. In the book we identify four persistent challenges to the maximisation of accountability through counter-terrorism review that emerged from our research: the secret state, the abundance of executive control, the limitations of Parliament, and the absence of trust. While these challenges have a serious impact on counter-terrorism review, to a large extent, their resolution may be beyond the reach of the assemblage itself.

In spite of the Government’s avowed commitment to accountability and transparency in counter-terrorism, and of the near-universal agreement across our interviewees that reducing secrecy and increasing transparency was at the heart of counter-terrorism review, the counter-terrorist state remains a secret state. Often enabled and legitimised by accountability mechanisms such as courts, this secrecy poses significant challenges to the optimisation of accountability through counter-terrorism review. This secrecy undermines, and in some cases seem to be structured into, the counter-terrorism review assemblage. Seen in this way, state secrecy not only poses obstacles for accountability in the counter-terrorist state, but also exacerbates the hierarchy, competition, and marginalisation that are apparent in the counter-terrorism review assemblage. It also creates remarkable levels of opacity around counter-terrorism review which are observed throughout the assemblage’s working. 

The second challenge that we identify is the persistent and abundent nature of Executive control even in th counter-terrorism review context. This relates to the many ways in which the Executive controls the conditions, contexts, reception and impact of counter-terrorism review. Given the longstanding practice of deference to the Executive in matters of national security, the political culture of secrecy, and the existence of a hegemonic consensus on counter-terrorism, the Executive’s ability substantially to control counter-terrorism review is both unsurprising and troubling. This manifests in numerous ways, but in the book we focus especially on executive control over whether review takes place, the conditions of review, the publication of review outputs, and the implementation of review recommendations. 

In the counter-terrorism context, Parliament generally fails to operate in a way that mitigates and effectruvely challenges this executive dominance. Throughout our interviews Parliament was viewed as a key—if not the key—actor when it came to counter-terrorism review. This is quite in line with the constitutional structure of the UK, and in that respect will suffer from the same limitations of executive dominance, under-representativeness, partisanship and so on that always impact on the politics of change in our parliamentary system. However, when it comes to counter-terrorism review and to making the most of review’s capacity for action, reliance on Parliament raises sharp questions, which in many ways track the well-established concerns about whether Parliament does provide particularly strong scrutiny as a general matter. This is not least because that the ordinary politics of the Official Opposition, on which the constitutional structure relies for the purposes of ensuring justification and accountability of government, are strained when it comes to counter-terrorism. Deference, the moral hazards of misjudgement, and a hegemonic consensus about the core propositions of counter-terrorism have clear implications for the extent to which Parliament can, and does, challenge government approaches to countering terrorism. When we look at what actually happens by means of counter-terrorism review within the parliamentary arena, questions arise about the adequacy of Parliament as an accountability mechanism, both as a counter-terrorism review actor itself, and as a conduit for the application of the fruits of counter-terrorism review labour undertaken across the assemblage. 

Finally, throughout our research it became very clear that there is a serious absence of trust in the counter-terrorist state. This is a serious challenge as, within that state, it is not only security and well-being that are at stake, but also the legitimacy, liberty, rights protection, and constitutional commitments to accountability and the rule of law that underpin the liberal democratic polity itself. To understand how trust operates in the counter-terrorist state and why that matters for counter-terrorism review, we must first recognise the importance of relationships. The counter-terrorism review assemblage is reliant on relationships of trust: between reviewees and review mechanisms, between review mechanisms themselves, and between review actors and the counter-terrorist state. Within these relationships, counter-terrorism review actors elicit the evidence that allows them to understand and document the ‘reality’ of counter-terrorism, to assess its merits, and to have any chance of impacting on the counter-terrorist state with its insights and outcomes. They are also the relationships within which the informal division of labour within the counter-terrorism review assemblage operates. Howevre those relationships, and thus the trust that underpins the counter-terrorism review assemblage, are often fragile, an sometimes frayed including between state and state-endorsed actors and civil society asnd community actors.

This is adapted from Chapter 4 of Accountability and Review in the Counter-Terrorist State

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