David Little, a research fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center, is a leading authority on the history of religious freedom, ethics and human rights, and religion and conflict resolution. Little retired in 2009 as T.J. Dermot Dunphy Professor of the Practice in Religion, Ethnicity, and International Conflict at Harvard Divinity School and as an associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. Until summer 1999, he was senior scholar in religion, ethics, and human rights at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). From 1996 to 1998, he was member of the Advisory Committee to the State Department on Religious Freedom Abroad. Little’s publications include several volumes in the USIP series on religion, nationalism, and intolerance, as well Religion and Nationalism in Iraq: A Comparative Perspective (2007, with Donald K. Swearer), and Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution (2007). Little was also a part of the Christianity and Freedom Project headed by the Berkley Center's Religious Freedom Project.
The shattering events of 9/11 left me with two indelible, if somewhat divergent, impressions. One was that deliberately targeting defenseless persons to compel acquiescence or support as occurred in the assaults on the Twin Towers and elsewhere represented “a kind of blasphemy against our deepest moral commitments,” in Michael Walzer’s words, and that if anything justifies the use of force in response, that does.
But if I was clear about the rightness of using force to combat terrorism, I was not at all clear, in a second impression, how that should be done. The temptation of states to use wanton attacks as an excuse for illicitly suspending civil liberties and legal safeguards is well-documented. In fact, my early worries were borne out by the records of the Bush and Obama administrations.
Though the Bush people pledged their fealty to international norms and procedures, they generally ignored them in practice. Their notorious efforts to normalize torture; their official declarations of unlimited unilateral authority to use force where, when, and how they saw fit; and their perverse disregard of UN Security Council procedures in resolving to invade Iraq all betokened a tendency to begin to replicate the very lawlessness terrorists are guilty of.
Force is a legitimate tool in combating terrorism, but how it shall be used requires conscientious and sustained scrutiny that is hard to come by.
The Obama administration displayed highhandedness in a different way. Partly because of the failure of congressional oversight, they took it upon themselves to expand the meaning of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force to include enemies not foreseen by Congress in 2001, and by increasing the use of drone attacks, broadening the category of legitimate targets, and keeping the whole policy secret, they evaded accountability to international and domestic norms and procedures. Moreover, the responses of both administrations to 9/11 resulted in the militarization of domestic policing, the untoward consequences of which we are still experiencing.
My original impressions are still with me. Force is a legitimate tool in combating terrorism, but how it shall be used requires conscientious and sustained scrutiny that is hard to come by.