The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others have changed the scope of political discourse within America, bringing to the forefront questions of the method by which officers are held accountable and the scope of police authority itself. However, policing does not pivot merely around the police force; it also entails the institutions which empower police to enforce, and indeed that which they are entrusted to enforce. It is in this context that counterterrorism must be examined, expanding the conversation about policing, so that fundamental questions asked about those who police at home are also asked about those who police abroad.
In the wake of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush initiated the defining military campaign of the modern world: the global War on Terror, which authorized a wide array of strategies to defeat the new global specter of terrorism. This campaign, led by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and others, has involved direct military intervention, military assistance, intelligence gathering, drone warfare, economic sanctions, domestic surveillance, diplomacy, international cooperation, and more. While counterterrorism policy is hotly debated in political cycles, the fundamental US strategy has not been meaningfully altered. Counterterrorism involves aggressively capturing or killing terrorists. It means dismantling their networks so they never rise again. The point of this article, however, is not to evaluate the success or failure of the War on Terror, speculate on a potential endgame, or engage in a debate over global counterterrorism policy. Rather, it will pose the same questions that communities across the world are asking of those entrusted to guard their safety. Simply put, who are the world's police, and more importantly, what are they empowered to do?
The Unitary Executive
An undeniable reality of the last 18 years has been the expansion of executive authority, at the expense of traditional checks and balances. The Patriot Act in the United States expanded authority to conduct surveillance, restrict the rights of both citizens and noncitizens, and lower the standard of probable cause for warrants. Proponents constitutionally and pragmatically justified this strategy, arguing that the counterterrorism operations conducted fall under the war power authority of the President. As the power of the sovereign executive expanded, three strategies flourished under its protection, invulnerable to democratic constraint.
A core counterterrorism strategy has utilized aggressive drone warfare. The vast majority of these attacks are "signature strikes," which target "people whose behavior is assessed to be similar enough to those of terrorists."
However, data on these strikes is sparse. Trump reversed a President Obama-era requirement which mandates reporting civilian casualties. The executive's argument...