The Terror Exception

If the American government charged you with being a terrorist, would you rather face criminal charges in a federal court or be tried before a military commission?

The answer seems obvious — until you read Wadie Said’s new book, Crimes of Terror.

The USC School of Law professor begins his book with this question, and then reveals how,
since the  terrorist attacks, the U.S. government has imposed policies that increasingly encroach
on the constitutional rights associated with criminal proceedings. Going a step further, he argues that the proliferation of these practices within a terror context has the potential to bleed into, and negatively affect, normal criminal proceedings.

Much of Crimes of Terror reveals the magnitude of these practices, all stemming from the government’s sole ability to classify a case as “terrorist,” and thereby sidestep normal protections in the name of national security. Moving chronologically through each
phase, Said thoroughly examines the rise of informant and entrapment techniques during investigations, the drastic expansion of the definition of “material support” during prosecution, and even special sentencing “enhancements” for those found guilty.

He hopes readers will consider the implications of these actions and begin to raise questions such as “Why is the government sending people in to goad individuals to carry out acts of terror?” and “Do we really want government actors pushing people into doing these crimes?”

While many of Said’s previous articles have focused on various aspects of terrorist prosecutions, Crimes of Terror shows how these phenomena are all related. “I think the book is a sort of natural culmination and development of my scholarship since I’ve started working in South Carolina,” he said.

“Ultimately, I hope people will begin to understand the terror exception’s effects on our ordinary lives and view it with greater skepticism,” he said. “We should be concerned as a society with how the government chooses to use national security as a way to gain more power and more authority and whether we are comfortable with this.”

Crimes of Terror was published by Oxford University Press, and is widely available in both hardcover and ebook formats.


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Said’s introduction to federal terrorism cases came in 1999, while he was a law student. It was then that he was introduced to — and eventually worked with — David Bruck, the court-appointed lawyer for one of the defendants in United States v. Bin Laden. Bruck, a 1975 graduate of the School of Law, is a nationally renowned criminal defense lawyer who has represented many high profile defendants.