State of Emergency as the Empire’s Mode of Governance.
The atrocities of September
11, 2001 caused an unprecedented acceleration in the transformation of
the corpus of criminal and criminal procedure laws in Western countries.
In the months following the outrage, and sometimes within days, governments
have enacted measures curtailing public and private liberties. In our
opinion, a real break is taking place, because it is the very existence
of the rule of law as we know it which is at stake.
Anti-terrorism legislations, whether ancient or modern, always aim to legitimise exceptional criminal procedures at all levels of the judiciary process, from the inquiry itself up to and including the final judgement. We are talking here special methods of investigation such as surveillance, mail interception, telephone tapping and electronic monitoring. These measures can nowadays be implemented even in the absence of an infraction. Suspicion of terrorist activities now also warrants exceptional preventive detention or administrative custody, even of simple witnesses, as in the United States. Anti-terrorism legislation also condones curbing communications between an accused person and her or his attorney, and, on a more general plane, allows for the setting up of specific emergency jurisdictions.
In Spain, a person accused of terrorist activities does not have the right to a lawyer of her/his own choosing. In Germany, various derogations have been enacted to customary rules regarding searches, entering property, identity checks, and arrest and imprisonment. At the level of court procedure, rules have been set to alter the nature of competent jurisdictions and to curtail the rights of the defence. Defence attorneys can for instance been denied access to procedures in the event of ‘circumstances leading to the belief’ that they may act in such a way as to thwart the instruction. The same rule allows for the lawful breach of the confidentiality of the correspondence between attorney and client.
As for its consequences for the criminal process, the new anti-terrorist laws are very much in conformity with more ancient jurisdictional tendencies. They do however vastly extent their scope. Indeed they aim not so much to restrict the fundamental liberties of certain categories of the population, but rather to encompass it as a whole. They establish a permanent and generalised surveillance and control of individuals and will preventively attack and arraign any process of class re-composition by criminalising social movements beforehand.
of Imperial Power.
The more recent legal
measures against terrorism anticipate rather than answer terrorist actions.
They come in fulfilment by national states of their international obligations,
and have been more specifically brought about by the demands of the United
States of America. The place taken by the United States in the whole process
is in fact very characteristic of the current situation, the fight against
terrorism being very much constitutive of its Imperial leadership.
The first component of this relationship is the privilege that has ‘de jure’ been granted to American citizenship, by attaching to it rights that are denied to other nationalities. This is particularly evident in the case of the differential legal treatment meted out to US citizens and foreigners. In terrorism cases and those related to organised crime, American courts also claim universal jurisdiction and extra-territorial competence.
The USA Patriot
Act as Suspension of Foreigners' Rights.
These two measures create
zones of lawlessness. They suspend or even abolish the fundamental rights
of suspects. Suspects are then totally in the hands of the executive,
and no judicial control whatsoever applies to them. Thus, prisoners captured
during the Afghan conflict are now shepherded in Guantanamo Bay and do
not qualify for Prisoners of War status as defined by the Geneva Convention.
This suspension of rights not only takes place within US territory, but
also abroad, since the capture itself took place in Afghanistan, and,
in the absence of a formal declaration of war, was conducted as a police
sweep rather than as a military operation.
This suspension of the due process of law is emblematic of a pure relation of power. It constitutes the legal manifestation of the application of pure violence. Furthermore it is also paired, through its inclusion in domestic American law, and through its acceptance by the United Nations or through bilateral extradition agreements, with a hegemonic function, and with the recognition by other states of the particular and dominant status that the United States claim for themselves with regard to international law.The USA Patriot Act Two as a Generalised Suspension of the Rule of Law.
Still unsatisfied with the exceptional legislation already in place, the Bush administration has drafted a new anti-terrorism law, the ‘Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003’ (1), which further aggravates the legal deviations of the ‘USA Patriot Act’. This new text is already known as ‘Patriot II’. Building upon the first Patriot Act, it extents existing discriminatory measures against non-citizens and further enhances the powers of the executive at the expense of the judiciary. This project is a big step forward towards the establishment of emergency rule. It generalises the system of suspension of the rights of American citizens suspected of collaboration with entities deemed to be terrorist organisations. Exceptional procedures thus become the norm.
The new act provides
for an easier surveillance of American citizens by the government, and
for interception and monitoring of their communications, electronic or
otherwise, without judicial review. Simply applying to citizens procedures
designed to fight a foreign power will suffice. Such actions need only
be deemed to take place within a vaguely phrased monitoring and intelligence
acquisition drive directed against ’agents of a foreign power’.
Indeed, the draft legislation
provides for depriving American citizens of their nationality, in case
they aid or abet an organisation branded as terrorist by the Attorney
General of the United States. This provision represents a clear break
with previous legislation which made a sharp distinction between what
applies to nationals and to non-citizens. It will result in Americans
being henceforth subjected not to the law of the land, however restrictive
it has become with respect to individual liberties, but to the sole whim
of the executive.
The State of
Emergency, European Union Style.
The crime of terrorism
applies when the authors 'actions‘ are deemed to have the destruction
of the political, economic or social structures of a country as its aim’,
or when ‘its aim is to gravely destabilise a country’. Concepts
as 'destabilisation or destruction of economic/ social/ political structures
of a country' makes it possible to mount a frontal attack against social
movements. Similar arguments were used in the beginning of the 80s by
the government of Margaret Thatcher to apply the then existing anti-terrorist
legislation to the miners' strike.
In such a context, it
is easy to envisage how rallies, strikes, squatting or 'hijacking' public
spaces, occupying infrastructure installations, or disrupting mass transit,
all with the intention to put pressure to the government to enact social
policies or to stop the dismantlement of the same, can easily be assimilated
to terrorist acts.
The new criminal legislation corresponds with the second phase of the establishment of an integrated structure of power at the global level: Empire. The first phase consisted in the political organisation of the global market, and the liberalisation of the movements of goods and finance capital. Labour force management remained at this stage the resort of the national states. The negotiations about liberalising investments, and about the GATS, are initiating a second phase of the process, that of globalisation of management of the workforce and of its reproduction parameters. The dismantling of the existing political set-up is the precondition for the shift in its organic composition.
The End of the
Separation of Powers.
Patriot II, if adopted,
will mean the legal implementation of the state of emergency, i.e. the
enshrinement of lawlessness within the law.
There is clearly a double phenomenon at work, viz. a suspension of the rule of law, and a shift within the law of criminal procedure. Even if the suspension of the rule of law is more apparent in the United States, a similar development is taking place in European countries, as emergency legislation is being implemented.
At this juncture, the
consolidation of Imperial rule demands that the restrictions on public
liberties be enshrined in criminal law. Its current transformation shows
that we are witnessing the end of the dual system of rule of law and pure
Role of the United States of America.
Just like any nation-state, the United States have implemented a dual judicial system, based on the rule of law for citizens and on a state of non-law for foreigners. Traditionally, as with other nation-states, such a distinction between two legal dispensations articulates itself around the concept of border.
However, to the American
government, 'border' does not mean a geographical feature. The primacy
of American citizenship, the duality in the dispensation of justice is
not a matter of a given territory, but concerns the planet as a whole.
At stake is not only to enforce the immunity of American citizens with
regard to international tribunals, which are supposed to be common jurisdictions,
but also to force other states to allow American authorities the right
to judge the citizens of these very countries through purpose-created
The United States take a pioneer role in the institution of this new judicial order, they decide what is a case of emergency, and in its wake, in which way the prevailing norm has to be altered, especially with regard to criminal law and criminal procedure. This undoubtedly marks the reinsertion of pure violence within the international order, and represent a constitutive act of their Imperial leadership.
The State of
Here, the discourse
bandied by the global power harbours a paradox: judicial reform is motivated
by a sudden emergency, but the emergency itself is said to be of long
duration. Hence the state of emergency becomes a permanent fixture. It
comes to be considered as the new form of the political order, with the
aim to defend democracy and human rights. Or to put it differently, citizens
must accept for a long time to come the curtailment of their concrete
liberties in the defence of a self-proclaimed and entirely abstract democratic
For Carl Schmitt, sovereignty does not lie in the ability to impose a norm, but in a decision-making potential that is free of any normative obligation. Rather than the legal norm, it is in extraordinary legislation, ‘’where the decision making process leaves the juridical norm behind’’ that the authority of the state shines at its best. ‘’The true sovereign is who is able to decide that a given situation is an extraordinary one’’.
Contrary to Max Weber, Schmitt does not locate the state's sovereignty in its monopoly of domination of violence, but in its monopoly of decision-making. Whereas this definition appears to be somewhat reductive in the case of the nation-state, it does perfectly fit the Imperial structure. Schmitt circumscribes the political process starting from the ‘identify friend or foe’ concept. Such an approach tends to privilege external politics as against internal governance. Such an interpretation fails to account for the organic character of sovereignty in the nation-state, of the interdependency between internal and external sovereignty, and for the interplay obtaining between various institutions and loci of power. But in the wake of the deconstruction of the nation-state and of the re-integration of its structure within a form of imperial power, Schmitt's analyses are gaining a renewed interest.
For Schmitt, the decision as to declare a state of emergency takes place within a judicial framework. The emergency situation is not one of chaos. When the state abolishes (constitutional) law, it is allegedly in order to safeguard it. Seen in this light, the decision as to declare an emergency is first and foremost, a decision regarding the circumstances in which the norm applies. ‘’A normal situation needs to be postulated, and then, the sovereign is who is able to decide in last resort whether a normal situation obtains or not’’. With Empire, the executive power of the United States of America plays the role of the sovereign as described by Schmitt. There is indeed an embedding of the emergency regulations within a juridical order, but it is an order devoid of concrete rights.
The issues that have
been raised by Schmitt are becoming relevant again in the context of the
current fight against terrorism. Here too this form of government is predicated
on the long haul. These dispositions also generate a new juridical order,
where extraordinary procedures occupy the centre stage, and where the
exception becomes the norm. Whereas the fight against terrorism leads
to a suspension of rights and produces a new juridical order, it also
and at the same time produces a new enemy, both in a formal and in a material
sense. Unlike martial law, this transformation of the juridical order
does not aim to combat something that is external to the system, but something
that is inherent to it. Hence we witness an inversion of the relationship
between means and aims. The designated enemy; the terrorist organisation,
becomes the very
Giorgio Agamben's enquiry into the Roman ‘justicium’ enabled him to establish a distinction between dictatorship and state of emergency. The Roman dictator was a special magistrate, whose extensive powers were conferred by a specific piece of legislation, in conformity with the prevailing constitutional order. Within the Roman state of emergency, the extension of the powers conferred to magistrates was simply obtained by suspending those laws that limited them. ‘’The state of emergency was therefore not a dictatorship (...) but a space void of laws, a zone of anomia, where all prevailing legal dispensations, and especially those regarding the distinction between what is public and what is private, have been suspended’’.
Agamben considers that
the current forms of deviation from the rule of law indeed qualify as
a state of emergency, but a closer look suggests that things are less
In France, the so-called
‘Perben Act’ has extended the powers of the police and has
altered the modalities of the inquiry by augmenting the allowable time
of remand custody, and the possibilities of searches and of monitoring/
surveillance in the case of ‘organised crime’. A structure
of pro-active investigations has been set up, whereby police is allowed
to make use of special techniques, without notification to the person
The law also provides
for guilty pleading, with a procedure dubbed ‘’arraignment
under preliminary admittance of guilt’’(4). This system has
become extremely common in the United States. Its principle is to achieve
a decrease in the indictment through a restatement of the charges brought
forward (for instance by re-qualifying murder as manslaughter), this in
exchange for an admission of guilt. The method considerably reinforces
the supremacy of the procedure above that of the law. It formally enforces
a contract of sorts between two highly unequal parties and esablishes
a deal-making procedure which is foreign to the principle of justice.
And so we see the creation of a 'modular justice': on the one hand guilt till proof of the contrary for those designed as such by the police apparatus, while on the other, authors of financial and economic crimes can escape scot-free. This privilege has now been formally recognised. It has become the law of the land.
Through this law, the justice ministry also introduces itself into the working of the criminal procedure process by claiming a right to intervene in individual cases, further enshrining the end of the separation of powers. The minister of justice now appears as a magistrate with extraordinary powers conferred by statute law.
The enhancement of the powers of both police and prosecution, institutions which are closely linked to the executive, means a shift of competences which used to be of the exclusive domain of judges. These extraordinary measures clearly lead to an effective suspension of fundamental freedoms and alter the nature of the rule of law. Such dispositions, as put forward in acts and decrees championed by the executive, are part and parcel of a new juridical order, that of the ‘constitution-making dictatorship’.
These dispositions also represent the end-stage of Imperial politics, resulting in a form of governance which guarantees the political and military provisions of a global management of the work force, as set up through the WTO negotiations regarding foreign investments and the privatisation of public services. Seen in this light, the state of emergency appears as a transition phase in which the work force is 'liberated' from its social protection. To this end, the abolition of concrete political rights is a prerequisite. Once this process has been achieved, dictatorship will be the expression of a new juridical order, one of abstract rights, and of an universal work force shorn of its historic and political particularities dating from the epoch of the nation-states.
The main objective of
the current anti-terrorism legislation is not, as was the case with a
previous legal framework, to exclude the social struggle movements from
the realm of politics and to subject them to criminal law. Rather, it
is the political intention of their authors, viz. the destabilisation
of the sitting government, which leads to their criminalisation.