Georgetown Center Focuses on Security, Law

Posted September 17, 2008 at 10:13am

Here’s a new voice in the war on terror: the recently opened Center on Security and the Law at Georgetown University Law Center.

Founded in April, the center is a new addition to the school’s array of faculty institutes and scholarly initiatives that include public health, environmental law and international economic law.

This new center was created largely to address the pressing concerns of national security with an “intensely practical” goal in mind. “We believe that one of the great new challenges for the legal system is responding to the threat of terrorism,” said Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal, a constitutional and criminal law expert who directs the new center. Katyal said that with the increase of “asymmetric warfare and technologies that permit small bands of people to inflict massive casualties … the legal system will need to change and adapt to this new world.”

The arrival of nontraditional warfare with no clear frontier or enemies may have changed the rule of the game, but it promises many opportunities in the legal field. “National security is an exciting, emerging field. It’s still growing and changes very quickly,” said Nadia Asancheyev, 29, a fellow with the center. Asancheyev is a former litigator focusing on white-collar criminal defense who has worked on Guantánamo Bay detainee issues as well.

“The war on terror has created confusion over what is and what’s not legal,” said Matthew Gerke, 34, another fellow of the center. “The current law is not adequate to address current security crisis, and we are here to come up with creative solutions that can enhance national security, yet protecting our constitutional rights.”

Although discussions of terrorism and national security can trigger reactions from all ends of the political spectrum, the center strongly adheres to its role of generating impartial and impassioned conversation that can help establish long-term solutions to address challenges posed by problems such as religious extremism, Katyal said.

“Our overarching mission is to create a space for serious thought on the issues posed by terrorism, not in an ideological way, but in a way that reflects the gravity of the threat,” Katyal said.

Above all, the center’s key tasks at hand are to bridge the gap between academics and policymakers. “We are focused on changing the dialogue and engaging in a serious inquiry, not just with academics, but policymakers and judges,” Katyal said. “Sometimes that work will be done through conferences, but more often than not it will be done through published papers, litigation and other formats.”

For instance, when Congress was in the midst of a difficult choice about whether to permit President Bush’s wiretapping, the center brought all the key government players and experts outside of the government together for the center’s inaugural conference in April. “It turned out, after spending a day together, there was far more agreement than disagreement, and so it was not surprising to find Congressional agreement some months later,” Katyal said.

A good example of how the the school put its theoretical work about law to “concrete,” and “practical effect” is in representing Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former driver who has been held at Guantánamo Bay for the past six years, to challenge his detention in federal courts. Katyal served as the lead attorney and won the landmark Supreme Court case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. In a 5-3 decision, the court ruled that the military commissions violated military and international law. The victory has brought Katyal accolades nationwide, including the American Civil Liberties Union’s Roger Baldwin Award and Amnesty International’s Human Rights Defender Award.

Unlike other similar law centers on national security at New York University, the University of Virginia and Columbia University, the Georgetown center is situated in the nerve center of national security politics, giving the law students unparalleled access to observe the action on the ground and gain hands-on experience through working with policymakers in the nation’s capital.

Gerke, who had worked in the Pentagon and in Iraq and dealt with rule-of-law issues in the reconstruction of Iraq before coming to the center, has helped Congressional staffers on a range of legal issues facing them. He worked closely with the Senate Judiciary Committee on the State Secrets Protection Act. His other involvement included working on the drafting of the USA PATRIOT Act and writing opinion pieces on issues such as telecom immunity.

The center is composed of about 10 faculty members, two full-time fellows, two nonresident fellows and five student research assistants from Georgetown’s law school.

The fellowships are “extremely competitive,” Katyal said, with dozens of applicants from the country’s top lawyers and law school graduates vying for the two spots. To be considered for the offers, candidates have to be “excellent writers, hard workers, outstanding people who have an interest in the role of law in the national security arena,” he said.

Katyal used his students in all of his litigation to date. “They get to do research, write parts of the briefs, moot me and see what it is like firsthand to try to file a national security challenge to the administration,” he said.