Professor Robert M. Chesney (University of Texas School of Law)

Seminar: Terrorism: History, Law, and Policy (Spring 2012)


Syllabus/Class Policies









This seminar explores the intersection of law and policy in relation to terrorism, with an emphasis both on the history of these topics and on current events. The readings for the course largely consist of books and excerpts of books, rather than traditional legal casebook-style materials. We also will read a substantial number of shorter articles and essays drawn from an array of disciplines. Participants will not be asked to write research papers; instead, participants will respond to the readings in writing every week throughout the semester—and will also be expected to react to one another’s responses—through the medium of the course blog (located here). Lively participation in the seminar discussion, of course, also is a central expectation.




There are three components to grades in this course.


1. Participation in Class Discussion: 40% of final grade


We will have 14 sessions in this course.  Be there, be fully prepared, and be an active participant in the discussion every time.  If you absolutely cannot help but miss a session, be sure to discuss this with me in advance.


2. Written Responses to the Weekly Readings: 40% of final grade


The majority of your grade will be determined by the written responses to the readings.  These responses must be posted to the class blog each week, no later than 10 pm Monday night (i.e., two days before our seminar meets).


Each “response post” should contain at least three elements.  First, your distillation of some of the key lessons or insights you think the author was trying to (or accidentally did) convey.  Do not try to be comprehensive; rather, select one or more that struck you as particularly interesting or important.  Second, your critique (or endorsement) of those lessons or insights.  Third, your sense of how those lessons or insights relate to either other readings we have previously completed, to current events, or to both.  


Length: Aim for approximately 1000 words in each response post (which should be between 4 and 8 paragraphs of material).


Getting signed up for the blog: If you lost the email with the instructions, you can get them again here.


3. Comments on the Written Responses Posted by Others: 20% of final grade


You are required to read one another’s response posts.  When you have read them all, pick two upon which you would like to comment.  I am assuming you all understand what a “comment” on a blog post is.  For our purposes, the important point is that you need to post comments each week on two of your colleagues’ written responses.  You have until noon on the day of our class (Wednesday) to do so.


Your comment should be pithy, substantive, and polite.  The aim is to expand upon, riff on, dispute, or otherwise engage the merits of things your colleagues have said in their primary posts—or that your colleagues have said in comments on someone’s post. 


You are encouraged to respond to comments your colleagues offer in response to your own written response, but this will not count toward your weekly obligation to post two comments on the responses written by others.


Length: Aim for between 100-200 words. 



Required Readings


Most of our required readings are available to you online via the links the syllabus below.  There are a couple of books we’ll use more thoroughly, however, and these you’ll need to purchase.  These are:


1. Timothy Naftali, Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism (order new or used here)


2. The 9/11 Commission Report (actually, this is posted free here, but it’s also available in book new or used here)


3. Benjamin Wittes, Detention and Denial (order new or used here)


4. Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals (order new or used here).


5. Jack Goldsmith, Power and Constraint: The Accountable Presidency After 9/11 (note: not on sale until Mar 12, though you can and should preorder)




Office Hours


My fixed office hours are from 1:45 until 3:00 on Monday (my office is 6.238). You are welcome to drop by unannounced at other times, though I recommend emailing me ( if you want to be sure I’m there other than during office hours. Please note that I’m also teaching National Security Law this spring, and will thus be unavailable Monday through Wednesday between 12:30 and 1:45.



The Syllabus 


To some extent the class discussion will be a matter of picking up the narratives generated by you on the course blog in the preceding days.  But be prepared as well to engage the discussion points mentioned below for each set of readings.


1.         Jan. 18 – Non-State Political Violence in Historical Perspective (I)


John Merriman, The Dynamite Club (excerpt; available here)


Beverly Gage, The Day Wall Street Exploded (excerpt; available here)



2.         NOTE THAT WE CANNOT MEET AT OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED TIME (Jan. 25th).  WE WILL FIX A TIME TO MEET EARLIER THAT SAME WEEK  – Non-State Political Violence in Historical Perspective (II)


Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (rev. ed. 2006), Chapters 1-3 (available here, though alas my version is shot through with underlining...feel free to buy your own copy of the full book, which is good all the way through, here)



3.         Feb. 1 – American Counterterrorism Policy Prior to the 1990s (I)


Timothy Naftali, Blind Spot (Chapters 1-4)



4.         Feb. 8 – American Counterterrorism Policy Prior to the 1990s (II)


Timothy Naftali, Blind Spot (Chapters 5-8)



5.         Feb. 15 – Islamist Terrorism in the 1990s, and the U.S. Response


            Lawrence Wright, The Man Behind Bin Laden, The New Yorker (here)


9/11 Commission Report Chapters 3, 4, and 6 (here, here, and here)



6.         Feb. 22 – The 9/11 Attacks and Their Aftermath


9/11 Commission Report Chapters 5, 7, and 8 (here, here, and here)


9/11 Commission Report Chapters 10 and 11 (here and here)


Judge Richard Posner Dissents (here)



7.         Note that we cannot meet the week of February 27 to March 2; we may meet the preceding Friday (Feb. 24 instead, or else the following Monday (Mar. 5) – The War on Terrorism: An Introduction to the War Model


The September 18, 2001, Authorization for Use of Military Force (“AUMF”) (here)


Office of Legal Counsel, The President’s Constitutional Authority to Use Military Force Against Terrorists and Nations that Shelter Them (Sep. 25, 2001) (here)


Office of Legal Counsel, Application of Treaties and Laws to Al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees (DRAFT Jan. 9, 2002) (here)


Office of Legal Counsel, Status of Taliban Forces Under Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 (Feb. 2, 2002) (here)


Memorandum from the President (Feb. 7, 2002) (here)



8.         Mar. 7 – The War on Terrorism: Criticism of the War/Prevention Model


Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story on How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (note: this is a relatively long read)



9.         Mar. 21 – The War on Terrorism: The Detention Debate (I)


            Benjamin Wittes, Detention and Denial


10.       Mar. 28 – The War on Terrorism: The Detention Debate (II)


            Michael Mukasey, Civilian Courts Are No Place to Try Terrorists (here)


Andrew McCarthy, Combatants Not Defendants (here)


Robert Chesney, Optimizing Criminal Prosecution (here)


Text of National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) for FY ’12 (Sections 1021-31) (here)



11.       Apr. 4 – The War on Terrorism: Comparing the Bush and Obama Administrations (I)


Jack Goldsmith, Power and Constraint: The Accountable Presidency After 9/11 (chapters 1-TBD) (note: not shipping until Mar 12th)



12.       Apr. 11 – The War on Terrorism: Comparing the Bush and Obama Administrations (II)


Finish the Goldsmith book.



13.       Apr. 18 – The War on Terrorism: Lethal Force


            Shane Harris, National Journal Cover Story on Targeted Killing (here)


            Mary Ellen O’Connell on drones (here)


            Ken Anderson on drones (here)


2010 Speech by State Dep’t Legal Adviser Harold Koh (here) (note – don’t be put off if the system prompts you for a username and password; don’t enter anything, just hit “ok”)


2011 Speech by John Brennan, Assistant to the President for H. Sec. and Counterterrorism (here)



14.       Apr. 25 – Endings and Transformations


Audrey Kurth Cronin, How al-Qaida Ends, International Security (here)     


Jessica Stern, The Protean Enemy, Foreign Affairs (here)


Bruce Hoffman, The Myth of Grass-Roots Terrorism, Foreign Affairs (here)


Sageman & Hoffman Debate: Does Osama Still Call the Shots? (here)


Lawrence Wright, The Master Plan, The New Yorker (here)


Caryle Murphy, Ideological Clash of Two Jihadi Titans Shakes Al Qaeda, CSM (here)




The seminar is over...but you want to keep going? 


First, email me ( and ask to be added to the national security law listserv, which will keep you updated on new cases, articles, and events (it is a distribution list, not a discussion forum).


Second, put these in your RSS feed:

and, of course: