A modern nation in a state of total disorder, Colombia is an international flashpoint—wracked by more than half a century of civil war, political conflict, and drug-trade related violence—despite a multibillion dollar American commitment that makes it the third-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.
Law in a Lawless Land offers a rare and penetrating insight into the nature of Colombia's present peril. In a nuanced account of the human consequences of a disintegrating state, anthropologist Michael Taussig chronicles two weeks in a small town in Colombia's Cauca Valley taken over by paramilitaries that brazenly assassinate adolescent gang members. Armed with automatic weapons and computer-generated lists of names and photographs, the paramilitaries have the tacit support of the police and even many of the desperate townspeople, who are seeking any solution to the crushing uncertainty of violence in their lives. Concentrating on everyday experience, Taussig forces readers to confront a kind of terror to which they have become numb and complacent.
"If you want to know what it is like to live in a country where the state has disintegrated, this moving book by an anthropologist well known for his writings on murderous Colombia will tell you."—Eric Hobsbawm
Roger Douglas compares responses to terrorism by five liberal democracies—the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—over the past 15 years. He examines each nation’s development and implementation of counterterrorism law, specifically in the areas of information-gathering, the definition of terrorist offenses, due process for the accused, detention, and torture and other forms of coercive questioning.
Douglas finds that terrorist attacks elicit pressures for quick responses, often allowing national governments to accrue additional powers. But emergencies are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for such laws, which may persist even after fears have eased. He argues that responses are influenced by both institutional interests and prior beliefs, and complicated when the exigencies of office and beliefs point in different directions. He also argues that citizens are wary of government’s impingement on civil liberties and that courts exercise their capacity to restrain the legislative and executive branches. Douglas concludes that the worst antiterror excesses have taken place outside of the law rather than within, and that the legacy of 9/11 includes both laws that expand government powers and judicial decisions that limit those very powers.