Washington — The U.S. government is providing training to police agencies, prosecutors and prison officials in dozens of countries to blunt the appeal of violent extremism, according to the State Department's outgoing chief of counterterrorism, Daniel Benjamin.
Looking ahead to the work in 2013 of quelling violent extremism, Benjamin said harsh practices used by security forces are among the most potent factors that contribute to radicalization. "The goal of our counterterrorism assistance is and must be to help countries move away from repressive approaches toward developing true rule-of-law frameworks," Benjamin said December 18 at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
U.S. officials from the departments of Justice, Defense and Homeland Security are dispatched abroad to train host countries to deal with criminals and to secure their borders in ways that do not cause a backlash and radicalization, he said.
The U.S. government's premier program for helping criminal justice agencies to upgrade their counterterrorism capacities is the Anti-Terrorism Assistance program, Benjamin said. The program covers a wide spectrum of skills, from bomb detection and crime-scene investigation to border security, aviation security and cybersecurity, he said.
During the 2012 fiscal year that ended September 30, more than 9,800 people from more than 50 countries received counterterrorism training through this program, Benjamin said.
The U.S. government also puts Justice Department officials, known as resident legal advisers, in U.S. embassies to mentor host-country prosecutors and law enforcement officials in complex cases, including terrorist crimes, he said.
Indonesia is an example of a country that has made "extraordinary strides" in developing civilian legal structures and law enforcement institutions to fight terrorism effectively and within the rule of law, he said. Benjamin said Indonesia has recorded more than 160 convictions in terrorist cases and the national police has had major successes in breaking up terrorist cells linked to Jemaah Islamiya and other violent extremist organizations. "Capacity building can work, and we must continue to innovate to improve the efficacy," he said.
Benjamin added that the U.S. government is working with the United Nations and a Dutch entity, the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, to reform prison practices so that extremist ideologies do not spread while prisoners are incarcerated.
"Many incarcerated terrorists will eventually be released, and we need to take steps to decrease the likelihood that they will return to violence when they're back on the streets," Benjamin said. When jailed terrorists are cut off from their previous extremist contacts, their time in prison can be used to induce positive changes in an environment of good correctional practices, he said. More than 35 nations, along with multilateral organizations and independent experts, are participating in the prison initiative. "We believe that we've made an enormous amount of progress in tackling this vital ... issue over the past several years, but there's still much that can and should be done in this area," he said.
Benjamin said the Global Counterterrorism Forum, supported by 29 countries plus the European Union, has produced recommendations for the rule of law, combating kidnapping for ransom -- the primary means of funding terrorist groups -- and prison deradicalization. The forum recently opened the Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates. In 2013, the forum will open a similar institution, the International Institute for Justice and Rule of Law, in Tunis, Tunisia, where the Arab Awakening began, he added.