Law Professor's New Book Looks to Nation's Past in Understanding Government Response to War on Terror

Lexington, VA • Thursday, August 07, 2008

In the video above, Professor Miller discusses the similarities between the political climate in the 1970's and now. More video from the interview is available here.

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Written testimony from the 1975 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – also known as the "Church Committee" – reads like a lot of Congressional testimony from the last two years. Then as now, U.S. intelligence practices came under intense scrutiny from Congress and the public as a fierce debate raged over national security interests and the preservation of civil liberties.

A new book edited by Washington and Lee law professor Russell Miller, U.S. National Security, Intelligence and Democracy: From the Church Committee to the War on Terror, explores these seminal eras in the evolution of U.S. intelligence policy and oversight.  The book joins key voices from the Church Committee with contemporary analysis of issues in national security, intelligence and constitutional governance implicated by the War on Terror.

The result is a study that New York Times reporter Scott Shane calls an "epochal reexamination of the trade-offs between security and liberty. There are few topics of greater importance to the foundations and future of the American experiment."

The Church Committee, named after its chairman U.S. Senator Frank Church, was established to examine U.S. intelligence abuses during the Cold War. The Committee's 14 volume report on abuses of civil liberties and violations of the law eventually led Congress to enact the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which principally sought to prohibit warrant-less government surveillance of U.S. citizens.  Many other legal boundaries operating on U.S. intelligence agencies today are the direct result of the Committee's investigation and recommendations.

Soon after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, government officials and media commentators criticized the work of the Church Committee, claiming it had hampered the U.S. intelligence community's ability to discover and prevent terrorist plots.  In the years that followed the attacks the Bush administration pursued policies many claim to be violations of the reforms that resulted from the Church Committee's work.

"These contemporary accusations would have disappointed but not surprised Senator Church," says Miller. "More troubling to him would be the notion that his twenty-first century critics invoke a vision of government that he passionately believed is supported neither by the text of the U.S. Constitution nor by the republican ideals to which it aspires. Whatever the U.S. Constitution stands for, Church insisted, Machiavellianism must not be one of them, not even in the hardscrabble world of intelligence and not as an expedient in responding to threats to America's national security."

Broken into two parts, Miller's book begins with reflections from several key veterans of the Church Committee and authorities on Senator Church himself.  These contributions account for the Church Committee's context and historic impact and they explore the courage that was required to advocate constitutional governance in the face of threats to American security.  The contributions to the book's second part make clear that the lessons of the Church Committee are highly relevant today.  A series of in-depth commentaries from a diverse set of researchers and advocates, these chapters analyze the intelligence and security policies undertaken as part of the American reaction to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

U.S. National Security, Intelligence and Democracy: From the Church Committee to the War on Terror is available now from Routledge Books. Routledge Website

Praise for U.S. National Security, Intelligence and Democracy: From the Church Committee to the War on Terror

"If there is any hope of avoiding intelligence abuse in the post-9/11 era, it will only be by learning the lessons of history….  This smart and necessary collection brings together a remarkable set of scholars in the hope that we can indeed learn from our mistakes."

Professor David D. Cole
Legal affairs correspondent for The Nation and frequent commentator on NPR's All Things Considered

"Professor Miller provides a timely forum for reflection on the invaluable contributions of the Church Committee to oversight of U.S. intelligence activities….  As we engage in the current debate, we would be well-served by the historical perspectives offered by this remarkable collection of essays."

Rep. John F. Tierney (D-MA)
Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the U.S. House of Representatives

About Professor Miller

Russell A. Miller is an Associate Professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law. He teaches courses in Constitutional Law, Public International Law and Comparative Law. He has published Transboundary Harm in International Law: Lessons from the Trail Smelter Arbitration (with Rebecca M. Bratspies) (Cambridge University Press, 2006) and Progress in International Law (with Rebecca M.Bratspies (Martinus Nijhoff Press, 2008). His articles have appeared in the Washington and Lee Law Review, the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law and the American Journal of International Law. He is the co-founder and co-Editor-in-Chief of the German Law Journal (

Also by Professor Miller

Progress in International Law, co-edited by Professor Miller and Professor Rebecca Bratspies of the CUNY School of Law, seeks to be a comprehensive accounting of international law for modern times. Forty leading international law theorists analyze the most significant current issues in international law, and their critical assessments draw diverse conclusions about the current state and future prospects of international law.

Progress in International Law, published by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers (Holland), is available here.

Transboundary Harm in International Law:  Lessons from the Trail Smelter Arbitration, co-edited by Professor Miller and Professor Rebecca Bratspies of the CUNY School of Law, examines possible legal responses to the problems created by our increasingly porous national borders.  A broad range of scholars critically engage with the leading international case on the topic.

Transboundary Harm in International Law:  Lessons from the Trail Smelter Arbitration, published by Cambridge University Press (UK), is available here.

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