A professor of law at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and director of the school's Institute for Global Security Law and Policy, Guiora served 19 years in the Judge Advocate General's Corps of the Israel Defense Force, where he was a legal adviser to Gaza Strip activities before he ventured into the world of academia in 2004.
At last week's talk on "Countering Terrorism in the 21st Century: Lessons from Israel," the expert delved into the issue of the need for national security versus the possible infringement of individual rights.
The event was sponsored by the Harry Stern Family Institute for Israel Studies at Gratz College, as well as the Center for Israel and Overseas of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, in conjunction with the Consulate General of Israel.
Torture Not Acceptable
Born in Israel, Guiora was raised in Ann Arbor, Mich. He graduated from Kenyon College in Ohio and the Case Western Reserve School of Law before returning to the Jewish state in 1985.
The professor drew on his personal experience with the IDF in his analysis of modern-day counterterrorism. He insisted that America needs a clear, concise definition of terrorism -- and then went on to offer his own: the decision to kill innocent civilians or damage property, for political, social, economic or religious reasons.
Wars used to run along certain prescribed lines, he noted; soldiers wore uniforms and followed strict rules of engagement. Now, they are increasingly moving away from the age-old state-against-state model. Enemy forces are often no longer soldiers in an army outfit, but combatants operating in civilian populations.
"The rules of the game have significantly changed," he said.
Despite a changing landscape and the real challenges that counterterrorism operations present, torture is not an acceptable part of the equation, noted Guiora.
"Torture is illegal, immoral and does not lead to actionable information," he stated. "When push comes to shove, the rights of the individual are no less important."
He argued that the so-called "ticking time-bomb" exception doesn't exist other than on television and in the movies. The problem with exceptions, he continued, is that they beget more exceptions down the road.
"We will never, ever win the war on terrorism," he said, because the conflict does not fit into the old model, where wars can be won or lost. "The best we can hope to do is marginalize [it]."
He stressed the need for reliable human intelligence sources to "tell you who the bad guys really are." But to gain these sources, counterterrorism agents must have the language and cultural skills to work with local populations -- skill sets lagging when it comes to the United States.
On today's battlefields, counterterrorism policies are ultimately "exercised in the field by 19-year-old soldiers," he emphasized. While those who enact the decisions may be young, policy-makers in government need to be pushed to do the right thing, insisted Guiora.
"We are all victims of spin," he said. "The time has come for all of us to challenge our political leaders."
He declared that the presidential election in 2008 will be the most important one in years, having a profound influence on a number of international arenas. Dealing with Iraq, Iran and the future of counterterrorism are all issues on the table.
So is the need for morality, the stuff of democracies.
"If for a moment we forget our moral compass," he added, "at the end of the day, we become just like them."