Lieberman, Collins step up on counter-terror training

Long-time readers may recall that the Washington Monthly has been helping shine a light on the often-inexcusable training law-enforcement officials receive in counter-terrorism.

As we and the Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund reported in March, the federal government is spending billions of dollars in grants to teach local law enforcement how to sniff out and respond to terrorists, but with little supervision over who provides the instruction or what’s being taught. The result is self-styled counter-terrorism “experts” who tell police officers that Muslim radicals can be spotted by the “cone shape” of their beards, Islam is a “violent radical religion,” and the Prophet Muhammad was “a pedophile.”

To their credit, Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the top two senators on the Homeland Security Committee, have taken this seriously. Unsatisfied with the response thus far, they’re stepping up again.

Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) aren’t messing around when it comes to stopping federal dollars from flowing to anti-Muslim terrorism training. In a letter to Obama on Tuesday, the duo said that if the administration can’t develop criteria to keep bigoted information out of counter-terrorism training, they’ll “consider drafting a legislative mandate or even imposing standards by statute.”

“An initial review by our staff reveals that agencies providing grants to state and local law enforcement lack meaningful standards for counter-terrorism curriculum and an adequate vetting process for individual trainers,” Lieberman and Collins wrote.

“In addition, state and local law enforcement often have little to no guidance from the federal government on what counter-terrorism training should entail,” they write. “The result has often been cases of trainers spewing inaccurate or even bigoted information to state and local law enforcement personnel, stigmatizing Muslim-Americans generally, and in effect, lending support to the false narrative that we are ‘at war’ with Islam.”

Good for them. The point here is not just about misguided and offensive lessons for law enforcement officials — though that clearly matters — but also the fact that we’re all paying a bundle for counter-terrorism training that’s likely to produce poorly-trained cops. The result is likely to be civil liberties violations and ineffective investigations.

I’m often frustrated with Lieberman and Collins, especially in areas of national security, but it’s only fair to give credit where it’s due. On this issue, they’re entirely right.