This week, host Muna Gasim welcomes guest Tom Parker, counterterrorism practitioner and former UN war crimes investigator, for a discussion of situating the fight against terrorism within a human rights framework. They discuss the power of language, the use of force, PEACE method interrogation, Guantanamo Bay, the state of policing, and more. To read Tom’s latest book, “Avoiding the Terrorist  Trap: Why  Respecting Human Rights is the Key to Defeating Terrorism,” Tom Parker. Click HERE to claim a 55% discount on the Hardback and a 30% discount of the eBook – be sure to use offer code P995PARKERHC for the Hardback and P995PARKEREB for the eBook!

Tom Parker is the author of “Avoiding the Terrorist Trap: Why Respecting Human Rights is the Key to Defeating Terrorism”(2019). Until recently he was Chief of Party of a European Union project providing assistance to the Office of the National Security Adviser in Baghdad, Iraq. Tom has previously served as an adviser on human rights and counter-terrorism to United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF), as the Policy Director for Terrorism, Counterterrorism and Human Rights for Amnesty International USA, as a war crimes investigator for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) working in the field in Bosnia and Kosovo, and as an Intelligence Officer in the British Security Service (MI5). As an independent consultant he has worked on transitional justice and security sector reform projects on four continents, and was one of the principal authors of the UN’s Preventing Violent Extremism Plan of Action.

After beginning his career as a self-described hard-charging counterterrorism officer, Tom’s focus shifted to research as he sought to better understand the complex role of Western powers in the project of counterterrorism and the project of protecting human rights. Muna and Parker discuss the political potency of language, particularly when it comes to defining labels such as “prisoner of war,” which not only carries legal ramifications but also affords legitimacy to the states in question.  

“In fact, if we really wanted to start digging into solutions to terrorism, we really have to turn the lens back on ourselves and understand the role that we were playing in this dynamic.”

Tom Parker

Tom and Muna also discuss the responsibility incumbent upon global powers such as the US and the UK to hold a high standard when it comes to the use of force. While Parker acknowledges that it is often unrealistic to expect a government not to act in the face of an imminent threat to its citizens, he underscores that the use of force should always be calibrated to the lowest necessary level. By conducting military operations which resulted in civilian casualty, the “soft power” long held by the United States as a global leader, promoter of liberal values, and human rights defender has begun to erode. Expanding on this, Parker explains how, particularly in law enforcement and interrogation, practicing the “PEACE method,” which protects the human rights of detainees, is not only the ethical choice, but the smart one. Humane interrogation practices are shown to actually be more effective at eliciting information than torture – which, Tom notes, is not only illegal, but is a universal crime, punishable worldwide, without statute of limitations.

“If you’re employing the right people, they should have the creative tools and the experience and the knowledge to find legal ways to achieve their objective. It really isn’t actually that difficult. And you should be challenged as a representative of the state to hold yourself to a higher standard, and you should be challenged to do your best work every day. So I don’t find this a particularly remarkable standard to impose on people working in counterterrorism.”

Tom Parker

Looking ahead to the future of human rights, Parker cautions that without significant attention to human rights protections, all of the components of a dystopian fantasy could come together into a reality. The ubiquity of facial recognition technology and surveillance hold tremendous and concerning potential for future human rights abuses – and this future may not be as far off as we would think.

 “It’s not hard to imagine a dystopia where everything you say is recorded, everywhere you go is recorded, everybody you meet is recorded and your space to be a private, free individual disappears. Now that’s, as I said, that’s something of a dystopian fantasy of the moment, but the tools to make that dystopian fantasy a reality do exist and they’re getting more and more powerful every year.”

Tom Parker

In parting, Parker urges listeners to hold tight to the essential value of human rights protections. Human rights, he says, are not just idealistic – they are profoundly central human values, which must be defended persistently. As nations, the practice and protection of these values is a challenge that must be met in every possible scenario, without compromise.

“ Infrastructure is pretty easy to rebuild. It’s actually really, really hard to recover your values once they start getting tarnished. Because hypocrisy is kryptonite to legitimacy.”

Tom Parker


“Avoiding the Terrorist  Trap:  Why  Respecting Human Rights is the Key to Defeating Terrorism,” Tom Parker. Click HERE to claim a 55% discount on the Hardback and a 30% discount of the eBook – be sure to use offer code P995PARKERHC for the Hardback and P995PARKEREB for the eBook!

Fighting an Antaean Enemy: How Democratic States Unintentionally Sustain the Terrorist Movements They Oppose,” Tom Parker.

Acting Ethically in the Shadows: Intelligence Gathering and Human Rights,” Richard Barrett and Tom Parker.

The Four Horsemen of Terrorism: It’s Not Waves, It’s Strains,” Tom Parker and Nick Sitter.