International law professor speaks to honor students

A GW law professor who has taken Libya and Saudi Arabia to court over terrorist attacks spoke Thursday night, calling on students to stay informed and take individual action toward preventing future terrorist attacks.

Professorial lecturer Allan Gerson, who spoke to about a hundred University honors students and faculty members, said citizens need to re-examine the past to make informed decisions about how they should act toward other countries in the future, emphasizing that individual response is equally important as federal activity.

“You have enormous opportunities as students and you have a lot of time on your hands,” Gerson said in a lecture sponsored by the University honors program. “You can publish papers to influence your government or look at the daily paper as something you read really critically.”

He said only after reading the newspaper can students decide if they believe the federal government is doing enough to halt terrorist activities.

“One of the biggest mistakes students can make is (to think) that the people in the government know more than they do,” he said.

An attorney and former U.S. Chief Counsel to the United Nations, Gerson has several years of experience with court cases involving the U.S. and terrorism. He filed a multi-trillion dollar lawsuit this summer against Saudi Arabia on behalf of several September 11 victims’ families, and has also prosecuted Nazi war criminals.

His involvement in international and national court cases provoked his interest in foreign affairs regarding the law and terrorism, he said. He also said his travel experiences helped him realize the United States hasn’t taken enough action against recent terrorist threats, including the country’s current situation with Iraq.

Gerson said families who suffered losses from the September 11 attacks are searching for reasoning behind the violence and why the United States didn’t stop the attacks before they happened.

“(The families) are waking up to how little was done to prevent September 11 from happening,” Gerson said.

He explained that September 11 should clue Americans into the importance of taking individual action, rather than leaving all anti-terrorist missions up to the government, which can’t deal well with the pain of its citizens.

“A terrorist cell’s life takes enormous planning to grow, as well as money. That money comes from a government which supports terrorism or at least knows what’s going on in its government,” he said, noting that if federal officials are aware of terrorist activity, they should do something immediately.

Some students said they enjoyed the event, and learned more about how they can take action to try to prevent terrorism.

Some attendees said they wished Gerson had used more specific examples to illustrate his points.

“I knew there were going to be problems of removing some of the world’s national sovereignty and I expected the lecture to highlight some of these advantages,” freshman Charity Smith said. “I thought he relied on too many generalizations.”

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