The so-called “War on Terror” raises many questions, not least of which is whether “terror” is a term and a strategy that can be used by any side in a conflict.

National experts on ethics, law, policy, and veterans affairs will discuss the complex issues surrounding current U.S. military operations in “The War on Terror: From the Battlefield to Homecoming,”a series of panel discussions at Suffolk University from October 31 to November 2, 2011.

Former U.S. Army interrogation and interview specialist Derek Zahler will join panelists in addressing matters such as who should provide oversight and uphold standards of military conduct during a war fought in the shadows. They will ask how moral uncertainty adds to the already-difficult process of assimilating back into society when soldiers return from such murkily defined combat. Zahler, who now operates Endeavor Z, a company that employs former military personnel, will participate in each panel discussion.

Organizer Greg Fried, professor and chair of the University’s Philosophy Department, calls the panels an “important public service” and hopes that Zahler’s experience in the field is something to which students, particularly veterans, can relate.

“I’ve had many veterans as students and students who’ve gone into the military,” said Fried, co-author of the book Because It Is Wrong: Torture, Privacy and Presidential Power in the Age of Terror (2010). “We have to make sure their issues and concerns are addressed and their service is recognized. Their experiences and opinions should enhance discourse about the ethical dimensions of war, instead of making them feel isolated.”

Also bringing a unique perspective to the panels is Nir Eisikovits, assistant professor of Philosophy and director of the University’s graduate program in Ethics and Public Policy. Eisikovits served in the Israeli Defense Forces for several years before coming to the United States in 1999.

“The traditional ways of thinking about wartime ethics may not apply in these asymmetrical wars like the War on Terror,” says Eisikovits. “The unequal nature of these conflicts all but guarantees that guerrilla fighters will involve civilians, and any response to their actions will also endanger innocent lives. In such a situation, is it ever possible to keep civilians safe?”

Another series topic that resonates is oversight and accountability for special forces, which have been in the spotlight since Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid earlier this year.

“It’s very important to shine a light on these issues,” said Fried. “When so much of the War on Terror is conducted in secret, there is a real danger that powers are being expanded beyond what’s healthy or necessary.”

In addition to Zahler and Eisikovits, panelists will include:

  • Jack Goldsmith, Harvard Law School professor, former George W. Bush Administration assistant attorney general, and author of The Terror Presidency and the upcoming Power and Constraint
  • Patrick Jennings, professor of History at Bridgewater State University
  • Brian Conley, assistant professor of Government at Suffolk University
  • James Carroll, Suffolk University Distinguished Scholar in Residence
  • Sebastián Royo, associate dean of the University’s College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Suffolk Madrid campus
  • John Otis of the VA Boston Healthcare System
  • Jessica Stern of the Hoover Institution
  • Jeff McConnell of the University’s Philosophy faculty

Panel discussions

Guerrilla Warfare and the Special Forces Mission

2:30-4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31, 2011
C. Walsh Theater, 55 Temple St.
Participants: Derek Zahler, Patrick Jennings, Brian Conley

Myths and Misconceptions about the War on Terror

1-2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1
Munce Conference Room, Archer Building, 1st floor
Derek Zahler, Nir Eisikovits, James Carroll, Moderator: Sebastián Royo

The Reintegration of Veterans into Civilian Life

7-9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1
C. Walsh Theater, 55 Temple St.
Derek Zahler, John Otis, Jessica Stern

The Lack of Oversight and Accountability for Secret Units

4-5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2
Poetry Center, Mildred Sawyer Library, 73 Tremont St., 2nd Floor
Derek Zahler, Jack Goldsmith, Jeff McConnell