Criminal Justice Professor Awarded Fellowship to Study Terrorism

News Story:

A criminal justice professor and terrorism expert has been accepted to a prestigious fellowship through which he will tour Israel and consult with some of that nation’s top terrorism experts.

Assistant Professor Matthew D. Semel will visit select sites not open to the public as part of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies Academic Fellows Program. He will participate in classroom work and consult with other academics and security experts.

“I’ll do anything I can to make myself a better teacher,” said Semel, a Stamford resident.

FDD was founded after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to support the defense of democracies through policy research, democracy and counterterrorism training, strategic communications, and investigative journalism.

Semel — who teaches the undergraduate and graduate courses Law, Society, and Ethics; Criminal Law; Constitutional Law; and Terrorism — was referred to the fellowship by Assistant Professor of Social Work Annette Bailey, Ph.D.

“The Israelis have been dealing with terrorism for a long time,” Semel said. “There is no doubt that there is no one in the world today that knows more about terrorism than the Israelis.”

The fellowship fits with Semel’s research into military interrogation techniques.

“My plan is to survey people who interrogate terrorists or suspected terrorists,” Semel said. “There’s a tremendous amount of literature about law enforcement interrogations, but there are no studies of military interrogations.”

Semel is primarily interested in testing the effectiveness of techniques in the U.S. Army’s interrogation handbook — none of which have ever been tested by social science.

“I want to ask people who interrogate: ‘What do they think works?’” Once Semel collects and analyzes survey data, he will compare it to published literature about police interrogations. Then he will design experiments to test the effectiveness of the techniques, which are all compatible with the Geneva Conventions.

“I think the majority of interrogators are hardworking people who are not interested in torturing anybody,” he said.

Semel spent 13 years as public defender is the South Bronx and draws on his experience to bring the realities of his subject matter to life for his students.

“I like to get students to do more than read about the law,” Semel said, explaining that he conducts a trial simulation in class. “They do things that real lawyers and real witnesses do.”