zenpundit.com » international law

Archive for the ‘international law’ Category

Pavers of Roads with Good Intentions: R2P Debate Rising Part II.

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

As I mentioned previously, I needed to make a more substantive reply to Victor Allen’s claims for R2P.  I am very tardy in doing so, for which I apologize to Mr. Allen but better late than not at all. While addressing some of Victor’s specific points, I want to be very clear that in my view:

1. R2P’s status in international law, despite grandiose claims by advocates, is weakly grounded, highly controversial and conflicts with accepted norms of state sovereignty

2.  The concept of R2P is a covert revival of the pre-WWI sovereign right to  wage aggressive war, albeit (usually) under some kind of collective imprimatur

3,  If regarded as a serious legal moral principle entailing an obligation to act, R2P is inherently anti-strategic, injurious to national interest and anti-democratic in nature

I will tackle point #1 today and points # 2 and #3 in successive posts.

In Victor’s original piece he argued that R2P is part and parcel of a (theoretical) “new sovereignty”:

That R2P does not violate sovereignty stems from the evolution of sovereignty from its Westphalian form in the mid 17th century to the “sovereignty as responsibility” concept advanced by Deng, et al. Modern sovereignty can no longer be held to give states carte blanche in their internal affairs regardless of the level of suffering going on within their borders. This does not diminish state agency for internal affairs, but rather holds them responsible and accountable for their action and inaction regarding the welfare of their populations. 

“Sovereignty as responsibility”  is a theory put forth by a Sudanese diplomat and minor UN bureaucrat and an American academic that proclaimed:

The authors assert that sovereignty can no longer be seen as a protection against interference, but as a charge of responsibility where the state is accountable to both domestic and external constituencies.

The “…and external constituencies” clause is an Orwellian negation of the traditional meaning of sovereignty where the state has sole de jure authority over such matters as their internal affairs, including the political character of their regime,  with very narrow exceptions mandated by treaty or customary international law ( ex. diplomatic immunity of heads of state).  The latter, is based on consent and derives from the history of the diplomatic norms adhered to, interpreted and practiced by sovereigns and such rulings of IGO to whose authority sovereigns have voluntarily submitted themselves through a binding covenant ( ex. World Court via the UN charter).

Of course, being sovereign, states differ on how such rulings are to be interpreted or even whether they will accept jurisdiction of bodies  like the World Court, the ICC or special international  tribunals of justice in specific cases. Furthermore, in signing covenants, states often, quite legally, make reservations or exceptions to specific treaty clauses as part of their agreement to adhere to the rest of the treaty and consider it legally binding.  The United States in fact, does this regularly as do most other states having major interests at stake in negotiating an international agreement. Unless you have a granular knowledge of what country “x” formally agreed to accept as a signatory, or are willing to do your homework in this regard, you do not actually know what the law really is in many diplomatic disputes – especially when the conflict is complex and multilateral.  Broad and bombastic assertions by activists in the media that novel restrictions or obligations on states that they support are “international law” or that some act they condemn is “illegal” are almost invariably factually incorrect, at least to some degree ( barring obvious and clear violations of jus cogens, such as mass atrocities).

Beyond international law based on formal covenants, custom and legal precedents generally accepted by sovereigns, other sources of authority in international law would include resolutions of the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, regional bodies like the OAS or EU, some institutions like the ICRC and even the opinions of scholars learned in international law. Unlike positive law within a state, international law in its various manifestations lacks a legitimate, overarching, coercive authority that could function as a global sovereign and impartial enforcer of consistently interpreted law and justice. Sovereign states are thus not subject to international law in the same relationship that their citizens are subject to sovereign authority; sovereign states are, at least legally, a community of equals able to draw upon and interpret overlapping and at times competing sources of legal authority in making claims – including precedents they intentionally created themselves!  This makes a quick redress of violations of international law difficult when the UN Security Council is empowered to make use of military force only in cases of ” international peace and security” (i.e. aggression) and the UN Charter also assures sovereigns of their “right to self defense”.

“New Sovereignty”, in the title of Victor’s first piece, is a concept propagated by the late Harvard theorist and State Department official Abram Chayes and his wife, scholar Antonia Handler Chayes, that repudiates much of traditional sovereignty in order to aggressively re-define it as “ the capacity to participate in international institutions of all types“.  In other words, sovereignty in their view would mean a state’s membership in good standing in  a mutually interdependent ” international community” and not control over national territory free from external interference by other sovereigns. Under “New Sovereignty”, such external interference is assumed as “normal” and is a point of constant, cooperative, negotiation toward consensus on emerging and evolving legal norms. As such, if accepted, “New Sovereignty” would be a massive transfer of political power and legal authority from legitimate national governments to a transnational and international class of legal technocrats and bureaucrats, who would assume by default a managerial role over the substance of international affairs. In many ways this erosion of traditional state sovereignty would be analogous to the transfer of real power from the hands of crowned sovereigns in the early modern period to their embryonic state bureaucracies that in time rendered most monarchs mere ceremonial figureheads.

In my view, while  Chayes had many laudable goals in mind,  “New Sovereignty” would be unworkable in practice and inherently is extremely reactionary in its anti-democratic repudiation of popular sovereignty as the basis for a state’s legitimacy. Citizens of states are effectively reduced to the position of wards under the protection of the international community as national leaders become responsive primarily to “external constituencies” in control of the eternal process of negotiation of international norms. While the problem is somewhat moot for repressive regimes whose citizens enjoy few freedoms anyway, in liberal states the “democratic deficit” produced by such a scheme runs contrary to the very foundations of their political legitimacy and independence.

In this context, we have the claim put forth for the legal basis of R2P by Victor:

 ….Indeed, the UN Security Council, having enshrined R2P in UNSCR 1674, did not subsequently authorize action under the R2P banner in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in Burma, with the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General stating in his report that

[i]t would be a misapplication of responsibility to protect principles to apply them at this point to the unfolding tragedy in Myanmar…the Outcome Document of the 2005 [World] Summit limited their application to four crimes and violations: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

and in his second post:

Here Safranski and I agree on the proper role of theorists, but it wasn’t theorists that adopted R2P as a norm; it was the UN Security Council, as set forth in UNSCR 1674 in 2005, which was later utilized in the Libya intervention authorization (UNSCR 1973). Currently there are no higher authorities on interventions, peacemaking, and peacekeeping than the Security Council, which is surely not composed of academic theorists, but rather high-level diplomats that make moves, and yes, establish law, only on the explicit authorization of their countries. That the Security Council adopted the principles of R2P speaks more to the usefulness and applicability of the concepts than to any academic theorizing thereof.

First, while we should acknowledge that the UNSC resolutions that R2P advocates crow about are not nothing, their importance should not be exaggerated either. They are a precedent, but a very limited one that does not abrogate everything that has come before.

Since the inception of the UN the Security Council has passed over 2200 resolutions, which would put those devoted to R2P at a whopping .0009 %.  Moreover, of the UNSC resolutions passed, many merely take note of an event, express concern or urge restraint; other, more forcefully worded resolutions, dealing with conflict were dead letters from the moment of adoption, being ignored by warring parties exercising their sovereign rights of self-defense. The number of UNSC resolutions that led to effective action of any kind, much less decisive humanitarian military intervention envisioned by more muscular interpretations of R2P, have been few with a mixed track record of success.  Resolutions 1674 and 1973 by the Security Council exist within the much larger context of international law precedents going back centuries, most of which directly contradict the operative assumptions of “New Sovereignty”.

Furthermore, much of the text of Resolution 1674 itself is devoted to caveats reiterating traditional sovereign prerogatives and that protection for civilians occur under established conventions for the law of armed conflict before gingerly endorsing R2P provisions from the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document  of the World Health Organization. The legality of these qualifications and reservations are taken seriously by the member states of the Security Council because without them, 1674 would have never passed, nor 1973 after it ( likely to be the last of its kind for a long while in light of Russian and Chinese vetoes on Syria resolutions, which after Libya are certain to continue).  At best, in international law R2P has managed to secure only a toehold and its definition and application lack agreement (and even acceptance) among the world’s great powers.

R2P is not a secure legal scaffold on which to construct a foreign policy or decide on matters of peace and war.

R2P Debate Rising ( Part I.)

Friday, February 7th, 2014

I thought I would call the attention of the readership to a debate that has been ricocheting around different social media platforms on R2P (Responsibility to Protect“). I have dealt with the topic several times in the past, related to the ideas of Anne-Marie Slaughter, but not much recently until Victor Allen, over at The Bridge, put up an enthusiastic post:

Strong State, Weak State: The New Sovereignty and the Responsibility to Protect

The Responsibility to Protect doctrine represents a leap forward in accountability for states and does not infringe upon their sovereignty, as states are no longer held to be completely self-contained entities with absolute power over their populations. Rather, there is a strictly defined corpus of actions that begin the R2P process?—?a process that has different levels of corrective action undertaken by the international community in order to persuade, cajole and finally coerce states into actively taking steps to prevent atrocities from occurring within their boundaries. That R2P does not violate sovereignty stems from the evolution of sovereignty from its Westphalian form in the mid 17th century to the “sovereignty as responsibility” concept advanced by Deng, et al. Modern sovereignty can no longer be held to give states carte blanche in their internal affairs regardless of the level of suffering going on within their borders. This does not diminish state agency for internal affairs, but rather holds them responsible and accountable for their action and inaction regarding the welfare of their populations…

Victor’s post deserves to be read in full.

I did not agree with Victor’s framing of the legal character of state sovereignty, to put it mildly, nor his normative assessment of R2P.  Mr. Allen also described R2P somewhat differently than I have seen from other advocates, but I was less concerned by that as the concept does not seem to be presented with consistency by the community of  R2P advocates and theorists. Having seen similar theoretical debates over the years about angels dancing on pins over 4GW, constructivism, EBO, Network-centric Warfare, OODA,  Clausewitz’s remarkable trinity,  nuclear deterrence, preemptive war, COIN,  neoconservatism, free market economics, the agrarian origin of capitalism in England, Marxist theory etc. I am not too worried if Victor’s interpretation in its specifics is not ideologically perfect. It is representative enough.

I responded to Allen’s post somewhat crankily and with too much brevity:

R2P: Asserting Theory is not = Law 

….As far as premises go, the first point is highly debatable; the second is formally disputed by *many* states, including Russia and China, great powers which are permanent members of the UN Security Council; and the third bears no relation to whether a military intervention is a violation of sovereignty or not. I am not a self-contained entity either, that does not mean you get to forcibly enter my house.

That R2P does not violate sovereignty stems from the evolution of sovereignty from its Westphalian form in the mid 17th century to the “sovereignty as responsibility” concept advanced by Deng, et al. Modern sovereignty can no longer be held to give states carte blanche in their internal affairs regardless of the level of suffering going on within their borders.

Academic theorists do not have the authority to override sovereign powers (!) constituted as legitimized, recognized, states and write their theories into international law – as if an international covenant like the Geneva Convention had just been contracted. Even persuading red haired activist cronies of the American president and State Department bureaucrats to recite your arguments at White House press conferences does not make them “international law” either – it makes them “policy” – and that only of a particular administration. 

This riff  set off something of a reaction on Facebook in private groups and on Twitter as Mr. Allen, who I am sure is a fine gent, has a large set of common colleagues with me, some of whom are Boydians and all of whom are sharp strategic thinkers. Consequently,  Victor’s post(s) as well as mine and a later follow up by a “Leonidas Musashi” ( great nom de guerre)  made it into a high caliber defense forum as well as other sites online. My spleen-venting provoked the following rebuttal at The Bridge:

R2P: A Spectrum of Responses 

….Safranski’s final point about sovereignty as carte blanche seems to be a stealth argument for the principles of R2P:

States always could and did take military action in self-defense when disorders in neighboring states threatened their security or spilled over their border outright.R2P seeks to minimize harm caused by disorder through early action taken prior to conflicts spilling over borders that can potentially cause larger conflagrations, but more importantly, it recognizes that atrocities can happen entirely within the confines of a state, and that the international community will not allow them to continue unchecked. This recognition is easily seen in the rhetoric and discussions regarding rebels in both Libya and Syria. Libya is admittedly a flawed example of the use of R2P, with second-order effects seen in the Russian and Chinese opposition to UN-sanctioned stabilization operations in Syria, but that concern for the population first and the state second were common facets to both bear mentioning in the debate and illustrate the shifting nature of intervention and sovereignty. This shift is exemplified in the contrast between discussions in the UN General Assembly regarding Kosovo/East Timor and Syria: “most of the 118 states that mentioned Syria at the UN General Assembly in 2012 expressed concern about the population, up from less than a third who invoked Kosovo and East Timor in 1999… It is clear that a fundamental shift has taken place regarding humanitarian intervention and that more and more states embrace the broad values expressed by R2P.” (“Democracy, Human Rights, and the Emerging Global Order: Workshop Summary,” Brookings Institution, 2012)

Again, I caution about reading posts in full.

Here in this rebuttal Victor doubled down, which I admire because that is interesting, but with which I agree with even less because he seems to be far removed from how the world really works in terms of international relations, not merely in practice, but also in theory as well.  That said, his response deserves a much more serious reply than my first post evinced. I have been fiddling with one ( I seem to be moving slowly these days) but another voice – “Leonidas Musashi” – has entered the debate at The Bridge with a sharp retort against Allen’s conception of R2P:

Responsibility to Protect: Rhetoric and Reality 

….My main observation, however, is that the discussion thus far has been focused more on a “right” to protect than a “responsibility” to do so. The arguments indicate that a state has a responsibility to protect its people but takes for granted that third parties somehow inherit this responsibility when the state cannot fulfill it. There is a missing explanation here. The need to justify such efforts may seem callous, but a nation’s highest moral order is to serve its own citizens first. Such an explanation would certainly be a legitimate demand for a mother that loses a son who volunteered to defend his nation, or for a government entrusted by its people to use their resources to their own benefit. While it is often stated that the international community “should” intervene, explanation of where this imperative comes from is not addressed other than by vague references to modern states being interconnected. But this implies, as previously stated, a right based on the self-interest of states, firmly grounded in realistic security concerns, rather than any inherent humanitarian responsibility to intervene. Instability and potential spillover may very well make it within a nation’s vital interests to intervene in another country and pursuing humanitarian and human rights goals within the borders of another state may well be in a nation’s secondary interests. But if this is the case, the calculus of the political leadership will determine if pursuing this goal is worth the cost/potential costs – as has been done in such cases as North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, Tibet and Syria. In either case, the decision is determined by what is in the nation’s interests, a reality that makes R2P not a mandate, but a merely a post hoc justification for interventions that do occur.

Leonidas makes many good points, in my view, but the intellectual fungibility of R2P as a concept, its elastic and ever evolving capacity to serve as a pretext for any situation at hand is the most important, because it is potentially most destabilizing and threatening to other great powers with which the United States has to share the globe. In short, with great responsibilities come greater costs.

In part II. I will lay out a more methodical case on the intellectual phantom that is R2P.

American Caesar — a reread after 30 years

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

[by J. Scott Shipman]

American Caesar, Douglas MacArthur 188-1964, by William Manchester

Often on weekends my wife allows me to tag along as she takes in area estate sales. She’s interested in vintage furniture, and I hope for a decent collection of books. A sale we visited a couple months ago had very few books, but of those few was a hardback copy of American Caesar. I purchased the copy for $1 and mentioned to my wife, “I’ll get to this again someday…” as I’d first read Manchester’s classic biography of General Douglas MacArthur in the early 1980’s while stationed on my first submarine. “Someday” started on the car ride home (she was driving), and I must admit: American Caesar was even better thirty years later. Manchester is a masterful biographer, and equal to the task of such a larger-than-life subject.

MacArthur still evokes passion among admirers and detractors. One take-away from the second reading was just how well-read MacArthur and his father were. When MacArthur the elder died, he left over 4,000 books in his library—both seemed to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of history and warfare. Highly recommended.

PS: I visited the MacArthur Memorial, in Norfolk, Virginia, recently while in town for business and would recommend as well.

Arresting Citizens, part I: the Law

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — on various instances of citizens “taking the law into their own hands” in attempts to arrest the Queen, two Popes, Harper of Canada and Tony Blair ]
.

I am not really up on the sovereign citizen movement here in the US, perhaps because it is not overly religious — we’ll talk about that in part II. What interests me in this first part is the sense that the sovereignty of nations is being questioned by citizens.

**

It sees to me that what we’re witnessing in these two “leading indicators” is an unraveling of trust in the state itself.

My first instance comes from the Arrest Blair movement, which is basically a blog site with a bank account…

This site offers a reward to people attempting a peaceful citizen’s arrest of the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, for crimes against peace. Anyone attempting an arrest which meets the rules laid down here will be entitled to one quarter of the money collected at the time of his or her application.

Money donated to this site will be used for no other purpose than to pay bounties for attempts to arrest Tony Blair. All the costs of administering this site will be paid by the site’s founder.

The site is not without supporters, and there are at least a few people willing to attempt the arrest. The site’s Attempts made so far page records four payments thus far totaling £10,971.56, or roughly $16,700 US. Notably, it appears that at least three out of the four claimants have paid all or a major part of the funds they received to charities.

I would note as an aside that the suggestion that Tony Blair should be tried for war crimes has a number of supporters who are not AFAIK connected in any way with the “citizen arrest” attempts described here.

**

My second instance is that of the International Tribunal into Crimes of Church and State, which appears to be largely the brainchild of one Rev Kevin D Annett MA, MDiv, a one-time minister of the United Church of Canada.

I’d suggest that anyone who takes Kevin Annett at all seriously should consider that he purports to be involved with an international legal entity with competence to try the Pope — and yet gives his signature to paragraphs like these:

When the Bloody Emperor stands naked, only our illusions keeps him protected and immune from the final accounting that is coming.

The tornado that followed my first exorcism outside the Vatican in 2009, and the lightning that struck it on the day of Benedict’s resignation, were not accidental. Joe Ratzinger should know from the history of his own former SS buddies that criminal institutions can run, but they can’t hide – even behind all the wealth and pomp in the world.

Prepare for Easter! Flush the Rat from the Vat!

With such strident rhetoric and with exorcism a feature of his own activities, it’s hard to take him altogether seriously.

The court’s view of its own status, independent of other jurisdictions, is expressed thus:

It is understood by our Court that its decisions, based as they are on Natural and Common Law, supersede and invalidate all statutes and statutory laws which conflict with the decisions of the Court, particularly when those statues uphold crimes or their concealment, or the protection of the guilty. Similarly, our Court does not recognize the jurisdiction or authority of any contending legal systems, such as the so-called “Canon Law”, or any form of personal, diplomatic or legal immunity governing any person or institution, including heads of states, churches and corporations.

Here, FWIW, is the opening of a recent posting on their site of a Public Banning Order to be issued by the Common Law Court of Justice against Pope, Cardinals, and Archbishop Wilfrid Napier for aiding and encouraging child rape in the case of some First Nations children:

After evading arrest by lawful Common Law Court officers, over thirty officials of church and state now face permanent banishment from their communities during Easter Week for being wanted criminals who are a danger to children everywhere.

These officers include Pope Francis I and former Pope Joseph Ratzinger, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Queen Elizabeth Windsor of England, all of whom were ordered detained by Citizen Arrest Warrants issued by the International Common Law Court of Justice on March 5 and 15, 2013.

“They have defied the law and lawful arrest, so therefore they are declared to be public enemies who are no longer welcome or allowed in our communities” explained Rev. Kevin Annett, who presented the evidence to the Court that convicted the guilty.

Here I would note for the record that I am entirely uninformed and take no sides in those issues which form the basis of Annett’s acute disgust with various churches, churchmen and politicians.

**

By way of context, but without suggesting any direct connection between the two instances above and the widely-documented Sovereign Citizens, here’s a brief overview of that movement.

From a WECT special report:

Hundreds of thousands of sovereign citizens currently live throughout the United States.

The FBI calls them “domestic terrorists.” They’re also known as extremists, radicals and defenders of freedom.

According to experts, sovereign citizens are Americans who think the laws don’t apply to them.

Most of them have their own constitution, bill of rights and government officials.

Sovereign citizens can be dangerous and violent. There have been a number of cases where sovereigns took matters into their own hands by killing members of law enforcement.

From the Montgomery Advertiser, today:

Self-proclaimed president of sovereign citizen nation convicted

After a five-day trail, a federal jury in Montgomery has convicted Tim Turner, the self-proclaimed president of the Sovereign Citizen Nation, on a variety of charges relating to defrauding the government.

The jury convicted the 57-year-old Skipperville resident on conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, attempting to pay taxes with fictitious financial instruments, attempting to obstruct and impede the Internal Revenue Service, failing to file a 2009 federal income tax return and falsely testifying under oath in a bankruptcy proceeding, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The FBI began an investigation after Turner and three other individuals sent demands to all 50 governors in the United States ordering each governor to resign within three days or be “removed,” according to a news release from Sandra J. Stewart, acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.

The investigation found that Turner was the self-proclaimed president of the so-called sovereign citizen group “Republic for the united States of America (RuSA).” As president, Turner traveled the country in 2008 and 2009 teaching others how to defraud the IRS by preparing and submitting fictitious “bonds” to the U.S. government in payment of federal taxes.

An estimate of the group’s size was posted in the SPLC’s Intelligence Report a few years back:

Not all tax protesters are sovereign citizens, and many newer recruits to the sovereign life did not start out as tax protesters. But based on the available evidence, a reasonable estimate of hard-core sovereign believers today would be 100,000, with another 200,000 just starting out by testing sovereign techniques for resisting everything from speeding tickets to drug charges, for a total of 300,000. As sovereign theories go viral throughout the nation’s prison systems and among people who are unemployed and desperate in a punishing recession, this number is likely to grow.

**

Finally, it’s worth comparing the attempts to make citizen’s arrests of sundry heads of state, present and former, monarchic, papal and democratic, with the methods employed by the International Criminal Court at the Hague — which has a question in its FAQ:

Who has to execute the warrants of arrest?

The responsibility to enforce warrants of arrest in all cases remains with States. In establishing the ICC, the States set up a system based on two pillars. The Court itself is the judicial pillar. The operational pillar belongs to States, including the enforcement of Court’s orders.

**

As I say, I’m not “up” on the theory or history of loss of faith in government and it’s corollary, taking the law into one’s own hands” — but it presumably ties into such notions as hollow states, prerevolutionary states, and vigilantism.

I’d appreciate a little history, a little context… not just in terms of the US sovereign citizen movement, but in broad enough scope to include vigilantism, non-violence, and the current attempts to arrest the Queen, the Popes (Francis regnant and Benedict emeritus) and Tony Blair.

Your comments and insights?

The White Paper and its Critics

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Someone for reasons unknown last week leaked the classified Department of JusticeWhite Paper” on targeting with drone attacks the numerically tiny number of US citizens overseas who have joined al Qaida or affiliated groups. The leak set off an outburst of public debate, much of it ill-informed by people who did not bother to read the white paper and some of it intentionally misleading by those who had and, frankly, know better.

Generally, I’m a harsh critic of the Holder DOJ, but their white paper, though not without some minor flaws of reasoning and one point of policy, is – unlike some of the critics – solidly in compliance with the laws of war, broader questions of international law and the major SCOTUS decisions on war powers. It was a political error to classify this document in the first place rather than properly share it with the relevant Congressional committees conducting oversight

Here it is and I encourage you to read it for yourself:

Lawfulness of Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qa’ida

Much of this white paper debate has been over a legitimate policy dispute (“Is it a good idea if we use drones to kill AQ terrorists, including American ones?”) intentionally being mischaracterized by opponents of the policy (or the war) as a legal or constitutional question. It is not. The law is fairly settled as is the question if the conflict with AQ rises to a state of armed conflict, which SCOTUS dealt with as recently as Hamdi and for which there are ample precedents from previous wars and prior SCOTUS decisions to build upon. At best, framed as a legal dispute, the opponents of the drone policy would have a very long uphill climb with the Supreme Court. So why do it?

The reason, as I discern it, is substituting a legalistic argument and judicial process (“FISA court to decide drone killings”) to conceal what is really a debate over American war policy   and the President’s war powers in order to accrue domestic political advantage or at least avoid paying the costs of advocating a potentially unpopular position. Otherwise, opponents have to argue on the merits that the US should not as a matter of policy kill al Qaida terrorists sheltered by Pakistan or beyond the reach of government control in Yemen. Or that we are not “really” at war or that Federal judges are better suited for picking bombing targets than Air Force and CIA analysts and that “due process” should apply to enemy combatants on the battlefield. Many of these arguments are valid ones to raise and debate but are unlikely to be persuasive to the public or Congress; if they were, they would have prevailed in 2010 (drones) or 2001 (“are we at war?).

A straightforward legal analysis begins and stops with ascertaining whether or not we are in a state of armed conflict with al Qaida. The white paper used a “kitchen sink” approach to try and cover all legal bases, perhaps to create a basis for a later freewheeling peacetime use of armed drones – which incidentally, I am not in favor of – but it is not required here and actually distracts from the strongest legal argument – the administration is lawfully fighting an enemy in an armed conflict declared by Congress.
.
If we are in an armed conflict under international law with al Qaida – and the evidence appears here in fact, legislative action, context, historical and legal precedent to be overwhelming – renders most of the other justifications cited in the white paper for the policy regarding due process as well as nearly all of the criticisms of it moot, at least in terms of legality. Wartime enemy combatants are in a qualitatively different legal status vis-a-vis the United States government acting as a belligerent than are non-combatants or are civilians in peacetime (even civilians who commit criminal acts). No American citizen has a right to pick up arms and join an enemy army or armed group during a war, period. Or a subsequent right to be treated as anything but a combatant if they do. Combatant status is not determined by nationality under international law but by behavior and adherence to a belligerent party’s military forces and their physical disposition ( hors d’ combat, in the act of surrender etc.).
.
American citizens fought in enemy armies, notably the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS, against the United States in WWII and a handful defected to the enemy in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. While some of these men were tried for treason after these wars ended, others were treated as enemy POWs or simply allowed to come home at a later date, but none were accorded judicial due process *during* the conflict as potential targets of an American military attack. Only after capture, as with the saboteurs in the Ex Parte Quirin case, did judicial review and due process come in to play.. We see a similar phenomena with the Civil War where, even under the Lincolnian theory that the Confederacy merely represented “Combinations too powerful to be suppressed” (i.e. a private insurrectionist conspiracy and not the states themselves as corporate, legal, sovereign entities in rebellion), we do not see SCOTUS insisting on normal, civilian, judicial due process in Ex Parte Milligan except where “civil courts are in operation” (i.e. away from the battlefield). This was to prevent the application of martial law in civilian areas in the North, not to stop martial law in theater or occupational zones.
.
Had this issue of due process for active enemy combatants been raised during WWII or even Vietnam, it would have been likely (and properly) regarded by US officials as ludicrous; if true, the logic would imply that enemy units could immunize themselves from attack (or substantially delay them)  by recruiting American citizens into their ranks. It would also beg the question why the US could lawfully bomb enemy targets and risk killing American POWs via collateral damage, but not directly target enemy fighters who happened to be American citizens. It would further beg the question why it would be lawful to indirectly target an American citizen in a group of enemy fighters with, say, artillery or gravity bombs from 52,000 feet but be an unlawful violation of due process to aim at him directly with a drone missile or a sniper rifle. Is a Marine rifleman who happens upon Adam Gadahn in Afghanistan and kills him therefore an “assassin” (to use Glenn Greenwald’s description of targeted killings) to be charged with murder?
.
Even as a matter of “due process” (!) – never mind fighting a war – how could this legal argument possibly make any sense? What precedent under military law or international law from prior conflicts supports it?
.
How would inserting judicial review – even SCOTUS – over operational planning and target selection as a step in the President’s exercise of his Constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief likely to affect the Separation of Powers? This is not a trivial question – in military terms it is analogous to the judiciary usurping the position of the Rules Committee in the House of Representatives over legislative matters. How would this innovation impact our ability to fight our next war or wars?
.
Much like the white paper’s lengthy, but entirely irrelevant discourse into the nature of threat “imminence” and “breadth”, this argument is sheer invention if a state of armed conflict with al Qaida exists. Most criticisms and not a few of the white paper’s own legal justifications consist of novel restraints alien to the historical practice of states prosecuting an armed conflict that we would be extremely unwise to adopt and sanctify as precedents for waging future wars.
.
Let us take one of the more intellectually serious and responsible expert critics as an example, Steve Vladeck of American University. Not everything he has to say in his lengthy post is wrong and I even agree with some of his points, but things like this strike me as specious, or at least a very weak reed upon which to rest an argument that alters the constitutional balance:
.

….First, many of us who argue for at least some judicial review in this context specifically don’t argue for ex ante review for the precise reasons the white paper suggests. Instead, we argue for ex postreview–in the form of damages actions after the fact, in which liability would only attach if the government both (1) exceeded its authority; and (2) did so in a way that violated clearly established law. Whatever else might be said about such damages suits, they simply don’t raise the interference concerns articulated in the white paper, and so one would have expected some distinct explanation for why that kind of judicial review shouldn’t be available in this context. All the white paper offers, though, is its more general allusion to the political question doctrine. Which brings me to…

.

Second, and in any event, the suggestion that lawsuits arising out of targeted killing operations against U.S. citizens raise a nonjusticiable political question is almost laughable–and is the one part of this white paper that really does hearken back to the good ole’ days of the Bush Administration (I’m less sold on any analogy based upon the rest of the paper). Even before last Term’s Zivotofsky decision, in which the Supreme Court went out of its way to remind everyone (especially the D.C. Circuit) of just how limited the political question doctrine really should be, it should’ve followed that uses of military force against U.S. citizens neither “turn on standards that defy the judicial application,” nor “involve the exercise of a discretion demonstrably committed to the executive or legislature.” Indeed, in the context of the Guantánamo habeas litigation, courts routinely inquire into the very questions that might well arise in such a damages suit, e.g., whether there is sufficient evidence to support the government’s conclusion that the target is/was a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or one of its affiliates…

My first criticism would be that Vladeck’s premise that the question of a targeting decision of an American citizen who is a senior leader of al Qaida during a state of armed conflict who is active outside the territory of the United States is a matter for adjudication by US courts is incorrect. He is essentially arguing that the political question doctrine does not cover the exercise of the Constitutionally specified war-making powers of the executive and legislative branches during a war. I am highly skeptical this is an argument any Supreme Court would entertain lightly, much less the Roberts Court.
.
My second criticism is more practical – that Vladeck in seeking judicial review of the decision process by which an American citizen is determined to be senior or not senior leader in al Qaida leadership is a distinction without a difference from a court having a priori judicial review of the larger military operation in wartime but with the added detriment of exposing the intelligence process, to discovery. Targeting decisions involve assessment of intel about the target from a variety of perspectives – confidence, effect, probability of success/costs and the “fusion” of (usually) USAF and IC in a targeteering shop. Why  judicial scrutiny should apply only to drone strikes targeting a specific US citizen among other al Qaida operatives in wartime vice simply bombing an al Qaida safe house in which a US citizen might be employs a legal reasoning that is obscure to me. If a US citizen being a potential casualty is the critical constitutional variable here, then not also judicial review of a bayonet charge?
.
The proposal for judicial review of potential attacks during an armed conflict (not peacetime) is rife with a host of counterproductive second and third order constitutional and military effects. It represents a sweeping change in our political order by a technical legal fiat. It would also be an exceedingly dumb way to run a war. It might test our powers of imagination, but somehow, we faced down Hitler and the Imperial Japanese without Federal judges running our strategic bombing campaigns.
.
This preference for legalistic arguments is partly a product of over representation of lawyers among the American political elite. Highly competent attorneys are very skilled at framing arguments on behalf of clients so that they begin litigation not only from a favorable explicitly stated position but, where possible, with several layers of one-sided implicit premises built in that you accept uncritically only at your peril. When a lawyer comes into a public policy debate saying that a political question is a legal question, he is making a political argument to remove a political dispute in a democratic polity to the courts where the matter will be decided under very different procedures and will remain as a legal question thereafter.
.
Sometimes, this is the constitutionally correct thing to do; more often, it is simply an expedient thing to do that diminishes democratic accountability while rendering policy and process needlessly more complex and adversarial than even open public debate. It is also a self-aggrandizing feedback loop for lawyers as a class – when all political questions are legal questions, then should we not all defer to their superior expertise and training? It is the road to technocracy and the rule of law becoming “rule by lawyers”.
.
Does that mean the critics have no point whatsoever regarding the use of drones in “targeted killings”? No. The idea that targeting American citizens is bad *policy* because it might, for example, be poorly employed against innocent people by mistake or, in slippery slope fashion, lead to a normalization and extension of the practice of targeted killing outside of an officially recognized armed conflict is a completely valid *political* argument. It is even, in my view, a very wise caution. It just does not hold water as a legal argument on behalf American citizens who go overseas and pick up arms and wage war against the US by joining al Qaida.
.
More importantly, there are better, simpler remedies to a “slippery slope” with drone attacks that can be employed legislatively and through vigorous oversight that can be enacted that will strengthen rather than undermine and confuse our constitutional system of governance. First, the Obama administration, for it’s part, should allay critics fears by removing “targeted killings” from the arbitrary hands of unnamed “senior officials” (code for the President? The National Security Adviser? A random White House lawyer?) and either return to a more traditional Pentagon target assessment procedure or use the NSC process with a PDD/NSDD and a properly and timely “finding” being presented to Congress.
.
Secondly, the proper body to review the judgement of the administration in tactics, operations, and strategy is not the judicial branch, but the legislative, which has done so in prior conflicts and holds the power of the purse to control the extent of campaigns and the raising of armies. The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War was the oversight mechanism the Congress employed during the Civil War to review and influence the actions of the Lincoln administration. I would argue that the US Congress is more than sufficient to do the same task today with a far less existential conflict, if it chose to do so. Congress could, if it wished, forbid these operations or cease funding them. Quite pointedly, they have done neither.
.
If Congress does not engage in rigorous oversight, it does not follow that a Federal Court is the appropriate constitutional substitute for Congress abdicating it’s wartime responsibilities. Targeted killings of enemy combatants during a declared armed conflict is a question of war policy, not due process, and is the purview of the political branches, not the judiciary
.
Thirdly, the “slippery slope” danger is genuine and should be interdicted with legislation prohibiting or severely restricting the use of armed drones at home or forbidding their use against civilians resident in the territory of the United States entirely. A definition from Congress of under which circumstances that terrorism is a matter for law enforcement or military action is something that is likewise years overdue.
.
Congress should be taking up it’s weighty responsibilities in war policy and not punting them to the executive or the judiciary, so that the actions of the US government in a matter of extreme gravity like a war are constitutionally clothed in democratic consent.

Switch to our mobile site