laws of war

kueblerShocked and saddened to read that U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander William Kuebler died from cancer on July 17, at age 44. (photo credit)

Bill’s representation of Omar Khadr, born in Canada and seized by U.S. forces in an Afghanistan battle, is recounted in an Ottawa Citizen obituary. I feel compelled to add my own recollection.

We met in December 2008, at Guantánamo. The occasion was the first set of military commissions hearings since November 4, 2008, when voters chose then-Sen. Barack Obama to become the next U.S. President. Because Obama had pledged to shut down GTMO, many of the lawyers, media, and observers aboard the chartered jet that took us to the U.S. military base at the southwestern tip of Cuba were calling this “The GTMO Farewell Tour.”

The week began with a failed attempt by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his codefendants to plead guilty to capital charges of masterminding the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It ended with a hearing in Khadr – a hearing in which Kuebler proved himself a master of his craft. As I wrote at page 13 of my report for the National Institute of Military Justice:

‘Of particular interest was the effort of Navy Lt. Cmdr. William C. Kuebler (pronounced “keebler”), lead military counsel for Omar Khadr, to gain admission during this pretrial hearing of photos made during the firefight at which Khadr was captured. Kuebler argued that the photos would help the defense to make its case for compelling certain witnesses, whose testimony, it was said, would exonerate Khadr by indicating that he was buried beneath rubble at the time someone threw the grenade that killed a U.S. servicemember. The judge refused, and Kuebler went forward without the photos. But the dispute whetted the appetite of the media to see the photos, and some published a next-day story suggesting Khadr’s innocence.’

This understanding of the importance of public scrutiny, combined with an ability to inform the public even as a request was denied, illustrated Kuebler’s diligent representation of his client, Khadr – who, today, is out of prison and living in Alberta, Canada, released on bail while appeals are pending. “Khadr owes more to Bill than to any other advocate,” the Citizen obituary aptly states. And so we pause in his memory.

mdmAmid this weekend’s reminiscences of the birth of the United States, I found much to ponder in one reading – not in English, but rather in French.

Entitled La démocratie dan les bras de Big Brother – that is, Democracy in the Arms of Big Brother – it’s the transcript of Le Monde journalist Franck Johannès‘ recent interview with a longtime colleague of mine, Mireille-Delmas Marty, emerita professor of the Collège de France de Paris. (photo credit; prior posts)

Delmas-Marty sounds a warning about the “downward spiral” that, in her view, has created an unwelcome “metamorphosis in criminal justice” in the years since terrorists attacked New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. 1st in the vortex was the United States, she says, and she fears that her own homeland, France – and, indeed, the planet – are following suit.

Contributing to this analysis, in her view:

► Characterization of terrorist acts as “exceptional” offenses, related to more to war than to ordinary crimes, coupled with the redefinition of unlawful association so that it may apply to “only one person,” without proof of actual association with another.

► Globalization of surveillance and “social control,” in an effort to predict offenses before they happen. Post-9/11, the United States moved from notions of preemption to notions of prevention, she notes. She argues that today the United States, and others, have moved further, to “prediction” – a shift that lends justification to confinement of persons deemed harmful, not only before they have been proved to commit an offense, but also after they have served postconviction sentences. She contends (all translations mine):

‘To lock up a human being, not to punish harm but rather to prevent harm, as if he were a dangerous animal, is in truth an act of dehumanization…’

► Persistence of nonstate actors that once would have been deemed exclusively “criminal organizations,” but now are seen as parties waging armed conflict. Not long ago, Al Qaeda dominated this discourse; today, it is “the so-called ‘Islamic State.'” Delmas-Marty continues:

‘With whom is a treaty of peace to be concluded? We now have all the ingredients for a global, and permanent, civil war.’

liberteAmong Delmas-Marty’s recent books is Libertés et sûreté dans un monde dangereux (2010). In the Le Monde interview, as in that book, she calls for restoring a balance between desires for security and the value of liberty. (It’s a balance that I’ve explored in my own writings, including “Punish or Surveil” (2007).)

“To dream of perfect security,” Delmas-Marty maintains, is an “illusion.” She allows that “[i]n the name of the struggle against terrorism, there can be restrictions on the right to respect for privacy,” yet she would require that such restrictions themselves be constrained in accordance with the principles “of legality, proportionality, and democratic control.”

Much to ponder as the United States begins its 240th year of democracy.

droneWhat once was a rather loud drone of debate over the use of armed, remote-controlled, aerial attack vehicles seems recently to have receded into background noise. Perhaps that’s in part because of newly perceived threats like ISIS — threats that many Americans, tired of U.S. ground-troop casualties, would rather see addressed by Reaper and Predator drones. (photo credit) Perhaps it’s because criticism of U.S. counterterrorism practices has muted since the days of the Bush Administration, or because reports of any such criticism now are relegated to the back pages of a few national newspapers.

A recent New Yorker article deserves to break through this complacent fog: “The Unblinking Stare: The drone war in Pakistan,” by Steve Coll, a Pulitzer Prizewinning reporter on national security issues and dean of the Columbia Journalism School. It’s a great synthesis of reportage on the origins and evolution of the program, coupled with commentary that raises questions all ought to be asking.

Of particular note:

► The recognition that the practice of “‘signature strikes'” — drone-killings of “armed military-aged males engaged in or associated with suspicious activity even if their identities were unknown” — stands at odds with settled law. Coll cites a 2013 report by Christof Heyns, U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, for the proposition that such strikes do not fall under either “proper standard for attacking a person under the laws of war … ‘continuous combat function’ or … ‘directly participating in hostilities.'” (Coll might’ve gone a step further, and acknowledged that “continuous combat function” is a concept not established in written international humanitarian law, and thus itself still subject to challenge.)  Concern over legality seems to have contributed to President Barack Obama’s tightening of drone-killing standards a year or so ago. The result? Since that time, “there has not been a single documented civilian casualty, child or adult, as a result of a drone strike in Waziristan.

► The role that children play in the story. Coll reports that a Pakistani documenter of human rights violations soon realized that data on drone-killings of adults stirred little interest; “if a drone missile killed an innocent adult male civilian, such as a vegetable vend[o]r or a fruit seller, the victim’s long hair and beard would be enough to stereotype him as a militant.” The documenter’s solution? “[F]ocus on children.” Thus were recorded, via photographs, the harm done to children in the course of drone attacks. Such photos helped fuel “a social-media contest,” Coll wrote, a contest that includes widely varying statistics about just how many civilians, of any age, have perished in U.S. strikes. The disparity makes it hard to evaluate — and thus hard to challenge — U.S. administration claims that drones are more humane, more precise than other sorts of aerial attacks.

Even if the claims are true, Coll questions whether that matters in the end. He cites a recent Foreign Affairs essay in which scholars Micah Zenko and Sarah Kreps argued that the promise of precision “may create more war.” And he writes of meeting in Islamabad with young men who acknowledged the upside of more precision, then added: “But they also talked about the suffering their families had endured — kidnappings, homes under pressure — and their own struggles to obtain an education. In their telling, the relative precision of the aircraft that assailed them wasn’t the point.”

In honor of the 150th anniversary today of the very first Geneva Convention on the laws of war, the International Committee of the Red Cross issued the brilliant video above: Rules of War in 4 very informative minutes. Through simple yet compelling drawings, it covers founding principles of international humanitarian law, such as humanity, distinction, necessity, and proportionality.

As an international story, it focuses on the men who were delegates to the 1863 Geneva Conference and their handiwork, the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field adopted on August 22, 1864.

It thus omits the vc007053U.S. after-story of this treaty; that is, the 1882 U.S. ratification that was the handiwork of a remarkable woman: Massachusetts-born Clara Barton (left), a pioneer nurse during America’s Civil War and, at age 60, a founder of the American Red Cross. (photo credit) For that after-story, see the 2012 IntLawGrrls post entitled Clara Barton, ICRC & crimes v. humanity, peace, by Washington University-St. Louis Law Professor Leila Nadya Sadat.

kaulSaddened to read that Judge Hans-Peter Kaul, a pivotal member of the International Criminal Court’s founding generation, has passed away. The in memoriam notice at the ICC website reports that he died yesterday, as a result of the serious illness that earlier this month compelled his resignation after nearly a decade on the ICC bench.

That tenure continued service to the ICC which had begun in 1998, when Kaul, then a diplomat, led the German delegation at the Rome Conference. He recalled the climax of that conference in a 2012 guest post for IntLawGrrls:

After the decisive vote on the Rome Statute, our founding treaty, there is some kind of explosion, an enormous outpouring of emotions, of relief among those present, unparalleled for such a conference: screams, stamping, exultation without end, tears of joy and relief; hard-baked delegates and journalists who have frowningly watched the entire conference hug each other in a state of euphoria. And a German delegate, normally a level-headed man, jumps up and down like a rubber ball and keeps punching me in the ribs, completely breathless,

‘Herr Kaul, Herr Kaul, we’ve done it! We’re getting an international criminal court!’

Kaul was born 70 years ago this Friday, in Glashütte, near Germany’s border with what is now the Czech Republic. The year was 1943. World War II raged, and memories of his boyhood during that war and its aftermath–including the postwar trials at Nuremberg–never were far from his work on behalf of international criminal justice.

This was evident in his most significant ICC opinion, a dissent from a panel’s preliminary ruling in the Court’s ongoing case involving 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya. In a 19-page commentary labeled Dissenting Opinion of Judge Hans-Peter Kaul to Pre-Trial Chamber II’s “Decision on the Prosecutor’s Application for Summons to Appear for William Samoei Ruto, Henry Kipono Kosgey and Joshua Arap Sang” (15 March 2011), Kaul invoked the Nuremberg legacy to argue that only violence at a level of “state-like ‘organisation'” could constitute crimes against humanity. It is an argument that continues to generate academic debate.

Another link to Nuremberg may prove even more lasting. In recent years, Kaul was an impassioned and indefatigable advocate for make the crime of aggression punishable by the ICC. His German delegation had pushed successfully for the listing of that crime–a signature offense at Nuremberg–in Article 5 of the Rome Statute. (Prior posts here and here.) After the Assembly of States Parties adopted the 2010 Kampala amendments to activate the ICC’s crime of aggression jurisdiction, Kaul campaigned actively for ratification. Every time he and I crossed paths, at Chautauqua, The Hague, or elsewhere, Judge Kaul was quick to report on the status of that campaign–and to express particular pride when his native country and its linguistic neighbors deposited their instruments of ratification or accession.

With the ratification by Austria last Friday–the 16th anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute–the Kampala amendments have garnered half the 30 ratifications needed for entry into force. (Also required is another Assembly vote.) States that have joined to date are Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Samoa, Slovakia, Slovenia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. Numerous other states, including many others in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, are reported to be nearing joinder.

Kaul was crystal clear about the reason he pushed for these amendments: The child of war saw activation of crime of aggression jurisdiction as an essential step toward ending war altogether. In his IntLawGrrls post as in other writings and lectures, he explained:

War–this is the ultimate threat to all human values; war is sheer nihilism. It is the total negation of hope and justice. Experience shows that war, the injustice of war in itself, begets massive war crimes and crimes against humanity. In my nine years as a Judge of the ICC, I have seen that, as in the past century, a terrible law still seems to hold true: war, the ruthless readiness to use military force, to use military power for power politics, regularly begets massive and grievous crimes of all kinds.

In Kaul’s view, the prosecution of jus in bello violations is important, yet an incomplete, a symptomatic approach, unless it is accompanied by the prosecution for jus ad bellum violations. His own pithy words are a fitting epitaph:

War crimes, they are the excrement of war.

gassed

In this month that marks the centenary of World War I, the U.S. Supreme Court evoked an epic image of that global conflict. Thus was rejected today the prosecutorial conflation of chemical warfare with what the Court in Bond v. United States called an “unremarkable local offense.”

The image is the one above: John Singer Sargent’s 1919 painting, Gassed. Fully 20 feet wide and 7-1/2 feet tall, it hangs in the Imperial War Museum in London. (image credit) Writing for a 6-member majority, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., described the scene, one that Sargent had encountered in 1917 on a battlefield in France:

‘[T]wo lines of soldiers, blinded by mustard gas, clinging single file to orderlies guiding them to an improvised aid station. There they would receive little treatment and no relief; many suffered for weeks only to have the gas claim their lives. The soldiers were shown staggering through piles of comrades too seriously burned to even join the procession.’

The tragedy, Roberts wrote, contributed “to an overwhelming consensus in the international community that toxic chemicals should never again be used as weapons against human beings” – a consensus reflected in instruments like the 1992 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, which today has 190 parties. Among them is the United States, which, Roberts explained, “gave domestic effect” to the obligations it had assumed under that treaty in 1998, when it passed the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act, 18 U.S.C. § 229 et seq. The statute makes the use of “chemical weapons,” a federal crime, punishable by death if the use resulted in death. It “‘goes without saying,'” Roberts concluded, that Congress had in mind tragedies along the lines depicted above – or at least as grave as the mid-1990s sarin gas attacks in Japan. He deemed well out of Congress’ mind the facts at bar: “an amateur attempt by a jilted wife to injure her husband’s lover, which ended up causing only a minor thumb burn readily treated by rinsing with water.”

This overturning of a federal conviction on federalism grounds did more than give perspective on the acts under review. It also avoided the asked-for reconsideration of Missouri v. Holland (1920), a precedent nearly as old as Sargent’s painting. There a unanimous Court upheld a federal statute that gave domestic effect to a 1916 treaty by regulating the hunting of birds that fly between the United States and Canada. Invoking the Constitution’s treaty-making and supremacy clauses, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., wrote:

‘If the treaty is valid, there can be no dispute about the validity of the statute under Article I, § 8, as a necessary and proper means to execute the powers of the Government.’

Holmes’ terse reasoning invites questions, many of them bruited about in the months since the Court announced it would review the decision below in Bond. (See, for example, this article by my Georgia Law colleague Harlan Cohen.) Roberts’ majority opinion declined, but 3 Justices who disagreed with him accepted that invitation. “[T]he Treaty Power is itself a limited federal power,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurrence-in-the-judgment that Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, Jr., joined. In another concurrence-in-judgment Scalia, joined by Thomas, attributed others’ reluctance to revisit Holland to the nature of the case. “We would not give the Government’s support of the Holland principle the time of day,” they insisted, “were we confronted with ‘treaty-implementing’ legislation that abrogated the freedom of speech or some other constitutionally protected individual right.” Whether they are right remains a question for another day.

ihlybkAccountability for child soldiering figures prominently in the just-published 2012 Yearbook on International Humanitarian Law. Part II of volume 15, titled “Child Soldiers and the Lubanga Case,” comprises 3 articles:

Between Consolidation and Innovation: The International Criminal Court’s Trial Chamber Judgment in the Lubanga Case. This article focuses on aspects of the 2012 International Criminal Court judgment in Lubanga; specifically, the Trial Chamber’s: definition of the war crimes of conscription, enlistment, and use of child soldiers, as well as its determination that the underlying conflict was not of international character. The author is Dr. Sylvain Vité, now at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.

The Effects of the Lubanga Case on Understanding and Preventing Child Soldiering. The author of this survey of the Lubanga judgment is Washington & Lee University Law Professor Mark A. Drumbl, whose most recent book, Reimagining Child Soldiers, I reviewed in the American Journal of International Law.

Sexual Violence Against Children on the Battlefield as a Crime of Using Child Soldiers: Square Pegs in Round Holes and Missed Opportunities in Lubanga. This article takes the ICC Office of the Prosecutor to task for “[m]isconceptions … which saw the crime of use conflated with conscription/enlistment,” in a way that the author, Joe Tan, an attorney at the British NGO Human Dignity Trust, maintains undercut the prosecution of sexual violence.

(credit for photo of new IHL Yearbook, which also discusses cyberwarfare and the Tallinn Manual)

tallinnThe Luddite in me casts a skeptical eye at arguments that some new technology is not regulated by old laws. After teaching cyberwar in a Laws of War class, for example, my takeaway was the key to resolving many legal questions is not to make new laws but rather to adapt laws on the books as needed (and only to the extent that adaption is needed). Thus it’s heartening to find kindred spirits among the drafters of Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare. As Manual editor Michael Schmitt, who leads the International Law Department at the U.S. Naval War College, told an AP reporter:

‘”Everyone was seeing the Internet at the ‘Wild, Wild West.’ What they had forgotten is that international law applies to cyberweapons like it applies to any other weapons.'”

The 320-page Tallinn Manual, to be released in print on March 31 and already available in electronic format, is the product of 3 years of study by a score of legal experts, among them present and former members of the military as well as law professors and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The manual’s focus is cyberwarfare (but not economic cyber espionage, subject of the new ASIL Insight available here). Rules of cyberwarfare are analyzed against the backdrop of numerous international law concepts and doctrines, for example: sovereignty and jurisdiction; state responsibility; use of force and self-defense (the latter reportedly a topic of debate among the experts); and law of armed conflict issues including participation in the hostilities, permissible objects of attack, and means and methods of warfare.

This brand-new text is the instant go-to reference on the topic.