The Global War on Terrorism’s Tenth Anniversary
Like many Americans, especially those of us living or working in New York City at the time, I have very personal and powerful memories of the September 11, 2001 attacks. I will spare our readers my own reminiscences, however, and stick to something a little more relevant to this blog’s subject matter: the international law of armed conflict.
While many pundits and commentators have discussed the myriad ways that the attacks of September 11, 2001 have impacted American society, culture, daily life, literature, art, etc., it is also worth noting that September 11, 2001 was the day the “global war on terrorism” began, an armed conflict that continues to this day. The legal nature of this armed conflict was initially disputed since there was little precedent for a nation-state to declare itself in a global armed conflict with a non-state actor like Al Qaeda. But the legality of this armed conflict under international law is now the consensus view (at least in the United States). The legality of such an armed conflict is what justifies, under international law, the continued capture, detention, punishment, and targeted killings of enemy combatants associated with Al Qaeda.
To be sure, as Kevin’s posts on the CMCR below remind us, there are many complex and difficult legal questions to sort out as this armed conflict enters its second decade. But the basic legal framework appears to be settled and has been confirmed by two different U.S. administrations (with legal advisors as different as John Yoo and Harold Koh). The United States is “at war” with terrorists and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.