Author: Jonathan Hafetz

[Jonathan Hafetz is a Senior Staff Attorney in the Center for Democracy at the American Civil Liberties Union and Professor of Law at Seton Hall Law School. This post is part of our Punishing Atrocities Symposium.] The central purpose of Punishing Atrocities through a Fair Trial is to unpack and examine the enduring tension in international criminal law between principles of fairness, on one hand,...

[Jonathan Hafetz is Professor of Law at Seton Hall University School of Law.] President Trump’s recent executive order temporarily barring the entry of refugees and others has provoked widespread protests, inflicted unnecessary suffering, and undermined the United States’ reputation across the world.  Several district judges have temporarily blocked its enforcement, at minimum preserving the status quo (by halting the removal of...

[Jonathan Hafetz is Associate Professor of Law at Seton Hall Law School.  He has represented several Guantanamo detainees and has filed amicus briefs in previous legal challenges to military commissions.] On July 14, the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued its long-awaited (and deeply fractured) opinion in Al Bahlul v. United States (.pdf), addressing the scope of military commission jurisdiction over offenses—material support for terrorism, solicitation, and conspiracy—that are not crimes under international law.  In a nutshell, the D.C. Circuit vacated Bahlul’s conviction for material support and solicitation, but affirmed his conviction for conspiracy against an ex post facto challenge.  While the ruling takes material support and solicitation off the table for commission prosecutions (at least for prosecutions of current Guantanamo detainees), it does not resolve the viability of charging conspiracy as a stand-alone offense because the en banc holding is based on the application of plain error review to Bahlul’s case (due to its conclusion that Bahlul failed to preserve his ex post facto challenge below).  The decision thus leaves open the fate of conspiracy under de novo review.  By implication, it also leaves open the viability of the U.S. government’s domestic war crimes theory not only with respect to other commission cases charging conspiracy (including the ongoing prosecution of the 9/11 defendants), but also with respect to Bahlul’s other legal challenges to his conspiracy conviction, which the en banc court remanded to the original D.C. Circuit panel. This post will examine the multiple opinions in Bahlul addressing the U.S. government’s domestic war crimes theory, which posits that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (2006 MCA) retroactively authorizes, and that the Constitution allows, the prosecution by military commission of conduct that is not a crime under the international law of war.  (For excellent summaries of the Bahlul decision, see posts at Just Security by Steve Vladeck here and by Steve and Marty Lederman here).  The theory’s viability is central to the retroactivity arguments addressed by the en banc court as well as to the additional arguments under Article I and Article III that will be considered on remand.

[Jonathan Hafetz is an Associate Professor of Law at Seton Hall University School of Law. This post is written as a comment to Stuart Ford's guest post, published yesterday.]

Stuart Ford’s article, Complexity and Efficiency at International Criminal Courts, seeks to address the common misperception that international criminal trials are not only expensive, but also inefficient.  Professor Ford’s article focuses principally on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which, in terms of the total number of accused, is the largest international criminal tribunal in history.  Professor Ford seeks to measure whether the ICTY has, in effect, provided good bang for the buck.  He concludes, rightly I believe, that it has.    Although his primary aim is to develop a way for measuring a tribunal’s efficiency, Professor Ford’s article also has important implications for broader debates about the merits of international criminal justice.

Professor Ford defines efficiency as the complexity of a trial divided by its cost.  While trials at the ICTY often have been long and expensive, they have also been relatively efficient given their complexity.   Further, the ICTY preforms relatively well compared to other trials of similar complexity, such as terrorism trials conducted in the United States and Europe, as well as trials that are somewhat less complex, such as the average U.S. death penalty case.   Garden-variety domestic murder trials, which at first blush might appear more efficient than the ICTY,  do not provide a useful point of comparison because they are much more straightforward.

Once complexity is factored in, the ICTY appears comparatively efficient.  Its record is more impressive considering that an often recognized goal of international criminal justice—creating a historical record of mass atrocities—can make the trials slower and less efficient in terms of reaching outcomes for specific defendants.

Professor Ford also finds that the ICTY performed more efficiently than the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), thus challenging a perceived advantage of such hybrid tribunals over ad hoc tribunals like the ICTY.  His conclusion suggests the need for future research on comparisons among tribunals within the international criminal justice field, which might have implications from an institutional design perspective.

[Jonathan Hafetz is an Associate Professor of Law at Seton Hall Law School. He co-authored an amicus brief in D.C. Circuit on behalf of civil rights organizations in Hamdan v United States (Hamdan II).]

On September 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, sitting en banc, will hear oral argument in the case of Guantanamo detainee and alleged al Qaeda propagandist, Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al Bahlul.   Earlier this year, a D.C. Circuit panel invalidated al Bahlul’s conviction by a military commission for conspiracy and related charges because those offenses did not violate the international law of war when committed.  The ruling in Al Bahlul followed logically from the D.C. Circuit’s previous ruling in Hamdan v. United States (Hamdan II), reversing the defendant’s conviction and holding that jurisdiction under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (2006 MCA) is limited to violations of international law for conduct that pre-dates the statute.

Al Bahlul presents the important question of whether the U.S. may try in a military commission offenses such as conspiracy and material support for terrorism (MST) that do not violate international law. The U.S. government’s argument is predicated on the assumption that the jurisdiction of military commissions extends also to violations of a separate (domestic) U.S. common law of war. The principal focus in Al Bahlul will be on statutory and constitutional issues—more specifically, whether the 2006 MCA authorizes the prosecution of pre-2006 conduct that does not violate international law and, if so, whether the statute violates the Ex Post Facto Clause, the Define and Punish Clause, and/or the civilian criminal jury trial guarantee under Article III and the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.

It is important, however, to consider some other implications of the U.S. government’s argument for commission jurisdiction based on a domestic common law of war.

[Jonathan Hafetz is an Associate Professor of Law at Seton Hall Law School] A recent Washington Post story posits that the rendition of terrorism suspects has continued under the Obama administration. While the story fails to describe how renditions have changed since the Bush administration, it highlights several areas of concern. The story focuses on the prosecution of three European men with...

[Jonathan Hafetz is an Associate Professor of Law at Seton Hall Law School and was previously a senior attorney at the ACLU’s National Security Project. He has served as counsel in numerous national security detention cases, including al-Marri v. Spagone.] The U.S. Senate last week approved an amendment to the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA)...

[This guest post is from Jonathan Hafetz, Associate Professor of Law at Seton Hall University School of Law. He has also represented several Guantanamo detainees.] The Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari last week in seven Guantanamo detainee cases marks the end of an important chapter in the post-9/11 habeas corpus litigation.  It leaves in place the D.C. Circuit’s narrow construction of the constitutional...