Author Archive for
Kenneth Anderson

US Congressional Bill to Be Introduced for New Kill-Capture Oversight

by Kenneth Anderson

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), member of the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, plans to introduce a bill that would increase Congressional oversight over kill-capture operations conducted outside of Afghanistan by the US military.  Bobby Chesney discusses the proposed legislation over at Lawfare, and gives a section by section commentary.  Whether this is an important step or not depends on one’s starting point, of course; I agree with Bobby that it is a big deal and a welcome step – though if one’s view is that all these operations are unlawful, or that  they require judicial oversight, or something else, then you won’t be much moved.

Seen within the framework of US law and oversight of overseas use of force operations, however, this is an important step.  A couple of observations; see Bobby’s post for a detailed discussion.  First, this legislation is with respect to operations conducted by the US military; it does not cover CIA activities.  Second, it covers US military operations with respect to the lines of oversight running back to the Armed Services committees; it does not alter existing oversight processes of Congressional intelligence committees governing covert action as defined in US Code Title 50, but extends and increases oversight over military operations.  These limitations run to several different things.

Counterintuitive as many might find it, the CIA is subject to far greater oversight, and at a far higher level of government, in its conduct of Title 50 covert activities than the US military is in its conduct of armed operations under Title 10.  There are good reasons why the military is not subject to direct oversight in essentially tactical decision-making in its traditional military activities once a decision has been made to commit to the use of force.  These decisions have long been understood to be within the discretion and responsibility of commanders who have the expertise to carry them out.  Oversight through the Armed Services committees is robust, including its closed sessions, but is not considered the same as that which Title 50 requires for covert activities.  However, the expansion of the US military into clandestine activities – which might or might not meet the legal definition of “covert” under Title 50 and so trigger those oversight functions – has raised new questions as to whether Armed Services committees oversight, traditionally conceived for conventional conflicts, keeps Congress sufficiently informed and permits sufficiently timely oversight in the case of activities carried by JSOC. (more…)

The 1949 Geneva Convention You Probably Haven’t Heard Of

by Kenneth Anderson

It’s the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (text at p. 3 of pdf; here’s the UN treaty collection history, signatories, reservations, etc.; here is the Wikisource text of the treaty, which on quick read is accurate) which seeks to promote road safety by establishing uniform rules across borders.  This includes provisions for an international driving permit as well as for cross border recognition of foreign drivers licenses (Florida got itself into problems earlier in 2013 when it issued new regulations requiring foreign drivers, including Canadians, to hold a valid international driving permit; it quickly reversed course). There are later treaties, particularly the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, which replaces the 1949 Geneva Convention for contracting states, but it has only 70 ratifications, and the US is not among them, though it is party to the 1949 agreement.

The 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic as well as later agreements on automobiles, licensing, road rules, etc., are probably going to come under greater scrutiny in the next few years on account of the rise of autonomous, self-driving vehicles – the famous Google cars.  As Bryant Walker Smith of Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society notes in a report last November, “Automated Vehicles Are Probably Legal in the United States,” the 1949 convention provides, at Article 8, that every vehicle have a driver who is “at all times … able to control” it.  Smith says in the report that this requirement is likely satisfied if a human is “on the loop” – i.e., able to intervene in the automated vehicle’s operation.  That will likely work as a solution for some period, but the real value of autonomous cars is supposed to eventually be, not when they have a driver ready, alert, and able to take the wheel from the computer, but instead when they are transporting people who can’t or shouldn’t drive: the elderly and infirm, children, and … inebriated undergraduates.

International Law, Law of the Hegemon, the ATS, and Kiobel

by Kenneth Anderson

Peter beat me to the punch in commenting on Samuel Moyn’s interesting take on the ATS and Kiobel in Foreign Affairs, but I’m going to add a somewhat different point from Peter’s about what the body of ATS law has meant over the past few decades. I didn’t intervene in the earlier discussion about Kiobel because that discussion seemed to me properly focused mostly on the internal legal aspects of the decision – everything from jurisdiction to state courts, and much else besides.  I want to raise something external to Kiobel and the ATS as “law” – the distinction between international law and what (in various postings here and there) I’ve referred to as the “law of the hegemon.”

One way of looking at the ATS, including the body of cases built up over the years, is that it is “international law.”  Of course that’s not literally true; it is a domestic statute that refers to international law as the basis of some form of liability; violations of treaties or the law of nations.  But in a broader sense – the sense in which its supporters have long seen it – the ATS offers a domestic law vehicle by which to work out, interpret, express and, perhaps most important, make effective the requirements of international law.

This is surely the sense that, for example, Judge Jack Weinstein had when he opened the ATS hearing in the Agent Orange case ten years ago – this court sits, he said, in some fashion as an international court.  Sitting in the courtroom, it was entirely plain that he both took seriously and took real pleasure in seeing this District Court as sitting in judgment on the same types of crimes as raised at Nuremberg. There are several practical problems for this broader view, of course – how to figure out the relationship between the domestic law piece of the statute and the international law piece, for one.

Another, however, is that if this is supposed to be the working out in some broad sense of “international law” in American courts and using the tools available to American law, how does one keep the link between international law and its sources, processes, standards of interpretation, etc., as they exist in the international arena – and the application of this in an American law setting that has its own sources of authority, standards of interpretation, etc.  It’s fine to say that the ATS is the working out of international law in US courts, but international law is made in the international framework and evolves according to things that are different from and quite alien to the American legal system.  A telling example of the problem is found simply in the status of US court cases interpreting the ATS and, in the process, interpreting features of international law in ways that bear little relationship to how the international community might do it, now or in the future.  Yet in an American domestic law system, those distinctively US cases have greater authority than the international authorities.

One can say that this is precisely the problem of the American court system in dealing with human rights cases; it ought to recognize the international law sources and authorities as such, rather than privileging its own processes.  But this is hard, given that plaintiffs want simultaneously to reach to the special features of the US litigation system to achieve their aims; those special features of the US litigation system include many things, such as civil liability, corporate liability, etc., that don’t obviously exist in the international system.  It isn’t likely that one can pick and choose in the most favorable way – whether one is the plaintiff or the defendant – and if you go with the American system, you take its doctrine of sources, methods of interpretation, and much else besides, even as it applies to international law questions.  But those don’t match up very well with how the “international” actors in international law see those fundamental questions.  The questions are not substantive or procedural in the usual sense – they are, rather, the fundamental doctrines of authority, precedent, methods of interpretation.

A better way of seeing the law of the ATS, it has long seemed to me, is to treat it not as a particular state’s working out of international law in its courts, but rather a quite different category.  It seems to me best understood as the hegemonic power working out the law of the hegemon in ways that are intended to be somewhat parallel to “international law” on these issues.  There is a shared impulse rooted in morality, but what the hegemon does is within the terms of its own legal system.  It depends in large part upon the extent to which the hegemonic power is willing to allow the capital of its power to be exercised roughly to these ends – and the extent to which other important actors are willing to go along as a sort of rough way of getting international law actually enforced. (more…)

Breaking: US Supreme Court Affirms Second Circuit Dismissal of ATS Suit in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

by Kenneth Anderson

The US Supreme Court released its long-awaited Kiobel decision this morning, affirming the Second Circuit’s dismissal of the plaintiffs Alien Tort Statute claims.  Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion, joined by Justices Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy.  Justice Kennedy wrote a separate concurrence; Justice Alito did likewise, joined by Justice Thomas. Justice Breyer concurred in the judgment, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan.  I’m posting this primarily in order to supply the link to the opinion asap, so I’ll refrain from commenting on it for now.  The SCOTUS opinion in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. can be found here.

Law and Ethics for Autonomous Weapon Systems

by Kenneth Anderson

Last November, two documents appeared within a few days of each other, each addressing the emerging legal and policy issues of autonomous weapon systems – and taking strongly incompatible approaches.  One was from Human Rights Watch, whose report, Losing Our Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots, made a sweeping, provocative call for an international treaty ban on the use, production, and development of what it defined as “fully autonomous weapons.”  Human Rights Watch has followed that up with a public campaign for signatures on a petition supporting a ban, as well as a number of publicity initiatives that (I think I can say pretty neutrally) seem as much drawn from sci-fi and pop culture as anything.  It plans to launch this global campaign at an event at the House of Commons in London later in April.

The other was the Department of Defense Directive, “Autonomy in Weapon Systems” (3000.09, November 21, 2012).  The Directive establishes DOD policy and “assigns responsibilities for the development and use of autonomous and semi-autonomous functions in weapon systems … [and] establishes guidelines designed to minimize the probability and consequences of failures in autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems.”

By contrast to the sweeping, preemptive treaty ban approach embraced by HRW, the DOD Directive calls for a review and regulatory process – in part an administrative expansion of the existing legal weapons review process within DOD, but reaching back to the very beginning of the research and development process.  In part it aims to ensure that whatever level of autonomy a weapon system might have, and in whatever component, the autonomous function is intentional and not inadvertent, and has been subjected to design, operational, and legal review to ensure that it both complies with the laws of war in the operational environment for which it is intended – and will actually work in that operational environment as advertised.  (The DOD Directive is not very long, and makes the most sense, if you are looking for an introduction into DOD’s conceptual approach, read against the background of a briefing paper issued earlier, in July 2012, by DOD’s Defense Science Board, The Role of Autonomy in DOD Systems.)

In essence, HRW seeks to ban autonomous weapon systems, rooting a ban on autonomous lethal targeting per se in its interpretation of existing IHL while calling for new affirmative treaty law specifically to codify it. By contrast, DOD adopts a regulatory approach grounded in existing processes and law of weapons and weapons reviews.  Michael Schmitt and Jeffrey Thurnher offer the basic legal position underlying DOD’s approach in a new article forthcoming in Harvard National Security Journal, “‘Out of the Loop’: Autonomous Weapon Systems and the Law of Armed Conflict.” They say that autonomous weapon systems are not per se illegal under the law of weapons and that their legality or restrictions on lawful use in any particular operational environment depends upon the usual principles of targeting law.

I think Schmitt and Thurnher have it right as a legal matter, but there are important dissenting voices.  A contrary view is offered by University of Miami’s Markus Wagner in, for example, “Autonomy in the Battlespace: Independently Operating Weapon Systems and the Law of Armed Conflict” (chapter in International Humanitarian Law and the Changing Technology of War, 2012).   New School for Social Research professor Peter Asaro (who is not a lawyer, but a philosopher of technology, thus establishing himself as having the Coolest of Jobs, and also co-founder of an organization that has been calling for a ban for several years) has offered a reading of Protocol I and other IHL treaties aiming to show that human beings are built by positive, if tacit, assumption into these texts and their approach to weapons and targeting (forthcoming special section of the International Review of the Red Cross). Asaro is careful to hold out only that this interpretation is implicit, rather than explicit – a thoughtful and creative reading, though not finally one that persuades the hard-hearted lex lata lawyer in me.  A debate is underway in academic law and policy – and in the Real World.  It promises to heat up considerably.

Some months prior to these two documents making their appearance, however, Matthew Waxman and I published a short policy paper in the journal Policy Review, “Law and Ethics for Robot Soldiers.” It made note of arguments by those favoring a complete ban, but mostly focused on the United States (as well as other technologically advanced states; the US is far from the only country doing cutting-edge robotics, in weapons and many other things) and the possibility of developing weapon systems that might move from “automated” to “autonomous.”  That paper endorsed a regulatory approach to these weapon systems, embracing transparency of standards, best practices in weapons reviews, close interaction between the lawyers and engineers from the beginning of weapon system design, etc.  The Policy Review essay was devoted to setting out the problem for a lay audience not having much prior knowledge, however, and oriented toward policy and process issues by which DOD would formulate policy, conduct legal reviews, and how it would deal with other states and their weapon development policies.  It was not primarily directed to arguments for or against a sweeping ban, since HRW had not yet launched its Killer Robots campaign.

Since then, however, Matt and Ken have been busy.  And we’re pleased to announce that the Hoover Institution has just published our new policy essay, Law and Ethics for Autonomous Weapon Systems: Why a Ban Won’t Work and How the Laws of War Can. It revises and substantially extends our arguments on autonomous and automated robotic weapons, and shifts the focus of argument to address the ban arguments more directly.  Though longer than our first essay, it is still not long (at some 12,000 words) and intended to be readable by a general audience, not an academic one.  It is available at SSRN, here (and the same pdf at the Hoover Institution website, here).

ICRC Intercross Blog Series on Contemporary Issues in IHL

by Kenneth Anderson

The 2011 ICRC Report, “International Law and the Challenge of Contemporary Armed Conflicts,” raised many issues that get discussed weekly here at OJ.  “Intercross,” the blog page of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has selected four of the leading issues from the report for discussion by experts.  The four are: typologies of conflicts; IHL and terrorism; new technologies of warfare; and multinational operations.  The head of the ICRC legal department, Knut Doermann, introduces the whole series at Intercross, and the current theme – typologies of conflicts – is now underway.  It gets going with a podcast on typology from my old friend, and legal adviser to the ICRC, Jelena Pejic, and then moves to guest posts.  The first is by Geoffrey Corn, well known to OJ readers, course. The second is by my old friend and colleague here at Washington College of Law, Bob Goldman, long an eminent voice in international humanitarian law, human rights law, and particularly their application in the Americas. The whole series is well worth following.

How To Declare War (Anno Domini, 1429)

by Kenneth Anderson

Jhesus-Maria, King of England, and you, Duke of Bedford, who call yourself regent of the Kingdom of France, you, Guillaume de la Poule, count of Suffort, Jean, sire of Talbot, and you, Thomas, sire of Scales, who call yourselves lieutenants of the Duke of Bedford, acknowledge the summons of the King of Heaven.  Render to the Maid here sent by God the King of Heaven, the keys of all the good towns which you have taken and violated in France.  She is here come by God’s will to reclaim the blood royal.  She is very ready to make peace, if you will acknowledge her to be right, provided that France you render, and pay for having held it.  And you, archers, companions of war, men-at-arms and others who are before the town of Orleans, go away into your own country, by God.  And if so be not done, expect news of the Maid who will come to see you shortly, to your very great injury.  King of England, if you do not so, I am chief-in-war and in whatever place I attain your people in France, I will make them quit it willy-nilly.  And if they will not obey, I will have them all slain; I am here sent by God, the King of Heaven, body for body, to drive you out of all France … (Written this Tuesday of Holy Week, March 22, 1429.)

Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, sends a formal letter of summons to the English upon the siege of Orleans.  (I post this once a year on this date at all the places I blog.)

Update:  Over at Volokh Conspiracy, my friend and co-blogger Ilya Somin gives us an example of a much, much shorter form for declaring war, from the 10th century Prince of Kiev.

The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways – KJH and OLC Edition?

by Kenneth Anderson

Was our very own Kevin Jon Heller, and one of his OJ posts, responsible for causing David Barron and Marty Lederman (widely taken as authors of the Justice Department’s OLC opinion on the lawfulness of targeting Anwar Al-Awlaki with lethal force) to rewrite their memorandum?  Wells Bennett at Lawfare points to an extraordinary passage appearing in a lengthy story in today’s New York Times on targeting Awlaki, by Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti, and Charlie Savage.  Notes Wells:

[T]he article says that OLC’s legal workup was influenced by “a legal blog that focused on a statute that bars Americans from killing other Americans overseas.”   It is unclear to what legal blog the authors refer (and hard to know for sure what affected OLC’s thinking)—but the timing and content suggest this Opinio Juris post by Kevin Jon Heller.

Congratulations to Kevin for having re-shaped the contours of US government thinking, if that’s true.  I’m not sure whether Kevin would regard this as the Lord Works In Mysterious Ways, or instead the Devil Quoting Scripture for His Own Purposes, but in any case, congratulations. (And thanks to Peter Margulies for telling me about this; I haven’t been on blogs all day, because the day in DC has been beautiful, and I Have A Life, not to mention a chapter owed to Ben Wittes.)

Jens Ohlin Posts Response to Ryan Goodman Paper on Capture Over Kill

by Kenneth Anderson

The multi-blog (trans-blog?) debate over whether there is a duty to capture in the law of war now has a reply to Ryan Goodman from Jens Ohlin, in a working paper at SSRN, “The Capture-Kill Debate.”  The on-going discussion began, faithful readers will recall, with Ryan Goodman’s EJIL article on this topic and a general audience version of the thesis for Slate.  After Jack Goldsmith flagged it at Lawfare, it prompted a vigorous debate there between Ryan and what has come to be known in the literature as “CBJJ” – otherwise known as Geoff Corn, Laurie Blank, Christopher Jenks, and Eric Jensen.  (Follow links at this post by Bobby Chesney at Lawfare.) Kevin weighed in at Lawfare with a guest post of his own, and various of our longtime commenters, including John Dehn and Jordan Paust, have added thoughts here at OJ.  Meanwhile, over at Lieber Code blog, Jens had been writing about this general topic for a long time, including talking about his forthcoming article, “The Duty to Capture” (which, as I suggested, perhaps merited a question mark in the title, given the conclusions of the article).  Jens has been hard at work, and has just posted to SSRN a response to Ryan, a short, fifteen page paper responding directly to Ryan’s paper as well as taking up some of the issues raised by CBJJ.  Here is the abstract (graf break added) to Jens’s paper, The Capture-Kill Debate, at SSRN.  Highly recommended (as we Proud Followers of Larry Solum say):

In a recent essay, Ryan Goodman offers a vigorous defense of the duty to capture under the law of war and concludes that attacking soldiers have a duty to use the least-restrictive means of accomplishing their objective. In particular, Goodman contends in his new intervention that the scholarly debate has relied on an impoverished reading of the legislative history of the key international protocols drafted in 1973 and 1974. Having un-earthed a wealth of documents regarding those negotiations, he argues that: (i) the law of war already severely restricts the use of force in various contexts by virtue of specific prohibitions on methods of warfare; (ii) the law of war already prohibits killing enemy combatants who are rendered hors de combat; and (iii) the drafters of the Additional Protocols supported a “least-restrictive-means” interpretation of the concept of necessity, meaning that killing is only lawful when soldiers have no other way of neutralizing the enemy (e.g. capture is not feasible).

For reasons that I articulate in the present commentary, I believe that none of these arguments provide definitive support for a duty to capture under the laws of war. First, with regard to Goodman’s first two arguments, one cannot move from a list of specific jus in bello prohibitions to a generalized principle regarding the nature military necessity that then swallows and expands the specific rules. Second, the arguments ignore the Lieber Code’s definition of military necessity as “all direct destruction of life or limb of armed enemies” and “those measures which are indispensable for securing the ends of the war, and which are lawful according to the modern law and usages of war.” Although the law of war has advanced considerably since Lieber, its general structure remains relatively unchanged.


The Capture-Kill Debate Underway at Lawfare, and Jens Ohlin’s Observations at Lieber Code

by Kenneth Anderson

A recent Lawfare post by Jack Goldsmith noted the appearance of NYU professor Ryan Goodman’s controversial new EJIL article, “The Power to Kill or Capture Enemy Combatants.” It was followed by an even more provocative summary of it in Slate.  Both pieces have launched a very interesting debate between Goodman, on the one side, and a group of well-known LOAC scholars (Geoff Corn, Laurie Blank, Chris Jenks, and Eric Jensen), on the other.  Our own KJH has now weighed in with a guest post of his own at Lawfare.  (Bobby Chesney, introducing Kevin’s guest post at Lawfare, links the earlier posts.)

There is an important voice taking part only indirectly in the Lawfare discussion, however – Jens Ohlin.  I earlier flagged at Lawfare a new piece by Jens on exactly this question, “The Duty to Capture,” that reaches, as Kevin has noted, a conclusion almost diametrically opposite to Ryan’s. So much so that when I tagged it as a “Readings” at Lawfare, I suggested that the title might benefit from a question mark – The Duty to Capture?  The debate over at Lawfare is usefully read with this article by Jens to hand.

Jens is taking part “indirectly,” so to speak, because he also runs his own terrific blog, Lieber Code, where he has been discussing exactly these questions.  He just posted a new comment on his blog that goes to the heart of the issue:

In the “Duty to Capture” … I argue that the concept of necessity in human rights law and the law of war mean completely different things.  This is relevant because the duty to capture allegedly applies when killing an enemy combatant is no longer truly necessary.  The question is what is meant by necessity in this context?

In human rights law, necessity often means “the least restrictive means.”  In other words, there is no other alternative, or at least not one with less infringement on the individual’s liberties.  So the action is necessary if no other action would achieve the desired results for the government actor in question.

In contrast, necessity in the law of war means something completely different.  At least since the Lieber Code, necessity has been defined as “military necessity,” which “admits of all direct destruction of life or limb of armed enemies,” in the words of the Lieber Code.  This definition is fundamentally incompatible with the least-restrictive means definition of necessity.

Duke Law, Ethics, and National Security Center Conference

by Kenneth Anderson

If you’re interested, the Duke Law, Ethics, and National Security Center is holding its annual conference – it’s being livestreamed over the web, if you go to the webpage and click the link.  The Chief Prosecutor, the Military Commissions, is giving the lunch talk at this moment. I’ll be on a panel later today on autonomous weapons, Bill Banks moderating, with Dr. Wolff Heintschel von Heinegg (the current USNWC Stockton chair at the Naval War College), and Tom Malinowski from Human Rights Watch.  And many other things – see the program, and congratulations to Charlie Dunlap, who as the Center’s executive director has brought this together.

C-SPAN Book TV Interview on ‘Living With the UN: American Responsibilities and International Order’

by Kenneth Anderson

If you’re interested, I’ll be on C-SPAN Book TV tomorrow, Sunday, February 24, at 1:20 pm, talking about my book, Living With the UN: American Responsibilities and International Order. It runs about half an hour, and though I have no idea whether I’m especially interesting on the program, I very much enjoyed doing it – I thought the interviewer was terrific and asked excellent questions. (Plus, he let me talk pretty much as long as I liked.)