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Guest Post Part II: The Chilcot Inquiry–The Publication Saga of an Official History

by Charlotte Peevers

[Charlotte Peevers is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Technology, Sydney and author of ‘The Politics of Justifying Force: the Suez Crisis, the Iraq War, and International Law‘ (Oxford University Press: 2013). Part one of this guest post can be found here.]

Legal-Political Authority and International Law

Any review of the inquiry hearings would be incomplete without a word from Tony Blair. In this extract from his so-called ‘recall’ to the inquiry on 21 January 2011 Sir Roderick Lyne asks him about his statement to the House of Commons in February 2003. The statement referred to the apparent exercise of an “unreasonable veto” in relation to a second resolution – that is, beyond 1441 – a subject upon which Lord Goldsmith had already advised was not a justifiable legal position to take against the French or Russian postures within the Security Council.

Video clip begins at 109.26 and ends at 116.05

Transcript (line 11 page 71 – line 6 page 75)

In this extract, Blair’s rather tortured distinction between legal and political arguments highlights a particularly interesting aspect of the relationship between international law and politics. His is an attempt to parse political and legal authority, to justify his deployment of legalistic language as a pure political exercise that was not only permissible, but that his audience would have appreciated and known was not premised upon legal authority. This parsing of authority highlights the difficulty faced by those who might oppose government policy or at least question its bases: without the contemporary knowledge as to the legal advice proffered by government experts, there is no way of holding statements such as Blair’s to account. The ambiguity of his articulation – that encompasses the possibility of legal justification, but not necessarily being explicit about it – leaves him able to claim ex post facto that he was merely making a political point. If this was interpreted the ‘wrong way’ by his audience, or indeed by Sir Roderick Lyne in his questioning, that that was not his fault, nor was it his intention.

In addition, this parsing can be seen as an attempt at making a representation of legal authority in the absence of having political authority. In other words, in the absence of majority public support – a democratic mandate – for using force without UN backing. And this is particularly problematic when, as Roderick Lyne seeks to point out, the government had been advised explicitly that there was no legal authority for such a claim. Blair’s evidence therefore seeks to claim an excessive sovereign right to wage war on the premise of an internationalized legal authority, avoiding the strictures of democratic mandates, or indeed international authority vested in the UN Security Council’s authorization of force. The boundaries of that legal authority were, at the time, entirely subject to secrecy and could therefore be publicly represented in any way deemed justifiable by the government; and then later as merely a political argument that did not in fact rely upon legal authority!

The Chilcot Inquiry as International Legal Archive

These two brief extracts from the present Chilcot Inquiry archive illustrate the wealth of material that can be analysed now, regardless of when the final report will be published together with the promised publication alongside it of 1,500 or so declassified documents. (See the video of Sir John Chilcot’s evidence before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 4 February 2015 at 27.05 where he discusses the publication of declassified material alongside the final report, available here.) Perhaps the most important thing we have learnt is that there is still a huge amount to learn from secrecy. Secrecy as a structural, structuring force on the generation of public policy and the place of law – not just international law – in the exercise of sovereign power.

In addition, we have learnt more of the ‘inner life’ of international law – how international law actually works in policy-making. It exists not just in formal sources, or texts, but behind closed doors, in corridors of extreme power. It is given life in memoranda, letters and meeting records. In order to understand how international law works, we need to consider the processes of advice-giving, the means by which decisions are taken in government – sofa government, ad hocism, inner war cabinets, limited disclosures to Cabinet and to Parliament, and the like – and the production of a government archive.

The archive disclosed through the Chilcot Inquiry, like any archive, is already constructed, is incomplete and partial. Reflecting, by way of comparison, on the Suez Crisis archive is particularly instructive (see Charlotte Peevers The Politics of Justifying Force: the Suez Crisis, the Iraq War, and International Law (OUP: 2013): despite the existence of an Israeli copy of the Protocol of Sèvres – the document proving collusion and that the Anglo-French occupation of the Suez Canal in late October 1956 was a pretext for invading Egypt following the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company – it has never surfaced in the British archive, in any form. Collusion was suspected for many years before the Israeli copy finally surfaced, but was always denied by the British government and no amount of archival material could have resolved the question of collusion one way or another – evidence had been destroyed and all reference to it expunged from the records (including presumably the direction that all reference be expunged!).

Despite the ‘constructedness’ of any archive, the ability to rake back over documents and oral evidence in relation to the Iraq War ought to be considered a hugely rich potential source for us as international lawyers, and of course as historians and political scientists. The danger with the saga generated over the publication of the Chilcot Inquiry report is that in all the dramatic distraction we miss the opportunity for reading the current archive for ourselves. An official history, however critical or otherwise, will act as the final word over the Iraq Affair, framing our future treatment of the archive and guiding our interpretations of it, whether in opposition or affirmation of the Inquiry’s final conclusions.

Again, the Suez Affair gives pause for thought. There was never an official inquiry into or official history of the Suez Crisis, its scandalous nature rumbling on in Parliament, behind-closed-doors in Whitehall, and in the public imagination without any final word being drafted. Whilst the absence of any holding to account of Anthony Eden’s government is not necessarily something to celebrate, one lesson that might be learned is this: an official history would not have been able to substantiate collusion – which went to the very heart of the question of accountability. In the absence of an official accounting, Suez has become the mythologized nail in the coffin of the British Empire, a supreme act of folly that was, unquestionably, illegal. We can continue to discover the lessons to be learned from Suez, particularly in relation to how international law was used to justify military action, by reading the archive for ourselves. I hope we will continue to quarry the mine of material produced by the Inquiry process, going beyond the limiting – and limited – question of whether the Iraq War was legal or illegal, instead proposing unofficial histories of the place of international law in domestic and international politics.

Guest Post Part I: The Chilcot Inquiry–The Publication Saga of an Official History

by Charlotte Peevers

[Charlotte Peevers is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Technology, Sydney and author of ‘The Politics of Justifying Force: the Suez Crisis, the Iraq War, and International Law‘ (Oxford University Press: 2013).] 

In the past few weeks we have learned, though we have suspected for quite some time, that the Chilcot Inquiry will not be in a position to publish its final, wide-ranging, ‘lessons learned’ report until after the next General Election, in June 2015. Media commentators and numerous Members of Parliament have decried the “scandalous” delays that have plagued publication, blaming at turns the civil service, Tony Blair, and/or the American Administration.

But this drama over publication delay – the latest in the saga of producing an official history of the Iraq War that has played out in the media – is something of a distraction from the real value of the Chilcot Inquiry, at least for scholars and students of international law. I argue that through its process of declassifying previously secret documents, holding public, oral hearings and receiving written testimony, the Inquiry has already informed our understanding of the operation of international law in the justification to use force.

During the course of oral evidence between 2009 and 2011 we heard more international legal debate than ever before, certainly than during the original debates of 2002/2003. We also heard about what I have come to think of as the ‘inner life’ of international law: revelations of back room disagreements – jousting, even – between figures such as Sir Michael Wood, then Senior Legal Adviser at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Jack Straw, then Foreign Secretary, over the “vagueness” and consequent interpretive latitude of international law. We also saw the careful, self-conscious production of numerous memos between the Foreign Office, Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Defence and No 10. And of course memos within those departments, documenting and recording for history the disagreements amongst officials and politicians. In addition we saw how law, evidence and intelligence related to policy demands.

The production and accessibility of this rich textual and testimonial archive has already generated a map for us to navigate how international law and its users – including advisers, government policy-makers, and politicians – actually work. How did people such as Sir Michael Wood conceive of their role as expert authority on the interpretation of the prohibition on the use of force? How did politicians such as Jack Straw or Tony Blair view and use international law as a body of rules to justify their commitment to military action? And how did these politicians and their policy officials interact with in-house experts such as Wood, or his deputy Elizabeth Wilmshurst, not to mention the government’s chief legal adviser, the Attorney General ,Lord Goldsmith?

The rich archive – all available at http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/ – fleshes out a detailed map of how international legal rules are navigated, are traced into routes for action or inaction, or demarcate the boundaries of certain policy decisions. This map allows us to traverse beyond the restrictive self-imposed boundaries of strict doctrine or bare textual analysis of the prohibition on the use of force, and instead navigate the extent of international law’s scope, impact on and relationship with domestic and international politics.

As scholars and students of international law we ought not be deterred from engaging with an already rich archive created by the Inquiry simply because there will be yet more delay in the publication of the final report.   Indeed, we ought to revel in the exploratory freedom that delay provides: there is yet to be a final word on the Iraq War, evidence is yet to be marshaled to support the drawing of particular conclusions or interpretations. This continued delay is, therefore, a prime opportunity to read and digest the current raw material produced through the inquiry process. Two examples from the oral and documentary evidence illustrate the richness of the existing archive.

Lawyers and International Law

To give a fuller sense of some of the rich detail of the ‘inner life’ of international law the following links detail an extract from Sir Michael Wood’s evidence to the Inquiry:

Video clip (begins at 53.10 and ends at 62.35)

Transcript (line 16 p28 – line 20 p.34)

First off, Wood’s comments are so interesting for a range of reasons which are not necessarily limited to international law. For instance, the comment that Jack Straw was used to pushing the boundaries of law whilst at the Home Office, even when faced with clear legal advice that what he was doing went against existing legal opinion and precedent domestically, tells an intriguing, partial tale of the political relationship to law, to courts and to cases more generally. This tells us something incredibly rich and perhaps disturbing about the way law works, stripping away the mythologised notion of a separation of powers, and making us think more about the institutional deference manifest in courts faced with government policies and actions that run counter to existing law. And that is just an example from the domestic realm.

For scholars and students of international law, Wood’s comments are particularly revealing when we consider the role of a government legal adviser – acting much in the way that Harold Koh and the transnational legal process school might envisage – as a benign (or enlightened) adviser to princes. Wood considers his overriding duty to international law in the absence of a court. Wood expresses a deep commitment to international law precisely because of its horizontal interpretive nature; it is for government legal advisers to demarcate the acceptable boundaries of policy versus international law, providing apparent ‘clear bright lines’ beyond which policy cannot traverse without incurring international illegality.

Not so, according to the government, if instructing Independent Counsel. In a document declassified and released by the Attorney General’s Office dated 13 March 2003 (ie on the eve of formal invasion) the legal secretary to the Attorney General, David Brummell, considered the difficulty with the government’s legal position – in particular highlighting the position vis à vis revival in the absence of a further resolution and therefore on the sole basis of Security Council Resolution 1441 – and advised that the position would have to be bolstered by obtaining formal legal opinion of Christopher Greenwood, David (he meant Daniel) Bethlehem, and Sam Wordsworth – three of the leading international lawyers at the English bar. (Bethlehem was to go on to be Wood’s successor at the FCO.) It seems that faced with intransigence from in-house Counsel, the government wanted to turn to the independence of senior international lawyers who they felt, given their lack of ties to government policy-making, might have been more able to express an opinion, if asked, in support of the government legal position (in the event none of the three were in fact approached to provide a legal opinion).

In these contrasting roles we see the distinction between advisory capacities and advocating positions: Wood was clearly deeply uncomfortable with the prospect of advocating on behalf of government in relation to a legal position he could not support, because he held a special position as expert adviser to government, acutely aware of the need to police the boundary of forceful intervention. Whereas independent Counsel could more freely take on the role of advocate for government as would be taken on for any other client looking for a legal position to support its policy choices.

Interestingly, we also learn from Wood’s evidence that the Attorney General appeared to take on both of these distinct roles at different times: he adopted an advisory role very early, though was careful to avoid documenting this in the immediate run up to war in the Autumn of 2002 (presumably to avoid hamstringing any later need to justify government policy in legal terms); but when war became inevitable, in around February 2003, he moved to advocate’s role, documenting the possible legal justifications that could be made in support of the government’s use of force.

In addition, the disagreement evidenced in the oral testimony between Sir Michael Wood and Jack Straw is particularly enlightening for us if we are to try to interpret an archive that is already self-consciously (re)constructed. We learn from Wood that Straw was careful to document his insistence on the ambiguity of international law and that reasonable difference of opinion could be had on the issue of the using force, even where opinion emanated from the apparent government expert, the Senior Legal Adviser’s office in the FCO. This recording of, and thereby justification of, an opposing legal view is significant from at least two perspectives.

The first is as an articulated understanding of what international law means to a politician in government such as Jack Straw. We learn that there is a high degree of self-awareness as to the power – and latitude – afforded to state actors in international legal doctrine. This self-awareness appears to translate as authority to speak to what international law actually is, or could be as interpreted by such a state actor. In a sense, this gives a behind-the-scenes affirmation of what scholars and students of international law already superficially recognize as ‘custom’ formation. Here, we learn that state actors know the force they command over international law, even in an area that is apparently so black and white: the prohibition on the use of force.

Secondly, we see the self-conscious fashioning of an archive; the production of official documentation that will, it is known by its author(s), represent government decision-making once it is categorized into the various filing systems of the National Archives (filed under ‘Iraq War’ within the FCO Ministerial and Legal Adviser’s records as sender and recipient respectively).

The CIA Violated the Terrorist Bombing Convention

by Kevin Jon Heller

The Washington Post has a long article today about how Mossad and the CIA collaborated to blow up Hezbollah’s chief of international operations in 2008. Here are the key paragraphs:

On Feb. 12, 2008, Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah’s international operations chief, walked on a quiet nighttime street in Damascus after dinner at a nearby restaurant. Not far away, a team of CIA spotters in the Syrian capital was tracking his movements.

As Mughniyah approached a parked SUV, a bomb planted in a spare tire on the back of the vehicle exploded, sending a burst of shrapnel across a tight radius. He was killed instantly.

The device was triggered remotely from Tel Aviv by agents with Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, who were in communication with the operatives on the ground in Damascus. “The way it was set up, the U.S. could object and call it off, but it could not execute,” said a former U.S. intelligence official.

The United States helped build the bomb, the former official said, and tested it repeatedly at a CIA facility in North Carolina to ensure the potential blast area was contained and would not result in collateral damage.

“We probably blew up 25 bombs to make sure we got it right,” the former official said.

The extraordinarily close cooperation between the U.S. and Israeli intelligence services suggested the importance of the target — a man who over the years had been implicated in some of Hezbollah’s most spectacular terrorist attacks, including those against the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and the Israeli Embassy in Argentina.

The United States has never acknowledged participation in the killing of Mughniyah, which Hezbollah blamed on Israel. Until now, there has been little detail about the joint operation by the CIA and Mossad to kill him, how the car bombing was planned or the exact U.S. role. With the exception of the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden, the mission marked one of the most high-risk covert actions by the United States in recent years.

The article touches on the legality of Mughniyah’s killing, with the US arguing that it was a lawful act of self-defense under Art. 51 of the UN Charter and Mary Ellen O’Connell claiming that it was perfidy. Regular readers will anticipate my skepticism toward the former claim, and there is simply no support in IHL for the latter claim. Perfidy is an act “inviting the confidence of an adversary to lead him to believe that he is entitled to, or obliged to accord, protection under the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, with intent to betray that confidence.” Mossad and the CIA did nothing of the kind.

Mossad and the CIA did, however, violate the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, which Israel ratified on 10 February 2003 and the US ratified on 26 June 2002. I don’t want to dwell on Mossad in this post; the analysis is the same as the one I provided here with regard to its assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. Instead, I want to focus on the US’s complicity in Mughniyah’s death.

To begin with, there is no question that the bombing itself qualifies as a prohibited act of terrorism under the Terrorist Bombing Convention. Here is the relevant definition, Art. 2(1):

1. Any person commits an offence within the meaning of this Convention if that person unlawfully and intentionally delivers, places, discharges or detonates an explosive or other lethal device in, into or against a place of public use, a State or government facility, a public transportation system or an infrastructure facility:

(a) With the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury; or

(b) With the intent to cause extensive destruction of such a place, facility or system, where such destruction results in or is likely to result in major economic loss.

Mughniyah’s killing satisfies this definition. The attack involved an “explosive device” and it was clearly intended to “cause death.” It also took place on a public street, which qualifies as a “place of public use” under Article 1(5) of the Terrorist Bombing Convention. Article 1(5) defines a place of public use as “those parts of any building, land, street, waterway or other location that are accessible or open to members of the public, whether continuously, periodically or occasionally.”

The CIA was also complicit in that prohibited act of terrorism, pursuant to Art. 2(3):

3. Any person also commits an offence if that person:

(a) Participates as an accomplice in an offence as set forth in paragraph 1 or 2; or

(b) Organizes or directs others to commit an offence as set forth in paragraph 1 or 2; or

(c) In any other way contributes to the commission of one or more offences as set forth in paragraph 1 or 2 by a group of persons acting with a common purpose; such contribution shall be intentional and either be made with the aim of furthering the general criminal activity or purpose of the group or be made in the knowledge of the intention of the group to commit the offence or offences concerned.

The language of Art. 2(3) easily encompasses the CIA’s involvement in Mughniyah’s death, given that the US admits the CIA built the bomb, helped track Mughniyah’s movements, and had the power to call off the attack.

The US will no doubt object to this analysis by arguing that the Terrorist Bombing Convention is intended to apply to bombings by terrorists, not bombings of terrorists. That objection would be valid had the US military been involved in the operation instead of the CIA. Justifiably or not, Article 19(2) of the Convention specifically permits acts that would otherwise qualify as terrorist bombing when they are committed by the military forces of a state:

2. The activities of armed forces during an armed conflict, as those terms are understood under international humanitarian law, which are governed by that law, are not governed by this Convention, and the activities undertaken by military forces of a State in the exercise of their official duties, inasmuch as they are governed by other rules of international law, are not governed by this Convention.

The CIA, however, does not qualify as the US’s “military forces” under the Terrorist Bombing Convention. Art. 1(4) specifically defines “military forces of a State” as “the armed forces of a State which are organized, trained and equipped under its internal law for the primary purpose of national defence or security, and persons acting in support of those armed forces who are under their formal command, control and responsibility.” The second provision does not apply, because there is no evidence the CIA was acting under the “formal command, control and responsibility” of the military when it participated in Mughniyah’s killing. And neither does the first provision: although there is no question that the CIA contributes to the US’s “national defence or security,” it is not an “armed force” under US “internal law.” According to 10 USC § 101, “[t]he term ‘armed forces’ means the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.”

The bottom line: the CIA committed an act of terrorism — actual terrorism, not figurative terrorism — when it participated in blowing up Mughniyah. The US military has the right to kill terrorists with bombs; the CIA does not. There is no doctrine of “close enough” in the Terrorist Bombing Convention.

Guest Post: A Response to Kevin Jon Heller

by Nimrod Karin

[Nimrod Karin is a J.S.D. candidate at New York University School of Law. From 2006 to 2012 he served as a legal adviser to the Israel Defense Forces at the International Law Department of the Military Advocate General’s Corps’ HQ, and from 2012 to 2013 he was the Deputy Legal Adviser to Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.]

Thanks so much for the kind words, Kevin, and even more so for the interesting push-back. I confess that a reader of an early draft of my post cautioned me against using the term “lawfare,” although for different reasons than those Kevin noted. Now I realize I should’ve given this comment more thought, but at the same time I’m very pleased to have helped generate the side-discussion over Kevin’s use of the term “bravery,” which is fascinating in itself.

In my original post I wrote that “lawfare” is a Palestinian prerogative, and therefore I clearly think that it’s both politically and legally legitimate, and so I can’t think that it has such negative connotations as Kevin apparently thinks I do. In fact, I did mean “lawfare” in the sense Kevin’s discussants (Dov, el roam, and Mendieta) are using it: “lawfare” as strategic utilization of the law, which for me isn’t negative but rather value-neutral, and this is why in the post I contrasted it with “the quest for justice” or “embracing the law.” Strategy is simply neither of those, just as it isn’t “good” or “bad” – Strategy is only successful or unsuccessful. And as my original post indicated, to me the only plausible strategic role for the ICC in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is as “the (legal) straw that broke the camel’s (political) back”. Only time will tell whether this is in fact a successful strategy for the Palestinians.

As with most strategies, this latest Palestinian move carries risk, not only of failing but also of backfiring, exactly as Dov put it. And this is what Kevin apparently deems to be “bravery,” and that’s because (1) the ICC process is uncontrollable and (2) it is likely to implicate Hamas as well. At first blush I thought that in this context Kevin’s use of “bravery” stands for selfless, non-strategic risk-taking, on behalf of some higher or noble cause. This would mean Kevin does see the Palestinian ICC bid as primarily driven by “justice” or “rule of law” considerations, in which case Kevin and I substantively disagree. However now I think that Kevin’s using “bravery” in its dictionary form, i.e. doing something incredibly risky (for whatever reason), perhaps even unreasonably dangerous given the possible reward, and maybe even a “Samson Option” type of last resort (as melodramatic as it may sound). I think this meaning of “bravery” conforms to the value-neutral charchter of the “lawfare” definition, which means Kevin and I agree on the principle, and then we can ask whether the Palestinian move is strategically sound given the well-known thinness of the line separating bravery and stupidity.

The question therefore becomes just how risky the Palestinian ICC bid really is, and how risky the Palestinians thought it was when they made it, and we can only speculate with regard to both of these questions. My educated guess here is that the ICC bid isn’t that much of a risk for the Palestinians, or at least that it’s not perceived as such by the Palestinians, least of all by the relevant decision-makers, i.e. Abbas and his concentric power circles of PA-PLO-Fatah. I think that by now it’s more than obvious that for that side of the Palestinian internal conflict the best possible scenario is an international cop stepping in to take care of Hamas. If Hamas leaders ever get indicted by the ICC, Abbas would be finally free of the whole unity charade, and at absolutely no internal political cost for him, because Abbas wouldn’t face the dilemma of whether or not to extradite suspects or accept external investigation – Abbas has no de facto authority or control whatsoever over either the suspects or the actual “scene(s) of the crime(s)”. This means that the “Abbas side” is not only strategically superior in this respect, but a free-rider; and as I mention in the post, this might not have been so easy for the “Abbas side,” if the new ad hoc declaration had stuck to the July 1, 2002 date for retroactive temporal jurisdiction – because this might have put some PA/PLO/Fatah leaders in the path of the ICC due to their activities during the Second Intifada.

The way I see it, the only real backfire risk for the (relevant) Palestinians comes from Israel, where possibilities are endless when it comes to overreaction. I can’t tell of course if the Palestinians are simply dismissive of this risk, or if they’re fully aware and think the possible reward outweighs the risk (perhaps only in the cynical sense of cutting off the nose to spite the face), or if the Palestinians are realistic with respect to both risk and reward, but also truly desperate, as el roam seems to think. I guess that it’s a mix of all three.

No, Going to the ICC Is Not “Lawfare” by Palestine

by Kevin Jon Heller

Just Security has published two long guest posts (here and here) on the ICC and Palestine by Nimrod Karin, a J.S.D. candidate at New York University School of Law who was previously Deputy Legal Adviser to Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations. There is much to respect about the posts, which are careful, substantive, and avoid needless hyperbole. And I agree with Karin on a surprising number of issues, particularly concerning the institutional reasons why (for better or worse) the ICC is likely to avoid opening a formal investigation into the situation in Palestine.

I disagree, though, with Karin’s insistence that Palestine has engaged in “lawfare” by ratifying the Rome Statute and using Art. 12(3) to accept the Court’s jurisdiction retroactive to 13 June 2014 — the day after the kidnapping and murder of the three young Israelis. Here is what he says in his second post (emphasis in original):

To readers who are utterly unsurprised by the dating of the ad hoc declaration I would simply add – likewise. It’s an example illustrating the strategic nature of the Palestinian multilateral maneuvering, which is squarely within their prerogative, acting as any other self-interested political entity would. But then maybe we should dial down the discourse depicting this as an idealistically motivated move – striking a blow for international criminal justice, or placing a conflict under the umbrella of law – and come to terms with the fact that the Palestinians are practicing lawfare by any other name, even at the expense of the values supposedly guiding their march to the ICC.

I wince whenever I see the term “lawfare,” because it is normally just short-hand for “I disagree with X’s legal actions.” Even if the concept has meaning, though, I don’t see how it can be used to describe what Palestine has done. To begin with, as Karin acknowledges, Palestine did not pluck the June 13 date out of thin air — it’s the same date that the Human Rights Committee selected for the beginning of the Schabas Commission’s mandate. Perhaps that was a political decision by the HRC, but Palestine can hardly be faulted for following its lead, especially given that it could have gone much further back in time (its first Art. 12(3) declaration purported to accept jurisdiction from 1 July 2002) — something for which Karin curiously gives Palestine no credit whatsoever.

I also don’t understand what is so troubling about the June 13 date. To be sure, the kidnap and murder of the three young Israelis was a horrific act. But it’s anything but clear whether Hamas leadership was responsible for their kidnapping and murder. It’s not even clear whether they were killed late on June 12 or early June 13 — the latter date within Palestine’s grant of jurisdiction. So how can Palestine’s choice of June 13 be some kind of devious move to maximise Israel’s criminal exposure while minimising its own?

More fundamentally, though, I simply reject the basic premise of Karin’s argument: namely, that taking a dispute to an international criminal tribunal with general jurisdiction can be seen as lawfare. Perhaps it’s possible to view tribunals with a one-sided mandate (de jure or de facto) as lawfare — the IMT prosecuting only Nazis, the ICTR prosecuting only Hutus. But the ICC? The ICC investigates situations, not specific crimes. By ratifying the Rome Statute and filing its Art. 12(3) declaration, Palestine has taken both Israel and itself to the ICC, not Israel alone. Palestine thus no longer has any control whatsoever over which individuals and which crimes the OTP investigates. That’s not lawfare, that’s bravery — especially given that, as I’ve pointed out time and again on the blog, the OTP is quite likely to go after Hamas crimes before it goes after Israeli crimes. In fact, the only lawfare being practiced in the context of Operation Protective Edge would seem to be by Israel, which has responded to the OTP’s preliminary investigation — which it opened as a matter of situation-neutral policy, not because of some kind of animus toward Israel — by condemning the ICC as a “political body” and launching a campaign to convince member states to stop funding it (which would be a clear violation of their treaty obligations under the Rome Statute).

I have little doubt that Palestine would be delighted if the ICC prosecuted only Israelis for international crimes. But it has to know how unlikely that is. Instead of condemning its decision to ratify the Rome Statute and submit an Art. 12(3) declaration as “lawfare,” therefore, we should be celebrating its commitment to international criminal justice. Indeed, if a state can practice lawfare by giving an international criminal tribunal the jurisdiction to investigate its own crimes as well as the crimes committed by its enemy, the concept has no meaning at all.

Guest Post: The Palestinian Accession to the Rome Statute and the Question of the Settlements

by Ido Rosenzweig

[Adv. Ido Rosenzweig is the chairman of ALMA –Association for the Promotion of International Humanitarian Law; Director of Research – Terror, Belligerency and Cyber at the Minerva Center for the Rule of Law under Extreme Conditions in the University of Haifa; and a PhD candidate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.]

Recently the Palestinians submitted (for the second time) a declaration accepting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in accordance with article 12(3) of the Rome Statute, thus providing jurisdiction to the International Criminal Court over their territory starting with June 13th, 2014. This was conducted alongside the Palestinian accession to the Rome Statute. That act was described as a political storm, a very aggressive and game changing move by the Palestinians who decided to throw their most important card into the game. That move gave rise to many different questions about its legality and the possible legal and political implications for Israel. In this short comment I address some of these issues and provide my own point of view on them.

What’s at stake here? Currently the ICC has jurisdiction over three types of crimes – war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. It could be argued that with regard to most crime allegations Israel will have the option of raising the complementarity argument in accordance with article (article 17(1)(a) of the Rome Statute). Israel will most likely base her complementarity argument on the outcomes of the 2nd Turkel Report and the ongoing investigation process. However, even if the Israeli complementarity claim stands, there’s still one issue which complementarity won’t resolve, and that’s the settlements.

Where’s the problem? The wording of article 8(2)(b)(viii) goes:

“The transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory;”

There’s a legitimate argument claiming that the settlements and more precisely, the government’s support of the settlements and the transfer of people from Israel to the West Bank, are strictly prohibited and amount to war crimes under the Rome Statute article (“the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”). Moreover, since the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the Israeli policy regarding the settlements is not justiciable (for example see HCJ 4481/91 Bargil v. GoI), it seems that in this case Israel could be considered as “unwilling and unable” to exercise its jurisdiction with regard to the settlements (or some aspects of that policy).

Will the ICC investigate the Settlements? This question brings us to the other barriers of the ICC admissibility (besides complementarity). The first barrier is gravity (article 17(1)(d)) – the ICC will only deal with severe violations. The interpretations assigned to the population transfer prohibition vary in such way that some from a prohibition to forcibly deport local population into occupied territory, which probably doesn’t include the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, to other interpretations which could include the situation of the settlements.

Another barrier is the territorial jurisdiction of the Palestinians over the settlements. In their recent 12(3) declaration, the Palestinians provided jurisdiction to the court over “the Occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem“. However, it’s not legally clear over what territory the Palestinian are allowed to provide jurisdiction to the ICC. This is due to the fact that there’s no clear decision or ruling about what constitutes the territory of the Palestinians. In fact, the November 29th, 2012 General Assembly’s resolution 67/19 clearly stated that the issues of the Palestine refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, security and water need to be resolved via negotiations. This can lead to three very important conclusions – (a) It is unclear if the territory where the settlements are located is under Palestinian jurisdiction and therefore if such jurisdiction can be granted to the ICC; and (b) since the very same resolution provided the Palestinians with the upgraded status also left the resolution of borders and settlements to negotiations, it is unclear if the ICC would be allowed to resolve such sensitive political questions through criminal procedures; (c) finally, it can also be argued that by leaving the settlements issue to negotiations, the international community doesn’t regard the transfer of population as a severe act which meets the gravity threshold that was mentioned above.

What’s next? This is where things get even more complicated. Since the questions of the borders and territory are important, they need to be resolved somehow. In my view there are (at least) six potential and interesting ways for these questions to be resolved:

  • Another General Assembly resolution clarifying the situation and thus changing the requirement for negotiations in order to resolve those issues. I think that if the Palestinians were able to achieve that in the first place they would have done so. Therefore it seems that there won’t be a majority in the General Assembly for such a resolution.
  • Security Council resolution on this issue. This is the most farfetched option, as it was the refusal of the Security Council to adopt a relevant resolution that led to the Palestinian Accession to begin with.
  • Decision of the ICC with regard to its jurisdiction. While this could be the main road in this context – letting the ICC prosecutor and after that the Judges, decide on the Court’s jurisdiction, it’s a well known fact that the ICC doesn’t operate rapidly and I believe that the Palestinians won’t be willing to sit down and wait until the ICC issues a decision on that topic.
  • Advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is probably the Palestinian’s next move. While it’s not a “win-win” situation for the Palestinians as the ICJ might decide against their claim for jurisdiction over the settlements’ territory, it is definitely a “win-no lose” situation where they can gain with a decision in their favor or remain in the same situation as they are now if the ICJ rules against their claim for jurisdiction.
  • The Human Rights Committee, the professional body charged with the implementation and interpretation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which the Palestinians joined in their first round of ratification of treaties. When the Palestinians come before the committee, one of the decisions the committee will have to make will relate to the treaty’s territorial applicability, and to that end, the committee will have to decide whether Palestinian territory includes the settlements. I doubt that the professional committee will desire to deal with such a hot political and diplomat potato, and anyway, such a review is not scheduled for the upcoming year.
  • Lastly, as was suggested here by my good friend and colleague, Sigall Horovitz, Israel has also the option of joining to the Rome Statute and submitting a declaration under article 124 with an attempt to gain a delay of seven years with regard to the ICC’s jurisdiction over any allegation of war crimes committed by Israel.

It seems that the already complicated Israeli-Palestinian situation just got more complicated, and while it’s unclear what the outcome will be, I’m just not sure that outcome of the Palestinian move was as aggressive as it seemed at first glance. The question of the settlements is obviously broader than the discussion presented above, and in this short comment I presented my thoughts on one specific aspect related to them following the recent developments.

Why the Palestinian Authority Should Avoid Arafat’s Death

by Kevin Jon Heller

So this is a well-intentioned but problematic idea:

The Palestinians want the International Criminal Court (ICC) to launch an investigation into the death of Yasser Arafat, a senior Fatah official announced on Sunday.

Jamal Muheissen, member of the Fatah Central Committee, claimed that Israel was responsible for the death of Arafat, who died in November 2004.

“This file will be presented to the International Criminal Court,” Muheissen told the Palestinian Shms News Agency. “We want to bring the Israeli occupation to trial for every crime it committed against our people.”

[snip]

Arafat, who signed the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords with Israel but then led an uprising after subsequent talks broke down in 2000, died aged 75.

His death came four weeks after he fell ill following a meal, suffering from vomiting and stomach pains, in his Ramallah compound while surrounded by Israeli tanks.

To begin with, even if the Court had jurisdiction, it is unlikely that the OTP would investigate Arafat’s death. There are indeed significant questions about his death, and it would not surprise me if Israel is responsible for it. But the case is far from clear, and the OTP would be hard-pressed to investigate it effectively. So the OTP would almost certainly choose — if it ever opened a formal investigation into the situation in Palestine, which I continue to strongly doubt — to focus on much more obvious crimes committed by Palestine and Israel.

The jurisdictional issue, however, is the real kicker. Arafat died in 2004, so in principle his death is within the ICC’s temporal jurisdiction. And unlike my friend Dov Jacobs, I don’t think Palestine is categorically prohibited from accepting the Court’s jurisdiction earlier than 13 June 2014 through a second Art. 12(3) declaration. But does Palestine really want to force the Court to determine whether it was a state in 2004? The first declaration was very smart — although the judges will still have to decide at some point on Palestinian statehood, the fact that the declaration does not purport to accept jurisdiction prior to UNGA Resolution 67/19 makes it very unlikely the judges will second-guess the OTP. All bets would be off, though, with a second declaration that looked back to 2004. There would be no conflict between the judiciary and the OTP if the judges refused to conclude that Palestine was a state when Arafat died; on the contrary, the OTP seems to believe that Palestine was not a state — at least for purposes of ICC membership — until the UNGA upgraded its status. Moreover, the judges can’t exactly relish having to determine not only when Palestine became a state, but also the proper test for making that determination. So we can expect them to take a very conservative approach to Palestinian statehood.

There is little question that the case for Palestine’s statehood has received a significant boost by its membership in the ICC. The last thing Palestine should do now is risk undoing all of its good work by pushing the Court to investigate an unclear event committed more than a decade ago.

Unfortunately, the ICC Doesn’t Work the Way Palestine Wants It To

by Kevin Jon Heller

According to this report in the Times of Israel, the Palestinian Authority would be willing to forego the ICC if Israel agreed to freeze its settlement activity:

RAMALLAH — A senior Palestinian official said Sunday that the first subject to be brought before the International Criminal Court at The Hague in the Palestinian Authority’s legal campaign against Israel would be settlement construction.

The official told The Times of Israel that land seizures in occupied territory constituted a clear violation of international law. Still, he noted that the appeal to the ICC would be withdrawn if Israel were to freeze settlement construction, and added that the Palestinian Authority had conveyed to Israel an official message to that effect, through Jordan and Egypt.

Unfortunately, the Rome Statute does not allow Palestine to pursue this kind of bargaining strategy. To begin with, now that Palestine has submitted an Article 12(3) declaration and ratified the Rome Statute, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has no say in what, if anything, the OTP decides to investigate. If the OTP wants to investigate only Hamas’s rocket attacks, it can. If it wants to investigate only Israeli and Palestinian crimes in Gaza, ignoring the settlements entirely, it can. If it wants to investigate the settlements but only after dealing with all of the crimes in Gaza, it can. The PA needs to understand that. If it wanted to ensure that the OTP investigated settlements, it needed to avoid ratifying the Rome Statute and submit an Article 12(3) declaration that was limited to the West Bank. I don’t think the OTP would have acted on such a declaration, but that route would have at least limited the OTP to accepting or rejecting the PA’s terms — the OTP would not have had jurisdiction to examine events in Gaza. Once Palestine ratified the Rome Statute, however, it lost even that limited control. Now investigative and prosecutorial decisions are in the hands of the OTP.

For similar reasons, the PA could not “withdraw… the appeal to the ICC” if Israel froze the settlements. The OTP could investigate and prosecute settlement-related activity even if the PA was completely opposed to it doing so. (Just as Israel’s opposition to the Court is legally irrelevant.) The PA could not even prevent the OTP from investigating settlement activity by immediately withdrawing from the ICC — its Article 12(3) declaration would still be in effect, and Palestine would remain a member of the Court for another year. At best such a dramatic act would simply force the OTP to make investigative decisions more quickly.

The ICC might have been an effective bargaining chip with Israel (and Israel’s client state, the US) before the PA submitted the Article 12(3) declaration and ratified the Rome Statute. Once the PA took those steps, though, its leverage ended. Now the fate of the investigation into the situation in Palestine lies solely in the hands of the OTP.

H-Diplo Roundtable on David Bosco’s “Rough Justice”

by Kevin Jon Heller

H-Diplo, part of H-Net, recently hosted a virtual roundtable on David Bosco’s excellent book Rough Justice:The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics, published by Oxford last year. Erik Vroeten introduced the roundtable, and Sam Moyn, David Kaye, and I submitted reviews. David then wrote a response. Here is a snippet from Erik’s introduction:

It is my pleasure to introduce the distinguished and diverse set of reviewers of this timely and important book. Samuel Moyn embeds Bosco’s book in a longer history of the tensions between power and justice. If international justice is not impartial, then it loses its legitimacy. Yet, powerful states have always had incentives to interfere with individual exercises of justice and they rarely fail to act on these temptations.  The ICC, despite all its normative appeal, has been unable to break this pattern.

David Kaye lauds Bosco for the clarity of his exposition and for treating the intersection between idealism and power politics “with great modesty and insight, and without a hint of dogma.” Yet, Kaye also finds that in evaluating the ICC we must look beyond power politics. Questions about the way the ICC has had more subtle influences on how national, subnational, and international actors conceive of justice-related issues are not answered in this book. Looking at such questions may lead to a different and more nuanced perspective about the role of the ICC in international affairs.

Kevin Jon Heller praises Bosco for writing “[..] a history of a complex international organization that is eminently readable yet does not sacrifice analytic rigor.” He especially appreciates the “deceptively simple theoretical structure,” which characterizes the relationship between the Court and powerful states. Yet, Heller also has some pointed criticisms. Most notably, he believes that Bosco underplays the failings of Luis Moreno-Ocampo as the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC. He also takes issue with some historical assessments. At times, Heller argues, Bosco understates the agency of the Court. For example, Moreno-Ocampo was under no obligation to accept the Security Council’s terms on Libya. At other times, Bosco oversells what the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) might have done. It is really not up to the OTP to lobby in pursuit of referrals against non-member states.

I share the reviewers’ praise for the analytical clarity of the book. From the perspective of my discipline, international relations, I hope it will contribute to more subtle understandings of how power affects the workings of international institutions. But, as the reviews show, there are also important lessons for historians and lawyers. As in his previous volume,), David Bosco has given us a book that has the distinguished qualities of being clear, interesting, and persuasive.

The roundtable is well worth your time. You can download a PDF of all the contributions here.

Do Attacks on ISIS in Syria Justify the “Unwilling or Unable” Test?

by Kevin Jon Heller

Almost three years ago to the day, I critiqued an article by Ashley Deeks that argued the right of self-defence under Art. 51 of the UN Charter extends to situations in which states are “unwilling or unable” to prevent non-state actors from using their territory to launch armed attacks. As I noted in my post, Deeks herself admitted that she had “found no cases in which states clearly assert that they follow the test out of a sense of legal obligation (i.e., the opinio juris aspect of custom).”

When Deeks wrote her article, ISIS did not yet exist — and the US and other states had not started attacking ISIS in Syria. It is not surprising, therefore, that Deeks is now relying on the international response to ISIS to argue, in the words of a new post at Lawfare, that “the ‘unwilling or unable’ test is starting to seem less controversial and better settled as doctrine.”

There is no question that the US believes the “unwilling or unable” test is consistent with Art. 51. As Jens noted a few months ago, the US officially invoked the test with regard to ISIS and the Khorasan Group in a letter to the Security Council. Moreover, the UK seems to agree with the US: according to Deeks, the UK submitted a similar Art. 51 letter to the Security Council, stating that it supports international efforts to defend Iraq “by striking ISIL sites and military strongholds in Syria” — a position that, in her view,”implicitly adopts the ‘unwilling or unable’ test.”

Deeks does not provide a link to the UK letter, but I have little doubt she is characterizing the UK’s position accurately. I have significant issues, though, with the rest of her post, which argues that three other factors related to the international response to ISIS support the “unwilling or unable” test. Let’s go in order. Here is Deeks’ first argument:

[S]tates such as Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE, which also have undertaken airstrikes in Syria, presumably are relying on the same legal theory as the United States and UK.  (That said, those states have not proffered clear statements about their legal theories.)

There are two problems with this claim. To begin with, even if the four states are relying on “unwilling or unable” to justify their attacks on ISIS in Syria, they have not said so publicly — which means that their actions cannot qualify as opinio juris in support of the test. The publicity requirement is Customary Law 101.

More importantly, though, and pace Deeks, it is actually exceptionally unlikely that these states support the “unwilling or unable” test. All four are members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which has consistently rejected the test, most notably in response to Turkey’s cross-border attacks on the PKK in Iraq (see Ruys at p. 431):

We strongly condemn the repeated actions of Turkish armed forces violating the territorial integrity of Iraq under the pretext of fighting guerrilla elements hiding inside Iraqi territory. … We also reject the so-called ‘hot pursuit’ measures adopted by Turkey to justify such actions that are abhorrent to international law and to the norms of practice amongst States.

To be sure, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE have not rejected the “unwilling or unable” test since 9/11 — the statement by NAM above was made in 2000. But there is little reason to believe that their understanding of Art. 51 has fundamentally changed over the past decade. On the contrary, all four are also members of the Arab League, and in 2006 the Arab League formally rejected the “unwilling or unable” test in the context of Israel’s attacks on Hezbollah in Lebanon (see Ruys at p. 453).

Here is Deeks’ second argument:

Iraq vocally has supported strikes within Syria.

This is not surprising, given that ISIS is using Syria as a base for attacks on Iraq. But does Iraq’s support for airstrikes on ISIS in Syria count as opinio juris in favour of the “unwilling or unable” test? I doubt it. After all, not only is Iraq a member of the Arab League, it consistently denounced Turkey’s attacks on PKK bases in its territory between 2007 and 2008 as inconsistent with its sovereignty (see Ruys at p. 461). Iraq’s attitude toward the “unwilling or unable” test thus seems driven exclusively by political opportunism; there is no indication that it considers the test to represent customary international law.

Here is Deeks third argument:

Syria itself has not objected to these intrusions into its territory.

This factor seriously complicates Deeks’ argument. Another word for “not objecting” is “consenting.” And if Syria is consenting to attacks on ISIS in its territory, it is problematic to simply assume — as Deeks does — that all such attacks provide evidence in favour of the “unwilling or unable” test. The US and UK may not want to rely on Syrian consent to justify their attacks. But it seems likely that Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE are relying on Syrian consent rather than Syrian unwillingness or inability to justify their attacks on ISIS in Syria — particularly given their traditional narrow understanding of Art. 51.

Finally, it is important to note what Deeks says immediately after claiming that “[i]In view of these developments, the ‘unwilling or unable’ test is starting to seem less controversial and better settled as doctrine”:

Whether other European states ultimately commit to airstrikes in Syria will be informative; to date, states such as France, Denmark, and Belgium only have provided support to strikes against ISIS within Iraq, not Syria.

This is an important admission, because it means that a member of P-5 and two other important Western states have suggested they are not comfortable with using the “unwilling or unable” test to justify attacks on ISIS in Syria.

So, to recap: the US and UK clearly support the “unwilling or unable” test; Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE are likely basing their willingness to attack ISIS in Syria on Syrian consent; Iraq has a completely opportunistic approach to the “unwilling or unable” test; and France, Denmark, and Belgium seem to reject the test, even if they have not done so explicitly.

And yet we are supposed to believe that the “unwilling or unable” test “is starting to seem less controversial and better settled as doctrine”?

The OTP’s Afghanistan Investigation: A Response to Vogel

by Kevin Jon Heller

As a number of commentators have recently noted, the latest report on the OTP’s preliminary-examination activities indicates that the OTP is specifically considering whether US forces are responsible for war crimes relating to detainee treatment in Afghanistan — something it only hinted at in its 2013 report. Here are the relevant statements (pp. 22-23):

94. The Office has been assessing available information relating to the alleged abuse of detainees by international forces within the temporal jurisdiction of the Court. In particular, the alleged torture or ill-treatment of conflict-related detainees by US armed forces in Afghanistan in the period 2003-2008 forms another potential case identified by the Office. In accordance with the Presidential Directive of 7 February 2002, Taliban detainees were denied the status of prisoner of war under article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention but were required to be treated humanely. In this context, the information available suggests that between May 2003 and June 2004, members of the US military in Afghanistan used so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” against conflict-related detainees in an effort to improve the level of actionable intelligence obtained from interrogations. The development and implementation of such techniques is documented inter alia in declassified US Government documents released to the public, including Department of Defense reports as well as the US Senate Armed Services Committee’s inquiry. These reports describe interrogation techniques approved for use as including food deprivation, deprivation of clothing, environmental manipulation, sleep adjustment, use of individual fears, use of stress positions, sensory deprivation (deprivation of light and sound), and sensory overstimulation.

95. Certain of the enhanced interrogation techniques apparently approved by US senior commanders in Afghanistan in the period from February 2003 through June 2004, could, depending on the severity and duration of their use, amount to cruel treatment, torture or outrages upon personal dignity as defined under international jurisprudence.

I highly recommend the posts by David Bosco at Multilateralist and Ryan Goodman at Just Security on the OTP’s report. But I have reservations about Ryan Vogel’s post at Lawfare. Although Vogel makes some good points about the political implications of the OTP’s decision to investigate US actions, his legal criticisms of the OTP are based on a problematic understanding of how gravity and complementarity function in the Rome Statute.

First, there is this claim:

Whatever one’s views regarding U.S. detention policy in Afghanistan from 2003-2008, the alleged U.S. conduct is surely not what the world had in mind when it established the ICC to address “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.”  The ICC was designed to end impunity for the most egregious and shocking breaches of the law, and it is hard to see how alleged detainee abuse by U.S. forces meets that standard.

It is not completely clear what Vogel’s objection is, but it’s likely one of two things: (1) he does not believe US actions in Afghanistan qualify as torture; or (2) he does not believe any acts of torture the US did commit are collectively serious enough to justify a formal OTP investigation.The first objection is irrelevant: whether acts qualify as torture is for the ICC to decide, not the US. The second objection is more serious, but is based on a misunderstanding of the difference between situational gravity and case gravity…

Why Can’t US Courts Understand IHL?

by Kevin Jon Heller

While researching an essay on the use of analogy in IHL, I had the misfortune of reading Al Warafi v. Obama, a recent habeas case involving an alleged member of the Taliban. Al Warafi argued that even if he was a member of the Taliban — which he denied — he was entitled to be treated in detention as permanent medical personnel under Article 24 of the First Geneva Convention (GC I), which provides that “[m]edical personnel exclusively engaged in the search for, or the collection, transport or treatment of the wounded or sick, or in the prevention of disease… shall be respected and protected in all circumstances.” That protected status is very important, because other provisions in GC I — as well as in the First Additional Protocol (AP I), which extends the rules of GC I — require medics to be given a number of protections and privileges that other detainees do not enjoy.

The District Court rejected Al Warafi’s argument, concluding (p. 17) that he did not qualify as permanent medical personnel under Article 24 because the Taliban had not provided him with “the proof required by the Convention — that is, official identification demonstrating that he is entitled to protected status under Article 24. Absent such identification, petitioner simply cannot prove that he qualifies as Article 24 personnel.” In reaching the conclusion, the District Court specifically relied on paragraph 734 of the Commentary to AP I:

A soldier with medical duties is actually an able-bodied person who might well engage in combat; a medical vehicle could be used to transport ammunition rather than the wounded or medical supplies. Thus it is essential for medical personnel, units, materials and transports to be identified in order to ensure the protection to which they are entitled, which is identical to that accorded the wounded, sick and shipwrecked.

The DC Circuit then rejected Al Warafi’s appeal of the District Court’s decision on the same grounds.

I was puzzled by paragraph 734 when I came across it in the District Court’s decision. It seemed obvious that a medic who was not wearing the identification required by GC I and AP I could be targeted without violating the principle of distinction. It seemed equally obvious that a captured medic without proper identification might have a difficult time convincing his captors of his status. But I found it difficult to believe GC I and AP 1 would actually deprive a medic of his protected status simply because he did not have the proper identification. Doing so would serve no humanitarian purpose whatsoever, assuming the individual could establish his status by other means.

But paragraph 734 said what it said. So surely the District Court’s conclusion was correct. Right?

Wrong. Had the District Court bothered to read the next twelve paragraphs in the Commentary to AP I, it would have realised that, in fact, proper identification is not necessary for a medic to be entitled to protected status. Here is paragraph 746 of the Commentary to AP I:

The basic principle is stated in this first paragraph. The right to respect and protection of medical personnel and medical objects would be meaningless if they could not be clearly recognized. The Parties to the conflict therefore have a great interest in seeing that such personnel and objects can be identified by the enemy. Thus the rule laid down here is in the interests of those who are responsible for observing it. In fact, it would be the medical personnel and medical objects of the Party concerned which would suffer from poor means of identification and which could become the target of an enemy that had not identified them. Yet it must be emphasized that the means of identification do not constitute the right to protection, and from the moment that medical personnel or medical objects have been identified, shortcomings in the means of identification cannot be used as a pretext for failing to respect them.

In other words: the District Court and the DC Circuit should not have dismissed Al Warafi’s habeas petition on the ground the Taliban had not issued him with “official identification demonstrating that he is entitled to protected status.” Neither GC I nor AP I require such identification.

Another day, another misunderstanding of IHL by US courts. Sad, but predictable.