Eugene Kontorovich has responded at Volokh Conspiracy to my previous post about politically-motivated acts of violence on the high seas. I invite interested readers to examine for themselves the various documents Eugene and I discuss; in this final post I simply want to correct a fundamental error on Eugene’s part concerning the Harvard Draft Convention on Piracy — an error that goes to the very heart of our debate. Both of our arguments depend on the Draft Convention and its commentary, because — as Eugene points out — the ILC Commentary to the Law of the Sea Treaty specifically notes that the Commission “in general” agreed with the Draft Convention. The proper interpretation of the Draft Convention, therefore, is of critical importance to the proper interpretation of the Law of the Sea Treaty.
Here is what Eugene says about whether “private ends” include acts of violence on the high seas that are politically motivated:
The Harvard Draft supports the lack of any subjective, motive-based inquiry. Here is exactly what it says in its commentary on the “private ends” part of the definition of piracy:
[A]lthough it is true that the typical pirate of fiction and tradition was an indiscriminative plunderer, expediency and not traditional epithets or the fancy of traditional concepts should direct the definition of the common jurisdiction over piracy, and every consideration of certainty in prosecution and of assured protection in places outside the territory of all states argues that the jurisdiction to seize and to punish a robber or a killer for private ends should not depend on whether the offender had by acts or words displayed an intent to plunder or slay only once or oftener, or on whether he intended to attack only the citizens of certain states and their ships and other property, or to prey on the people and commerce of all nations indiscriminately. Such matters of collateral intent of an offender (often uncertain and indistinct) and of his transactions other than those involved in the case at hand, are very unsatisfactory as elements in a basis of state jurisdiction.
On the other hand, the language in the Draft that Prof. Heller says best supports his position does not come from the commentary on “private ends,” or indeed from the definition of piracy at all (contained in Art. 3). Rather, it comes from the commentary on Art. 14, which is not defining, or even discussing piracy at all, but rather the authority of states with traditional jurisdiction to apply non-piracy law.
Eugene’s claim about Articles 3 and 16 (his reference to Article 14 must be a typo) is extremely misleading. It is true that the language on which I rely does not come from Article 3, which defines piracy under international law — the kind of piracy to which universal jurisdiction applies under Article 2 of the Draft Convention, and the kind of piracy that is governed by the substantive provisions in Articles 3-15 of the Draft Convention. But I quote the commentary to Article 16 instead of to Article 3 for a very specific reason: because Article 16 deals with acts that do not qualify as acts of piracy under international law and are thus excluded from universal jurisdiction and the substantive provisions of the Draft Convention. Here is the text of Article 16 (emphasis mine)…
Both Eugene and Maggie disagree with my claim that politically-motivated acts of violence on the high seas were not traditionally considered piracy under international law, but were instead simply criminal acts that the offended state could prosecute as it saw fit. Here is Eugene (my emphasis; combining two comments):
The rule is clear as both a matter of customary international law and the Law of the Sea Convention. On the latter score, the “private” ends requirement of the UNCLOS Art. 101 (which defines piracy) has to be read in conjunction with Art. 102, which distinguishes between “warship” or “government ship” – which cannot commit piracy while under governmental control and “private” ships, which are the kind that can be pirates. Thus “private” clearly means “non-governmental,” rather than selfish or not selfish.
I would add that the Harvard commentary only seems to make an exception for the classic hard case – rebel warships in an actual belligerency. The International Law Commission seems to endorse that exception in its commentary to the treaty draft, but at the same time seem to exclude merchant vessels not in a belligerent context from an possible immunity.
There are three problems with Eugene’s argument. First, it does not address the League of Nations report, which specifically states that politically-motivated acts do not qualify as piracy. The report adopted a private/political binary, not a private/public one. Second, the Harvard commentary does not make an exception only for “rebel warships in an actual belligerency.” On the contrary, the commentary specifically rejects the idea that the exception applies only to rebel groups that have been recognized as belligerents. Here is the quote from my previous post (emphasis mine)…
As Julian noted earlier, the Ninth Circuit, in an opinion written by Judge Kozinski, has decided that anti-whaling activism qualifies as piracy if it involves violence against a ship on the high seas. I’m running short for time right now, but I want to briefly respond to Kozinski’s key claim about the traditional understanding of piracy’s “private ends” requirement (p.4; emphasis mine; internal citations omitted):
The district court construed “private ends” as limited to those pursued for “financial enrichment.” But the common understanding of “private” is far broader. The term is normally used as an antonym to “public” (e.g., private attorney general) and often refers to matters of a personal nature that are not necessarily connected to finance (e.g., private property, private entrance, private understanding and invasion of privacy)…. We give words their ordinary meaning unless the context requires otherwise. The context here is provided by the rich history of piracy law, which defines acts taken for private ends as those not taken on behalf of a state.
Kozinski doesn’t mention any of the historical sources that ostensibly constitute this “rich history”; he simply cites the dictionary definition of “private” and a 25-year-old Belgian case that has never been followed by any other court. But that’s not surprising: although the traditional understanding of piracy is not limited to acts of violence motivated by the desire for financial gain (an error made by many scholars and activists), there is significant historical support for the idea that piracy specifically excludes acts of violence that are politically motivated. Here, for example, is what the rapporteur of the League of Nations Committee of Experts for the Progressive Codification of International Law had to say in 1927 about the meaning of “private ends” (emphasis added)…
Matt Bors takes the lead, at least for today:
That may seem like a ridiculous question. After all, Libya is doing everything in its power to prosecute Saif domestically — and he is facing a variety of charges that carry the death penalty. But consider the text of Art. 17(2), the “unwillingness” prong of the the admissibility test:
In order to determine unwillingness in a particular case, the Court shall consider, having regard to the principles of due process recognized by international law, whether one or more of the following exist, as applicable… (a) The proceedings were or are being undertaken or the national decision was made for the purpose of shielding the person concerned from criminal responsibility for crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court referred to in article 5.
As I noted in my previous post, Libya has not denied that Saif will be prosecuted in Zintan before (supposedly) being prosecuted in Tripoli; indeed, Taha Baara, the official spokesperson for Libya’s General Prosecutor, specifically told Reuters last month that ”[i]nvestigations for trying him for war crimes are over and he will be put on trial for that at a later time.” That acknowledgment needs to be read in conjunction with a number of statements by Libya. First, Libya insists that it is responsible for both prosecutions — thereby denying the disquieting possibility that the Zintan case is being prosecuted by a militia over which the Libyan government has no control (para. 6; emphasis mine)…
As I have explained before, Libya’s admissibility challenge must fail if it cannot ensure that the militia in Zintan who have Saif custody will transfer him to the government to stand trial, because Art. 17(3) of the Rome Statute deems a state “unable” to prosecute if, “due to a total or substantial collapse or unavailability of its national judicial system, the State is unable to obtain the accused.” A state’s inability to apply its criminal law to all of its territory is the prototypical example of “unavailability.” Moreover, in a hearing at before the Pre-Trial Chamber last October, the Libyan government admitted on the record that a trial in Zintan on the conduct at issue in the ICC proceedings could not satisfy Art. 17 (pp. 19-20; emphasis mine):
Since the filing of Libya’s 1 May 2012 challenge, the investigation of Mr Gaddafi has continued to progress and other arrangements for his trial have been made by the new government. These arrangements include the building of a courtroom complex and prison facility in Tripoli, which is known as Tajura, and although there’s been some recent contention in the press as to the planned location of any future trial, President el-Magariaf confirmed to the press on 22 September 2012 that there is no prospect of a trial taking place in Zintan due to inadequate courtroom facilities and the other infrastructure that will be needed for a trial.
With each passing day it becomes increasingly clear that Libya has no reasonable prospect of obtaining Saif from the Zintan militia anytime soon. The OTP’s most recent filing makes clear (para. 43) that it is not satisfied that Libya can obtain Saif — skepticism that needs to be taken particularly seriously in light of the OTP’s consistent support for a domestic prosecution. (Which seems to be changing, given the OTP’s most recent filing and a couple previous ones.) And the OPCD’s most recent filing – a withering critique of Libya’s attempts to support its admissibility challenge with anything more than unsubstantiated allegations — provides far more detail concerning Libya’s lack of control over the Zintan milita holding Saif…
[Michael W. Lewis is a Professor of Law at Ohio Northern University where he teaches International Law and the Law of War.]
In his Hamdan opinion in 2006 Justice Stevens described the conflict between al Qaeda and the United States as a NIAC (his opinion did not address in any way the geographical scope of that NIAC). He then went on to measure the process provided by the military commissions against the requirements laid out in AP I Art. 75. At the time I found this to be odd because AP I is supposed to apply to IAC’s while AP II applies to NIAC’s. As I pointed out here this was all the more puzzling because AP II Art. 6 is worded in almost exactly the same way as AP I Art. 75. However, Art. 6 is four paragraphs shorter than Art. 75 and fails to provide some of the protections that Justice Stevens found to be indispensable in his opinion striking down the military commissions. At the time everyone seemed to agree with Stevens’ reliance on Art. 75 and most critiques of the future military commissions also referenced Art. 75 as the standard against which they were to be measured. I don’t believe I have ever seen a reference to AP II Art. 6 in any of these discussions. This agreement in relying upon an AP I article to determine the indispensable guarantees associated with a NIAC cut across the political spectrum from members of the JAG Corps to ICRC representatives to members of Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First. When, as someone brand new to academia, I raised the textual problem one individual patiently explained to me that a lot had changed since 1977 and intervening wars, particularly the one in the former Yugoslavia, had changed the way this divide was perceived.
Why am I mentioning this now? Because it seems as though IHL scholars currently have an interest in AP II that did not seem to exist in 2006. In a variety of areas from Deborah’s analysis of the White Paper to panelists at various events insisting that the line between AP I and AP II should not be blurred there appears to be a (re)new(ed) interest in keeping the provisions of the two Protocols separate. Meanwhile Kevin’s analysis of the White Paper relies heavily on provisions found in AP I.
My own view is that textually there is a clear divide between…
Last May, I offered some critical thoughts on Opinio Juris about Charles Taylor’s 50-year sentence at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. I have just finished a short essay (8,000 words) on Taylor’s sentence that will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of International Criminal Justice; you can find the essay on SSRN. Here is the introduction:
On 30 May 2012, despite concluding that he was liable for crimes committed in Sierra Leone only as an accessory, Trial Chamber II of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) sentenced Charles Taylor to 50 years imprisonment – the second longest sentence in the Tribunal’s history. This article provides a critical analysis of Taylor’s sentence, asking whether it comports with the principle – widely accepted by international tribunals – that a sentence must not be ‘out of reasonable proportion with a line of sentences passed in similar circumstances for the same offences’. The article concludes that Taylor’s sentence is, in fact disproportionate in comparison to other sentences imposed by the SCSL – Augustine Gbao’s 25-year sentence in particular.
In reaching that conclusion, the article is mindful of how difficult it is to reliably compare sentences. Sentencing is highly discretionary, and no two cases are ever completely alike. Moreover, sentencing judgments rarely explain in a systematic way how the judges have decided upon a particular sentence; as Boas et al. have noted, ‘it often seems as though the trial chamber has simply pulled the number out of the air’. The Taylor Sentencing Judgment, unfortunately, is no exception. A mere 40 pages long – in contrast to the 2,499-page Trial Judgment – it discusses the gravity of Taylor’s offences, his individual circumstances, and the relevant aggravating and mitigating factors, but makes little attempt to explain why those factors require a 50-year sentence.
The article itself is divided into four sections. Section 1 provides a brief summary of the Sentencing Judgment. Section 2 explains why the Trial Chamber has overestimated the gravity of Taylor’s offenses. Section 3 argues that the Trial Chamber misapplied a number of aggravating factors and impermissibly double-counted others. Finally, Section 4 criticizes the Trial Chamber’s refusal to consider Taylor’s contributions to the Sierra Leone peace process as a mitigating factor.
Comments and criticisms welcome!
Noam Lubell and Nathan Derejko, both at the University of Essex, have posted “A Global Battlefield? Drones and the Geographical Scope of Armed Conflict” on SSRN. The essay will appear in the same Journal of International Criminal Justice symposium as my essay on signature strikes. Their abstract is all of one sentence, so here are the first couple of paragraphs:
Defining the geographical scope of an armed conflict is a matter that carries weight in more ways than one. Outside the legal sphere the question might seem like one that requires nothing more than common sense – if two (or more) parties are engaged in battle, then the area of conflict is wherever they are fighting. The reality – or at least the legal reality – is unfortunately one that does not conform to simple formulations. Being ‘at war’ or ‘going to war’ does not necessarily mean that the whole of a state is in fact embroiled in an armed conflict. For example, while most of Iraq became a zone of armed conflict in 2003, life for most people in the United States continued uninterrupted while its troops invaded a country on the other side of the globe. This can even be the case for both states involved, as was seen in the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas conflict between the UK and Argentina. The same is true for armed conflicts between a state and an organised armed group, which may be raging in one part of the country with little manifestation in other areas as is evident from the armed conflict between the armed forces of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which, for more than 20 years, was largely confined to the southern island of Mindanao. Clearly then, the actual hostilities do not necessarily correspond with the borders of the states(s) concerned. Another possibility is to base the determination of geographical scope on the existence of actual fighting. In other words, wherever there are hostilities, there is an armed conflict. But this too has its obstacles, including the question of how to determine what should count as hostilities, and whether there must be a temporal consistency within a specific geographical area that would eliminate occasional flare-ups from the scope. These issues will be returned to in greater detail in later sections.
Our focus is on the particular challenges raised to the geographical scope of armed conflict by the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly referred to as drones. Much has been written about drones from a variety of perspectives,4 and we do not intend to repeat all the debates. Instead, the aim of this work is to asses not the drones themselves, but rather to examine one of the perceived ways in which the use of drones is affecting, if not leading, to the metamorphosis of armed conflict. The very notion of armed conflict appears to be going through a process of shape-shifting whereby the use of new technologies such as drones or cyber-operations are slowly erasing the crucial significance of geographical boundaries, truncating vast distances, and diminishing the need for boots on the ground.
The essay is absolutely superb — I wish I had written it myself. If I have one criticism, it’s that the authors could have spent more time discussing what actions suffice to establish that an individual located away from an active combat zone has assumed the kind of continuous combat function in a terrorist group that makes him targetable at any time, not simply when he directly participates in hostilities.
In any case, it’s a must-read. Check it out.
According to the White Paper (p. 6), a US citizen “who is located outside the United States and is an operational leader continually planning attacks against US persons or interests” cannot lawfully be killed unless, inter alia, “an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of attack against the United States.” Early criticism of the White Paper has focused on how it defines imminence. The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer, for example, says that it “redefines the word imminence in a way that deprives the word of its ordinary meaning.” That’s actually something of an understatement; as I’ll discuss in this post, the White Paper’s entire approach to the concept of imminence is deeply confused — and deeply problematic from the standpoint of international law.
The first thing to note is that it’s not clear why the White Paper even discusses imminence. As I noted in my previous post, the White Paper’s central premise is that all targeted killings of “senior operational leaders” in “al-Qa’ida or its associated forces” take place in the context of a global non-international armed conflict (NIAC) and are thus all subject to the laws of war (IHL). The White Paper also takes the position that the laws of war apply to a U.S. citizen in the same way that they apply to a non-citizen; it specifically argues (p. 3) that because ”the military may constitutionally use force against a US citizen who is part of enemy forces,” the DoJ “does not believe that US citizenship would immunize a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or its associated forces from a use of force abroad.”
Although I reject the White Paper’s claim that the US is engaged in a global NIAC with “al-Qa’ida and its associated forces,” I have no problem with the idea that US citizenship does not affect the targetability of an individual who is otherwise a legitimate target under IHL. But why, then, discuss imminence at all? It is black-letter IHL that a legitimate target can be targeted at any time; it is not necessary to show that the target is an imminent threat, regardless of how imminence is defined. Given that the White Paper assumes both that all targeted killings of US citizens take place in armed conflict and that US citizenship does not affect targetability under IHL, it should consider whether a US citizen poses “an imminent threat of attack against the United States” — or against anything else — to be completely irrelevant.
So why does the White Paper graft an imminence requirement onto IHL? There are two possible explanations…
There is much to say about the DoJ White Paper on the targeted killing of US citizens, which reflects the US’s idiosyncratic interpretation of international law. In this post I want to focus on the White Paper’s primary — and in my view fatal — flaw: its complete failure to address the relationship between the organized armed groups that it considers to be engaged in a single non-international armed conflict (NIAC) with the US.
The White Paper begins with the standard premise that “[t]he United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qa’ida and its associated forces” (p. 2). It then claims that the armed conflict in question is a global NIAC that extends to any member of “al-Qai’da and its associated forces” anywhere in the world (p. 3; citations omitted; emphasis mine):
[T]he United States retains its authority to use force against al-Qa’ida and associated forces outside the area of hostilities that targets a senior operational leader of the enemy forces who is actively engaged in planning operations to kill Americans. The United States is currently in a non-international armed conflict with al-Qa’ida and its associated forces. Any U.S. operation would be part of this non-international armed conflict, even if it were to take place away from the zone of active hostilities.
After making that claim, the White Paper does something interesting: it explicitly addresses the argument that the existence of a NIAC between the US and al-Qaida must be determined according to the test established by the ICTY in Tadic – the test adopted by the ICRC, by the ICC, and by nearly all international law scholars. Here is what it says (pp. 3-4; some citations omitted)…
Michael Isikoff has obtained the 16-page memo. It is available here.
H/T — Lawfare.