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16 things to know about UN Sanctions

by Kristen Boon

The UN’s Department of Political Affairs recently published this list of “13 things to know about UN sanctions.”  If you scroll down on the link above, you’ll also see some great sanctions graphics.

United Nations Sanctions Primer

1. Since the creation of the United Nations, the Security Council has established 25 sanctions regimes. They have been used to support conflict resolution efforts, prevent the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, and counter terrorism.

2. “UN sanctions have proved to be an effective complement to other Security Council instruments and actions. We know it is not perfect, but there is also no doubt that it works,” Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman told the 15-Member of the Council in the 25 November briefing.

3. There are currently 15 sanction regimes, the highest number in the history of the Organization.

4. UN sanctions are fairly economical. The total cost of supporting the 15 sanctions regimes is less than $30 million per year.

5. The first United Nations sanctions regime was established in 1966 when the Security Council imposed sanctions on Southern Rhodesia. By a vote of 11 to 0 – with four abstentions – the Council declared an international embargo on 90 per cent of Rhodesia’s exports, forbade the UN’s then 122 Member States (there are now 193) to sell oil, arms, motor vehicles or airplanes to Rhodesia.

6. The most recent sanctions were applied against Yemen this November. The UN Council ordered a freeze of all assets and a global travel ban on Saleh, the rebel group’s military commander, Abd al-Khaliq al-Huthi, and the Houthi’s second-in-command, Abdullah Yahya al Hakim.

7. In 1999, the Council established its first sanctions monitoring group on Angola.

8. There are now 11 monitoring groups, teams and panels with a total of 66 experts working in support of the Security Council and its sanctions committees.

9. Expert panels regularly cooperate with international organizations, such as INTERPOL, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on issues related to travel bans, and with national authorities and the private sector on asset freezes.

10. DPA underscored in today’s briefing that UN sanctions are meant to be supportive not punitive. They are not meant to cripple states but to help them overcome instability, address massive human rights violations, curb illegal smuggling, and counter terrorism.

11. The DPA’s Security Council Affairs Division provides substantive and administrative support to the sanctions committees and expert panels; as well as engages the wider UN system in support of UN sanctions.

12. This year, among its other activities on sanctions, DPA let two missions on sanctions issues, one on the partial lifting of the arms embargo on Somalia and another on the termination of sanctions in Liberia. The aim was to strengthen these countries’ understanding of what the Council expects on sanctions issues and to enhance UN coordination on how the Organization can support implementation in these countries.

13. In 2006, the Secretary-General outlined four elements to improve the fairness and transparency of the sanctions procedures: the right to be informed; the right to be heard; the right to be reviewed by an affective review mechanism; and the need for periodic reviews, especially regarding the freezing of assets.

Let me add three things of my own:

14.   A recent UN high level review on sanctions took place between May – October 2014 (thus the reference to the 2006 document in #13 is a bit dated).  The background paper on the High Level Review website is well worth reading, as are the reports from the 3 working groups. See for example this briefing on Working Group 1, that included Security Council members.

15.   Technical assistance remains an important but controversial topic.   Australia proposed a resolution on technical assistance in November, 2014 but due to opposition by Russia, China and Argentina, the resolution was not put to a vote.   The basis of the opposition, as I understood it from statements during the Security Council session, was largely due to concern over an expansion of the Secretariat’s policy making role.   To put it differently, more technical assistance managed by the Secretariat might result in less Security Council authority.  Nonetheless, implementation gaps in sanctions remain a serious bar to sanctions effectiveness.  As sanctions become more sophisticated, so too do techniques of evasion, and for UN sanctions to be effective, there is no question that common ground will need to be identified to assist states, particularly, but not exclusively those states in whose territories individual and entities are targeted, neighboring states, and regional hegemons.

16.   There is growing support to expand the Ombudsperson’s jurisdiction to other sanctions regimes.  Currently, her office reviews delisting requests from the 1267 Al Qaida regime.   Individuals and entities listed under other regimes only have access to a focal point, who has far less powers.  If these proposals continue to gain momentum, there will be a significant improvement to the due process procedures noted above.  See an overview of developments in this debate here.

Do you have anything else to add to the list?  Please use the comments box to chime in.

Is the “Norm” Against Torture Dying (At Least in the U.S.)?

by Julian Ku

Christopher Kutz, Professor of Law in the Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program at Berkeley Law School, has a fascinating new essay examining the possibility that “norms” against torture and assassination have died in the United States in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.  Kutz is not writing to support the CIA interrogation program or the US government’s use of assassination, but he does think that, as a descriptive matter, the rules against torture and assassination may be dead or dying in the U.S. He suggests that democracies have a limited ability to maintain commitment to these kinds of norms because of a democracy’s “sensitivity” to public mobilization.  Eric Posner has a typically interesting response to Kutz here.

I don’t know if the norm against torture is dead in the U.S., but I will say that the U.S. public appears completely unmoved by the release of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s very critical report on the CIA interrogation program.  A raft of new polls shows that the U.S. public’s support for an absolute ban on torture remains relatively low, while a majority, or perhaps a strong plurality, support the actual CIA program and methods that was so harshly criticized by the Senate Report.  See the WSJ/NBC poll here.  See the Pew Research Survey poll here.  We can quibble about the details, but those post-Senate Report polls show almost no change from pre-Senate Report polls.

I emphasize again that the U.S. public’s support for the CIA program does not in any way justify the legality or the morality of the program.  But the public’s failure to support a ban on torture, especially the absolute ban on torture embedded in international law and U.S. law, cannot be ignored either.  It suggests there is little chance of a prosecution over the CIA program, and it really poses a tough challenge for international lawyers. What should the response of international lawyers be when public opinion in a democracy refuses to support a central key rule of international law?  As Kutz’s paper suggests, this whole episode suggests widely accepted international law norms can be fragile, even (or especially) in liberal democracies.

 

Guest Post: Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use

by Bede Sheppard

[Bede Sheppard is the deputy children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch, based in Barcelona]

At an event at the United Nations in Geneva this morning, the ambassadors of Norway and Argentina unveiled a set of six new “Guidelines” aimed at better protecting schools and universities from being used for military purposes during times of armed conflict. They are intended to respond to the practice of government forces and non-state armed groups converting schools and universities into bases or barracks, or using them as firing positions or places to cache weapons and ammunition.

This practice endangers students and teachers by turning their schools into targets for enemy attack. Students and teachers have been injured and killed in such attacks. It also exposes students to sexual violence, forced labor, and forced recruitment by the soldiers sharing their schools. Students must either stay at home and interrupt their education, or study alongside armed fighters while potentially in the line of fire.

The Guidelines urge all parties to armed conflict to refrain from using schools or universities for any purpose in support of the military effort, but state specifically that “functioning schools” should not be used, even if it is outside of normal school hours, or during the weekend or on school holidays. Schools that have been abandoned or evacuated because of the danger presented by the armed conflict should also not be used, except in circumstances in which fighting forces are presented with no viable alternative, and only as long as no choice is possible between such use of a school and another feasible method for obtaining a similar military advantage. The Guidelines reiterate the prohibition on destroying a school as a measure intended to deprive opposing parties of the ability to use them in the future, and provide guidance on how to respond if enemy forces are using a school, or if military forces are the only option for providing essential security in response to threats of an attack on a school.

Concerns about the negative consequences of where soldiers are accommodated—and resulting efforts to regulate their billeting—date back a long time. (more…)

Game On with New Player? Vietnam Files Statement Against China at UN Arbitral Tribunal

by Julian Ku

The government of Vietnam appears to have filed a statement of its legal views with the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea arbitral tribunal formed to resolve the Philippines-China dispute in the South China Sea.  It is a little unclear exactly what Vietnam has filed.  According to its Ministry of Foreign Affairs website:

In response to the question on Viet Nam’s position regarding the South China Sea Arbitration case, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam Le Hai Binh affirmed that:
“To protect its legal rights and interests in the East Sea which may be affected in the South China Sea Arbitration case, Viet Nam has expressed its position to the Tribunal regarding this case, and requested the Tribunal to pay due attention to the legal rights and interests of Viet Nam.”/.

According to the South China Morning Post, the Vietnamese submission has three points.

1) It supports the Philippines on the question of the tribunal’s jurisdiction.
2) It asks the tribunal to give due regard to Vietnam’s legal rights and interests
3) It rejects the legality of the Chinese “nine-dash line”.

I think this filing has much more political than legal significance.  As a legal matter, I don’t think there is any procedure in the UNCLOS dispute settlement system for third-party interventions, so I think this is really just like sending a letter to the arbitral tribunal.  It has no legal significance, and the tribunal has no obligation to consider it. But of course, it has the right to do so if it believes it is relevant to the dispute before it.

On the other hand, this is a political victory for the Philippines, since it means that Vietnam has tacitly agreed to join a common front against China.  I remain skeptical (as I wrote yesterday) of the Philippines’ legal strategy, even with this support from Vietnam, because China has the same arguments against Vietnam and it will not likely change course.   The next question: Will Vietnam file its own legal claim and form its own arbitral tribunal? That might push China into a different response, but I would still bet against it.

The Question of Prosecution

by Deborah Pearlstein

The 525-page executive summary of the torture report released this week, and the debate that has followed thus far, is in many respects so dense it is a struggle just to decide where to begin engaging. Having spent years of my life as a human rights lawyer working on precisely these issues – preparing reports on secret detentions, and indeed detainee deaths in U.S. custody, among other things – and having spent plenty of days in shock and horror at what we learned then, I had come to feel almost inured to new revelations. Power drill to the head? We’d seen that earlier. Detainee died of hypothermia having been left mostly naked in his dungeon-like cell? Knew that too. But beyond the important new detail about our treatment of detainees the report offers, it is for me the facts the report reveals about the level of fundamental professional incompetence giving rise to this program, and the extent of the CIA’s efforts to keep information about it from other parts of our own government – including the director of the FBI and two U.S. secretaries of state – that leaves me newly in awe. Among the many telling (and I believe unrefuted) passages of incompetence (p. 11 of the Report): “Numerous CIA officers had serious documented personal and professional problems – including histories of violence and records of abusive treatment of others- that should have called into question their suitability to participate” in the interrogation and detention program. More, the private psychologists CIA hired to develop, operate and assess its interrogation program lacked any “experience as an interrogator, knowledge of Al Qaida, background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise.” Even as I continue to work through the text of the report, it is clear that it should be required reading for all Americans.

For now, though, I want to begin with one of the questions the report raises that I find much more difficult to assess: whether and how those responsible for the acts of torture described in the report should be held accountable. (more…)

Why Doesn’t the U.S. Public Agree with International Law’s Absolute Ban on Torture?

by Julian Ku

I don’t have much useful to add to the already voluminous online debate on the legality or morality of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” or “torture” program.  In this post, I want to focus on an interesting data point coming out of this debate.  As best as I can tell, international law’s position that torture can never be legally justified doesn’t seem to be shared by a majority (or even close to a majority) of the U.S. public.  This doesn’t mean that the CIA program was legal.   But international lawyers need to also consider the fact that U.S. public support for international law’s absolute prohibition of torture has only declined over the past 13 years, despite the much greater awareness and public discussion of these issues, especially by international lawyers.

I don’t think I am wrong in stating that the CAT is essentially an absolute ban on torture, no matter what the circumstances or justification.  (From CAT Art. 2(2): “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability, or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”).  There might be some debate as to whether there is an implicit necessity defense in U.S. law, but I don’t think there is much international support for this view.  This absolutist position would seem to limit or perhaps eliminate the “necessity” defense that has drawn so much attention in the U.S. political debate. I think international law’s prohibition on torture in any circumstances explains why international lawyers are among the most vehement critics of the CIA program.

For instance, the U.N.’s Ben Emmerson is calling again for prosecutions, and experts continue to suggest foreign countries may prosecute Bush-era officials for torture international international law.  The ICC may open an investigation, although as Eugene Kontorovich outlines here, there are pretty serious jurisdictional obstacles including questions as to whether the CIA program involving 39 detainees would even satisfy the murky Art. 17 “gravity” requirement.  In any event, I think it is safe to say there consensus among most international lawyers that many if not all of the methods in the CIA program were indeed “torture”  or at least “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” treatment as defined in the Convention Against Torture.  Furthermore, there is strong support for “accountability” via prosecutions of Bush-era officials.

However, it is worth noting that reliable public opinion surveys show that U.S. public opinion has actually shifted away from the international law “absolute ban on torture” view toward a more flexible “torture is OK in some circumstances” view.  FiveThirtyEight.com points out that the Pew Research Survey, which has polled Americans on whether torture can be justified since 2004, has found a decline in support for the absolute ban on torture.  Indeed, in its last survey back in 2011, 53% of those surveyed said torture could “sometimes” or “often” (!!) be justified.  Another nearly 20% were willing to allow torture in “rare” cases.  Only 30% or so of those polled supported an absolute ban on torture, which is the position taken by international law.  This means nearly 70% of the U.S. public seems to be willing to tolerate torture in some exceptional circumstances.

An overnight poll after the Senate report was released has not shown drastically different numbers. When asked specifically about waterboarding and the other tactics described in the Senate report, 47% of the “likely voters” surveyed said they agreed the tactics should have been used, with 33% disagreeing and 20% unsure.  It is likely that many of the 20% are unlikely to support an absolute ban on torture, but might agree that waterboarding and other tactics in this particular case were unjustified.

Again, I am not claiming that public opinion should determine whether the CIA program was legal.  But international lawyers cannot ignore the disconnect between US public opinion and international law’s absolute ban on torture.   This disconnect may explain why, despite international law’s rejection of a necessity defense, the U.S. public debate is almost all about whether the CIA program was effective or not. This divergence will probably explain why there will be no prosecutions or truth commissions in the U.S. over the CIA program.  And it should remind international lawyers that even the most widely shared and unquestioned of international treaties can diverge sharply from the general public’s views.

What We Fight About When We Fight About Torture

by Jens David Ohlin

Right now we are locked in a complex dispute over the claims in the SSCI Torture Report that the CIA’s torture program was ineffective (as well as illegal). Part of the dispute can be frustrating because I think we are conflating a number of more distinct questions when we ask whether the torture was effective or not. Consider the following article from John Yoo who says that the torture report should be confined to the “dustbin” of history because it is inaccurate. He claims that torturing the detainees helped the CIA find Osama Bin Laden plain and simple.

We need to be more precise in order to have this conversation. Effectiveness or ineffectiveness are actually cluster concepts composed of more specific elements. I will try to tease apart the components here (there are at least five).

First, there is the issue of whether the CIA received intelligence from torture. In evaluating the dueling claims from the SSCI report and the CIA, it seems clear to me that the CIA did receive some intelligence about Bin Laden’s courier from the detainees who were tortured. The real question is evaluating the significance of that intelligence as compared to the other data points in the overall intelligence assessment of the CIA. That’s a complicated question and simply asking whether or not the CIA received intelligence about the courier from the tortured detainees does not tell you anything about the significance of the information. For that you need to ask some different questions which I now elaborate.

Second, there is the question of whether that intelligence was also received from other sources. Even if the tortured detainees provided intelligence about the courier, the more relevant question is whether that information was also received from our sources. That makes a huge difference. The critics of the report (including the CIA) make it sound as if the information from the courier came exclusively from the tortured detainees, but in fact this might have been a situation of overdetermination. The CIA already knew about the courier. If they received the information again from a tortured detainee, it is literally true that they received intelligence from the tortured detainee but the significance of that information is substantially reduced (perhaps to zero).

Third, there is the question of whether the intelligence could have been received from a non-torture source, either by non-coercive interrogation or some non-interrogation method. This question is important because it is relevant to the issue of “unavoidability” that plats a part in the legal analysis of necessity. At least some of the information came from multiple sources including detainees who provided the information before they were tortured. This suggests that torturing the detainees was avoidable because there were other non-torture avenues available for the CIA to get the information. It is also important to ask — and not enough people are asking and discussing this — whether the CIA could have used methods other than interrogation to get information about the courier. Of course, this discussion is stymied by the fact that the public does not have access to CIA methods and practices, which are classified. But how can we determine that the torture was indeed “necessary” without making explicit reference to the lack of other avenues? Unfortunately the CIA does not discuss these other avenues, but they really need to if they want anyone to accept their conclusion that the torture was truly necessary.

Fourth, there is the question of whether the torture saved lives. This is a counterfactual question because it requires imagining a world without torture and asking which terrorist attacks would — and would not — have occurred. This is guess work. When the CIA and their surrogates argue that the torture saved lives, they are asking everyone to engage in a mighty big thought experiment and what the world would have looked liked if they had followed the legal prohibition against torture. This is closely connected to the issue of unavoidability but it really is a separate question. Did it save lives? I have no idea. But at the very least the SSCI report shows that the CIA has failed to make the case that it saved lives.

Fifth, there are the first-order normative questions that are allegedly separate from effectiveness entirely, i.e. regardless of the answers to (1)-(4), was tortured legally or morally appropriate? Obama says that torture is wrong but he refuses to say whether it was effective or not. But these questions are linked in an interesting way. If we are debating whether the necessity defense should apply to torture (which I’ve written about extensively), at least part of the analysis is whether the torture is unavoidable. If torture is ineffective and useless, then it is clearly avoidable and the necessity argument does not apply — regardless of the rest of the legal argument. Of course, there might be other moral and legal reasons to reject torture, but the application of the necessity argument seems central to me.

The present discussion in Washington, DC, is conflating all of these questions into one incoherent mess.

Alfred P. Rubin: The Best Professor I Ever Had

by Duncan Hollis

For those of us fortunate enough to end up with a career in international law, we all have our mentors, our guiding lights.  Mine was Professor Alfred P. Rubin of the Fletcher School.  He died last week.  I write to express my condolences to his family and friends and offer a few words on his influence on my life as well as the whole Fletcher community, where he taught for 30 years.  Simply put, I would not be an international lawyer — let alone a professor of international law — had Professor Rubin not pushed, encouraged, and inspired me onto my current path.  He was the best professor I ever saw grace a classroom.

Truth be told, when I arrived at Fletcher in the Fall of 1993, I had no expectations of a career in international law.  I had enjoyed studying it as an undergraduate at Bowdoin with Allen Springer (a former student of Professor Rubin as it turned out).  But I’d applied to Fletcher to study Japan, not law; I had four years of Japanese language classes under my belt and had just finished a summer internship in Osaka.  To complete my joint degree, however, I still needed four law-related courses. LAW 200: The International Legal Order looked interesting.  I was a bit wary of an early morning class 3 days a week, including Fridays, plus an unusual year-long course structure. Still, Rubin’s classes were legendary so I decided to take it during my first semester.

In what was a trademark for his contrarian demeanor, Professor Rubin started off our first class with a simple, but powerful, challenge — insisting that there is no such thing as human rights.  An Australian classmate took the bait, and responded that they must exist, to which Professor Rubin pushed back, asking if human rights existed as law or morality.  That generated a fairly intense discussion on what law “is”, who should decide the law’s contents and by what processes.  Fifty minutes later, I was hooked.  LAW 200 became my favorite class. I would actually wake up happy on class days, eager to see what the morning’s discussion might hold — the Trent Affair’s illumination of customary international law, the divine law origins of treaties (which I’ve made use of subsequently), or one of my favorite casesMortensen v. Peters. We wrestled with the (in)consistency of the ICJ’s approach to the South Africa question, the meaning of “genuine and effective links” for citizenship, plus older chestnuts like the Lotus case. Along the way, Professor Rubin moved us beyond doctrine to legal theory, asking us to work through various iterations of positivist and naturalist methods in original and neo-formulations.  We didn’t just read Hart, we went back to Kelsen (reading Kelsen being fairly atypical in American legal education).

The Spring semester brought piracy and thornier topics like recognition, succession, jurisdiction, and conflicts of law.  A few years later, Monroe Leigh (who along with Cynthia Lichtenstein were my other early mentors) took me on as his associate in part because I’d invoked the Fruehauf case from Rubin’s class to advise a client.  As the semester progressed, my classmates and I debated whether Professor Rubin’s tears in discussing the legality of the bombing of Hiroshima were real (they were) and marveled at how he cared about the “law” as a concept and detested hypocrisy in any form.  None of us will ever forget how Rubin ended the year — re-enacting the scene from A Man for All Seasons where Sir Thomas More responds to William Roper’s call for an arrest even if it means cutting a road through the law to get after the Devil:

Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, And if you cut them down, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

Two decades later, I’m still trying to figure out Professor Rubin’s secret ingredient — the persistent Socratic dialogues, the deep dives into doctrine, the marshaling of legal theory in concrete cases, or that undeniable passion for his subject-matter. It may have been something as simple as his gentle voice — a slight hesitancy in speech with an ever-present inquisitive tone.  I confess that my study group spent hours imitating that voice (one of us who shall remain nameless with much success).  We did so without any sense of hostility or meanness — but rather as a mark of our affection for his teaching and our sense that his class was a shared experience.  And it was not by any means an easy one — the reading assignments were enormous with Rubin assuming we all knew the material so we could take the class discussion to a more critical level. I still have my notes (the only ones that I’ve kept). I was amazed to revisit them yesterday to see just how much we covered that year in history, doctrine and theory.  I’ve never had another class like it.

Beyond the classroom, Professor Rubin was a thoughtful adviser.  Conveniently located on the way to the cafeteria, his office door was always open.   He welcomed students in to ask questions about class or the oft-discussed career question – “So, exactly, how does one become an international lawyer?”  He never rushed students off (even if we’d interrupted one of his many Minesweeper computer games). I treasured those conversations, and the chance to soak in his knowledge, his experience, and his many, many books. I have a shelf-long collection of green volumes of the American Journal of International Law in my office today for no other reason than Rubin had one.  In later semesters our conversations deepened and I gained insights into key sources and research methods.  To this day, I’m reluctant to cite a secondary source when a primary one is at hand since I picture Professor Rubin watching over me and shaking his head, reminding me he expects nothing less.

I will always be most indebted to Professor Rubin for his willingness to go beyond advice to action. In the summer of 1994 I was (unhappily) a temporary secretary in Suffolk University’s physical plant. The job was in the sub-basement below the actual basement.  It was hard to see how this was going to advance my dreams of becoming an international lawyer until I got a call from Jeffrey Bates, a partner at Goodwin Proctor at the time.  Another former student of Rubin’s, he needed a legal clerk to do some research, and Professor Rubin had recommended me. Overnight, I transferred onto a large and intensive research project that laid the foundations for all that followed.  I have no doubts that the Goodwin clerkship made it possible for me to join Steptoe and Johnson as an associate, which in turn led me to the State Department, and eventually Temple Law.  All this from one recommendation by Professor Rubin (a recommendation I’d not even asked him to make).  Nor am I alone in this experience.  Generations of Fletcher students sought out the Rubin experience and found themselves entering the field of international law in one way or another. From that introductory class alone, four of us spent time in the Legal Adviser’s office at the U.S. Department of State; others ended up at the United Nations, in foreign ministries, and private practice.  At least three of us followed his path into the academy to teach international law.

Having been a member of international law’s “invisible college” for a few years, I know that Professor Rubin was regarded by other law professors as an academic, known for his work on piracy and unilateral declarations, and some ferocious commentary from the floor at the American Society’s Annual Meeting.  For my part, however, I choose to remember Professor Rubin as a teacher.  In later years, we kept in touch until his health began to fail.  He’d ask me to call him by his first name, Al.  I couldn’t do it.  He was and will always be my professor of international law.  A gentleman, a scholar, but above all a teacher.  May he rest in peace.

The Senate Torture Report

by Jens David Ohlin

At long last, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has released the executive “summary” of its report into torture conducted by the CIA. The report is available here.

Here are some first reactions.

The nature and conditions of the interrogations are indeed horrendous. The report specifically concludes that the CIA interrogations were harsher than previously recognized and the report’s allegations certainly back up this finding. Not only did CIA officers use waterboarding more often than was generally known, but other techniques were brutal. I found it shocking that one detainee was shackled to the floor of a cold facility for so long that he died of hypothermia. The report describes the COBALT black site as a “dungeon.”

Some detainees were subject to “rectal rehydration or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity.” The report is hedging a bit by including the phrase “documented.” If the procedures were medically necessary that’s one thing. But if they were not necessary and performed without the consent of the detainee, then they constituted an assault and arguably a sexual assault.

Parts of the report could be used as an apology for the Office of the Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, which authored the torture memos. The report focuses on the fact that the CIA misled the White House and other executive agencies over the nature of the interrogations and the usefulness of the intelligence gleaned from these sessions. The OLC argued that the necessity defense could exculpate CIA officers accused of unlawfully committing torture because the torture was “necessary to save lives.” According to the Senate report, the torture program saved no lives whatsoever, so the OLC argument on necessity was essentially based on a lie. But the report seems to fault the CIA for this, since the OLC opinion was based on the information it received from the CIA. Although clearly the CIA should be criticized if they provided inaccurate information, the report makes it sound as if the OLC was duped by the CIA — which I find highly unlikely. In any event, there are plenty of problems with the OLC’s legal work even if you assume (which I don’t) that torture can yield actionable and reliable intelligence.

Finally, the report documents the use of trained psychologists who were called in to design and oversee aspects of the interrogation program. There has been a lot of scrutiny in the psychology profession over whether this type of work was appropriate for psychologists. The report documents that the design was based on the concept of “learned helplessness” or the idea that detainees would eventually become so compliant out of a sense of helplessness that they would start assisting their interrogators. This is a fiction and a fanciful one at that. It strikes me as pseudo-science (as applied to interrogational torture). The psychologists formed a corporation to provide these services to the CIA on an outsourced basis and were paid $81 million.

Did the Supreme Court Implicitly Reverse Kiobel’s Corporate Liability Holding?

by Julian Ku

Way back in 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Second Circuit held that corporations cannot be held liable under customary international law in ATS lawsuits.  That decision, which was the original basis for the Supreme Court’s consideration of the Kiobel case, has remained the law of the Second Circuit (New York, Connecticut, Vermont) though no other circuit court in the U.S. has followed it.  The Supreme Court was initially going to review that original Kiobel decision, but then decided Kiobel on other grounds, namely, that the presumption against extraterritoriality applies to claims brought under the Alien Tort Statute.  In recent cases, ATS plaintiffs have raised questions about the viability of the original Kiobel corporate liability holding. Did the Supreme Court leave that question open or had it reversed the lower court’s corporate liability decision sub silentio?

The argument that the Kiobel corporate liability holding no longer stands has two parts.  First, a plain reading of the Supreme Court’s Kiobel decision turns up language suggesting that corporations could be liable under the Alien Tort Statute.  In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts stated that ““[c]orporations are often present in many countries, and it would reach too far to say that mere corporate presence suffices [to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application].”  The argument here is that although “mere corporate presence” is not enough, corporations with other, deeper connections might displace the presumption against extraterritoriality. (Since the Court in other places explicitly stated it was not reaching the corporate liability question, I am skeptical of this argument).

Second, and more persuasively, you might argue that because the Supreme Court dismissed the Kiobel case on the grounds that the presumption against extraterritoriality applied to the Alien Tort Statute and that the presumption only applies if the court has reached the merits (e.g. whether the statute applies to the facts at hand).  Because the corporate liability defense was a jurisdictional ruling, this line of reasoning goes, then the Supreme Court must have implicitly found that it had jurisdiction over corporations in order to dismiss the case on the merits.

This second argument has some force to it (it was previewed in our insta-symposium last spring), and it was accepted by Judge Shira Scheindlin in a separate New York district court ATS case even though she ended up dismissing that case on other grounds.   It looks like the plaintiffs in another ATS case, Jesner v. Arab Bank, will get the appeals court to consider the issue as well, according to this NY Law Journal write up of oral argument in that case.

I think it is unlikely that the panel will conclude that the Kiobel corporate liability holding has been implicitly reversed, but I do think there is enough of an argument here to attract review of the full en banc Second Circuit. The tricky part here is that the ATS is itself a “jurisdictional” statute, and as the Supreme Court in Kiobel acknowledged, the presumption against extraterritoriality doesn’t typically apply to jurisdictional statutes.  So the Kiobel presumption is a little different and its application to causes of action that can be brought under the ATS is not exactly the same as when the standard presumption against extraterritoriality is applied to a regular non-jurisdictional statute. But it is unclear whether it is different enough to matter.

I am still coming to my own point of view on this issue. I don’t think the defendants in Jesner really addressed this issue effectively in their brief, but it is a complex issue.  At the very least, I think it will be resolved in the near future by the Second Circuit, either by this panel or by the full court. Corporate liability under the Alien Tort Statute is not quite a dead issue, but ti will take some time to figure out how alive it is.

Eric Posner’s Not Completely Wrong Critique of International Human Rights Law Clinics

by Julian Ku

[I posted this last week, or I thought I did, but somehow it ended up staying hidden in the bowels of OJ’s archives. So although it is a little late, I am posting this again today.  -Julian]

As is his wont, U. Chicago law professor Eric Posner has hit a nerve with his recent Chronicle of Higher Education essay criticizing the value of international human rights law clinics at many law schools.  As part of his larger critique of international human rights law in general, Posner argues that most international human rights law school clinics “engage in a bewildering array of programs and strategies that have little in common but a left-wing orientation.”   Many (maybe most) of these clinics, Posner argues, engage in wide-ranging left-wing political advocacy with no particular focus on training students with legal skills. Crucial to his argument is that, unlike regular domestic law clinics, international human rights law is such a fuzzy unsettled and undeveloped area of law that there are few concrete legal skills that are teachable in such clinics.

His essay has drawn a sharp reaction (of course) from those who are involved in these clinics.  Most prominently, Sital Kalantry, the founder of a new international human rights clinics at U. Chicago Law itself, argues that Posner doesn’t understand what such clinics do and, in any event, his attack on clinics rests entirely on his (misguided) attack on international human rights law itself.

As always, I am sympathetic to Posner’s views here and admire his willingness to take on yet another sacred cow.   But even I think his attack on international human rights clinics sweeps a bit too broadly.  Under his view of the role of clinics and legal education, narrowly focused clinics would satisfy his standard.  My law school (Hofstra) has a just such a clinic focused on asylum hearings in deportation proceedings within the US immigration law system. Students learn a great deal about how to handle real clients, draft legal papers, and make arguments, before mostly administrative law judges.  But since asylum claims almost always require invocation of international as well as domestic law standards in order to determine whether asylum should be granted, it is also sort of an international human rights law clinic.

I do agree with Posner that it is possible that some international human rights law clinics, like that at my alma mater Yale, have extremely broad mandates to pretty much do anything from filing briefs in domestic litigation and suing their former alums, to lobbying city councils to adopt human rights standards to issuing reports on international law. And these clinics are very close to pure political advocacy groups. But these more ambitious clinics are probably inspired by freestanding non-governmental organizations like Human Rights First or Human Rights Watch, whose lawyers also engage in  broad range of non-lawyering political advocacy.  And they also are within the orbit of the larger universe of UN-affiliated NGOs and UN human rights institutions.  Should law students really be training to do the same type of stuff? I think this depends on the particular situation of the law school and the goals of its students.  I think a narrower clinic is probably better in most cases, but I am not ready to say that it would never be appropriate to have a broad-based international human rights law clinic, and that there would never be any useful legal education occurring in that clinic.

But I think Posner’s critique reminds us that international human rights law clinics are outside the traditional box of law school clinics, and that they do risk becoming a platform for pure political advocacy (and training students in pure political advocacy).  That is something that I agree is undesirable, and I am glad that his critics don’t dispute that point.  Even international human rights law clinics deserve scrutiny and to be held to the same standards as other law school clinics.

Law schools need to make hard assessments about whether such clinics are worth it for their students, and perhaps demand such clinics ensure that a certain percentage of their work is indeed traditional legal skills training (like a political asylum clinic, etc.).  Posner asks the right questions, even if I think his final answer is not quite right.

Obama’s Immigration Action: (Probably) Constitutional

by Peter Spiro

I was quoted in the NY Times on Friday on Obama’s executive action on immigration to the effect that it is unprecedented in scale and formality. I’ll stick to that position, but that doesn’t mean that I think that the executive action is unconstitutional. Just a few thoughts to clear that up (especially since David Brooks used the quote on NPR to support his position against the action).

The action may be unprecedented, but not in a discontinuous way. The media is full of discussions of prior “deferred action” programs, most of them involving global hot spots. Immigration enforcement has always been severely underfunded, which has demanded systematic identification of enforcement priorities. Once a matter of internal administrative guidance, since John Lennon forced transparency in the early 1970s these priorities have been a matter of public record.

But there’s never been anything like this in terms of numbers. More important, no president has undertaken this kind of program in the face of this kind of opposition. No other president appears to have used executive action to break a legislative logjam.

Consider the “Family Fairness” program undertaken by the George H.W. Bush administration in February 1990 to protect spouses and children of those whose status was regularized under the landmark 1986 legislation, a precedent that got a lot of play last week. The action affected a large number (as many as 1.5 million). It also involved work authorization. But the action appears to have been utterly uncontroversial. The action was announced by the commissioner of the INS, not the White House. The NY Times item reporting the action (published on page 28) did not so much as mention George Bush much less any opposition to the move. Subsequent legislative validation was hardly reported at all (it was part of a package that increased annual legal immigration quotas). In short, the Bush administration move was uncontested. (UPDATE: The Washington Post debunks the 1.5 million figure here. It was probably under 100,000, which helps explain the absence of controversy.)

That makes it a pretty weak precedent. The Obama action, to say the least, is being vigorously contested. It doesn’t mean Obama’s action is unconstitutional. It means that the Obama action is provisional. It could be overcome.

The courts will stay away. It’s not clear who would have standing to challenge the action. Even if a court got to the merits, there is recent precedent (the 2012 decision in Arizona v. United States) clearly inscribing the president’s prosecutorial discretion over immigration enforcement.

Congress will have to carry its own water in overcoming the Obama move, with assists from other elites and the public at large. I’m not sure what it would take beyond an improbable defunding. We may see non-binding “sense of” resolutions decrying the action in constitutional terms. Those would count for something as formal institutional pronouncements.

The ultimate test may be whether Congress eventually comes on board and fully regularizes the status of beneficiaries of the executive action. No Republican president is going to reverse the action and start deporting these sympathetic people. But that doesn’t mean Congress will adopt Obama’s action as a matter of law. Listen for those (like David Brooks) who favor real immigration reform but oppose the Obama move. That’s the control group on the constitutional issue.

Meanwhile, immigrants covered by the executive action are definitely better off for it. But their status will still be second-class. The government will discriminate against them on benefits like health care, and of course they won’t have the vote. Their ultimate status may depend on whether Obama’s constitutional gambit is a successful one, and everybody falls into line with it.