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US Diplomacy and National Security

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.

Does President Obama Need Congress’s Approval to Sign a Nuclear Deal with Iran? Can Congress Force Him to Get Their Approval?

by Julian Ku

The fight between President Obama and Congress over Cuba policy is nothing compared the brewing struggle over a U.S.-Iran agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. I noticed this little foreign affairs law nugget today from the WSJ’s report of this ongoing struggle (emphasis added):

In the Senate, Mr. Menendez, of New Jersey, is co-author of a bill that seeks to impose new, escalating sanctions on Tehran if negotiators fail to conclude an agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program before the end of June, the diplomatic deadline.

A second piece of legislation, promoted by the committee’s new chairman, Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), seeks to give Congress the power to either approve or reject any nuclear agreement reached with Tehran.

Senior administration officials who testified before the committee said the White House would oppose both bills.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the White House doesn’t view an agreement with Iran as a treaty that requires Senate approval, but a matter of “executive prerogative.”

In general, I think the President has broad discretion under U.S. statutes to impose or lift sanctions on Iran, and although I haven’t looked at the Iran sanctions in detail, I bet the President has broad powers to waive sanctions without going back to Congress. The White House is certainly acting like that’s the case, although the devil is in the details.

Does President Obama Need Congress to Lift the Embargo on Cuba? Yes.

by Julian Ku

It looks like a big showdown is brewing between the President and Congress over Cuba policy (Here comes 2016 presidential candidate Rubio!).  Some legal commentators have argued, however, that President Obama already has the legal authority to lift all or most of the Cuba embargo without any further action by Congress.  Robert Muse, a lawyer whose practice is all about Cuba sanctions law, has stated that the President has very broad discretion to lift most of the restrictions on trade with Cuba without further congressional action. Is he right?

I am not Cuba sanctions law expert, so it is possible I am missing something.  Since the bulk of the Cuba sanctions are found in regulations issued by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control pursuant to the Trading with the Enemy Act, it would seem like President Obama could indeed lift those sanctions by simply withdrawing those regulations.  The TWEA has never been read to require sanctions, and President Carter lifted similar sanctions on China without Congress in 1979.

On the other hand, Congress has also enacted two Cuba-specific statutes: the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (CDA), 22 U.S.C. §§ 6001-6010 and the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996, 22 U.S.C. §§ 6021-6091 (“Helms Burton). The latter appears to codify” the OFAC regulations on Cuba that were initially issued under the TWEA. See Section 102(h) (“Codification of Economic Embargo.– The economic embargo of Cuba, as in effect on March 1, 1996, including all restrictions under part 515 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, shall be in effect upon the enactment of this Act, and shall remain in effect, subject to section 204 of this Act.”).  Section 204 in turn “authorizes” the President to lift sanctions only after submitting a determination to Congress that a transitional government in Cuba exists and that the lifting of sanctions will contribute “to the stable foundation for democratic government.” There is also the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA), 22 U.S.C. §§ 7201-7211, which imposes further limitations on financial transactions with Cuba and allows no Presidential waiver.

It is worth noting that President Clinton expressed some reservations about the impact of Section 102(h) when he signed the Helms-Burton Act, stating that it”could be read to impose overly rigid constraints on the implementation of our foreign policy.” But Clinton didn’t suggest imposing conditions on when the President could lift sanctions actually violated the Constitution.  Since I assume Congress is the source of the authority to impose sanctions in the first place, it seems reasonable that Congress could impose conditions on when those sanctions can be lifted.  Any argument that those conditions themselves are unconstitutional would be a remarkably aggressive legal argument.

So I don’t think the calls from some quarters for a unilateral lifting of the embargo on Cuba is supportable as a legal matter.  In fact, there are good reasons to doubt the legality of the loosening of sanctions already announced by OFAC.  In any event, there will be lots of legal skirmishing over the next few months on this front. It will be interesting to see if President Obama ever pulls out the “presidentialist” card and tries to argue some of these sanctions laws violate his constitutional authority.  I would doubt it, but then again I never thought he would engage in a separate war in Iraq and Syria with ISIS and change US immigration law without Congress either.

 

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.

New Essay: The Use and Abuse of Analogy in IHL

by Kevin Jon Heller

I have posted a long new essay on SSRN, my contribution to a fantastic collection of essays that OJ’s own Jens Ohlin is editing for Cambridge University Press, The Theoretical Boundaries of Armed Conflict & Human Rights. The essay is entitled “The Use and Abuse of Analogy in IHL,” and here is the abstract:

It is a truism to say that conventional international humanitarian law (IHL) regulates international armed conflict (IAC) far more extensively than non-international armed conflict (NIAC). In IAC, conventional IHL authorizes both targeting and detention and carefully circumscribes their use. In NIAC, by contrast, conventional IHL is silent on the authorization for targeting and detention and imposes only rudimentary limits on when individuals may be targeted or detained.

Like nature, however, international law abhors a vacuum. Many of the gaps in the conventional IHL of NIAC have been slowly filled by custom; the ICRC has concluded that 138 of the 161 customary rules of IHL now apply in both IAC and NIAC – nearly 86%. As a result, it is now common for scholars to claim that, with the notorious exceptions of the combatant’s privilege and POW status, very few critical differences remain between IAC and NIAC concerning the applicable rules of IHL.

From a positivist perspective, the gradual harmonization of IAC and NIAC through convention and custom is unproblematic, because both are formal sources of international law. Since 9/11, however, the United States has consistently taken the position that certain IAC-based rules of IHL can be applied in NIAC via a third method: analogy. The U.S. has argued, for example, that it can target members of any organized armed group that would qualify under IAC rules as a “co-belligerent” of al-Qaeda.

In assessing the legitimacy of such analogies, it is tempting to focus on whether it makes sense to apply a particular IAC rule in NIAC. Is the Haqqani Network’s relationship with al-Qaeda really equivalent to Italy’s relationship with Nazi Germany? Emphasizing the substantive “fit” between IAC and NIAC, however, simply obscures a more fundamental question: where does the U.S.’s authority to analogize between IAC and NIAC come from?

That is a critical question, for two reasons. First, targeting and detention potentially violate the human rights of the individuals they affect. As the International Law Commission has noted, it is not enough for targeting or detention to qualify as a legitimate act of self-defence under Art. 51 of the UN Charter; that targeting or detention must also be consistent with either IHL or international human rights law (IHRL), depending on which legal regime applies. Second, because all of the targeting and detention activities that occur in the NIAC between the U.S. and al-Qaeda take place extraterritorially, each U.S. use of force and each capture operation potentially violates the sovereignty of the state on whose territory it takes place.

Put more simply, by relying on analogized rules of IHL to justify expanded targeting and detention of al-Qaeda, the U.S. potentially runs afoul of a number of prohibitive rules of international law: the principle of non-intervention; the prohibition on the use of force; and IHRL prohibitions on the arbitrary deprivation of life and liberty. What, then, is the legal basis for those analogies?

This chapter’s answer is straightforward: nothing. There is no basis in international law for taking rules of IHL that exist as a matter of convention and custom only in IAC and applying them in NIAC by analogy – which means that the U.S. is systematically violating international law by relying on those analogized rules to target and detain extraterritorially.

I am very rarely happy with essays when I finish them, but I’m quite happy with this one. I’m sure many people will disagree with it, and I’ve likely made plenty of mistakes. But I think the essay addresses a number of difficult issues in IHL/IHRL that deserve further discussion. If I can provoke debate, I’ll be happy.

As always, comments, criticisms, and ad hominem attacks are welcome.

PS:  I should note that the essay was inspired by, and provides a response to, my friend Ryan Goodman’s excellent 2009 article in AJIL, “The Detention of Civilians in Armed Conflict” (pdf here). I highly recommend reading his article before reading my essay.

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.

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.

 

Welcome to the Blogosphere, Points of Order!

by Kevin Jon Heller

The new blog, which will focus on “multilateralism, international organizations, and world order” — no small task there! — includes Friends-of-OJ David Bosco and David Kaye, as well as my SOAS colleague Leslie Vinjamuri. Here is the complete contributor list:

  • David Bosco is an assistant professor at American University’s School of International Service and a contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine.
  • Martin Edwards is associate professor at Seton Hall University and director of the Center for United Nations and Global Governance Studies.
  • David Kaye is clinical professor of law at the School of Law, University of California-Irvine. He was appointed special rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression by the UN Human Rights Council.
  • Cymie Payne is assistant professor at Rutgers University, focusing on international and environmental law.
  • Ted Piccone is a senior fellow with the Project on International Order and Strategy and Latin America Initiative in the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.
  • Oliver Stuenkel is assistant professor at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV) in São Paulo, where he coordinates the São Paulo branch of the School of History and Social Science (CPDOC) and the executive program in International Relations
  • Leslie Vinjamuri is co-director of the Centre for the International Politics of Conflict, Rights and Justice and associate professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.  She is an Associate Fellow in the US Programme at Chatham House, the Royal Institute for International Affairs.

Recent posts address climate finance, Brasilian foreign policy, the IMF, and the ICC’s preliminary examination in Afghanistan. All of the writing is very high quality, so make sure to check Points of Order out!

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”?

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.

The Senate Torture Report as a Truth Commission

by Roger Alford

It so happens that I have been researching the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the same time that the Senate has published an alarming report of abuse and torture committed by Americans in the name of national security. Without equating South African apartheid with the Bush Administration’s policies and practices, I thought that a few insights from the South African TRC are worth highlighting.

First, the Senate Report is a transition point for the United States. Following early revelations of torture, we have had a decade of obfuscation, but now we are moving in the direction of truth-telling. Whatever one thinks of it, the Senate’s actions represent a type of truth commission. Flawed and partisan, but nonetheless a truth commission. Of course, the South African TRC was not simply a truth commission, but also a commission committed to reconciliation and prosecution of key perpetrators. The next step for the United States will be to consider whether and how we approach the next stage in this sad saga, which will involve questions of reconciliation and responsibility.

Second, while the Senate Report has focused on the question of efficacy, we should first and foremost recognize that information released yesterday underscores the moral failure of those who committed unspeakable acts of torture. It will take some time, but we must come to accept that the acts committed in the name of protecting our nation have weakened it. Our standing in the world has been irretrievably diminished. A poem by Desmond Tutu, head of the South African TRC, which he read during the opening session of the TRC in 1996, bears repeating:

The world is wept.
Blood and pain seep into our listening; into our wounded souls.
The sound of your sobbing is my own weeping;
Your wet handkerchief my pillow for a past so exhausted it cannot rest–not yet.
Speak, weep, look, listen, for us all.
Oh, people of the silent hidden past,
let your stories scatter seeds into our lonely frightened winds.
Sow more, until the stillness of this land can soften, can dare to hope and smile and sing;
Until the ghosts can dance unshackled, until our lives can know your sorrows and be healed.

Third, regardless of whether there are prosecutions, at some point those responsible for the policies that led to torture will be invited to apologize. If the South African TRC is any guide, they will refuse. During the South African TRC, in the kindest way possible Desmond Tutu invited former Prime Minister P.W. Botha to apologize. Tutu said to Botha:

I speak on behalf of people who have suffered grievously as a result of policies that we carried out by governments, including the government that he headed. I want to appeal to him. I want to appeal to him to take a chance … to say that he may not himself even have intended the suffering…. He may not have given orders or authorised anything…. I am just saying that the government that he headed caused many of our people deep, deep anguish and pain and suffering…. If Mr. Botha was able to say: I am sorry that the policies of my government caused you pain. Just that. Can he bring himself to say I am sorry that the policies of my government caused you so much pain? That would be a tremendous thing and I appeal to him.

Botha heard this appeal in a court of law, and sat there unmoved and unresponsive. Later, former Prime Minister F.W. de Klerk–the one responsible for freeing Nelson Mandela and setting South Africa on a path toward democracy–was also asked to apologize. He admitted that there were “bad apples” and that security forces committed acts of murder, torture, rape, and assault. But he denied that his administration ever directly or indirectly authorised such actions. Tutu said of de Klerk:

To say I did not know… I find that hard to understand. I have … got to say that I sat there and I was close to tears. I feel sorry for him. I am devastated. [For him] to make an impassioned apology … and then to negate it. All that is required is to say that ‘we believed in this policy but it is a policy that brought about all of this suffering. It is a policy that killed people. Not by accident, deliberately. It was planned.’

His failure to apologize permanently altered Tutu’s estimation of de Klerk.

He would have gone down in history as a truly great South African statesman… What a great man he would have been…. He is a very bright lawyer who qualifies his answers carefully to protect his position, but in doing this he has steadily eroded his stature, becoming in the process a small man, lacking magnanimity and generosity of spirit.

So this is where we are. We are beginning to understand the truth of what happened. Our souls are heavy as we learn of the silent, hidden past. Eventually we will pursue more than just truth. We will discuss a formal truth and reconciliation commission, and will investigate who and how to prosecute the perpetrators of torture. We will hope upon hope for a sincere apology from statesmen, but have little confidence that one will be forthcoming.