Posts Tagged ‘lawfare’

Learning About Lawfare

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

On our main website, we wrote a brief primer on international law, mostly for our own enjoyment.  (The same reason why we write this blog, actually.)  To our constant amazement, it gets cited heavily around the internet, and has been on the syllabus of at least a couple law school classes.  So now we feel all obligated and stuff to keep it accurate and up to date.  At some point, we added a section on the subject of Lawfare.  Briefly put, Lawfare is the use of the law (yours or your opponent’s) as a tool of warfare, either to gain a military advantage, or to deny one to your adversary.  It’s too long to excerpt here, but you can read the section here, if you’re interested.

But if you’re really interested, an even better précis of Lawfare can be found in Gen. Mark Martins’ guest post this morning over at Lawfareblog.  His posts this week have been building up to this one, a great summary of the concept, with the depth of insight one would expect from the commander of the Rule of Law Field Force in Afghanistan.  Go read all of his posts, for sure, but this one is outstanding.

First, Gen. Martins sums up three competing definitions of the term.  “Meaning A,” as he puts it, refers to the hijacking of Western sensibilities of justice and civil rights, by those who do not share such sensibilities, in order to undermine Western resistance.  “Meaning B” is a wholly unrelated concept, an intellectual battle over the scope of national security law.  “Meaning C” is a Western strategy that turns the cynical strategy of Meaning A on its head, an approach that applies the rule of law to all counterinsurgency tactics, thereby providing the legitimacy that is so important in a war of perceptions.

If he had stopped right there, this would have been a valuable enough contribution.  But he goes on to provide five clear observations about each of these three concepts, which makes it a must-read.  The first point is probably his best, that each definition contains a kind of hamartia or tragic flaw that could undermine it.  Meaning A cries “unfair,” which is sort of silly in the context of war, where ruses and propaganda are about as fair game as it gets, and without which few victories are ever achieved.  Meaning B, the contest of ideas alone, can bestow undeserved legitimacy and moral equivalence on the ideas of the enemy, which could lead to the very undermining of the principles one seeks to advance.  Meaning C, “by placing the law in service as a ‘tool’ of war, risks undermining the authority of law itself.”

Go over there and read the rest of it.  In the meantime, we need to go update our primer.

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UPDATE: Happy Thanksgiving!  Gen. Martins posted a followup this morning, “Lawfare: So Are We Waging It?” Written from Parwan, Afghanistan, it begins:

The week’s posts up until now—written on a Blackberry while we moved or found small spaces of time between engagements—position me finally to move from the definitional and philosophical matters I pondered yesterday in Khost to Jack’s September question: Do I consider counterinsurgency (COIN) in Afghanistan to be “lawfare.” The BLUF (“bottom line up front”), an expression used by each of the U.S. military services represented here in Parwan province and throughout our military around the world, is that yes, we are waging a form of affirmative lawfare.

I am confident enough in that to have provided the BLUF at the outset on Monday, even before trying to put into clear text and thus confirm my precise reasoning. The conclusion that we are indeed waging a form of lawfare is particularly true of the Rule of Law Field Force (ROLFF).  But there are important caveats, and I will draw illustrations from the preceding four days’ blogs to make the point.

The most obvious of the caveats is that we want no part of the perfidious lawfare described as Meaning A in my post of yesterday—except, that is, to combat those who wage it. Jack specifically distanced COIN operations in Afghanistan from this sense of lawfare, which is not only punishable under multiple articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but is also regarded as dishonorable conduct within our uniformed ranks. Compliance with law is what legitimates the actions of our troops and separates their actions—sometimes necessarily violent and lethal—from what very bad people in criminal mobs do.

The post goes on to discuss the subject in more detail.  But we want to stop right there and shout out “he’s writing all this in between engagements in a goddamn war!”

Terrorism and the Courts: Kennedy Misses the Point

Friday, August 20th, 2010

The 9th Circuit judicial conference wrapped up yesterday.  Hundreds of lawyers spent the last several days discussing this and that in Maui, and finished up with a speech and some Q&A from Justice Kennedy.  He had a lot of different things to say, most of which are unremarkable (such as the Court will be “different” somehow with Stevens gone and Kagan there).  But one thing he said made us sit up and pay attention.

At a panel discussion earlier in the week, the conferees had decided that most terrorism cases ought to be tried in civilian courts, and not in military tribunals.  In his speech, Kennedy said he agreed.  He said that the use of military tribunals was an “attack on the rule of law,” and that it has failed.  “Article III courts are quite capable of trying these terrorist cases.”

He completely missed the point.  The courts have nothing to do with most terrorism, acts of warfare launched from abroad.  But Kennedy’s been in the courts for so long, that that’s his whole perspective.  Not only does he think the courts should try individuals suspected of engaging in terrorist acts, and fighting against the U.S. military on behalf of the terrorists, but he thinks the contrary position is an attack on the rule of law.  Law, he fails to realize, doesn’t enter into it. 

Well, no, that’s not entirely correct.  Law enters into it insofar as our rule of law and sense of fair play become weapons used by enemies without such civilized ways.  And he fails to realize that his attitude is precisely that which our enemies rely on.  His comments play right into their hands.

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As we’ve mentioned before, most terrorism is an (more…)

Can Yoo Be Sued?

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

9th_circuit

In the early days of the War on Terrorism, the Bush administration wanted to know what interrogation techniques were legal.  So it asked the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel for a memo on what could and could not be done to prisoners.  Staff lawyer John Yoo was tasked with doing the research and writing.  He did his research, wrote his memo, and that was that.

Well, no.  That was not that.  Some people didn’t agree with his legal reasoning.  More people (most of whom never even read the memo) shrilly lambasted it as a “war crime.”  We’re not particular fans of the memo ourselves (see our parody of it here), but we think it’s beyond stupid to call it a war crime, or even the slightest bit of misconduct.  He did what any lawyer in that situation is supposed to do: he analyzed existing law, and gave his opinion of what the law said.  The fact that other people disagree, even disagree strongly, doesn’t mean he did anything wrong.  The fact that his conclusions don’t comport with other people’s policies or principles still doesn’t mean he did anything wrong.  Even if he was wrong, that doesn’t mean he did anything wrong.

But now the 9th Circuit is struggling with the issue of whether Mr. Yoo can actually be sued for having written that memo.  Again, we’re no fans of the memo, but how he could possibly be sued for having given fair legal advice is beyond us.  Allowing this case to go forward, as we’ll discuss in a minute, would have enormously bad consequences for the government and the military.

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The case was brough by Jose Padilla, a.k.a. Abdullah al-Muhajir, who was arrested in 2002 for plotting a radioactive “dirty bomb” attack.  Padilla was in military custody for about four years, during which time he claims to have been subjected to sleep deprivation, stress positions, extended periods of light and dark, and other interrogation techniques.  Padilla filed a lawsuit last year against John Yoo, claiming that Yoo’s memos “set in motion a series of events that resulted in (more…)