Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


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The War on Culture

Kia Roberts-Warren

The destruction of culture has become an instrument of terror, in a global strategy to undermine societies, propagate intolerance and erase memories. This cultural cleansing is a war crime that is now used as a tactic of war, to tear humanity from the history it shares,” (Irina Bokova, head of UNSECO).[1]

The destruction and looting of art is a widespread and systematic attack to erase people’s memories and identities. The Nazis destroyed and looted hundreds and thousands of books, art, and other cultural relics.[2] Paintings were vandalized during the armed conflict between Macedonia and the National Liberation Army[3] The siege of Dubrovnik, damaging the ancient Mostar bridge, and the Sarajevo national library during the Yugoslav wars.[4]

Terrorist organizations have put destruction of cultural heritage back on the war agenda. Since ISIS’ has taken over territory in Syria and Iraq, they have destroyed and looted numerous World Heritage Sites that the group deems idolatrous and blasphemous.[5] A World Heritage Site is determined by United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and is defined as “belonging to all peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.”[6] By historical standards, ISIS’ actions in Iraq are “on a rampage of destruction not seen since the Mongol’s sacking of Baghdad in 1258.”[7]

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Temple of Bel (or Baal) in Syria. The Temple was one of the main attractions Palmyra, a Roman-era trading outpost in the desert, northeast of Damascus, Syria

In Syria, ISIS has destroyed the ancient cities of Palmyra, Mar Elian Monastery, Apamea, Dura-Europos, and Mari.[8] In Iraq, ISIS has destroyed the oldest Christian monastery (Dair Mar Elia), Assyrian Empire artifacts in the Mosul Museum, Nineveh archeological site, razed the Tomb of Jonah and other religious sites, Nergal Gate (an entrance to the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, where the men use power tools to destroy a pair of massive statues of winged bulls with a human heads), and the Nimrud archaeological site.[9]

Moreover, the Sunni Muslim library, the Mosul Museum Library, and the library of the 265-year-old Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers have also been heavily damaged. These libraries contained collections from the Ottoman Empire, Iraqi newspapers from the early 20th century, and other ancient texts were burned in the streets.[10] Irina Bokova stated that it was “one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history.”[11] (You can see video here)

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A member of ISIS destroying an ancient Assyrian lamassu (screenshot from an ISIS propaganda video)

Intelligence officials say looting is the terror group’s second largest source of income after oil.[12] ISIS encourages civilians to plunder historic sites and then charges a 20 percent tax on anything they sell.

Last February the UN Security Council adopted a new resolution, UNSCR 2199, which was drafted by Russia and co-sponsored by the United States.[13] The Resolution prohibits the trade of artifacts illegally removed from Syria since 2011 and Iraq since 1990.[14] The UN General Assembly, also, passed a resolution called “Saving the Cultural Heritage of Iraq,” which states that ISIS’ actions may amount to war crimes as well as details about ISIS’s attacks on cultural heritage sites and demands its members be stopped and held accountable.[15]

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In the wake of ISIS’ cultural destruction, Italy has teamed up with UNESCO to create a task force.[16] This task force called The Peacekeepers of Culture, will be a 60-person team of art detectives from the art-squad police from Italy’s Carabinieri military police, historians, and Italian-trained restoration experts.[17] The goals of the peacekeepers are to protect ancient artworks, artifacts, and archaeological sites in conflict zones from extremists, protect against “cultural cleansing” and the fear-mongering propaganda, and to cut off some of the Islamic State’s funds acquired through the sale of looted artifacts, statues, and other antiquities on the black market.[18] It will establish facilities in Turin, where it will train cultural heritage protection experts. It aims to “assess risk and quantify damage done to cultural heritage sites, develop action plans and urgent measures, provide technical supervision and training for local national staff,” as well as help move some objects to safety.[19] The task force has not chosen a country for its first mission but is ready to go where UNESCO sends them.[20]

In April 2013, the Smithsonian Institute created the Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq (SHOSI) Project. It provides emergency preservation work, conservation materials, and training to Syrian and Iraqi museums to help salvage damaged collections and sites.[21] In the summer of 2014, SHOSI held an emergency workshop in Syria. One of the missions was to provide equipment and supplies for workshop participants to secure the immovable mosaics collection at the Ma’arra Museum in Idlib Province. This museum housed one of the most important collections of third-to-sixth century Roman and Byzantine mosaics in the Middle East.[22]

This may seem to be weak enforcement on the part of the international community. However, destruction of art is as war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Article 8 (2)(b)(ix) states: “Intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not military objectives.”[23]

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Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague

The ICC is currently hearing its first ever war crime trial addressing the destruction of cultural heritage.[24] Malian Jihadi leader, Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi is accused of destroying ancient mausoleums in Timbuktu, specifically, medieval shrines, tombs of Sufi Saints, a 15th century mosque and over 4,000 ancient manuscripts were lost or destroyed all which were considered World Heritage sites.[25] This case is considered to be an important case at the ICC in fighting against war crimes directed at cultural heritage.[26] The last time a case like this was brought to trial was in 2013 when Balkan warlords were charged with the shelling Dubrovnik in the early 1990s, damaging the ancient Mostar bridge, and the Sarajevo national library by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).[27]

When we think of atrocious crimes committed by ISIS, destruction of art and cultural sites are not on the list. We think of targeting civilians, rape, and general pillage. However, it is important because these sites aren’t just the destruction of Iraqi or Syrian history, but, rather history that belongs to the world. These artifacts and sites cannot be repaired or replaced. Once they are destroyed, they are gone completely. To let them perish at the hands of terrorists cannot go unpunished or unnoticed any longer.

Kia Roberts-Warren is a 2l at UB Law. She is concentrating in international law and business law. Kia graduated from Temple University receiving a BA in East Asian Studies during that time she spent a semester in Tokyo, Japan. Kia has an interest in private international law particularly trade and business as well as public international law. She also interested in fashion law and art law in the international context. Last spring, she was an extern at the Hudson Institute, a think-tank in DC that deals mainly with national security issues. Kia is currently the Career Development Director of ILS and recently participated in the 2016 Philip C. Jessup Moot Court Competition. She also plans on attending the Aberdeen Summer Abroad Program this  summer. 

 

[1] http://saudigazette.com.sa/world/mena/this-map-reveals-full-extent-of-daeshs-cultural-destruction/

[2] http://saudigazette.com.sa/world/mena/this-map-reveals-full-extent-of-daeshs-cultural-destruction/

[3] http://www.dailyevergreen.com/news/article_38faf3bc-da91-11e5-a5e1-fb5b07906df6.html

[4] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

[5] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

[6] http://whc.unesco.org/en/about/

[7] http://saudigazette.com.sa/world/mena/this-map-reveals-full-extent-of-daeshs-cultural-destruction/

[8] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/150901-isis-destruction-looting-ancient-sites-iraq-syria-archaeology/

[9] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/03/isis-destroys-ancient-art.html#

[10] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/03/isis-destroys-ancient-art.html#

[11] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/03/isis-destroys-ancient-art.html#

[12] http://hyperallergic.com/183201/un-security-council-takes-aim-at-isis-antiquities-trafficking/

[13] http://hyperallergic.com/183201/un-security-council-takes-aim-at-isis-antiquities-trafficking/

[14] http://hyperallergic.com/183201/un-security-council-takes-aim-at-isis-antiquities-trafficking/

[15] http://hyperallergic.com/210944/un-says-isiss-cultural-destruction-may-amount-to-war-crimes/

[16] http://hyperallergic.com/276208/italy-and-unesco-establish-task-force-to-protect-cultural-heritage-in-conflict-zones/

[17] http://hyperallergic.com/276208/italy-and-unesco-establish-task-force-to-protect-cultural-heritage-in-conflict-zones/

[18] http://hyperallergic.com/276208/italy-and-unesco-establish-task-force-to-protect-cultural-heritage-in-conflict-zones/

[19] http://hyperallergic.com/276208/italy-and-unesco-establish-task-force-to-protect-cultural-heritage-in-conflict-zones/

[20] http://hyperallergic.com/276208/italy-and-unesco-establish-task-force-to-protect-cultural-heritage-in-conflict-zones/

[21] http://unitetosave.si.edu/projects/response/

[22] https://global.si.edu/success-stories/safeguarding-cultural-heritage-syria-and-iraq

[23] http://legal.un.org/icc/statute/99_corr/cstatute.htm

[24] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

[25] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

[26] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

[27] https://news.artnet.com/art-world/icc-cultural-destruction-trial-timbuktu-mausoleums-437882

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The Precarious Situation of Turkey

Carolyn Mills

Turkey has long been awaiting the day that it can be welcomed into the European Union (EU). Unfortunately with the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, the thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing to Turkey’s border, its internal conflict with the Kurds, and human rights abuse allegations; Turkey may never have the chance to receive that welcome.

Turkey has been an associate member of the EU since 1963, all the while hoping to become a full-fledged member.[1] In May, the EU struck a deal with Turkey in which Turkey agreed to house migrants fleeing the violence in Syria in exchange for $3 billion Euros. Further, it came with a dangling carrot that promised to restart the stalled accession talks that have been ongoing since 2005. Even German Prime Minister Angela Merkel has thrown her support behind Turkey in exchange for its agreement to house the refugees.[2]

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It seems as though Turkey is fighting a losing battle. With tensions between Turkey and Russia mounting since Turkey gunned down a Russian fighter jet, Turkey is facing an even more intensified battle within its own borders with the Kurdistan Peoples Party, or the PKK.[3] The conflict between the government and the PKK is not something that is new; the government’s efforts have increased to quell the efforts of what it labels a terrorist organization. [4]

The PKK has also been deemed a terrorist organization by the US and others in the international community. Since a breakdown of a truce between the government and the PKK in mid-2015, tensions have heightened and violence erupted in the southwest quadrant of the country. Not only is the country inundated with nearly 70,000 more migrants (adding to the nearly 2 million migrants currently there)[5], but Turkey itself cannot even contain the pre-existing violence and tensions within its own borders. Most recently violence erupted in the Kurdish town of Cizre with reports of innocent women and children being caught in the crossfire. [6]

Human rights abuses in Turkey are an ever-increasing concern. Recently, Turkish military forces shot 10 unarmed civilian Kurds, 2 of which were killed, with no recourse. As a result, the UN has called for an investigation. This also calls into question Turkey’s ability to comply with EU directives. EU member states who hold the fate of Turkey’s accession have been silent amid the accusations.[7]

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My fear is that the EU and the rest of the international community are putting entirely too much strain on Turkey. Last year EU Member States agreed to help resettle 22,500 refugees from Turkey and only 779 have been resettled as of the end of January.[8] A recent corruption scandal found that the government exercised too much power over state agencies (read police, military and the judiciary).[9]

It is as if the international community is waiting to place the blame on Turkey if and when something does go horribly awry. With the myriad of struggles facing Turkey both internally and externally, and their clear desire to join the EU there is a waiting game to see is Turkey has the capacity and ability to provide stability for themselves, and abroad.

Carolyn Mills is a graduate from of Bowie State University  and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Carolyn is a 2L at the University of Baltimore School of Law. She serves as 2L Representative for the International Law Society.  Her interests and focus areas are on Central America and West Africa; she has traveled to both Guatemala and Honduras and hopes to visit Ghana this summer. She is currently a law clerk for the Department of Homeland Security’s Human Rights Law Section.  

[1] http://www.euractiv.com/enlargement/eu-turkey-relations/article-129678

[2] http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-europe-migrants-germany-turkey-idUKKCN0SC08020151018.

[3] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35495157

[4] http://www.telesurtv.net/english/analysis/A-History-of-the-Turkish-Kurdish-Conflict-20150728-0042.html

[5] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35495157

[6] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/02/03/as-syria-burns-turkeys-kurdish-problem-is-getting-worse/.

[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/02/world/europe/un-turkey-human-rights.html?_r=0

[8] https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/01/29/turkey-alone-cant-solve-europes-refugee-crisis

[9] https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/turkey.


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The Maldives: A Façade Paradise

Kia Roberts-Warren
The Maldives is a place that very few of us know about, other than that it is vacation paradise to millions of Western countries. However, the Maldives has recently been put in a rather shocking light when international human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney decided to represent former President Mohamed Nasheed on appeal in the Maldivian highest court, pro bono.[1] Nasheed has served one year of a thirteen-year sentence for terrorism charges after he ordered the arrest of a senior judge.[2]

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For thirty years, the Maldives was under the rule of Maumoon Gayoom, who repeatedly imprisoned Nasheed during this time for his political beliefs against the regime.[3] In 2005, Nasheed returned from self-exile and in 2008 ran against Gayoom and won in the country’s first multiparty election.[4] Nasheed did not finish his first term before resigning. The Maldivian government alleges that Nasheed was crushed by the opposition, but Nasheed contends that there was actually a coup d’état.  Under the threat of force, security forces loyal to Gayoom held him at gunpoint and forced his resignation.[5] Since, his resignation Gayoom’s half-brother, Abdullah Yameen has been the President.[6]

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 After the coup, Nasheed was subjected to an unfair trial, which the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention criticized for its unlawfulness and injustice.[7] However, Nasheed is not the only one in prison! President Yameen has, at the moment, imprisoned two former defense ministers, one former vice-president, one former deputy parliamentary speaker, and leaders of every opposition party in the Maldives.[8]

Since Amal Clooney has been advocating on the behalf of Nasheed, the question is why should the Western world care? If you don’t care about the political situation or human rights violations happening there, then you should care that the Maldives has the highest percentage of ISIS recruits per capita in the world.[9] Mr. Ben Emmerson, Nasheed’s other lawyer, noted that the “two hundred Maldivians [that] have gone so far to Iraq and Syria…[is] the equivalent of 36,000 Brits.”[10] He also believes that another Tunisia-style tragedy is inevitable for tourists that go to The Maldives (in June 2015, 38 people were killed at a beach resort in Sousse, Tunisia by an ISIS gunman).[11]

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This week, Nasheed was released for 30 days to go to London for spinal surgery.[12] Since arriving, he met with Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss sanctions on the Maldives.[13] Cameron stated to Parliament that “Britain was prepared to consider targeted action individuals if further progress isn’t made.”[14] Cameron and Nasheed also agreed on a Commonwealth meeting in the Maldives next month to give the Maldivian government an opportunity to have “an open dialogue and free all remaining political prisoners swiftly.”[15] On January 13, Amal Clooney visited with Obama administration officials and members of Congress to discuss sanctions to be placed on the Maldives.[16] Congress seemed to openly support the cause. Further, the Australian government asked travelers going to the Maldives to “exercise a high degree of caution.”[17]

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What is happening to Nasheed is a true travesty. Frankly, I am surprised that the Western world or even powerful, more developed Asian countries have not gotten involved. Although, no country should interfere with another country’s sovereignty, it is truly alarming that the Maldives has the highest per capita of ISIS recruits in the world and no one seems to want to take action. The United States has had this information, yet we have not made this a national security priority; although the U.S. and Britain are considering sanctions. Neither country, however, has taken affirmative action or has even stated a more solid plan if sanctions are ineffective.  While sanctions may be effective to correct the wrong against Nasheed, sanctions will not stop ISIS recruitment on the island. Preventing such recruitment should be a huge priority for the entire international community. Sanctions are not enough and the U.S. should not let the beautiful white sandy beaches and crystal blue waters cloud its judgment. Stopping terrorism should always trump tourism.

 

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/12/opinions/maldives-vice-president-ahmed-adheeb/

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/amal-clooney-wins-the-day-as-un-rules-former-maldives-president-was-unlawfully-jailed-a6680986.html

[3] http://raeesnasheed.com/about

[4] http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/amal-clooney-takes-maldives-human-rights-battle-washington-n496051

[5]http://raeesnasheed.com/about

[6] http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/amal-clooney-takes-maldives-human-rights-battle-washington-n496051

[7] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/amal-clooney-wins-the-day-as-un-rules-former-maldives-president-was-unlawfully-jailed-a6680986.html

[8] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-27/maldives-former-president-calls-for-sanctions-amid-terror-threat/7114354

[9] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-27/maldives-former-president-calls-for-sanctions-amid-terror-threat/7114354

[10] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-27/maldives-former-president-calls-for-sanctions-amid-terror-threat/7114354

[11] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-27/maldives-former-president-calls-for-sanctions-amid-terror-threat/7114354

[12] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-27/maldives-former-president-calls-for-sanctions-amid-terror-threat/7114354

[13] http://in.reuters.com/article/britain-maldives-nasheed-idINKCN0V51MB

[14] http://in.reuters.com/article/britain-maldives-nasheed-idINKCN0V51MB

[15] http://in.reuters.com/article/britain-maldives-nasheed-idINKCN0V51MB

[16] http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/amal-clooney-takes-maldives-human-rights-battle-washington-n496051

[17] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-27/maldives-former-president-calls-for-sanctions-amid-terror-threat/7114354


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The Visa Waiver Program’s New and Improved Two-Tier System

Shane Bagwell

America’s most recent change to its immigration system has been a disastrous oversight of secondary consequences that often come as the result of hasty, reactionary politics. Updates to the Visa Waiver Program were generally positive, but a provision included in the update meant to restrict the travel rights of certain groups backfired. Here we will review the program, the changes, and the potential repairs planned for VWP.

The Visa Waiver Program authorizes citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days or less, avoiding the burden of applying through a U.S. Embassy or Consulate prior to entry into the country.[1] Started in 1986, the program was intended to facilitate tourism and short-term business stays, while cutting red tape and shifting State Department resources to more high priority tasks.[2]

Countries which are currently authorized under the Visa Waiver Program:

VWP

 

In light of recent events around the world, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and anti-Muslim sentiments have been inflamed, particularly in the west. As a result of these fears, the U.S. Congress passed the “Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015”, section 3 of which prevented persons from entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program if the person: “has been present, at any time on or after March 1, 2011, in Iraq or Syria, in a country designated as one that has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism, or in any other country or area of concern designated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); and regardless of whether the alien is a national of a program country, is not a national of Iraq or Syria, a country designated as a country that has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism, or any other country or area of concern.”

The second part of this change, that “regardless of whether the alien is a national of a program country” a person may be excluded as a member of a class due only to their other citizenship has been most troubling to civil rights advocates and others.[3] There has been particular uproar from the Iranian-American community, due in part to the fact that Iranian citizens are unable to renounce citizenship, and it passed down to children in certain situations. For example, Article 976 of the Civil Code of Iran states that a child born to an Iranian father, no matter where they may have been born, is an Iranian citizen. This means that, for citizenship purposes, a child whose grandfather was Iranian, but who has no cultural or political ties to Iran may be an Iranian citizen through patrilineal descent.

The second section of the act failed to make exceptions for any group visiting countries such as Syria or Iraq for legitimate purposes. The Obama administration announced that certain groups would be exempted from the visa requirement, such as journalists, humanitarian workers, those traveling on behalf of international organizations or local governments, as well as those who have visited Iraq for “legitimate business-related purposes,” or travelled to Iran after July 14, 2015.[4] These actions have received pushback from Republicans, who believe that the unilateral granting of exemptions was not authorized in the bill.

PassportControl

Because the Visa Waiver Program is reciprocal, there is a likelihood that these restrictions will be matched by partner countries.[5] Rep. Jared Hauffman (CA-2)., in a letter to President Obama, stated that “[b]ecause the VWP is founded on reciprocity, our U.S. citizen constituents are concerned that this exclusion could result in our VWP partners severely restricting, or entirely ending, visa-free travel for certain U.S. citizens.” This presents an awkward circumstance for Americans who hold multiple citizenships, either by choice or involuntarily.

Rep. Justin Amash (MI-3) introduced the Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016 on January 13th to repeal the controversial section that applies only to dual nationals of Visa Waiver Program countries.[6]  The bill has received broad bipartisan support, but, in an unpredictable Congress, nothing is certain. As such, it is possible that the restrictions could remain in place, and that retaliatory measures could be taken reducing the utility of U.S. passports for dual nationals under the program.

Until the Equal Protection in Travel Act is signed in to law, the status of dual nations in Visa Waiver Program countries remains in flux. Without swift congressional action, the rules will remain in place, and could cause chaos for dual national travelers within the network. It is worth noting that Canadian citizens are visa exempt and are not participants in the Visa Waiver Program, and therefore the new restrictions do not apply to Canadian citizens who have dual nationality in one of the specified countries.[7]

Shane Bagwell is a 3L at the University of Baltimore School of Law, and a graduate of West Chester University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. He currently serves as the President of the Military Law Association. His interests are Middle Eastern politics, international conflicts, and the law of land warfare. He is currently a law clerk for the Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City, Economic Crimes Division.

[1]     “Visa Waiver Program,” U.S. Dept. of State, https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/visit/visa-waiver-program.html

[2]     Visa Waiver Permanent Program Act, Pub. L. 106-396, https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-106publ396/html/PLAW-106publ396.htm

[3]     These Changes To Tighten Visa Waiver Program Are Now In Effect, NPR. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/01/21/463846286/these-changes-to-tighten-visa-waiver-program-are-now-in-effect

[4]     Visa Waiver: U.S. Visa Rules Eased For Some European Travelers Who Visit Terrorist Hotspots, HNGN. http://www.hngn.com/articles/172169/20160122/visa-waiver-u-s-rules-eased-european-travelers-who-visit.htm

[5]     Austin, L. G. (2015, December 18). Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act short on prevention but punitive towards Iranian Americans, the Hill. http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/263661-visa-waiver-program-improvement-act-short-on-prevention

[6]     Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016, H.R.4380, 114th Cong. (Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary 1/13/2016)

[7]     8 CFR §212.1(a)

 


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Authorization to Use Military Force Against ISIL: What the President Wants and Why it Doesn’t Matter

Matt Matechik

What did President Obama “ask” Congress?

On February 11, 2015 President Obama formally approached Congress and implicitly sought their approval to use American military force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Specifically, the President submitted a draft joint resolution Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) and encouraged Congress in a formal letter to pass it.[i]

If passed in its current draft form (highly unlikely), the AUMF would grant the President Congressional approval to use American military forces against ISIL “and associated persons or forces” for a period of up to three years. The draft does not impose any geographic restrictions. Therefore, the President would be authorized to conduct military operations against ISIL in Iraq, Syria, Libya (where ISIL appears to have gained a foothold[ii]) and absolutely anywhere else in the world he deems “necessary and appropriate.”[iii] (NOTE: The AUMF only gives the President the domestic legal authority to enter into either Iraq, Syria, Libya, or other states. This blog will not deal with the international authority the President has to do so.)

Although the draft AUMF would not limit the location of military operations, it does purport to limit their scope. The draft prohibits activity that rises to the level of “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”[iv] The administration claims that this phrase prohibits large-scale long-term military campaigns such as those recently conducted by the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, the stipulation would not prohibit the use of ground forces for less involved purposes such as rescue operations and pursuit of ISIL leadership. Additionally, the AUMF would allow “the use of U.S. forces in situations where ground combat operations are not expected or intended, such as intelligence collection and sharing, missions to enable kinetic strikes, or… other forms of… assistance to partner forces.[v]

This draft language, even with the limitation, is actually very broad, despite what some members of Congress are claiming. The draft intentionally uses open-ended phrasing that President Obama could potentially cite in committing American forces to ground combat.

AUMF ISIS Blog

Why did the President reach out to Congress?

President Obama approached Congress as part of his “commitment to working with Congress… to authoriz[e] the continued use of military force to degrade and defeat ISIL.” The President urged Congress to “join [him] in supporting our Nation’s security… which would show the world we are united in our resolve to counter the threat posed by ISIL.”[vi]

Did the President really “ask” Congress for anything?

No! The language of President Obama’s letter to Congress is extremely precise. A careful reading reveals that the President is not actually asking Congress for anything at all. To the contrary, the letter explicitly states that he already has all the authority he needs.[vii] The President is simply inviting Congress to provide their stamp of approval for military action that he is already undertaking and presumably will continue to undertake with or without Congress.

President Obama’s posture is not surprising. Historically, the sitting President, no matter his party, and Congress have performed a delicate dance around the subject of who controls the use of American military force abroad. The tension between the executive and legislative branches stems from the Constitution, which confers upon the President unspecified powers commensurate with the title “Commander in Chief” while endowing Congress with numerous specific war powers including, but not limited to, the power to “declare war” and “organize, fund, and maintain the nation’s armed forces.”[viii]

What about the War Powers Resolution?

This “dance” took on its modern form in 1973 when Congress passed the War Powers Resolution (WPR) to “to insure that the collective judgment of both the Congress and the President will apply to the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, and to the continued use of such forces in hostilities or in such situations.”[ix] The WPR, at least on paper, requires the President to involve Congress at various points before, during, and after his decision to use force. One of its most controversial provisions requires the President to terminate military action within sixty days of its initiation unless Congress has declared war, extended the sixty-day period, is physically unable to meet, or provided statutory authorization.[x]

In practice, the WPR has done little to prevent the President from unilaterally committing American forces to foreign theatres. The sitting President, no matter his party, typically finds some way to circumvent the WPR’s purpose of involving Congress while still purporting to be consistent with the WPR. The President usually claims he already has all the authority he needs by virtue of his title as Commander in Chief and/or he interprets a statute in a particular way to find the Congressional approval he needs.

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Sixty Days?! Haven’t we been fighting ISIL for months?!

Yes! The present scenario illustrates the WPR’s questionable influence. President Obama initiated a sustained air campaign against ISIL targets in Syria on September 22, 2015.[xi] Since that time there has been no declaration of war, no extension of the sixty-day period, and no problems with Congress meeting. Under the WPR, President Obama therefore has two choices: obtain Congressional statutory approval for the military action sixty days after initiation or terminate the mission. And yet, only now, 142 days later, far past the sixty-day deadline, is the President seeking statutory authorization and, as noted above, he is not truly even asking for it.[xii]

It should be noted that President Obama’s apparent disregard for the WPR is not unique to his administration. President George H.W. Bush ordered thousands of American servicemen to Somalia during December 1992 without explicit approval from Congress. He “found” statutory approval for the military deployment by broadly interpreting a statute that supported a US humanitarian mission in Somalia. President Bill Clinton ordered over 20,000 American troops to invade Haiti during September 1994 without explicit approval from Congress. His primary argument for nixing Congress was that the operation did not rise to the level of “war” requiring a declaration and therefore Congress need not be involved. These are only a few examples of many.

What happens now?

War (at least the political kind)! Congress must debate the draft AUMF and then either pass it as written, pass it with changes, or pass no AUMF at all. Ultimately, whatever Congress decides will not matter. If they pass any AUMF, the granted authority will be largely for symbolic purposes only. If they do not pass an AUMF, it is all but certain that President Obama will continue to commit American forces to the fight anyway. For the President, it’s a win-win. He will either by a wartime Commander-in-Chief enjoying the support of Congress as he battles America’s enemies abroad or he will be the President who was willing to stand up to the evil that is ISIL when Congress seemingly refused.

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The political game surrounding the draft AUMF is likely to continue for some time. Politicians will squabble and legal scholars will debate the legal powers of he executive and legislative branches. Meanwhile, the United States is already at war with ISIL, regardless of who formally signs off on it, and will be for the foreseeable future.

Matthew Matechik is an Evening J.D. student at the University of Baltimore School of Law (Class of 2016). He currently works full-time for the U.S. Federal Government as a Counterterrorism Analyst. He has a Bachelors of Arts (Magna Cum Laude, 2008) from Florida State University. All views in this blog post are Matthew’s own views and do not represent that of the U.S. Government. 

[i] http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/11/letter-president-authorization-use-united-states-armed-forces-connection

[ii] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/11418966/Islamic-State-planning-to-use-Libya-as-gateway-to-Europe.html

[iii] http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/aumf_02112015.pdf

[iv] http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/aumf_02112015.pdf

[v] http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/11/letter-president-authorization-use-united-states-armed-forces-connection

[vi] http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/11/letter-president-authorization-use-united-states-armed-forces-connection

[vii] http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/11/letter-president-authorization-use-united-states-armed-forces-connection

[viii]  U.S. Const., art. II, § 2, cl. 1, U.S. Const., art. I, § 8, cls. 1114.

[ix] 50 U.S.C.A. § 1541.

[x] 50 U.S.C.A. § 1544.

[xi] http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/09/23/statement-president-airstrikes-syria

[xii] President Obama seems to be keeping the 2001 AUMF in his back pocket to claim Congressional authorization even if Congress does not pass an ISIL-specific AUMF. The 2001 AUMF authorized the President to use force against “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11,  2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any  future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.” The Obama administration suggested as early as September 2014 that they could rely on the 2001 AUMF. See http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/09/23/background-conference-call-airstrikes-syria. This position is problematic given that ISIL, a new group distinct from al-Qaida, had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks.