Analysis and Commentary on International Law

The Hybrid Rules of Drone Warfare

Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner discusses the controversial subject of drone warfare, and the question of what rules should apply to it. She covers Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech on the issue, given earlier this month, which focused upon the use of lethal force against U.S. citizens. Mariner notes that this speech—building on earlier analyses by State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh and Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson—is the most thorough Obama Administration analysis of these issues to date. Mariner also contrasts the U.S. and Israeli frameworks for targeted killings—noting that the U.S. seems to be borrowing, lately, from the Israeli model. In particular, she compares the rules outlined in the Holder speech with the rules outlined in an Israeli Supreme Court opinion on similar topics. Finally, Mariner makes some predictions about the kind of approach we may see in the future in this area of law, which may combine elements of both military and civilian justice.

Catching Warlords via Viral Videos: A Film About Joseph Kony Offers Us a New Vision of How to End Impunity

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the “Kony2012” 30-minute video, which recently received over 75 million views on YouTube and film-sharing site Vimeo—with even the White House taking notice. As Ramasastry explains, the video is a profile of the brutal warlord Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for his war crimes. Kony, a native Ugandan, mounted a war against Uganda’s government, using tactics including the recruitment of child soldiers and the commission of atrocities. Ramasastry covers Kony’s crimes; notes the praise for, and criticism of, the “Kony2012” video; and concludes that, despite some drawbacks and criticisms, the “Kony2012” video has proven to be an effective way to exert pressure for justice to be done.

What We Can Learn About Equality and Religion From a Recent Israeli Supreme Court Decision on Military Service

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on a recent Israeli Supreme Court decision that held that a law exempting ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service unconstitutionally denies equality of treatment to other Israelis, who either must serve in the military, or—if they are conscientious objectors—must perform alternative service. Dorf notes that the Israeli decision is not only interesting in its own right, but also sheds light on two questions that U.S. courts must frequently face: How should courts evaluate laws that confer special benefits on certain minorities within society? And, when should people and institutions be exempted from legal requirements based on religious objections? In particular, Dorf points out that the Israeli decision has interesting comparative-law implications for American debates about affirmative action, and about the granting of religious exemptions to otherwise-applicable laws.

Understanding the Misunderstandings on Both Sides of the U.S.-Chinese Financial Relationship: Who Is Taking Advantage of Whom?

George Washington law professor and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the financial relationship between U.S. and China—which he argues is far from as problematic as some claim. Buchanan covers the issues that have been raised regarding China’s holding U.S. debt; argues that the mutual China/U.S. dependence is ultimately healthy; discusses a possible worry on China’s part that the U.S. would accomplish a stealth repudiation of its debt through deliberate inflation, but deems that worry unrealistic; and considers whether the U.S. holds political power over China due to its holding our debt. Ultimately, Buchanan suggests, Americans should not be particularly concerned about the U.S.-China relationship, but should be quite concerned by the situation of the have-nots in both countries. Both governments, Buchanan concludes, need to ensure that the prosperity their country enjoys benefits not just the elites, but also the whole of society. While China is besting us in infrastructure improvements, he notes, it is not, at the same time, improving its citizen’s lives as it ought to. Yet the economic relationship between our two nations, he says, is sound.

Some Legal and Policy Ramifications of Newt Gingrich’s Plan to Colonize the Moon

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on remarks that Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich made last week, promising that if he were to be elected president, then by the end of his second term, he will have established a colony on the Moon. Could that really happen? And if it did, would it be a good idea? Dorf considers present technological limits, and legal obstacles stemming from U.S. treaty commitments. While highly skeptical of the Gingrich proposal, Dorf does find a kernel of sense in it: Gingrich, Dorf notes, may well be right that the colonization of space could be the key to the long-term survival of human civilization.

Social Networking and Airline Travel: What the Legal Consequences of an Airline’s “Meet and Seat” Program Might Be

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the possible legal implications of an airline’s “Meet and Seat” program, which allows passengers to find out information about other travelers, and select the person whom they will sit next to on a flight, based on Facebook profiles and LinkedIn accounts. The upside of the program is that fliers can network with each other, or even have a first date while in the air. But the downside, Ramasastry argues, may be considerable, depending on how the details of the program are fleshed out. Ramasastry anticipates possible problems with fictitious profiles, sexual and other types of harassment, discrimination, and even de facto segregation if groups decide to sit together based on race, religion, or the like. Ramasastry also points to group-then-go charters, made easier by smart phone technology, as a less problematic way to employ social networking to ensure that travelers can opt to fly with people who share their interests and destinations.

An Endless War on Terror

Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner comments on the aggressive new War on Terror bills currently pending in Congress. With Osama Bin Laden dead and all the living alleged 9/11 perpetrators in custody awaiting trial, Mariner notes that the bills’ timing seems odd. She also contrasts the long-lasting War on Terror with the events of the post-World-War-Two period in American history. If the bills that are pending pass, she explains, they will go significantly beyond prior War on Terror policies, which were already broad to begin with. Mariner describes the bills as dangerous and irresponsible, and points to the irony that Congress can make bipartisan compromises in the fraught area of counterterrorism, but not when it comes to sorely needed economic measures. If the bills pass, Mariner reports, they will essentially make Guantanamo permanent, embrace detention without trial—which had previously been seen as un-American—and make the military the presumptive detaining and prosecuting authority in certain categories of cases. Mariner points out that even the Bush Administration tried and convicted many terrorism suspects in federal court, rather than resorting to military justice. Finally, she expresses hope that President Obama will veto the bills, as he has threatened to do.

Stopping Bribery in International Sports: Why FIFA’s Proposed Good Governance Framework Is a Good Beginning, But Just a Beginning

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the numerous scandals relating to bribery and corruption in international sports competitions over the past decade, and a recent proposal for how to stop such scandals from occurring. Ramasastry cautions that since the proposal for reform comes from the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which has had its own scandals—even quite recently—we may need to take a “wait and see” approach. Ramasastry also notes that the substance of FIFA’s reforms remains vague, and needs to be further particularized. Finally, she suggests that FIFA is far from the only international sports organization that needs to be reformed. Other such organizations, she contends, should also heed the call for greater transparency, accountability, and integrity, all of which should increase public confidence in the fairness and authenticity of international sports competitions.

After Qaddafi

Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner comments on the death of Qaddafi. She notes that Libyans generally do not seem bothered by the fact, or the gruesome manner, of Qaddafi’s death, in light of the atrocities he had perpetrated upon their people. In addition, Mariner raises the important and timely question of what we can now expect from Libya's interim government. She notes that if the killing of Qaddafi was the result of the new government’s inability to control its troops, then that is very worrying indeed for Libya’s future—perhaps even more worrying than a scenario in which the new government directed Qaddafi's killing. Mariner also warns that while Qaddafi is dead, Libya’s human rights problems are very much alive—and thus, the impartial investigation into Qaddafi’s death that ought to now be conducted may be nothing more than a faint hope.

Blaming the Victims of Our Advice: Why Europe’s Woes Show That the Regressive Policies It Imported From the United States Are Wrong, and That Progressive Policies Are Right

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan takes strong issue with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s claim, in a recent debate, that European governments have adopted policies that Democrats in the United States would also like to adopt, and that those policies have led to disastrous consequences in Europe. Specifically, in criticizing President Obama, Romney said, “Guess what? Europe isn’t working in Europe. It’s not going to work here.” Buchanan argues that this comment gets it backward—for, he argues, the problem for Europe has not been the social-democratic policies to which Romney refers, but rather the very U.S.-style economic policies that Romney and other like-minded Republicans endorse. Thus, the truth, Buchanan says, is better embodied in the following statement: “American financial policies were a disaster in America. And they ruined Europe, too.”

When Qaddafi Was Our Friend

Justia columnist Joanne Mariner, an attorney and the head of Hunter College’s Human Rights Program, comments on the end of Muammar Qaddafi’s rule, and reminds readers that for much of the past decade, the United States actually saw Qaddafi as a friend, rather than an enemy. Mariner points out that during the Bush years, Qaddafi’s human rights violations were not simply overlooked but actually exploited, as Condoleezza Rice, in 2006, encouraged others to see Libya’s leadership as a model to follow. Mariner covers the connection between Libya and the CIA, and Libya and the practice of rendition, and explains how statements, made under torture, from a man who was detained in Libya and elsewhere led to the claim of a relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

Will It Be Business as Usual For Oil Companies Operating in Libya? Why the Answer Is Not an Unequivocal Yes

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry explains some of the options for Libya’s transitional government, when it comes to the country’s oil resources. Ramasastry explains both the traditional premise that successor regimes need to honor previously negotiated sovereign agreements, and the new trend for sovereigns to renegotiate deals entered into by previously corrupt officials—and the legal basis for such renegotiation. She also argues that the transitional government, and its future governments, should opt for greater transparency in any new oil concessions that are granted, in order to instill confidence in the new government, especially among Libya’s citizens. In addition, she compares the situation relating to contracts to those that have occurred in Iraq and, especially, Liberia.

David Hicks’s Guantanamo Memoir

Justia columnist Joanne Mariner, an attorney and the head of Hunter College’s Human Rights Program, comments on the memoir of David Hicks, an Australian who was incarcerated at the United States’ Guantanamo Bay detention facility for five-and-a-half years. Mariner notes that Hicks’s Guantanamo memoir is now one of many such works that detail interrogation practices and detention conditions at the facility. She also points out the book has recently made headlines due to the Australian government’s attempt to confiscate the royalties Hicks earned from his publisher, citing Australia’s Proceeds of Crime Act. Mariner notes the parallel between that Act and the United States’ “Son of Sam” laws, which the U.S. Supreme Court has occasionally held to be in violation of the First Amendment, and she explains other troubling aspects of the attempt to apply Australia’s Act to Hicks.

An End to La Dolce Vita for Italian MPs? How a Menu, Social Networking, and Budget Woes May Lead to Much-Needed Reforms

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry focuses on a scandal that shows how posts on social networking sites may lead to much-needed reforms. As Ramasastry explains, the Facebook page of an anonymous person who goes by “Spider Truman” has played a key role in focusing public attention on the lavish lives of Italian Members of Parliament (MPs), and their alleged corruption. With Italy now in a severe financial crisis, disclosures on the site of “Spider Truman” concerning MPs’ many perks and alleged misconduct have enraged many, Ramasastry points out. Examples include the MPs’ menu of gourmet food at heavily subsidized prices, and their alleged fraudulent expense claims. Noting that UK MPs previously were part of a similar scandal that led to reform, Ramasastry contends that social networking may be a catalyst for greater governmental openness in Italy and elsewhere.

Starvation in Somalia

Justia columnist Joanne Mariner, an attorney and the head of Hunter College’s Human Rights Program, discusses the ongoing humanitarian emergency in Somalia. Mariner explains that with tens of thousands of people having already died of starvation, and half a million children now at risk of dying, the situation is dire and pressing. She sets forth some of the key reasons that aid organizations are finding it difficult to provide assistance in the country—from fighting in the capital; to the aggressive tactics of the militant group that controls much of Somalia, Al Shabaab; to U.S. federal laws that that bar material assistance to that group (which is categorized by the United States as a terrorist group). Mariner details the substance and effect of the U.S. laws at issue, and the conundrum of attempting to get humanitarian aid into an area where it may be siphoned off by armed groups, and where even non-Americans can face U.S. prosecutions under the U.S. “material assistance” law. Finally, Mariner explains a new U.S. interpretation of the law at issue, which may somewhat improve the situation—but she also urges the U.S. to go further, in order to alleviate fears that humanitarian aid will be miscategorized as aid to terrorism.

Sovereign Default: Putting the United States’ Debt-Ceiling Debate in Context Why Self Help Is the Only Option

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry provides important background on the United States’ debt ceiling debate, explaining exactly why the United States—unlike other countries—has only one option when the risk of sovereign default looms: self help. Ramasastry first considers how other countries typically handle sovereign default or distress, then covers the reasons why the United States’ situation is very different, and concludes by examining why there has been such a great need for Congress and President Obama to reach a resolution of this issue.

All Roads Lead to Accountability

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci A. Hamilton urges that the Catholic Church urgently needs to take responsibility—and foster an ethic of accountability—regarding clergy child-sex-abuse cases. In describing the path that she argues the Church must take, Hamilton compliments a recent speech by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, and a book by Jason Berry on money and the Church. As she explains, these writings, too, call for responsibility and accountability from the Church, and for the enforcement of civil law by the courts, in clergy child-sex-abuse cases.

Humanitarianism As Terrorism

Justia columnist Joanne Mariner, attorney and director of Hunter College’s Human Rights Program, discusses the situation in Somalia, which is experiencing a famine in the midst of armed conflict—leading refugees to flee the country for Kenya and Ethiopia. The situation, as Mariner explains, has created a humanitarian emergency and has led to a horrifyingly high death rate of both refugees and those still in Somalia. Though the Somali regime’s ban on foreign aid has been lifted, Mariner explains that extremely broad U.S. restrictions on “material support to terrorist organizations” have made innocent humanitarian groups wary of providing aid in areas controlled by Al Shabaab, the Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist group that controls most of Somalia’s territory. Mariner calls for expedited licenses ASAP, so that humanitarian groups can operate free of fear, and calls for legal reform for the future.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavi... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Ronald D. Rotunda
Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately prior... more