Analysis and Commentary on Military Law
Israeli Accountability to Civilians: World Central Kitchen Part II

In this second of a series of columns on Israel’s strike on the World Central Kitchen convey, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler explores the lack of individual remedies available to the victims of the strike and other civilian casualties in Gaza, particularly focusing on the limitations of tort liability, solatia, and condolence payments, and the UN Register of Damages. Professor Wexler argues that while these avenues for compensation are currently unavailable or unlikely to be pursued by Israel, the question of individual compensation for civilian victims should be addressed as part of a future political resolution to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Proportionality in the Israel-Gaza Conflict: A Legal Primer

Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler explores the complexities of the concept of “proportionality” in the Israel-Gaza conflict, examining it both from the lens of international law and public opinion. Professor Wexler delineates two aspects of international law that govern proportionality: “jus ad bellum,” which speaks to when force is permissible, and the laws of war, which set guidelines for conduct during conflict. She emphasizes that while public debates often conflate legal and moral considerations, a nuanced understanding of existing international law is crucial for assessing the legality of actions in such conflicts.

#Metoo and Good Character Evidence: The Possibility of #MeToo Informed Leniency Letters

In this first of a series of columns, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler explores the ethical and societal complexities surrounding character letters in sex crimes trials, particularly focusing on the controversy created by Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis’s leniency letters for Danny Masterson. Professor Wexler delves into the historical role and changing public sentiment about character evidence, referencing military court cases and the Brock Turner trial, and questions whether it is possible to write a leniency letter that aligns with #MeToo values without undermining victims or perpetuating harmful myths.

Cluster Mine Transfer: Cluster F*ck the Cluster Mine Norm? Part IV

In this fourth in a series of columns, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler explains how the U.S., Ukraine, and Cluster Mine Ban Treaty parties can reinforce norms against cluster munitions use and enhance civilian protections, given the controversial decision of the Biden administration to supply Ukraine with these munitions. Professor Wexler argues that the U.S. and Ukraine should take several steps to bolster their public commitments to keeping civilians safe from cluster munitions including: both joining the Cluster Mine Ban Treaty or negotiating international restriction on high dud rates under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons; Ukraine operationalizing its assurances about use, conducting investigations into past unlawful use, and implementing Civilian Casualty Tracking Analysis and Response cells; and the U.S. monitoring and reporting on Ukraine’s compliance, tightening restrictions on the munitions use, and ceasing transferring cluster munitions once conventional artillery becomes more widely available.

Why Didn’t the U.S. Bomb Kyoto?

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin explores the nuanced and multifaceted influences behind the U.S. decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki instead of Kyoto during World War II. Drawing upon the speculated influence of Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s personal connection to Kyoto and weather conditions affecting bombing success, Professor Griffin emphasizes the complex interplay between personal morality, strategic considerations, and even uncontrollable factors like the weather in shaping historical outcomes.

Cluster Mine Transfer: Cluster F*** for the Cluster Mine Norm?

In this three-part series of columns, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler comments on the recent news that the Biden administration will be providing cluster munitions to Ukraine. In this Part I, Professor Wexler explains what cluster munitions are, why the Biden administration decided to give them to Ukraine, the potential impact on civilian populations, and the international law issues the United States and Ukraine face as a result.

Money Well Spent

Cornell professor Joseph Margulies compares the costs of United States military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, with what that same amount of money could accomplish at home. Professor Margulies points out that necessary investments like cleaning up toxic waste, replacing lead pipes and service lines, and fixing “structurally deficient” bridges cost a fraction of what the country has spent (and will spend) on unnecessary military operations worldwide.

Repeal of Iraq War Authorization While Leaving Post-9/11 Authorization Will Send Mixed Signal

Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the apparently imminent repeal of two Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMFs) against Iraq. Professor Dorf argues that while their repeal can be seen as an acknowledgment of the terrible error of invading Iraq and a reassertion of the principle of separation of powers, the action is insufficient so long as the post-9/11 AUMF remains in place, giving the President extraordinary power to deploy the military overseas without congressional involvement.

What’s the Difference Between Spying by Balloon Versus by Satellite?

In light of recent news that the U.S. shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon, Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf explains the differences between spying by ballon and spying by satellite and explores some of the murky legal areas with respect to sovereign airspace, outer space, and military uses of both. Professor Dorf points out that modern satellites can capture remarkably clear images of Earthbound sites, but a comparably equipped surveillance balloon, in virtue of being ten or more times closer to the Earth’s surface, can necessarily capture even greater detail.

Rejecting Vaccination Status Discrimination: Learning from the Laws of War

Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler argues that a just society should not punish unvaccinated persons in the allocation of even scarce medical care and resources, despite the exceptional circumstances of a global pandemic. In support of this position, Professor Wexler analogizes to the exceptional circumstances of war, pointing out that the laws of war also emphatically reject status discrimination in medical decision-making.

“A Tragic Mistake”: Understanding the Aftermath of the Kabul Drone Strike: Part II—Condolence and Solatia Payments

In this second of a three-part series of columns on the Kabul drone strike in August that killed numerous civilians, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler addresses the U.S. approach to voluntary condolence and solatia payments. Professor Wexler explains what these payments require and how they often fall short, and she points out the gulf between commitments to making condolence and solatia payments and payments actually made.

“A Tragic Mistake”: Understanding the Aftermath of the Kabul Drone Strike: Part I—Detecting Mistakes and No Required Reparations

In this first of a three-part series of columns on the Kabul drone strike in August that killed numerous civilians, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler raises two key concerns: that civil society rather than the government brought the mistake to light, and that there is no legal requirement to pay reparations. Professor Wexler describes the reasons behind our reliance on journalists and civil society to investigate problems like this strike and explains the relevant laws of war that allow the victims’ families to go uncompensated.

United States v. Briggs: The Court Reaches a Wrong but Just Result

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court this term holding that the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) contains no statute of limitations for rape. Professor Colb argues that the Court stretched the language of the statute to reach a “desirable” decision, demonstrating that judges at all levels can interpret a statute to reach the result they want to reach.

Military #MeToo, Part II: In Bad Company— Canada’s Armed Forces #MeToo Crisis

In this second of a series of columns on military sexual harassment and sexual assault, Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler compares and contrasts the U.S. military’s efforts to address the problem with how the Canadian military is addressing the same issue. Professor Wexler notes that Canada’s government has adopted several tools to address sexual harassment and misconduct that the United States has not yet accepted, and while the two militaries are not identically situated, we should pay close attention their efforts and see whether lessons may be learned.

Military #MeToo Justice: Is a Change Going to Come?

Illinois Law professor Lesley M. Wexler comments on a recent announcement by the Army Forces Command that fformal sexual harassment complaints would be moved out of the direct chain of command, instead going to an investigating officer outside the accused’s brigade. Professor Wexler explains that, while this might read as a small procedural change, it is actually a meaningful step for an institution long committed to a commander-centric justice model.

Shinzo Abe’s Biggest Failure Is His Greatest Legacy: Preservation of Japan’s Anti-Military Constitutional Provision

In response to the news that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned due to health reasons, Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on Abe’s efforts to amend Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution, which was imposed on the country by Supreme Allied Commander Douglas MacArthur after World War II. Dorf describes one bad reason and two good reasons that have been offered for a change in Article 9, but he argues that the case for retaining Article 9 is stronger.

Did a Federal District Judge Defy the Supreme Court in Invalidating Male-Only Draft?

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision by a federal district court judge in Texas declaring unconstitutional the US’s male-only military draft. Dorf points out that the judge’s decision defies the Supreme Court’s admonition that federal court judges should follow even outdated Supreme Court precedents, “leaving to th[at] Court the prerogative of overruling its own decisions” and considers whether there is any other reason that admonition should not apply.

President Trump’s Emergency Wall Declaration: A Guide to the Legal Issues

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher and JD candidate David Moosmann comment on some of the legal issues presented by President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to secure funds for a border wall along the southern US border. Estreicher and Moosmann argue that there is a need for legislation tightening up the standards for presidential declarations of a national emergency, and for Congress to review and consolidate the seemingly vast array of statutes that authorize emergency measures on a presidential declaration.

Burn Pits are the New Agent Orange: The Limited Circle of Concern for Pollution Victims of War

Illinois Law professor Lesley Wexler explains why the open air burn pits as used in recent conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan are being called the “new Agent Orange.” Wexler describes the challenges combatants, their children, contractors, and civilians have had in obtaining care for long-term injuries as a result of the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and expresses concern that the same may occur for burn pits.

The Meaning of Trump’s Plan to Keep Gitmo Open

Cornell University Michael C. Dorf explains the symbolism of President Donald Trump's announcement during his State of the Union address that he would be keeping the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay open. Dorf points out that despite the extraordinarily high cost of keeping the facility open, Republicans support its continued operation simply as repudiation of President Obama, who wanted to close it. Dorf points out that Republicans' opposition to closing Gitmo during the Obama presidency also jibed with the not-so-veiled racism of many Republicans who questioned Obama's citizenship and commitment to the US (disregarding the fact that President Bush actually released more Gitmo detainees than President Obama did).

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is a Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law and a Professor... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, is a visiting professor at both Osgoode Hall... more

John Dean
John Dean

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

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

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

Samuel Estreicher
Samuel Estreicher

Samuel Estreicher is Dwight D. Opperman Professor of Law and Director of the Center of Labor and... more

Leslie C. Griffin
Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las... 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... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Professor Marci A. Hamilton is a Professor of Practice in Political Science at the University of... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

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

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at... more

Laurence H. Tribe
Laurence H. Tribe

Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University and... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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