Archive | National Security

Defining “High Seas Felonies” in Another Country

A district court recently ruled that Congress’s power to “Define and Punish… Felonies on the High Seas” extends beyond the high seas, to conduct entirely within a foreign country (on dry land), with no U.S. nexus. The case is U.S. v. Carvajal, 2013 WL 619890 (Feb. 20, 2013).

The Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA) allows for the projection of U.S. narcotics law to foreign vessels on the high seas. Routinely the law is applied to the crews of vessels captured on the high seas near Latin American countries with no evidence they were headed our shores. I have argued in a series of papers that such universal jurisdiction over drug trafficking exceeds Congress’s powers under the Felonies power, which presumes a U.S. nexus. While the 11th Circuit has not been swayed from its longstanding prior precedent by these views, other federal judges have increasingly endorsed them.

Yet last November, the 11th Circuit in U.S. v. Bellaizac-Hurtado limited its prior cases by ruling that the Felonies Clause would not apply to conduct in foreign territorial waters, which are not part of the “high seas.”

Caravajal involved a defendant even further from international waters than those in Bellaizac-Hurtado: all of his activity took place in Columbia. But he was charged with conspiracy for a long-standing business of sending vessels through international waters.

The District Court acknowledged the novelty of applying the Felonies Clause to activities in foreign territory. But it concluded that the Felonies Clause reached such activity because the defendant’s co-conspirators committed acts on the high seas. Thus the defendant, who never entered the high seas, could be charged as if he had. (I do agree with the district judge that as far as the vessel goes, it is enough that it entered the high seas on […]

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The Bourne Implausibility

I just caught the last few minutes of The Bourne Ultimatum. At the end (spoiler alert), Bourne successfully exposes everything, and we catch a glimpse of MSNBC, reporting on a secret CIA assassination program “which in several cases may have even targeted U.S. citizens.”

In the movie, it appears that MSNBC believes this to be some sort of scandal. […]

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US Surveillance Drones Aid French Airstrikes in Mali

The Wall Street Journal national security reporting team has a new article in today’s Journal on how US surveillance drones are providing intelligence and targeting information to French forces in Mali, which then use the information to direct French (manned) airstrikes.  The drone surveillance marks, according to the article, a widened role for the US in support of French military operations in Mali:

U.S. Reaper drones have provided intelligence and targeting information that have led to nearly 60 French airstrikes in the past week alone in a range of mountains the size of Britain, where Western intelligence agencies believe militant leaders are hiding, say French officials.

The operations target top militants, including Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the mastermind of January’s hostage raid on an Algerian natural gas plant that claimed the lives of at least 38 employees, including three Americans. Chad forces said they killed him on Saturday, a day after saying they had killed Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, the commander of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s Mali wing.

French, U.S. and Malian officials have not confirmed the deaths of Mr. Belmokhtar or Mr. Zeid, citing a lack of definitive information from the field. But they say the new arrangement with the U.S. has led in recent days to a raised tempo in strikes against al Qaeda-linked groups and their allies some time after the offensive began in January. That is a shift for the U.S., which initially limited intelligence sharing that could pinpoint targets for French strikes.

The lack of French drone capacity, for surveillance or attack, was noted in a New York Times article two weeks ago that profiled the French Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian.  Le Drian was blunt about the need for and the lack of drones (emphasis added below):

[W]hile the French express hope that African forces

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In Other Pirate News

A group of armed men attack a U.S. warship on the high seas. Piracy under international law? Yesterday, the U.S. District Court in Richmond convicted a group of Somalis for an attack on the U.S.S. Ashland (such incidents are not uncommon). Boy these guys were dumb – what were they thinking?

Of course, if Judge Kozinski’s piracy opinion were wrong, the prosecutors would actually have to prove what they were thinking as an element of the case. That is, attacking a warship is the kind of thing one would ordinarily due for political purposes, so unless one actually takes a purely subjective approach to “private ends” (which I think obviously and entirely unworkable), this prosecution would be difficult under the “private isn’t political” rule.

The defendants argued they were distressed mariners just trying to get the Ashland’s attention. They should have said they were Somali militants protesting the unfairness of global wealth distributions. (The Stolen Seas movie that features me also features Noam Chomsky putting the Somali pirates in some such a light.)

These guys were the ones whose case was originally thrown out by a district judge who read international law very narrowly as not covering attempts, before the Fourth Circuit reversed (citing me…).

Also yesterday, Nigerian pirates released some hostages. The Ashland case is really a throwback; Somali piracy is largley (at least until the sequester kicks in). However, a new and much more violent piracy problem has emerged in the Gulf of Guinea, involving attacks on oil industry there. Thus far the attackers have invariably been described as pirates by the the UN, IMO, and the world at large as far as I known.

Yet the Nigerian pirate attacks are an operation of MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta), who has […]

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Human Rights Watch Can’t Wait to Accuse Israel

Human Rights Watch has just released a report on Israel’s recent “Pillar of Defense” operation to suppress rocket fire from Gaza. The report concludes that 18 airstrikes violated international law by not being properly targeted. I do not know if 18 is a little or a lot for an operation of this scale, as there an no good comparative data (though the report is released as Afghanistan says yet another NATO airstrike hit a house with innocent women and children inside.)

The report, by its description of its methods, appears to be a hit piece. Here is what the report said about the group’s investigative method (emphasis added):

Human Rights Watch sent detailed information about the cases to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on January 14, 2013, requesting further information. At a meeting on January 24 and in subsequent phone conversations, the military spokesperson’s office told Human Rights Watch that the military chief of staff had ordered a general (aluf) to conduct an “operational debriefing” (tahkir mivtza’i) concerning “dozens” of Israeli attacks during the conflict, including the cases Human Rights Watch investigated, which would be completed by late February.

Because previous Israeli “operational debriefings” involving attacks were not conducted by trained military police investigators or dedicated to investigating alleged laws-of-war violations, Human Rights Watch has decided to publish its findings rather than wait for their results.

In other words, HRW received high-level and consistent cooperation. A meeting between HRW and the IDF took place on Jan 24 (just 10 days after HRW asked for further information), and were told that the IDF would have a more detailed response by late February after its own investigations were over. One month is not a long time to wait, certainly not covering an incident that occurred months ago.

It is completely […]

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Evolving Christian Attitudes Towards Personal and National Self-Defense

A forthcoming issue of the Connecticut Law Review will feature a symposium on an article by Prof. Nicholas Johnson (Fordham) about the changing attitudes of the Black leadership towards firearms. In brief, Black leadership was historically very supportive the right to keep and bear arms, and particularly concerned that Blacks be able to have firearms for defense against white racists. The leadership’s attitude changed quite strongly in the late 1960s, and has remained anti-gun ever since. Johnson suggests that among the explanations for the change is that civil rights successes turned that leadership into powerful participants in the government, rather than outsiders.  Thus, the leadership adopted a more establishmentarian approach.

The symposium will have a variety of articles responding to Johnson. My own article observes that the change in attitude of the Black leadership parallels a change in much of the American Christian leadership about the legitimacy of defensive violence–at both the personal and the national level. For the Christian leadership, opposition to the Vietnam War was the proximate cause, but the change persisted long after the war had ended. Here’s the abstract:

This Article analyzes the changes in orthodox Christian attitudes towards defensive violence.

While the article begins in the 19th century and ends in the 21st, most of the Article is about the 20th century. The article focuses on American Catholicism and on the Vatican, although there is some discussion of American Protestantism.

In the nineteenth and early in the twentieth centuries, the traditional Christian concepts of Just War and of the individual’s duty to use force to defend himself and his family remained uncontroversial, as they had been for centuries. Disillusionment over World War One turned many Catholics and Protestants towards pacifism. Without necessarily adopting pacifism as a theory, they adopted pacifism as a practice. World War

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France’s Mali War & International Law

France is fighting a rather serious war in Mali. What does international law say about this go-it-alone incursion into a foreign country? Given the controversy over recent interventions with mixed motives, such as the U.S. war in Iraq, it is worth consider the international legal basis for the assault and its conduct.

I. Security Council Resolution.
France has invoked the U.N. Security Council Res. 2085, passed on Dec. 20th, as the basis for their intervention. However, this is not so simple. Yes, the Council did use its Chapter VII authority to “authorize the deployment” of foreign forces to Mali – just not French force. Rather, the entire resolution is about green-lighting the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA), a ECOWACS effort. France is not part of AFISMA, or of ECOWACS. Only AFISMA is authorized to “support the Malian authorities in recovering the areas in the north of its territory under the control of terrorist, extremist and armed groups.” (Par. 9b).

As for other U.N. member states, the resolution merely calls on them to provide logistic, training and other kinds of “support” to the ECOWACS mission (par. 14). France is not providing support, it is taking the lead role in direct combat operations. Indeed, it jumped in before AFISMA got there, because it judges the U.N. authorized African effort would be too little, too late.

Alas, an authorization by one group of countries to intervene is not a carte blanche to all interested parties, and we will have to look elsewhere for France’s authority. One should add that this aggressive reading of UN resolutions is a bit ironic given France’s criticism of US readings of resolution before the Iraq War.

II. Third-party defense: Mali’s invitation.
France’s use of force in Mali is a lot less troublesome because it was […]

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War & Treaty Powers Applied to al-Shabab Fighters

Continuing the analysis of possible Art. I authority for applying the Material Support of Terrrorism statute to three Somali nationals fighting on behalf of al-Shabab in Somalia, with no identifiable link to the U.S. – other than being brought here for trial.

War Powers
The U.S. is not at war with Shabab. They are at war with our pals, Somalia’s notional Transitional government, in a civil war to which we are not a party. It is important to distinguish enemies in the “really hate” sense to war in the constructive or declarative sense.

True, Shabad has aligned itself with Al-Queda. Do the War Powers allow banning anyone in the world from fighting in a conflict to which the U.S. is not a party, but on behalf of a force sympathetic or allied with forces hostile to the U.S.? I don’t know, but my first reaction is that is a stretch. By such logic one could say that the ACA, by making healthier Americans, would make for better soldiers.

Note how this discussion recapitulates government’s move in Hamdan II: first it the argued “material support” rule was an exercise of Offenses Clause powers, then in last minute downgraded D&P to second-stringer, and brought out the general war powers for Art. I support.

With the Supreme Court having declared a limit on the Commerce Clause, the Treaty Power may remain the broadest, least defined governmental power. I do not think general treaties denouncing terrorism would be enough; they specifically do not do what the U.S. wants to do here – establish universal jurisdiction over the crime. Much easier would be to sign a quick executive agreement with the nominal government of part of Somalia, over which the U.S. presumably has a lot of control as it struggles between being nominal and dead. […]

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Foreign Commerce Authority for Universal Jurisdiction over Terrorists

The government is prosecuting three foreigners for the participating in “combat operations” in a foreign civil war.

The indictment apparently alleges no connection to America, or even foreign commerce (unlike a similar 2011 case that lacked an apparent connection to the U.S.) The defendants are Somalis who fought in Somalia. In a previous post, I discussed why the prosecution exceeds’s Congress’s Define & Punish powers; here we’ll consider other possible Art. I grounds. Today – the Foreign Commerce Clause; later today, War and Treaties. Tomorrow: additional thoughts about American exceptionalism in universal jurisdiction.

Foreign Commerce Clause
My previous post focussed on the Define & Punish Clause as the basis for the MST law; today, we will examine some other suggestions. I addressed the Define & Punish clause first because it is the first Art. I power Congress cited in its “findings” in support of the section. (sec. 301(a)(2) of the public law). Later, the findings do suggest the Commerce powers as a tertiary rationale: terrorism discourages travel from the U.S. to affected country, and vice versa. It also mentions general harm to “market stability.” This sounds a lot like the arguments rejected by the Supreme Court in U.S. v Morrison . Surely Congress’s can’t regulate any crime anywhere in the world just because it upsets things. The commerce argument is even weaker here: if someone moves out of their state because of violence against women, they presumably move to another U.S. state. But if they move from Somalia, they do not presumably move to the U.S.

The connection to U.S. commerce would have to be shown. In the one prior universal jurisdiction “material support” case, Ahmed , the government claimed in the indictment, without providing specifics, that it could show real links to commerce. The district judge accepted […]

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Material Support Statute: A Neutrality Act for Everyone

In the next few days, I’ll discuss possible sources of Art. I authority for the the federal prosecution of three foreigners for fighting on the side of al-Shabab in Somalia, and brought forcibly to the U.S. for trial. Previously, I’ve argued that this prosecution cannot be sustained under the Offenses Clause. But first lets put this in historical and political context.

The use of the material support statute to prosecute foreign fighters in foreign wars is certainly novel, but it has a a historical cousin, which highlights the unusualness of the present prosecution in Brooklyn.

The Neutrality Proclamation of 1793, and subsequent Act, banned Americans from participating, or providing what we might call material support, to the belligerents in the Napoleonic Wars. The idea was such involvement could drag the U.S. into the war. The measures were extremely controversial, leading to the Pacificus-Helvedius debate between Hamilton and Madison. One of the secondary questions was the source of constitutional authority: it was variously placed in what I’d call the “dormant war power” – violations of neutrality by citizens undermined Congress’s prerogative of choosing our wars – or various treaty obligations to the particular warring states. Foreign commerce would do too. (I discuss the Art. I basis for the law in Part II.D.2 of this new article.)

The extraterritorial application of the Material Support statute to foreigners engaged in foreign wars essentially applies the Neutrality Act to the world. Not only must Americans stay of the of designated conflicts, everyone else must to. Of course, the effect is the opposite of the Neutrality Act: instead of distancing the US from foreign wars, it imports them into U.S. court rooms.

It is interesting to note that two of the men have Swedish citizenship, and the third had British citizenship. He became a […]

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The Offenses Clause & Universal Jurisdiction Over Terrorists

A few days before Christmas, the U.S. indicted three men at the Federal District courthouse in Brooklyn for plotting suicide bomb attacks. This is an extraordinary, almost unique case: none of the people or conduct has any connection to the U.S. The defendants are foreign nationals, captured by some African government ont their way to join up with al-Shabab, the Somali Islamist group. To be clear, there is no suggestion that they planned to target American nationals or facilities, or had even ever been to this country before.

This is an aggressive – and unconstitutional – assertion of universal jurisdiction. The U.S. is prosecuting foreign nationals for their participation in a foreign civil war. Congress, as the Supreme Court recently reminded us in the Health Care decision, is truly one of limited regulatory powers, and thus the first question about such a case is what Art. I power gives Congress the power to punish entirely foreign conduct with no U.S. nexus.

The men have been charged under the “material support for terrorism” statute, 18 USC 2339B . Apart from the many controversies about the substantive sweep of the law, it casts a very broad jurisdictional net. By its terms, it applies to foreigners who support designated foreign terror groups with no connection to the U.S. In other words, it makes terrorism anywhere a federal offense.

While the statute has previously been used to prosecute extraterritorial conduct by foreigners that conducted significant dealings in the U.S., this is only the second apparently “universal” prosecution.

The Art I. authority for prosecuting conduct under universal jurisdiction is the “Define and Punish” clause. Yet the clause limits universal jurisdiction to crimes, like piracy, that are i) “offenses against the law of nations,” and ii) treated as universally cognizable by the law […]

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National Security Law in the News

National Security Law in the News: A Guide for Journalists, Scholars, and Policymakers is a new book published by the ABA’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security and Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Despite the title, the book should be of interest to a general audience, as it offers a concise, broad plain-language overview of the many timely issues at the intersection of domestic and international law. I wrote the chapter on piracy. Congratulations to the editors, Paul Rosenzweig, Timothy J. McNulty, and Ellen Shearer.

Here is the overview:

Written by seasoned experts, each chapter contains a summary of legal and policy issues of significance and is accompanied by an annotated bibliography for further reading. The book is divided into four parts:
Part I provides an overview of the basic issues of constitutional and international law including discussion of the scope of the president’s authority, the meaning and effect of the First Amendment, and the role of international law in American courts.
Part II turns the focus to the military and explores questions about military organization and operations.
Part III looks at the world of domestic law enforcement and counterterrorism.
Part IV covers homeland security issues.
An added bonus: a list of experts to contact for additional background information is included in chapter.

Some early journo reactions:

Every reporter on the national security beat should keep this book within reach.”

— Jane Mayer, Staff Writer, The New Yorker Magazine

Finally, we now have a clear-eyed primer on national security law that can serve as an essential reference for journalists as they try to cut through the spin and get to the truth.”

— James Risen, author, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration

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How Syria is Iran’s route to the sea

“Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea.” So said Mitt Romney at the Monday debate. The Associated PressThe GuardianThe Telegraph, New York, U.S. News,  Brad DeLong, Rachel Maddow’s Maddowblog,  Comedy Central, and The Daily Kos promptly seized the opportunity to show off their superior geographical knowledge, pointing out that Iran has a coastline. The explicit or implicit explanation was that Romney does not even know basic geography. “Romney Flubs Geography” announced the A.P. headline on the Washington Post website. Readers in search of more sophisticated coverage  might have turned to Yahoo! Answers:

Q. Why did Romney say that Syria is Iran’s “route to the sea”? …when 1) Iraq stands between Syria and Iran, and 2) Iran already has the Persian Gulf, not to mention the Indian Sea?

A. Romney was speaking in the context of the debate topic on foreign policy and the sanctions restricting the finances and trade of Iran. Although Iran is indeed located on the seacoast of the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, the international trade sanctions have restricted and impeded its ability to transport armaments and other goods through its own seaports. To defeat these trade sanctions, Iran has resorted to using its air transportation to transport goods through an air corridor in Iraqi airspace into Syria and its seaports, such as Latakia.

Fact-checkers who actually investigate the facts might have started with expert websites such as StrategyPage. A 2006 article titled Syrian Delivery System for Iranian Nukes details the extensive seaborne smuggling operations carried out by Syrian companies operating out of Syrian ports. The article concludes:

Iran was generous with its “foreign aid” because Syria provided support for terrorists Iran backed. Now Iran is keen

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President Obama Blocks Chinese-Owned Wind-Farm Development

As anticipated in yesterday’s post, today President Obama acted on the pending CFIUS report regarding the Chinese-owned wind-farm developer (Ralls Corp.) and its  four wind-farm projects in Oregon.  The President’s order is noteworthy for being even broader than the two CFIUS orders it supersedes (which are described in my first post).

Such presidential orders are quite rare; a colleague of mine thinks this may be only the second or third such order since 1988.

The President first finds–without additional detail–that Ralls and its affliates and subsidiaries, through their control of the wind-farm projects, “might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States.”  The President does not specify how, but the Department of the Treasury issued a press release that provides one possibility, stating that “The wind farm sites are all within or in the vicinity of restricted air space at Naval Weapons Systems Training Facility Boardman.” (As noted here, Ralls relocated one project  at the Navy’s request to avoid that airspace, and Ralls’ lawsuit alleges that after it did so, the Navy recommended that Oregon regulators issue the necessary approvals–although they did emphasize that even the new location “may have negative national security implications”.)  In light of some of the order’s restrictions, I don’t think the proximity of the Naval base is a full explanation of the government’s concerns.

The President’s order then prohibits Ralls’ already-completed acquisition of the four projects and their assets and orders Ralls to divest them within 90 days (with a possible  three-month extension on such terms as CFIUS may require).  Ralls is even required to divest all interests in the projects’ “intellectual property[ and] technology.”  Ralls is given just 14 days to  remove “all items, structures, or other physical objects . . . (including concrete foundations),” from […]

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