Michael Schmitt and Christopher Ford unpack the Trump Administration’s legal justifications for the April 2017 United States attack on a Syrian airfield in response to its use of chemical weapons against civilians. Schmitt and Ford discuss three possible legal bases for the use of force: self-defense, response to an internationally wrongful act, and humanitarian intervention. The authors conclude that the US’s actions run afoul of limitations in each relevant body of law, and of note, they discuss how this attack is consequential for the validity of humanitarian intervention on another state’s territory without approval from the UN Security Council. They conclude by suggesting that the international community is likely to consider the nature of suffering, in addition to the quantum of suffering, as bearing on the right of States to mount future humanitarian operations.
Major Ryan Krebsbach argues that the US Department of Defense Law of War Manual appropriately balances the need to protect civilians against the necessity of ensuring that individuals do not use the law of armed conflict to escape being lawfully targeted despite their material support for non-State armed forces. In contrast to the narrower definition used by the International Committee of the Red Cross of when a civilian loses immunity from lawful attack, the DoD Law of War Manual reduces the likelihood of unreasonably benefiting and encouraging unlawful belligerency.
MAJ Peter Combe argues that the covert action statute prohibits the Central Intelligence Agency from violating self-executing treaties to which the United States is party, as well as non-self-executing treaties and customary international law implemented by statute, but it provides domestic legal authority to violate non-self-executing treaties and customary international law that have not been implemented through legislation by Congress. This application of the covert action statute in practice is illuminated through a case study of the legal issues surrounding the Osama bin Laden raid.