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.
Abrams seeks to move the discussion on Guantanamo detainees forward by bringing law-of-war detention and criminal prosecution into closer alignment. The article analyzes the Obama Administration’s current approach of dealing with terrorists captured abroad and its preference for conducting criminal prosecutions whenever feasible. Abrams proposes several changes to the current system, including a decision-making framework for imposing further military detention after completion of the criminal process, which the administration has indicated is a possibility, and taking into account the criminal culpability of the detainee to impose a presumptive limit on indefinite detention, as ways to reform the two-track system and increase equality accordingly.
Those of us who remember the 1980s lived through the Iran-Contra Affair and its labyrinth of arms-for-hostages deals, secret transfers of U.S. government funds, backdoor support for the Nicaraguan Contras after Congress cut off funding, and the duplicity of Reagan administration officials who tried to hide and then cover up what they were doing. Some of us even recall the covert war in Laos and Cambodia in the 1960s and 1970s where the U.S. military, the CIA, and various paramilitaries pursued Communist forces in campaigns that were common knowledge in the region but kept secret from Congress and the American people. A few seasoned chroniclers of our national security are even able to remember earlier secret support for paramilitary forces, coup attempts, and a plethora of covert operations that were undertaken by the United States as an adjunct to its Cold War with the Soviet Union.
In the post-9/11 environment, the United States confronted the Taliban, al Qaeda, and associated terrorist and insurgent groups, where the conventional military force that quickly forced Iraq’s retreat from Kuwait and subdued the Milosevic regime in Kosovo in the 1990s was far less effective. Paramilitary campaigns waged by the CIA and contractors became an integral part of the counterterrorism response to these new enemies, and our military greatly expanded its own capabilities to collect intelligence and carry out clandestine operations. Over time, first in the Bush administration and now in an expanded and more aggressive strategy by the Obama administration, the United States has been conducting what The New York Times described as a “shadow war against Al Qaeda and its allies”:
In roughly a dozen countries – from the deserts of North Africa, to
the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by
ethnic and religious strife – the United States has significantly
increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy
using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to
spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists.
In May 2011, shortly after a special operations team of Navy SEALs killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, there was a fresh surge of enthusiasm for covert operations. That is unfortunate because, behind the scenes, secret warfare is actually in crisis. We need to re-examine the suitability and constitutionality of covert operations and, among other things, devise a sound constitutional framework for conducting them.
I. HOST COUNTRY REACTIONS: PAKISTAN
A delegation of Pakistani officials recently completed a visit to Washington for very private talks about a secret war. Representing that nation’s premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and headed by its chief, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Pakistani delegation came to America to rein in the CIA. While CIA spokesmen put the best possible face on this event – calling the talks “productive” – there was no real meeting of the minds. The raid on bin Laden, executed without reference to Pakistani sovereignty, added insult to injury, since Pakistani demands to be kept fully informed of U.S. activities were clearly ignored in the SEAL operation. And just to pile on, American pundits, including former CIA director Leon Panetta, proceeded to accuse Pakistan of complicity or incompetence, given bin Laden’s presence in a Pakistani garrison town. Observers should be in no doubt that this moment marks a watershed in the South Asian secret war. Much like the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam conflict, the event signifies the instant when U.S. capabilities peak, past which further escalation on any plane becomes less probable.
On Tuesday, November 4, 2008, Paula Loyd, assigned to U.S. Army team AF-4 Blue, was conducting interviews among the local population in the small village of Chehel Gazi in southern Afghanistan. According to witnesses, she approached a man carrying a fuel jug, and they began discussing the price of gasoline. Suddenly the man, Abdul Salam, doused her with the fuel in his jug and set her on fire. She suffered second- and third-degree burns over sixty percent of her body. Tragically, Paula Loyd died of her injuries a few weeks later, in early January 2009.