With the drawdown of standing armies following the end of the Cold War, the United States and other Western governments have increasingly used civilian contractors in support roles to free up limited military forces to perform combat missions. Since the initiation of hostilities under the rubric of the global war on terror, however, this extensive reliance on civilian support, coupled with the increasing technological sophistication of the contemporary battlefield, has pushed these civilians ever closer to performing tasks historically reserved for uniformed personnel.
The system of detention and military trial authorized by President George W. Bush on November 13, 2001, and additional claimed authority to hold terrorist suspects indefinitely without process, have been litigated in several judicial circuits, moving from district courts to the Supreme Court and back down again. In 2006, these authorities returned to the Court for further exploration in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Regrettably, until very recently the separation of powers issues raised by the President’s initiatives received little attention from Congress, which, under the Constitution, has primary responsibility over military courts, tribunals “inferior to the supreme Court,” “Offenses against the Law of Nations,” the war power, and “Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.” Because of congressional passivity, the principal checks on presidential power have been supplied instead by litigants and courts. The constitutional issues that emerge from this concentration of power in the presidency form the central theme of this article.
The twentieth century will be remembered for the millions of innocent children, women, and men who perished needlessly in war or in large-scale, organized extrajudicial killings. More than 170 million civilians lost their lives, many of them victims of “unimaginable atrocities that deeply shock[ed] the conscience of humanity.”