Defense

December 3, 2012

Johnson gives legal background for war against al Qaeda

The United States remains in an armed conflict with al Qaeda, but it is important that the fight against the terrorist group is done in a lawful manner that does not compromise American values, Jeh C. Johnson told the Oxford Union in England Nov. 30.

The group invited Johnson, the Defense Department’s general counsel, to discuss the implications of the fight against al Qaeda – a conflict that Britain has been involved in as well since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Al-Qaida planned and executed the attacks that killed 3,000 people from their base in Afghanistan. The United States has taken the fight directly to the terrorists, “the result of which is that the core of al-Qaeda is today degraded, disorganized and on the run,” Johnson said. “Osama bin Laden is dead. Many other leaders and terrorist operatives of al Qaeda are dead or captured; those left in al Qaeda’s core struggle to communicate, issue orders, and recruit.”

But, the group remains a danger. While the international coalition has degraded al Qaeda’s capabilities, it has decentralized, and relies much more on affiliates. The most dangerous of these are al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula based in Yemen and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which operates in northern and western Africa. In Yemen, the United States works with the government there in counterterrorism operations.

But the question for some is whether all of these actions are legal. Taking on al Qaeda is not like declaring war on a sovereign nation. It is an amorphous terror group that operates worldwide. Some have asked what is the legal basis for armed conflict against such a group?

“The United States government is in an armed conflict against al Qaeda and associated forces, to which the laws of armed conflict apply,” Johnson said. “One week after 9/11, our Congress authorized our President ‘to use all necessary and appropriate force’ against those nations, organizations and individuals responsible for 9/11.”

Then-President George W. Bush, and now President Barack Obama have acted militarily based on that authorization ever since. The Supreme Court also endorsed this justification in 2006.

But, for the United States, this is a new kind of conflict. It is an unconventional fight against an unconventional enemy.

“Given its unconventional nature, President Obama – himself a lawyer and a good one – has insisted that our efforts in pursuit of this enemy stay firmly rooted in conventional legal principles,” Johnson said. “For, in our efforts to destroy and dismantle al Qaeda, we cannot dismantle our laws and our values, too.”

He added that the United States is “not at war with an idea, a religion or a tactic. We are at war with an organized, armed group – a group determined to kill innocent civilians.”

The nation is also in conflict with groups that aid al Qaeda.

“We have publicly stated that our goal in this conflict is to ‘disrupt, dismantle, and ensure a lasting defeat of al-Qaeda and violent extremist affiliates,” Johnson said. “Some legal scholars and commentators in our country brand the detention by the military of members of al Qaeda as ‘indefinite detention without charges.’ Some refer to targeted lethal force against known, identified individual members of al Qaeda as ‘extrajudicial killing.’”

Johnson countered, by pointing out that “viewed within the context of conventional armed conflict – as they should be – capture, detention and lethal force are traditional practices as old as armies.”

He added, “We employ weapons of war against al Qaeda, but in a manner consistent with the law of war. We employ lethal force, but in a manner consistent with the law of war principles of proportionality, necessity and distinction.”

He also emphasized the United States detains al Qaeda terrorists consistent with the Geneva Conventions and all other applicable law.

The armed conflict is now in its twelfth year. How will it end?

“It is an unconventional conflict, against an unconventional enemy, and will not end in conventional terms,” Johnson said.

Every defense secretary since 9/11 has said the war against terrorism will not conclude with a formal surrender such as the ceremony that took place on the deck of the USS Missouri that ended World War II.

“We cannot and should not expect al Qaeda and its associated forces to all surrender, all lay down their weapons in an open field or to sign a peace treaty with us,” Johnson said. “They are terrorist organizations. Nor can we expect to capture or kill every last terrorist who claims an affiliation with al Qaeda.”

Al Qaida’s “radical and absurd goals” include global domination through a violent Islamic caliphate, terrorizing the United States and other western nations so they retreat from the world stage as well as the destruction of Israel.

“There is no compromise or political bargain that can be struck with those who pursue such aims,” Johnson said.

The general counsel believes there will come a tipping point when so many al Qaeda leaders and operatives have been killed or captured that the group and its affiliates can no longer attempt to launch a strategic attack against the United States.

“At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an ‘armed conflict’ against al Qaeda and its affiliates; rather, a counterterrorism effort against individuals who are the scattered remnants of al Qaeda,” he said.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines August 28, 2015

Business: Rafale, Mistral on agenda for Le Drian in Malaysia, India – French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is due to visit Malaysia Aug. 30, with talks expected to cover the Rafale fighter jet and Mistral helicopter carrier, website La Tribune reported. U.S. Army to choose new landing craft next year – In line with the Pentagon’s...
 
 

News Briefs August 28, 2015

Boeing plans to lay off some Southern California workers Boeing has announced that it plans to lay off employees at its Southern California-based satellite division. The Los Angeles Times reports that the aerospace giant said Aug. 25 that it will lay off as many as several hundred employees at the El Segundo factory. Boeing says...
 
 

Special tactics Airmen killed in hostile incident

Two special tactics airmen, who were deployed in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, were killed near Camp Antonik, Afghanistan, Aug. 26. Capt. Matthew D. Roland, 27, and SSgt. Forrest B. Sibley, 31, were at a vehicle checkpoint when two individuals wearing Afghan National Defense and Security Forces uniforms opened fire on them. NATO service members...
 

 

Hurricane Hunters to fly Tropical Storm Erika

The Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters are operating out of Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., flying their state-of-the-art WC-130J Super Hercules into Tropical Storm Erika in support of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron flew four missions into the tropical storm from their deployed location at St. Croix in the...
 
 
LM-MUOS

U.S. Navy, Lockheed Martin ready to launch MUOS-4 Aug. 31

The U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin are ready to launch the fourth Mobile User Objective System secure communications satellite, MUOS-4, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Aug. 31 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V...
 
 

Pentagon probing alleged distorting of war intelligence

The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating an allegation that the military command overseeing the anti-Islamic State campaign distorted or altered intelligence assessments to exaggerate progress against the militant group, a defense official said Aug. 26. The official was not authorized to discuss the probe publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity. The investigation was...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>