May 01, 2011
John D. B. Potter '11
On Thursday, April 14, the Wilson Center held a mini-symposium on the Geneva Conventions and asymmetric warfare. This event was proposed and arranged by Col. Bill Anderson '67 (USMC, Ret.), Adjunct Faculty - Command & Staff College, Marine Corps University, the moderator for the evening and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Wilson Center.
The keynote address was presented by Brig. Gen. Patrick Finnegan (USA, Ret.), President of Longwood University, who reviewed U.S. military's policies on torture and the rule of law.
The evening session featured two experts in the field of asymmetric warfare and international military law.
Dr. Gary Solis, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, discussed the implications of drone warfare and targeted killing. Drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are remotely-controlled aircraft that are used by the military to conduct reconnaissance, targeted attacks, and surveillance missions. Although drones are inexpensive and effective, they are not without disadvantages. Because drones are remotely-controlled, it is harder for their operators to identify legitimate targets to attack (i.e., targeted killing). This problem is compounded by the difficulty involved in defining who is and who is not an enemy combatant (e.g., a civilian with a gun).
Col. Richard Jackson, Special Assistant to the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General for Law of War Matters, discussed the Law of War Detention. This legal code deals with the rights of captured enemy combatants during wartime. Central to this law is the distinction between unlawful combatants (e.g., terrorists) and prisoners of war (POWs). These two groups are treated differently in terms of the rights that they each receive. Unlike POWs, unlawful combatants have minimal legal protections. Accordingly, they can be housed at facilities like Guantanamo Bay -- a detention camp in Cuba that is under U.S. legal jurisdiction. The detention of enemy combatants in Cuba has led to controversial questions about the extension of U.S. constitutional as well as international rights to the detainees (ex., what requirements of due process do they enjoy and should they have access to writs of habeas corpus?). In his concluding remarks, Col. Jackson expressed confidence that these issues, though not straightforward in the case of enemy combatants, will be resolved in time.