Punitive Strikes, Keeping the Seas Safe


Freedom of the seas and their safe navigation has been a fundamental principle of American international relations since the nation’s inception. It ensures the ability of American merchants to access markets overseas, thus helping secure our economy, and ultimately provide security and stability for the nation. The Quasi-War and the Barbary Wars were both fought to protect American shipping. One of the reasons the War of 1812 began was because of the impressment of American sailors by the British Navy. Moreover, the United States did not become involved in the First World War until after incidents at sea involving the sinking of American ships and those carrying American goods. Freedom of navigation is something that the United States has always taken seriously and continues to today, whether it is in the South China Sea or the Bab al’Mandeb.

More than 3 million barrels of oil transit the Bab al’Mandeb daily, as do millions of tons of cargo: making it one of the world’s busiest and most important shipping lanes. Bordering the straits to the north and east is Yemen: a country that has been torn apart by civil war and one that hosts a group of rebels who seem more than willing to fire off anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) into a waterway with a high density of merchant ships. ASCMs like the C-801 Sardine and the C-802 Saccade used by the Houthi rebels (and likely supplied by Iran) are old technology without the most advanced targeting systems. Put simply; they are big dumb missiles that will go after whatever the closest and largest target happens to be: in the Bab al’Mandeb that is most often going to mean either a container ship or an oil tanker. Indiscriminate attacks on merchant traffic using ASCMs was exactly the tactic that Iran employed during the 1987-88 Tanker War in the Straits of Hormuz, and while it did not significantly affect the global economy or the prices of oil at the time, it certainly had the possibility that it could have wreaked havoc. The major consequence was that it led to significantly greater U.S. involvement in the region.

There was a time when navies and naval infantry forces conducted punitive raids to resolve situations like this; today, they launch cruise missile strikes instead, but the intent and purpose remain the same. These strikes are often limited in nature (in this case destroying three radar sites located along the Red Sea in Yemen) and designed to provide collective self-defense by removing offensive capabilities of a nation threatening peace in the region. Yet, whenever the question of punitive strikes comes up, so too does their legality under international law.  On April 18, 1988, in retaliation to Iran mining of waters of the Persian Gulf that resulted in the near-sinking of the USS Samuel B. Roberts, the United States Navy destroyed two Iranian oil platforms and in the resulting naval engagement with the Iranian navy, six Iranian boats were either crippled or sunk. The United States provided justification for these actions by invoking Article 51. However, because the oil platforms threat to United States ships and there being no conclusive proof that the mine that damaged the Samuel B. Roberts was Iranian, and the United States stating that it did not act in the interest of collective self-defense, the International Court of Justice held in 2003 that the actions were not justified under Article 51. In a different incident, a decade later in 1998, the United States carried out strikes in Iraq. These strikes were after Iraq had ceased cooperation with United Nations weapons inspectors and were against Iraqi military facilities capable of developing and delivering weapons of mass destruction against other countries in the region. This selective targeting of facilities of this type in a country that had previously made use of such weapons against its neighbors as well as its own civilians would qualify as collective self-defense⸺albeit their anticipatory nature⸺under Article 51.

Today, punitive strikes continue to take place somewhat regularly. We often hear about them in the form of drone strikes, but used properly, these too fall under pre-existing laws and can be used to carry out punitive strikes, as permitted under Article 51. Often such strikes are necessary to preempt attacks by rogue nations and terrorist groups on their neighbors and innocent third parties. In fact, would go one step further by saying that, navies⸺and militaries, in general⸺have a moral obligation to conduct limited and targeted strikes as part of keeping the sea lanes open, free, and navigable. Sometimes, the use of such strikes can be abused, but simply letting the Houthis continue to endanger an international waterway and potentially drag the American military into the Yemeni Civil War would likely escalate a regional conflict and therefore, would be a grave mistake and set a dangerous precedent going forward.


By Prescott Heighton


President-elect Trump’s Road to Reviving Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT)

Over the course of Donald Trump’s campaign, the President-elect has made clear that he intends to revive Bush-era enhanced interrogation techniques (EIT), widely labeled as torture. Specifically, Mr. Trump has touted support for waterboarding, stated “torture works” (EIT advocates specifically avoid the term ‘torture’ as it is an unequivocal violation of domestic and international law), and that the US must “do things that are unthinkable” to elicit intelligence from detainees, despite the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluding the opposite.

With a Congress strongly positioned against EITs, how realistic is a revival of the program?

Since 2006, detainee interrogation techniques are outlined in Army Field Manual 2 22.3 (Manual) and provide methods for human intelligence collection that do not violate the US Constitution or any international treaties. After 9/11 and well before the Manual, President Bush approved EITs for al-Qaeda, Taliban, and associated forces captured in Afghanistan (later expanded to Iraq and other countries) after a memo from Jay Bybee, then an attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel, concluded that such detainees were not considered POWs and the Geneva Conventions protecting POWs (GPW) did not apply to them. With the GPW suspended in early 2002, the Bush administration approved EITs for use on detainees in US custody at Guantanamo Bay (GTMO), Cuba, and US military and intelligence locations around the world. The CIA and DOD conducted the program until 2009 when President Obama, on his second day in office, issued Executive Order (EO) 13491 and prohibited interrogation techniques not included in the Manual.

For Mr. Trump to revive the EIT program, he will need to take the following steps:

  1. Repeal President Obama’s EO 13491 – EO 13491 revoked President Bush’s EO 13440, which provided executive authorization for suspending the Geneva Conventions and broadly stated the responsibilities for the Director of the CIA in dealing with detainees. By revoking President Obama’s order, Mr. Trump may resuscitate the directives outlined in EO 13440 and again grant authority to the CIA and DOD to conduct the program. Mr. Trump has promised to “cancel every unconstitutional executive . . . order issued by President Obama.” Although the constitutionality of EITs argument has been largely settled, one should assume that, in this case, revocation would apply to EO 13491.
  1. Review and Revise the Manual – Per the Anti-Torture Amendment discussed below, interrogation techniques must adhere to Manual guidelines and the Manual must be reviewed every three years to ensure compliance with US legal obligations. The review includes a report by the “High-Value Interrogation Group” (Group), an interagency body comprised of the Secretary of Defense, Director of National Intelligence, Attorney General, and “other appropriate officials.” Group members are presidential appointees and may recommend amending the Manual to authorize the “best practices for interrogation that do not involve the use of force.”
  1. Access the Purse – For detainees in DOD custody, Senators and John McCain (R-AZ) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2016 and built a wall around the purse to prevent access for this specific purpose. The McCain-Feinstein Anti-Torture Amendment provides, inter alia, that the Manual be followed for interrogations. The Manual prohibits “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” of detainees, a phrase indicating interrogation practices that do not rise to the domestic or international definitions of torture and were the standard of EITs from 2002-09. If EIT’s are revived, the Anti-Torture Amendment places a clear prohibition of the practice on detainees in DOD custody, but Mr. Trump would be in compliance with the amendment if successfully able to introduce EITs to the Manual through the Group, as discussed above.

For detainees in CIA custody, Mr. Trump will need to find authorization for his budget proposal from both the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In the Senate committee alone, seven of the 19 members co-sponsored the McCain-Feinstein Anti-Torture Amendment, including the amendment’s namesake Senators. Additionally, this committee released the so-called “Torture Report,” which found the CIA’s use of EITs “was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.” While the committee membership that produced the report has shifted since the 112th Congress, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) remains Vice Chair. In short, Mr. Trump will face an uphill battle in pursuit of budgetary approval for CIA activities that include EITs.

If Mr. Trump pursues an EIT program, he will not find the process so easy as simply deciding to revive the practice. First, waterboarding is considered a torture technique, as will be the case for whatever methods he considers to “much worse.” Second, GTMO no longer serves as the legal black hole for detainees it did prior to a series of landmark Supreme Court rulings; this may indicate utilization of extraordinary rendition by the CIA as an alternative to DOD detention. Third, there is now a robust civil society and NGO community pitted against torture and prepared to battle against a new EIT policy. This community was far smaller and in the dark when President Bush quietly approved EITs in 2002, but it is unlikely that an EIT policy will get by under their noses again.


By Ian Jones-Muniz

Fundamental National Security Flaw in U.S.-Cuba Relations

The U.S. and Cuba may have a lot in common, yet there is still a critical need to learn from their divergent legal and operational systems for security cooperation.

The U.S. and Cuba share a distinct commonality that cannot be denied – the pursuit to maintain their respective national sovereignty and security interests. Both countries recognize the value of normalized relations in light of ever-changing security issues, such as migration, trafficking, counter narcotics, and more. Moreover, both nations seek cooperation for enhanced military and security information sharing to tackle sensitive security risks.

Although each country interprets and accepts international law under varying circumstances, national sovereignty constantly trumps the conflict that inherently exists between international law and national sovereignty. Until the U.S. and Cuba have an appreciation of the nuances of their distinctive legal and operational systems, as well as their distinct viewpoints on international law versus national sovereignty, issues could arise in the efforts toward improved security cooperation.

Continue reading “Fundamental National Security Flaw in U.S.-Cuba Relations”

Issues with Designating Election Infrastructure as Critical Infrastructure

By Daniel Patrick Shaffer

Critical Infrastructure and the Power of the Executive Branch

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently proposed the idea of designating election infrastructure as “critical infrastructure.” Critical infrastructure includes pieces of infrastructure that are so vital to the United States, that their destruction would have a crippling effect on our economy, health, and security. This currently includes infrastructure like dams, the power grid, and financial institutions. The Secretary has cybersecurity concerns, citing the recent cyber-attacks on the Democratic National Committee database, and the possibility of more destructive attacks in the future. Pursuant to the Homeland Security Act of 2002, The President and Secretary of DHS both have the power to designate critical infrastructure. The President did this in the Presidential Policy Directive-21, Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience. The Directive says that department heads are in charge of working with the Secretary of Homeland Security to ensure security in their respective critical infrastructures. The Department of Justice, a part of the executive branch, has jurisdiction to monitor, investigate, and Continue reading “Issues with Designating Election Infrastructure as Critical Infrastructure”