Combatants and the Combat Zone

20 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2009

Date Written: January 23, 2009


Following the attacks of 9/11, President George W. Bush declared that the United States was in a "global war on terrorism". His administration claimed the wartime privileges to kill without warning and detain without trial anyone suspected of association with terrorist organizations anywhere in the world. These claims were made in the face of contrary international law. Under international law, a war or armed conflict is characterized by organized armed groups engaged in intense, armed hostilities. To meet these criteria, such groups are associated with territory. In addition to the concept of armed conflict, the concept of conflict zone is important. Killing combatants or detaining them without trial may be permissible when done in a zone of actual armed hostilities. Outside such a zone, however, authorities must attempt to arrest a suspect and only target to kill those who pose an immediate lethal threat and refuse to surrender.

Keywords: combatant, combat zone, conflict zone, hostilities, war, armed conflict, non-international armed conflict, terrorism, global war on terrorism

Suggested Citation

O'Connell, Mary Ellen, Combatants and the Combat Zone (January 23, 2009). University of Richmond Law Review, Forthcoming; Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 08-39. Available at SSRN: or

Mary Ellen O'Connell (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States
574-631-7953 (Phone)

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