Untangling Belligerency from Neutrality in the Conflict with Al-Qaeda

40 Pages Posted: 6 Oct 2011 Last revised: 26 Mar 2012

See all articles by Rebecca Ingber

Rebecca Ingber

Boston University - School of Law

Date Written: October 5, 2011


The legal architecture for the conflict with al-Qaeda and the Taliban has been the subject of extensive scrutiny through two presidential administrations, a decade of litigation, and multiple acts of Congress. All three branches of the federal government have to date defined the framework as one of armed conflict, and have looked to the laws of war as support for expansive authorities concerning the use of force, including detention. Yet the laws of war do not merely contemplate broad state authority; they also provide critical and non-derogable constraints on that authority. Nevertheless considerable debate rages on with respect to whether and to what extent the international laws of war inform and constrain the U.S. government’s conduct in this conflict.

This Article provides a survey of the legal architecture currently governing the conflict with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and — considering that operating framework — presents a defense of critical law of war constraints on state action. It responds to Karl Chang’s Article, “Enemy Status and Military Detention in the War Against Al-Qaeda,” which proposes a broad legal theory of detention based on the law of neutrality and divorced from core protective law of war constraints. In responding to this and other calls for broad authority, this Article supports the complex though crucial practice of applying jus in bello principles, such as the principle of distinction between belligerents and civilians, to modern armed conflicts such as that with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. To the extent the U.S. government and other states rely on an armed conflict paradigm to support broad authorities, they must likewise constrain themselves in accordance with the international legal regimes governing such conflicts.

Keywords: international humanitarian law, laws of war, jus in bello, jus ad bellum, neutrality law, armed conflict, al-Qaeda, Taliban

Suggested Citation

Ingber, Rebecca, Untangling Belligerency from Neutrality in the Conflict with Al-Qaeda (October 5, 2011). Texas International Law Journal, Vol. 47, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1939598

Rebecca Ingber (Contact Author)

Boston University - School of Law ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

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