National Security Law Program
Center on Global Governance
To the extent that a state can detain terrorists pursuant to the law of war, how certain must the state be in distinguishing suspected terrorists from nonterrorists? This Article shows that the law of war can and should be interpreted or supplemented to account for the exceptional aspects of an indefinite conflict against a transnational terrorist organization by analogizing detention to military targeting and extrapolating from targeting rules. A targeting approach to the detention standard-of-certainty question provides a methodology for balancing security and liberty interests that helps fill a gap in detention law and helps answer important substantive questions left open by recent Supreme Court detention cases, including Boumediene v. Bush. Targeting rules include a reasonable care standard for dealing with the practical and moral problems of protecting innocent civilians from injury amid clouds of doubt and misinformation, though the application of this standard in the detention context must account for differences such as a temporal dimension, available procedural mechanisms, and political and strategic context. Applying a targeting law methodology, this Article offers a law of war critique of past and current U.S. government detention policies. It recommends several ways to remedy them, including through an escalating standard of certainty as time in detention elapses, comparative consideration of accuracy-enhancing adjudication procedures, and greater decisionmaking transparency.
Matthew C. Waxman,
Detention as Targeting: Standards of Certainty and Detention of Suspected Terrorists,
Colum. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/222