Log in

Legal Issues in the War on Terror - Interview with Jeff Addicott of St. Mary's University School of Law

Thu, February 23, 2012 4:44 PM | Anonymous

Professor Jeffrey F. Addicott, Director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University School of Law, will be speaking at the Texas Aggie Bar Association Annual Conference on March 3.  His presentation is entitled Legal and Policy Issues in the War on Terror - 10 Years On.



Prof. Jeffrey Addicott

The Texas Aggie Bar Association recently spoke with Professor Addicott:

Q:    Tell us about your service in the Army JAG Corps and how that led you to a career as a law-school professor?

A:    I did 20 years on active duty in the U.S. Army.  I was a Judge Advocate General (“JAG”) officer, which is a lawyer in the Army.  My relationship with terrorism issues began when I volunteered to be one of the first JAGs assigned to the First Special Forces Group (Green Berets) out of Washington State.  I worked my way up to become the Senior Legal Advisor (Staff Judge Advocate) to all the Green Berets in the U.S. Army.    

I taught Terrorism and Operational Law at our JAG School in Charlottesville, Virginia where I picked up my Master of Laws and Doctor of Juridical Science degrees from the University of Virginia School of Law.  I also had the privilege to work in the Pentagon in the International Operational Law Department of the Deputy Chief, so I've had a lot of experience in dealing with terrorism issues in the real world.  I retired from the Army in 2000 and joined the faculty at St. Mary's.  Shortly after 9/11, I founded and started the Center for Terrorism Law and we've been going strong ever since.  Senator John Cornyn cut the ribbon at our inauguration in 2003.

Q:    Describe the Center for Terrorism Law and your work with the Center.

A:    There are about 200 ABA-approved law schools in the U.S. and St. Mary’s University School of Law is the only law school that has anything of this nature.  When I founded the Center, I thought other law schools would figure out that this was something that they would want to be involved in.  There are obviously a lot of new legal issues, including detention issues, the PATRIOT Act, civil-liberty issues, cyber, military commissions, etc.  To my surprise, we are still the only law school that has anything like the Center for Terrorism Law.

Part of our mission is to represent soldiers.  We have successfully handled many cases of our fighting men that were wrongfully accused of war crimes or violations of the rules of engagement.  Of course, I have to be convinced that a soldier is innocent before the Center will assume representation.  We are batting 100% so far.  We've done two amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of our soldiers.  I've also provided oral and written testimony before the U.S. Senate and before the House of Representatives.  We have penned legislation for the Congress on various issues as well as provided input.  I'm the only law professor that works in Guantanamo Bay on the side of the government regarding detention issues and military commissions.  Numerous law schools have “clinics” that work on the side of the detainee, but I'm currently the only law professor that works with the government. 

I lecture before the Office of Military Commissions.  I reviewed the pleadings in the Hamdan military commission trial.  I all lecture all over the world.  Since the Center opened I've lectured at professional conferences in Colombia, Germany, France, Austria, India, Egypt, Kuwait, Panama, England, Mexico, Sweden, Ireland, Scotland, Greece, Israel, Russia, and Luxembourg.  I've done over 500 public speeches and almost 2,800 media interviews for media outlets such as the Washington Post, New York Times, Washington Examiner, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, Canadian TV, FOX NEWS, CBS, CNN, NPR, ABC, NBC, Al Jazeera, BBC, French TV, and Kuwaiti TV.  Those of us with the Center are actively engaged in thinking about all the legal issues associated with terrorism and our use of force in wartime. 

Our Center works very closely with the FBI Academy where I lecture at least four times a year.  We have also published chapters in books for the FBI.  In fact, I have authored well over 40 books, law review articles, and other publications on terrorism issues.  My current book is: Terrorism Law: Materials, Cases, Comments 6th Edition (2011).  We have an extensive listserv were we put out information for free to the public.

Q:    So the Center for Terrorism Law is the only law-school-affiliated center that advocates on behalf of the government in Guantanamo Bay?   

A:    The thing that's really amazed me is that there is nobody else that's working with the government to try and solve problems.  It's nice to have a legal interest in both sides of an issue, but you would think that there would be a little bit more involvement from the law-school community, given that our country is trying to win a war.  For instance, I was asked to debate the President of the ACLU, who is another law professor, about a year ago at a law school in Boston.  Obviously, they must think that I am one of the most conservative law professors in the country because she's obviously one of the most liberal law professors in the country. 

Again, I think St. Mary’s is the only law school that is engaging in this kind of work.  By the grace of God, we have a $700,000.00 facility that was paid for through private donations.  We operate solely on private donations and grants.  We are a 501 (c) (3) so all donations are tax deductable.  The University and the law school, while supporting us in many ways, don't provide funding for us to operate, so I'm also the chief fundraiser for the Center.

Q:    Describe your experiences with the media on these issues.

A:    This is not just a war about putting steel on target.  This is a propaganda war.  America is not good about winning the propaganda war.  I've been amazed that people around the world automatically assume that our military tortures people as our standard operating procedure.  These same people think that we are illegal by having GITMO operational.  Sadly, this demonization of America is sometimes perpetuated by our own media.  Accordingly, at every turn I bring people to the basics:  “We are acting under the rule of law.  That rule of law is the law of war and not the law of domestic criminal law.  Therefore, in a war, we have the right to detain enemy combatants, to kill enemy combatants, and to use military commissions.” 

However, it is tragic that politics also play a part in this war.  We've seen that play out particularly with the Obama Administration.  Just one example will do as this is rather common knowledge to clear thinkers.  President Obama wanted to close GITMO.  The propaganda message was that we had done something wrong.  My question is this: "Well, what did we do wrong there? Why do you want to close it?  What are we apologizing for?" 

Q:    What are some of the biggest misconceptions surrounding the War on Terror?

A:    Well, the biggest misconception is the premise.  If we are not at war with al-Qa’eda, then we've done a lot of illegal things.  We've detained people indefinitely without charging them with a crime.  We've killed them on site.  We've tried them by military commissions.  We cannot legally do those things unless we are at war.  

So, the real question is: "Are we at war?"  If we are at war, then everything we've done is extremely lawful.  But when we are playing in a vertical arena, as we are in this country, there is always one political party criticizing the other political party.  

In particular, there is a lack of clarity from the Commander-in-Chief about this issue and that's what I find most disturbing.  The current administration wants to have one foot in domestic criminal law and one foot in the law of war, so there is not a clear signal.  It is not surprising then to discover that people criticize the U.S. as being illegal and operating outside the rule of law.  The problem is that we are not getting a firm response from our leadership along the lines of "No, we are acting perfectly lawful because we are at war."

As a lawyer, the pertinent question is not whether we like something or not. The question is "What is the law?"  There are a lot of things that I don't like, but the pertinent question is whether it is legal or not.  If you look at our major Supreme Court rulings on this issue, all have held that we are at war.  This is not a metaphor like the War on Drugs.  Similarly, although our Congress has not declared war, they have certainly authorized war.  Finally, both Bush and Obama have used their war-time authority against al-Qa’eda.  It is the three branches of Government that tell us if we are at war, not the editorial writers for the New York Times or MSNBC. 

This propaganda issue is evident among many of the law students I teach.  I'll ask them when I start my course on National Security Law: "How many people think that we've water-boarded individuals at Guantanamo Bay?" About 9 out of 10 will raise their hands and say "Yeah, we water-boarded people at GITMO."  They seemed shocked to learn that nobody was ever water-boarded at GITMO.  It simply never happened. 

So I challenge them and ask: "Where did you get that information?  Who told you that, because you obviously believed it?"  It's really a function of our society not getting clear leadership and not getting clear information.  That's what our Center is trying to do.  We are trying to fight the misconceptions: "Here are the facts, here is the law." We are trying to cut through all of the negativity and all of the false information about what's happening. 

Q:    What do you think is your biggest challenge?  What do you enjoy most about your work?

A:    Well, I think what I enjoy most is debating the issues and trying to put this information out in the public arena so people can understand what we are doing.  We are the greatest nation on the face of the earth.  We are right in what we are doing.  As a military veteran and believer in America, I get very upset when people demonize our country and think that we are violating every law from A to Z.  

The greatest challenge is staying afloat because, again, the Center for Terrorism Law operates independently of any other resources and we don't charge for what we do – not a dime.  We put on about 3-4 conferences a year and we don't charge.  We don't charge soldiers that are wrongfully accused of war crimes.  I've represented soldiers in murder cases that were found not guilty.  I'm currently representing a Marine that had his career destroyed because he killed the enemy in combat.    It's really gathering the public support to do what we do.  In a nutshell, that is the greatest challenge.

Q:    Can you give us a preview of what you are going to be discussing during your presentation at the Texas Aggie Bar Association Annual Conference?

A:    The main thing we are going to discover is that much of the information the audience thinks is true is actually false.  That's going to be very entertaining and enlightening.  For example, as I noted earlier, most of the audience will think we water-boarded people at Guantanamo Bay.  Those same people will likely also think that water-boarding is torture.  In fact, it's not torture.  I will demonstrate all those things and try to set the record straight about what we are doing.  I will also talk about the role that religion plays in the process.  This is not a war against Islam.

Q:    Where can we get more information about the Center for Terrorism Law?

A:    Our website is  That would be a great place to start.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software