Since the war against militant Islamists began in earnest in 2001, a cornerstone of U.S. national security policy has been to employ military commissions to hear criminal charges filed against al Qaeda leaders responsible for the September 11 (and subsequent) attacks. A decision last week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, al Bahlul v. U.S., throws that policy into disarray. It struck down a 2006 congressional statute permitting a wide variety of criminal charges to be brought before military commissions. Incredibly, the court invoked international law to do so, ruling that the U.S. Constitution only permits military commissions to consider those criminal charges that are accepted throughout the world as constituting violations of the international law of war.
It is questionable whether U.S. courts should ever look to international law for guidance when interpreting the U.S. Constitution. It is unfathomable for a court to hold (as did the D.C. Circuit) that the U.S. Constitution is controlled by international law, and to do so in a manner that significantly impedes the government’s ability to conduct trials before military commissions. The Obama Administration should ask the Supreme Court to overturn this ill-conceived decision. Continue reading