Should Dissenting Professors Be Military Targets?

In an apparently unintentional proof of the old adage that the term “military intelligence” is an oxymoron, an assistant professor in the law department of the US Military Academy at West Point has argued that legal scholars critical of the war on terrorism represent a “treasonous” fifth column that should be attacked as enemy combatants.  Spencer Ackerman reports in The Guardian:

In a lengthy academic paper, the professor, William C Bradford, proposes to threaten “Islamic holy sites” as part of a war against undifferentiated Islamic radicalism. That war ought to be prosecuted vigorously, he wrote, “even if it means great destruction, innumerable enemy casualties, and civilian collateral damage”.

Other “lawful targets” for the US military in its war on terrorism, Bradford argues, include “law school facilities, scholars’ home offices and media outlets where they give interviews” – all civilian areas, but places where a “causal connection between the content disseminated and Islamist crimes incited” exist.

“Shocking and extreme as this option might seem, [dissenting] scholars, and the law schools that employ them, are – at least in theory – targetable so long as attacks are proportional, distinguish noncombatants from combatants, employ nonprohibited weapons, and contribute to the defeat of Islamism,” Bradford wrote.

Bradford’s essay, “Trahison des Professeurs: The Critical Law of Armed Conflict Academy as an Islamist Fifth Column,” appeared in the most recent issue of the National Security Law Journal, a student-run publication at the George Mason School of Law. The phrase “trahison des professeurs” derives from right-wing French intellectual Julien Benda’s 1927 book La Trahison des Clercs, translated as The Treason of the Intellectuals. 

In the paper, Bradford identifies himself as an “associate professor of law, national security and strategy, National Defense University,” seemingly his previous job before West Point. But a representative of NDU said Bradford was a contractor at the Defense Department-run institution, “never an NDU employee nor an NDU professor.”

Adds Ackerman,

It appears not to be the first time Bradford misrepresented his credentials. He resigned from Indiana University’s law school in 2005 after his military record showed he had exaggerated his service. (Among his paper’s criticisms of supposedly treasonous lawyers is “intellectual dishonesty.”)

The National Security Law Journal’s editor-in-chief has called the article’s publication a “mistake” and an “egregious breach of professional decorum.

“We cannot ‘unpublish’ it, of course, but we can and do acknowledge that the article was not presentable for publication when we published it, and that we therefore repudiate it with sincere apologies to our readers,” the editor-in-chief, Rick Myers, wrote on the journal’s website.

Bradford does not name his academic targets, but instead employs the acronym CLOACA, for “critical law of armed conflict academy” to describe them.  . . .  The CLOACA, in turn, are said to be part of a GMAC, or “government-media-academic complex”, which Bradford defines as an “aristocracy of senior government officials, elite media members, and university faculty, which squeezes non-members from public colloquy and shapes opinion on security, military and legal issues.”

This “clique of about forty” scholars, Bradford writes, have “converted the US legal academy into a cohort whose vituperative pronouncements on the illegality of the US resort to force and subsequent conduct in the war against Islamism” represent a “super-weapon that supports Islamist military operations” aimed at “American political will” to fight. They are supported by “compliant journalists” marked by “defeatism, instinctive antipathy to war, and empathy for American adversaries”, but Bradford considers the lawyers a greater threat.

The offending legal scholars “effectively tilt the battlefield against US forces [and] contribute to timorousness and lethargy in US military commanders”, he writes. They are among several “useful idiots” who “separate Islam from Islamists by attributing to the former principles in common with the West, including ‘justice and progress’ and ‘the dignity of all human beings’”. . . .

Robert Chesney of the University of Texas, a founding editor of the influential national-security law blog Lawfare, is one of the legal scholars Bradford references as pernicious – for a 2011 paper that largely defended Obama’s execution without trial of US citizen and al-Qaida preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.

“It’s very hard to take this seriously except insofar as he may actually be teaching nonsense like this to cadets at West Point,” Chesney said. . . .

A spokesman for the US military academy, army lieutenant colonel Christopher Kasker, told the Guardian: “Dr William Bradford was hired on 1 August 2015 at the US Military Academy. His article in the National Security Law Journal titled ‘Trahison des Professeurs: The Critical Law of Armed Conflict Academy as an Islamist Fifth Column’ was written and accepted for publication prior to his employment at West Point. The views in the article are solely those of Dr Bradford and do not reflect those of the Department of Defense, the United States army, the United States Military Academy.”

Words fail.

f40d384b-0872-441b-bcf9-4e11d11f8955-bestSizeAvailableWilliam Bradford.

Photograph: West Point United States Military Academy

6 thoughts on “Should Dissenting Professors Be Military Targets?

  1. Obviously, Bradford is making an especially evil and stupid argument. The question is, does academic freedom include the right to call for the murder of one’s ideological opponents? It’s a complex question, since most of the time when someone is accused of supporting murder (such as Steven Salaita), it’s a false accusation. But it’s plainly true here. And making death threats is not protected by academic freedom. However, there is a difference between urging the US government to assassinate someone and making an illegal death threat. Journal articles should not be crimes, no matter how vile the argument. Bradford deserves the harshest condemnation, but counterspeech, not punishment, is what should follow.

    • I agree, and neither The Guardian nor I (nor the embarrassed editors of the law review) call for punishment. I would say, however, that in this case an appropriate mode of counterspeech would be ridicule.

  2. I believe the legal standard is imminent harm with regard to delimiting free speech. I do not see him approaching that standard, given its venue in a student refereed law review, and posited in a manner that does not name specific individuals on his kill list. He should not be punished.

    Yet if the threat of killing professors and journalists, does not merit careful scrutiny by his superiors, short of punishment or dismissal at this point, then nothing does..

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  5. Some of the post-9/11 legislation is so open ended that who knows what is or isn’t legal. The most infamous example is probably “material support for terrorism” which allows guilt by association.

    I know other people have proposed bombing Islamic holy sites.

    While what he is suggesting may seem outrageous when directed at Americans it may not be that different from U.S. actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. Right after the invasion of Iraq Robert Fisk reported that there seemed to be an organized campaign to murder Iraqi academics being carried out by men in unmarked white vans.

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